Friday Digest

Digest

May 1, 2009

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS

News From the Swamp: Specter Joins the Democrat Party

Sen. Arlen Specter made official what many Republicans already knew by announcing that he was joining the Democrat Party this week. Specter cited his belief that the Republican Party had “moved [too] far to the right” for him to remain among its ranks. In reality, Specter was scared of facing conservative Republican Pat Toomey in the 2010 primary, a race he was trailing by 20 points and widely expected to lose. Specter announced, “I am unwilling to have my 29-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.” Um, sorry Arlen, but that is what we call the electoral process.

Obviously, Democrats gleefully welcomed Specter into their ranks with open arms – he gives them 59 seats in the Senate, just one vote away from a filibuster-proof majority. And with Al Franken leading Norm Coleman in Minnesota’s yet-to-be-decided race, Democrats are all but assured their coveted 60 votes.

Despite being pushed to the brink of political impotence in the Senate by this move, most Republicans are glad to be rid of the pro-abortion Specter, whose support for President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and other liberal crusades has made this RINO a downright unreliable vote in the GOP caucus. The media are framing Specter’s coming-out party as an earth-shattering development, but the Democrats may find that the self-professed independent might not be as reliable as they had hoped.

Yet again, though, voters are the ones who get cheated. Switching political parties in midterm is one of the most opportunistic things politicians can do. In fact, in 2001, when Vermont’s Jumpin' Jim Jeffords switched from the GOP to the Democrats, handing control of the Senate to the Democrats in the process, none other than Arlen Specter decried the move as unethical and unfair to the voters. “I plan to propose a rule change which would preclude a future recurrence of a senator’s change in parties, in midsession, organizing with the opposition, to cause the upheaval which is now resulting,” he said then. My, how times have changed.

In addition to Specter’s ship jump, the GOP also lost its bid to fill the vacated 20th Congressional seat in New York State this week. The 31 March special election dragged on for weeks as too close to call, but late last Friday New York State Assemblyman James Tedisco conceded to Democrat Scott Murphy. Monday morning quarterbacks say that Tedisco was too much of a political insider to have a real shot at winning the race against a fresh young face as Murphy’s who aligns nicely with President Obama’s policies.

The solution to the GOP’s woes is simple. As columnist Jennifer Rubin writes, “With market capitalism under assault and polling showing voters quite concerned about spending, debt, and bailouts, you’d think Republicans could find a message which resonates with a wide audience. Although perhaps rank amateurs, the tea party protestors have found the message around which conservatives can unify and which might also bring in independents. Personal responsibility, ending corporate welfare and bailouts, reasonable budgets, and the rule of law might form the basis of a winning message.”

This Week’s ‘Alpha Jackass’ Award

“I am staying a Republican because I think I have an important role – a more important role – to play there. I think the United States desperately needs a two-party system. It is the basis of politics in America. I think each of the 41 Republican senators, in a sense, and I don’t want to overstate this, is a national asset, because if one was gone you would only have 40. The Democrats would have 60 and they would control all of the mechanisms of government.” –Sen. Arlen Specter in March

New & Notable Legislation

Congressional Democrats gave President Obama a victory on his 100th day in office by passing a resolution approving his $3.5 trillion budget. The resolution, which passed both houses without a single Republican vote (even Arlen Specter voted “no”), will include a huge boost in spending on President Obama’s domestic programs, cash for the much talked about clean energy initiative, and a tax increase for individuals making over $200,000 a year and families making $250,000 a year. Tax cuts that Obama promised for workers ($400) and couples ($800) will last only until the end of next year, though, and Democrats have become concerned with preserving middle-class tax cuts that were signed into law by President Bush. It’s a strange day on Capitol Hill indeed when the Democrats are fighting to keep tax cuts enacted by the Republican they love to hate.

The Democrats haven’t changed that much, though. In the Senate they have decided to go forward with reconciliation on health care legislation. “Reconciliation” is a euphemism that means they will vote for the package with a simple majority vote. The Democrats are using this parliamentary trick because they don’t want their vision of socialized, government-run, taxpayer-crushing health care to be jeopardized by legitimate debate. In the old days, debate was an integral part of congressional deliberations. What the Democrats really want is to push through their dream bill as quickly as possible before the public gets a whiff of how lousy the plan truly is. What about Obama’s campaign promise of bipartisanship? In Washington, if you can’t beat ‘em, rig the game against 'em.

Democrats have put the brakes on their climate legislation for the time being, however, as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) faced rifts among fellow travelers on his committee. Regional and industrial concerns have risen as it becomes clear that plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will have varying impacts across the country. Differing views abound about whether to distribute credits to either electrical and coal producers or consumers who will face higher electrical costs. Furthermore, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has publicly noted that the House may not even vote on a climate bill if it makes it out of Waxman’s committee, because the votes just aren’t there in the Senate. House Democrats are known for many things, but bravely sticking their necks out for legislation not guaranteed success in the upper chamber is not one them.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is spearheading another run at gun buyers and sellers. Tactlessly using the anniversaries of the Virginia Tech and Columbine shootings as a springboard, Lautenberg announced a bill to close the supposed “gun show loophole” by forcing all gun show promoters to register with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and to maintain a list of gun show vendors, as well as obliging gun dealers at these shows to be responsible for background checks of the purchasers of their guns. Lautenberg’s bill, on its face, is just the beginning of a federal attempt to track all gun purchases and owners across the country. What else could it be? After all, the shooters at Columbine and Virginia Tech didn’t obtain their weapons at gun shows, so what does one have to do with the other? There are already laws on the books to track and prevent illegal gun purchases by felons – let’s enforce those.

Hope 'n’ Change: Teleprompter Fail

In the latest in a continuing series of teleprompter gaffes, President Obama slipped up again this week during a speech at the National Academy of Sciences. Having previously introduced those he was naming to a new President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the Teleprompter-in-Chief became flustered when the names came up again in his prepared remarks and was caught on video telling the teleprompter operator to skip ahead: “In addition to John – sorry, the – I just noticed I jumped the gun here. Go ahead. Move it up. I had already introduced all you guys.”

 

All this belies a passage released by Senator Harry Reid as an epilogue to his most recent book in which he recounts a conversation with Barack Obama regarding a speech he gave in the Senate. When Reid praised the young senator, he recalls, “with what I would describe as deep humility, he said quietly: ‘I have a gift, Harry.’”

 

All this leads us to wonder why The Gifted One stumbles so when addressing the camera. Maybe those glib and moderate-sounding lines on the teleprompter are simply phrasing designed for public consumption and aren’t reflective of his true thoughts and intentions.

Judicial Benchmarks: FCC Rules Upheld by Supremes

 

Back in the 1970s, the late comic George Carlin famously revealed the seven words that can’t be uttered on television. (Decorum prohibits reproducing them here as well.) However, occasionally, during live televised events one of those banned seven slips out. Previous FCC policy had been to let what they termed “fleeting expletives” slide, but in 2004 those rules were toughened and networks were no longer allowed the free pass, facing fines if even one indecent word slipped by censors.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, upheld this interpretation, with Justice Scalia writing for the majority that the revised FCC rules were “neither arbitrary nor capricious.” While the Fox television network had successfully won at the appellate level a request for the FCC to review their standards, the agency appealed and prevailed.

The dissenters, who represent the court’s liberal wing, based their argument on how the offending words were used. But even as the language of society coarsens and one-time obscenities become all-too-common exclamations or adjectives, the majority decided that the public airwaves needed to have some line drawn in the sand and ruled accordingly.

In other Court news, David Souter announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of the current term in June. Souter was appointed in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, who assured conservatives that Souter was one of us. To say that he has been a disappointment would be an understatement. That said, when Barack Obama chooses a leftist advocate of a “living Constitution” to replace Souter – something he has promised to do – he will not change the balance of the Court. For that matter, neither would the retirement of 89-year-old John Paul Stevens, who was long thought to be the next Court retiree. And with the Senate in Democrat control by a soon-to-be 60-vote margin (thanks, Arlen), Obama’s nominee will sail to confirmation.

From the ‘Court Jesters’ File: Accidental Shooting Ruling

The Supreme Court also ruled this week on a case involving a robbery during which the perpetrator accidentally fired his gun. He claimed that the automatic 10-year sentence for firing a weapon during a crime was too harsh for something that was an accident. The Court disagreed. Mandatory minimum sentences are another can of worms, but we agree with Chief Justice John Roberts, who pointed out that if criminals wanted to avoid the penalty for firing the gun, even by accident, they should “lock or unload the firearm, handle it with care during the underlying violent or drug trafficking crime, leave the gun at home or – best yet – avoid committing the felony in the first place.”

Funnier still is the dissent, written by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Stephen Breyer, which said, “Accidents happen, but they seldom give rise to criminal liability. Indeed, if they cause no harm, they seldom give rise to any liability. The court today nevertheless holds that petitioner is subject to a mandatory additional sentence – a species of criminal liability – for an accident that caused no harm.” Call us crazy for pointing it out, but these are two of the justices who dissented from last year’s Heller ruling, which affirmed the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. In other words, they are in the unusual position of defending a criminal who accidentally fired a weapon during a crime while maintaining that law-abiding citizens have no right to own a firearm.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Warfront With Jihadistan: Pentagon to Release Abuse Photos

Once again proving the Left’s stubborn refusal to learn from previous experience as well as their dangerous lack of judgment, the Obama regime has ceased any attempt to keep photographs of alleged prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan out of the public record. The photographs will be released no later than 28 May. They allegedly depict 21 images of abuse in Iraqi and Afghani facilities besides Abu Ghraib prison and 23 other photos showing some type of prisoner abuse. Additionally, a letter from the Justice Department stated that “the government is also processing … a substantial number of other images.” Wonderful. First, Obama releases top-secret memos telling the jihadis how we interrogate them, and now he gives them more fuel to further their cause.

While genuine prisoner abuse should not be tolerated, we must point out that the U.S. military regularly investigates all reports of abuse and punishes those involved in verified incidents. What possibly can be the true intent of the Obama regime in releasing all these classified documents? The first go-around with the Abu Ghraib photos in 2004 led directly to riots and deaths in the Middle East, including the beheading of American Nick Berg. The release of these new photos will provide no information that is not already known and will do nothing but throw gasoline on the burning fire of hatred for the West stoked by many in the Middles East and, sadly, many here at home. Many people for whom Obama self-righteously claims great compassion, including American civilians and soldiers, will die as a consequence of the release of these photos, and the resulting blood will be on Obama’s hands.

Soros Influenza

In other bad news from the Pentagon, “Democratic Party financier George Soros, who puts much of the blame for Islamic terrorists on America and former president George W. Bush, can celebrate his first foothold inside the Pentagon,” writes columnist Rowan Scarborough. “It is in the person of Rosa Brooks, far-left former Los Angeles Times columnist.” Brooks was also a lawyer for Soros' Open Societies Institute, which in turn is sugar daddy for MoveOn.org. She will now be “principal adviser” for Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, the Number 3 official and top policymaker at the Pentagon. This means that Brooks will have an influence on such things as budget, troop deployments and weapons purchases. She will also, according to the Pentagon, “develop cross-regional planning,” which means she will hold sway over foreign relations.

In light of her coming role, her views on national security might be pertinent, and a look at Brooks' diatribes quickly reveals the problem. She compared President George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler (how original) and called Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney “psychotics who need treatment.” Perhaps most telling is this passage from a 2007 article: “[Al Qaeda] was little more than an obscure group of extremist thugs, well financed and intermittently lethal but relatively limited in their global and regional political pull. On 9/11, they got lucky – but despite the unexpected success of their attack on the U.S., they did not pose an imminent mortal threat to the nation. Today, things are different. Thanks to U.S. policies, al Qaeda has become the vast global threat the administration imagined it to be in 2001.” Uh, thanks to U.S. policies Rosa, al-Qa'ida has not made a successful attack on U.S. soil since 2001.

Sadly, however, the fact that a DoD undersecretary now has a total wingnut as an advisor isn’t exactly earth-shattering news given the radicalism threaded throughout this administration. Barack Obama still has at least 1,359 days left.

Profiles of Valor: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rhyner

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Rhyner of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron was serving in Operation Enduring Freedom when his unit fell under attack on 6 April 2008. Rhyner’s mission included a team of 12 Special Forces Troops who were dropped from helicopters in Shok Valley, Afghanistan, in order to take out an insurgent group. The jihadis gained the high ground, however. During the six-hour battle that followed, Rhyner, despite being injured, fought hard and provided “suppressive fire with his M-4 rifle against enemy fire while fellow teammates were extracted from the line of fire,” according to his award citation. In addition to cover fire, Rhyner coordinated more than 50 aerial attacks on the enemy. His actions helped save the lives of many American and Afghan troops. In December, 10 soldiers received the Silver Star for their heroism in that battle – the largest such number for a single battle since the Vietnam War. Sgt. Rhyner recently received the Air Force Cross, the highest decoration awarded by the service and the first in six years.

BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Chrysler Files Chapter 11

“Chrysler LLC will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday, President Barack Obama said, kicking off what the administration predicts will be a 30- to 60-day restructuring of the third-largest U.S. auto maker,” The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Note that a Chrysler official didn’t announce this, Obama did. Furthermore, Chrysler will enter a partnership with Italian automaker Fiat and get $8 billion more from U.S. taxpayers. It will also give an 8-percent stake to the U.S. government, which, according to the Journal, gives the government “the power to appoint board members at the new company but [it] would not get involved in day-to-day operations.” Whew – we thought the government was going to start telling Chrysler how to do business.

General Motors could face a similar fate as well. By virtue of its squandering taxpayer funds on failed business models, and despite GM officials stating a bankruptcy filing in May is 99 percent likely, Obama administration bureaucrats are asking GM to accept an offer it can’t refuse and to forego bankruptcy. Under this offer, the government will own 50 percent of GM, while its union partner, the UAW, will own 39 percent. Although not a match made in heaven, this partnership will inevitably suffer from conflicts based on the new owners' competing interests.

As an owner, the government will continue to set vehicle standards pertaining to emissions, safety and mileage, but now it will also be forced to implement its own diktats. Other business decisions that traditionally pit the interests of the unions, manufacturers and the government against each other, such as parts purchasing, contracts negotiations and pollution limits, will inexorably produce unintended consequences for the Obama administration.

The biggest losers are the holders of unsecured bonds owned by the public. Under the restructuring offer, bondholders would exchange their $27.2 billion in bonds for the remaining 10 percent of the GM stock at less than five cents on the dollar. Meanwhile, the government wants to bypass bankruptcy to receive as much as 87 cents on the dollar in ownership in the company, while the union would receive up to 76 cents. In bankruptcy, the government, union and bondholders would instead be treated equally. Undeterred, the government is seeking to exert pressure on the major bondholders who also happen to be other recipients just like GM and Chrysler. Don Corleone could not have done better in making offers that can’t be refused.

The BIG Lie

“I want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy, you know, meddling in the private sector. …I’m always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of, oh, you know, ‘Obama wants to grow government.’ No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that’s not the hand that’s been dealt us.” –Barack Obama at his prime time news conference Wednesday

Economic Tidbits

“The Treasury Department said Monday it will need to borrow $361 billion in the current April-June quarter, a record amount for that period,” the Associated Press reports. “It’s the third straight quarter the government’s borrowing needs have set records for those periods.” The borrowing is in part due to the $700 billion bailout, but also because tax revenue is down and overall spending is up – way up. The FY2009 budget deficit will be a record $1.75 trillion, up from the previous record of $454.8 billion last year.

Meanwhile, the recession continued as the GDP shrank by 6.1 percent in the first quarter. That means, of course, that government spending as a share of GDP is up. But the 6.1 percent drop is an improvement over the fourth quarter’s 6.3 percent drop, largely because consumer spending was up 2.2 percent. Some economists find reason to be optimistic about a recovery just around the corner. Americans are resilient that way – even when government gets in the way. Unfortunately, no matter the size of the recovery or how long it takes, Democrats will take all the credit for finding the right government “solutions” to our “broken” capitalist system.

This Week’s ‘Braying Jackass’ Award

“Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which I’m not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we are going to stabilize Social Security. But let’s not play games and pretend that the reason [for the deficit] is because of the Recovery Act.” –Barack Obama

California Discovers Problems With Ethanol

Widely heralded by global warming crusaders as key to cutting greenhouse gases, corn ethanol may not be such an environmental panacea after all. The California Environmental Protection Agency recently realized that the environmental damage caused by producing ethanol from corn actually outweighs any benefits yielded by using it as fuel. “Converting land that is now a ‘carbon sink’ to farmland producing ethanol defeats the purpose,” says California EPA Public Information Officer Dimitri Stanich, “because land now absorbing carbon dioxide would be cleared to produce corn.” Not only do the nitrogen and phosphorous needed to raise corn generate harmful agricultural runoff but, as the International Council for Science notes, biofuel production actually releases nitrous oxide, which is blamed for trapping heat at 300 times the rate of CO2.

While the EPA maintains the problem is in the process and not the product, evidence indicates otherwise. According to the Hoover Institution’s Henry Miller and the University of California at Davis’s Professor Colin Carter, “[E]thanol yields about 30% less energy per gallon of gasoline, so miles per gallon in internal combustion engines drop significantly.” Still, the EPA believes ethanol is a “good fuel.” Their criteria for such a conclusion remain a mystery.

CULTURE & POLICY

Around the World: Swine Flu

Swine flu claimed eight lives in Mexico (one of whom made it to Texas for treatment before succumbing) this week and, as of Friday morning, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed more than 300 cases around the globe – more than 100 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. But it is the media coverage and government action that is perhaps the biggest story. The Associated Press is predicting “two million dead,” while the WHO raised its alert level to the second highest Phase 5, which doesn’t quite match the number of confirmed cases given that various influenza strains kill 36,000 Americans each year. It seems that what is spreading is a pandemic of fear.

Dr. Christopher Olsen, a molecular virologist who studies swine flu at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison, advises, “Let’s not lose track of the fact that the normal seasonal influenza is a huge public health problem that kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone and hundreds of thousands around the world.”

Meanwhile, there isn’t even consensus on what the flu should be called. Some have suggested “Mexican flu” since that was the point of origin and other major flu outbreaks have been labeled accordingly. Others disagree. “This really isn’t swine flu. It’s H1N1 virus,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. Indeed, U.S. officials are calling the scare the “2009 H1N1 virus outbreak.” Catchy, isn’t it?

As for the government, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who had been running the show in the absence of a Health and Human Services Secretary, was talking about mass immunizations. Now the controversial Kathleen Sebelius, confirmed by the Senate Tuesday as HHS head, will be taking the reins. Naturally, the Obama administration is following the dictum, iterated by chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, “Never allow a crisis to go to waste. They are opportunities to do big things.” The first big thing was to ask Congress for $1.5 billion to “support our ability to monitor and track this virus.”

Perhaps the Obama regime hasn’t heard of the panic of ‘76. A recent Salon.com article described the hoopla surrounding a possible epidemic of swine flu that year. The Ford administration, in an attempt to restore confidence in the government after Watergate, rushed through a mass immunization plan. The panic led to mayhem. When Ford asked the Democrat-controlled Congress for $135 million to finance a vaccine, they responded by tacking on $1.8 billion to the bill for their pet welfare and environmental causes. In addition, the bill included indemnity for drug companies who had been asked to develop this vaccine in record time.

In the end, there was no epidemic – one death from the virus, but more than 30 from the vaccination. Yet Democrats were able to push their agenda behind the smokescreen of a health crisis. Sound familiar?

From the 'Non Compos Mentis’ File

“I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now. It’s not that it’s going to Mexico, it’s you’re in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft. That’s me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation suggesting they ride the subway.” –Vice President Joe Biden, just being helpful as usual

Village Academic Curriculum: Trouble at Notre Dame

In an act of both courage and conviction, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, who was scheduled to speak at Notre Dame University’s commencement ceremony on 17 May and to receive the prestigious Laetare Medal, has withdrawn from participating in the ceremony and from accepting the award. At issue is the university’s decision to invite Barack Obama to give the school’s commencement speech, along with the planned presentation to Obama of an honorary law degree. As staunch a pro-abortion advocate as is Obama, Glendon is an even stauncher defender of life.

In a letter sent to Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins and released to the press, Glendon criticizes the university’s decision as “in disregard of the U.S. bishops' express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions ‘should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles’ and that such persons ‘should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.’ … I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.”

Glendon also expressed concern over the “talking points” released by the school in the wake of criticism over the choice of Obama, since it included “statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event…. A commencement … is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision – in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops – to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.”

The university has announced that it will not award the Laetare Medal this year, and that the 1984 award recipient, federal Judge John T. Noonan Jr., will speak in Glendon’s place.

Climate Change This Week: ‘Consensus’ Via Gag Rule

Call it the Global Warming Gag Rule. Last week, House Democrats barred Lord Christopher Monckton, former science advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, from testifying along with former Vice President Al Gore at a global warming hearing on Capitol Hill. Monckton – a critic of global warming who was invited to testify by Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee – learned upon arriving from London that Democrats had nixed Monckton’s appearance. “The House Democrats don’t want Gore humiliated, so they slammed the door of the Capitol in my face,” Monckton stated. “[They] have a lot to learn about the right of free speech under the U.S. Constitution. Congress[man] Henry Waxman’s refusal to expose Al Gore’s sci-fi comedy-horror testimony to proper, independent scrutiny by the House minority reeks of naked fear.”

This came just days before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, blamed the U.S. for contributing to climate change, claiming an international crisis and arguing, “The facts on the ground are outstripping the worst case scenario models.” These “facts,” however, are hardly indisputable. Regardless of the facts, Democrats, as usual, have decided to follow the surest, safest path to “consensus” – silencing all opposition.

And Last…

Late last year, we recommended several stocks for investment that we felt would be secure even in uncertain times. These included a diverse portfolio of various rifles in several calibers. As it turns out, several million Americans followed our advice. According to AmmoLand.com, “Law abiding US citizens bought on average 3,177,256 guns every 3 months in 2008,” which, they point out, is enough to outfit the armies of both China and India – combined. Not only that, but in December 2008, more than 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition were sold. Of course, the downside is that guns and ammo are pretty hard to come by these days. It may seem a bit odd, but many conservatives have dubbed Barack Obama the “Firearms Salesman of the Year.”