Friday Digest

Digest

Nov. 19, 2010

The Foundation

“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” –Benjamin Franklin

Government & Politics

TSA Stands for Thorough Sexual Assault

Anger and Rebellion are the name of the game as resistance intensified this week from the flying public and airline industry employees against the new Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) “enhanced screening procedures” (a.k.a. sexual assault). TSA and federal government officials insisted that the measures are essential and the harassment will continue until morale improves. For your safety, of course.

The nationwide outrage is due to multiple cases of TSA abuse coming to light, with stories of young children groped, exposed private parts and screeners’ hands going down flyers’ pants, and even taking nail clippers from armed soldiers. Lawsuits have been filed against the TSA, and some members of Congress have expressed concern that the TSA has gone too far and may have to be investigated.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote an op-ed in USA Today titled “Scanners are safe, pat-downs discreet.” Nothing to see here, folks, just move through the machine. She argued, “The deployment of this technology and the implementation of these measures represent the evolution of our national security architecture, an evolution driven by intelligence, risk and a commitment to be one step ahead of those who seek to do us harm.”

Unfortunately, the good secretary failed to point out that “those who seek to do us harm” are almost exclusively young Muslim males, and, logically, they should be the first ones profiled for additional screening.

Instead, the TSA pretends that we’re all potential threats and, therefore, we all get to enjoy either the mechanized body scans or the groping – or, as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) dismissively calls the latter, the “love pats.” If you think the TSA scanners now being deployed around the nation – thanks to $73 million in Obama money – are not invasive, you might reconsider after viewing this virtual strip search, which is a low resolution reproduction of a typical high resolution TSA scan.

There are three primary manufacturers of body scanners purchased by the TSA: one made by L-3 Communications, one from American Science and Engineering and one from Rapiscan. The scanner manufacturers are all located in leftist congressional districts in Massachusetts and California, those represented by Demo Reps. Ed Markey, Niki Tsongas and Jane Harman. Perhaps this is mere coincidence, but we doubt it.

Obviously, airline security is an important issue, but there are better ways to achieve it without trampling the Fourth Amendment or encouraging uniformed personnel to commit what in any other circumstance would be prosecuted as felonious assault. The Israelis, for many years the prime targets of jihadi terrorism, have one of the best airline security records in the world, but they don’t resort to wide-scale screening. Using intelligence analysis and common sense, they profile people, not things, allowing them to focus on the most probable threats with minimal disturbance of those who aren’t likely to be terrorists. While that might offend the sensibilities of travelers who fit the terrorist profile, at least grandma and the grandkids would be free from abusive TSA gropers.

Disabling Cell Phones in Cars?

Apparently, virtual strip searches and “love pats” at airports aren’t oppressive enough for the federal government. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this week discussed government mandating cell phone scramblers in automobiles. “I think the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if we’re going to save lives.” Indeed, it’s never enough for big government advocates. Read more here.

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Republicans Show Small Signs of ‘Getting It’

The House Republican Conference passed a moratorium on earmarks Thursday, in a sign that at least they heard the message from voters. Speaker-elect John Boehner (R-OH) said, “Earmarks have become a symbol of a Congress that has broken faith with the people. This earmark ban shows the American people we are listening and we are dead serious about ending business as usual in Washington.”

The House followed Senate Republicans, who reluctantly voted Wednesday for a watered down earmark ban recommendation. Even at that, not all Republican senators are willing to go along. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who claimed victory this week in her attempt to become the first senator in half a century to win a write-in campaign for her seat, is ready to lead a contingent of senators “going rogue” against party leadership on earmarks.

Even more than earmarks, Republicans could do a lot to clean up Congress with rules changes and modifications to leadership structure. The Heritage Foundation has several recommendations. Find out more here.

News From the Swamp: Democrats’ Tin Ear

Nancy Pelosi defeated Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) for the post of minority leader in the 112th Congress by a vote of 150-43. This couldn’t be better news – for Republicans. Pelosi, who boasts a whopping 8 percent approval rating among independent voters, has vociferously denied liability for her party’s epic election losses, saying, “We didn’t lose the election because of me.” Just keep telling yourself that, Nancy.

Meanwhile, in their current majority position, the Democrat leadership structure includes Pelosi as speaker, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as majority leader and Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) as majority whip. In January, when the Democrats shift to the minority, only two leadership positions will be available, making Clyburn the odd man out.

Democrat leaders decided to create a new “assistant leader” position out of thin air to avoid a protracted battle between Hoyer and Clyburn over the minority whip position. (Is it just us, or is it weirdly ironic that Clyburn, who is black, was seeking the position of “minority whip” in the party of slavery?) There’s no indication as to what the duties of this new position are, and Clyburn’s colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus suspect that it’s merely a move to appease them. Given that Democrats depend on getting 90 percent of the black vote each election cycle, they could very well be right.

New & Notable Legislation

Tax cuts and spending loom large over the lame-duck congressional session. It’s expected that the White House and Republicans will agree to a compromise that would extend the current tax rates for two years even for people over the $250,000 annual income threshold. Barack Obama had previously promised to raise taxes for the top two brackets, complaining that the government “can’t afford it” – while ignoring the fact that his own spending is what we can’t afford – but his leverage on the issue evaporated on Nov. 2.

Speaking of what we can’t afford, Democrats will introduce the mother of all budget bills by lumping together all the appropriations bills they had failed to pass for fiscal year 2011, which began Oct. 1. The omnibus package costs $1.1 trillion, less than 1 percent higher than in 2010, and about $20 billion less than Obama wanted. Democrats had ducked funding the government all year, fearing a backlash from spending-conscious voters that ended up coming anyway. The government is currently running on a stopgap expenditure that expires Dec. 2. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has announced his opposition, saying, “If this election showed us anything, it’s that Americans don’t want Congress passing massive trillion dollar bills that have been thrown together behind closed doors. They want us to do business differently.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will reintroduce energy legislation under yet another new name: the Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act of 2010. The bill is Grade A pork from top to bottom, including $4.5 billion in tax incentives for purchasing automobiles powered by natural gas or electricity and subsidies for the production of such vehicles. Another $1.5 billion is thrown in for further research and development in this area. This will all be “paid for” by nearly tripling the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax, which will ultimately mean even less exploration in U.S. territory and higher gas prices for consumers. Numerous private sector studies have revealed that there is not, nor will there be, any real demand for these vehicles over the next decade. Indeed, if there were demand, there would be no need for federal subsidies. But that’s never stopped Reid before. In a year of political change, he remains a constant.

From the Left: Rangel Guilty of Ethics Violations

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) was found guilty by the House Ethics Committee this week on 11 of 13 ethics violations ranging from misuse of House resources for personal gain to tax evasion. The panel deadlocked on one charge and allowed another two charges to be folded together. They voted unanimously on the remaining 11. The ethics committee voted 9-1 to censure Rangel, which means that he must stand before the House while Nancy Pelosi verbally rebukes him.

Rangel walked out of the proceedings Monday after just 30 minutes, claiming that he was being denied due process because he hadn’t had time or money to find a replacement lawyer. Rangel parted ways with his prior counsel a month ago and asked to be allowed more time to find new counsel, but the request was denied. After Rangel left the room, the trial continued without him while he tracked down the nearest news cameras to denounce the proceedings. With a straight face, he claimed that he wasn’t prepared for the trial, even though it had been nearly two years in the making. Tune in after Thanksgiving as the ethics trial of Rangel compatriot Maxine Waters (D-CA) begins.

National Security

Non-STARTer

Recognizing the narrowing window of opportunity wrought by midterm election fallout, Team Hope-&-Change is putting its best full-court press on the Senate to try to ram yet another we-need-to-pass-this-so-we-can-find-out-what’s-in-it measure down America’s throat. Here, the measure is a “new” Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia.

The original START expired last December, preventing teams from both nations from inspecting each other’s nuclear weapon sites. Since the Senate must ratify any treaty, the administration is pushing for ratification before freshman Republicans are seated in January. Afterwards, the Democrat lead in the Senate will shrink from 58 to 53, all but guaranteeing the treaty’s demise.

Another big problem Democrats face is that unlike the health care legislation, we actually know what’s in the proposed treaty – and it’s not good. As a related aside, we offer a brief primer on sizing up treaties – or any other momentous measures – advocated by the current administration, solely based on Team Obama’s track record over the past two years. The entering argument is that if Comrade Obama & Co. are “for” something, that “something” will undoubtedly be bad for the nation and its security. This “new” treaty is certainly no exception.

In addition to being fundamentally flawed because of woefully inadequate verification measures, the new START also critically hobbles missile defense options that the U.S. has spent billions on and leads the world in fielding.

Accordingly, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) may be America’s last best hope to keep U.S. nuclear capability from being sacrificed on the altar of make-nice-with-your-enemy treaties. Democrats need nine defections from Republican ranks to reach the 67 votes needed for ratification, and as Senate Minority Whip, Kyl has the ability to ensure that doesn’t happen. Thus far, Kyl has been withholding support for START in lieu of administration guarantees to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons – guarantees, of course, the administration is in no position to make good on, since funding for the same falls squarely in Congress’ lap. Then again, given his RINO-like sellout on immigration reform a few years back, we’re less than cautiously optimistic that Sen. Kyl will hold the line on the future of America’s nuclear security.

Even so, given that treaties are binding as “the supreme law of the land” (U.S. Constitution, Article VI), we strongly urge all senators to deliberate carefully on the long-term consequences to America’s defense – especially its missile defense – before rushing to any vote. At the very least, the treaty should solidly affirm President Reagan’s timeless maxim: “Trust but verify.”

Warfront With Jihadistan: KSM Trial Delayed Indefinitely

Last November, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-conspirators would be tried in a federal court just blocks from Ground Zero. This decision was part of Obama’s larger plan to close the Guantanamo facility and move detainees to the continental U.S. A year later, however, Gitmo remains open and administration officials are relying on the Authorization for Use of Military Force to hold KSM and the others indefinitely and without trial. In other words, Obama has taken two years to arrive at the position held by George W. Bush in his efforts to protect the country after the 9/11 attacks.

Once again, Obama finds himself caught between his promises to the Left and, well, reality. On the issue of where to hold the terror trials, politicians from both parties have aligned against him, including Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with New York Democrat Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo. Wayward New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg originally supported Holder’s decision, but changed his mind when faced with the enormous costs and security risks of holding such trials in Manhattan.

Before making a final decision, however, the administration was awaiting the outcome of a “test case”: the trial of Ahmed Ghailani in New York City. Well, the test has now been concluded, with another failing grade for Obama and company. Ghailani, who is to date the only Gitmo detainee tried in federal court, was accused of participating in al-Qa'ida’s 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He was indicted on more than 280 counts, including the murder of 224 people, 12 of whom were American.

On Wednesday, the New York jury acquitted him of all but one charge: conspiring to destroy U.S. buildings and property. The Leftist judge barred a witness from testifying because his identity was revealed while Ghailani was held in a secret CIA prison where terror suspects were “tortured.” Obama’s test case thus demonstrates exactly what Rep. King and many others have feared: that in civilian courts, terrorists can be acquitted just as easily as petty thieves. Indeed, after the Ghailani debacle, it’s not hard to imagine that KSM, who was waterboarded in a CIA prison, could walk out of court a free man.

The Justice Department’s lackluster statement that it “respects the jury’s decision” and is “pleased” that Ghailani will spend at least 20 years in prison was all but an admission of defeat. Rep. King expressed outrage at the “miscarriage of justice,” as did Edith Bartley, whose father and brother were killed in the attacks. Attorney General Eric Holder should be held accountable.

Profiles of Valor: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta

In a ceremony at the White House Tuesday, United States Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta became the first living service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the account of Giunta’s actions, click here.

Of Giunta, Wall Street Journal columnist and former Bush speechwriter William McGurn wrote, “When we think of military heroism, we may think of Rambos decorated for great damage inflicted on the enemy. In fact, the opposite is true. Every Medal of Honor from these wars has been for an effort to save life. Even more telling, each specifically recognizes bravery that cannot be commanded.”

“On that ridge in Afghanistan, Salvatore Giunta could not save his sergeant,” McGurn continued. “But he did deprive the enemy of its victory – and death of some of its sting. … [A] fellow soldier (who earned a Silver Star in the same firefight) put it this way. ‘The last thing [Sgt. Josh] Brennan ever saw was us,’ says Sgt. Erick Gallardo. ‘You know, he saw us fighting for him. … We fought for him and he’s home with his family now because of that.’ It’s a soldier’s gift. Because of Sgt. Giunta, the family of Josh Brennan know that when their loved one breathed his last, he did so knowing he was among friends willing to put their own lives at risk for him.” A fine gift, indeed. Thank you, Staff Sgt. Giunta, for your service to our great country.

Business & Economy

Obama’s Asian Adventure Disappoints

Barack Obama might want to scratch “international diplomat” off his list of potential post-presidential job titles after the spectacular flop of his recent Asia tour. After traveling to India, Indonesia and South Korea for the G20 Summit and then to Japan for an APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting, he crooned to reporters that “all of Asia is eager for American engagement and leadership.” Yet it seems he’s singing in a choir of one. ABC News headlined that the president “f[ell] short on G-20 goals” and “fail[ed] to deliver on key trade goals,” while the Boston Globe announced “Obama’s economic view is rejected on the world stage,” and The Washington Post spotlighted the president’s “limited leverage in failed S. Korea deal.”

The latter refers to the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), which the Heritage Foundation notes “was completed and signed three years ago. All the agreement needs is leadership from President Obama to get it approved in the Senate.” According to the U.S. International trade commission, if KORUS passed, annual U.S. exports would rise by $10-11 billion and imports would grow by $6 billion. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce projected KORUS would mean 250,000 more jobs.

Instead, the president let the agreement flop, a move that Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Bruce Klingner called “a colossal blunder.” According to American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Philip Levy, the president’s failure to close the agreement “reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy.” It seems the president is too busy singing his own praises to face the real music.

Hope ‘n’ Change: More ObamaCare Waivers

“If you like your health care plan,” assured Barack Obama in 2009, “you can keep your health care plan.” Now that Americans are beginning to find out what’s in ObamaCare, this phony claim is easier to see through. The administration quietly acknowledged this week, buried deep on the Department of Health and Human Services website, that 111 new waivers are being granted to various companies, unions and other groups with limited-benefit health care plans. As we reported in October, McDonald’s was among the first high-profile companies to be granted a waiver from ObamaCare’s requirements. Other food chains such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden and T.G.I. Friday’s have joined the list. Most notably, Big Labor has collected numerous waivers, particularly for public employee unions such as SEIU and NEA.

Back in September, HHS Secretary Kathleen Corleone, er, Sebelius warned insurance companies not to blame ObamaCare for increases in premium rates. “There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases,” she said. “[W]e will not stand idly by as insurers blame their premium hikes and increased profits on the requirement that they provide consumers with basic protections.” Of course, they won’t stand idly by; they’ll just grant waivers by the truckload to keep control of the situation and avoid a publicity nightmare. Each company will have to come hat in hand every year to the administration for renewed waivers. Doesn’t sound like real Hope or Change to us.

Government Motors Stock Sale

As former Obama Auto Czar Steven Rattner pitched his new book about the government takeover of GM and Chrysler claiming that “[t]here is definitely a greater level of confidence around the ability of auto makers to perform,” GM offered $33 per share for its initial public offering (IPO) of common stock. American taxpayers bailed out GM to the tune of at least $49.5 billion, and its financing arm got another $14.6 billion. The government says Thursday’s partial stock sale netted $13.6 billion, and the government’s stake in the company is down to 33 percent.

All talk of “confidence” aside, though, according to the Journal, “Some investors … have shied away from owning a company they think could face interference from the government.” As Hennessy Funds Co-Manager Frank Ingarra put it, “I’d rather go with things that the government isn’t involved in.” But hey, at least taxpayers got a Motor Trend “Car of the Year” award for the Chevy Volt.

Culture & Policy

Around the Nation: Latinos Now Majority in CA Schools

Thanks to an immigration influx and a higher Latino birth rate, the state of California announced last week that Latinos are now an absolute majority among California public school students. That news was greeted by advice for Latino parents by UC-Berkeley professor of education and public policy Bruce Fuller: Their influence will only grow as they realize the schools they attend are underfunded. Leave it to a UC-Berkeley professor to forget, conveniently, that California schools just received an extra infusion of $1.2 billion from the federal government prior to the start of the school year. It’s also worth pointing out that only around 60 percent of those Latino parents are currently able to vote, since many are here illegally with their children now attending public schools.

Add in the fact that illegal immigrant children are able to attend California’s public university system for just the cost of in-state tuition, and it’s small wonder that outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promised to terminate the $15 billion deficit he was handed in 2004, is leaving behind a budget hole that’s grown to more than $25 billion. Of course, it could also have something to do with this list of California agencies sucking the state dry.

Given the state’s fiscal disaster and high unemployment, perhaps the main reason Latinos are now the majority in the state’s schools is that 5,000 legal American citizens are fleeing the state each week. It’s a trend that shows few signs of abating.

Village Academic Curriculum File: Rallying Around the Flag

All 13-year-old Cory Alicea wanted to do was show pride in his country, but school officials in Denair, California, told him they couldn’t allow Old Glory to adorn his bicycle. The decision set off a nationwide firestorm of protest, culminating in a celebratory parade of motorcycles escorting him home after school Monday when the Denair Unified School District relented.

School officials stated that the district made the initial decision out of “safety concerns” after “some (unnamed) students had complained.” No doubt they’re part of the new Latino La Raza majority in California’s public schools. Superintendent Edward Parraz said that the school had seen racial tension after a Cinco de Mayo incident where competing groups of students displayed Mexican and American flags. After receiving calls complaining about the decision from as far away as Afghanistan, however, the district backed down, and it looks as if the town has young Alicea’s back. As a silver lining, the students may have learned a valuable lesson about American exceptionalism and our patriotic spirit.

Oklahoma Protest Becomes Tire-less Effort

We’re getting the idea that people are simply fed up with the Westboro Baptist “Church” and their version of free speech – hateful protests of military funerals. More than 1,000 people showed up with flags and other patriotic gear at a Maryland cemetery to confound the WBC’s plans to sully the funeral of a slain Marine. At an Oklahoma service for Army Sgt. Jason James McCluskey, one or more of the counter-demonstrators slashed two tires on a minivan that brought the six WBC members. The group was forced to drive around town on the two flat tires to look for a repair shop, but none were willing to repair it. Finally, they gave up and had the car towed to a local Walmart to have the tires replaced.

While there were over two dozen law enforcement officers around to protect the Westboro group from the angry mob, none of them saw the incident. Nor has anyone admitted to slashing the tires, so it’s highly unlikely this crime will be solved – or investigated, for that matter.

And Last…

Vice President Joe Biden has spent the last year and a half as the point man for the so-called stimulus, mostly making speeches about how well it’s working and reminding us that “we’re moving in the right direction.” As it turns out, Joe needed a bailout himself. His failed 2008 presidential campaign was fined $133,000 by the Federal Election Commission earlier this year, after an audit found minor violations of campaign law. Biden’s campaign, however, has only $82,000 in the bank. Most Democrats would call that a successful budget, but Biden can’t put his debts off on the next generation. Fortunately for the VP, his boss is there to bail him out. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign still has nearly $3.2 million in the bank, and they have formally requested FEC permission to pay the penalties to the Treasury on Biden’s behalf. Perhaps the president concluded that Biden is too big-mouthed to fail.

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