30 April 2009
What is interesting is that justices normally try to retire so that a President of the same party that appointed them would be able to name their successor. But Souter seems to have specifically waited until Obama was settled in office before announcing his decisions.
Supreme Court Justice David Souter is planning retire at the end of the current court term. Souter, 69, has informed the White House of his decision and plans to return to his native New Hampshire according to NPR, which first reported the story.
According to NPR, Souter will remain on the court until a successor has been chosen and confirmed. The court recently finished hearing a term of oral arguments and will begin issuing decisions this summer before reconvening in October.
Souter caught the most hell, and deservedly so, for his decision in the Kelo v. New London, which weakened property rights. Activists sought to make him a victim of his own judicial decision. I thought it a shame that it didn't work.
Lost Liberty Hotel -- The Lost Liberty Hotel or Lost Liberty Inn was a proposed hotel to be built on the site of United States Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter's properties in Weare, New Hampshire. The proposal was a reaction to the Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London (2005) decision in which Souter joined the majority ruling that the U.S. Constitution allows the use of eminent domain to condemn privately owned real property for use in private economic development projects.
Who will replace Souter? I know one thing -- the Republicans won't be able to do a thing about it. Obama will be under some pressure to name a woman. Some early speculation here: Souter Said To Be Retiring; Who Would Replace Him?
Among those who might make the list of replacements: incoming solicitor general Elena Kagan, formerly the dean of the Harvard Law School, Cass Sunstein, a brilliant constitutional law prof who now works at Obama's Office of Management and Budget, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, appelate judge Diane Wood, and Leah Ward Sears, the chief justice of Georgia's Supreme Court. A dark horse might be Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York.
The report finds that Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Calif., and Visalla-Porterville, Calif., rank among the five U.S. cities most polluted with particulate and ozone pollution.
Almost 186.1 million Americans live in places where the air quality is probably bad enough to damage their health, at least part of the year, the report concludes.
The Pittsburgh-New Castle area in Pennsylvania ranked the worst in the nation for short-term particle pollution and second for the most year-round particle pollution. Particulates come from a variety of sources, including diesel and gasoline engines, power plants, construction and demolition projects, soil, and dust.
Breathing particulates can cause lung inflammation that can exacerbate diseases like asthma and chronic bronchitis, but also can contribute to cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke.
After Pittsburgh-New Castle, the cities with the worst particle pollution over a 24-hour period include:
Fresno-Madera, Calif.-Bakersfield, Calif.
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.
Amazing that 3 of the top 6 most poluted cities in America are in California. Driving around with the air conditioner on is much better for you than walking or riding a bike.
The announcements are coming faster than the jobs can be created, much less counted. Though the stimulus is moving projects through the pipeline unusually quickly, only a handful of the roughly 6,000 transportation projects announced nationwide are under contract. Even fewer have broken ground.
But with so much riding on the success of the stimulus bill, the celebration isn't waiting.
Measuring job creation is complicated but possible. Counting jobs saved by the stimulus is, if not impossible, murky.
"How do you know what a saved job is? How do you know what jobs would have been lost without this?" Davis said. "That was a clever political gimmick to make it even harder to determine whether this policy has any effect."
If cap-and-trade passes over the simpler, less burdensome, more fair, more effective and more transparent carbon tax, it will be because politicians figure they have more to personally gain by granting favors to their political supporters in order to be excused from this burdensome and complex scheme.
In exchange for votes to pass a controversial global warming package, Democratic leaders are offering some lawmakers generous emission “allowances” to protect their districts from the economic pain of pollution restrictions.
Green says Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who heads the panel, is trying to entice him into voting for the bill by giving some refineries favorable treatment in the administration’s “cap and trade” system, which is expected to generate hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming years. Under the plan, companies would pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide, but Green and other lawmakers are angling to get a free pass for refineries in their districts.
Republicans said Waxman and subcommittee chairman Ed Markey, D-Mass., are calling Democrats into their offices and offering allowances, also called credits, in exchange for votes.
What is being reported, above is wrong, and an example of how the system is broken, and needs reform. The concerns of the citizen are ignored so that politicians can further entrench themselves in power.
USA Buys Enough Guns in 3 Months to Outfit the Entire Chinese and Indian Army
Hat tip: Instapundit
Facebook Backer Wishes Women Couldn't Vote
More here: Libertarian Wench Bitch Slaps Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel, foremost among Silicon Valley's loopy libertarians and the first outside investor in Facebook, has written an essay declaring that the country went to hell as soon as women won the right to vote.
Thiel is the former CEO of PayPal who now runs the $2 billion hedge fund Clarium Capital and a venture-capital firm called the Founders Fund. His best-returning investment to date, though, has been Facebook. His $500,000 investment is now worth north of $100 million even by the most conservative valuations of the social network.
On the side, though, his pet passion is libertarianism and the fantasy that everything would be better in the world if government just quit nagging everybody. But, now he's given up hope on achieving his vision through political means because, as he writes in Cato Unbound, a website run by the Cato Institute, all those voting females have wrecked things...
Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and libertarian, wrote an obtuse essay for CATO, that normally would have gone unnoticed, except in libertarian circles which, being more like an all night dormitory BS session than a political movement, like nothing better than arguing philosophical nuance.Read what he wrote for yourself at CATO Unbound: The Education of a Libertarian
Poor Libertarians. Some of the few responsible ones want desperately to rally those opposed to the two big parties to their banner, but they are in the minority.
I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself “libertarian.”
But I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.
The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.
The rest, like Ron Paul, Mary Ruwart, and this Thiel guy, just go right over the edge of the political fringe.
A central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, designed to protect minorities in states with a history of discrimination, is at substantial risk of being struck down as unconstitutional, judging from the questioning on Wednesday at the Supreme Court.
“Congress has made a finding that the sovereignty of Georgia is less than the sovereign dignity of Ohio,” Justice Kennedy said. “The sovereignty of Alabama is less than the sovereign dignity of Michigan. And the governments in one are to be trusted less than the governments in the other.”
In reauthorizing Section 5 for 25 years in 2006, Congress did nothing to change the criteria for inclusion under the provision, relying instead on a formula based on historic practices and voting data from elections held decades ago. That seemed to rankle Justice Kennedy. About two-thirds of his questions concerned the coverage formula.
“This is a great disparity in treatment, and the government of the United States is saying that our states must be treated differently,” Justice Kennedy said to Neal K. Katyal, a deputy United States solicitor general. “And you have a very substantial burden if you’re going to make that case.”
29 April 2009
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been pushing for a "truth commission" to investigate the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding -- until Republicans started shining the spotlight on Pelosi herself. Now she is not so adamant.
The rest of the reality may well be this: Pelosi knew that White House lawyers had sanctioned waterboarding in 2002 -- and did not protest.
According to the Senate Intelligence committee, the CIA briefed Pelosi, then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah -- who was waterboarded -- in 2002.
The Washington Post reported in 2007 that the 2002 briefing provided Pelosi and company with a "virtual tour" of interrogation techniques.
Still, Starbucks said the steep drop in customers it had seen at the end of 2008 has leveled off a bit and that cost-cutting efforts in place since last summer are ahead of target. The company soon plans to launch a multi-million-dollar national ad campaign.
It may be President Obama’s 100th day in office on Wednesday, but many of the people at the top echelon of his government have yet to start their first day.
Mr. Obama has announced his selections for 158 of 349 senior positions in cabinet departments requiring Senate confirmation, and has formally nominated 122 of them, according to data gathered by New York University’s presidential transition project. Of those, just 48 have been confirmed.
Those figures put Mr. Obama roughly on the same track as his two most recent predecessors. He has announced and nominated roughly as many as Bill Clinton had by this point in his tenure and slightly more than George W. Bush had. But Mr. Bush held over more officials from Mr. Clinton’s administration than Mr. Obama has from Mr. Bush’s, so Mr. Bush on his 100th day had more confirmed officials on duty – 75 to Mr. Obama’s 48.
What that means is that no cabinet department right now has even a third of its top appointees in place more than three months into the Obama administration. The Justice Department has just 29 percent of its appointees confirmed, the most of any department, followed by the Agriculture Department with 25 percent and State and Defense Departments with 21 percent each.
Just 9 percent of the Treasury Department’s top officials have been confirmed and even fewer at Commerce, Interior, Labor, Transportation, Education and Housing and Urban Development. Rounding out the bottom is the Department of Health and Human Services, where not a single Obama appointee had been confirmed until his designated secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, finally was approved by the Senate on Wednesday.
Two Muslim men convicted of plotting to kill soldiers at a U.S. Army base received long prison sentences on Wednesday for a plan prosecutors said was inspired by holy war against the United States.
Three others in the plot were handed life sentences on Tuesday. Mohamad Shnewer, 23, a Jordanian-born taxi driver from Philadelphia, was sentenced to life plus 30 years for his part in the plan to attack the base at Fort Dix in New Jersey using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, the U.S. attorney's office said. Serdar Tatar, 25, a Turkish-born convenience store clerk from Philadelphia, was given a 33-year sentence in federal prison for his role in the planned attack, which was never carried out.
The two men, together with ethnic Albanian brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, planned to kill as many soldiers as possible at the base in retaliation for what they saw as U.S. oppression of Muslims around the world, prosecutors said. The five were convicted in December.
The Duka brothers, whose family moved from Macedonia during the 1980s, were sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison without parole by U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler in federal court in Camden, New Jersey.The five men were arrested in May 2007 after an electronics store clerk reported receiving a video from them showing militants firing guns in the air and calling for holy war against the United States.During a 14-month investigation, two FBI informants who infiltrated the group obtained hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings of the men discussing proposed attacks on Fort Dix and other military bases in the Philadelphia area.
I would like to hear someone from the Muslim community come out in support of these sentences and the condemnation of what these people were plotting. Since that has never happened at any time since 9-11, there exists great tension and unrest between Muslims and Christians.
The bank's board "unanimously" expressed support for Lewis to stay in the CEO post despite the fact that shareholders "narrowly" approved a proposal to require an independent chairman.
Lewis, who will remain chief executive, will be replaced in the chairman post by Walter Massey, a director of the bank's board since 1998 and also a director of McDonald's Corp.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, head of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute adds, "It's a shame that it took this near death experience to bring a board to fully engage and do the right thing- and this happens to be a board filled with some tremendous leaders. There are too many directors, and that dilutes the voices of the most knowledgeable directors. Especially in a time of crisis, it's important to point out that Ken Lewis is a honorable CEO with a storied career, who had a very bad last year and lost his legitimacy to lead."
The toddler unknowingly brought with him H1N1 swine flu when he entered on April 4. He took ill four days later and died on Monday, the first person to succumb on U.S. soil.
Brownsville is Texas's most southern city, and home to 172,000 people, most of Hispanic origins but born in the United States.
"I will be staying here for a while," said Santiago Perez, 18, from Matamoros, Mexico, who crosses the porous border to attend Pace High School in Brownsville. "Better safe than sorry."
"...crosses the border to attend Pace High School"
Anyone who thinks this is okay needs to just leave. We don't need flu vaccine. We need concrete.
"I can confirm the very sad news out of Texas that a child has died of the H1N1 virus," the CDC's Dr. Richard Besser said.
As confirmed cases of swine flu have risen to at least 112, health officials think they may have found "patient zero" in the global outbreak -- in a small village in the mountains of Mexico.
Thirteen coastal counties, from Los Angeles to Marin, just north of San Francisco, should become the 51st state, to be named whatever they please; the remaining 45 counties would remain simply “California”. Based on the reaction he gets at farm fairs, he reckons his recently founded organisation will easily collect enough signatures—the number required is currently around 700,000—to force the split onto the ballot by 2012.
The most famous effort, in 1941, came close to merging California’s northernmost counties with several from Oregon to form a new state, to be named Jefferson after America’s third president just as Washington is named after its first.
What we seem to have is an audience that was about two parts Ron Paul/libertarian conservative (with its strength out West and in New Hampshire) and one part Sarah Palin/red-meat conservative (with its strength in rural areas, particularly in the South). This is perhaps not an accident, since Paul and Palin are just about the only Republicans to have generated some real grassroots enthusiasm over the past few years.What's Ron Paul been up to these days? Ah: Ron Paul keynotes John Birch Society's 50th anniversary. Figures, especially considering his background and his newsletters:
They were published under a banner containing Paul's name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.Hat tip: Little Green Footballs
The case against HFCS comprises the three cardinal claims of food politics: Like other villainous ingredients—trans fat and artificial food dye come to mind—high-fructose corn syrup is accused of being at once unhealthy, unnatural, and unappetizing.
Our fear of high-fructose corn syrup seems to have arisen from some very real concerns over the health effects of fructose, one of its principal components. The ingestion of glucose, another basic sugar, is known to stimulate the release of body chemicals that regulate food intake. Fructose, on the other hand, does little to suppress your appetite, and it seems to be preferentially associated with the formation of new fat cells.
A growing body of research has led some scientists to wonder whether the increased consumption of fructose over the past few decades might be responsible for rising rates of obesity.
Chrysler LLC, the third-largest U.S. automaker, faces a deadline of tomorrow to form an alliance with Fiat SpA and qualify for further U.S. aid, and no one can say whether it will avoid a bankruptcy filing.
28 April 2009
About 32,000 Americans commit suicide every year.
Around 40,000 Americans are killed in auto accidents every year.
So let's all let the media scare us to death with stories of Swine Flu.
Besides, didn't we all go through this in 1976?
Man, the 1970s really are coming back: 30 years later, and we're still dealing with a declining automotive industry, Iran, Afghanistan, Congressman Murtha, and now the Swine Flu.
Carter on Speed
The 70s Then and Now
Obama Would Be Another Carter
Follow up on: Obama Would Be Another Carter
I'm Having A Bad 70s Flashback
Obama's Malaise Speech
Even democrats draw comparisons between Obama and Carter
Time Magazine Eats Our Dust
Another Article After
What Was Old Becomes New Again
The Carter references continue
Pendulum Swings Back With A Vengence
Get A Clue, Republicans
Is The Beltway GOP Irrelevant?
To be relevant in politics, you need either formal power or a lot of people willing to follow your lead. The governing Republicans in the nation's capital have lost both on their continuing path to irrelevance.In GOP base, a 'rebellion brewing'
Rank-and-file Republicans remain, by all indications, staunchly conservative, and they appear to have no desire to moderate their views.Digging In To Obama's (And Republicans') Poll Numbers
When asked about their own political affiliations, the biggest response (as it has been for years) was "independent," at 38 percent. "Democrat" was second, at 35 percent. But "Republican" is down to a scant 21 percent -- down four points from just last month, and the lowest response in over a year.
Republicans are falling off a numeric cliff. The public has taken a look at their party's ideas -- which, right now, can be summed up as "we're against whatever Obama's for" -- and the public has rendered their verdict.
Further proof comes from how the public sees itself. When given a choice of "liberal," "moderate," or "conservative," 35 percent of the people describe themselves as conservative. This is fourteen points higher than identify with the Republican Party. Meaning the Republicans are losing even solid conservatives -- which is supposed to be "their base."
This all goes to show that what liberals have suspected since Obama took office may in fact be true -- the Republican Party is shrinking. The GOP is lost in the wilderness of trying to figure out who they are. The more they pander to the Limbaugh faction of the party, and the more resistant they become to any new ideas within their own party, the more they are driving away moderates and suburbanites. And it is moderates and suburbanites who usually decide elections (at least on a national scale).
What is more, Republican purists don't even think there is a problem. They increasingly ostracize any voices of insufficient orthodoxy, and their party continues to shrink as they do so. This is due to the fact that most moderates have already left the party, meaning they are down to a hard-right base. Which, in 2010, may cause a lot of very rightwing Republicans to win their primary elections (and delight their base by doing so, while beating the drums of shrillness on social issues like abortion and gays), and then go on to lose in the general election to a Democrat.
They'll have very pure Republican candidates which the base approves of, and they will lose elections as a result -- which could cause the party to shrink even more.
Not much to add here, except that it shows that the Republicans continue to have problems. The Republicans in Pennsylvania have moved further to the right, leaving Specter exposed to a primary challenge. Although Spector's primary challenger, Pat Toomey, had the lead in the primary polling, Toomey is expected to lose in the general election.
Veteran Republican Sen. Arlen Specter announced Tuesday that he is switching parties, a move would give Democrats a filibuster-proof 60 seats if Al Franken is seated in the Minnesota race.
"I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary," the Pennsylvania senator said in a statement.
Specter has spent most of his career as a moderate Republican with strong backing from labor, a big force in Pennsylvania politics.
At 10:30 a.m., officials said the president called Specter and told him "you have my full support" and that Obama and his fellow Democrats are "thrilled to have you."
Expect to see more of this -- far right Republicans winning in their party primaries, only to lose in the general election.
Not to mention the Republicans' immediate problem in that they have lost the ability to filibuster in the Senate. President Obama and the Democrats will have even less need for bipartisanship.
President Obama’s got yet another prime time press conference scheduled — this one for Wednesday night — and the FOX network is saying enough’s enough. They’re opting out.
Too much Obama? Well, if you count the president’s address to Congress earlier this year, this will mark the fourth time he’s interrupted regular TV programming so far this year. Or every 25 days, he wrecks the TV schedule.
And as Broadcasting and Cable magazine notes, “networks stand to lose millions in advertising revenue by shifting or rescheduling their normal programming. Fox has twice this year shifted its top show American Idol to make room for the White House requests.”
FOX will stick with its regular lineup instead. The name of the TV show? “Lie to Me”.
Supremes To Weigh Voting Rights Act
On Voting Rights Act, Test of History v. Progress
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court is hearing oral argument in a case testing the constitutionality of one of the main sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The court's opinion, expected by the end of June, could dramatically alter federal voting regulations.
The court is weighing whether it was proper for Congress to reauthorize Section 5 of the law in 2006. That section requires jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to obtain advanced approval from the Justice Department before making changes to their electoral procedures.
Eight states, mostly in the South, along with much of Virginia and dozens of cities and counties across the country, fall under the requirements.
“This election was momentous,” said Professor Katz, who teaches voting rights and legal history at the University of Michigan, “and it arguably presents the moment when Congress should close out this regime.”
The case before the court was brought by a Texas utility district that was established on undeveloped land in the late 1980s. The district said it had never been accused of voting discrimination. Lawyers for the district told the court that the current Voting Rights Act “treats racism as an inheritance that runs with the land rather than a manifestation of attitudes and actions of living individuals.”
27 April 2009
Will Murtha Scrutiny Lead Anywhere?
The watchdog groups are following up on the investigation surrounding the PMA Group and, reportedly, three key lawmakers closely tied to it -- Reps. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., Peter J. Visclosky, D-Ind., and James P. Moran, D-Va..
Interestingly, under House rules that were in existence until 1997, the outside groups could have filed an actual complaint with the ethics panel itself. That complaint would have required action of some form -- even a cursory investigation before dismissal.
But the rules changed in 1997.
Under a change that was adopted that year, outside groups and private citizens were barred from actually filing complaints with the ethics committee. Now, only individual members of the House of Representatives can file a complaint with the Ethics Committee against a fellow member. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the result: The number of complaints (and, therefore, the number of investigations) dropped substantially.
And who was the mastermind who pushed through the change, so that outside groups and private citizens could no longer file complaints with the House Ethics Committee?
Wait, wait, wait.
Wasn't this one of the key issues on which Democrats campaigned in the 2006 cycle?
Didn't Nancy Pelosi promise to end the "culture of corruption" that existed under the GOP? It was, and she did.
And when she became Speaker of the House in January 2007, she promised significant ethics reforms. Pelosi led the charge for the creation of a new and independent "Office of Congressional Ethics," and in March of 2008, House Resolution 895 passed by a vote of 229-182. This new OCE, she argued, once again would allow for more direct citizen participation in cleaning up Congress.
Now, as in the past, private citizens would be able to file charges directly against members of the U.S. House.
Except they can't, actually -- what private citizens can do now is to file a complaint with the new Office of Congressional Ethics, which then may or may not decide to pass the charges on to the House Ethics Committee.
The new OCE has no subpoena power to require anyone to appear before it.
It has no power to compel anyone to testify. And it doesn't even have to initiate any kind of investigation of complaints filed with it unless at least one Republican member and one Democratic member agree that such a "preliminary review" is warranted.
In other words, it's a paper tiger.
But it sure does look good -- nice and shiny, to people who don't know any better.
That leaves you and me, the American public, with the uncomfortable realization that we are slipping toward a state of lawlessness in this country, all in the name of saving our financial system by creating even bigger banks out of combinations of banks that were dangerously too big already.
This doesn’t inspire confidence. It destroys it.
We can have our freedom. Or we can have our systemically failure-prone financial institutions. We probably can’t have both.
I'm glad to see out betters are having a good time.
Still, the catered gatherings also sound rather cozy, like some secret-handshake gathering of an entrenched elite. Are the top-level officials, strategists and foreign leaders there for serious questioning or risk-free spin sessions? And what exactly is the journalistic benefit if the visitors are protected by a shield of anonymity?
Among those in regular attendance are David Brooks and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, Gene Robinson and Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, NBC's David Gregory, ABC's George Stephanopoulos, PBS's Gwen Ifill, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum, former Time managing editor Walter Isaacson and staffers from Bradley's Atlantic and National Journal, including Ron Brownstein, Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch.
The networks have given President Obama more coverage than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton combined in their first months -- and more positive assessments to boot.
In a study to be released today, the Center for Media and Public Affairs and Chapman University found the nightly newscasts devoting nearly 28 hours to Obama's presidency in the first 50 days. (Bush, by contrast, got nearly eight hours.) Fifty-eight percent of the evaluations of Obama were positive on the ABC, CBS and NBC broadcasts, compared with 33 percent positive in the comparable period of Bush's tenure and 44 percent positive for Clinton.
I'm as glad of that as I am that the media are looking out for our (their?) new president.
Enough is Enough
Don't judge this video from its opening question. It is not an anti-Obama video. It is an anti-both parties video. It criticizes the Republicans plenty of times. Neither party seems to desire or even be capable of doing anything but taking away more and more of our rights, ignoring more and more of the Constitution, and putting us further and further in debt to the rest of the world.
I've posted more times than I can count about the tsunami of distortions, fuzzy numbers, and outright lies that the federal government has given us over the past six months. It's not the Democrats. It's not the Republicans. It's a cancer that has spread to virtually everyone in the various seats of power in Washington, DC. They need to be removed, and it's time for enough people to wake up and make that happen.
In opening remarks to the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, Clinton called climate change a "clear and present danger to our world" and told environment ministers from the world's 17 largest economies that the Obama administration is "fully engaged in negotiations toward a global emissions treaty."
I'm going to do my part this summer by changing the climate of my living room.
The huge aircraft, which functions as Air Force One when the president is aboard, was taking part in a classified, government-sanctioned photo shoot, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
"Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision," said Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office. "While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption."
Witnesses reported seeing the plane circle over the Upper New York Bay near the Statue of Liberty before flying up the Hudson River. It was accompanied by two F-16s.
Two officials told CNN the White House Military Office was trying to update its file photos of Air Force One. The officials said the president was angry when he learned Monday afternoon about the flight, which sparked fear in the New York-New Jersey area.
"The president was furious about it," one of the officials said. The incident outraged many New Yorkers, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "First thing is, I'm annoyed -- furious is a better word -- that I wasn't told," he said, calling the aviation administration's decision to withhold details about the flight "ridiculous" and "poor judgment."
"Why the Defense Department wanted to do a photo op right around the site of the World Trade Center defies the imagination," he said. "Had we known, I would have asked them not to."
Exactly. Why? I'm not buying the photo op line. Can you imagine the horror?
Fiat’s grand plans
Chrysler LLC cleared another major obstacle to its survival Sunday when it reached a tentative deal for concessions with the United Auto Workers union.
The UAW deal is seen as a key piece of pulling Chrysler's plan together, and it's noteworthy that the UAW said Fiat was involved in the deal. Chrysler has been living on $4 billion in U.S. government loans and is expected to get another $500 million. Without government help, it would have gone out of business around the first of the year.
The UAW and CAW deals leave concessions from the holders of $6.9 billion in Chrysler secured debt and the alliance with Fiat as the remaining hurdles to Chrysler qualifying for additional government aid. Debtholders, the company and the Treasury Department remain far apart in swapping equity in the company for much of the debt.
If a deal is done before April 30th, a deadline set by the American government which has supported Chrysler with $4 billion, Fiat will gain not only a car company but access to a dealer network in the American market. A foothold in America is another necessity for a carmaker with global ambitions, according to Mr Marchionne.
It would help, too, that Chrysler could expect another $6 billion in funds from the Obama administration, if a tie-up with Fiat goes ahead. If so, Fiat would get a 20% stake in Chrysler and would in turn supply it with small-car platforms and fuel-efficient powertrain technologies. Fiat cannot increase its stake beyond 49% until the government has been paid back in full but in the meantime Mr Marchionne, who would become chief executive of Chrysler, might bring to bear ruthless restructuring of the sort that he used to rescue Fiat.
The alternative for Chrylser is bankruptcy and this could yet be its fate. Standing in the way of a deal with Fiat are Chrysler’s creditors and unions. Intense negotiation could continue right down to the wire. America’s Treasury is said to have suggested that banks, which are owed $6.8 billion, might take a “hair cut” that would see them get $1.5 billion and 5% of the new company. The banks are apparently holding out for $4.5 billion and 40%, a potentially unbridgeable gap.
House Heavyweight Feels Threat to Power
So powerful was Representative John P. Murtha at one time that he used to put up billboards in his Western Pennsylvania district declaring that “the P is for Power.” Few in Congress dared disagree: he doled out or withheld billions in federal money each year for lawmakers’ pet projects, better known as earmarks.
Now, however, a string of federal criminal investigations of contractors or lobbyists close to Mr. Murtha, the top Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee, are threatening to undermine his backroom clout.
In the weeks since the news that prosecutors had raided the offices of the PMA Group — a lobbying firm founded by a former Murtha associate that became a gateway to his office and his biggest source of campaign money — about two dozen rank-and-file Democrats have risked his wrath by calling for a House ethics investigation of the matter. One Democrat has even foresworn seeking earmarks for the military contractors in his district because of ethical concerns about the process.
The tiny Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden has voted to prohibit the phenomenon of naked hiking.
Anyone found wandering the Alps wearing nothing but a sturdy pair of hiking boots will now be fined.
Locals have been outraged by an apparent upsurge of hikers who think the best way to appreciate the mountains is with their clothes off.
I know this is a long post, but the article is brilliant. Registration at the link above is required to read the whole thing. Excerpts follow:
The author then reviews over forty years of foreign policy mistakes and blunders by both Democratic and Republican administrations. A review of the current foreign policy schools of thought follows.
The United States is declining as a nation and a world power, with mostly sighs and shrugs to mark this seismic event. Astonishingly, some people do not appear to realize that the situation is all that serious. A few say it is serious and hopeless. I count myself among those who think it is most serious yet reversible, if Americans are clear-eyed about the causes and courageous about implementing the cures.
The decline starts with weakening fundamentals in the United States. First among them is that the country's economy, infrastructure, public schools, and political system have been allowed to deteriorate. The result has been diminished economic strength, a less vital democracy, and a mediocrity of spirit. These conditions are not easy to reverse. A second reason for the decline is how ineffectively the United States has used its international power, thus allowing its own and others' problems to grow and fester. The nation must attend to both issues, the former even more than the latter. Here I address principally foreign policy.
Foreign policy is common sense, not rocket science. But it keeps getting overwhelmed by extravagant principles, nasty politics, and the arrogance of power. These three demons rob officials of choice, which is the core of commonsense policy.
Common sense tells policymakers not what to think about problems but how to think about them systematically. It is what rescued the nation at critical periods in its history.
A return to pragmatic problem solving will not be easy. Those possessed by the demons are much tougher fighters than the moderates who are constrained by the reasonableness of common sense. But common sense is worth the fight because it offers the best hope for using the United States' substantial power effectively and because power is still the necessary means to solve problems in the international affairs of the twenty-first century.
The bases of the United States' international power are the country's economic competitiveness and its political cohesion, and there should be little doubt at this point that both are in decline. Many acknowledge and lament faltering parts here and there, but they avoid a frontal stare at the deteriorating whole. It is too depressing to do so, too much for most people to bear.
These signals of decline have not inspired politicians to put the national good above partisan interests or problem solving above scoring points. Republicans act like rabid attack dogs in and out of power and treat facts like trash. Democrats seem to lack the decisiveness, clarity of vision, and toughness necessary to govern. This tableau of domestic political stalemate begs for new leadership. The nation that not so long ago outproduced the rest of the world in arms and consumer goods, the nation lionized and envied for its innovation, can-do spirit, and capacity to accomplish economic miracles, has become overwhelmed by the tasks it once performed competently and with relative ease.
Only a foreign policy grounded in common sense can rescue the United States. Such a policy would not turn on inflated great-power conflicts or the imagined absence of power conflicts, and it would appreciate the diversity of the twenty-first-century world. A commonsense policy, however, does not mean a seat-of-the-pants or ad hoc policy. It means an approach that allows leaders to examine each situation on its own merits and link it to others when linking is justified by evidence and reason. Nor would such a policy be rudderless; indeed, common sense insists that policy be grounded in strategy, priorities, and clear direction. Common sense also allows strategy, priorities, and direction to be treated as guidelines, not straitjackets.
These days, devising a commonsense U.S. foreign policy boils down to following five guidelines. First, make the United States strong again by restoring its economic dynamism and pragmatic, can-do spirit.
Second, understand clearly that mutual indispensability is the fundamental operating principle for power in the twenty-first century -- meaning that the United States is the indispensable leader but needs equally indispensable partners to succeed.
Third, focus U.S. policy and the power coalitions that must be forged on addressing the greatest threats -- terrorism, economic crises, nuclear proliferation, climate change, and global pandemics -- and then just mind other threats as best one can.
Fourth, remember that international power works best against problems before, rather than after, they mature.
Fifth, realize that although the essence of power remains pressure and coercion based on a state's resources and international position, in other respects power is not what it used to be.
These realist and commonsense principles are not self-executing. They have to be fought for in the policy and political arenas, where the demons and their handlers have long presided. But moderate political leaders and moderate policy experts can pick up the cudgel of common sense, and win. Although some Americans have become addicted to extremism, most can be weaned away from this by their leaders' emphasizing the practicality of common sense.
Every great nation or empire ultimately rots from within. One can already see the United States, that precious guarantor of liberty and security, beginning to decline in its leadership, institutions, and physical and human infrastructure, heading on the path to becoming just another great power, a nation barely worth fearing or following. It is time to send up flares signaling that the United States is losing its way and its power, that it is in trouble.
But it is even more important to reaffirm the belief that the United States is worth fighting for both across the oceans and at home. There should be no doubt that the United States, alone among nations, can provide the leadership to solve the problems that will otherwise engulf the world. And for all the country's faults, there should be no doubt that it remains the last best chance to create equal opportunity, hope, and freedom.
But to restore all that is good and special about the United States, to rescue its power to solve problems, will require something that has not happened in a long time: that pragmatists, realists, and moderates unite and fight for their country.
26 April 2009
Here is a quick way to spoil a Brussels dinner party. Simply suggest that world governance is slipping away from the G20, G7, G8 or other bodies in which Europeans may hog up to half the seats. Then propose, with gloomy relish, that the future belongs to the G2: newly fashionable jargon for a putative body formed by China and America.
The fear of irrelevance haunts Euro-types, for all their public boasting about Europe’s future might. The thought that the European Union might not greatly interest China is especially painful. After all, the 21st century was meant to be different.
A heightened bilateral relationship may not be possible for China and the United States, as the two countries have mismatched interests and values. Washington should embrace a more flexible and multilateral approach.
The most significant barrier to homeownership is the down payment. We support efforts to reduce that barrier, like the American Dream Downpayment Act and Zero Downpayment Mortgages.Ah, zero downpayment mortgages, now that was a good idea.
Plans for high-speed railroads linking major Texas cities are picking up steam once again, 15 years after the idea ground to a halt for lack of funding.
The federal stimulus package includes $8 billion to develop American counterparts to the bullet trains that crisscross Europe and Japan at speeds exceeding 200 mph. President Barack Obama has also pledged $5 billion for trains over the next five years of federal budgets.
That prospect has given Houston-area rail advocates a confidence boost, if little else.
Current plans for a Texas system envision a “T-bone” track shape connecting Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston and other towns. But much remains vague: where exactly the route would go, who would build it, the price and funding sources.
Nevertheless, Texas has natural advantages conducive to high-speed rail, advocates say. The terrain is relatively flat and land is cheaper than in California and Florida.
“We have the ability to produce a system that is reasonably priced,” said David Dean, a former Texas secretary of state. Dean is working as a consultant for the main advocacy group, the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp.
Dean estimates the T-bone would cost $10 billion to 20 billion and could be completed by 2020. It would ease highway congestion and pollution, attract more Fortune 500 companies to the state, and help in an Olympics bid, he said. The Houston route could even help during hurricane evacuations, he added.
In 1994, state plans to bring high-speed rail to Texas collapsed after a French company could not get sufficient funding for a system that would have linked Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in a triangular track pattern.
The T-bone shape, requiring 440 miles of track, would be 40 percent smaller than the triangle plan. Technology has also advanced, making construction and operation easier and less expensive, Dean said.
[A]irlines operating in the state, which vigorously lobbied against the 1994 plan, are now open to the idea, provided the routes connect to major airports.
Obama chauffeurs the nanny state at NHTSA
President Obama's pick to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration raises a few red flags. If confirmed by the Senate, Chuck Hurley, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, will drive motorists over the cliff with regulation.
The nation's traffic-safety czar has broad powers to control the roads and road-going habits of Americans. Mr. Hurley has a history of pushing laws that harass millions of law-abiding citizens to ensnare a few lawbreakers. He supports returning the 55 mph speed limit to our highways as well as roadblocks and random pullovers to make sure drivers aren't doing anything wrong. This methodology is based on a presumption of guilt - not innocence - of the average driver who is doing nothing wrong.
Mr. Hurley has promoted a mania of overregulation at MADD. Absent from his advocacies is the principle that a punishment should fit the crime, or that a crime even needs to be committed to incur a penalty. Under this influence, MADD has been lobbying to lower the allowable blood-alcohol content (BAC) for drivers to .04 - which means one glass of Pinot can land anyone behind bars.
We do not condone drinking and driving, but the constant lowering of BAC limits has separated what is punishable from what is actually dangerous.
The sly effort to re-enact Prohibition continues.
With Hurley in charge, MADD’s goals will become NHTSA’s goals. That's troubling because at heart, MADD is an activist organization. The groups once-admirable goal of raising public awareness about drunk driving has over the last several years morphed into a zealous, evangelical teetotaling campaign.
When a coalition of college presidents recently asked for nothing more than a new debate over the federal drinking age last year, for example, MADD called on parents to boycott the presidents' schools. MADD has supported prison sentences for parents who allow alcohol consumption at chaperoned parties for underage teens, and fought efforts to allow underage veterans to have a beer on base after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Even MADD's founder, Candace Lightner, has renounced the group, calling them "neo-prohibitionists."
Tired of Democrats and Republicans? Do Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Ann Coulter and Rachel Maddow leave you cold?
Well, it may be time to bring back the Whigs. You remember the Whig Party from your old U.S. history courses? They were very big in the 1830s and 1840s. The Whigs were the party of such 19th-century giants as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Abe Lincoln, before he became a Republican.
Now, after 160 years in hibernation, the Whig Party is stirring.
I got wind of the resurrection last month, when I received a news release from a John Moore, the chairman of the Modern Whig Party of North Carolina, announcing that the Whigs have "returned to the State of North Carolina after a long absence."
Moore, it turns out, is on the level. He is a 26-year-old Raleigh golf pro, an N.C. State graduate originally from Carteret County. A self-described moderate, Moore was not comfortable with either the Democratic or Republican parties.
Last fall, Moore met with friends at Raleigh's North Regional Library on Harps Mill Road.
"We were talking about the general dissatisfaction with the way the two-party system is working out overall," he said. "Basically, the same two points of view are continuously heard. I started looking around and found the Whig Party Web site."
The party's chief founder is Mike Lebowitz, who saw the need for a new party while serving as a paratrooper in Iraq."We saw how ideology on both sides was getting in the way of common sense," Lebowitz, 31, a Washington attorney, told me.
Lebowitz says he borrowed a name from American history because the Whigs were regarded as moderates.
The party is pushing for energy independence, withdrawal of most troops from Iraq, more state power to spend federal money, tax breaks for American companies who remove operations from China and preservation of gun rights. Lebowitz wants to build chapters in the states before running candidates. He says the party has about 20,000 members nationwide. He says that North Carolina, with its many independent voters, is a natural for the Whigs and that the Fort Bragg area is a hotbed of Whiggery.
In North Carolina, the party is pushing for alternative energy sources. It also wants to reduce the tax burden of lower-income people, and it supports more tax breaks for small businesses. "We can appeal to both liberals and conservatives based on our platform," Moore said.
The Taliban took over Buner through both force and guile — awakening sleeping sympathizers, leveraging political allies, pretending at peace talks and then crushing what was left of their opponents, according to the politicians and the residents interviewed.
With their success in Buner, the Taliban felt flush with success and increasingly confident that they could repeat the template, residents and analysts said. In the main prize, the richest and most populous province, Punjab, in eastern Pakistan, the Taliban are relying on the sleeper cells of other militant groups, including the many fighters who had been trained by the Pakistani military for combat in Kashmir, and now felt abandoned by the state, they said.
It would not be difficult for the Taliban to seize Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, by shutting down the airport and blocking the two main thoroughfares from Islamabad, a Western official with long experience in the province said.
At midweek, a convoy of heavily armed Taliban vehicles was seen barreling along the four-lane motorway between Islamabad and Peshawar, according to Mr. Sherpao, the former minister of the interior.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a satellite interview that Iran maintained nuclear development was within his country's sovereign rights and disputes should handled through a global regulatory framework. "The nuclear issue of ours is a special issue," he said through a translator. "We think that the nuclear issue needs to be resolved in the context of the agency and regulations." Ahmadinejad said Iran was otherwise willing to discuss a wide range of other issues with other nations, including unspecified new matters that have cropped up in recent months.
The move, in defiance of tightening U.N. sanctions, threatened to further damage efforts to dismantle the communist nation's rogue program. "This will contribute to bolstering the nuclear deterrence for self-defense in every way to cope with the increasing military threats from hostile forces," the official Korean Central News Agency quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Saturday.
North Korea previously carried out a nuclear test in 2006 and is thought to have enough weaponized plutonium to make more than half a dozen atomic bombs. Five nations — Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. — have been negotiating for years on disarming the communist country, but North Korea has walked away from the talks.
What are we going to do about it? Nothing.
As we approach the 100-day mark of his presidency, Barack Obama has broken or bent many tenets of his campaign, including promises on war, spending and good government.
In terms of tone, Obama promised to be a hope-filled change agent who could fix our politics and "heal a nation." He would do it by refusing to appoint lobbyists to his administration, increasing transparency in government, and forging new bipartisan consensus. His campaign promised to strengthen government checks and balances by limiting the use of presidential signing statements, mandating public review of legislation, and vetoing wasteful congressional earmarks. Yet none of those promises survived his first 100 days.
Even before he was sworn in, Obama picked several lobbyists for top administration jobs, including major cabinet deputy secretaries. When challenged to explain and produce the waivers that permitted those nominations, the administration dragged its feet, bending only after embarrassing questions from the White House press corps.
The promise-breaking did not stop with the inauguration. Soon after he was sworn in, the president signed an earmark-laden spending bill with virtually no bipartisan support or public review - and then promptly issued a signing statement.
The speed and ease with which Obama broke his promises for a new politics are only eclipsed by his policy shifts since taking office. But whereas his good-government reversals have consistently trended toward politics-as-usual, his policy reversals go both ways.
Some shifts are decidedly conservative, like his new Iraq policy, which looks strikingly similar to the one he inherited from President George W. Bush. Gone is Obama's promise to remove all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Instead, Obama is embracing a conditions-based withdrawal that would leave up to 50,000 troops in Iraq until the end of 2011.
Similarly, Obama is showing a greater openness to free trade than he ever did on the campaign trail. Campaigning in Pennsylvania a year ago, Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA if elected president, and opposed new free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea. But now, the Administration says Obama has no plans to reopen NAFTA and is pushing Congress to ratify the trade agreements.
That's not to say that Obama is proving to be a conservative. Most of Obama's policy shifts since winning the election are decidedly liberal, especially on issues of taxes, spending and borrowing.
During the campaign, Obama portrayed himself as a fiscal hawk, promising to cut taxes for most taxpayers while simultaneously putting our nation on a path toward fiscal responsibility with "a net spending cut." That would require making hard budgeting choices - which Obama has yet to do. Instead, Obama's budget would double the national debt over the next five years and triple it in 10. Similarly, his signature middle-class tax cuts expire in just two years, while his promises to cut taxes for small businesses are postponed until after his term in office.
Given the gravity of our nation's challenges, Obama can be forgiven for occasionally prioritizing pragmatism over political pledges. But the speed and scope of his promise-breaking in the first 100 days should not be ignored amid the general excitement surrounding the new president.
Look beneath the soaring rhetoric and it is clear Obama's presidency is off to a rocky start. He has consistently capitulated on the substantive issues that brought him into the office, eroding his credibility with many observers and making him appear more like a typical politician.
Hopefully, his new positions will lead us toward a more peaceful and prosperous future. But if victory is elusive overseas and recovery is slow at home, voters will become more skeptical of his future promises.
25 April 2009
24 April 2009
RETURN OF THE WHIGS? Reader writes:
I couldn’t help but notice your note about going the way of the Whigs.I stand corrected.
You may not be aware, but some veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan refounded the Whigs last year as the Modern Whig Party.
Since then, we have attracted members from the Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties. We currently have nearly 30,000 members. We try to be practical about politics and are generally open on social issues and prudent on fiscal issues.
The Case for a Federalism Amendment
I find the recent surge in federalism interesting, and encouraging. Now presented with a growing, irresponsible, leviathan federal government, the American people have begun to push back a bit, using a traditional response: federalism.
But state legislatures have a real power under the Constitution by which to resist the growth of federal power: They can petition Congress for a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution.
Article V provides that, "on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states," Congress "shall call a convention for proposing amendments." Before becoming law, any amendments produced by such a convention would then need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.
An amendments convention is feared because its scope cannot be limited in advance. The convention convened by Congress to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation produced instead the entirely different Constitution under which we now live.
Yet it is precisely the fear of a runaway convention that states can exploit to bring Congress to heel.
Help ethics reform get somewhere
Efforts to clean up Harris County government appear to be on indefinite hold as any serious debate about ethics reform has been derailed for months by infighting and political gamesmanship.
Commissioners Court has yet to act on a slate of suggestions prepared by an ethics reform task force that County Judge Ed Emmett appointed as scandals involving his colleagues clouded his Republican primary campaign.
That legislation, which aims to block county officials from profiting from their connections after they enter the private sector, was drafted at the behest of Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and does not have the backing of the full court.
When asked why the reform package has gone nowhere, locally or in Austin, court members are quick to assign blame to someone else.
Maybe they think you aren’t watching. Maybe they think you don’t care. Maybe they’re right.
But it’s clear that the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, as a whole, is doing as little as possible to regain the public trust in county government, which has been the subject of numerous scandals and pay-to-play perceptions.
Reforms championed by County Judge Ed Emmett have gone nowhere, even though they were one of the focal points of his recent campaign.
In an interview in October, Commissioner Steve Radack admitted that he saw no point in commissioners volunteering to higher standards since the loopholes would be exploited anyway. And, just in case there was any confusion, he clarified that, all else being equal on proposals for county contracts, of course they’re awarded to commissioners’ friends.
So, Harris County reader, if you do care, let them know.
• County Judge Ed Emmett, 713-755-4000
• Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee, 713-755-6111
• Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, 713-755-6220
• Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, 713-755-6306
• Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole, 713-755-6444
She has raised the possibility that the final version of climate legislation would not be ready a year from now. Instead of celebrating a new law by Earth Day next year, Pelosi says it is her commitment that by the 40th Earth Day next year, that substantial progress will have been made toward energy independence, reducing the country's dependence on fossil fuels and reversing the climate crisis.
In case you are a conservative, imagine how miserable things would be if these people were actually competent.
Taliban militants have pushed closer to the capital in recent days, vowing to impose their strict version of Islam across the nuclear-armed Muslim state.
Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's High Commissioner (ambassador) in London, said his personal view was that U.S. President Barack Obama's plan for fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, which broadens the focus to Pakistan, was the "wrong strategy."
"Pakistan is a semi-developed country and Afghanistan is not at all developed. They have never had any rule of law in their country," he told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday. "You can't club the two countries (together)," he said.
I disagree. I don't buy that Pakistan was ever a true U.S. ally. Why we didn't align ourselves with India instead of Pakistan 8 years ago is still beyond me. These are the people (using that term loosely) who were dancing in the streets after the 9/11 attacks.
And saying that Pakistan is not like Afghanistan, is the same thing as saying New Mexico is not like Arizona. You have a point, but then you don't. The U.S. is doing Pakistan a favor here. If the Taliban takes over in Pakistan, they will become the new host country for terrorism and we will be at war with Pakistan in a few years. And don't forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The fight against the Taliban in Pakistan is far more important than it is in Afghanistan.