Friday Digest

Digest

Nov. 30, 2007

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS

News from the Swamp: Wasting time

In the Executive Branch: It’s deja vu all over again. After more or less ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for most of his term in office, President George W. Bush on Tuesday opened yet another “peace process” meeting of various Middle Eastern and world leaders in Annapolis, Maryland, perhaps seeking some sort of presidential legacy as he approaches the end of his administration. With significant arm twisting by the President, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a skeptical world that they were ready for the hard bargaining leading to a Palestinian state in the final 14 months of President Bush’s term. The President told Abbas and Olmert, “I pledge to devote my effort during my time as President to do all I can to help you achieve this ambitious goal.”

While it may be human nature, at least in the West, to be hopeful, reality must take precedent when it comes to life or death, and that is what Israel is facing. A large percentage of the Palestinian population, as well as some of Israel’s neighbors, do not want peace, but rather Israel’s destruction. Iran and Hamas have already pledged to thwart any peace deal. Israel’s negotiation with its enemies will be as fruitful as if the U.S. negotiated with the jihadis. In both cases, the goal of the other side, the destruction of Israel and the U.S. , is non-negotiable. To believe otherwise is suicidal. Until the Palestinian/Arab mindset is changed, these talks are little more than a dangerous delusion.

In the Senate: Trent Lott retires

Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), who returned to the GOP leadership last November after spending more than four years in the political wilderness due to his unfortunate and vastly overblown comments at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday in 2002, announced his retirement this week. Lott pledged to be out of office by the end of the year, prompting speculation that he is looking to dodge the two-year ban on congressional lobbying by former members of Congress. He rejected the idea (we shall soon see), asserting that he ran for re-election last year only because he wanted to stay on to ensure Mississippi’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina. All things considered, we can’t say we’ll miss the former Ole Miss cheerleader.

Lott’s sudden departure has set off a race to replace him both in the Senate and its GOP leadership. Rep. Charles Pickering may be appointed by Republican Governor Haley Barbour to fill the seat until November 2008, when a Republican, again probably Pickering, is likely to win the election to fill the four remaining years of Lott’s term. It is likely that Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (AZ) will replace Lott as minority whip and that Lamar Alexander (TN) will replace Kyl as Conference Chairman.

In next November’s election, Republicans will have to defend 22 Senate seats, while the Democrats need defend only 12. Lott’s is the latest of several high-profile retirements that have handicappers speculating that senior Republicans don’t think highly of their chances to regain the Senate. Senate Democrats had $23.4 million in the bank by the end of October, compared to only $9.5 million for the Republicans. In the House, the fundraising gap is even larger, with Democrats holding a $26.44-million edge over the GOP. However, public approval of the Demo-led Congress is near a record low, and all the liberal posturing has produced little in the way of constructive legislation. A year from now, anything could happen.

In the House: Henry Hyde, 1924-2007

Former Illinois Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, long one of the most stalwart champions of the culture of life in the House of Representatives, died Thursday. Rep. Hyde, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this month, exerted tremendous efforts to protect the right to life of the most innocent during his 32 years in Congress. The 1976 “Hyde Amendment,” which barred the federal government from paying for abortions and has been approved every year since 1976, has saved some one million unborn babies. Hyde was also central in crafting the “Mexico City policy,” preventing international groups from performing or promoting abortion abroad as a condition of receiving U.S. taxpayer dollars. He served with integrity as House Judiciary Committee Chairman during the 1998 impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, stating at the time, “All a congressman ever gets to take with him when he leaves is the esteem of his colleagues and constituents. And we have risked that for a principle, for our duty as we have seen it.” A fitting epitaph, in his own words.

Bush invites Nobel Winner Gore to Oval Office

Al Gore may have received his Nobel Peace Prize for spurious scientific claims of global environmental catastrophe, but that didn’t stop President Bush from being a good sport by inviting him to a traditional White House reception to recognize his “achievement” with other more legitimate American Nobel laureates last week. They met privately before a public ceremony during which the rivals of the 2000 election stood next to each other for a photo opportunity that was by all accounts a bit stilted. Neither man would comment on their private moments together, but it is unlikely that Gore showed President Bush his infamous environmental slide show, or that he changed the President’s mind on the draconian market changes he believes should be enacted to save us from ourselves.

Campaign watch: Fred’s flat tax

Despite the Leftmedia’s penchant for portraying Fred Thompson as a lazy latecomer and campaign slouch, his policy proposals are certainly more concrete than those of most other candidates. We have already relayed his Social Security proposal. Now Thompson has announced a bold plan for tax reform. While other candidates wax eloquent about the need for tax reform, often offering zero-sum solutions (a tax cut here must be offset by a tax hike there), Thompson proposes abolishing the death tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax altogether, with no offsets. He also wants to cut the corporate rate from 35 percent to 27 percent. The boldest idea, however, is to offer a voluntary flat tax with two rates of ten and 25 percent, while keeping the current system of deductions as an option. Families of four would receive an allowance of $39,000 and pay ten percent on income above that up to $100,000, at which point the 25-percent rate would kick in. We’re no fans of the 25-percent rate—it’s not exactly flat if there are multiple rates—but it’s a start, and the voluntary component makes it especially attractive. Of course, Ron Paul proposes abolishing the IRS, and it doesn’t get much more concrete than that.

Campaign watch: Huckabee leads in Iowa

The pro-life populist candidate for president, Mike Huckabee, is now polling ahead of Mitt Romney in Iowa. The former Arkansas governor has largely campaigned under the radar, but his recent surge in the polls has brought new attention to his record as governor from 1996-2007—and it’s not the good kind. The Club for Growth, a free-market political action group, has given poor marks to Huckabee, who retorted by calling them the “Club for Greed.” They point to his signatures on hikes in sales, gas, cigarette and even nursing-home-bed taxes as evidence of his fiscal liberalism. He also advocated for Internet taxes. Also noted, however, were his efforts to pass an $80-million tax cut and other tax cuts. Still, overall tax burdens in Arkansas were 47 percent higher after his tenure. Huckabee’s strengths are his likeability and his socially conservative positions—positions, notably, that haven’t changed from campaign to campaign—and many Christian conservatives are apparently willing to look past his mixed fiscal and immigration records and his nanny-state advocacy.

One note about the Republican debate Wednesday: Don’t ask, don’t tell was the rule. CNN managed to slip in numerous questions from faux Republicans and outright Demo activists, including a question from Keith Kerr, a homosexual former Army colonel. Kerr demanded via video, “I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.” As it turns out, while Kerr claims to be a “Log Cabin Republican,” he is actually a member of a homosexual steering committee for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. CNN’s moderator Anderson Cooper contends that CNN didn’t know about that, though Kerr’s “question” was somehow selected from the 5,000 submitted. Sounds almost… Clintonesque.

From the Left: Kennedy gets millions for memoirs

Sen. Edward Kennedy has signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Hachette Book Group USA to write his memoirs, although neither the senator nor his staff will confirm the exact amount. Kennedy, one of the longest serving members of the U.S. Senate (we’re still trying to figure out why), has been a leading voice of the socialist movement for decades, even after ducking out of responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969. The book is unlikely to go into the details of what really happened that night at Chappaquiddick or any of the myriad personal and political scandals Kennedy has been involved in over the years. Instead, we can expect a whitewash of how he has influenced American politics in the grand old liberal fashion like the gut-busting tomes of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Howard loses re-election bid, Bush suffers?

Australia’s prime minister John Howard lost his bid for a fifth term last week to the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd, and America’s MSM wasted no time in painting his loss as a blow to George Bush. They assume that Rudd’s platform is proof that Australia no longer wants to be America’s ally because Rudd plans to pull Australia’s troops out of Iraq and ratify the Kyoto global-warming treaty.

As usual, it takes some serious reading between the lines printed in the New York Times’ poison ink to get to the real story. In fact, Australia’s involvement in Iraq played almost no role in the election. For starters, Australia has so few combat troops in Iraq that one jumbo jet could fly them all out, so it is unlikely that their withdrawal will have any serious impact on our operations. Second, Australia intends to maintain its 1,000-plus troops in Afghanistan, so it is unlikely Rudd’s new government will completely reject being a partner in the war against Jihadistan.

It’s most likely that Howard lost the election after 12 years in office because the citizenry was simply ready for a change. That happens in democracies—compare the rejections of Churchill and De Gaulle after they won WWII, as well as Thatcher after the Cold War. Furthermore, Rudd made clear that he has no intention of changing the nature of his country’s relationship with the U.S. He even went as far as to recognize “our great friend and ally, the United States,” in his victory speech. We’re sorry to burst the Times’ bubble, but that’s hardly a blow to George W. Bush.

Warfront with Jihadistan: Saudi insurgency

Documents recovered during recent Coalition raids in Iraq have proved what most senior U.S. military leaders have known for four years: Our “ally” Saudi Arabia is providing more foreign suicide bombers, and vastly more money, to the insurgency than anyone else in the region. This is not surprising, as the Saudis are awash in oil money and in brainwashed young men raised in the medieval Wahabbi branch of Sunni Islam. While Iran continues to provide invaluable technical support, intelligence support, and weaponry to various Shi’ite groups in Iraq, al-Qa’ida continues to rely on suicide bombings as its only reliable means of reaching the evening news and depends on foreign Sunni fighters to carry out those suicide attacks.

This isn’t the first time Saudi Arabia has been a source of terrorist mischief. In the past the Saudis have openly provided money for Palestinian attacks on Israel, even holding televised fundraisers to subsidize the families of suicide bombers. The Saudis deliberately impeded the FBI’s investigation of the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. And of course, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi subjects. While Shi’ite Iran remains the number-one sponsor of terrorism worldwide, we should not forget that Saudi Arabia’s Wahabbi sect remains the driving force behind al-Qa’ida, the enemy in the global war on terror.

This week’s ‘Alpha Jackass’ award

“Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers.” —Bill Clinton this week in Iowa

“I supported the President when he asked the Congress for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” —Bill Clinton in May 2003

And just for good measure: “I can support an action against Saddam Hussein because I think it’s in the long-term interests of our national security.” —Hillary Clinton in September 2002

Furthermore, Bill signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, making it the official policy of the United States “to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace the regime.”

Wedding procession hijinks

This week Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint stopped a two-car wedding procession, but this was no ordinary wedding. The soldiers became suspicious when the two-car procession at first refused to stop. On top of that, all the participants were men, except for the bride. Upon further inspection, the bride, dressed in a white gown and carrying a yellow-flower bouquet, appeared to need a shave. In fact, the “bride” and another man were on the wanted-terrorists list and were attempting a getaway. (We in our humble shop are wondering how they decided who would dress in the gown.) The Iraqi soldiers had a good laugh as they insisted the bride undress to prove his femininity. The unhappy couple is currently on their honeymoon under guard at Al Taji military base.

Profiles of valor: Army Staff Sgt. Ketterer

Army Staff Sgt. Clarence Ketterer was serving as a Squad Leader with the 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment of the Michigan Army National Guard stationed in Habbaniyah, Iraq. During a patrol, Ketterer’s team came upon Iraqi soldiers whose vehicle had been hit by a suicide bomber and were under fire from insurgents. Ketterer quickly left the shelter of his vehicle to help evacuate the wounded soldiers while coordinating a counter-attack against the enemy. While assisting the wounded soldiers into an ambulance, Ketterer returned fire with his weapon and led the ambulance to safety. For the Iraqi lives that he saved that day, Ketterer was awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor. Ketterer is currently a senior at Central Michigan University and is a campus Company Executive Officer for the ROTC.

BUSINESS & ECONOMY

’Predatory’ sub-prime lending

As the mainstream media love to remind us on a daily basis, the housing market is in trouble, with recent reports suggesting that the housing recession has begun to contribute to wider economic troubles. The problems have resulted primarily from chaos in the sub-prime-lending market, as marginal borrowers have been defaulting on housing loans at a staggering pace.

Obviously, nobody wants this sort of thing to happen, as both the lender and the borrower are hurt. There are plenty of incentives for banks and homeowners to be more cautious in the future. As usual, however, the federal government has decided that the market is not enough. The U.S. House passed the “Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007,” ostensibly to curb predatory lending practices. The goal of the legislation is to punish banks for providing loans “that the consumer lacks a reasonable ability to repay, does not provide a net tangible benefit, or has predatory characteristics.”

The problem, of course, is that nobody has ever defined just what constitutes a “predatory” loan. When these laws have been attempted at the state level, the law of unintended consequences has inevitably struck every time. What was intended to protect low-income borrowers ends up hurting them—by making it ever more difficult to obtain loans, not to mention lowering home values for sellers. When banks are made liable for the poor decisions of borrowers, they naturally withdraw from marginal-loan markets—hurting low-income borrowers the most. The market is already punishing those who made unwise loans; government meddling, however well intentioned, ends up being predatory in its own right.

Regulatory Commissars: Cable TV and the FCC

It seems the Federal Communications Commission is taking a bit too seriously Ronald Reagan’s jest, “If it keeps moving, regulate it.” In a late-night meeting Tuesday, the Commission voted to extend cable-industry regulations, including those requiring cable companies to provide the FCC with comprehensive information on their number of subscribers. The measure, which passed only after heated debate, is actually a diluted version of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s original proposal, which would have moved toward implementing a national ceiling on cable ownership, with companies being limited to 30 percent of U.S. subscribers.

Still, cable industry leaders—and even some of Martin’s fellow commissioners—are anything but happy with the new regulations, calling them “unnecessary” and “completely unwarranted by the competitive marketplace.” Unfortunately, when it comes to government agencies, neither necessity nor warrant is prerequisite to imposing regulations. Rather, Washington bureaucrats believe the only justification they need is, “Because we can.”

Medicare’s doughnut hole

From the free-lunch files comes news that the law of unforeseen consequences isn’t always a bad thing. Medicare Part D drug-plan recipients will pay the first $275 as a deductible in 2008, with taxpayers paying 75 percent of the next $2,510 on the beneficiary’s covered drug formulary list until they reach a coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole,” during which beneficiaries must pay all drug costs up to $3,216.25 in out-of-pocket costs. Once a beneficiary exceeds the $5,726.25 coverage gap, Medicare then generally covers prescriptions at 95 percent for the remainder of the calendar year. Between three and seven million seniors may encounter the coverage gap next year.

Because Congress failed to anticipate the cost-savings motivation provided by the doughnut hole (somewhat like a delayed-onset-plan deductible for private health insurance), lawmakers unintentionally forced seniors to become more price conscious by shopping for less costly generic prescriptions. Naturally, the doughnut hole is unpopular with seniors and liberal politicians who wish to eliminate the gap, thereby dramatically increasing the cost of an already unsustainable government program.

Lost in the rhetoric over another overpriced government entitlement program is the fact that the doughnut hole actually helps to control program costs, and that seniors may purchase for a few additional dollars per month private Part D plans which cover the doughnut hole. Lawmakers considering tinkering with Medicare should make sure their latest cure isn’t worse than their perceived diagnosis.

CULTURE

Around the nation: Unreasonable search

The Boston Globe reports that local police will begin a program of searching homes for guns with the intent to empower parents afraid to confront unruly teenagers. No doubt that fear will vanish after the kid’s room has been searched. No warrant will be required, because a search can be done only with the homeowner’s permission. The police will go in groups of three, dressed in civilian clothes so as to not draw attention in the neighborhood (so please, don’t tell anybody about this program by, for example, publishing details in the newspaper). If a firearm is found, no weapons charges will be brought unless the gun is linked to a shooting.

Now, we’re all for helping parents out of a tough spot—after all, our governments are all about making sure parents have control over their kids, right? However, we are puzzled as to why a firearm found in a home could result in a criminal charge. What next, criminal charges for exercising free speech or religious practices in the home? Maybe the Supremes will answer that question for us this summer since they have decided to take up the 2nd Amendment case in Washington, DC. Plus, the ACLU is concerned that people may be intimidated into granting permission. A similar program in St. Louis had 98 percent granting consent. We have to say that we’re concerned to find ourselves in agreement with the ACLU, but maybe we can find a 12-step program for help. While the goals may be laudable, it seems just about every aspect of this plan is troubling.

’Non Compos Mentis’: Zero tolerance

Two students were suspended for ten days this week at Lee’s Summit West High School in Kansas City, Missouri, for allegedly using racial slurs. The students, one of whom is nearly an Eagle Scout, did not use the dreaded (dead and buried) “n-word,” nor did they say anything that was derogatory or racially offensive. Rather a group of students were having a conversation about what knots to use when tying drum equipment when the other “n-word” came up—“noose.” A black student overheard the conversation and told a teacher that he was offended. Clearly, these boys did nothing wrong. This ridiculous incident is yet another example of the “tolerance” of liberals’ beloved political correctness run amok. In reality—unfamiliar territory for liberals—political correctness, which is designed to undermine people’s rights to liberty and freedom of speech, is coming dangerously close to muting all conversation lest it be misconstrued as offensive. We can only imagine the next forbidden n-word.

Village Academic Curriculum: Fighting Sioux

In 2005, the University of North Dakota’s 70-year-old “Fighting Sioux” mascot landed the school on a list of those violating National Collegiate Athletic Association rules by displaying Native American names or images on team items at certain NCAA events. The NCAA claimed that “the time has come to retire Native American imagery in college sports.” Ironically, the NCAA’s headquarters are in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2006, after the NCAA rejected a subsequent appeal by the university, the school sued them and in a settlement last month, the school has three years to negotiate an agreement with two Sioux tribes. If an agreement cannot be reached by 2011, the university will be forced to find a new mascot. As for the Sioux Indians, they don’t seem prepared to smoke a peace pipe with the school over the “Fighting Sioux” mascot.

Faith and Family: More ‘brotherly love’

Convictions last about as long as campaigns for outgoing Philadelphia Mayor John Street. Despite being elected in 1999 on a platform of pro-family values stemming from his Seventh-day Adventist Christian Faith, Street recently officiated at a same-sex “wedding” for long-time political aid Micah Mahjoubian and his partner, Ryan Bunch. “Micah is my friend,” justified Street. “He has been in my campaign and has been in my administration for eight years… and if this is something he would like for me to do, then I’d like to do it for him.” Trying to keep the back door of escape open, however, Street argued that, given the fact that Pennsylvania does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, the ceremony was symbolic only.

Nevertheless, Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania (AFA-PA), noted, “Even though [Street] is insisting [that] the ceremony is not marriage, homosexual activists are viewing it as a political statement and a giant step forward in their quest for so-called ‘marriage equality’.” With re-election no longer a concern for Street, however, moral standards once highly regarded quickly give way to political favors—regardless of the consequences.

Frontiers of Junk Science: Warming and AIDS

As the over-estimated hurricane season whimpered to a close once again, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fourth and final report of the year on global warming. Investor’s Business Daily sums it up: “It is a ‘consensus’ in that it started with a foregone conclusion—that man-made pollution is dooming the planet—and gathered in any and all opinions that supported it. The report incredibly warns that the 630,000 cubic miles of the Greenland ice sheet will virtually disappear in the near future, raising sea levels by almost 30 feet, and the Amazon rain forest will become a dry savannah. There will be widespread species extinction, as up to three-fifths of wildlife will die out. The Great Barrier Reef will die. And, oh yeah, winter sports in the Alps will be a thing of the past.” Notably, a survey of American members of the IPCC revealed decidedly less than consensus on the cause of warming, or even its possible benefits.

As for the UN, its top AIDS scientists announced this week that their estimates on AIDS cases worldwide was off by 17 percent—33 million versus the earlier 40 million. The World Health Organization puts the number at 25 million. Helen Epstein, author of The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS, said, “There was a tendency toward alarmism, and that fit perhaps a certain fundraising agenda.” Now insert global warming into that sentence. If the UN can be that far off on AIDS, might they also be off on the climate?

And last…

Speaking of overdoing it with the eco-theology of global warming, 154 explorers set out for Antarctica to witness the phenomenon of melting ice caused by American SUVs. Instead, they witnessed the fact that ice is increasing in Antarctica, namely by running into an iceberg with their boat, which then sank. It gets better. The polar express, a 38-year-old ship named the MV Explorer, had a history of inspection problems and was owned by one Bruce Poon Tip, a follower, friend and supporter of the populist potentate of eco-theology, Al Gore. Meanwhile, The New York Times is worried: “While the rescue [of all 154 passengers] may have been a success, the consequences for the Antarctic’s fragile environment of having a submerged ship estimated to be holding 48,000 gallons of marine diesel fuel sitting off its coast are unclear.” Indeed, thanks to Al’s buddy, at the bottom of the ocean lies a carbon footprint nearly as big as Gore’s.

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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