Daily Snippets are here.
Answers to the current question are here.
The new current question is here.
TO OUR READERS
42% - Stalling.
We began our third subscription drive early last week. We've reached
42% of our goal. But, compared to where we were at this point in our last drive, we're well behind. Our first two subscription drives exceeded their goals. We're dragging in this one.
Subscriptions are the lifeblood of Urgent Agenda. They're the reason we're still here. We must triple the number of subscribers to become financially stable. Otherwise, Urgent Agenda will either disappear or be reduced.
And think of it - a subscription to Urgent Agenda is less than the price of a candy bar each week.
What do you get by subscribing? First, you insure the survival of this site, which has one of the most informed readerships on the web. We cannot disclose our readers' names, but you're in very good, and sometimes well-known company.
Second, subscribers and donators now receive The Angel's Corner - sent each week by e-mail. We discuss the trends of the week, but go beyond politics, into movies, music and TV. Further, Angel's Corner gives the very coveted Pompous Fool Award, bestowed only on the most deserving candidates in politics and journalism. A NEW POMPOUS FOOL AWARD WILL BE GIVEN TONIGHT. And Angels are given a special e-mail address they can use to contact Urgent Agenda.
If for any reason you wish to cancel your subscription, the unused portion will be returned, upon request.
This is a momentous era, a great time to join. So please subscribe, or donate, in the column on the right, so that we can keep going. Urgent Agenda is needed more than ever.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 2009
REAL PROGRESS - AT 6:55 P.M. ET: We were alerted to this by reader James Croak:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Four thousand women are running for office in Iraq's provincial elections Saturday, and many of them will be guaranteed seats under an electoral quota system.
Regardless of the votes their candidates receive, parties are required to give every third seat to a woman, according to a report this week from the International Crisis Group.
COMMENT: I'd love to see even one American "feminist" organization acknowledge this and praise it. I'm not holding my breath. These organizations are under the control of the political left, and they follow the party line they're given, regardless of women's rights.
DASHING DASCHLE - AT 5:44 P.M. ET: From The Politico:
Tom Daschle, tapped to be President Obama's health czar, was paid more than $200,000 by the health-care industry in the past two years, according to documents obtained by Politico.
The former Senate majority leader, who gave speeches to firms and groups with a vested-interest in the administration's upcoming health reform, collected the checks as part of a $5 million windfall after he lost reelection to his South Dakota seat.
This weekend, Daschle's nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services became embroiled in controversy over the last-minute revelation that he had only recently paid long-overdue taxes.
COMMENT: I have never seen an administration come to office with so many of its appointees under an ethical cloud. Daschle's name should be withdrawn. He should withdraw it himself. The man had more than $100,000 in back taxes. The president is really in danger here, and I wonder whether he knows it. You can take the guy out of Chicago, but apparently you can't take Chicago out of the guy.
YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THIS - AT 4:21 P.M. ET: Crisis in the academic world, sent to us by a real-live academic. It seems the problem is at Southern Illinois University:
Members of a committee formed in response to plagiarism accusations levied against a former university administrator received word this week that they need to reconvene and examine documents they may have plagiarized.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the 10-member committee of Southern Illinois University academics and administrators commissioned to develop a plagiarism policy may have borrowed from Indiana University’s definition—without citing IU.
SIU officials seemed surprised by the news and stressed the policy was still in draft form.
It would be a near perfect example of irony: a definition of plagiarism created in the wake of plagiarism scandals may itself have been plagiarized.
COMMENT: The first thing that Southern Illinois University must do is to determine whether the alleged plagiarism was committed by members of an officially oppressed group, in which case it could be explained by historic trauma or different cultural valuation. If committed by a member of a majority, oppressor group, it should be punished as another attempt at intellectual colonization, torture, and cultural aggression consistent with the atmosphere created by the Bush administration.
CRAZY QUOTE OF THE DAY - AT 1:04 P.M. ET: From The New York Times, by David E. Sanger:
WASHINGTON — As President Obama and Congress barrel toward the latest emergency program to resuscitate the American economy, one question is looming over their search for a cure: Can the government fashion a fast and efficient economic stimulus while also seizing the moment to remake America?
COMMENT: Say what? Do the Obama people think they have a mandate to "remake America"? When did the American people vote to be remade? And what about the 46 percent who voted for John McCain? Sanger is the winner of one of our recent Pompous Fool awards, at The Angel's Corner. It's inspiring to know he's maintaining his usual high standard.
HERE IT COMES - AT 12:04 P.M. ET: From Fox News:
The Obama administration has asked the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff to cut the Pentagon's budget request for the fiscal year 2010 by more than 10 percent -- about $55 billion -- a senior U.S. defense official tells FOX News.
Last year's defense budget was $512 billion. Service chiefs and planners will be spending the weekend "burning the midnight oil" looking at ways to cut the budget -- looking especially at weapons programs, the defense official said.
COMMENT: Dreadful. We should be expanding defense, not reducing it. This is a dangerous signal to send to our enemies, unless, of course, you don't think we have any. Compare the requested cut of $55-billion to the pork in the so-called stimulus bill. And, by the way, defense procurement has a stimulative effect on the economy because the money gets into the production pipeline quickly.
Posted at 11:37 a.m. ET:
One of the bizarre aspects of current government policy is the attitude toward our auto industry. On the one hand, the administration says it wants to help the domestic industry get back in gear. On the other, it wants to impose rules that may well kill it. Rich Lowry reports on the sober contradiction:
...the Obama administration is acting quickly to approve a waiver for California to impose costly new restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions from cars.
... As many as 13 states will follow California's lead, creating a regulatory patchwork with automakers forced in practice to meet the higher standard.
Even California admits that the new strictures will add $1,000 to the cost of vehicles by 2016. (The carmakers estimate $3,000.) So, GM and Chrysler will struggle to shed labor and legacy costs - just to see new regulatory costs imposed on them by the very political authorities that are putting taxpayer dollars at risk to save them.
It's the rise of self-defeating industrial policy.
But it satisfies the radical base of the Democratic Party.
When Detroit came to Washington in extremis last year, the rational reaction would have been to lift burdens on it. Instead, the fashionable rap on Detroit was that it had created its own mess by making SUVs on the foolish assumption that gas prices would stay at $1.50 a gallon forever.
This critique was premised on the foolish assumption that gas prices would stay at $4 a gallon forever. As gas prices have plunged, sales of SUVs and light trucks have picked up again. In December, they were 51 percent of all vehicle sales, a return to the normal pattern. Drivers simply like the convenience and comfort of the bigger models.
But that is bad news to the enviro-religionists. And the auto companies are in a dilemma:
If a normal sense of self-preservation were at work, Detroit would howl at another step toward bludgeoning it out of its most profitable line of work. But now its relationship with Washington is as important as its business model. Its executives have to drive to Capitol Hill in hybrid cars to do their begging and pretend that GM's plug-in Volt - prospectively priced at $40,000 per vehicle - is the car of the future.
To some of the financiers of enviro-religion, $40,000 is what they spend on a vacation, so reality hasn't dawned on them.
This contradictory policy is driven by worry over the far-off threat of global warming, the killer abstraction that hangs over all of Obama's economy policy. At the same time everyone is aflutter with the need to stimulate the economy, Al Gore called in congressional testimony for the imposition this year of a cap-and-trade system, effectively imposing a new tax on energy.
As government intervention proliferates, we are about to see industrial policy run by people who don't like industry very much.
Detroit wanted a bailout, and it will get it good and hard.
There are some signs in polling that Americans are waking up to the contradictions in Obama policy, and to the pandering to ideological interests. There are also signs that Americans are starting to question the "science" behind global warming, especially when that "science" is presented by politicians.
It's up to the Republicans to point out the problems, the con jobs, and try to cure the mess.
January 31, 2009. Permalink
BIRTH OF A NATION - AT 10:53 A.M. ET: From AP:
Iraq's provincial elections have wrapped up without any reports of serious violence.
Polls closed at 6 p.m. local time (10 a.m. EST) on Saturday — an hour later than planned. Millions of voters cast ballots for influential regional councils around most of Iraq.
Iraqi authorities imposed a huge security operation around the country that included traffic bans in major cities and extensive checkpoints and surveillance posts. The U.S. military also was out in force but did not take a direct role in the election security.
Results from the elections are not expected before Tuesday.
COMMENT: We tend to be skeptical of Arab nations here, but this is good news. If Iraq can now separate itself from the general madness and backwardness of the Arab world, and build a democracy, everyone should gain.
WHEN WILL WE LEARN? - AT 10:11 A.M. ET: Iran has given another thoughtful, kind, and philosophical answer to President Obama's outreach to the Muslim world. From AFP:
US President Barack Obama's offer to talk to Iran shows that America's policy of "domination" has failed, the government spokesman said on Saturday.
"This request means Western ideology has become passive, that capitalist thought and the system of domination have failed," Gholam Hossein Elham was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.
"Negotiation is secondary, the main issue is that there is no way but for (the United States) to change," he added.
COMMENT: When will we learn what these people are? When will we learn that "outreach" is often seen as weakness?
GRIMNESS - AT 10:00 A.M. ET: From The Wall Street Journal:
Stocks wrapped up their worst January on record with a final plunge on Friday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished January down 8.84% on the month. Perviously, the worst January for the Dow had been that of 1916, when it fell 8.64%. Friday, the Dow dropped 148.15 points to 8000.86 after briefly dipping below the 8000 mark. The Dow has fallen five straight months and in 12 of the last 15.
The S&P 500-stock index lost 2.28% Friday to end at 825.88, for cumulative losses in January of 8.57%. Until Friday, its worst January from 1929 onward occurred in 1970, when it lost 7.65%.
Both stock-market indexes are off by more than 40% from their 2007 highs.
COMMENT: Compare these statistics with the comments by Eric Cantor in the story just below. How much do you think the spending Cantor describes will do to improve this disastrous picture? You have five seconds.
THE COUNTER-REV AT WORK - AT 9:38 A.M. ET: Bookworm Room alerts us to a great letter by GOP House Whip Eric Cantor, of Virginia, explaining why he voted against the Obama stimulus plan, and got his whole party to vote against it as well:
Here is some of what is currently in the plan:
* It creates 32 new federal programs, totaling $136 billion. (37 percent of the total cost)
* It expands 60 existing programs, mostly programs favored by the political left.
* It spends $6 billion in corporate welfare to help broadband companies get more customers.
* It spends $600 million to “prepare our country for universal healthcare”.
* It spends $1 billion on Amtrak.
* It spends $400 million on climate change research.
* It spends $50 million on the National Endowment for the Arts.
* It spends $3 billion on a new “prevention and wellness” fund, which includes $335 million for sexually transmitted disease education and prevention.
Every penny is passed on to our children and grandchildren in government debt and will undoubtedly lead to massive tax increases in the future.
This reckless spending is why I voted NO.
COMMENT: Cantor is turning out to be an exceptional House whip. His ability to explain the Republican position is priceless.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE, NOTHING TO SEE - AT 8:56 A.M. ET: Iraqis go to the polls today in a national election made possible by the Bush-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Of course, some American news outlets don't know what to make of it. What's the approved "narrative"? What's the party line in the age of Obama. From The New York Times:
BAGHDAD — Voters turned out early and calmly on Saturday for Iraq’s provincial elections, the first in the country for four years. By noon, halfway through the voting, no one had been reported injured or killed.
Early reporting showed a lighter turnout than expected.
And from CNN:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Voting in Iraq began early Saturday in the war-ravaged country's important provincial elections.
Turnout early in the day seemed high, election officials said.
COMMENT: So it's high, so it's low. What's a little word? The main thing is to be sure BUSH (!) doesn't get any credit.
HOW DARE SHE? - AT 8:26 A.M. ET: The New York Times this morning publishes a stunning, vicious attack on...a Democratic senator from New York. The victim, or honoree, is new Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, recently appointed by Governor David Paterson to the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Ms. Gillibrand does not pass muster because, among other things, she's firm on the unacceptability of illegal immigration. But most important appears to be this:
Can she represent a constituency beyond the narrow politics of her district, where she has been a bullet-headed opponent of gun control, proudly basking in the extremist affections of the National Rifle Association?
COMMENT: Oh my, my. The woman is a sinner, a lowlife. Her greatest crime, of course, is coming from outside the New York City area. Why, darlings, how can anyone who lives up there possibly represent us? In the minds of New York Times editorial writers, "narrow politics" only exist in rural districts. Why, as everyone knows, districts within New York City are open, intellectual, so tolerant, and understanding. Yeah, we've seen that. Try expressing a word of admiration for George W. Bush, or even John McCain, in Manhattan. Hope to get out alive.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 30, 2009
ANOTHER HONEST MISTAKE - AT 8:40 P.M. ET: From The Washington Post:
Former senator Thomas A. Daschle, nominated to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, paid more than $100,000 in back taxes and interest this month for the use of a car and driver over the past three years, the White House said tonight.
Daschle spokeswoman Jenny Backus said that Daschle "naively" believed the car service was a "generous offer from a friend," and he discovered only last summer that it is considered reportable income.
COMMENT: I wonder if his tax adviser was Timothy Geithner. Is there one Obama appointee who isn't tainted?
DISTURBING - AT 7:28 P.M. ET: From AP:
US President Barack Obama's top intelligence adviser is denying that he used a crude term to describe Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that China claims as its own...
...But Blair, confirmed Wednesday to lead 16 US intelligence agencies, said he did use the "too-colorful phrase 'tossing a turd in the punchbowl"' during a closed meeting in 2000 to describe "a single, specific action by the Taiwanese government, certainly not Taiwan itself."
COMMENT: Once again we get a hint from an "Obama adviser" that it will be more dangerous to be a friend of the U.S. than an enemy, a throwback to an earlier, darker era. Okay, we have an adviser who insulted Taiwan, there are reports that we'll betray our East European friends by delaying their missile-defense system, and the president didn't use the word "democracy" once in his interview on Arab TV, an insult to the new, democratically elected government of Iraq. Who's next?
WHAT A FRAUD - AT 6:37 P.M. ET: From The L.A. Times:
Reporting from Tehran -- A powerful Iranian cleric warned President Obama today to stay away from the harsh rhetoric of the Bush administration in dealing with the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president now serving as the head of two important religious councils, told thousands gathered for a weekly pre-prayer political sermon in Tehran that Iran was listening closely for signs of change from Washington.
COMMENT: Another wonderful response, this time from a character often described as a "moderate" in the Western press, even though he isn't. The Iranian position can be correctly described as follows: You Americans make all the concessions, and we'll decide whether to accept them. And don't mention our nuclear program. It offends us. Your move, Mr. Obama.
YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THIS - AT 5:24 P.M. ET: Please go here.
It is a website selling inspirational Obama T-shirts. And whose website is it? CNN. Nah, there's no bias in TV news. Nothing to see here, nothing to see.
BULLETIN AT 4:10 P.M. ET: Michael Steele, the African-American former lieutenant governor of Maryland, has been elected Republican national chairman.
COMMENT: That's good news. The party now has an articulate spokesman who can appeal to voters across the board, yet maintains conservative principles.
DOW CLOSE - AT 4:04 P.M. ET: Based on preliminary figures, the Dow closed down 148, at 8001. There was some last-minute action to try to keep the index from closing below 8000 at the end of the week, which is the way "investing" is done on Wall Street today. Final figures in about an hour.
DEMS BAILING ON BAILOUT? - AT 4:01 P.M. ET: From Fox News:
An influential Senate Democrat said Friday that it's unclear whether President Obama's $819 economic stimulus bill will win enough support to pass in the Senate.
"I don't even know how many Democrats will vote for it, as it stands today," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., told FOX News.
Nelson, a moderate Democrat, is famous for gathering lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in a so-called "Gang of 14" to avert a shutdown of the Senate over judicial nominations. He is seeking a similar bipartisan effort to improve the stimulus bill.
COMMENT: As we've said here before, there are moderate Democrats who want to keep their seats. Many of them will not be stampeded by the leftist wing, which wants to resurrect the 1960s.
THIS REVELATION JUST IN - AT 2:32 P.M. ET: From Reuters:
U.S. envoy Mitchell: Mideast peace process faces substantial hurdles
Just wanted to keep you up to date.
DOW DOWN - AT 1:47 P.M. ET: The Dow is down 133 to 8016.
OUTREACH OR GROVELING?
Posted at 9:28 a.m. ET:
There have been some extraordinary critiques of the budding Obama foreign policy in the last few days. We examined one by Fouad Ajami yesterday. Now our friend, Iranian activist Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, alerts us to an excellent piece by Amir Taheri, slamming the outreach approach of the new administration:
IN his "first message to the Muslim world" Tuesday, President Obama on Al-Arabiya TV invited the Islamic Republic in Iran to "unclench its fist" and accept his offer of "un conditional talks."
A few hours later...Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd of militants that no talks are possible unless the United States met a set of conditions.
He demanded a formal apology for unspecified US "crimes" against Iran and the Islamic world. The crucial condition, however, was that America should withdraw its troops from other countries, "taking them back to their own territory."
Such warmth. Such a kind response.
The contrast couldn't have been greater. Obama tried to be as conciliatory as possible - asking only for an "unclenching" of the Iranian fist - a change of style. Ahmadinejad asked for concrete US moves, notably a global military retreat that would leave the Middle East at Tehran's mercy.
When will we learn that this won't change?
Obama looked to the past rather than the future to give such platitudes a tinge of political vision. He said he wanted a return "to the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago."
But you have to know the history:
What was happening during what Obama seems to regard as the "golden age" of Carter's leadership? US diplomats were held hostage in Tehran and daily humiliated with mock executions. Soviet troops were annexing Afghanistan to the Evil Empire. Saddam Hussein was preparing to invade Iran, starting an eight-year war that claimed a million lives. Mecca was under siege by the ideological antecedents of Osama bin Laden. Syrian troops were preparing to march into Lebanon.
Other features of this "golden age": the seizure of power by mullahs in Tehran, the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the coming to power of communists in the Horn of Africa, the military coup in Turkey, the first Islamist terror attacks in Algeria, unprecedented waves of repression in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the imposition of military rule in Pakistan.
During the same period, and its immediate aftermath, dozens of Americans from many walks of life were seized as hostages and sometimes brutally murdered in several Muslim countries. The US ambassador in Sudan was murdered; the CIA station chief in Beirut abducted, taken to Tehran and killed under torture.
You know, it really was a fun time.
Then George W. Bush came.
Thanks to the transformation of America from a power guaranteeing the deadly status quo into one that supports reform and change, the region has started to experience new currents of democratization...
...For the first time, the question of democracy is top of the political agenda in virtually every Muslim state.
Bush suddenly looks awfully good.
Obama should remember that he is the president of the United States - not an impartial broker. It was unfortunate that he described himself as a bridge. For a bridge has no personality of its own and cares little about who might cross it and in which direction.
IF this was meant as the first direct contact between Obama and the Muslim world, the Al-Arabiya interview must be rated as a missed opportunity.
Obama's remarks about the Israel-Palestine issue were so trite as to merit no analysis. He said he was sending former Sen. George Mitchell to listen to all sides - as if the world has not been hearing their stories for more than six decades.
The president appeared apologetic, offering no hope for democratization and economic development. He made no mention of the economic meltdown that is creating unprecedented mass unemployment in many countries of the region.
Nor did he offer any support to democratic forces facing crucial elections in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Algeria this year.
He had nothing to say about the thousands of Iranian workers who have been thrown into prison solely because they created independent trade unions. Nor did he mention Iranian women's courageous "a million signatures campaign" or the series of student revolts that have been crushed by the mullahs with exceptional violence.
Casting himself in the role of a "bridge" and dreaming of a return to an illusionary past, Obama appeared unsure of his own identity and confused about the role that America should play in global politics. And that is bad news for those who believe that the United States should use its moral, economic and political clout in support of democratic forces throughout the world.
Well stated. Apparently, Mr. Obama is listening to the Brent Scowcroft school of "realism." It never worked before. It won't work now. We have to give the new president a chance, and hope that his policy evolves into something better, but there some discouraging signs.
January 30, 2009. Permalink
LAUGH NOW - AT 8:29 A.M. ET: A reader sent this in:
Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
A. It is money that the federal government
will send to taxpayers.
Q. Where will the government get this money?
A. From taxpayers.
Q. So the government is giving me back my own
A. No, they are borrowing it from China. Your children are expected to repay the Chinese.
Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.
Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy
A. Shut up.
COMMENT: But it's so multicultural, darlings. How can we object?
IRAN REALITY - AT 8:16 A.M. ET: The any-problem-can-be-solved-by-talking crowd is all excited about our negotiating directly with Iran. But a quote from a Wall Street Journal article on the subject should produce at least some sobriety:
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said European Union nations had for years attempted to negotiate with Iran, offering trade, technology and other benefits. "We were talking and talking, but got nowhere," he said.
COMMENT: That's not only the quote of the day, it may turn into the quote of the year. The Iranian nuclear program continues, with the probability that Iran will have enough material to build a bomb this year. Negotiations? To what end? And for how long? And what constitutes success?
ET TU, GREGG? - AT 8:10 A.M. ET: From The Politico:
Senate sources say that President Barack Obama is considering New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg for the still-open Commerce secretary slot — a possibility that could give Democrats the 60-vote margin in the Senate that they weren’t able to win at the polls in November.
It’s unclear how seriously Gregg is being considered for the job...
...Still, even the hint of the possibility sparked concerns from Republican leaders, who assume that New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, would appoint a Democrat to replace Gregg. Assuming Al Franken defeats Norm Coleman in Minnesota, a new Democratic senator from New Hampshire would give Democrats a 60-seat majority –enough to overcome Republican filibusters.
COMMENT: It's inconceivable to me that any Republican would knife his party to take an often obscure Cabinet job in a Dem administration. Quick: What's the latest thing a secretary of commerce did? We hope this doesn't pan out.
THE BLOOMBERG IS OFF THE ROSE - AT 7:57 A.M. ET: From the New York Daily News:
Mayor Bloomberg's bare-bones budget for next year will slash the city work force by 23,000 and drastically increase its sales tax, officials revealed Thursday.
The plan hinges on the shaky prospect of help from the federal and state governments and from stubborn unions.
The mayor will introduce his executive budget today; it also calls for cuts in big-ticket construction projects and for city employees to cough up cash for health care, according to those briefed on the plan.
COMMENT: This has serious national implications. New York has been an enormous economic engine. It is failing. These changes make the city less attractive as a place to do business. Don't assume other American cities may benefit. It may well be foreign cities that become more attractive, creating an economic drain for this country. The Great Depression began largely in New York. Are we repeating?
THE JACKSON JIVE - AT 7:23 A.M. ET: From The Hill:
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) spent $100,000 on legal expenses one week after it became clear that he was listed in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) arrest documents as “Senate Candidate No. 5,” according to Federal Election Commission documents.
Jackson paid Chicago attorney James Montgomery $100,000 from his campaign account in one lump-sum payment on Dec. 18. The payment represents a very large amount — nearly one-tenth of what Jackson raised last cycle.
COMMENT: Why do I suspect we don't know anywhere near the whole story of the Blago affair?
FROM THE BELOVED LEADER - AT 7:09 A.M. ET: From news agencies:
Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Thursday threw his first punch at President Barack Obama after several weeks of praise for the new leader, criticizing the U.S. defense of Israel and demanding the return Guantanamo Bay military base to Cuba.
COMMENT: Some Obamans have the illusion that some kind words and a smile will change the policies of dictators. Lotsa luck.