Saturday, January 30, 2010

Political Digest January 31, 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.

So long, Todd. The machine, at least, will miss you,0,7096110.column
Another inside view by John Kass as to how Blagobamaville works. Excerpt: Two years ago, former state Senate President Emil Jones was retiring. The longtime African-American Democratic leader, who set Barack Obama on the path to the White House, installed his own son to take his seat. Jones answered the media howls of indignation by ticking off a string of mostly Irish Democratic families, many shrouded in heroic mythology. "I recall John F. Kennedy, president of the United States, when he became president, he recommended his brother, right?" Jones pointedly said. "And his brother was elected (to the Senate). "Mayor Richard M. Daley begot Mayor Richard J. Daley," Jones continued. "Dan Hynes — by former state Sen. Tom Hynes. Mike Madigan, Lisa Madigan. So that's nothing new." Everybody knows by now that Lisa Madigan was installed as Illinois attorney general by her father, House Speaker Mike Madigan. Would Lisa be in the spot if she came from a different family and if her name were, say, Lisa Kapowski? And how would Rich Daley make a living if his name were, say, Dick Krapnik

The Obama honeymoon with France over?
Excerpt: A honeymoon had been announced. A year ago, Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t hide his satisfaction at seeing Barack Obama become his American counterpart. … Alas, after Barack Obama arrived at the White House in January 2009, he didn’t keep all of his promises to the French, as they quickly collided with the the freshly-elected leader’s distance. Their first telephone contact didn’t occur as quickly as first anticipated and, above all, despite his insistence, Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t have the honor of being the first chief of state to be received by President Obama, who preferred Gordon Brown. … Commentaries highlighted a growing contrast between the two men, the small and the large, the nervous and the calm, the spontaneous and the reflective. In a Hollywoodish metaphor, Newsweek would compare Nicolas Sarkozy to the “diminutive tough-guy, actor Joe Pesci -all twitches and attitude – playing opposite Denzel Washington – all dignity and reserve.” But beyond issues of ego, several subjects undermine relations between the two presidents. The economic crisis initially revealed profound differences. The French president, who sought to be at the forefront of combating the crisis, hasn’t spared the United States where, he has repeated, the crisis began. To remedy it, he proposed an overhaul of the global financial system and wanted to legislate it. Barack Obama wouldn’t hear of this, preferring that Europe concentrate on a stimulus. A number of other international issues also increased the friction.

Harkin: Health deal was reached days before Brown's Senate victory
Excerpt: Sen. Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said negotiators from the White House, Senate and House reached a final deal on healthcare reform days before Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts. Labor leaders had announced an agreement with White House and congressional representatives over an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans on the Thursday before the special election. The latest revelation shows how agonizingly close Democrats came to passing a final healthcare bill in time for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. But Sen.-Elect Brown’s stunning victory on Jan. 19 gave Republicans control of 41 seats in the Senate, enough to sustain a GOP filibuster of the healthcare bill. (Of course, Harkin also claimed he flew heroic combat missions in Vietnam, and that turned out to not be true.)

You’ll think this is a joke about statist government run wild
Bad week for Equal-opportunity employment, after a British government-run jobs center rejected an ad from a company specifying that applicants “must be very reliable and hardworking.” A government official told the company that it could get sued “for discriminating against unreliable people.”

GOP lawmakers to try to block federal funds for 9/11 prosecutions
Excerpt: Amid fears that the White House may move the terrorist trials connected with September 11, 2001, to the Washington, D.C., region, GOP lawmakers are planning to introduce legislation that would bar the use federal funds for their prosecution in any U.S. civilian court. The move comes as the White House, met with growing opposition, has reportedly begun considering alternative locations to the originally planned federal district court in downtown Manhattan to try the professed 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants. The legislation expected to be introduced early next week is sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), whose district borders Washington, D.C., and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and would prohibit funding for any Justice Department prosecution in civilian courts of a person being tried in connection with the 9/11 attacks.

Price says Obama and his aides have said Republicans have ‘no ideas’ on health care
Excerpt: During an exchange with President Barack Obama at a Republican retreat in Baltimore, Rep. Tom Price, a Republican from Georgia, complained that Obama has been hostile toward GOP suggestions on health care. “You have repeatedly said, most recently at — at the State of the Union, that Republicans have offered no ideas and no solutions,” Price said on Jan. 29, 2010. “I don’t think I said that,” Obama replied. “What I said was within the context of health care — I remember that speech pretty well. It was only two days ago. . . . I said I’d welcome ideas that you might provide. I didn’t say that you haven’t provided ideas. I said I’d welcome those ideas that you’ll provide.” Price then said, “Mr. President, multiple times from your administration there have come statements that Republicans have no ideas and no solutions, in spite of the fact that we’ve offered, as demonstrated today, positive solutions to all of the challenges we face, including energy and the economy and health care.”

Taxpayers pay $101,000 for Pelosi’s in-flight ‘food, booze’
Recession? Deficit? Never heard of it. Excerpt: It reads like a dream order for a wild frat party: Maker’s Mark whiskey, Courvoisier cognac, Johnny Walker Red scotch, Grey Goose vodka, E&J brandy, Bailey’s Irish Crème, Bacardi Light rum, Jim Beam whiskey, Beefeater gin, Dewars scotch, Bombay Sapphire gin, Jack Daniels whiskey … and Corona beer. But that single receipt makes up just part of the more than $101,000 taxpayers paid for “in-flight services” – including food and liquor, for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trips on Air Force jets over the last two years. That’s almost $1,000 per week.

Scott Brown: 'People Aren't Stupid'
Excerpt: When I arrived at his cramped state senate offices, Scott Brown had just opened one of the many packages he's received since his stunning U.S. Senate victory 11 days ago. A local artist has done up a version of the iconic red, white and blue collage from the 2008 presidential campaign that shows Barack Obama with the word "Hope." This one features a smiling Mr. Brown instead, but the word below is different. It reads "Change. By filling the seat vacated by liberal lion Ted Kennedy in a state Mr. Obama carried by 26 points barely over a year ago, Mr. Brown has certainly changed the political landscape. We sit down the morning after President Obama's State of the Union message, an address in large part shaped by what's been called "the Scott Heard 'Round the World." Mr. Obama uncharacteristically recognized some unforced errors in pushing his liberal agenda, along with expressing some new flexibility on issues ranging from small business tax cuts to offshore oil drilling to nuclear power. Settling into a pinkish-red upholstered chair that looks like what it is—a castoff from a state furniture inventory—Mr. Brown reflects on his new celebrity. "I have to rely on who I've been and still am. I'm still the guy who works out at the YMCA and hangs out at the coffee shop," he says. "The way to handle the attention is to fall back on normalcy." But he knows things are no longer normal. A few hours after we talk he will appear on Jay Leno's TV show. His daughter Ayla—the one who performed on "American Idol"—has been offered a job by a major TV network. And the symbols that propelled his campaign forward are now a part of popular culture. On the day we meet, the Boston Globe has a lengthy article on the meaning of the brown leather "barn coat" he wore on the campaign trail. And then there is the pickup truck he drove around the state, which has become a symbol of his authenticity and "Everyman" origins as a kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and was scared straight by a judge after he was caught shoplifting as a 12-year-old. The key to Mr. Brown's victory was politically independent voters in the Bay State, who favored him by 3-1. So how should other candidates court the independent vote, which in most parts of the country is growing faster than that of either major party? "People out there are disgusted," he says, shaking his head. "Especially with any one party dominating government and talking down to them. They want straight talk, no BS. A focus on jobs and what really creates them. They want problem solvers in office, and it helped me that I was able to show I could work with Democrats in the legislature." That last point has not gotten the attention it deserves. For all of the excitement Mr. Brown generated among conservatives, his actual legislative record reveals a man who rejects ideological rigidity on most issues.

Obama Was Wrong and Alito Was Right
Excerpt: During his first State of the Union speech on Wednesday, President Barack Obama incorrectly stated that foreign nationals and foreign entities can now contribute unlimited amounts of money to U.S. political campaigns because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling lifting certain campaign finance restrictions. This prompted an immediate reaction from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who, sitting directly in front of the president, shook his head and apparently mouthed the words “not true” when Obama made his remark. The high court’s 5-4 ruling in a First Amendment case, Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission (FEC), lifted restrictions for companies, unions, and other organizations to make independent expenditures in political campaigns. The court decision, however does not allow corporations to contribute directly to a campaign or coordinate expenditures with a campaign. Nor did the ruling lift existing law that blocks foreign contributions to political campaigns. In his speech, Obama also claimed the court reversed 100 years of law when, in fact, it overturned a 1990 decision in Austin vs. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Also, parts of the McCain-Feingold reform bill from 2002 that restricted independent political advertising in the closing days of an election were struck down.

Former Secretary of Treasury Paulson Explains Where Money Comes From

Russia's real threat? Failure
Excerpt: There's an old saying, familiar to historians and foreign policy practitioners, that "geography is destiny." A modern twist to this rule is that demography is no less decisive.
Russia is finding this out the hard way. Over the past several years, under the direction of former President (and current Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin and his handpicked protege, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia may have re-emerged on the international scene with a vengeance. But behind all of the Kremlin's contemporary geopolitical bluster, the successor state of the once-mighty Soviet Union is caught in a demographic and socioeconomic death spiral. The numbers tell the story. The population of the Russian Federation is estimated to be declining by about three-quarters of a million people every year. At this rate, the Russian Federation could number just 100 million souls by the middle of this century. Further in the future, the picture gets even gloomier. Russian officials such as Sergei Mironov, chairman of the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of Parliament, have predicted that the population of Russia could dip to 52 million people by 2080 if its current demographic trajectory is not altered.

Autocrats Of The World, Rejoice!
Excerpt: In Beijing General Secretary Hu Jintao is sporting a big grin. Kim Jong Il is breaking out another case of his favorite Hennessy in North Korea. And in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is celebrating in, well, the way that dour theocrats kick up their heels, however they manage to do that. The cause for all this cheer? On Wednesday Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union message, and although he surely did not intend to do so, he essentially let these villains--and others--know they can do whatever they want. The president unfortunately will not be doing much to stop them from destabilizing the international system--or even from threatening the United States. America, whether it should be or not, is a nation at war. There are two obvious ones, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a general struggle against Islamic fanaticism taking place across the globe. Then there are especially consequential confrontations. Two nuclear rogues--North Korea and Iran--threaten to upend everything, while others--Syria comes to mind--wait in the wings.

Obama administration takes several wrong paths in dealing with terrorism
Excerpt: In the war on terrorism, this country faces an enemy whose theory of warfare ends the hard-won distinction in modern thought between combatant and noncombatant. In doing that for which we have created government -- ensuring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- how can we be adequately aggressive to ensure the first value, without unduly threatening the other two? This is hard. And people don't have to be lazy or stupid to get it wrong. We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day. We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not "an isolated extremist." He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.

Ex-con Ojore Nuru Lutalo arrested on Amtrak when passengers report him talking Al Qaeda, terrorism
Didn’t get the memo. Excerpt: Passengers riding with him Tuesday heard Lutalo speaking on his cell phone, declaring he hadn't killed anyone yet and demanding cooperation from a purported cohort. "We have to work in small groups," he was quoted as saying in an affidavit. "They can hold you for 18 months. Do they have security on these trains? Are you with me or not?" Lutalo later mentioned Al Qaeda before saying "17th century tactics won't work. We have 21st century tactics….The suspect - also known as Leroy Bunting - was freed in August after serving a 27-year term for aggravated assault, robbery and weapons possession.

Human rights group: Hamas targeted civilians
This calls for an emergency session of the UN to condemn Israel again. Excerpt: A leading human rights group has disputed Hamas claims that it did not target civilians during last year's Gaza war. Human Rights Watch says Hamas' contention that it aimed its hundreds of rockets at Israeli military targets and only accidentally harmed civilians is contradicted by the facts.

Jews flee Malmö as anti-Semitism grows
Excerpt: Threats and harassment are becoming increasingly commonplace for Jewish residents in Malmö in southern Sweden, leading many Jews to leave the city out of fear for their safety.

No More Honor Killings
Excerpt: The news from Bangladesh is that a teenage girl was recently punished with 101 lashes after she was raped and impregnated. Village elders apparently decide such matters in rural Bangladesh where Sharia law prevails. The girl's family quickly married her off but when the pregnancy emerged her husband demanded a divorce and reparations. So the elders issued a series of fatwas against the girl's family, fining the father and expelling the family from the village. Oh, and they pardoned the rapist. You may feel that we have no business worrying about what happens in remotest Bangladesh, but since we are at war on multiple fronts against such people, or rather they are with us, we'd do well to know our enemy. Why do these outrages occur so consistently in the Muslim world, you might ask, and does it tell us some ineradicable truth about the nature of Islam? Abuses like these are not exclusive to Islam but in no other culture these days are they actually upheld by authorities citing formal tenets of justice.

Bahrain has no plans to close legal loophole allowing for child brides
Excerpt: "The government prompted a storm of controversy last year when it pushed through a law which set the minimum marriage age for girls at 15. Lawmakers from the largest opposition bloc in the Bahraini Parliament had opposed the legislation, saying it went against Islamic principles." Now wait a minute. Islamic apologists in the West are forever telling us that Aisha was not nine years old when Muhammad consummated his marriage with her, and that only greasy Islamophobes think otherwise. Yet the largest opposition bloc in the Bahraini Parliament seems to be full of greasy Islamophobes, since the only "Islamic principles" that would lead them to oppose setting the minimum marriage age for girls at fifteen arise from Muhammad's example in marrying Aisha.

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