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Friday Digest


Mar. 18, 2011

The Foundation

“In planning, forming, and arranging laws, deliberation is always becoming, and always useful.” –James Wilson

Government & Politics

Beware Nuclear Fallout

The March 11 earthquake off the coast of Japan and the ensuing tsunami is a tragedy hard to comprehend. Thousands are dead, entire villages are gone and hundreds of thousands are homeless. As the days pass, the death toll continues to climb. The U.S. military has mobilized to assist in relief efforts, while we and millions of others offer our prayers for the Japanese people.

Sadly, even in the midst of chaos and human suffering, the usual suspects have a political ax to grind. In this case, that ax is nuclear power. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan has been a focal point since last week’s catastrophe. When the earthquake hit, the plant automatically shut down and switched to generator power. It was designed to withstand an 8.2-magnitude quake; in fact, it survived a 9.0-magnitude one, which is many times stronger.

However, the ensuing tsunami destroyed the generators, and the debris-filled water contaminated the reserve coolant. The reactors soon heated up, pressure built, and the resulting explosions released radiation into the atmosphere. The jury is still out as to the impact this will have, though there has been no shortage of anti-nuclear hysteria on the Left.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) ran to the nearest microphone to pronounce the disaster “another Chernobyl” (it’s nothing of the sort) and to call for the Obama administration to curtail any new nuclear reactors in the U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said that we should “put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan.” In the media, many of the alarmed so-called experts are actually just shills for anti-nuclear organizations.

Other voices, including even The New York Times, have been more measured. The Times wrote, “The unfolding Japanese tragedy also should prompt Americans to closely study our own plans for coping with natural disasters and with potential nuclear plant accidents to make sure they are, indeed, strong enough.” We completely agree. In fact, 30 American nuclear reactors have similar or identical designs to the 40-year-old plant in Fukushima. While our facilities should be reviewed and updated as necessary, none are subject to tsunamis.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu was also on the right side, telling a House panel, “The American people should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly.” He added that the administration “is committed to learning from Japan’s experience.” We hope the follow-through is as good as the rhetoric.

The U.S. hasn’t built a new plant since 1979, the year of the Three Mile Island accident. In other words, the brakes have been on for 32 years. Even still, nuclear power provides 20 percent of our electricity. New, safer reactors are close to coming on line, and it should go without saying that our technology has come a long way in three decades. The situation at Fukushima is indeed grave, but any call for a nuclear moratorium in response is overwrought. Indeed, it’s often mere political opportunism for those who oppose nuclear power under any circumstances.

News From the Swamp: House Passes CR on Budget

Congress averted a partial government shutdown this week with another stopgap spending measure that passed the House 271-158, and the Senate 87-13. This new continuing resolution will keep Uncle Sam afloat for another three weeks and includes a meager $6 billion in cuts. Some 54 House Republicans backed by the Tea Party voted against the measure, calling for steeper cuts.

While the continuing resolution (CR) will cut more spending in three weeks than Senate Democrats proposed to cut over seven months, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) still found a moment to tweak House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Schumer pointed out that without Democrat support, the House bill wouldn’t have passed due to the defection of so many Republicans. Schumer then called on Boehner to jettison the Tea Party because they were holding up the budget process. The media has also put its own spin on the story, eager to report any internal GOP argument as the death knell for their agenda.

Neither the Democrats in Congress nor the president have exhibited any plan serious enough to match the scope of the problem. The government is running a $1.65 trillion deficit, and the best Democrat suggestions are for $4.7 billion in cuts. And let’s not forget that Congress is dealing with this mess right now because Democrats simply refused to produce a 2011 budget last year. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who opposed the CR because it didn’t cut enough, said it best when he referred to the budget debate as “absurd political theatre.”

In related news, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a five-year path to a balanced budget. His plan eliminates the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development. It also calls for the repeal of ObamaCare. Unfortunately, such a plan is probably too good to come true.

On Cross-Examination

“If Congress were to cut $6 billion every three weeks for the next 36 weeks, it would manage to save between now and late November as much money as the Treasury added to the nation’s net debt during just the business hours of Tuesday, March 15.” –CNSNews editor Terrence Jeffrey

This Week’s ‘Alpha Jackass’ Award

“I believe the Tea Party is short lived. … I think they will be gone because of their extreme positions or they will move to a more moderate position.” –Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

Reid gets the award a second time for his refusal to address Social Security reform. At least until he’s 91. “Two decades from now I’m willing to take a look at it,” he said, “but I’m not willing to take a look at it right now.”

New & Notable Legislation

Republicans are working on legislation that will repeal or amend certain sections of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law. One bill exempts private equity firms from registering with the SEC, which the GOP says “places a burden on [private equity groups] while doing nothing to make the financial system more stable and less risky.” Another bill would repeal a Dodd-Frank requirement that public corporations disclose the median pay of their employees and the total pay of the CEO. Other changes include protecting credit ratings agencies from legal liability for inaccurate reports and changes in the over-the-counter derivatives regulation.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) separately introduced the English Language Unity Act in the Senate and House. This bill would make English the official language of the United States and require English language testing for citizenship applicants. Inhofe said, “This legislation will provide a much-needed commonality among United States citizens, regardless of heritage.”

Hope ‘n’ Change: Justice Department Drags Feet on ObamaCare

The Obama Justice Department has been doing everything possible to slow down the appellate review of Judge Roger Vinson’s Florida v. HHS decision, in which he found ObamaCare unconstitutional. The Justice Department filed a motion with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that supposedly called for expedited review, but the states and the National Federation of Independent Business said that timeline was still too slow. The 11th Circuit agreed and called for all briefs to be filed by May 25, which is even earlier than ObamaCare’s challengers wanted. This suggests that the courts are not keen on Justice’s handling of the process, and their patience has worn out.

On another front in the same battle, Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal told the Supreme Court, “there is no basis for short-circuiting the normal course of appellate review” in the Virginia ObamaCare suit. U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson found the regulation requiring people to purchase health insurance unconstitutional. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli called on the Supreme Court to forego the usual review process and take up the case immediately due to its constitutional nature. The Supreme Court has remained silent on the issue so far, but they denied without comment a similar request on a lower-profile California ObamaCare suit. The Fourth Circuit will hear oral arguments on May 10 in Richmond, Virginia.

Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Law Stalled by Secretary of State

Democrats have tried to be an obstacle to much-needed budgetary reform in Wisconsin by whipping up weeks of protests, then running away when it was obvious their cause would be lost. Fortunately for Badger State taxpayers, GOP Governor Scott Walker and fellow Republicans found a way around Democrat obstinacy, passing a bill that stripped much of the collective bargaining power from the state’s public-sector unions.

Yet Secretary of State Doug La Follette, a Democrat and descendent of progressive stalwart “Fighting Bob” La Follette, will allow the maximum 10 days before publishing the law (making it effective). The long break gives unions and friendly school boards the opportunity to lock in the most favorable deals possible for workers (as opposed to taxpaying Wisconsin residents.) There’s also the possibility the delay could give unions a chance to thwart the law in court. Although that scenario is unlikely, that doesn’t mean they’re not trying.

Update: This just in from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order Friday, barring the publication of a controversial new law that would sharply curtail collective bargaining for public employees.”

Some also think that the protests have turned the tide of public opinion toward Big Labor, with one Democrat strategist bragging, “Republicans have done organized labor a great favor … by creating a level of passion and activism for workers’ rights.”

In this struggle against the overreach of public-sector unions (which has now spread to other states, including Iowa and Ohio), the public relations victory will be harder to secure than the legislative victory. Some may call this “astroturf,” but placed in the right media hands, protesting workers have taken control of the message, and the can may yet be kicked down the road in Wisconsin and elsewhere. In politics you’re only as good as the last election, and the next campaign starts as soon as the election’s over.

From the Left: President of China?

Perhaps it was a throwaway remark made about a president frustrated with recent events, but an Obama administration official was quoted as saying, “No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.” Yes, it would be easier to be president if everyone agreed with you – even if this consent came primarily from the threat of imprisonment.

Americans don’t elect dictators for life; that precedent was made when George Washington refused to be elected king. So Barack Obama has to put up with a Congress elected to place a check on his power. We understand that being president is a hard job that ideally involves more than just playing golf, having parties featuring Motown musicians, or going on national television to announce your NCAA Final Four picks. But it’s a job that he sought. So far, the only reason our nation hasn’t fallen off the cliff of European-style socialism is because our president lacks leadership skills.

One can argue that we’re better off with Barack Obama on the golf course, but the world doesn’t stand still and a leadership vacuum isn’t in our self-interest. For that reason, it’s a good thing George Washington turned down that royal gig.

National Security

Warfront With Jihadistan: Petraeus’s Update

General David Petraeus testified before Congress this week that the U.S. has made gains in Afghanistan, but he also warned that those gains are both “fragile and reversible.” He told Congress that they need to think about the long-term effort required for success on today’s battlefield. His testimony was not what many wanted to hear. Extensive involvement for years to come is not necessarily the solution we want, either, but it may be the one we need. Our military leaders are students of history and understand the adversary we face. The lessons of Vietnam have not been forgotten – except perhaps in the halls of Congress. As Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) made clear, for Democrats, surrender is an option. “It’s time to start bringing our troops home,” she said.

We support Gen. Petraeus’s view, but with one significant caveat. This administration owes our armed forces some clarity. As a start, that clarity should come in the form of a “Sense of the Congress” resolution with no uncertain terms about our mission and role in Afghanistan. To us, that mission is clear: Defeat the jihadis on their turf to protect our own.

We also have to clarify and strengthen our Rules of Engagement to ensure that our troops can defend themselves with anything and everything available to accomplish the mission. Their lives must be perceived as being at least as valuable as those of the civilians involved, not less. Their families deserve no less and to expect otherwise is reprehensible. Our troops must be able to defend themselves without fear of civilian prosecution; to fight a war otherwise is courting defeat.

This Week’s ‘Braying Jackass’ Award

“Gen. Petraeus is giving us the Charlie Sheen counterinsurgency strategy, which is to give exclusive interviews to every major network and to keep saying, ‘We’re winning,’ and hope the public actually agrees with you.” –Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings as quoted on the House floor by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)

King Hearings on Radical Islam Don’t Live Up to Billing

Last Thursday, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), head of the House Homeland Security Committee, opened his long promised and controversial hearings on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims. Prior to the hearings, called “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response,” the Left and Muslim communities had angrily criticized King, accusing him of a witch hunt and of unfairly singling out Muslims as terrorists. Yet, for as much heat as it generated prior to its start, the hearing itself was lukewarm at best.

King had said that law enforcement officials who work on terrorism cases complain that the Muslim community won’t cooperate and that some Muslim leaders actually encourage resistance. If that charge is true, then those American Muslim leaders are guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism against the U.S. Yet the witnesses that King called included no national law enforcement officials to back his claims, nor did he subpoena any offending Muslim leaders to address those allegations under oath. Instead, a Democrat witness invitee, Los Angeles Country Sheriff Lee Baca, who is known to work with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), testified that most Muslim Americans in his community cooperate with law enforcement.

It should be noted, however, that CAIR recently advised on its website that Muslims should never talk to the FBI. Maybe some CAIR officials should have been subpoenaed to explain that stance. While two relatives of young Muslim men testified about their radicalization at U.S. mosques, their words didn’t carry the same weight as would national officials providing first-hand testimony about resistance in the Muslim community. King obviously missed his opportunity here, but he should be commended for at least bringing this critical topic into the light. Our national survival may depend on finding the enemy within.

Gadhafi Nears Defeat of Rebel Forces

Until the declared ceasefire Friday (which is yet to be in full effect), Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi was making good on his promise to fight to the “last bullet.” His forces completely turned the tables in the last week and were close to overrunning rebels in the North African nation. The regime launched air strikes against the eastern port city of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and one of the last cities held by rebel fighters. Its fall would have been the end of the month-long uprising.

Gadhafi’s response was in character with his 40-year rule – brutal and swift. The West, on the other hand, did little but pontificate until Thursday. Then, only after weeks of Gadhafi’s airstrikes against rebels, the UN Security Council passed a resolution establishing a no fly zone and allowing air strikes against Gadhafi. As for the Obama administration, Barack Obama’s insistence that Gadhafi “must go” has meant nothing more than Gadhafi’s being excluded from Obama’s NCAA March Madness brackets. No wonder Gadhafi was emboldened.

It’s worth noting that if the rebels were to succeed, they would likely be as anti-American as the man they ousted, so it’s hard to see a clear justification for U.S. military action. However, as author Conrad Black writes, “[T]here is room for legitimate debate over what to do there, but I cannot believe that there is a single conscient American who has followed these matters who is not appalled by the grotesquerie of American policy fumbling that has stalked, wreathed, and bedeviled this issue.”

Finally, it’s during this and other uprisings in the Middle East, as well as the disaster in Japan, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to announce that she isn’t interested in keeping the job after 2012 – apparently because of Obama’s failure to lead. Not that we want her to stay, mind you, but announcing that she’s tired of the job and doesn’t want it any more sends a signal of weakness and apathy at a time when the U.S. needs real leadership.

Business & Economy

Income Redistribution: Permanent TARP

The Congressional Oversight Panel overseeing the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) issued its final report Wednesday. The panel criticized the government for a lack of transparency and for failing to articulate clear goals. They also acknowledged that TARP reinforced the perception that the federal government will always be there to bail out financial firms and other poorly managed industries. The panel’s report concluded, “Very large financial institutions may now rationally decide to take inflated risks because they expect that, if their gamble fails, taxpayers will bear the loss.” Does “too big to fail” ring a bell? This comes as no surprise at all, but we’re glad that some in Washington are still able to perceive the obvious.

The panel also concluded that taxpayers would not recoup all of the $85 billion extended to General Motors and Chrysler. The final acknowledged cost for TARP will be around $25 billion, though more than 550 banks, as well as GM, Chrysler and others, still owe approximately $160 billion to the government.

We will likely never know the actual cost of the bailout, however, because there has been data manipulation and non-TARP bailouts behind the scenes. As panel members Paul Atkins, Mark McWatters and Kenneth Troske explain, “[T]he taxpayer-backed GSE [government-sponsored entities] guarantee enables the Fed to prop up the market with taxpayer funds, in turn allowing the TARP banks to ‘repay’ their TARP funds. The bailout of the GSEs by Treasury thus shifts potential losses from TARP to other programs that have less oversight and public scrutiny. Any evaluation of TARP’s success must take into account the interaction among all government programs designed to prop-up the financial system, and the shifting of costs among these programs.”

Nevertheless, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called TARP the “most effective government program in recent memory.” We suppose that depends on the definition of “effective.” According to Atkins, McWatters and Troske, the government’s efforts “have sown the seeds for the next crisis.” How’s that for effective?

Regulatory Commissars: Congress vs. the EPA

The EPA’s efforts to hijack the government suffered a setback this week after the GOP drew a long-awaited line in the sand. On Monday, the House Energy and Commerce Commission began debating a bill that would prevent the EPA from circumventing the legislative process, at least in regards to carbon. The Clear Air Act, passed in the 1970s and amended in the 1990s, did not include carbon as a “pollutant.” Shortly after Obama took office, however, the EPA used administrative hairsplitting to apply the Act to carbon, which allegedly gave them the authority to enact regulations that Congress purposefully denied it in the law. Carbon, coincidentally, is the alleged culprit in manmade climate change and the rationale for cap-n-tax.

Democrats on the Committee expressed their outrage by forcing the Republican members to vote on the legitimacy of the EPA’s climate change findings; namely, that “warming of the climate change is unequivocal” and that human emissions are the “root cause.” The Republicans refused to cave and defeated both measures, as well as another declaring the public health to be at risk.

House Republicans aren’t the only ones fighting the EPA’s tyranny, either. Rust belt Democrat Senators Sherrod Brown (OH) and Jay Rockefeller (WV) have both spoken out against the EPA. Rockefeller has even proposed a two-year regulations ban. Most important, however, was a statement from Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who co-authored the Clean Air Act. He clarified that it was never intended to apply to the climate.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson accused legislators of being out of their depth, scientifically speaking. But what she doesn’t seem to understand is that whether or not one believes in the validity of climate change science, it takes a backseat to the Constitution. On that subject, it’s Ms. Jackson who’s out of her depth.

Around the Nation: Utah’s Gold

The Utah state legislature passed a bill establishing “gold and silver coins issued by the federal government as legal currency.” The obvious paradox to this legislation is that if the federal government elects to issue coinage in gold and silver, said coins are legal tender absent affirmative or prohibitive legislation by any state or locality.

If Utah were to include a provision permitting the payment of public debts with gold or silver bullion, however, we could be well on the way to returning to a precious metals-based currency. Utah is facing a $390 million budget deficit. If the state were to receive payment in gold at a fixed exchange rate lower than the market, they could conceivably sell the gold on the open market and close their deficit. Additionally, in 2006, Utah was ranked fourth in the U.S. in gold production, which could also amplify interest in its exchange usage.

The legislation contains one additional intrigue; it calls for the creation of a committee to study alternative currencies for the state. Consider that for a moment. Here is a sovereign state expressing a serious concern about the viability and stability of the national currency. Presently, Utah is one of 13 states that have taken this or similar action. These states collectively represent 17 percent of U.S. GDP. Not exactly a vote of confidence for the world’s dominant currency.

Culture & Policy

Second Amendment: Obama’s Pied Piper Tune

Barack Obama wrote an op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star Sunday in which he talked about guns and gun laws post-Tucson. His thesis was basically, “Can’t we all just get along?” Yet he also belittled opponents, whose arguments in favor of Second Amendment liberty he called “wedge issues and stale political debates.” That doesn’t sound like the language of compromise – or of constitutional constructionism.

Still, he wrote as if he’s on our side: “[L]ike the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. And the courts have settled that as the law of the land.” Yet his record is completely contrary to that statement.

As a U.S. senator, he refused to sign an amicus brief from members of Congress in support of overturning the District of Columbia’s handgun ban in the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller case. He has never retracted his support for DC’s ban or a similar one in Chicago that was likewise struck down by the Supreme Court. As president, he nominated two gun-control advocates to the Supreme Court. And his op-ed was focused entirely on guns – the instrument – and not the underlying cultural problems. As we have said many times before, it’s not a gun problem. All things considered, Obama said nothing to assuage the concerns of gun owners.

Climate Change This Week: AGW Blamed for Japanese Quake

Climate change alarmists wasted no time inventing a link between the tragedy in Japan and – you guessed it – anthropogenic global warming (AGW). As the aptly named states, “Some geologists believe that global warming may already be causing more earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. After all, screwing with the world’s ornery climate system to the extent which we have is bound to have far-reaching effects – effects like, it’s been suggested, huge amounts of melting ice causing the earth’s crust to ‘bounce’ up, potentially triggering earthquakes.” University College London Professor Bill McGuire described the latter: “When the ice is lost, the earth’s crust bounces back up again and that triggers earthquakes, which trigger submarine landslides, which cause tsunamis.”

The site is quick to dispel (or at least try to) accusations of opportunism, asserting that those most likely to point this finger come particularly from the “anti-climate” crowd (as if anyone who doesn’t buy into the idea of AGW is somehow opposed to weather). Ironically, after admitting there is no “definitive link between climate change and more earthquakes,” accusing global warming skeptics of “[p]reemptively trying to shut down the dialogue by shouting at the curious,” and dodging potential charges of opportunism, the article closes with the hope that we will “use this opportunity [ahem] to examine the science behind the events that unfolded, and have a rational dialogue about what it may mean for the future.” Sure sounds opportunistic to us.

Village Academic Curriculum: ‘No Child’ Reform

Fronting his “bigger government is better government” campaign with a push for education improvements, Barack Obama revved up his spin-mobile this week to advocate the reform and reauthorization of the Ted Kennedy-authored “No Child Left Behind” legislation – or, as the Heritage Foundation puts it, “No Bureaucrat Left Behind.” Indeed, far from helping improve educational achievement among students, NCLB has instead siphoned control of education away from parents, towns and states and placed it in the hands of Washington.

Consider this: At its inception, NCLB’s predecessor, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), was 32 pages and included five titles. Today, NCLB is a 600-page behemoth with 10 titles and more than 50 programs. As Heritage notes, “The bureaucrats are winning.” In fact, the Government Accountability Office reports that in 2010, K-12 and early childhood education programs numbered 151, spanned 20 federal agencies, and cost $55.6 billion per year. And that doesn’t count the $141 million states pay to fund seven million hours of paperwork for NCLB.

“[W]hat have federal taxpayers gotten for all this federal education spending?” Heritage asks. “Nothing. Federal education spending has more than tripled since 1970, yet academic achievement has remained flat.” Yet leave it to government to act as if a little duct tape and bailing wire – coupled with more money, of course – is going to fix everything. We all know how well that’s worked over the last 40 years.

In other news, Barack Obama Elementary School in New Jersey is closing due to low academic achievement and declining enrollment in the district’s schools. Need we say more?

And Last…

Medicare is prohibited by law from covering prescriptions for those little pills advertised as remedying certain, er, dysfunctions, thereby allowing happy couples to lounge in bathtubs on scenic hillsides (if you know what we mean). Yet the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General found that Medicare spent $3.1 million in 2007 and 2008 on those very drugs. In response, the IG has recommended that Medicare recoup payment for the drugs and “strengthen internal controls to help ensure that drugs covered by Medicare Part D comply with federal requirements.” The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services blamed the mix-up on faulty software. And all this time we thought the drugs were supposed to fix dysfunctional software.

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