Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Political Digest for April 13, 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.

For those who want further information about the topics covered in this blog, I recommend the following sites. I will add to this as I find additional good sources.

Book recommendation: Road of 10,000 Pains: The Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division by the U.S. Marines, 1967 by Otto J. Lehrack
If you want to know what close infantry combat was like in Vietnam, this oral history of the bloodiest campaign of the war will tell you. Because it jumps from points of view, it’s not great for reconstructing what happened when. But it’s superb for sharing in what the grunts went through. This took place when I was mostly in-country, but I was safely elsewhere, thankfully. ~Bob.

Must read: Romneycare a big bust
Excerpt: As a health care plan, Romneycare is an unmitigated fiasco. It has caused costs to skyrocket, insurance premiums to soar and nonprofit providers like Blue Cross to suffer hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. But as a political policy, Romneycare is nearly unparalleled in Republican history. It has destroyed one front-runner’s presidential hopes (Romney’s) and helped undermine an entire presidency. For, as Barack Obama’s supporters keep reminding us, Romneycare was the precursor to Obamacare…. Romneycare has also blown a hole in Romney’s reputation as a “numbers” guy, a savvy business guru who, like him or not, knows how to handle your money. … Taxpayers now spend $2.5 billion more on our state’s health care budget. The direct cost of Romneycare has gone from less than $100 million a year to at least $400 million — and even that number is suspect. But we do know we’ve spent more than $35 million in a single year on health services for illegal immigrants, and tens of millions more on illegal, unallowable or outright bogus claims.

Inside The Deal to Sell GM to China’s SAIC
Excerpt: By now, you’ve no doubt heard the news: General Motors’ Chinese partner, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) will take a controlling stake in GM by purchasing the equity sold to the U.S. and Canadian governments during the bailout. But what does it mean for the future of GM? The announcement was brief, cryptic and buried in the excitement over the multitude of concepts and new vehicles GM has just announced it will debut at the Shanghai auto show in a few weeks. The press release reads simply: “Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and General Motors (NYSE: GM) are announcing today that an agreement has been reached with the governments of the United States and Canada that will allow SAIC to purchase the shares of GM owned by the respective governments. The sale is expected to be completed by this time next year pending approval from U.S., Canadian and Chinese government regulators.”

Saudi Arabia: Second Fukushima if Iranian Bushehr activated in May
But is this good or bad news? ~Bob. Excerpt: Saudi and Kuwait officials have warned the US that if Iran activates its first nuclear reactor at Bushehr in May as planned, there is a good chance it will blow up and the entire Gulf region suffer a nuclear disaster on the scale of the misfortune at Japan's Fukushima and expose millions to radiation contamination. This issue was urgently raised in recent Saudi-US talks – first on April 4 with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and again Monday, April 11, with the National Security Adviser to the US President Tom Donilon. The two high-level US official visits to Riyadh in six days attest to the fierce discord between Saudi King Abdullah and the administration - not just over Iran and its nuclear activity but the entire gamut of US Middle East policy.

Another Spending Cut Plan by Thomas Sowell
My plan would start by cutting off all government transfer payments to billionaires. Many, if not most, people are probably unaware that the government is handing out the taxpayers' money to billionaires. But agricultural subsidies go to a number of billionaires. Very little goes to the ordinary farmer. Big corporations also get big bucks from the government, not only in agricultural subsidies but also in the name of "green" policies, in the name of "alternative energy" policies, and in the name of whatever else will rationalize shoveling the taxpayers' money out the door to whomever the administration designates, for its own political reasons.

D.C. Metro Bomb Plotter Pleads Guilty
Didn’t get the memo. ~Bob. Excerpt: A northern Virginia man was sentenced to 23 years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to two counts of trying to provide material support to al-Qaida. Farooque Ahmed scouted subway stops along Washington, D.C.'s Metro system and other potential targets for terrorist attacks. Unbeknownst to him, his al-Qaida handlers were undercover FBI agents in a sting operation.

Gray, council members arrested at protest of D.C. riders in spending bill
Excerpt: D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and several members of the D.C. Council were arrested Monday at a protest on Capitol Hill, as city officials turned up the volume on their complaints about a federal spending deal that imposes controversial riders on the District. The spending measure — agreed to Friday night by President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) — reimposes a Republican-backed ban on the District spending its own money to provide abortions to low-income women. It also revives and expands a private school voucher program that has divided D.C. officials. (Republicans helping poor black kids against the wishes of the Democrats who owe the teachers’ unions. ~Bob.)

Debt Freedom day is, alas, not in our grandchildren’s lifetime. ~Bob. Americans finally finish working for the federal government on April 12 this year. That's three days later than last year, but still a couple weeks earlier than Tax Freedom Day in 2006 and 2007, April 24. The record in both peace and war was May 1 in 2000. Had Al Gore defeated George W. Bush in that year, TFD probably would have continued rising, as it had since Bill Clinton's election in 1992. Unfortunately, April 12 still isn't much to be happy about. TFD rose to April 12 in 1962, but quickly fell back. In 1967 TFD again hit April 12, eventually oscillating between April 16 and 24. TFD fell to April 19 in 1992 before beginning another sharp rise. As a percentage of income taxes hit 30 percent in 1969 and hovered around the level for years. The tax burden did not fall below 29.1 percent until 2003. This year that percentage will be 27.7, a welcome but only marginal improvement.

Don’t Chase Federal Funds
Excerpt: Despite conventional wisdom, federal funds are not “free” and, in fact, contribute a great deal to the unsustainable growth of state government and a resulting decline in economic growth. In response to the Great Recession, policymakers in Washington, D.C. the last few years have chosen massive increases of federal spending, tax rebates, and temporary tax cuts as the means to increase aggregate demand. They have also allotted money for state governments in order to maintain their spending and ensure that aggregate demand is not off set by state efforts to lower spending. This has in turn encouraged states—even those that are generally fiscally responsible like Texas—to spend beyond their means. These spending policies have not produced the desired results with economic weakness returning in the second quarter of 2010 and likely continuing well into the future.

How Will Health Care Reform Affect Costs and Coverage?
Excerpt: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains substantial new requirements aimed at increasing rates of health insurance coverage. Because many of these provisions impose additional costs on state governments, officials need reliable estimates of the likely impact of the ACA in their state, says the RAND Corporation. RAND researchers undertook a preliminary analysis of how the ACA's key coverage-related provisions would affect insurance coverage and state government health care spending in five states -- California, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana and Texas. They used publicly available data to estimate how various coverage-expansion policies affect the number of people who newly obtain and/or change sources of health insurance, the types of plans in which they enroll, and changes in private- and public-sector spending. Findings include: The percentage of the state population with health care coverage will increase significantly in all five states. The percentage of employees offered insurance will not change substantially, but a small number of employees in small firms (defined as those with fewer than 100 employees in 2016) will obtain employer-sponsored insurance through the state insurance exchanges. Substantial numbers of the nonelderly will choose to buy coverage through the exchanges. In most cases, the majority of new Medicaid enrollees will be newly eligible, but increased enrollment of those previously eligible will cost the states more because the federal government heavily subsidizes newly eligible enrollees.

Good News for All States and All Taxpayers: Rhode Island’s Medicaid Waiver Survives Scrutiny
Excerpt: Rhode Island, the smallest state, is wielding big influence against federal control of health care. Other states would do well to take notice. Federal taxpayers pay about 53 percent of Rhode Island’s Medicaid costs. This has created a perverse incentive for state politicians to increase dependency on Medicaid in order to capture more federal funds. A solution is to convert the funding formula, known as FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentages), to a per-head block grant to the states. Unfortunately, under the Obama administration, things have moved in the wrong direction. The “stimulus” bill of February 2009, increased Rhode Island’s match to about 64 percent. Originally a short-term measure, this excessive leverage was extended through this June. Fortunately, Rhode Island succeeded in crafting a mechanism to restrain out-of-control Medicaid growth. In August 2008, Governor Carcieri tasked his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Gary Alexander, to apply for a “Global Consumer Choice Compact Waiver” from the federal government.

Pakistan threatens to impose new restrictions on CIA activities
Excerpt: Pakistani officials threatened Monday to impose new limits on CIA drone strikes in their country and to expel agency operatives whose missions are not approved by Islamabad, escalating a high-stakes feud between the counterterrorism allies, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. The demands, which were conveyed as top spies from the two countries met at CIA headquarters in Virginia, represent an effort by Pakistan to exert more control over the covert CIA war being waged inside its borders.

Degar Christian woman named Puih Hbat Imprisoned in Vietnam
Commies being Commies. Funny how the left lost interest in human rights in Vietnam about April of 1975. ~Bob.

Six-month spending bill unveiled: What's cut and what's not
Excerpt: House and Senate appropriators revealed details of the 2011 spending-cut deal early Tuesday morning, missing a self-imposed midnight deadline. In dueling press releases, House Republicans emphasized the magnitude of cuts they won in the six-month spending bill after marathon negotiations, while Senate Democrats emphasized cuts they were able to avoid or diminish.

Aggressive Marine tactics thin enemy ranks, alter Taliban tactics
Excerpt: Since September, the Third Platoon has shot somewhere between 125 and 208 Taliban--as many as one enemy killed per patrol. That rate may not seem high, but the cumulative effect has been crushing. Marine tactics, like Ohio State football, have the subtle inevitability of a steamroller. "We got a radio intercept yesterday," Lt. Garcia said. "Some Talib leaders in Pakistan were chewing out the local fighters for quitting. The locals yelled back, 'Marines run toward our bullets.'"
It’s What Happens When the Stupid Party and Evil Party Get Together
Excerpt: There is a quote out there that sometimes get attributed to Republican Senate Leader Everett Dirksen and sometimes not. The quote is that there two parties in Washington — the stupid party and the evil party. Every once in a while the stupid party and the evil party get together and do something that is both stupid and evil. In Washington, that is called bipartisanship. Our United States Senate, led by Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia are on the verge of leading the Congress into doing something both stupid and evil. It will be heralded by the Washington Press Corp as a grownup act of bipartisan.

White House Says Obama ‘Regrets Vote Against Raising Debt Ceiling in 2006, Calls It ‘Mistake’
I forgive him. Everyone’s entitled to one moment of sanity. Just don’t make it a habit. ~Bob. Excerpt: President Barack Obama made a mistake when, as a U.S. senator in 2006, he voted against raising the debt ceiling, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said two days ahead of the president’s major address on fiscal policy.

Mr. Obama's Muddle East
excerpt: President Obama came into office pledging a new approach to the Middle East. We were told that his middle name -- Hussein -- would give him unprecedented entrée to the corridors of power in that troubled region -- and to the Arab street. We thought a Mideast policy could not be more confused, more feckless than Jimmy Carter's. Carter acceded to if he did not welcome the ouster of the Shah in 1979. The Shah was horrible in Carter's eyes. Well, the Ayatollah Khomeini and his mullahs who replaced the Shah were horribler. And still are. Mr. Obama pledged an "open hand" to the mullahs in Tehran. It was spat on. When thousands of young Iranians massed in the streets demanding democracy, it looked like a Hope and Change rally. But this administration turned its back on them and promised to avoid "meddling" in the mullahs' affairs.

Peter Thiel: We're in a Bubble and it's not the Internet. It's higher education.
Excerpt: Thiel isn’t totally alone in the first part of his education bubble assertion. It used to be a given that a college education was always worth the investment– even if you had to take out student loans to get one. But over the last year, as unemployment hovers around double digits, the cost of universities soars and kids graduate and move back home with their parents, the once-heretical question of whether education is worth the exorbitant price has started to be re-examined even by the most hard-core members of American intelligentsia. Making matters worse was a 2005 President George W. Bush decree that student loan debt is the one thing you can’t wriggle away from by declaring personal bankruptcy, says Thiel. “It’s actually worse than a bad mortgage,” he says. “You have to get rid of the future you wanted to pay off all the debt from the fancy school that was supposed to give you that future.”

Democrat in Missouri to Oppose Health Care Law
Excerpt: Missouri’s Democratic attorney general broke with his party on Monday and urged a federal judge to invalidate the central provision of the new health care law.

Humor from National Review’s “Morning Jolt”
“Chris Matthews claims that Paul Ryan's budget plan would kill half his audience. Jim Treacher wonders how the other twelve people would fare.” Subscribe:

Excerpt: A few days ago, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, grandiloquently proclaimed that “if the world is on fire, Turkey is the firefighter. Turkey is assuming the leading role for stability in the Middle East.” Such ambition is new for Ankara. In the 1990s, it contentedly fulfilled its NATO obligations and followed Washington’s lead. Starting about 1996, relations with Israel blossomed. In all, Turkish policy offered an attractive exception to the tyrannical, Islamist, and conspiracist mentality generally dominating Muslim peoples. That the country’s political leaders were corrupt and fumbling seemed of little consequence.

Excerpt: Given the preoccupation of the American media with the possible shutdown of the American government, and the preoccupation of American and world media with Japan’s travails and the revolts in the Arab world, many Americans may have missed the news about the April 1 massacre of United Nations employees in Afghanistan. That is unfortunate because it was as significant as it was instructive. It began on Sunday March 20, when a pastor named Terry Jones burned a Koran at his small church in Florida. To their credit, almost no American media covered the event, and a mere 30 people came to witness it. But Jones broadcast the offensive and asinine event on the Internet — and did so with Arabic subtitles.

Lessons from the Ivory Coast
Excerpt: The most important aspects of the crisis in the Ivory Coast are being overlooked or deliberately disguised by the Western media. One can read media report after media report without discovering the basic fact that the Northern Ivory Coast “rebels” are Muslims. Indeed they are Muslims who by and large entered the Ivory Coast as infiltrators, through borders that are poorly patrolled, from neighboring countries. A better advertisement for stronger border control cannot be found. At least four million illegal immigrants, mostly Muslim, entered the Ivory Coast during the past two decades, tilting the demographic balance there. And these Muslim infiltrators and interlopers, increasingly backed by African, French and Western powers, are challenging the control by Ivory Coast natives over their own country. The sufferings and violence in the Ivory Coast may well illustrate what awaits Europe if it continues its own demographic suicide and if it continues to flood itself with Muslim immigrants.

Iran Expels Kuwaiti Diplomats
Excerpt: The Iranian Foreign Ministry expelled several Kuwaiti diplomats from Tehran after the Persian Gulf state raised some provocative and baseless allegations against Iran and fired a number of Iranian diplomats. An informed source at the Iranian Foreign Ministry told FNA on Sunday that Tehran has expelled several Kuwaiti diplomats to reciprocate a similar action taken by the Kuwaiti officials last month. In March, a Kuwait City court sentenced to death two Iranians and a Kuwaiti national for allegedly belonging to an Iranian spy ring.

CIA knows where one of world's most dangerous terrorism suspects is, but refuses to take action
Excerpt: He's considered one of world's most dangerous terrorism suspects, and the U.S. offered a $1 million reward for his capture in 2005. Intelligence experts say he's a master bomb maker and extremist leader who possesses a wealth of information about al-Qaida-linked groups in Southeast Asia. Yet the U.S. has made no move to interrogate or seek custody of Indonesian Umar Patek since he was apprehended this year by officials in Pakistan with the help of a CIA tip, U.S. and Pakistani officials say. The little-known case highlights a sharp difference between President Barack Obama's counterterrorism policy and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. (Better not to catch them than to have to try them at Gitmo! ~Bob.)

Tough decisions for the ditherer-in-chief
Excerpt: The Arab League, on whom the United States and the "great powers" of Europe depend for the moral authority to impose the no-fly zone over Libya, now wants the United Nations to impose a similar no-fly zone over Gaza, whence the Palestinians fire their rockets at Israeli schoolchildren. The Israelis, naturally, fire back with air strikes. This inconveniences the Palestinian rocket batteries no end, of course, and the Arab League is eager for someone, since the Arabs have never been able to do it, to make the Israelis submit to their own destruction.

Excerpt: You could say that they are one now. At least, there’s no denying they’re breaking bread and sipping from the same can of alphabet soup these days under the banner of so-called “solidarity.” Over the weekend, thousands of union workers crowded in Chicago’s Daley Plaza to show their solidarity (!) with their union comrades in Wisconsin.

If Al Gore Can Outgrow the Ethanol Fad, Why Can’t Conservatives?
Excerpt: The Senate is expected to vote on S. 520, a bill to repeal the 45 cents per gallon volumetric ethanol excise tax credit (VEETC). The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.). Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) have also introduced S. 530, which would limit the VEETC to “advanced biofuels,” thus ending the subsidy for conventional corn ethanol. S. 530 would also scale back the 54 cents per gallon ethanol import tariff commensurately with the reduction in the tax credit. The VEETC adds about $6 billion annually to the federal deficit. Unlike many other tax credits that reduce a household’s or a business’s tax liability, the VEETC is a “refundable” tax credit. That means the VEETC is literally paid for out of the U.S. general fund with checks written by the Treasury Department. The protective tariff, for its part, prevents lower-priced Brazilian ethanol from competing in U.S. markets. It increases the price of motor fuel at the pump. Now, you would think supporting S. 520 and S. 530 would be a no-brainer for conservative lawmakers. But some are reportedly getting cold feet. To remind them of their duty to put the general interest of consumers and taxpayers ahead of the special interest of King Corn, I offer the following observations.

Finally, A Socialist Budget
My representative. ~Bob. Excerpt: Rep. Jan Shakowsky, (D-IL), the most far left member of Congress, has been walking point for just such a “tax-the-rich” bill as Obama will lay out on Wednesday. She calls it the “Fairness in Taxation Act.” Schakowsky isn’t just Orwellian, either. She is a real honest to goodness socialist- not the closet variety like Obama. She was offended by the bailout of big-time capitalists and yearned for a simpler time when wealth was just redistributed….Schakowsky gave the keynote speech at a 2004 dinner held by the Democrat Socialists of America (DSA). Prior to that, in 2000 she received the Eugene Debs award from the DSA, honoring the memory of Debs in “her dedication to the fight for a just society.”….Imagine the coincidence: Rep. Schakowsky’s husband also served time in a federal prison. Debs served for resistance to the draft; Schakowsky’s husband, Robert Creamer, served five months in 2006 for tax evasion and bank fraud. So obviously the Schakowsky household is very familiar with the tax code.

Worth Reading: 5 Things That Will Happen To You When America Goes Bankrupt
The collapse is coming. ~Bob. Excerpt: Liberals in this country, for the most part, will admit that we're running up "unsustainable" deficits. Yet, these same liberals adamantly oppose any and all serious efforts to do anything about it. Once you move out from liberals to the general public, once again you'll find plenty of people who admit that this nation has a huge problem. Yet, when you leave generalities, get down to specifics, and start looking for programs to cut, then suddenly everyone gets nervous and says, "never mind." It's like the old saying, "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die."

Marco Rubio Presents a "Clear and Present Danger", Says Former State Dept. Chief of Staff
Excerpt: Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Sec. of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, and teaches a course on National Security at George Washington University stepped to the plate. He took it upon himself to grab the torch from Billy Mitchell, George Patton, Doug Mc Arthur, John Singlaub and call out America’s hidden enemies point-blank--along with their powerful political patrons and partners in subversion. “…the hardcore Cuban-American lobby… has long since outlived any benefit to the United States it might have once offered,” he wrote this week. “In fact, that special interest group today constitutes a clear and present danger to the real security interests of the United States." So there! Though a legislator rather than a lobbyist, Senator Marco Rubio is as proud and outspoken a member of that “special-interest” group as exists in the U.S.

Public's Right to Know Critical for Truth in Wisconsin
Excerpt: That's why Education Action Group, a Michigan-based national education reform organization, submitted an Open Records request to Dane County (Wisconsin) District Attorney Ismael Ozanne to obtain any and all communications he had surrounding litigation to block Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill.

Fukushima moved to Level 7
ABC News (US) just sent an online “news flash” that Fukushima’s accident status had been "raised to 7.” They made no mention the change is based on the events of 27 days ago, and there is no significant change in the reactors’ statuses today. Perhaps they have a reason to scare us. After the ellipsis, I copied the final paragraph of this coverage from World Nuclear News; I think it should have been the first paragraph, instead. --Ron P. Excerpt: A series of radiological releases have taken place from the plant. The most serious for people took place to the air around 15 March, five days after the tsunami triggered the emergency situation. Since then radiation releases have in general trended downwards, with some lesser spikes on site due to various events in the work to control the situation. Radioactive releases to sea are now also decreasing since Tokyo Electric Power Company identified and plugged the place from which highly contaminated water was leaking directly to sea. (…) So far, three workers have been killed by the immediate effects of the earthquake and tsunami and none by the effects of radiation. No measurable effect on the general public is expected.

These will likely be the first Iranians Obama condemns. ~Bob. Excerpt: Two anonymous young men in Iran, one Iranian and one Afghan, have burned a Koran in protest. This seven-and-a-half minute long video shows the two men, their faces obscured, holding the Muslim holy book and reading prepared statements. They say that Arabs have foisted this book and their homelands and because of it they have gone backwards for 1400 years. They say they dislike the Koran and want it to disappear, adding”Viva freedom!”

Reforming your way to riches: Stupak gets his big
K St.
Excerpt: Remember how the health-care bill was about "standing up to the special interests" and the lobbyists? Tell that to Democrat Bart Stupak, perhaps the single most important rank-and-file House member in passing the bill, who just got a fat new gig on
K Street

Adapting to campaign-finance rulings, Democrats build big-spending network
Wait—I thought the evil rich were all Republicans? ~Bob. Excerpt: The first sign that the ground had shifted in political fundraising came last year, when conservative groups quickly took advantage of new court rulings to dramatically outspend their liberal rivals. Now comes the next tremor, as Democratic activists finalize plans for an entirely new political infrastructure in 2012. A network of liberal groups formed in recent weeks is poised to spend $200 million or more in support of President Obama and other Democrats, in large part by raising unlimited donations from wealthy donors.

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