Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Political Digest for February 9, 2011

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree (or disagree) with every—or any—opinion in the posted article. Help your friends and relatives stay informed by passing the digest on.

Worth reading: Undermining Allies by Thomas Sowell
Excerpt: While everyone's attention seems to be focused on the crisis in Egypt, a bombshell revelation about the administration's foreign policy in Europe has largely gone unnoticed. The British newspaper The Telegraph has reported that part of the price which President Obama paid to get Russia to sign the START treaty, limiting nuclear arms, was revealing to the Russians the hitherto secret size of the British nuclear arsenal. This information came from the latest WikiLeaks documents. To betray vital military secrets of this country's oldest, most steadfast and most powerful ally, behind the back of the British government, is something that should set off alarm bells. Following in the wake of earlier betrayals of prior American commitments to put a nuclear shield in Eastern Europe, and the undermining of Israel and calculated insults to its prime minister, this pattern raises serious, and perhaps almost unthinkable, questions about the Obama administration's foreign policy. One of Barack Obama's first acts as President of the United States was to fly to Russia and try to get a deal with the Russian government by welshing on an existing American commitment to put a nuclear shield in Eastern Europe.

Shutting Down Government
It is not Republicans threatening to shut down government. It is President Obama and Democrats threatening to shut down government if the Republicans don’t give them all the spending they want. Then they expect the media will collude with them to blame it on Republicans. They may be right—but educate everyone you talk to.

With Detroit in dire straits, mayor invites big thinking
Excerpt: But his eyes were focused on the grim details of the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Page 25: The annual budget is in the hole by $155 million. Page 28: Long-term debt has climbed to $5.7 billion. Bing tapped the 237-page document with his index finger, number after daunting number. "When I was elected, I thought I knew what was going on, but I got here and found out [that] in the short term, things were way worse than I ever imagined," Bing said. "Financially. Ethically. From a policy standpoint. We were on the brink of a financial calamity." Twenty-one months into the job, that's where the city remains. With no salvation in sight, Bing, 67, has embarked on a mission few in his position have ever had to take on: dramatically shrinking a major American metropolis. To do so, Bing has issued an open invitation: anyone with a proposal, plan, theory - a notion, even - is welcome to try to save his crumbling city.

The GOP's nuclear option on spending
Excerpt: Republican leaders will soon be walking a tightrope when it comes to the looming spending debate. But at least it looks like the public is on their side. The GOP wants big spending cuts before it will agree to a budget or lift the debt ceiling above the current $14.3 billion -- two issues that will have to be taken up by March. A recent Gallup poll showed the public narrowly preferred the GOP's proposal to return to 2008 spending levels rather than President Obama's proposed five-year freeze. And a new poll conducted by automated pollster Pulse Opinion Research for The Hill newspaper shows that people largely agree. The poll found 62 percent of people oppose raising the debt ceiling, while just 27 percent support it.

Conrad to tell Senate Democrats: Get serious on budget deficit
Excerpt: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) will use this week's Senate Democratic retreat to try to convince his colleagues to support a deficit-reduction plan based on the recommendations of President Obama’s debt commission. Conrad suggested Tuesday that efforts like the plan proposed by House Republicans to reduce spending in the current fiscal year by $32 billion are small grapes, and that it is time for both ends of
Pennsylvania Avenue
to get serious over a deficit projected at $1.5 trillion this year. “What matters to me is an overall plan that over ten years that gets to the level of deficit reduction in the commission plan,” he told reporters. “All the rest of this is to me, it just doesn’t go to the heart of the problem.”

The Truth About the Debt Ceiling: Separating economic fact from economic myth
Excerpt: The statutory debt limit, or debt ceiling, was designed to control congressional spending by limiting the amount of debt the federal government could accumulate. Clearly, it has not fulfilled its legislative purpose. In fact, the government has lost its ability to monitor its own spending. Having to raise the debt ceiling yet again is a sign that Congress has failed to do what is necessary to get the nation’s finances in order. Here are three myths about the debt ceiling, each one rebutted by a fact.

A Medicaid Rebellion?
Excerpt: What would you call a health-insurance program that has worse health outcomes for cancer and heart disease than Medicare or private insurance, that pays doctors and specialists so little that they often refuse to see patients, and that’s driving state budgets into bankruptcy? If you’re the Obama administration, apparently, you call it a success and make it the cornerstone of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health-care-reform legislation passed in March 2010 that is better known as Obamacare. The program in question is Medicaid, the joint federal-state program for low-income, uninsured Americans. Despite Medicaid’s terrible track record, President Obama built his reform around it, largely for budgetary reasons. Obama had promised that health-care reform would cost less than $1 trillion, so the Affordable Care Act relies heavily on expanding Medicaid, which pays much less for physicians’ services than Medicare and insurance, to cover the uninsured. The new law would bring 16 million Americans—one-half of the estimated 32 million who will receive new insurance coverage—into Medicaid, covering Americans making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. But without substantial Medicaid reform, Obamacare will result in a human and fiscal disaster….Adding financial insult to medical injury, Medicaid spending currently consumes about 20 percent of state budgets, crowding out spending on everything from education to infrastructure. It is also part of the trifecta of federal programs—Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—driving the federal budget over a deficit cliff. In 2011, the federal and state governments are projected to spend $466 billion on Medicaid, with costs rising about 8 percent a year. Under the new law, Medicaid will spend an additional $443 billion by 2019—hardly evidence of the cost control that Obama promised for health-care reform.

The collapse is coming. ~Bob. Excerpt: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned that the nation’s projected deficit and debt levels “cannot actually happen” because creditors would refuse, at some future point, to finance the government’s spending. “By definition, the unsustainable trajectories of deficits and debt that the [Congressional Budget Office] outlines cannot actually happen, because creditors would never be willing to lend to a government whose debt, relative to national income, is rising without limit,” Bernanke said at the National Press Club. The national debt is currently about 60 percent of the economy, or Gross Domestic Product, he said, adding that it is projected to reach 90 percent of GDP by 2020 and 150 percent of GDP by 2030. But Bernanke’s citation of $9.5 trillion in national debt didn’t include the $4.6 trillion owed by the government to trust funds for things such as Social Security and Medicare, which have paid out cash to the Treasury in exchange for promisory notes. The full national debt – when both forms of debt are included – is already just under 100 percent of GDP, which is currently around $14.6 trillion. Bernanke quoted economist Herbert Stein as saying, “If something can’t go on forever, it will stop.”

California divides taxpayer money among its politicians
Excerpt: When trying to understand why Texas is a thriving economic superpower while California is a political basket case with 12 percent unemployment, one conclusion is inescapable: Political culture and governing philosophy matter. California is paying increasingly more in wealth transfer payments to those in government or those who benefit from government programs -- government spending in California has increased more than 26 percent since 1998, with almost no public benefit to show for it. Perhaps the starkest example of this is the unbridled arrogance of California's politicians. On Dec. 7, the Los Angeles Times reported that California Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo filed a lawsuit on behalf of all state legislators. Cedillo claims that a recent 18 percent cut in pay and benefits imposed on California's legislators by an independent commission was illegal. The pay cut, which went into effect last year, reduced legislators' salaries from $116,208 to $95,291. No cuts were made to the legislature's benefits, car allowances or the additional $30,000 in annual per diem payments legislators receive. Cedillo told the Sacramento Bee that the pay cuts would "put [legislators'] families in a difficult situation." Meanwhile, 2.3 million Californians remain unemployed.

The decline and fall of the Democratic Leadership Council
They don’t think they need pretend centrists anymore—except for BO “moving to the center.” ~Bob. Excerpt: The news, first reported by Politico's Ben Smith, that the Democratic Leadership Council will shut down -- possibly by the end of the week -- marks the end of an era in Democratic party politics. "With its CEO Bruce Reed joining the Administration, the DLC Board of Directors has decided to suspend operations while it considers what the next phase of the DLC will be," DLC founder Al From said in a statement released this afternoon. From, along with an up-and-coming politician named Bill Clinton, formed the group in 1985, a reaction to Ronald Reagan's sweeping presidential win in 1984. The DLC's stated goal? "Creating a dynamic but centrist progressive movement of new ideas rooted in traditional American values," according to Clinton's autobiography "My Life".

Since D.C.'s handgun ban ended, well-heeled residents have become well armed
Excerpt: In the 2½ years since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the District's handgun ban, hundreds of residents in Washington's safest, most well-to-do neighborhoods have armed themselves, registering far more guns than people in poorer, crime-plagued areas of the city, according to D.C. police data.

Romania May Crack Down on Witches
Excerpt: Legislation being debated in Romania would require witches to get a permit and make it possible to fine or even imprison one whose prediction turns out to be false. (...) On Jan. 1, Romania changed its labor laws to officially recognize witchcraft as a profession, angering some witches. (In the new spirit of civility and bipartisanship, I think we should all chip in and buy Nancy Pelosi a permit. ~Bob.)

FCC Will Vote to Subsidize Internet Access in 'Unserved Areas'
Excerpt: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote on proposed changes to a decades-old subsidy program that would replace the current telephone subsidies with subsidies for Internet access in "unserved areas." The changes, proposed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Monday, would begin replacing the Universal Service Fund (USF) subsidy program with Genachowski’s signature Connect America Fund. (For those who were wondering how the FCC was planning to justify its assertion of authority over the internet—in spite of repeated court findings against them and threatened Congressional action—here’s the answer and their way to pay for it. Who could be “against extending internet access to all?” Internet access is a “basic human right” according to at least one Scandinavian country. Maybe they’ll issue us all computers, too, with duly approved software and accessories. Be afraid, Big Brother is only here to help you. Ron P. Next, they’ll meet “undocumented workers” at the border with a laptop and WiFi connection. ~Bob.)

Social Scientist Sees Bias Within
Excerpt: Some of the world’s pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting. Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.” It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three. “This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

They have a couple cans of whoop ass
Excerpt: Your Marines will walk through fire for you if they know you have their backs. If you can’t send a care package, send a post card letting them know you are thinking about them because in the end, they just want your support!

Big Government, Big Business, Big Problem
Excerpt: In what Politico is calling “the first whiff of the desperation inside the White House about the slowness of the economic recovery,” President Barack Obama spoke to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday, claiming: “I understand the challenges you face. I understand you are under incredible pressure to cut costs and keep your margins up. I understand the significance of your obligations to your shareholders and the pressures that are created by quarterly reports. I get it.” No. No, he doesn’t. President Obama went on to say, “Even as we eliminate burdensome regulations, America’s businesses have a responsibility as well to recognize that there are some basic safeguards, some basic standards that are necessary to protect the American people from harm or exploitation. Not every regulation is bad. Not every regulation is burdensome on business. A lot of the regulations that are out there are things that all of us welcome in our lives.” Sounds nice. But then the President went on to defend Obamacare, which requires hundreds of new regulations, raises taxes by more than $500 billion, and has already forced the Department of Health and Human Services to grant more than 700 waivers to President Obama’s political allies. Any successful market economy does require some basic rules of the road to function. But there is a big difference between a general system of rules that applies equally to everyone and an invasive regulatory scheme that rewards the politically connected.

VIDEO: Nobody Was Doing Anything So I Just Clobbered Them! - OAP [Old Age Pensioner] Tells How She Foiled SIX Robbers With Her Handbag
Excerpt: An incredibly brave pensioner who used her handbag to fight off six hammer-wielding robbers trying to break into a jewellers has said she was shocked that no one else did the same. The woman, who does not want to be named, fended off robbers armed with sledgehammers and her heroics were captured on video as the criminal gang tried to break into Michael Jones Jewellers in Northampton, yesterday morning. 'I was standing talking with a woman when I heard a commotion and I looked across and saw six young men on scooters,' said the pensioner. 'At first I thought one of them was being set upon by three others. 'I was not going to stand by and watch somebody take a beating or worse so I tried to intervene. (Get some! ~Bob.)

Why The Left Will Never Win
Excerpt: Think of children who are living in middle to upper income homes, where the need to worry about accommodations, food, clothing and entertainment is non-existent. Where personal responsibility is not foremost on the agenda. Do you think any of these children ever concern themselves with the ability of their parents to continue to pay for their free ride? That’s how it is with today’s society. GIVE ME – GIVE ME – GIVE ME!.... We, who have taken the torch from our parents and grandparents ask for nothing, and understand personal consequences and obligations. AND NOW WE’RE PISSED! And that’s why the LEFT will NEVER win. (Except that the children now outnumber the adults and can vote for politicians who will use the coercive power of the government to take from the productive adults and give to them—until the system collapses in fiscal ruin. ~Bob.)

One-Legged Afghan Red Cross Worker Set to be Hanged After Converting to Christianity
Excerpt: He was arrested in May last year as he attempted to seek asylum at the German embassy following a crackdown on Christians within Afghanistan. He claims he was visited by a judge who told him he would be hanged within days unless he converted back to Islam. But he remains defiant and said he would be willing to die for his faith. He told the Sunday Times: 'My body is theirs to do what they want with. 'Only God can decide if my spirit goes to hell.' Defence lawyers have refused to represent him, while others have dropped the case after receiving death threats. Mr Musa was arrested after a TV station showed western men baptising Afghans during secret ceremonies.

Mary Steyn interview
This is a 55 minute interview of Steyn, discussing his evolution into an international writer, but going very heavily into today's social trends, including lowered Western birth rates and the rise of Islamism. A very worthwhile listen, when you have the time. --Del

For Obama, Political Risks in Projecting Powerlessness
Excerpt: In terms of his domestic political standing, there would probably be more danger for Mr. Obama in tying himself to any one particular outcome in Egypt than in remaining vague. A study by James Meernik and Michael Ault finds that when the United States adopts a strategy that depends on internal change in a foreign nation — that is, one that explicitly promotes the success of one faction in a domestic power struggle or civil war — the approval rating for the president’s foreign policy regarding that country declines by an average of 13 points. (This is not the same as overall presidential approval, which may be affected only negligibly, depending on how important the issue is relative to others.) By contrast, a policy of restraint is associated with a slight increase in approval of presidential policy toward that country.

Lieberman’s Legacy: Good Man, Terrible Climate Policy
Excerpt: The environmental movement sends messages urging us to save the planet from ecological disaster. The message is everywhere, all the “go green” images that permeate everyday living. The myth of drowning polar bears is a favorite of theirs, hand-in-hand with the message that humans are fundamentally to blame for everything that negatively impacts nature. It doesn’t matter how obscure or insignificant the impact, or that no proof exists that the damage was caused by human activity in the first place.  (…) Call it collective guilt for our amazing success, or a psychological need to appear morally superior to the masses, the message of the movement is that you must be a terrible person if you don’t want to “save the planet.” Who could be so selfish? Who could have the nerve to think independently about such a matter?

The "Judicial Activism" Ploy by Thomas Sowell
Excerpt: Now that two different federal courts have declared ObamaCare unconstitutional, the administration's answer is to call the courts guilty of "judicial activism." Barack Obama has a rhetorical solution for every problem. Remember the repeated claims of "shovel-ready" projects that needed only federal stimulus money to get started? Last year the President quietly admitted that there were not many "shovel-ready" projects, after all. But the phrase served its political purpose at the time-- and that was obviously all that mattered. Now, in the wake of rulings by two different courts that ObamaCare is unconstitutional, rhetoric is being mobilized again, without any fussy worries about facts. "Judicial activism" is a term coined years ago by critics of judges who make rulings based on their own beliefs and preferences, rather than on the law as written. It is not a very complicated notion, but political rhetoric can confuse and distort anything.

Wilders: "The lights are going out all over Europe"
Excerpt: Speech of Geert Wilders at the resumption of his trial in Amsterdam today: The lights are going out all over Europe. All over the continent where our culture flourished and where man created freedom, prosperity and civilization. Everywhere the foundation of the West is under attack. All over Europe the elites are acting as the protectors of an ideology that has been bent on destroying us since fourteenth centuries. An ideology that has sprung from the desert and that can produce only deserts because it does not give people freedom. The Islamic Mozart, the Islamic Gerard Reve [a Dutch author], the Islamic Bill Gates; they do not exist because without freedom there is no creativity. The ideology of Islam is especially noted for killing and oppression and can only produce societies that are backward and impoverished. Surprisingly, the elites do not want to hear any criticism of this ideology. My trial is not an isolated incident. Only fools believe it is. All over Europe multicultural elites are waging total war against their populations. Their goal is to continue the strategy of mass-immigration, which will ultimately result in an islamic Europe - a Europe without freedom: Eurabia. The lights are going out all over Europe. Anyone who thinks or speaks individually is at risk. Freedom loving citizens who criticize islam, or even merely suggest that there is a relationship between islam and crime or honour killing, must suffer and are threatened or criminalized. Those who speak the truth are in danger. The lights are going out all over Europe. Everywhere the Orwellian thought police are at work, on the lookout for thought crimes everywhere, casting the populace back within the confines where it is allowed to think.

Excerpt: Tuesday is a very important day. It is the day that a new documentary, “Iranium,” will be screened across the United States and Canada, and on Capitol Hill.
As the title suggests, Iranium exposes the Iranian government’s brutal oppression of its people, its plans to spread its version of Islamic radicalism everywhere, and its global network of terrorism. You will see photographs and evidence of Tehran’s ceaseless drive to build the nuclear weapons that will make Iran the hegemonic power in the Middle East. The spiced and honeyed voice of Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo narrates rare footage of events in Iran and around the world and introduces interviewees who explain the deadly threat that Iran poses to America and free people everywhere.

Worth Reading: The Way Forward in Egypt
Excerpt: Is there a coherent explanation for the bizarre muddle that is the Obama administration's policy toward Egypt? The charitable view is that the administration is deliberately speaking out of both sides of its mouth—sometimes hostile, sometimes conciliatory to Hosni Mubarak—because it's hedging its bets about the outcome of the unrest. Frank Wisner, the administration's handpicked envoy to Cairo, told a security conference here that "President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical—it's his opportunity to write his own legacy." Yet Hillary Clinton declared at the same conference that democratic reform was a "strategic necessity" and that it was time for Mr. Mubarak to let his vice president take matters in hand. The alternative explanation is that the administration has no idea what it's doing. Considering that Mrs. Clinton has now endorsed the Muslim Brotherhood's participation in negotiations with the regime, I find myself leaning toward the uncharitable view. So what should the administration do now? Here's a simple exercise:

Egypt, Israel and a Strategic Reconsideration
Excerpt: The events in Egypt have sent shock waves through Israel. The 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel have been the bedrock of Israeli national security. In three of the four wars Israel fought before the accords, a catastrophic outcome for Israel was conceivable. In 1948, 1967 and 1973, credible scenarios existed in which the Israelis were defeated and the state of Israel ceased to exist. In 1973, it appeared for several days that one of those scenarios was unfolding. The survival of Israel was no longer at stake after 1978. In the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the various Palestinian intifadas and the wars with Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, Israeli interests were involved, but not survival. There is a huge difference between the two. Israel had achieved a geopolitical ideal after 1978 in which it had divided and effectively made peace with two of the four Arab states that bordered it, and neutralized one of those states. The treaty with Egypt removed the threat to the Negev and the southern coastal approaches to Tel Aviv.

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