Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lockerbie bomber was set free in British oil deal

Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, killer of 270 men, women and children, gets the hero's welcome back in Libya

It was pretty obvious all along, but the Times of London now has the goods. It's enough to make you sick. Let's hope it's enough to bring down the UK government government of Gordon Brown(and its Scottish stooges). It's hard to see how the British people will stand for it.

The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.

Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

The letters were sent two years ago by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, who has been widely criticised for taking the formal decision to permit Megrahi’s release.

The correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests.

Read the whole story here. And more disgusting details here.

Any thoughts about this monstrous capitulation to terror? Post a comment.

Monday, August 24, 2009

GOP Chair catches on: Seniors are the people who will decide health care debate

I posted three months ago that seniors like those in the picture above would decide the outcome of the health care "reform" debate once they woke up to the fact that the major plans advanced -- some more than others -- would gouge Medicare, directly or indirectly, sooner or later to their detriment.

Sure enough, polls show that seniors are the major group that is least supportive of the various health care reform schemes, and the steady erosion of Obama's public approval ratings is being driven in significant part by seniors.

Enter GOP National Chairman Michael Steele. In an op-ed today, Steele proclaimed a Republican Seniors' Health Care Bill of Rights that would, in his words, ensure that reform is "not funded on the backs of our nation's senior citizens. "

Steele has a simple point that no amount of scorn for inconsistency heaped on him by Democrats can deny: the principal health care reform bill teed up by Democrats in the House would cut Medicare by hundreds of billions of dollars, all but eliminate the highly popular Medicare Advantage programs that currently enroll eight million seniors and reduce some payments to providers that most likely would result in fewer providers accepting Medicare patients. These provisions -- which are in the House plan very deliberately to "save" money that can then be used elsewhere -- are what makes seniors worry about reform, not hyperbole about "death panels."

The odd thing here, of course, is that one would expect Democrats to be defending the premier accomplishment of the Democratic Party of the last 50 years -- but they aren't. They are throwing up smokescreens to avoid facing the music with their most reliable voting constituents, while keeping their fingers crossed that Republicans won't appeal to seniors, simply because of traditional Republican opposition to "entitlements." And there is already a bit of a backlash against Steele in conservative circles for thus "pandering" to the old folks. Be that as it may, Steele has hit upon the Achilles Heel of the current sweeping Democratic proposals. If he and a few others keep pounding that drum, we will shortly see all but the hundred or so House Democrats who occupy totally safe districts begin to distance themselves from all but the kind of step-at-a-time changes Joe Lieberman suggested Sunday.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Public option" is dead, dead, dead -- but left-leaning Dems refuse to bury it ( so far)

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) makes the case for the already dead "public option"

After weeks of watching public opposition to health care reform proposals increase and President Obama's approval ratings drop, the Administration apparently reached the conclusion that siding with the more sweeping House leadership version of reform, with its so-called "public option," had zero chance of making it through the Senate. Rather than see the opportunity to get both Houses to agree on something slip away amidst an increasingly negative public debate, the White House "signaled" furiously over the weekend that it was willing to drop the public option and consider coops instead as a counter to private insurers.

Not surprisingly, the left commentariat erupted in a combination of crushing disappointment and flat-out fury that Obama would sell out the One True Reform. And leaders of the House liberal bloc warned the Administration that some 60 members would never, never, ever vote for a bill that did not include a public option, thus making passage of any such bill impossible.

Won't anyone tell these guys that the public option is as dead Julius Caesar and all they can accomplish by opposing Obama on compromising with the Senate moderates and House Blue Dogs is to kill any reform bill? Well, I will.

It's dead because Obama and Health Secretary Sebelius said they could live without it. They may have backtracked a bit today to appease the outcry from the left for the moment and give Administration operatives time to smooth things over with unions and other key allies. But the deed it done. Obama can no longer go to the moderate Democrats -- Max Baucus, Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson and others -- not to mention the few moderate Republicans -- conspicuously Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe whose votes might be decisive -- and say, we must have a public option. The moderates have been saying for weeks that the public option is a non-starter, and now Obama has said, OK, I can do without it. That genie is, as they say, out of the bottle.

The left-leaning blogosphere won't let go of this easily. Already, they have seized on a comment by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz) to the effect that the proposed co-ops are a Trojan Horse for a public plan to complain that compromising with the Republicans on health care gets you nowhere because the GOP will not ultimately support any plan. Maybe so, but the stumbling block is not Kyl and the GOP Congressional leadership. It's the moderate Democrats who simply will not vote for a bill they consider to be too radical for their states and constituents. And it's the moderate Republicans whose votes may be needed to head off a filibuster.

So the self-styled "progressives" in the House are threatening to cripple Obama's Presidency before its first year is by submarining his premier proposal if it doesn't come up to their standards, and Howard Dean is sitting up there in Vermont making vague threats of primaries against Democrats who don't support a public option. I say, hooey. The House members will cave as soon as Rhambo swings into action to squeeze them for their votes. And successful primaries run by liberals against sitting Democratic Senators in less-than-liberal states like Montana and Arkansas? Good luck with that.

Some health care reform bill will pass before the year is out (unless the left goes totally bonkers and screws Obama), but it will be less sweeping -- more moderate -- than what's been prematurely labled "ObamaCare," and that's all to the good. The health care system is huge, complex and not altogether well understood. The potential for bad unintended consequences is enormous. What's more, a great many people like the much-distained status quo, at least where their health insurance is concerned.

As I posted some time ago, it will be better for everyone if reform is done piece meal. If this year's bill encourages greater portability, eliminates the pre-existing conditions dodge, expands eligibity for Medicaid, especially to provide insurance for the unemployed, and sets up a co-op to compete with private companies, that will be a lot to digest for a couple of years.

If people like Rep. Weiner (see the video above) think this is the only chance to pass a more comprehensive set of changes, they must have very little faith in the likelihood that voters will return Democrats to power. Of course, the irony is that if Weiner had his way, they probably wouldn't!

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Gallup maps: Why Obama needs to govern from the center

Here's why...

Gallup's in-depth state-by-state analyses of party ID and ideology

A couple of weeks ago, Gallup came out with an analysis, gleaned from six months of tracking polls during the first half of 2009, of party identification by state. The results (in the top map) showed a powerful Democratic hold on the electorate nationwide -- the continuation of the appeal to voters that elected President Obama and handed control of Congress to the Democrats last November.

As I pointed out at the time, although the poll results demonstrated clearly the ascendancy of the Democratic Party, they were not in any way "proof positive of a sustained leftward lurch of American politics," as many tried to claim.

The reason is simple: party identification and ideological affinity are two separate things -- overlapping, yes, but very much separate anyway.

Now, Gallup has released a second study of self-declared political ideology -- based on 160,000 interviews (a huge sample) over the same January-June 2009 period. Gallup asked people whether their views were "very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal, or very liberal."

The second map above summarizes the results: only in the District of Columbia is there a larger proportion of liberals than conservatives. Even in Massachusetts -- a state with a liberal reputation (e.g., Kennedy and Kerry) that is second only to D.C. in pro-Democratic leaning, according to Gallup, only 29% call themselves liberal, while 30% say they are conservative and 38% self-identify as moderates.

Wait a minute! How can this be? How could Obama and the Democrats sweep the country if all the states they carried are colored one or another shade of green?

The answer is, of course, that most of the moderates and some conservatives joined with liberals in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and many other states, because voters were in a mood to fire the Republicans after eight years and two wars in the midst of a scary economic meltdown. The Obama supported by these legions of non-liberals came across as a thoughtful man of (dare I say it?) moderation; a "post-partisan" figure of national unity at a time of deeply felt crisis; a leader they could trust with their futures. To these millions of voters, he was not even an ideologue, much less a leader who would forge a significant shift to the left.

Well, now they're not so sure about that -- so Obama's (and the Democrats) standing in various polls is dropping steadily. To be sure, Democrats can still win in that crucial swath of light-blue states in the upper map that begins with North Carolina, runs north through Pennsylvania and then west to Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa. But all those states also have a moderately conservative bent seen in the green shades of the lower map. Their voters will gladly support Democrats in responsible steps to right the economy and very likely on some other key issues, as well. But they will decisively reject anything perceived as "too liberal."

I should add that I have a bone to pick with Gallup with respect to both of these maps, especially the one depicting ideological preference. It highlights the right and left poles -- while leaving the reader to wonder where the moderates are (no doubt, that makes for bigger news stories and more attention to Gallup). In fact, self-described moderates comprise a huge chunk of every state's population -- from a low of 32% to a high of 43%. Only in the most conservative state, Alabama, do conservatives outnumber the combined moderate-liberal total. So a "center-left" coalition (theoretically) could prevail in 49 states! And in fact, although Obama's victory was not nearly that overwhelming, it was support from moderates and even some conservatives that elected Obama and the sizable Democratic Congressional majorities in 2008.

The President, Speaker and Majority Leader will come to regret it, if they forget this obvious fact.

Any thoughts about this? Post a comment.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reports: CIA drone-fired missile attack kills Baitullah Mehsud, leader of Pakistani Taliban

Waziristan Taliban chieftain Baitullah Mehsud in better times

We may never know for sure, but it's being reported widely that a CIA missile has blown Pakistan's most wanted terrorist, Baitullah Mehsud, the killer of Benazir Bhutto among countless other victims, to smithereens:

"There is strong indication" that Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a CIA drone strike that targeted a house Wednesday, a senior administration official told ABC News.

U.S. and Pakistani officials believe Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud is dead. U.S. and Pakistani officials believe that a strike in South Waziristan yesterday "very likely" killed Mehsud. U.S. officials said they had visual and other "indicators" that it was Mehsud, and that there is a 95 percent chance that he is among the dead. Pakistani officials are trying to collect physical evidence to be certain.

Baitullah Mehsud is enemy number one in Pakistan. He is believed to be behind some of the most spectacular attacks in that country, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 and suicide bombings in Lahore.
Recently, the CIA concentrated resources on tracking and targeting Mehsud partly at the behest of Pakistan's civilian government, led by Bhutto's husband, sif Ali Zardari. So Islamabad should be a bit happier place today.

This latest success should teach everyone a lesson about the capabilities of the CIA and America's intelligence community, which have lately come in for a wide range of criticisms from the left and the right. The CIA's Hellfire missiles fired from Predator and Reaper drone aircraft have been killing al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and fighters a lot more effectively than anything else being done by any arm of the U.S. Government or our allies.

Got an opinion? Post a comment.

UPDATE -- The New York Times reports that the Taliban has confirmed Mehsud's death last Wednesday in a CIA missile strike.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nixon redux: Obama White House asks Americans to rat out neighbors to government

Whatever you think about President Obama's drive for health care reform, you ought to find the effort by the White House to enlist Americans as government informers on other Americans who don't agree with the current Administration distasteful and unsettling. We are accustomed to the role of any President as a political leader and give the occupant of the White House wide latitude to conduct essentially political operations using government employees and resources. Still, there are -- or at least, there used to be -- some bright red lines the President should not cross. One of these lines has surely been crossed by the current campaign organized by the White House Office of Health Care Reform to get Americans to report "fishy" emails and other communications from other Americans to Big Brother at the White House. Lest you think this isn't such a big deal, it seems that once your email has been reported, it will remain a permanent government record -- potentially a large-scale White House "enemies list" that Richard Nixon could only have dreamed about. Here's the White House pitch for informers:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to
I sent the following email to (I did not receive a reply so far)and urge other Democrats to do likewise:

I'm a Democrat, but this effort to get Americans to snitch on their relatives, friends and neighbors by forwarding "fishy" emails and such to the government is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of free expression without the heavy-handed interference of the state and, thus, reprehensible. It should cease immediately, and any records collected by this program should be expunged.

I have never seen a more blatant attempt by government to invade the privacy of Americans since the days of rampant and excessive tracking of dissidents by the FBI and other agencies during the Nixon Administration.

Rather than harass people who oppose him on policy grounds in this way, President Obama and his Administration would do better to answer forthrightly and in greater detail the many questions being raised by Americans of the right, left and center about the myriad of not-yet-explained and constantly changing health care reform proposals being shaped by Congress and the Administration. If people are in the dark and easy prey to Internet-driven rumors, Obama and the Congressional leadership have only themselves to blame.

John Burke
What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

UPDATE -- Asked about a possible permament record of people who disagree with the Administration, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "Nobody is collecting names." It would be snarky to say that's what Nixon said, too. But the issue is not whether it is the government's intention to collect names. Rather, it's that the correspondence, along with whatever names are attached to it, will be Presidential records that must be kept and could be accessed in the future to your detriment.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Recession empathy: Congress buys itself three luxury jets for $200 million -- the better to keep the little people informed

Exterior and interior of the elite Gulfstream 550 business jet

They cost $65 million apiece, and Congress is buying three of them at a cost of some $200 million of the taxpayers' money in the midst of the worst recession in a generation. The Air Force, which flies government aircraft, put in for one of these luxurious babies, but somewhere in the murky innards of the House Appropriations Committee, that was quietly bumped up to three -- the better to keep many more poobahs of Congress flying off to junkets or just reaching out with a bit of empathy for the little people back home.

Here is some of what the manufacturer, Gulfstream, says about this nifty private airplane:

The Gulfstream G550® large-cabin, ultra-long range business jet turned heads right from the start.


This is a brawny aircraft with an international reach...With its long legs, the G550 easily links Washington, D.C., with Dubai, London with Singapore and Tokyo with Paris.


The cabin aboard the G550 combines productivity with exceptional comfort. It features up to four distinct living areas, three temperature zones, a choice of 12 floor plan configurations with seating for up to 18 passengers. Maintaining contact with the home office is easy thanks to a host of standard communication features: a fax machine, a printer, a wireless local area network and satellite communications. As an option, consider Gulfstream's Broad Band Multi Link, which combines fast Internet-connection speeds with low operating costs.
Ah, what sacrifices have to be made to serve the public!
Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Gallup map: Does it mean the Democrats are still golden?

Click on image to enlarge

Gallup is out with a state-by state-analysis of its polling data on party self-identification from the first half of this year. The map above shows that 29 states plus the District of Columbia are either solidly Democratic or lean Democratic, while only four are solidly Republican with another one leaning. The rest are closely divided.

Gallup's data came from asking adults (not just voters) which party they preferred. Those initially calling themselves independents were then asked to which party they lean, and the proclaimed partisans plus the leaners were added together to put each state in the blue, red or grey categories. The data is based on interviews conducted throughout the six-month period and was weighted to reflect the actual demographics of each state. The details are here.

The map and the data are being interpreted by some on the Internet as proof positive of a sustained leftward lurch of American politics since last fall, an answer to those who are trying to put the brakes on the expansive agenda of the White House and the Democratic Congressional leadership, and a bad sign for the GOP. Surely, there has been a sweeping realignment and Democrats need not worry about the 2010 mid-term elections, right?

Not right. These results — from surveys conducted from January through June — unsurprisingly reflect the state of play in the nation’s politics that produced Obama’s election and big gains for the Dems in Congress. During most of the first half of the year, after all, most people, even McCain voters, were in a mood to give the Dems a shot at governing. Obama was getting 65-70% approvals in most of those months. He was - and is — personally popular. If the map did not look like this, Democrats facing reelection in 2010 would have to be frantically worried. And it's a well-known phenomenon in polling that people climb on board a winning bandwagon.

In any case, the signs of an opening for a GOP comeback began to be evident only recently in Obama’s sagging approval ratings, which started in June and accelerated in July, alongside a steady loss the the Dem’s previously big edge in the “generic” Congressional polls and growing dissatisfaction with Obama’s stewardship of the economy and several of his “signature” programs, conspicuously health care. To be sure, it remains to be seen whether voters will still be dissatisfied come the second half of 2010, but there is every reason for GOPers to feel a lot more positive than they did just a few months ago.

I thought in November -- and I continue to think -- that it was a big mistake or Obama and the Democratic leaders, along with so many journalists, pundits and other folks to buy into the illusion that the 2008 election heralded some sweeping or historic political realignment, a shift to the left, or the beginning of an era of guaranteed Democratic dominance. You'd think that such notions wouldn't have survived if only because the much-vaunted GOP dominance of just a few short years ago evaporated quickly in the face of public distress about the prolonged Iraq war and then anger over the sudden financial mess and the recession.

It should be a cliche but apparently it needs to be repeated again and again that Obama and the Democrats won by capturing the center -- the independents, moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats who are always open to shifting their support. In the fall of 2008, these voters decided to "fire" the Republicans. Obama and company should keep front of mind that if they fail to govern from the center, the electorate may well be in a firing mood again.

It’s also worth remembering that the map is not at all relevant to most of the House races that are likely to be heavily contested in 2010 (really, does anyone think Republicans have no chance in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, etc. because they are colored blue on this map?) and even some Senate races may be influenced more by issues that transcend party or ideology (e.g., see Dodd v. Simmons or whatever happens to the Obama-Burris seat in Illinois).

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.