Friday Digest

Digest

Mar. 7, 2008

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS

Campaign watch: McCain is GOP nominee

John McCain made official his climb back from oblivion when he clinched the Republican nomination Tuesday, winning all four primaries and securing more than the necessary 1,191 delegates. Mike Huckabee conceded, saying he had “fought the good fight” and throwing his support to McCain. Though Huckabee gained only 20 delegates after Super Tuesday, he routinely managed to pick up about one third of the vote in each state, signaling that many conservatives—particularly evangelicals—are still not sold on the Arizona senator. Speaking of conservative alternatives, Ron Paul came in third in all four states but was focused on winning the primary for his House seat. He managed to hold off challenger Chris Peden, who billed himself as a “proven conservative Republican.” Paul’s stance against the Iraq war hurt him among most Republicans in the presidential race, a factor that likely contributed to his distant third-place finish in the presidential primary in his own Texas district. He signaled Thursday that he will drop out.

As for McCain, he was left for dead last summer, but the 71-year-old is now the last man standing for the GOP and can thereby focus on raising money and preparing for the conclusion of the Democrat duel. Toward that end, President George W. Bush endorsed McCain on Wednesday, adding his money-raising machine to the mix and allowing McCain, as USA Today put it, to “rally conservatives.” Color us skeptical on that second charge. McCain has a long way to go to convince conservatives that he is worthy of their vote in November, though we can point to two very good reasons for doing so on the other side of the aisle. “I do not try to understate in any way the magnitude of the challenge we face,” McCain said, “but I’m confident that we can present the choices in such a way that we can win.” Lesser of two evils, yes, but reality is what it is.

News from the Swamp: 2009 budget battle

In the Senate: Democrats took up President Bush’s $3.1-trillion budget proposal this week, introducing their own version in which the details are no surprise. Billions more in taxpayer money would be wasted on unconstitutional expenditures such as education and energy, as well as $35 billion for “economic stimulus” (unemployment benefits, food stamps, etc.). Meanwhile, defense spending—an expenditure enumerated by the Constitution—would be cut. The overall additional spending would inflate the deficit to $350 billion in 2009, but Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) contends that there will be a $160-billion surplus by 2013. The Democrats’ budget assumes that President Bush’s tax cuts will expire in 2010. That may bring in more revenue on the front end, but it is a recipe for economic disaster that will inevitably lead to more government “stimulus” spending, and thus a larger deficit. Democrats, however, swear that everything would be fine if only taxes were higher.

As part of the House budget package, The Washington Post reports, “House Democrats want to use a parliamentary maneuver to push a $70-billion tax increase through a reluctant Senate, a move intended to spare millions of taxpayers from an unpopular tax without driving up the deficit.” Come again? A tax increase to spare taxpayers from an unpopular tax? Leave it to the Democrats and their mainstream media myrmidons.

The plan, of course, is to offset the “cost” of reforming the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which will hit 20 million more households in 2009 because it was not originally indexed for inflation when it was introduced 40 years ago. House Democrats plan to send the bill to the Senate in a fast-track package that may deny Republicans a chance to fight it.

In the House: Pork transparency

House GOP conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida is working to reform the earmark practice among his Republican colleagues. Conference members are expected to fill out a new certification form intended to make the earmark process more transparent. Those members refusing to sign would be brought before the GOP steering committee and face the possibility of losing their committee assignments. GOP members adopted the new policy at their January retreat in an effort at least to appear to be doing something about fiscal irresponsibility. Several members have gone further and sworn off pork for the year and are still pushing for a conference-wide moratorium, despite that idea’s defeat at the January retreat.

New & notable legislation

The New York Times “drive-by” article on John McCain last week suggested that the senator might not be qualified to run for president because he was born to a military family in the Panama Canal Zone. Yet The Times didn’t provide anything to back up the charge. Now it’s Barack Obama, of all people, to the rescue. Sen. Obama (D-IL) announced that he would co-sponsor legislation introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to clarify the “natural-born citizen” requirement. The bill draft reads, “Any person born to any citizen of the United States while serving in the active or reserve components of the United States Armed Forces” qualifies to become President of the United States. “Senator McCain has earned the right to be his party’s nominee, and no loophole should prevent him from competing in this campaign,” Obama said. Thanks for granting him your permission, Barack.

The House passed H.R. 1424, the “Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act,” by a vote of 268-148. (Despite the title, the legislation wasn’t about the late Minnesota Demo senator’s “mental health and addiction.” One of Wellstone’s signature issues was expanding insurance coverage for psychological conditions.) The bill mandates that medical-insurance policies covering both physical and mental illness must deal with them “equally.” The code word used in this debate has been “parity.” However, in conflating all “mental illnesses,” this legislation considers organic brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, to be of the same nature as cognitive and emotional disorders, such as jet lag and anxiety over sexual dysfunction. File this under the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” as this bill, if enacted, would force many insurers to drop mental-health coverage entirely, so as to avoid the added expense and uncertainty of all possible conditions that must be paid for with “parity.”

Medvedev takes over in Russia

Vladimir Putin protégé Dmitry Medvedev was elected president of Russia on Sunday in a contest that was tainted by lopsided media coverage and allegations of voter intimidation. In return for Putin’s endorsement, Medvedev has promised to appoint his mentor prime minister, thus assuring that Russia will continue its retreat from democracy. While Putin and Medvedev have very different backgrounds—Putin was a KGB officer, Medvedev is (and will remain) the chairman of the state-run natural gas monopoly OAO Gazprom—their rhetoric is very similar. Both stress their opposition to American foreign policy and the growth of NATO, and there is no indication that Russia’s ruthless suppression of internal dissent will stop. Like Cuba last week, Russia has managed simultaneously to install a new leader and preserve the status quo. Repudiation of anything American will remain the party line.

History shows that the United States came in from the cold in the last two decades, but it has become increasingly clear that Russia never did. The parties and people have changed, but Russian antagonism toward the West has not. Vladimir Putin’s presidency is proof, and Dmitry Medvedev will carry on the strongman’s legacy.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Big Apple Bomb

At approximately 3:45 a.m. Thursday, the front of the Armed Forces Career Center in New York City’s Times Square was damaged by an “improvised explosive devise” (IED) not unlike the bombs that claim so many American lives in Iraq. No one was in the building and no one was injured by the blast. Army Capt. Charlie Jaquillard, commander of Army recruiting in Manhattan, said, “If it is something that’s directed toward American troops then it’s something that’s taken very seriously and is pretty unfortunate.” Similar explosions occurred at the British Consulate in May 2005 and at the Mexican Consulate in October 2007, and authorities are investigating any possible connection. According to The New York Times, the best lead authorities have is that “a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt was seen leaving the scene on a bicycle.”

Homeland Security front: REAL hassles

The Department of Homeland Security has decided to start hassling the citizens of states that are resisting adoption of REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses. Forty-six states have requested a compliance extension, while four states—Montana, New Hampshire, Maine and South Carolina—have not. According to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, any state that has not sought an extension by the end of March will see their residents subject to additional security screenings at airports. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer says that the REAL ID proposal is needlessly expensive and provides a false sense of security. “We’re not going to buckle under here,” he said. “My guess is the people of Montana would be proud to walk through that line.” Our guess is that the Department of Homeland Security’s strong-arm tactics won’t end with the intimidation of citizens. Chertoff and his hired guns will probably try to cut off federal funding to freedom-loving states if they continue to defy the REAL ID Act. Washington badly wants the extra layer of bureaucracy and control that a national identification system would provide, and states like Montana have a tough fight ahead.

Another UN resolution

On Monday the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1803, aimed at Iran’s nuclear program. UNSCR 1803 reiterated the demands from previous resolutions 1737 and 1747 that Iran cease uranium enrichment (they haven’t), cease work on the heavy-water reactor at Khondab (they haven’t), and provide answers to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) questions about the nature of their nuclear program (they haven’t). UNSCR 1803 increased the number of named Iranians that are not to travel abroad, increased sanctions on the Iranian banking and finance sector, and called on states to inspect Iranian air and sea shipments when there is reason to suspect proliferation-related cargoes are being transported—but only in the ports or airports of the states doing the inspecting. The UNSC missed a golden opportunity to send a tough signal to Iran by authorizing states to stop and inspect Iranian ships on the high seas, something that would have gotten Iran’s attention in very short order, particularly considering that most of Iran’s proliferation-related shipping comes from China and North Korea.

Iran’s reaction was swift and entirely predictable. Mohammad Khazee, Iran’s representative at the UN, called the latest resolution “illegal and politically motivated.” Despite three consecutive resolutions that have listed serious outstanding questions that Iran has not answered, Iran continues to insist that it has cooperated fully with the IAEA and that “there are no more issues to be resolved.” Doubtless watching the days tick off the calendar as the Bush administration’s last year winds down, Iran must feel itself nearly out of danger. Some five years have passed since Iran’s nuclear program first came to light. During those five years of wasted opportunity, Iran has brought the Bushehr nuclear plant to the brink of going operational, has installed and thoroughly tested centrifuges at Natanz, has enriched uranium in that same facility, has launched ballistic missiles with ever-greater ranges, and has generally thumbed its nose at the rest of the world. It is now virtually a foregone conclusion that dealing with Iran’s nuclear program will fall to the next U.S. president.

Profiles of valor: Master Sgt. Keeble

On Monday, President Bush posthumously awarded Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble the Medal of Honor. Keeble, the first Sioux Indian to receive the nation’s highest award, died in 1982. “On behalf of our grateful nation, I deeply regret that this tribute comes decades too late,” President Bush said. Though fellow soldiers, family and friends had been trying for years—twice the paperwork was lost—the deadline for the award eventually passed. This year, Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation to ensure the rightful awarding of this medal.

Keeble was a veteran of World War II and Korea, where he received more than 30 citations, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with combat “V” for Valor and two Purple Hearts. It was in Korea that his actions earned the Medal of Honor. In 1951, Keeble was fighting with George Company of the 164th Infantry Regiment. He was wounded in battle on 15 October, and then again on 17, 18 and 20 October. He received the Silver Star for his bravery on the 18th, and on the 19th doctors removed 83 pieces of shrapnel from his body, including his face, and tended to two rifle wounds in his left arm. On the 20th, Keeble was back in action; he killed a dozen enemy soldiers and took out three machine-gun bunkers, saving a number of his men. His men recommended him for the Medal. During Monday’s ceremony, the President concluded, “We can tell his story, and we can honor his memory, and we can follow his lead.”

South American saber rattling

Some serious saber-rattling is taking place in South America. Last weekend, military forces from Columbia pursued guerrillas from the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to its border with Ecuador. This time, instead of stopping, the Colombians continued their pursuit into Ecuador and scored a major victory, killing 17 guerrillas, including FARC’s second in command, Raul Reyes. Venezuela’s leftist dictator, Hugo Chavez, immediately condemned the raid and moved Venezuelan troops, including tanks, to the Columbian-Venezuelan border, saying Ecuador’s sovereignty was violated even before Ecuador made the claim. Ecuador also moved some troops to the border. Chavez called Reyes’ death a “cowardly assassination” and, naturally, blamed the U.S. “empire and its lackeys,” Colombia’s conservative government, for the raid. Still, it would be well if the saber-rattling remained just that.

Adding intrigue to the story are the FARC papers and laptop that were captured during the raid. According to a top Colombian official, the computer contains information that Chavez was working with FARC, paying it $300 million in exchange for the release of six hostages. More disturbingly, the documents also allegedly indicate that FARC was looking to buy 50 kilos of uranium—for what purpose, no one said. Other documents apparently suggest that Reyes was secretly negotiating with representatives of France, Venezuela, Ecuador and even the U.S. to free hostages, including three American defense contractors. U.S. experts will be examining the laptop and documents soon. It will be very interesting to see what additional information it yields.

Israel defends herself… again

Another shocking development in the Middle East this week: Hizballah launched missiles into Israel. Israeli forces responded by attacking strongholds in Gaza and then withdrew after Secretary Rice appealed for calm. Then, on Thursday, a Hamas terrorist killed eight at a rabbinical school in Jerusalem before being killed by an Israeli army officer. Palestinians in Gaza celebrated in the streets.

Since May 1948, peace talks have been the answer whenever fighting breaks out between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and this week was no different. It seems each new U.S. President must parade a new generation of combatants onto the world stage for the latest photo-op and temporary cease-fire, and so the peace charade continues.

The Chinese had a method of execution known as “Death from a thousand cuts,” a slow, painful punishment for the worst offenders. It seems we ask Israel time and time again to “take one more cut” in hopes that the executioner grows weary of the bloodshed. Instead they face new rocket attacks. Today’s peace talks have about as much chance of succeeding as the scores of earlier “talks, initiatives, roadmaps, benchmarks” and related diplomatic blather.

Until the Arab world recognizes Israel’s right to exist and stops inculcating its populace with “Death to the Jew” chants and threats to wipe them from the face of the earth, the cycle of violence will continue. On the other hand, the Jewish people may have reached a point in history where transfusions of U.S. dollars and aid are not enough to overcome the pain, and something tells us they will not walk quietly to the gas chambers this time. Iran and its Hizballah surrogates are playing a very dangerous game.

BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Fed Chairman drops a bomb

“In this environment, principal reductions that restore some equity for the homeowner may be a relatively more effective means of avoiding delinquency and foreclosure.” So said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke this week in what The Wall Street Journal called “the equivalent of a CEO shorting his own stock.” What does that mean? It means the housing crisis, and resulting banking crisis, may be worse than we thought—much worse.

Bernanke is encouraging banks to consider writing down the principal on millions of mortgage loans as a preferable alternative to reducing interest rates—and the banks have not balked. They know that foreclosures, which net only about 50 cents on the dollar, flood the market and further drive down prices, creating a downward spiral which threatens their institutions.

There are other problems with a trend of write-downs. Primarily, many banks have already begun voluntary workouts with borrowers—more than one million since July—that modify either the loan or the repayment plan in order to help avoid foreclosure. Bernanke’s proposal may cause other borrowers to wait for either their banker to lower their principal for them or for Congress (read: taxpayers) to bail them out. As we have said before, the current mortgage problems are the result of a surge in borrowing created by low interest rates, which artificially drove up prices. Now, with the market flooded with overpriced homes and limited liquidity, prices are subject to their necessary and natural adjustments. Unfortunately, there is no easy or painless fix to the mess.

Tax cut for Venezuela?

Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez is cashing in on new Democrat energy policies, which are triggering higher oil prices. They are now threatening to add $18 billion in new taxes for oil companies. That should help. Coincidentally, Citgo, which is the oil company owned by Venezuela, is the only company which is exempt from Democrats’ new taxes.

Passing 236-182 on a House vote last week, H.R. 5351 terminates the tax deduction for major oil companies for exploration, extraction, refining and marketing of petrochemical energy. Thanks to the Democrats, the petro-dictator’s oil subsidiary retains its six-percent deduction for U.S. domestic manufacturing because Citgo buys from Chavez.

The rub for American consumers is that they ultimately will foot the $18-billion bill for a single winter’s worth of reduced-price heating oil given to a few thousand customers in two states, in addition to the privilege of suffering through secondary job losses and higher prices on goods. Remember that the next time you fill up at the pump after prices jump another 50 cents a gallon. Only in the twisted mind of Democrats does their professed revulsion at oil company profits justify such redistribution of wealth.

About that college tuition

The Washington Post is at it again with an exposé on the impact of the credit crisis on student-loan cost and availability. First, a minor bit of clarification. Despite credit worries, credit-worthy customers can still secure favorable loan terms even as the sub-prime market evaporates. There is, however, a return to proper underwriting and prudent risk analysis prior to funding with the results being a contraction in credit availability to unqualified borrowers and a reprise of the concept of homeowner’s equity. The Washington Post danced all around the “how much” aspect of college loans without actually addressing the “why” these costs have accelerated. Let us offer three simple causes:

1.) Volume. The number of students pursuing higher education has increased dramatically from 1970 (8,581,000) to 2004 (17,272,000). By definition this additional demand relative to the supply of financing would drive up the cost of said financing.

2.) Reduced support for public institutions. We doubt that The Washington Post’s editorial board has any direct knowledge of land-grant universities. However, many of us received our post-secondary education from institutions that trace their history to the Morrill Act of 1862, which established the land-grant university system. Wisely, most state legislatures have caveats against deficit spending. Lacking the capacity to increase public funding to meet the accelerating demand cited above, public universities, including the land-grant institutions, have passed on the cost to their students, ultimately increasing the demand for loan funds.

3.) The devaluation of the high-school diploma. With the increased emphasis upon “self esteem” at the expense of accomplishment over the last generation, the cherished high-school diploma of our grandparents has become a glorified post-it note. Additionally, the traditional route of on-the-job training has evaporated in the fog of litigation. Trade schools and technical-training centers now compete for available student loans.

In short, education, like all other commodities, has limited intrinsic value; its true value lies in its effective utilization. No help from Congress can change that.

CULTURE

Faith and Family: Cherry-picking theology

Anxious to justify his pro-homosexual position, Barack Obama invoked Scripture to back his support for same-sex unions. Stumping in Ohio last weekend, Obama theologized, “I think that [a same-sex union] is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial, then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.”

Perhaps Obama refers to the “do not judge” command of Jesus. Liberals love to interpret that phrase to mean that morals don’t exist. Meanwhile, the “obscure passage” from Romans 1 talks of wicked men who “although they claimed to be wise… became fools,” and whom God “gave… over to shameful lusts… the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men…” Such men “are without excuse.” Similar teaching appears in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and Jude 7, not to mention Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Hardly “obscure.”

Obama claims his position is his own view in his own mind. In this, he is correct. His selective Christianity may appease his own conscience, but as musician Michael Card once wrote, when we make God in our image, our faith is idolatry.

Judicial Benchmarks: CA marriage

Speaking of same-sex unions, on Tuesday the California State Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. At least two, and possibly three, of the seven judges seemed likely to overturn the state’s voter-approved marriage laws. In 2000, California voters passed with over 60 percent of the vote Prop. 22, which read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The state legislature has since passed a series of domestic-partnership laws that undercut the sanctity of marriage. It was very difficult for the state to argue that homosexuals should be excluded from marriage when they already have all the rights of marriage under a different name. This should serve as a warning to those who are willing to compromise with homosexual activists. Contrary to the radical homosexual activists’ claims that they want marriage “equality,” their goal is to destroy the institution altogether. Rewarding homosexuals with domestic partnerships has created a slippery slope in the direction of legalizing same-sex marriage, and the court’s decision will likely have a heavy influence on the debate.

Frontiers of Junk Science: Eco-arson

Five luxury homes were burned in Maltby, Washington, on 4 March in what appears to be a case of “ecoterrorism.” The homes were located in a subdivision that advertised itself as “built green” due to the utilization of reused lumber and low-maintenance lawns. A spray-painted bed sheet was found hanging on a fence nearby that said, “Built green? Nope Black!” The sheet was signed “E.L.F.,” the initials of the Earth Liberation Front, a known radical environmentalist group that has been linked to several arsons. Environmentalists (both radical and less radical) had loudly protested the construction of the Quinn’s Crossing subdivision that was built in a wooded wetland. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating the fires. The houses were valued at about $2 million each.

It’s not clear how the Quinn’s Crossing fires are supposed to help the environment. It seems to us that the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere from five burning 4,500-square-foot homes would be rather substantial. In fact, we’re fairly certain that the negative environmental impact from the arsons is greater than if, say, the houses had been lived in for the next several decades. While it’s possible that ELF has come around to the view that man-made, CO2-induced climate change is a myth, we doubt it. Quite simply, the people behind ELF are hypocrites, that most common of creatures. They’re also nuts.

Around the nation: Standing for state’s rights?

Last week a Vermont State Senate committee passed along a bill which would create a task force to study lowering the minimum drinking age in Vermont to 18. Bill sponsor Senator Hinda Miller argued that dropping the legal age for alcohol consumption to 18 would bring the problem endemic on college campuses out from the shadows. “Our laws aren’t working. They’re not preventing underage drinking. What they’re doing is putting it outside the public eye,” stated Senator Miller. “So you have a lot of kids binge drinking. They get sick, they get scared and they get into trouble, and they can’t call because they know it’s illegal.”

All states adopted an alcohol-consumption age of 21 in the mid-1980s, after the National Minimum Age Drinking Act was passed. Holdouts risked losing federal transportation money for noncompliance, with South Dakota the final state to fold in 1988. If the Vermont task force created by the Miller bill decides to support the change and age-lowering legislation is eventually passed, Vermont stands to lose $17 million in federal funds unless Congress decides to grant a waiver to the state.

And last…

The media have gotten their collective panties in a twist over Barack Obama once again—this time, however, it’s a fictional Obama represented on “Saturday Night Live.” SNL did a skit last weekend spoofing a debate between Hillary Clinton, played by Amy Poehler, and Obama, played by Fred Armisen. So why the concern? Simple—Armisen is not “African-American.” The Washington Post wonders if Armisen is “black enough” to portray the Illinois senator. The Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan asked, “Call me crazy, but shouldn’t ‘Saturday Night Live’s’ fictional Sen. Barack Obama be played by an African-American?” She then called the choice “inexplicable.” Even Leftmedia types across the Pond were upset. Hannah Pool of the Guardian newspaper in London pontificated, “The moment anyone starts reaching for ‘blackface,’ they are on extremely dodgy territory. Anyone who thinks it’s either necessary or, for that matter, remotely funny to black-up needs to have the gauge on their moral compass reset.” The Post continues to worry that SNL has only one black cast member, and they indirectly quote University of Southern California Professor Todd Boyd sniffing that SNL would never cast a black woman to play Hillary Clinton. Now, “Saturday Night Live” is hardly a bastion of conservatism, but they got it exactly right. Impresario Lorne Michaels insists the decision was based on merit, which is ironic considering that the candidate in question is decidedly lacking in that category.

Veritas vos Liberabit—Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus, et Fidelis! Mark Alexander, Publisher, for The Patriot’s editors and staff. (Please pray for our Patriot Armed Forces standing in harm’s way around the world, and for their families—especially families of those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, who granted their lives in defense of American liberty.)

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