Friday Digest

Digest

Mar. 25, 2011

The Foundation

“[I]f we are to be told by a foreign Power … what we shall do, and what we shall not do, we have Independence yet to seek, and have contended hitherto for very little.” –George Washington

Government & Politics

Limbo in Libya

Commander in chief?

Consistent with his socialist, we-are-all-one agenda, Barack Obama bypassed Congress using a non-unanimous 10-vote nod from the United Nations Security Council to justify commencing hostilities against Libya. After all, in the mind of Obama – or “Our Son, His Excellency” as his erstwhile pal Moammar Gadhafi called him recently – UN authority supersedes U.S. constitutional authority and sovereignty.

To be sure, a long list of reasons support America’s desire to oust Gadhafi and his regime, especially his role in state-sponsored terrorism. It was Gadhafi that ordered the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270, most of whom were Americans. That said, a number of countervailing arguments counsel against intervening in Libya’s civil war with this, as Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes euphemistically put it, “kinetic military action.” This description was later revised by Press Secretary Jay Carney to “time-limited, scope-limited” military action. That clears things up.

For one, it is a civil war. U.S. policy – at least ostensibly – has been to refrain from engaging in conflicts where U.S. vital national interests are not at stake. Whatever interests the U.S. has in Libya, the term “vital” certainly does not apply.

Second, as a sovereign nation, the U.S. neither seeks nor is granted authority from a supra-national organization such as the UN to use American instruments of national power, including military force. Such authority must vest from within, and in the U.S. that mechanism is the Constitution. While the president has both the authority and duty to use force in protection of the United States from an actual or imminent attack, that is the extent of his unilateral authority. Congress alone has the authority to approve the use of military force in all other circumstances as it did in the wake of 9/11. In the case of both Afghanistan and Iraq, President George W. Bush specifically approached Congress, asked for and was granted a resolution authorizing the use of military force. His successor – not so much.

Next, we have no idea whether the regime that replaces Gadhafi (if that happens) will actually be a change for the better. While the words “democracy” and “freedom” are bandied about indiscriminately, no one knows what Libya will look like post-Gadhafi. In fact, the rebels are self-described Islamic “holy warriors” who have at least the verbal backing of al-Qa'ida. This fact alone should advocate for restraint.

Moreover, as America nears the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we should pause to reflect upon the fact that our nation has been at war continuously for almost a decade. Should we – or can we even afford to – embark on a third commitment of manpower and resources, much less one that is undefined and open-ended? Supposedly, no “boots on the ground” were to be committed, but as we go to press 2,200 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are stationed just off the Libyan coast. In the first few days of this conflict alone, we have already lost a plane and spent hundreds of Tomahawk missiles – are we prepared to commit to this effort to the point that we’re willing to sacrifice American lives as well?

In 2007, both Barack Obama and his levelheaded sidekick Joe Biden believed that the president’s authority to use military force is limited to repelling an imminent or ongoing attack on the U.S., and that Congress alone has the authority to authorize the use of military force in all other circumstances. “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” said Barack Obama then. Likewise, Joe Biden chimed in, “I made it clear to the president that if he takes this nation to war without congressional approval, I will make it my business to impeach him. That is a fact.”

These claims were made when they were “Candidate Obama” and “Senator Biden,” respectively – that is, before either decided that their heartfelt words on the campaign trail or a TV talk show were never meant to be applied to themselves at some future point.

Finally, it’s worth highlighting how utterly disagreeable is the military operation label “Odyssey Dawn.” An odyssey is a very long, convoluted saga – not an event wrapped up in a few days, as this effort has been promoted, thus far. We’re hoping that the Pentagon has a good sense of humor and irony. Otherwise and unwittingly, it may have aptly coined the beginning of yet another endless military journey. It might be nice to rid the world of Moammar Gadhafi. But before we commit American lives and resources toward doing so, shouldn’t we first pause to ask the question: At what cost?

Quote of the Week

“We don’t know whether the current U.S. president is mindful of what he is uttering, or if he is unconscious and confused.” –Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei

News From the Swamp: CBO Ups Deficit Estimates

The Congressional Budget Office released a report analyzing Barack Obama’s 2012 budget proposal, and its findings further confirm that the president is not at all serious about controlling spending. We pause now to allow recovery from this shocking revelation.

CBO’s accounting indicates that Obama’s budget proposal will result in $1.43 trillion in deficits for fiscal 2012, and $1.16 trillion for fiscal 2011. Total spending would increase 57 percent over the next decade, from $3.7 trillion to $5.8 trillion, double the national debt to more than $20 trillion in that same time frame, and raise the debt to an overwhelming 87 percent share of annual U.S. economic output.

The report also notes that the president’s budget will actually increase deficits by 23 percent over the next 10 years, not reduce them as the White House claims. The administration’s response to the CBO report is to quibble that the 10-year deficit would go up by only $7 trillion, not the $9 trillion that CBO claims. If that’s the best argument Team Obama has for their budget proposal, then they really don’t have an argument. The real need is to tackle entitlements and make substantive cuts in spending. Obama’s plan does neither. It actually pretends that our fiscal woes don’t even exist.

This Week’s ‘Alpha Jackass’ Award

“[T]here was this attitude in our society of blaming the victim. When a woman got raped, blame her because she was wearing a skirt too short, she looked the wrong way or she wasn’t home in time to make the dinner. We’ve gotten by that, but it’s amazing how these Republicans, the right wing of this party – whose philosophy threw us into this God-awful hole we’re in, gave us the tremendous deficit we’ve inherited – that they’re now using, now attempting to use, the very economic condition they have created to blame the victim – whether it’s organized labor or ordinary middle-class working men and women. It’s bizarre. It’s bizarre.” –Joe Biden with a bizarre comparison of the GOP to rape apologists

Hope ‘n’ Change: ObamaCare Turns One

ObamaCare turned one year old this week, and the law that supporters believed would grow to become more popular over time is now more loathed than ever. Major court decisions have bolstered the case that the constitutionality of the law is questionable, but until the Supreme Court delivers the final verdict, the administration will continue to implement the law en bloc.

Supporters say that seniors are the major beneficiaries, though significantly greater physician reporting requirements will rob doctors' time and resources from patient treatment. Additionally, government mandates will steer physicians into specific courses of care and treatment that will narrow patient choices for crafting their own care, and not always for the better. The doctor-patient relationship as we know it will be obliterated in favor of a bloated, faceless bureaucracy that makes medical decisions based upon its own skewed perceptions of what is necessary and not.

Another supposed beneficiary of ObamaCare is American business, but compliance costs necessary to meet increased reporting requirements will cause a substantial drain on business resources. In addition, $500 billion in new taxes will hit hardest the businesses that are struggling in this rocky economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that small business tax credits to offset this burden will benefit only some 12 percent of people in the small-group insurance market. Furthermore, CBO estimates the 10-year cost of ObamaCare at $1.45 trillion, $40 billion higher than what it figured last year. Meanwhile, few actions have even been taken with the law yet, except to offer more than 1,000 exemptions to businesses, unions and even entire states that can’t – or don’t want to – meet its requirements. Happy birthday, indeed.

From the Left: More Delay in Enacting Wisconsin Labor Law

Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi put her stamp on the delaying tactic started by Secretary of State Doug LaFollette when he opted to take the full 10 days to publish the state’s new labor law. By placing an injunction on LaFollette’s publishing the law, Judge Sumi provided yet more time for local governments and unions to “improve” new contract terms. Compounding the problem, Judge Sumi is conveniently on vacation through March 28.

The injunction was issued at the request of a Dane County (which includes the city of Madison) district attorney who claimed the passage of the legislation was done at the expense of the state’s open meetings law. However, there are two options for getting the law published: Lawmakers can re-enact the bill, or the state Supreme Court can overrule Judge Sumi. In any case, the proceedings continue to prove that Democrats will spare no expense to protect their own.

The Tax Man Comes for Sen. McCaskill

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) cut her political teeth as Missouri’s state auditor before winning election as U.S. senator in 2006. Part of her campaign focused on the accountability she would bring to the Senate based on her experience as auditor.

So imagine the gift her prospective Republican opponent for 2012 received when it was revealed that McCaskill neglected to pay $287,000 in property taxes to St. Louis County for the private plane she and her husband own through a Delaware corporation. She paid the original total Monday, but still owes $32,000 in interest and penalties. In part, McCaskill claimed she didn’t know about the tax bill since she never reported the presence of the plane to the county.

The tax controversy surfaced when it was revealed that McCaskill had used the plane nearly 90 times at a taxpayer expense of $88,000. McCaskill paid back the money, and she alerted reporters that she’s told her husband to “sell the d— plane.” She added in her mea culpa that “I know better,” but she didn’t check documentation. Whether she will pay a steeper price come re-election time in 2012 remains to be seen, but it’s certain this will be an issue.

National Security

The Japanese Recovery

Japan continues its long road to recovery from the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami that rocked the nation on March 11. Estimates of the recovery costs have soared past $300 billion, but the human loss is incalculable. Much of the world’s focus continues to be centered on the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The news this morning isn’t good – there is a suspected breach in the core at one reactor, which could mean more radioactive contamination than previously thought.

Power was restored earlier this week to the control room of one of the crippled reactors after power lines were connected to all six reactor units, but Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant’s operator, cautioned that workers must still verify pumps and other equipment before electricity is fully restored to the facility. It will take days, if not longer, before cooling systems can be reactivated as damaged equipment is replaced and any volatile gas is vented to prevent an explosion.

On the humanitarian front, over 10,000 people are known dead and over 17,000 people are still missing. Nearly half a million people have been displaced, with a large percentage of Japan’s remaining population affected in other ways. Three of Japan’s major manufacturing companies, Sony, Toyota and Honda, have halted production at their plants in Japan due to damaged parts factories. Meanwhile, Tokyo officials warned that infants should not drink the city’s tap water because radioactive iodine exceeded legal limits. Domestic and international bans on various food items due to radioactive contamination (real and imagined) are also taking their toll on Japanese farmers, fishermen and the industries that support them.

Given the swift passage of time and all the other crises occurring around the world, it’s easy to allow the struggles of the Japanese people to slip from our minds. We must keep the people of this key ally in our prayers and assist them wherever and whenever possible as they continue to rebuild their country.

Warfront With Jihadistan: War Is an Ugly Thing

Five U.S. soldiers are standing trial for staging combat situations in order to murder three Afghan civilians. One soldier pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others. He was convicted this week and sentenced to 24 years in prison. Meanwhile, Germany’s Der Speigel recently released disturbing and violently graphic photographs depicting the soldiers with the dead bodies. The Army has expressed regret for the photos. We join the Army in expressing our dismay and disgust.

This disclosure gives us pause to ask: What could drive such inhuman action? Is it the devaluation of human life in our culture? Unfortunately, the actions depicted are not uncommon among soldiers throughout the ages, partly as a show of bravado, partly as an act of vengeance or fear-mongering, and partly as a consequence of the dehumanizing effect of war. There are reasons to take “crime scene photos” for after-action intelligence, but this looks – on its face – to be a terribly different animal.

The Important Things

Amidst kinetic military action in Libya, relief efforts in Japan and the budget crisis here at home, the Obama administration is taking time (between rounds of golf) to advocate for homosexuals at the UN. The Associated Press reports, “The Obama administration will introduce its first statement calling for the United Nations' top human rights body to combat discrimination against gays and lesbians around the world, completing a U.S. reversal from years of ambiguity on the subject during the presidency of George W. Bush.” The declaration has the support of some 80 nations, though there are plenty of member nations that will laugh off the idea.

To be sure, we’re not advocating the opposite – that homosexuals be persecuted or killed as they often are in the Middle East. We are saying, however, that Obama’s language is code for Leftist social engineering preferences.

Furthermore, we’re pretty sure there was no “ambiguity” about this issue with the Bush administration, as the AP “news” story editorializes. The Bush administration, in rejecting a similar UN resolution proposed by France, explained that its opposition rooted from a concern about a loss of sovereignty for American states. That may be ambiguous to the AP, but federalism is the bedrock of our nation. Given Obama’s eagerness to subjugate U.S. sovereignty to the whims of the UN, this effort is disturbing in many ways.

Business & Economy

Around the Nation: The Cost of Obama’s Drilling Policy

Joseph Mason, a Louisiana State University professor, testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that an estimated 13,000 Gulf region jobs have been lost due to Barack Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium. Nationwide, Mason says that number is 19,000, and that total lost wages are $1.1 billion and lost tax revenue is $350 million. Realizing this enormous problem, Obama gave some reassurance this week, saying, “We want to help you with the technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely. And when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers.”

Oh, wait. He said that while in Brazil. Never mind the seven-year offshore drilling ban on U.S. east and west coasts, or on Alaska’s continental shelf, or the de facto moratorium in the Gulf. Obama wants to help Brazil develop offshore oil so that the U.S. can buy it. Why? He explained, “Brazil holds recently discovered oil reserves that could be far larger than ours.” Obama is in essence saying that because we can’t cover all of our oil needs, we shouldn’t try to cover some of them.

That said, the administration did approve the first four deepwater permits for Gulf drilling after last April’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill – and issued a highly touted press release to ensure people knew. It took lawsuits and contempt-of-court rulings to get there, but hey, progress is progress. As Jim Noe of the pro-drilling Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition observes, issuing permits “used to be a day-to-day affair, not a day that deserves a press release.” All the while, we’re making progress toward the administration’s goal of more expensive gas.

Regulatory Commissars: Nuclear Review

In the wake of the tragedy in Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has announced plans for two separate studies to assess potential risks of America’s nuclear reactors. First, the NRC will conduct a 90-day “snapshot” in order to tweak readily apparent emergency preparedness issues. Once this is complete, it will then embark on a long-term regulatory study. As we noted last week, these measures are welcome – unless they lead to a hysteria-driven moratorium such as that which followed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Bill Borchardt, the NRC’s executive director of operations, seems to be on the same page. While Borchardt acknowledges that the U.S. has 23 reactors with configurations almost identicial to the Fukushima Daiichi facility, he points out that since the 1980s, we have had a program in place to prevent a similar disaster from occurring. This Mark 1 containment improvement system mandates – among other things – the type of venting system that should have prevented the hydrogen buildup causing the explosions at Fukushima. The Obama administration’s view – so far – seems relatively levelheaded, but we will have to wait and see whether they cave to the call of some on the anti-nuke Left.

Judicial Benchmarks: Ominous Ruling on Medicare

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, a Bush appointee, decided in 2009 that several senior citizens could reject Medicare benefits in favor of private health care and still keep their Social Security benefits. She found that Clinton-era rules forcing seniors who withdrew from Medicare Part A to forfeit their Social Security checks were not sufficient for the Obama administration to continue using them. She wrote that “neither the statute nor the regulation specifies that Plaintiffs must withdraw from Social Security and repay retirement benefits in order to withdraw from Medicare.”

Yet this week, Collyer revisited her ruling and dismissed the case. She now argues, “The only way to avoid entitlement to Medicare Part A at age 65 is to forego the source of that entitlement, i.e., Social Security Retirement benefits.” In other words, according to Judge Collyer, to be “entitled” to a government benefit, one is obliged to accept it. The plaintiffs' attorney, Kent Masterson Brown, explains why this could be problematic: “Anyone concerned with what will happen when the bureaucrats start writing the thousands of pages of rules that will govern” ObamaCare can look at this ruling as proof. “Nothing will be optional.” As we have pointed out, however, ObamaCare isn’t about health care at all – it’s about government power. To paraphrase Gerald Ford, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to force you to accept even what you don’t want.”

Culture & Policy

Village Academic Curriculum: Defining ‘Failing’

Last week, while pushing for the reform and reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that 82 percent of public schools could receive a failing grade under the current NCLB. While this figure may provide shock value, it’s more a reflection of failing evaluation standards than of failing schools. “Decades of growing intervention in local schools has led to increasing red tape levied on schools and school districts in order to comply with and receive federal funding,” the Heritage Foundation’s Rachel Sheffield explains. “The federal government’s accountability tools are very blunt, yet they undermine and distract those closer to students who are equipped to judge students' academic needs more precisely.” Instead of focusing on students and parents, schools are preoccupied with Uncle Sam.

CNSNews reports that while education experts agree that an increase in failing schools as NCLB’s 2014 proficiency deadline approaches is not surprising, they say “it’s misleading for the administration to say the law would label all these schools as ‘failing.’” Indeed, former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called the projection “obviously a political tactic.” From this administration, that’s shocking, we know. As Heritage wisely recommends, “Washington should take its red tape and step away from the classroom.”

From the ‘Non Compos Mentis’ File

Giving a whole new meaning to the notion of “journalistic integrity,” a group of about 100 Associated Press reporters recently staged a Wisconsin-esque protest outside the AP’s New York headquarters. Nationwide, employees at about 30 other AP bureaus did the same. The aim: “to stand up for quality journalism.” Before assuming these journalists were bemoaning biased reporting and finally demanding objectivity from the press, think again. Instead, as their union, the News Media Guild, reports, “[V]irtually all AP journalists withheld their names from their stories and photos all week long, a big sacrifice for many reporting on major news, to send AP managers a message that they oppose the company’s contract proposals and support their union, the News Media Guild. … The staff is protesting AP’s proposals to hike [medical insurance] premiums 50 percent or more and slash retirement benefits about 50 percent, while giving only a tiny raise.”

In other words, it appears that “quality” is spelled m-o-n-e-y. As The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto notes, “So ‘virtually all AP journalists’ equate the generosity of their fringe benefits with the quality of their journalism. Does that enhance your confidence in the objectivity and fairness of the AP’s coverage of controversies involving other unionized employees?” This implies we had any confidence to be enhanced.

U.S. to Fund BBC?

The House last week voted to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is the umbrella over NPR and PBS. Even without the shenanigans at NPR of late, this is an action that was long overdue. However, the U.S. State Department is reportedly set to give a chunk of change to the notably anti-American British Broadcasting Corporation.

The State Department denies this, saying, “The [London] Guardian article of March 20, alleging that the U.S. Department of State is about to sign a funding deal with the BBC is inaccurate and misleading. The BBC World Service Trust has indicated its intention to submit a proposal to the State Department in the area of Internet freedom as part of an open and competitive solicitation, but we have not yet received this proposal or made any funding decisions. The State Department has no intention of announcing any funding decisions regarding Internet freedom programming on World Press Freedom Day.”

However, the U.S. is already funding the BBC World Service Trust, a separate entity, to the tune of $4.5 million for “media support for strengthening advocacy, good governance and empowerment” worldwide, including training journalists in Nigeria. We wonder if these journalists are at all affiliated with the wealthy Nigerians who ask for our help via email every so often.

And Last…

Over the weekend, the train station in Wilmington, Delaware – the one frequented by Joe Biden when he was a mere senator – was renamed for the now-vice president. Biden is the chief engineer for ensuring that “stimulus” projects arrive on time and according to budget. Unfortunately for Joe, this station, which received stimulus cash, came in $5.3 million over budget. The CEO of Amtrak was due to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but a funny thing happened on the way. The train he was to arrive on broke down, so he ended up taking a car. Such news emboldens us to make a prediction: Auto travel will soon surpass train travel for most Americans.