Thursday, January 28, 2010

Political Digest January 28, 2010

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with every—or any—opinion in the posted article.

Poisoned PDF Pill Used to Attack US Military Contractors
Excerpt: Unidentified hackers are running an ongoing cyber-espionage attack targeting US military contractors. Booby-trapped PDF files, posing as messages from the US Department of Defense, were emailed to US defence contractors last week. The document refers to a real conference due to be held in Las Vegas in March. Opening the malicious PDF file attached to the spoofed emails triggers an attempt to exploit an Adobe Reader vulnerability only patched by the software firm last Tuesday (12 January). The infection of vulnerable systems opens up a backdoor that connects to a server hosted in Taiwan, though the hackers who set up the attack may potentially be located anywhere.

U.S. military teams, intelligence deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes
Excerpt: U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials. The operations, approved by President Obama and begun six weeks ago, involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. The American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network. As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said. The officials, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operations.

9/11 Commission head presses Obama on anti-terrorism efforts
excerpt: President Barack Obama did not devote enough attention to fighting terrorism last year because he was distracted by legislative battles over healthcare and climate change, the former chairman of the 9/11 Commission said Tuesday.

U.K. Islamic TV head held on terror claims
Another moderate Muslim exposed. Excerpt: The head of Britain's popular Muslim television station was arrested in South Africa and faces deportation to Tunisia on terrorism claims, officials said. Mohamed Ali Harrath, the force behind Britain's Islam Channel, was arrested Sunday in what some said was a security clampdown in South Africa in the months leading up to the 2010 World Cup soccer championship, The Times of London reported Tuesday. The Times reported more than a year ago that Harrath, who advised Scotland Yard on Islamic extremism, was wanted by Interpol because of alleged terrorist activities in his homeland of Tunisia. The broadcaster was convicted in absentia of criminal and terrorism-related offenses in Tunisia and sentenced to 56 years in prison. (There are a couple of bitter jokes. How can you tell when a moderate Muslim is really a Jihadist? When he starts shooting? What is the definition of a “moderate Muslim”? One who is out of ammo. Until the millions of peaceful Muslims are as active against the Jihadists as the rest of us, the terror and distrust of Muslims will continue.)

Somerset authorities seize grenade launcher, weapons cache from Virginia man at motel
Nothing to see here. Just another “isolated incident” and we shouldn’t “jump to conclusions,” as President wobbly would say. Lots of people have things like this in their homes. Excerpt: FBI finds no terrorism link to Virginia man with weapons cache in N.J. motel room. Somerset County investigators seized a cache of weapons including a grenade launcher and hundreds of rounds of ammunition today from the Branchburg motel room of a Virginia man, who also had maps of a U.S. military facility and an out-of-state civilian community….Investigators also found Middle Eastern red and white traditional headdress, Forrest said.

Are you sitting down! UN sending 6000 more Somalis to US this year
Doesn’t say if they can bring headdresses and grenade launchers with them, or if they’ll have to buy them here out of their welfare checks. Excerpt: We are in the worst recession since the Great Depression; refugee agencies are scrambling everywhere to take care of the refugees they have. Just yesterday the Department of State released the news that they are doubling the per head payment (from taxpayers) for each refugee entering the US. On top of that, in many cities around the world, the Somali diaspora is producing jihadist fighters. And, we are going to take 6000 Somalis from one refugee camp in Uganda?

Terror Trial cursed
Excerpt: Two jurors were excused from the "terror mom" trial yesterday after they saw a spectator point his fingers like a gun and silently curse the jury. The unidentified man in a white headdress was taken into custody but it was unclear if charges were filed following the incident in Manhattan federal court.

Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and how Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack
Excerpt: Suddenly, the coverage is interrupted by a breaking news bulletin: Networks are receiving reports that air traffic controllers have lost contact with United Airlines Flight 931, bound for San Francisco from London’s Heathrow Airport. The plane suddenly fell off the radar screen as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Reporters scramble to figure out what has happened, when a second report comes in: Air traffic controllers have lost contact with another plane—United Flight 959 bound for Chicago, also departing from Heathrow. Moments later, another report: Air Canada Flight 849 bound for Toronto has gone missing. Then another: Air Canada Flight 865 bound for Montreal has disappeared. Then another: American Airlines flight 131 bound for New York has disappeared. Then another: United Flight 925 bound for Washington has disappeared. Then another: American Airlines Flight 91 bound for Chicago has disappeared. As the reports roll in, it becomes clear that the unimaginable has happened: al Qaeda terrorists have hijacked seven planes carrying at least 1,500 passengers, and blown them up as they crossed the Atlantic. It is the second deadliest terrorist attack in history, surpassed only by the 9/11 attack itself. The following day, as images of debris floating in the ocean fill our TV screens, the terrorists’ martyrdom videos are delivered to al Jazeera and broadcast to the world. One of the hijackers sputters: “We will rain upon you such terror and destruction that you will never know peace. There will be floods of martyrdom operations and bombs falling through your lands.” The ringleader of the plot, a terrorist named Abdulla Ahmed Ali, pokes his finger at the camera and declares: “Sheikh Osama warned you. … now the time has come for you to be destroyed.”

American disapproval of Obama is on the rise
Excerpt: The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don't like, which is: everything.

Lawmakers cold on Obama's freeze
Excerpt: President Barack Obama’s proposal to freeze government spending is turning out to be a tough sell on Capitol Hill. His liberal base warned Tuesday the three-year cap on most non-defense discretionary spending could hamper an economic recovery. Conservatives dismissed it as insufficient and just for show. Even the bipartisan group of lawmakers who praised Obama’s plan, most of them centrists, questioned whether he has the fortitude to veto plump spending bills that fail to adhere to the limits he has set. They also wonder if he will take further steps to rein in the $12.3 trillion federal debt. Top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), offered tepid support for Obama’s plan, saying it wasn’t enough.

The importance of independents
Excerpt: In the wake of Sen.-elect Scott Brown's (R) victory over state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) in last week's Senate special election, a debate has been raging over independents. The conventional wisdom -- as argued in this blog and many other places -- is that the flight of independents from the Democratic party as evidenced not just in Massachusetts but in governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia in 2009 represent a major problem for Democrats heading into the midterm elections. The counter-conventional wisdom -- as argued by political science professor John Sides (and channeled by Ezra Klein) is that there are far fewer actual independents than the 30+ percent number regularly cited by pollsters and reporters. Sides argues that only about 10 percent of the electorate is truly independent while the remainder say they are independents but lean toward one party or the other and almost always vote that lean -- making pronouncements about what independents are doing politically largely meaningless. (The Post polling unit conducted some fascinating research into the various types of independent voters in 2007.) Into that debate lands a new analysis of the Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts races by Third Way, a moderate Democratic group. Penned by Jim Kessler, Third Way's vice president for policy, the analysis makes the case that to win in 2010 Democrats must find a way to court independents successfully. (It's worth noting that Third Way, as its name suggests, promotes a centrist approach to governance and politics and this analysis affirms their point of view.)

High stakes, serious challenges for Obama's State of the Union speech
Excerpt: The political world turns to Capitol Hill tonight at 9 p.m. ET as President Obama delivers his first State of the Union address. (Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell -- a future member of the 2012 veepstakes for Republicans -- will deliver the Republican response.) The stakes for the president are considerable. He will speak just eight days after suffering the most significant political and policy setback of his first year in office when Republicans claimed a victory in a Massachusetts Senate special election that robbed Democrats of their 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority. That loss set off a panic among Democratic elected officials, an anxiety that has led to rumors of a bevy of retirements from members who now believe they simply can't win in the climate the administration has created. (While the animosity between some elements of the Democratic Congress and the White House has been papered-over to date, it slipped out a bit when retiring Rep. Marion Berry told his local newspaper that Obama had explained to him that 2010 wasn't 1994 for one simple reason: "You've got me.") Given that context, one of Obama's main challenges will be to assure Democrats that he understands the political peril they are in and he is moving to help them -- primarily by focusing almost exclusively on the economy and job creation particularly for the middle class. The proposals the White House has already previewed -- a three-year freeze on most domestic spending, more money for military families, a series of tax cuts and credits aimed at middle class families -- have a strong populist tint and White House aides have made clear in the day leading up to tonight's speech that the president will seek to make the case that he -- and Democrats by extension -- are standing up for the average American against Republicans and big business. Obama is not a populist by nature and may well struggle if he tries to deliver a campaign-style speech in a chamber where Republicans will be looking to make their opposition to his proposals known.

Recouping the golden quarter
Excerpt: Good news - there is a relatively painless way out of the government spending and deficit mess that Congress and the administration have gotten us into. Also, the apparent collapse of the disastrous health care and cap-and-trade bills might give enough breathing room for economic sanity to return. In my two previous commentaries, I described the calamity that will befall us if spending and deficits are not sharply curtailed. The following briefly portrays a politically doable way to right the economic ship: In the nine quarter-century periods since the American republic was founded in 1789, the one with highest economic growth and job creation was the period from 1983 through 2007. Particularly remarkable - there were just four quarters (out of 100) of negative economic growth in that entire interval. That period of time was characterized by a reduction in government spending from 23.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 20 percent (the low point was 18.4 percent in 2000), and a reduction in marginal tax rates. Despite the reduction in tax rates, tax revenues both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP grew in the 1983-2007 period because of the improved work and investment incentives. As a result, the deficit fell from 6 percent of GDP in 1983 to just 1.2 percent in 2007. For many years (until 1983), the Federal Reserve implicitly followed the Taylor Rule to guide monetary policy, which gave the United States both a falling and relatively stable rate of inflation. (The Taylor Rule is a formula that provides central bankers with information about whether they are creating too much or too little money.) During that golden quarter-century, both the presidency and Congress switched parties a couple of times. Thus, it should be politically possible to go back to the policies that gave us the golden quarter. Most people understand that if the government is growing faster than the economy (as it has been for the past two years) disaster ultimately will occur, but if the economy and the private sector grow faster than the government, as they did from 1983-2007, almost everyone can be far better off.

Don't Look to Europe, The U.S Needs Rehab Capitalism
Excerpt: A year ago, the opinion makers at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos were so riveted by fears of global warming that they paid little attention to another threat. Not this year. The western world appears to be in the grip of mechanisms squeezing much of the innovation out of its once-dynamic economies. Their financial sectors can ill-afford to pass up chances of big gains in order to finance the business sectors, especially start-ups, and their business heads can ill-afford to take their eyes off their earnings next quarter to think about long-term projects. The oft-predicted “decline of the West” may be real this time. The signs include reduced levels of business investment and a slower trend growth rate of productivity and of real wages in large parts of the Western World; and, in some parts, a decade-long decline in job satisfaction, employee engagement and labor supply. No wonder President Barack Obama, on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, said that people are worried.

How Regressive is a Price on Carbon?
Excerpt: Under either a cap-and-trade program that limits carbon emissions or a carbon tax that imposes an outright tax on these emissions, the poor may be among the hardest hit. Because they spend a greater share of their income on energy than higher-income families, households in the lowest fifth of the income distribution could shoulder a relative burden that is 1.4 to 4 times higher than that of households in the top fifth of the income distribution, according to a study by Corbett Grainger and Charles Kolstad. In Who Pays a Price on Carbon? (NBER Working Paper No. 15239), they show that the burden on the poorest households doubles when a price on carbon is targeted narrowly on energy consumption (and not other energy uses) rather than broadly across all industries. “Our results suggest that the burden as a percent of annual income is much higher among lower income groups than higher income groups,” the authors write. Previous research already has suggested that a carbon tax would probably be regressive. This study furthers the analysis by making three key points. First, by linking the amount of carbon emissions from each industry to consumer expenditures by income group, the authors show that consumption differences explain the regressivity of a carbon tax. Assuming a levy of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide, which is in the range of current proposals in Congress, the authors calculate that the one-fifth of households at the bottom of the income distribution would spend an extra $325 a year. That’s less than a third of what the one-fifth of households at the top of the income distribution would pay annually. However, households in the low-income group earn only one-tenth as much as those in the high-income group on average, so their burden relative to income would be almost four times higher.

The Obama Fisc
Spending religion arrives a year, and trillions of dollars, too late.
Excerpt: Meet President Obama 2.0. Unlike the 2009 version, this 2010 update isn't the spender who has sent the federal deficit to levels unseen since World War II. This new fellow is a fiscal conservative, and Americans will see this major new talent perform tonight as he delivers his State of the Union address. Whether or not Americans choose to believe him, there's no denying the fiscal reality created by the rollout version of President Obama last year, as detailed in the Congressional Budget Office report released yesterday. For the second year in a row, fiscal 2010 will see a trillion-dollar deficit—an estimated $1.35 trillion, or 9.2% of GDP, which is down slightly from last year's post-World War II record of 9.9%. Mr. Obama did inherit a recession, which is partly responsible for this ocean of red ink. The slow pace of economic recovery has contributed to a collapse in revenues, down to 14.8% of GDP in 2009 and an estimated 14.9% this year. That's well below the modern historical average of about 18.1%, and it is a reminder that economic growth is the most important contributor to smaller deficits. Had last year's "stimulus" worked half as well as the White House advertised, these deficits wouldn't be as large. But as the nearby chart shows, Mr. Obama's major contribution to deficits has been a record spending spree. In 2007, before the recession, federal expenditures reached $2.73 trillion. By 2009 expenditures had climbed to $3.52 trillion. In 2009 alone, overall federal spending rose 18%, or $536 billion. Throw in a $65 billion reduction in debt service costs due to low interest rates, and the overall spending increase was 22%.

Fox News Bests CNN As "Most Trusted Name In News"
Excerpt: After years of CNN touting itself as "the most trusted name in news," a survey released Tuesday from Public Policy Polling (PPP) discovers that among major news sources, only the Fox News Channel enjoys a plurality of respondents (49%) saying they "trust" the network (vs. 37% who disagree). For CNN, only 39% trust the network's news product, vs. 41% who do not, and the distrust is even higher when the public is asked about the broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. And, as Time media writer James Poniewozik notes in a January 26 item “PPP, in fact, is a mainly Democratic-affiliated polling firm.” The survey included 1,151 registered voters and was conducted between January 18 and January 19. PPP is based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Study: Only Fox News Offered Obama Historically Normal Scrutiny in 2009
Excerpt: The Washington Times’s Jennifer Harper picked up on a new study from the non-partisan Center for Media and Public Affairs showing President Obama getting much more flattering news coverage from ABC, CBS and NBC (46% positive vs. 54% negative) during his first year in office than did Presidents Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush, all of whom received roughly three times more bad press than good from those same broadcast networks. But one network did offer scrutiny roughly equal to that provided by the old networks in the past, according to CMPA: the Fox News Channel. Reviewing the first thirty minutes of FNC’s Special Report with Bret Baier, CMPA found roughly three times more negative coverage of Obama (78%) vs. positive coverage (22%) during 2009. This compares to the broadcast networks doling out 74% bad press for Ronald Reagan in 1981 and 77% bad press for George W. Bush in 2001. In 1993, Bill Clinton fared better than his GOP counterparts (28% positive vs. 72% negative), but much worse than President Obama.

Top climate change adviser calls for honesty from scientists in global warming debate
Excerpt: Scientists should be more honest and open about the uncertainty of predicting the rate of climate change, the Government's chief scientific adviser said. In astonishing intervention into the climate change debate, Professor John Beddington condemned scientists who refuse to publish the data forming the basis of their reports said they should be less hostile to sceptics. Professor Beddington was speaking in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) admission that it had made a mistake by claiming that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035. That followed the 'Climategate' row over whether researchers at East Anglia University manipulated evidence to support a theory of man-made global warming.

Which Democrat will scream “You lie”?
Excerpt: Tonight, President Obama will unveil his State of the Union. Said one well connected Democrat last night, “Things are so bad there is a betting pool on which DEMOCRAT screams ‘You Lie!’ tomorrow night.” Well, tomorrow night is now arrived. This past week, Americans have been treated to two very awkward scenes — Barack Obama speaking to a group of elementary school students with his teleprompter and Barack Obama speaking to his middle class task force with a teleprompter. The man is extremely scripted. The visuals subject Obama to appropriate ridicule (school kids + teleprompter. Really?!?), but the script he is using is the true punchline for jokes. For the past year, Barack Obama has called everything he does “unprecedented” and “historic.” His favorite four letter word is “Bush”. A day does not go by without someone in the administration blaming George Bush for all their ills. Counter-intuitively, the Democrats even blamed George Bush for Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts. Tonight, it will be interesting to see how often he blames George Bush and how often he resorts to stale cliches the public is no longer buying. Obama, his teleprompter, and the rhetoric they deploy have become the butt of late night jokes. When Barack Obama loses Jon Stewart, he is in real trouble.

What is the Healthcare Debate Really About?
Excerpt: Ask yourself this question: What is the one health system characteristic every developed country has, except the United States? If you answered: Every other country has made health care a right, you’re wrong. Citizens of Canada have no right to any particular health care service. They have no right to a CT scan or open heart surgery. They don’t even have a right to a place in line. The 100th Canadian waiting for heart surgery isn’t entitled to the 100th surgery. If you answered: Every other country guarantees essential care to all its citizens, you’re wrong. Citizens of Canada and Britain are routinely denied prompt access to basic health care. If you answered: Every other country guarantees access to care, regardless of ability to pay, you’re wrong again. In Britain people routinely go to the private sector and pay out-of-pocket for care they cannot get from the state. Canadians come to this country. In both cases, lack of ability to pay is a barrier to care. If you answered: Other countries make primary care more accessible because there is no barrier of money, you’re wrong once more. Americans get more primary care than Europeans. Even uninsured Americans get as much or more primary care as Canadians get. So what really is the difference? Answer: Other countries have nationalized, or collectivized, their health care systems. So far we have not. In the United States, whether you have insurance at all, what kind of insurance you have, where you get it, what price you pay — these decisions are primarily made by individuals and employers in the private sector. In other countries, they are made by government. In terms of democratic theory, in other countries people get to vote on what kind of insurance you have and you get to vote on theirs. In the United States the health insurance of most working-age families is based on individual choice, not public choice.

Blacks Held to Lower Standards in Perpetuity
Excerpt: The disparate impact theory of liability was articulated in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971). The Supreme Court held that for purposes of hiring, an employer's use of a high school diploma requirement and aptitude tests violated the Civil Rights Act. Black applicants disproportionately lacked diplomas and/or scored low on the tests. Under the disparate impact analysis, discrimination need not be intentional. Even if an employment practice is "facially neutral," it's suspect if it has an adverse impact on members of a protected class. To avoid liability, businesses would have to demonstrate that such tests are a business necessity or related to job performance. Racial minorities, especially blacks, should feel highly insulted by the entrenched assumption that they should not be expected to compete against whites on pencil-and-paper multiple choice civil service tests. Not only should they speak out against such condescending assumptions, they should refuse any and all special treatment, and demand to be treated as capable and responsible individuals. Such attitudes may be the impetus needed to put an end to these ridiculous and embarrassing lawsuits. Remember the whole point of the civil rights movement: to be treated equally as individuals by the government, without regard to race. Every lawsuit and complaint that cites "disparate impact" confirms that our government believes blacks and other preferred minorities should be held to lower standards in perpetuity. (I think we should sue the NBA and the NFL for racial discrimination. By using athletic ability as the hiring criteria, they create a “disparate impact” on whites and Asians.)

Obama's Dawn Johnsen Appointment
Excerpt: Johnsen goes much further in her pro-abortion militancy than even the Clintons, than even President Obama. She worked for years to strip the Catholic Church of its tax-exempt status. Why? Because the Catholic Church has never wavered in its outspoken defense of unborn children. Dawn Johnsen was part of the Abortion Rights Mobilization (ARM ) that fought a legal battle for eight years in the courts.

K Street rushing to get its slice of jobs bill before spending freeze
SOUIE! Pig! Pig! Pig! Come eat! Excerpt: An $80 billion “jobs package” under consideration in the Senate is stimulating a lobbying rush for federal dollars before the administration tries to cap spending. Transit and high-speed rail advocates, teachers, community bankers, credit unions and business trade groups are seeking spending and tax provisions in the package, which Democrats hope will revive the economy and improve their electoral prospects after a string of defeats at the polls.

There is a simple way to get corporate money out of politics: get the government out of our lives and economic affairs. If government has no favors to sell, no one will spend money trying to win them. --columnist John Stossel

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