Friday Digest

Digest

Aug. 8, 2008

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS

News from the Swamp: Pelosi v. America

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is so adamantly opposed to expanding domestic and offshore oil drilling that she won’t even allow the subject to come up for a vote. Thus, when House Democrats left the Hill for their August recess, a small band of Republicans, led by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), refused to adjourn and began speaking against Pelosi’s refusal to allow the House to vote. At one point, lawmakers were literally left in the dark when the lights and sound were turned off. More GOP congressmen eventually joined the one-sided debate. Capitol Hill tourists were allowed to enter the chamber while Republicans urged them to carry the message of energy independence back to their hometowns.

That message, it seems, is getting across. By and large, Americans recognize the need for domestic oil drilling. Predictably, Barack Obama has begun to waffle on his previous no-drilling stance, now indicating that he would support a measure to increase domestic drilling. Still, he sprinkled his statement with so many qualifying “ifs”, “ands” and “buts” that he cannot be counted on to lead on the issue either now or as president. Pelosi, however, left no confusion about her stance, labeling the GOP plan for more drilling a “hoax” and Republican efforts this week “the war dance of the handmaidens of the oil companies.” She vowed to not let it come to a vote, though she has signaled to her fellow House Democrats that they may hold whatever position necessary to preserve their hides come November. Talk about profiles of courage. Pelosi’s idea of a comprehensive energy plan relies on tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which she maintains “would bring immediate [gas price] relief in 10 days.” Madame Speaker’s “10 days” is an ironic choice because the relief of which she speaks would also last just about 10 days before sputtering out and sending gas prices right back into the stratosphere.

Pelosi and her anti-oil cabal don’t understand that expanding domestic oil drilling and production is not just about relieving gas prices now, but also about creating a sound energy policy for years to come. Democrats are confident that they can stall this issue until next year, at which time they believe that they will essentially own Washington. That’s quite a gamble, considering the extremely low regard the American public currently has of Congress. Republicans need to keep the oil drilling issue in the spotlight from now right up to November.

In other Pelosi news, her new book, Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters, sold a whopping 2,737 books in the first week—less than one book per 100,000 Americans.

This week’s ‘Braying Jenny’ award

“[W]e’re spending all of this time on a parliamentary tactic when nothing less is at stake than the planet, the air we breathe, our children breathe.” —Nancy Pelosi

Anything but fairness

Shortly before it recessed, the House passed the inaptly named “Paycheck Fairness Act.” This bill so dramatically amends the Fair Pay Act of 1963 that it should be called “The Small Business Destruction Act.”

Under current law, it is permissible for an employer to give male and female employees different compensation so long as the difference is based on “a factor other than sex.” Not so under the scheme devised by House Democrats. Under the new law, an employer would be liable for any difference in pay between male and female employees, unless the employer can show that a “legitimate” business reason exists for the differential, and, furthermore, that no “alternative employment practice” could prevent the differential. Democrats don’t want the employer and the labor market to make compensation decisions. Instead, they prefer that plaintiffs’ lawyers, the courts and juries decide what compensation is proper.

It gets worse. This law applies to virtually all employers, even businesses with as few as two employees. Employers would be liable, even if they did not intend to discriminate. Moreover, they face unlimited compensatory and punitive damages. This legislation, which Pelosi calls a “common-sense” measure, is a dream come true for the radical feminists who think wrongly that all wage disparities between men and women are the result of sex discrimination. It’s also a boon for trial lawyers—and a nightmare for the rest of us. Thankfully, the bill faces substantial opposition in the Senate, and President George W. Bush has vowed a veto.

Campaign watch: Lots of nonsense

Barack Obama, as expected, has declined John McCain’s offer to participate in a series of 10 town hall meetings this fall. Obama, no doubt wondering how he would coherently expound upon “change we can believe in” when put on the spot by audience members, has committed only to the three debates scheduled by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Obama also angered some black groups this week by “clarifying” his earlier position on slavery reparations. Earlier, when asked about the possibility of an apology and reparations for slavery and the Jim Crow era, he spoke about backing up words with deeds. He now says that an apology would not necessarily benefit black Americans, and that reparations might be a “distraction,” presumably from real change. No wonder he doesn’t want to participate in McCain’s town hall meetings—he doesn’t dare to walk this particular tightrope, or others, without his trusty teleprompter.

On the lighter side of things, the McCain campaign has been hitting Obama on all sides with humor. For example, Obama offered last week this money-saving tip: Americans should make sure their tires are properly inflated. While this maintenance practice does indeed improve gas mileage, it is hardly the sort of substantive suggestion we should be hearing from a presidential candidate. McCain senior aid Mark Slater soon began handing out tire gauges that read “Obama’s Energy Plan.” Who said the energy crisis isn’t funny?

The big buzz, of course, is that in a new ad, McCain compared Obama to celebrities Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The ad called Obama “the biggest celebrity in the world” and asked if he was ready to lead. Hilton’s mother jumped to her defense, criticizing the ad. Oddly enough, she and her husband have donated $4,600 to McCain’s campaign. We think astute political analyst Jay Leno got this one right: “Of all the videos Paris Hilton has been in, this is the one mom’s upset about?”

NATIONAL SECURITY

Immigration front: Illegals return home

All quiet on the southern front? After reaching a crescendo in 2007, immigration has quickly and surprisingly become a near-invisible topic during this election year, and researchers are pointing to enforcement of existing immigration laws as the reason. In a study released last week, the Center for Immigration Studies, which has pushed for tougher immigration laws, estimates that more than one million illegal immigrants have left the country since Congress failed to pass a “comprehensive” immigration reform bill last year. Many of the illegals were deported, but the CIS says most went back home on their own.

More than one million illegals is a sizeable fraction of the illegal population in the U.S., and it may be difficult to believe that number. But the CIS has no reason to inflate its results, and anecdotal evidence from other sources, including the U.S. Border Patrol, The Pew Hispanic Center and other border observers, confirms that there is an outflow of illegals from the U.S., as well as a reduced inflow of new illegals. And as long as we continue to enforce the law and strengthen our borders, as well as cut off taxpayer benefits, this healthy trend should continue.

On the other hand, all is not quiet on the southern front. A Border Patrol agent was held at gunpoint Sunday by members of the Mexican military, though the incident ended without bloodshed. Mexican military personnel are often hired to protect, rather than stop, drug and migrant smugglers. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said the encounter “stemmed from a momentary misunderstanding as to the exact location of the U.S.-Mexican border.” Momentary, as in decades long.

Finally, on Monday, the Fifth Circuit Court upheld the convictions of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, saying they found no reversible error in prior proceedings. Ramos and Compean are serving 11- and 12-year sentences, respectively, for shooting a drug smuggler in February 2005. The overly severe sentences are due to the addition of a gun-related charge. Meanwhile, the smuggler himself, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, was sentenced this week to nine years in prison—less than either border agent.

Profiles of valor: USA Sgt. Claude

In September 2007, United States Army Sergeant Charles Claude Jr. was on patrol in Mosul, Iraq, as the turret gunner in an M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicle (ASV). Claude’s convoy noticed an IED ahead and sent forward troops to neutralize it as quickly as possible. As soon as it was disabled, however, insurgents attacked from all directions with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. Sgt. Claude fired back, taking out two insurgent vehicles—known as “technicals” —before being hit himself by a barrage of fire. His vehicle commander was also wounded. But Claude fought on despite his wound, and despite the fact that the sights of his machine gun were destroyed by enemy fire. Then, in close-quarters fighting, an insurgent jumped onto Claude’s vehicle. While the driver tried to throw the insurgent off, Claude spun his turret toward the enemy and ended the threat. As the area was secured, Claude continued to ignore his wound while providing defensive cover. Later it was discovered that the two disabled enemy “technicals” were mobile weapons caches, and they were no longer in the hands of terrorists. Sgt. Claude’s courageous actions that day saved numerous American lives and turned the tables on an enemy ambush. He was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor.

Iran faces—gasp—more sanctions

Albert Einstein is famously said to have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He might have had a few choice words to say about the approach that the international community has chosen for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Last month the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (P5+1) offered Iran the latest in a long series of incentive packages, aimed at convincing the country to halt uranium enrichment and come clean about its nuclear program. Iran offered the same obfuscation it has given many times before, claiming it was willing to discuss further negotiations after the P5+1 clarified its response to Iran’s questions—whatever that means.

The Bush administration subsequently declared that the P5+1 were going to begin discussing a new round of sanctions to add to the four currently in place on Iran’s nuclear program (1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803). But then the Russians announced that, no, the P5+1 hadn’t agreed that more sanctions were needed, only that more diplomacy was in order. The Iranians must be laughing all the way to the bank. We have said it over and over again: Iran has no intention of stopping its pursuit of nuclear weapons, no matter how many UN sanctions are levied against it. Iran’s strategy since August 2003 has been to give the minimum acceptable appearance of cooperation and reasonableness, while dragging its feet at every opportunity. To their credit, the mullahs have executed this strategy brilliantly, making textbook use of the advantages to be had when a single rogue state negotiates with a group that must all agree before they can act.

Next week will mark five full years since Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program came to light, and what has changed in that time? Iran has demonstrated the ability to enrich uranium; it has installed and tested 3,000 centrifuges while announcing its intent to install 2,000 more; it has advanced the construction of its heavy water plant at Khondab; it has tested missiles with sufficient range to hit Israel; it has taken delivery of advanced Russian SA-15b anti-aircraft missiles; it has probably purchased even more advanced Russian SA-20 missiles; and it has not deviated an inch from its basic position of never yielding their “right” to a full nuclear program. Meanwhile, the UN does the only thing it knows how to do: dole out more sanctions—and hope for a different result.

Hamdan conviction

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, former driver for Osama bin Laden, was convicted Wednesday by a panel of six military officers in the first military commission trial at Guantanamo Bay. However, Hamdan’s conviction was only on one of the two charges he faced—providing material support for terrorism. He was acquitted of a conspiracy charge. Hamdan, who has been in U.S. custody since 2001, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years at Gitmo, but he gets credit for five years already served, meaning he is eligible for release in five months. The Bush administration has maintained that detainees may be held for the duration of the war.

From the ‘Non Compos Mentis’ File

The Associated Press reports, “The International Red Cross said Wednesday that Colombia broke the Geneva Conventions by deliberately using its humanitarian emblem during the covert military mission that freed Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages.” Red Cross deputy director of operations Dominik Stillhart complained, “If authenticated, these images could clearly establish an improper use of the Red Cross emblem, which we deplore.” No word on whether they deplored the holding of 15 hostages. To recap, using the humanitarian Red Cross symbol during a rescue of hostages—an example of a humanitarian mission—is completely unacceptable to a humanitarian organization. Thanks for clearing that up.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008

Acclaimed Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died Sunday in Moscow at age 89, ending what he famously called his “struggle with falsehood.” While serving as a Red Army Captain in World War II, Solzhenitsyn was arrested for writing a derogatory comment about Josef Stalin in a letter to a friend. For this “crime” Solzhenitsyn served eight years in the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s system of penal labor camps in Siberia. Solzhenitsyn’s imprisonment convinced him of the evils of communism. After his release from the Gulag, Solzhenitsyn wrote his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev mistakenly believed that Solzhenitsyn’s novel would discredit Stalinism while leaving the communist system intact, so he allowed it to be published in 1962. The novel created an international sensation, forcing many Leftist intellectuals in the West to re-evaluate their views on communism. Solzhenitsyn was even awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, though he was unable to leave the Soviet Union to accept it.

In 1973 Solzhenitsyn published his greatest work, The Gulag Archipelago. It was a veritable nail in the coffin of totalitarianism. According to American writer Tom Wolfe, “Marxism was finished off… in a single year, 1973—with the smuggling out of the Soviet Union and the publication in France of… Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago’.” What moral standing the Soviet Union still enjoyed in the West was destroyed as The Gulag Archipelago documented how the commissars had stained their hands with the blood of millions. Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, but he continued his fight against totalitarianism from his new home in a remote Vermont village, where he lived until returning to Russia in 1994.

Solzhenitsyn warned the world against “an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses,” and a “tilt of freedom in the direction of evil… evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent in human nature.” The great novelist knew better: Evil is all too real, and it has to be confronted. In this, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn led by example.

BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Income Redistribution: Emergency Obama

Exhibiting a depth of economic knowledge reminiscent of a cookie sheet, Barack “Tire Gauge” Obama released a six-page policy paper to pass for a serious “emergency economic plan,” otherwise known as income confiscation and redistribution. One part of his plan would extort billions of dollars in what he considers “windfall profits” from America’s oil companies over the next five years to pay for another one-time stimulus check ($500 for individuals or $1,000 for families) to offset the rising costs of energy this winter. Big Oil is a handy target for Obama, given, for example, ExxonMobil’s recent $11-billion quarterly profit announcement. But economist Mark Perry points out that Exxon’s tax bill this year ($61.7 billion for the first half of 2008) will outstrip the entire tax contribution of the lower 50 percent of all American wage earners. Furthermore, Exxon’s profit margin was only 10 percent—not at all out of line with most businesses and not exactly a “windfall.” (In a bit of unwelcome news for Obama this week, the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics noted that his campaign has received more money from Exxon employees, $42,000 to $35,166, than the McCain campaign. Obama also received more money from Chevron and BP. So much for the Demos’ too-clever new website, “Exxon-McCain ‘08.”)

The other portion of Obama’s plan would set up both a $25-billion fund to help struggling state governments address their own budget deficits and a $25-billion boost for the federal highway trust fund. It’s less clear from where that $50 billion in revenue shifting will emanate. Naturally, Obama’s plan lacks the specifics regarding which states and projects will benefit, but given that much of it will go to states that are in a deficit situation, his plan would reward states engaging in reckless spending while providing no help for more fiscally responsible states. As usual with Big Government, no good deed (or success story) will go unpunished.

The next mortgage mess?

Increasingly, homeowners are seeing the fruit of their irresponsibility as mortgage defaults continue to rise. And although the subprime mortgage mess has begun to show signs of stabilizing, a bigger crisis may be on the horizon. From April 2007 to April 2008, the number of defaulted Alternative-A mortgages—those given to applicants with good credit scores but no proof of income or assets—increased fourfold to 12 percent. Meanwhile, defaults on prime mortgages doubled to 2.7 percent.

The prognosis isn’t good. Thomas Atteberry, president of Los Angeles-based First Pacific Advisors, forewarned, “Subprime was the tip of the iceberg… Prime will be far bigger in its impact.” Echoing this, JP Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO James Dimon indicated he anticipates a tripling of prime mortgage losses for his bank in the months ahead.

Last week, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together own or guarantee almost half of U.S. mortgages, announced they would increase payments to their mortgage companies, but just days later, Freddie Mac posted a second-quarter loss of $821 million and sister Fannie posted a loss of $2.3 billion.

Alaska sues over ‘threatened’ polar bears

As we previously reported, the Endangered Species Act is once again being used for political purposes, this time to prevent oil and gas development—all in the name of saving the planet, of course. The Chukchi and Beaufort seas in Alaska’s northern waters are restricted to oil and gas development because polar bears were placed on the endangered species list. However, Alaska isn’t taking this development lying down. The state filed a lawsuit this week, seeking to have the thriving polar bear removed from the list. Governor Sarah Palin, a reformist Republican rumored to be on John McCain’s vice presidential list, announced the suit, saying, “We believe that the [Interior Department’s] decision to list the polar bear was not based on the best scientific and commercial data available.” The state alleges that the federal analysis did not give adequate attention to polar bear survival during previous warming cycles.

Of course, environmentalists are more concerned with punishing “Big Oil” and controlling the lives of Americans than coming up with solutions to real problems, such as $4-a-gallon gasoline. In this case, even the “environmental” extremists who placed polar bears on the endangered species list admit that there is no immediate threat to the polar bears. But when did inconvenient truths ever stand in the way of the environmental agenda?

CULTURE

Village Academic Curriculum: ‘Gun Free’?

The first convention of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) was held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, this week. SCCC was formed on 17 April 2007, the day after the Virginia Tech shooting. Among the speakers at the convention were John Lott, author of The Bias Against Guns and More Guns, Less Crime, and (surprisingly enough) Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Lott argued that creating safe zones for victims (like Virginia Tech’s “gun-free zone”) ends up doing little more than creating safe zones for criminals. Helmke resorted to condescension rather than logic by arguing that college students often engage in risky behavior that should preclude them from having guns. “When I look back on my college days, maybe it was a different era in the late sixties, but most of my fraternity brothers didn’t have criminal records—not yet, most of them, even those who were in ROTC and hunters—[but] the behaviors they exhibited weren’t the kind of behaviors that gave me confidence that packing guns in their lockers or in their rooms would make me safer,” Helmke said.

Obviously, not everyone should carry a gun. In fact, considering Helmke’s painfully apparent lack of knowledge about firearms, we would suggest that people like him refrain from carrying guns until they are better educated. But it isn’t Helmke’s (or anybody else’s) place to paint all college students with such a broad brush. Only a responsible college student would take all the steps necessary to obtain a concealed carry license. The Seung-Hui Cho’s of the world won’t bother. As for Helmke’s none-too-subtle insult to ROTC members and hunters, well, we’ll just attribute that one to the pathology of the Left. And despite Helmke’s predictable drivel, we have to commend Students for Concealed Carry on Campus for being willing to listen to the other side of the debate. We doubt Leftist student organizations would be so open-minded.

Judicial Benchmarks: Execution protested

Earlier this week in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court denied an appeal for reprieve by Texas death row inmate and Mexican national Jose Medellin, who along with five other gang members was convicted of the 1993 gang rape and murder of Elizabeth Pena, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 14.

As we previously reported, the case was appealed all the way to the World Court, before the U.S. Supremes finally said enough was enough, and ruled 6-3 that international court rulings have no bearing on criminal cases in the U.S. Medellin’s attorneys claimed this week that their client was tried unfairly because he was denied access to the Mexican Consulate for aid. How sad.

Despite protests by the White House over concern about the precedent the case will set for Americans in other countries, Medellin was put to death on Tuesday by lethal injection. We applaud the Supremes for telling the international courts to take a hike, and the state of Texas for exacting justice. We pray that the families of Medellin’s victims can find peace.

Peking ducks carbon emission issue

Today marks the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games, and China has been preparing many years for this 14-day gathering in which the eyes of the world will be on its capital city. Among the numerous tasks to be completed before the arrival of many thousands of athletes, media personnel and spectators, China had to do what it could to clean up Beijing, which is one of the world’s most polluted cities. Production at over 100 factories and 56 coal-fired power plants in the region has been suspended for the duration of the games. Beijing has also strictly controlled its traffic, banning one million vehicles from the city.

After a few days in the city blinded by smog—or as one Chinese official called it, “mist” —it should be easy to see why the Kyoto Protocol, which sought to ignore China’s rampant environmental degradation, is such a farce. But environmentalists don’t want to affix blame where it deserves to be affixed—on China. Instead, they would rather shake down American companies because it’s easier to extract money from them in court. Some interesting, if startling, statistics quoted in Investor’s Business Daily illustrate a true picture of what is taking place in our so-called dirty world. China, easily the world’s top polluter, increases its greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent a year, and its emissions have risen 138 percent since 1990. China’s emissions per unit of output are five times more than the U.S., where our GDP is rising faster than our emissions. Energy use per unit of GDP here in the U.S. fell 4.2 percent in 2006, and carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP fell by 4.5 percent, meaning that America is becoming more energy efficient. On the other hand, emissions in Kyoto countries, which are supposedly the standard of dedication to the environment, rose 2.6 percent from 1990 to 2005.

The lesson to be learned here is that market-driven solutions will lessen industrial impact on the environment, not unenforceable treaties that ignore the real polluters and punish rich countries for, well, being rich countries. And if these statistics are insufficiently convincing that China, not America, is the problem when it comes to pollution, just ask our athletes when they return home in two weeks what they thought of the air quality in Beijing.

And last…

An interesting story came out of South Korea this week, as Seoul-based RNL Bio announced the first successful commercial canine cloning. Bernann McKinney lost her dog Booger two years ago, but she loved him so much, particularly after he saved her life, that she opted for the cloning procedure. “RNL Bio is commencing its worldwide services with Booger as its first successful clone,” the company announced. McKinney was delighted. The Associated Press relayed her reaction: “’It’s a miracle!’ McKinney repeatedly shouted Tuesday when she saw the [five] cloned Boogers for which she paid $50,000.” The only question remaining was which Booger she would pick. In the end, she found three Boogers to her liking, and will donate two Boogers to work as service dogs for the handicapped or elderly. It reminds us of the old nursery rhyme: “Old Mother Hubbard Went to the cupboard, To fetch her poor dog a clone…”

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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