Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

International
  • Sky News is reporting the outbreak of violence in Aleppo between police and demonstrators.
  • The U.N.-sponsored tribunal for the assassination of Rafik Hariri has handed down four indictments, including two for suspected members of Hezbollah.
  • Oil prices are back up to pre-release levels.

Domestic
  • Mark Halperin more aptly described himself than the President today -- and earned himself a suspension from MSNBC for his troubles. This Editor asks, when will TIME do the right thing?
  • The FEC ruled in Stephen Colbert's favor. Colbert immediately filed papers for the formation of a so-called super PAC.
  • The Senate confirmed General David Petraeus 94-0 as the new Director of Central Intelligence.
  • The Justice Department has announced that it will investigate the deaths of two detainees held by the contractors employed by the CIA.
  • New York moves to lift its fracking ban while New Jersey moves to ban the practice.
  • And Eric Cantor, who walked out of debt ceiling talks last week, stands to make a profit if the talks fail. So, Cantor has a conflict of interest and he is betting against America. Oh, but he's serious about the debt.

The Short List - June 30, 2011

International
Domestic
  • President Obama struck a "combative" tone at a press conference yesterday.  It's a slow domestic news days apparently when the top story is the president's tone.

  • Michelle Bachmann was apparently not was Tom Petty had in mind when he wrote "American Girl" and has requested the candidate to stop using the song.  I'm just going to come out and say it, Republicans could avoid some legal wrangling if they just stuck to Toby Keith songs.  And a tagline suggestion for the DNC: Republicans - Lame policies, Lamer music.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

International
  • France admits to providing 40 tons of arms and ammunition to Libya rebels operating in the mountains of western Libya in June. Notably, rebels operating in that area of the country have made the most gains against Qaddafi's regime of late. This Editor applauds the French in this reportedly unilateral action.
  • Greece backed the first of two austerity packages causing U.S. and European markets to improve.
  • North and South Sudan have agreed in principle to buffer zones to be filled with Ethiopian observers.

Domestic

The Short List - June 29, 2011

International
Domestic
  • Top Democrats have rejected a proposal that would cut $600 billion in Medicare spending by raising the eligibility age and assess higher premiums on wealthier seniors.

  • Banks of America has settled with 22 groups of investors to the tune of $8.5 billion to avoid litigation related to mortgage backed securities.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fact Check: Nancy Youssef

What’s with Nancy Youssef’s overly pessimisticreport about the Libyan intervention on NPR’s On Point today? During her appearance, wherein she was nominally supposed to update listeners on the status of the Libyan intervention 100 days on:

Youssef: The rebels are trying to hold on to the ground they’ve gained. Interestingly they have less ground than they did a hundred days ago . . . .

Gjelten: The rebels have less ground, they’re actually losing ground? I thought the rebels have been making a little bit of progrees.

Youssef: They have. But if you look at how much land they hand—especially in the east—from, compared to where they were when this began. Remember, they had all the way to Bin Jawad when this began and now they’re not able to take Brega which is about a 100 kilometers east of Bin Jawad . . . .

After challenging her once, Gjelten allows this assertion to go. But Ms. Youssef is flatly mistaken. The Libyan rebels had pushed to Bin Jawad on March 6, 2011—some two weeks before the Libyan intervention began. The rebels were quickly pushed out of Bin Jawad and by March 7, Qaddafi’s forces had reestablished control over Bin Jawad. At that point, Qaddafi’s counteroffensive against the rebels was in full swing and, between then and March 19, 2011, his forces moved east all the way to Benghazi, where Qaddafi’stanks were stopped in their tracks by NATO airstrikes. Subsequent NATO air support for the rebels have allowed Libya’s rebels to push Qaddafi’s forces back to Brega and fight Qaddafi to a stalemate in the east while—as Youssef admits—gaining ground in the west. Notably, rebels did advance all the way back toBin Jawad on March 27—some 8 days after the intervention began—but were pushed back to Brega.

Despite Ms. Youssef’s flawed report, it is clear, as this blog has repeatedly noted, that the Libyan rebels are making slow and steady progress to liberate their country.

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

International
  • Attackers stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul today--the hotel is popular with international visitors. Afghan security forces are fighting to retake the hotel; suicide bombers are believed to be among the attackers. At first blush, the attack reminds this Editor of the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.
  • Expectedly and disappointingly, Lagarde it is. She begins by urging the Greek conservatives to accept the Socialists' austerity plan. The Christian Science Monitor explains the global reach of Greek debt default.
  • Libyan rebels continue to make slow but steady progress.
  • The Dutch moved a step closer to banning the ritual slaughter of animals required for production of Kosher and Halal meats. This move will assuredly be challenged before the European Court of Human Rights -- this, unlike the Burqa ban and the prohibition of crucifixes in Italian schools, will likely be overturned.

Domestic
  • Harold Koh, State Department Legal Adviser, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today on the Obama administration's view of the U.S. role within NATO's intervention in Libya vis-a-vis the War Powers Act. Robert Chesney summarizes it.
  • Jon Stewart does a good job of explaining Fox's success (and, to some extent, the conservative mindset).
  • Michele Bachmann wants to lower the minimum wage. No, I'm not kidding.


The Short List - June 28, 2011

International
Domestic
  • President Obama has entered the budget talk fray, trying to bridge the divide.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the Biden led group got to $1 trillion in cuts, but when Democrats suggested $400 billion in tax increases, Republicans walked out.  Good faith negotiation between serious people indeed.

  • On the heels of the passage of gay marriage rights bill in New York, Maryland's governor is being urged to pursue a similar initiative in his state.

  • The Supreme Court granted video games the same free speech protections that movies and books enjoy in a ruling yesterday that struck down a California law that fined retailers who sold violent video games to kids.  However, the 7 to 2 decision featured several different and divergent opinions from the bench.

  • Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was convicted on 17 of 20 counts(NYT) related to his attempted "sale" of then President-elect Obama's Senate seat.  Blago becomes the second consecutive former Illinois governor to be convicted of a felony.  **Editorial Note: He also made this editor angry by refusing to live in the Governor's mansion in Springfield and instead remaining in Chicago.  Chicago ain't the capitol of the state folks, regardless of what those north-siders tell you.**

Friday, June 24, 2011

To Spite Their Face

House Republicans are expected to vote (again) today to strip funding from U.S. involvement in the NATO Libyan intervention. This time, the vote will be to strip funding for offensive operations while leaving in place funding for the support operations that primarily characterize U.S. involvement in Libya.

The Libyan intervention has devolved into a purely political issue with little reference to the underlying policy problems. Although this result has been the decided work of Republican politicians—who, even at the outset, were for it before they were against it—the Obama administration’s abject mishandling of the War Powers issue has contributed greatly. No matter, the determination of House Republicans to embarrass, rebuke, or otherwise cow President Obama over Libya leads this Editor to question whether they are cutting off their nose to spite their face.

The drive for such political gains seems completely divorced from the question of what happens if Qaddafi remains—arguably the only question that with which policymakers should be concerned.

It seems clear that summarily abandoning Libya and its rebels would leave Qaddafi in power. He is of course significantly weaker than he was in mid-March but he is not yet beaten, and the rebels are not yet strong enough to oust him on their own. It seems equally clear, then, that the Libyan rebellion would be crush—and likely in a fashion significantly more brutal than what is occurring in Syria today. The humanitarian costs would be galling. Moreover, if allowed to remain in power, Qaddafi is likely to allow Libya to be used by various non-state actors with a grudge against the United States or the West—just as he did during the 1980s.

Of course, neither Qaddafi nor Libya itself will present a traditional state power threat to the United States or the West. But, as we have seen over the last twenty years or more, the threat posed by non-state actors allowed to operate with impunity in ungoverned (or permissively governed) spaces is as significant as it is difficult to address. It is flatly incoherent to advocate for heavier direct U.S. involvement in Pakistan to address the multifarious armed groups operating there on the one hand and then to argue for the abandonment of Libya on the other. To do so would be to simply create more opportunities for non-state actors to arm, train, prepare, and launch attacks.

The Short List - June 24, 2011

International
  • The House will vote today to strip funding for offensive military action that might be used in Libya, as many House members feel slighted by the White House.  Speaker Boehner said the following, "We are engaged. I believe that NATO is an important organization, and as we’re there, I don’t want to do anything that would undermine NATO or to send a signal to our allies around the world that we are not going to be engaged.  This is primarily a fight between the Congress and the president over his unwillingness to consult with us before making a decision," which is to say this is a political stunt.

  • The U.S. has placed new sanctions on Iran, targeting Iran Air, because U.S. official believe Iran Air runs weapons for Syria and high-tech missile components to Iran.

  • Secretary Clinton is concerned what it would be more regionally stability as Syrian troops encircle a border town just 500 meters from Turkey.  As much as Turkey has been tilting eastward recently, it will be interesting to see how they respond to this situation.

  • The EU and IMF have pledged a new bailout package for Greece, but continue to insist on austerity measures that have triggered demonstrations in Athens.
Domestic
  • As reported here yesterday, Republicans have abandoned deficit reduction talks because Democrats have brought up raising some taxes as a way to close the budget deficit.  Oh, but don't worry, if Democrats take tax increases off the table, the Republicans will come back.  Serious about the deficit?  I am skeptical.

  • The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that generic drug manufacturers do not have to disclose warnings and are not exposed to law suits, even though brand name manufacturers are.  Yes, it sounds convoluted.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

International

Domestic
  • Debt negotiations between the White House and House Republicans are reportedly on the verge of collapse after Eric Cantor walked out today. In a statement after quitting the talks, however, Cantor claimed to be optimistic.
  • The United States announced today it will release 30 million barrels of light sweet crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve along with 30 million barrels to be released by foreign strategic reserves. The release of 60 million barrels--a comparative pittance--drove the inflated price of crude to its lowest level in at least four months. Republicans are accusing the President of releasing oil for political gain -- notably, the President did not release the oil amid the fanfare one would expect if it were being done solely for political gain. U.S. News speculates that the oil release will provide a temporary boost to the economy--let us hope so.

The Short List - June 23, 2011

International
  • President Obama outlined a plan to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer.  He decision would appear to be a compromise between generals who wanted more time and some in his own party that wanted a precipitous withdrawal.  The decision could also change the tactics America uses in this fight, potentially drawing us into less COIN in the south and more of a shooting war in the east of Afghanistan.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban have dismissed the the drawdown as merely a "symbolic step," while Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomes the move claiming the Afghan people "trust in the Afghan army," but Al Jazeera reporters on the ground in Kabul say many Afghans feel America is abandoning them and that it is only a matter of time before the Taliban return.  Meanwhile the U.S.'s Western European allies have welcomed the decision.

  • Syrian military forces amassed outside refugee camps along the Syria-Turkey border prompting thousands to flee into Turkey.

  • Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist was released on bail Wednesday after being held by the government since early April.

  • Indonesia has banned workers there from going to Saudi Arabia to work after an Indonesian maid was beheaded by Saudi authorities for allegedly murdering her employer.  There are currently approximately 1.2 million Indonesians working in Saudi Arabia right now and Indonesia says the ban won't be lifted until they and Saudi Arabia can work out an agreement to give migrant workers proper rights.

  • The U.S. continues to push for a speedy transition of government in Yemen.
Domestic

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Short List - June 22, 2011

International
  • President Obama will address the nation at 8pm tonight to lay out his plan for Afghanistan.  It is being widely reported that Obama will listen to several generals that have asked for more time in the country.
  • Syria's foreign minister told journalists that the EU is seeking to "plant strife" in that country following the government's brutal crackdown on protesters.  While the foreign minister was softer in his language toward Turkey, it is clear relations between the neighbors are strained.
  • At least 40 Al Qaeda militants have escaped from a prison in south Yemen.
  • Sudan's President al-Bashir has threatened to block the oil pipelines that run up from what will soon be South Sudan if a deal on oil revenue is not reached by the time July 9th, when South Sudan becomes an independent country.
  • Bahrain has sentenced 8 protesters to life sentences following the anti-government demonstrations that happened in that country earlier this year.
  • Violence has returned to Nothern Ireland over the last few nights.  The police believe the Ulster Volunteer Force sparked violence, and a cascade effect has begun.
Domestic
Let's all just bask in the bipartisanship that got Leon Panetta confirmed 100-0.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

International

Domestic
  • Jon Huntsman made it official today: he's running for President of the United States. Newt Gingrich suffered yet another setback as two key members of his finance committee quit.

  • The Senate has unanimously confirmed Leon Panetta as Bob Gate's replacement at Defense.


The Short List - June 21, 2011

International
  • President Obama will announce his plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, in what many believe is the first step in unwinding wide-scale U.S. involvement in the country.

  • Syria's President Assad has reportedly granted a general amnesty for crimes committed up until yesterday. This is the second such amnesty since unrest started in that country and is seen as another way to quell the protests.

  • Violence continues in Sudan, as the government seeks to eradicate all rebel groups(NYT) in the central part of the country.  South Sudan's independence day is just a couple weeks away, but the specter of violence looms large.

  • The IMF has said that the lack of consensus between EU finance ministers and the ECB "threatens of overwhelm" the euro zone economies.  Matt Steinglass, writing for The Economist, considers what the euro crisis means through an American lens.
Domestic
  • Budget negotiations in Congress are intensifying, though after reading the article I don't think they are really any closer to a deal.  Also, many freshmen Republican House members don't think raising the debt ceiling is important.  Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has floated the idea of a stand alone, short-term debt ceiling increase if a grand bargain can't be reached.

  • The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of Wal-mart in what was on of the largest sexual discrimination lawsuits in history.  The court ruled that the plantiffs had not demonstrated a unified policy of discrimination.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

International
  • Former President of Tunisia Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was sentenced to 35 years in absentia today. Several weeks ago, The Economist ran an article discussing the effects of the now-limited countries of refuge for former dictators. 

  • Yemen struggles to retake Zinjibar as protests continued in Sana'a.

  • And Robert Chesney now accepts that the War Powers Act applies to the Libyan Intervention.


Domestic
  • Anthony Weiner formally submitted his resignation to the House of Representatives.

  • McKinsey was forced to back away from its claims that the Affordable Care Act would cause employers to drop insurance coverage today, conceding that the study was "not predictive."

  • And America's descent into Whig Liberalism (as opposed to Civic Republicanism) is complete.