Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Political Digest for June 14, 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.

The Coming Collapse of the American Republic
Info about my book. All royalties go to a charity to help wounded veterans. Please forward and post where possible.

Book Recommendation: The Terrorist Next Door by Erick Stakelbeck
A friend sent me this book on Friday. Bang, there went the weekend, I'm writing this Sunday night. Erick Stakelbeck is a courageous investigative journalist who has researched the threat of radical Jihadism both in the United States and abroad. Armed with only a notebook or a camera, he has met with some of the most dangerous terror supporters in the world. And he has extensively detailed the danger in this readable, but frightening book. In my book, The Coming Collapse of the American Republic, I include a short review of the Jihadist threat as one of the four existential threats combining to destroy our country. The Terrorist Next Door is an in-depth examination of this particular danger. Stakelbeck was able to do the in-person investigations worldwide that were beyond my resources. I wish I'd had his book as a resource when writing Collapse. Radicalization and the Islamist threat are far more wide-spread in our country, and the danger from terror-supporting states more grave, than the politicians would have you believe. As I write, there is one negative review on Amazon, which, because his conclusions and facts are so well documented, has to attack Stakelbeck personally. Because of the other challenges we face, especially the looming financial collapse I detail in my short book, we will be hard pressed to find the resources to deal with the Jihadist threat, at home or abroad. Time is short, and the threat grows unchecked every day. I urge you to read this book, to recommend it to your friends, and to send a copy to your Congressman.

Excerpt: GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty knows that in order to gain traction in the primary, he’s got to get us all talking about him. In order to get us all talking about him, he’s got to say things like this.

Why we must persist in Afghanistan: Rapid pullout would allow a return to a hive of anti-Americanism, by Mark Moyar
Excerpt: During Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ recent trip to Afghanistan, the impact of Osama bin Laden’s death on our future involvement in Afghanistan raised the most questions among American troops. Mr. Gates has been admirably firm in warning against acceleration of the American troop drawdown in light of bin Laden’s demise. But the administration has yet to mount a rigorous defense of that position, which is why the troops remain puzzled. It is time for the administration to articulate clearly the rationale for staying the course in Afghanistan. It is time to refute the unnamed government sources who are telling the press that bin Laden’s death has devastated al Qaeda and demonstrated the infallibility of counterterrorism. Better talking points are required. Here are some suggestions: Bin Laden’s death has done very little to reduce the threats posed by the anti-American extremists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. The fact that bin Laden lived comfortably in Pakistan for the past six years should make us more concerned - not less - for it demonstrates Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to keep out our worst enemies. For al Qaeda, bin Laden’s death was a stiff punch in the chest, not a knockout blow. Al Qaeda has plenty of other dedicated and charismatic leaders who have been trained to operate with minimal guidance and plenty of followers willing to sacrifice their lives. Al Qaeda would have crumbled long ago had its members buckled quickly under adversity. (Moyar is an historian and author of the excellent history of insurgent warfare, A Question of Command, plus a great history of the early years of the Vietnam war, Triumph Forsaken. I recommend both. ~Bob.)

Democrats worry Anthony Weiner will hurt agenda
Excerpt: Democratic leaders face a no-win situation this week as the House convenes for the first time since Rep. Anthony Weiner acknowledged sending sexual photographs and text messages to a half-dozen women over the past three years. Reps. Nancy Pelosi of California, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Steve Israel of New York — the House minority leader, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, respectively — failed to force Weiner from office after going public Saturday with previously private demands that he resign from the seat he has held since 1999.

Excerpt: With a staggering $66.7 billion in unfunded health care liabilities (the highest in the nation) for government workers, on top of the $53.9 billion in unfunded pension liabilities owed to those government workers, the Garden State’s fiscal ship is sinking fast. Already, New Jersey’s property taxes are the highest in the nation with the average residential property tax bill at $7,281. It is a problem that, so far, Democrats and their union backers refuse to acknowledge as they march and protest–even going so far as calling in professional protester Jesse Jackson earlier this month. However, in a breath of fresh air, New Jersey’s Senate President Steven Sweeney (a Democrat and a union guy) is trying to shake some common sense into members of his own party.

Terrorist leader killed in Somalia carried plans for bombing the West
Excerpt: Suspected al-Qaeda terrorist leader Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was carrying “very specific” plans for bombings in Western countries when he was killed by Somali soldiers near Mogadishu, a Somali intelligence official says. Mr. Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 1998 bombings that killed 224 people at two U.S. embassies in East Africa, was shot dead when his vehicle apparently blundered into a military checkpoint by mistake. He was believed to be the senior al-Qaeda commander in East Africa, and for more than a decade he was Africa’s most wanted fugitive, with a $5-million bounty on his head. He was a bomb-making specialist who was suspected of involvement in a series of recent bombings, including the explosions in Uganda last July that killed 79 people who were watching the World Cup final on television. After he and another suspected militant were shot dead in an exchange of gunfire at midnight at an army checkpoint near Mogadishu last Tuesday night, he was originally identified as a Somali-Canadian who fought for the militant al-Shabab group under the nom-de-guerre “Abdurrahman Canadian.” Somali sources are now uncertain why he was linked to Canada, but they say he was carrying a South African passport, not a Canadian passport. (Nothing to do with Islam, of course. Just another isolated extremist. One of the millions of members of the ‘tiny minority of extremists” who have “hijacked the Religion of Peace.” ~Bob.)

U.S. Said to Turn Back North Korea Missile Shipment
Excerpt: The United States Navy intercepted a North Korean ship it suspected of carrying missile technology to Myanmar two weeks ago and, after a standoff at sea and several days of diplomatic pressure from Washington and Asia nations, forced the vessel to return home, according to several senior American officials. (…) But in response to questions about what appears to be a growing trade in missiles and missile parts between North Korea and Myanmar — two of the world’s most isolated governments — American officials have described the episode as an example of how they can use a combination of naval power and diplomatic pressure to enforce United Nations sanctions imposed after the North’s last nuclear test, in 2009. (One of the easiest clues to the character of someone you meet is to observe who he keeps company with. -- Ron P. Too bad more voters didn’t realize that in 2008, Ron. ~Bob.)

Waiting in hospital for stalled treatment
Canadacare, the goal of Obamacare. ~Bob. Excerpt: I have a friend who is 90 and has dislocated her hip. She was independent and able to live alone before this happened. She was admitted to Cowichan District Hospital and told she was a priority. This was over eight weeks ago and she has slipped between the cracks. Her GP says she is out of his hands, and the surgeon who did her hip replacement some years ago says she is out of his hands, as he has passed her onto a specialist in Victoria. In the meantime, she is taking up a hospital bed and no one seems to be taking responsibility to get her mobile again.

Excerpt: With all of the heated rhetoric coming from Washington these days you would think there is a huge difference in the way Republicans and Democrats want to reform Medicare. But did you know that over the next decade there is no difference at all between the agendas of the two parties? Although the House Republicans voted to repeal ObamaCare they did not vote to repeal the cuts in Medicare spending intended to pay for ObamaCare. So for the next ten years, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, to quote an all but forgotten political refrain. Even more surprising, there is no difference between what the House Republican budget proposes and what Democrats voted for in last year’s health reform bill for anyone over the age of 55. It’s only young people who have a real stake in this fight. But as former Medicare Trustee Thomas Saving and I reported in The Wall Street Journal the other day, the cuts the two parties are proposing are so draconian, that there is little chance they will ever see the light of day. In a way, that’s bad news. Absent politically unsustainable spending cuts, Medicare’s unfunded liability is almost $90 trillion at today’s prices, looking indefinitely into the future. That’s about six times the size of the entire U.S. economy. And Medicare spending is growing at twice the rate of growth of our national income. Clearly that cannot go on forever.

Reducing Federal Employee Compensation Could Save Billions
Excerpt: Public sector compensation has come under increased scrutiny from politicians and the media, but comprehensive technical comparisons of federal and private compensation have been largely absent from the discussion. Drawing from the academic literature and using the most recent government data, a new report by Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, measures the generosity of federal salaries, benefits and job security. Compared to similar private sector workers, Biggs and Richwine estimate that federal workers receive a salary premium of 14 percent, a benefits premium of 63 percent and extra job security worth 17 percent of pay. Together, these generate an overall federal compensation premium of approximately 61 percent. Reducing federal employee compensation to market levels could save taxpayers roughly $77 billion per year. (Gee, that should be non-controversial. Let’s put it on Congress’s consent Agenda. Would, of course, have to spend a lot on riot police. ~bob.)

Exiting the Euro Crisis
Excerpt: What do economics and history have to tell us about the ways euro zone countries are likely to resolve their problems of fiscal unsustainability and banking system insolvency? In answering that question, I am among the most pessimistic observers of the likely future of the euro and its membership. In my view, the euro zone’s likely failure to avoid at least some departures, if not total collapse, reflects its poor initial institutional design. Countries were joined together that were unlikely to be able to survive as a common currency zone, and there were no credible institutions in place to enforce long-term fiscal discipline or to coordinate the resolution of exigencies. … Why doesn’t everyone share my view? I think their relative optimism can be traced to differences in worldview. My worldview is that of a non-European economist and historian. Here is why that worldview leads to pessimism. … As an economist, I place more stock in arithmetic than in the legalities of what countries supposedly are or are not permitted to do; legislation or politicians’ pronouncements about the impossibility of a departure from the euro zone counts for little if the math ultimately requires it. I will argue that in the case of at least one country—Greece—the fiscal arithmetic strongly favors not only a sovereign debt restructuring but also a departure from the euro zone, and there may be others for whom this same outcome will soon become a necessity as well.

Wind power turbines in Altamont Pass threaten protected birds
Excerpt: Scores of golden eagles have been killed after striking the thousands of wind turbines in the Bay Area, raising questions about California's move toward alternative power. (If Republicans were pushing wind power, the headline would be, “Greedy Greenies murder innocent Eagles.” ~Bob.)

U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors
Excerpt: …the latest initiative depends on creating entirely separate pathways for communication. It has brought together an improbable alliance of diplomats and military engineers, young programmers and dissidents from at least a dozen countries, many of whom variously describe the new approach as more audacious and clever and, yes, cooler. Sometimes the State Department is simply taking advantage of enterprising dissidents who have found ways to get around government censorship. (At four pages, this is an interesting look at the “tech” side of modern warfare. Who knew? Ron P.)

Obama and the End of Western Civilization
Excerpt: The global and domestic landscape is one of turmoil, indecision, and uncertainty. Everywhere one looks there is chaos and potential disaster, whether in the financial, economic, or political sphere. Since the beginning of the post-World War II era there has been one constant that has been the stabilizing force in the world: the stature, power, and influence of the United States. In a matter of a few short years the Obama presidency has deliberately and overwhelmingly eroded America's pre-eminence, which has resulted in global instability and domestic unease. Barack Obama assumed the office of the presidency as a man brought up and steeped in 1960's radicalism, which advanced the doctrine that America, as the lone Western superpower, represented the evil nature of colonialism and capitalism's exploitation of the masses -- whether there was any truth in this assertion or that the United States was guilty of these sins was irrelevant. The material and military success of America and the West could only have come about from expropriating the wealth and labor of the peoples of the world. This is a simplistic and emotional argument and one that refuses to take into account the basic nature of the human race and its failings and foibles.

Obama's Worst Week, Pawlenty's Best: The 2012 election is going to be fought over how we get economic growth.
Excerpt: If next year the American people pull the plug on the Obama presidency, mark down the past week as the beginning of the end . . . and what looks like the real beginning of Tim Pawlenty's candidacy. Incumbency isn't merely a function of political inevitability but of the fact that a presidency commands potent tools of self-restoration. Barack Obama's decision to kill Osama bin Laden was one such weapon. But we now see that this welcome May Surprise was insufficient to thwart the one force bigger than the American presidency—the U.S. economy. As of this week, it's looking like a long mudslide through the economy to November 2012. The Washington Post/ABC poll out Tuesday reported that the bin Laden uptick in approval for the president has washed away already; some 59% profess disdain for the president's mishandling of the economy.

Democrats Should Come With Warning Labels
Excerpt: No doubt a great number of people were confused when just a few days after he suggested that Israel should return to its 1967 borders and then treated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time in as many visits as if he were a plague carrier, the Jews at the AIPAC conference gave Obama a series of standing ovations. Apparently it was enough for these buffoons that Obama had mentioned those indefensible borders in the same sentence as "swaps." Although Obama has never suggested what it is that the Palestinians are supposed to swap in exchange for Israel's committing geographical suicide -- a skate key, a couple of falafels, a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card? -- it was enough that Obama pretended to be even-handed. (Obama came with a warning label—his past associations, actions and statements. Like the anti-smoking labels on tobacco, few read it. ~Bob.)

US Is in Even Worse Shape Financially Than Greece: Gross
The truth is, the situation is both so bad and so complex, no one knows how bad it really is. But anyone who studies the numbers knows it’s in the, ‘Oh my God, we’re doomed” ballpark. My book lists a lot of sources for understanding the fiscal crisis. At best, it will be horribly painful to resolve. ~Bob. Excerpt: When adding in all of the money owed to cover future liabilities in entitlement programs the US is actually in worse financial shape than Greece and other debt-laden European countries, Pimco's Bill Gross told CNBC Monday. Much of the public focus is on the nation's public debt, which is $14.3 trillion. But that doesn't include money guaranteed for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which comes to close to $50 trillion, according to government figures. The government also is on the hook for other debts such as the programs related to the bailout of the financial system following the crisis of 2008 and 2009, government figures show. Taken together, Gross puts the total at "nearly $100 trillion," that while perhaps a bit on the high side, places the country in a highly unenviable fiscal position that he said won't find a solution overnight.

White House won't say Weiner should resign
http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/166039-white-house-weiner-is-a-distraction Excerpt: A White House spokesman said Monday that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is a "distraction" from important issues, but he stopped short of calling for Weiner's resignation. White House press secretary Jay Carney, who refused to comment on the scandal last week, said Monday that "the president feels, we feel at the White House this is a distraction." (They should have said Weiner was a “welcome distraction.” ~Bob.)

Landslide Islamist Victory in Turkey
Excerpt: Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide victory in Sunday’s elections. The Islamists won half of the vote, leaving them short of the two-thirds majority they sought in the parliament, which would have allowed them to rewrite the constitution unobstructed. However, the AKP’s huge victory means the Islamists will still control Turkey and oversee the writing of a new constitution. The election actually results in a slight loss for the AKP. The party currently holds 331 of the 550 seats in parliament, and is projected to now only have 325. The Islamists must win the support of only five non-AKP seats to put up a draft constitution for a referendum. The popularity of Prime Minister Erdogan and his party means that such a referendum is very likely to pass. The AKP may not have the two-thirds majority that would have allowed for a unilateral writing of the constitution, or even enough to unilaterally submit a draft for a referendum, but not much stands in its way. (They want into the failing EU, hoping to get on the gravy train before the collapse. Hard to believe the EU would be that crazy, but who knows? ~Bob.)

Cap and Trade Catastrophe
When you are unemployed and burning the furniture to keep warm, write and tell me how good you feel about “environmental justice.” ~Bob. Excerpt: The cautionary tales arising from European-style progressivism just got another jolt, if you’ll pardon the expression, of reality last week. On Wednesday, British utility giant Scottish Electric announced that the gas and electricity bills of five million customers would go up by a whopping 19 and 10 percent respectively, beginning August first. Six other major power providers in Britain are expected to follow suit. The move follows a 30 percent increase in the wholesale costs of energy since last November, and will push average annual household costs for fuel as high as $2050, the highest level ever recorded. Yet rising wholesale costs are only half the story. “Wholesale prices for gas and electricity have increased significantly since the end of last year and continuing unrest in global energy markets means future prices are volatile,” said Raymond Jack, Scottish Power’s chief executive. ”We understand times are difficult for many people, and we have done what we can to absorb these additional costs for as long as possible to minimize the impact on our customers.” Mr. Jack then said something that should sound distressingly familiar to Americans. “The rising burden of non-energy costs faced by Britain’s energy suppliers–including the cost of meeting government environmental and social programs and the cost of distributing electricity on the national grid–has also placed further upward pressure on energy bills.”

Toronto mosque again caught advocating stonings and amputations, persecution of non-Muslims
Didn’t get the memo. ~Bob. Excerpt: The Khalid bin al-Walid mosque near Toronto has a well established history of cursing unbelievers (particularly Jews) and Muslims who show any sign of integrating with Western societies.

As Islamists Flex Muscle, Egypt's Christians Despair
Excerpt: "When they were beating me, they kept saying: 'We won't leave any Christians in this country,'" Mr. Mitri recalled in a recent interview, two months after the March attack. Blood dripped through a plastic tube from his unhealed wound to a plastic container. "Here, there is a war against the Copts," he said. His attackers, who were never arrested or prosecuted, follow the ultrafundamentalist Salafi strain of Islam that promotes an austere, Saudi-inspired worldview. Before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled on Feb. 11, the Salafis mostly confined themselves to preaching. Since then, they've entered the political arena, drawing crowds and swaying government decisions. Salafi militants also have blocked roads, burned churches and killed Copts.

Deadly blasts at market in Pakistani city of Peshawar
Excerpt: A senior police official in Peshawar, Dost Mohammed, told the Associated Press that the first explosion on Sunday had been relatively small, and had drawn rescue workers, police and several journalists to the scene. Minutes later, a large explosion rocked the area, causing the fatalities and most of the injuries. Eighteen people were said to be in a serious condition in hospital.

Christian Woman Turns Up Injured In ‘Kidnap’ Case
I can’t understand why there are so many Muslims who never got the “Islam is a Religion of Peace” memo. ~Bob. Excerpt: A young Christian woman alleged to have been kidnapped by Islamic hard-liners on Thursday was found battered but alive on Friday, a member of her congregation said on Sunday. Aprilia Dyah Kusumaningrum disappeared on Thursday night after a church service in Situbondo, East Java. The 22-year-old had last been seen riding her bicycle back to her dormitory from the Situbondo Pentecostal Church.

The End of a Surprisingly Good Political Career
Excerpt: Exit Newt Gingrich. Well, not quite yet, officially. On his Facebook page, Gingrich says he will endure "the rigors of campaigning for public office" and "will carry the message of American renewal to every part of this great land, whatever it takes." Without, however, the assistance of his 16 top campaign aides, some of whom had been with him for years, who resigned en masse last Thursday. They wanted him to spend more time on personal campaigning. He and his wife, Callista, figured they could do a lot of their campaigning and fundraising over the Internet. This is not the first time that political allies have turned on Gingrich. Most of his fellow House Republican leaders tried to mount a coup to overthrow him in July 1997, in his third year as speaker of the House; he survived, but not for long.

Cross-border gunfight erupts on Rio Grande
Excerpt: U.S. law-enforcement officials exchanged about 300 rounds of gunfire with drug runners during a pre-dawn shootout across the Rio Grande, but only about six came from the Mexican side, authorities said Friday. … Authorities are still looking into how many Americans fired shots and what agencies they are from. (What difference does that make? Every one of them should have returned fire when they were taken under fire! They are defending OUR borders so the hell with the drug dealers! The answers should be: 1. All of them and 2.Who cares? –Ken)

An American Descent Into Hell
Excerpt: It’s hard not to see the signs all around us that America has begun a cataclysmic downward spiral in finances and morality. It’s like watching a slow motion murderous wreck, all the while denying that it is actually occurring. I assure you, what is unfolding in the US now is all too real. It’s a reality that is about to smack Americans full frontal in the face and many will never even see it coming until it is way too late. It is hard for me to imagine how people cannot see what is happening in finances and in politics in their own country. It is in the news if you look at all… It is on the Internet for all to see… It is whispered by many all around us if you just listen.

Speculation builds about Perry presidential bid
excerpt: As the Republican hopefuls vying for their party's presidential nomination gather in New Hampshire Monday for the second GOP debate, some of the attention is shifting to Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry is weighing whether to jump in the race. Perry is said to be seriously considering such a move, which many political strategists believe would shake up a field of candidates who have so far failed to excite voters. "If he decided to enter, I think he can win," said Texas political consultant Reggie Bashur, who advised President George W. Bush when Bush was governor. "Perry's got an outstanding record as governor. He's got a strong record on economic as well as social conservative issues. He's also very personable and a very one-on-one candidate."

Broken Bible Belt: Homes In Ruins From Tornadoes Denied Aid By FEMA For 'Insufficient Damage'
And liberals talk about Bush, FEMA and New Orleans. So is Obama not as responsible for FEMA incompetence on his watch as bush was on his? Wonder if race plays a role? ~Bob.

GOP leader warns economy will sink if debt deal isn't reached
The tension builds--can they postpone the coming disaster a bit longer? Stay tuned, sports fans. ~Bob. Excerpt: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Monday warned of the urgent need to strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling, telling reporters that “we don’t want the markets to make this decision for us.” Cantor, who is representing House Republicans in talks led by Vice President Biden, acknowledged there is a growing concern that financial markets will rattle and interest rates will spike if congressional leaders cannot reach an agreement before Aug. 2, the deadline the Treasury Department has set for lifting the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit.

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