Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

November 30, 2008

In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.
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The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

By DAVID BARSTOW
The New York Times

Above: Barry R. McCaffrey is among the retired military officers working as network analysts.
Artwork by the New York Times

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus. Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help — “He’s got the heart of a lion” — or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment.

He had made similar arguments before he was hired by Defense Solutions, but this time he went further. In his testimony to Congress, General McCaffrey criticized a Pentagon plan to supply Iraq with several hundred armored vehicles made in the United States by a competitor of Defense Solutions. He called the plan “not in the right ballpark” and urged Congress to instead equip Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles.

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/washin
gton/30general.html?_r=1&hp

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National heritage day honors American Indians

November 28, 2008

For the first time, federal legislation has set aside the day after Thanksgiving — for this year only — to honor the contributions American Indians have made to the United States.

Frank Suniga, a descendent of Mescalero Apache Indians who lives in Oregon, said he and others began pushing in 2001 for a national day that recognizes tribal heritage.

By MARY HUDETZ, Associated Press Writer

Suniga, 79, proposed his idea to a cultural committee that is part of the Portland-based Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. The organization took on the cause of a commemorative day, as did the National Congress of American Indians and other groups.

Congress passed legislation this year designating the day as Native American Heritage Day, and President George W. Bush signed it last month.

The measure notes that more Americans Indians than any other group, per capita, serve in the U.S. military. It also cites tribes’ artistic, musical and agricultural contributions.

“The Indians kept the Pilgrims alive with turkeys and wild game,” Suniga said. “That’s the reason it was attached to the Thanksgiving weekend.”

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081128/ap_on_re_us/american_
indian_day;_ylt=Anwo7bFV6x1AYl8kbiZ7_MSs0NUE

“American Press has Turned Into a Joke” Comparing Obama To FDR, Lincoln

November 19, 2008

“Barack Obama is just like Lincoln,” a youthful and eager fan reported to me.

And I thought: except for the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the preservation of the Union and his record as President of the United States.

Bill Sammon of the Washington Examiner said, “The American press has turned into a joke by comparing Barack Obama to FDR and Abraham Lincoln.  They do him no favor by raising expectations to a level that is not achievable.”

Barack Obama, the first ever black man elected to America’s highest office, should be honored for sure; but we should also put our regard for him in proper perspective and watch how the next four years transpire.

Barack Obama is still, to me, a potential agent of manifest change: and not yet a historically overpowering figure we honor for his many accomplishments.

Oh I agree with others that the election of a Black American is historic and memorable; but while it says a lot about our new President-elect it says more to me about the American people.

The notion that Barack Obama is, in many ways, “Linconesque,” is at least premature and could seem a tad bizarre, especially to historians seeking meaning, accomplishments and proven character.

Obama has not yet managed through his Cuban Missile Crisis, his Vietnam War, his Great Depression or whatever real crises we can anticipate — and even whatever nobody could ever anticipate like George W. Bush’s “Nine Eleven.”

Yet both Lincoln and Obama certainly share Illinois and a place in history.  Lincoln’s place in history is “writ large.”  We do not yet know if Barack Obama is a chapter or two of history; or just a paragraph or two. 

President-elect Barack Obama answers a journalist's question ... 
President-elect Barack Obama answers a journalist’s question during his first press conference following his election victory in Chicago, November 7, 2008.(John Gress/Reuters)

Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. He graduated from  Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review.

Obama is an “indoorsman,” who wrote two books about himself and arguably became addicted to his BlackBerry.

Lincoln was an outdoorsman who grew up in a log cabin in the rough “west” of the United States in his time, including Kentucky and Illinois.

Wikipedia says “Lincoln struck out on his own, canoeing down the Sangamon River to the village of New Salem in Sangamon County. Later that year, hired by New Salem businessman Denton Offutt and accompanied by friends, he took goods from New Salem to New Orleans via flatboat on the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers.”

Lincoln’s formal education consisted of about 18 months of schooling, but he was largely self-educated and an avid reader. He was also a talented local wrestler and skilled with an axe.

Barack Obama is skilled with a computer keyboard, a teleprompter, and as a very eloquent public speaker and, though I myself have been moved by the style of many Obama speeches, the next day I have found something sometimes lacking. Yet like some of Mister Lincoln’s orations and remarks, Mr. Obama’s speeches are filled with “hope” and “change.”

Obama's speech earned him praise from politicians on the left and right. But not everyone was impressed.

Above: Barack Obama before a crowd in Germany. Photo: Getty Images
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Lincoln participated in the most studied and recalled political debates ever held in America.

Barack Obama’s debates with John McCain will be recalled for one thing only: Obama became the elected president.

“I don’t think we need any big media-run productions, no processed questions from reporters, no spin rooms, just two Americans running for the highest office in the greatest nation on earth responding to the concerns of the people who’s trust that we must earn,” John McCain said well before the debates with Barack Obama.

Famously, McCain said he wanted ten “Lincoln-Douglas” style debates with Barack Obama.

The nation ended up with far fewer than ten debates and not one came close to resembling the famed and historic Lincoln-Douglas debates.

But the world is a different place now and our national attention span and will to concentrate is short for good reasons, even though we are multitasking…

Creators Syndicate

Oprah Already Has Dress For Obama's Inauguration
WireImage
Access Hollywood

Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are pretty much comfortable everywhere — from public speaking in Germany to Bill Ayers house and onward to Oprah’s TV show and to Hollywood.

Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd, which many historians believe was at least “on the edge” and probably crazy, were famously uncomfortable in most settings.  Many Hollywood and TV people today say that Lincoln’s looks would probably make him unelectable today.

Lincoln mourned the loss of one of his own children: and he watched in horror as Civil War casualties bled the nation white.  He even took the time to pen a letter to a grieving mother who lost five sons in “Lincoln’s war.”

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s most famous oration, the Gettysburg Address, took just two minutes to deliver.  For more than a century, American school children memorized this magnificent piece of writing and oration, one of the finest speeches ever given in America, some say, and all in less than 280 words.

On the day of that address, Lincoln was not the featured speaker, who droned on for some time.  But nobody without a deep history education can even recall the man who delivered his remarks before Lincoln on Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the cemetery in Gettysburg.


Soldiers National Cemetery, Gettysburg

Lincoln freed the slaves and preserved the Union.  So far, Obama freed the media and the electorate of the feeling and belief that racism kept good men of color from key posts.

Lincoln was unafraid of firing his top generals — and then while U.S. Grant was gaining ground and winning battles and his staff said the man was a drunk, Lincoln issued an order to send Grant a case of his favorite spirits, or so the story is told.


Lincoln in the field during the Civil War

Lincoln had to sneak into Washington DC for his inauguration.  Obama will be greeted by a throng of millions.

Lincoln assembled a cabinet that was a train wreck of disagreement to the point of dysfunction.  Some in the media today say that Obama is emulating Lincoln’s ability to be “inclusive” in his cabinet selections.

But Lincoln did famously “reach out” to all great leaders who could help him including the Catholic Archbishop of New York, “Dagger” John Hughes.

Linoln also gave a seemingly open door to the White House to Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who pushed President Lincoln to create and issue the Emancipation Proclamation — against the advice of many including his top military commanders.


Above: Frederick Douglass, in about 1879.

Above:  Lincoln met with his cabinet on July 22, 1862 for the first reading of a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Barack Obama’s challenges have yet to unfold.

Lincoln’s challenges were manifest.

History has judged Lincoln.  Obama’s first full chapter, now, at least in part, well chronicled by eager contemporary media scribes, is mostly still a way off for historians to evaluate.

John E. Carey
Wakefield Chapel, Virginia
November 19, 2008

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The Topeka Capitol Journal began an article on November 9, 2008 with, “Plans are being made to promote a national holiday for Barack Obama, who will become the nation’s 44th president when he takes the oath of office Jan. 20.”

My Vietnamese American relatives say, “We seem to have the Easter before the Palm….”

Lincoln’s Day, once celebrated on his birthday, is now largely forgotten and squeezed out by the celebration of other great Americans like Martin Luther King.  Frederick Douglass has no day at all. It might be prudent to hold off on the “Barack Obama Day” just a tad….

Related:
Barack Obama Needs To Know: Lincoln’s Dysfuncional Cabinet Was Not Your Mother’s A-Team
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 Frederick Douglass: Turning Points
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“Most Famous” Lincoln Letter of Civil War Found?

Presidential Honeymoon? Will Economy, Congress, Foreign Leaders Give Obama Time?

November 18, 2008

The first month after marriage, when there is nothing but tenderness and pleasure (Samuel Johnson); originally having no reference to the period of a month, but comparing the mutual affection of newly-married persons to the changing moon which is no sooner full than it begins to wane; now, usually, the holiday spent together by a newly-married couple, before settling down at home.”

First of all, who are the parties on the honeymoon? Is it the president and the public, the president and the opposition party, the president and Congress? Is the media supposed to be on the honeymoon? And in what capacity? Are they reporting on the developments of the honeymoon like paparazzi, or are they participants? Is it ethical for journalists to be sweetly “relating” to a politician, or should they stay at arm’s length – so to speak? Are we all on the honeymoon together, and is it voluntary or mandatory? I have been on only one honeymoon – with my wife 24 years ago last week. It was very much voluntary, and I didn’t need to fake my tender love and devotion.

But whether as an opinion journalist or as a member of the opposition party, my attitude towards the president-elect is utterly dissimilar to what I experienced on my real honeymoon. I didn’t chose him, I don’t trust him (if he knows of me he doubtlessly reciprocates such sentiments), and I don’t look forward to a long relationship with him.

By Tony Blankley
The Washington Times

What we all are really doing right now is biding our time. After all, when President-elect Obama hired Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff it was not for the purpose of fluffing the pillows on Mr. Obama’s and our matrimonial bed. To Mr. Emanuel, a pillow is more likely to be used for suffocating an enemy (figuratively, of course) than putting him at ease.

The only part of the metaphor I can relate to is the bit about “comparing the mutual affection of newly-married persons to the changing moon which is no sooner full than it begins to wane.” By my calculation, that means that the honeymoon will be over by December 4th. In fact, already, my positive passions are feeling rather “wane.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary the early references to the political honeymoon metaphor start in 1655 (Fuller): “Kingdoms have their honeymoon, when new Princes are married unto them”; 1795 (Burke) “Spain, in the honey-moon of her new servitude”; and 1867 (Goldwin, Smith) “The brief honeymoon of the new king and his parliament.” In each of those early examples, the circumstances of the honeymoon are mandatory, begrudging and short. I think Burke’s best catches the moment (“the honey-moon of her servitude”).

It is curious how the sexual metaphor – with all its ambiguities – is often used in politics.

For example, British conservative Benjamin Disraeli criticized Prime Minister Robert Peel for reversing his position on free trade in the following passage: “There is no doubt a difference in the right honorable gentleman’s demeanor as leader of the Opposition and as Minister of the Crown. But that’s the old story: you must not contrast too strongly the hours of courtship with the years of possession. I remember him making his protection speeches. They were the best speeches I ever heard. It was a great thing to hear the right honorable gentleman say: ‘I would sooner be the leader of the gentlemen of England than possess the confidence of Sovereigns.’ We don’t hear much of the “gentlemen of England” now.

But what of that? They have the pleasures of memory – the charms of reminiscences. They were his first love, and though he may not kneel to them now as in the hour of passion, still they can recall the past; and nothing is more useless or unwise than these scenes of crimination and reproach, for we know that in all these cases, when the beloved object has ceased to charm, it is in vain to appeal to the feelings.” That’s how I feel about President-elect Obama’s sweet honeymoon words of passionate bipartisanship. I don’t expect the sentiment to last past the first tussle. Even now I feel the cold stare of calculation in his eyes.

Actually, I prefer the metaphor of a president’s first hundred days in office, which derives from the approximately hundred days starting in March 1815 when Napoleon escaped from the Island of Elba and fought his way to Waterloo in Belgium, where The Duke of Wellington defeated him, after which Napoleon was replaced as leader of France by Louis XVIII in July.


Napoléon abdiquant à Fontainebleau (“Napoléon abdicated in Fontainebleau”) by Paul Delaroche, 1845, The Royal Collection, London. Oil-on-canvas.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/
nov/18/the-presidential-honeymoon/

Detroit’s Auto Industry, Failure’s a Done Deal

November 18, 2008

“Nothing,” said a General Motors spokesman last week, “has changed relative to the GM board’s support for the GM management team during this historically difficult economic period for the U.S. auto industry.” Nothing? Not even the evaporation of almost all shareholder value?

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
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GM’s statement comes as the mendicant company is threatening to collapse and make a mess unless Washington, which has already voted $25 billion for GM, Ford and Chrysler, provides up to $50 billion more — the last subsidy until the next one. The statement uses the 11 words after “team” to suggest that the company’s parlous condition has been caused by events since mid-September. That is as ludicrous as the mantra that GM is “too big to fail.” It has failed; the question is what to do about that.

The answer? Do nothing that will delay bankrupt companies from filing for bankruptcy protection….

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/w
p-dyn/content/article/2008/11/17
/AR2008111703101.html?hpid=opi
nionsbox1

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By Martin Feldstein
The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 18, 2008; Page A27

The Big Three U.S. automakers need more than an injection of $25 billion from the federal government. Because of their ongoing losses, they would burn through that money in less than a year and would soon be back for more.

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler can make excellent cars, but they cannot sell them at prices that are competitive with the prices of cars produced in the United States by Toyota and others or with the prices of cars imported from Europe and Asia. The basic reason is the labor costs imposed by union contracts.

The Big Three pay much higher wages than production workers are paid in the nonunion auto firms and in the general economy. And the health-care costs of current workers and retired union members are an enormous additional burden.

The simplest solution is to allow GM and the others to file for bankruptcy. If the companies file under Chapter 11, they would be able to continue producing cars, and the workforce would remain employed while the firms reorganized. The firms would also be able to get short-term credit under bankruptcy protection.

The bankruptcy court could require the unions to rewrite contracts, bringing wages down to levels that would allow the firms to compete and therefore to maintain employment. Scaling back employee and retiree health benefits would further improve price competitiveness and allow better cash wages. The firms’ bondholders and other creditors would have to take losses. Shareholders’ fate would depend on how firms responded to this restructuring.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/w
p-dyn/content/article/2008/11/1
7/AR2008111702917.html?hpid=
opinionsbox1

Obama-Pelosi Stimulus May Fail to Reignite Economy

November 17, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may throw as much as half a trillion dollars worth of stimulus at the economy — and have little or no growth to show for it.

The forces arrayed against recovery, including the credit contraction and cutbacks by consumers, are so powerful that they may overwhelm the record sums of spending and tax cuts being discussed in Washington. The only consolation, economists say, is that without the stimulus, things would be even worse.

By Rich Miller, Bloomberg

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference ...
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill.  Democrats in Congress Monday launched a new multi-billion dollar drive to save the US auto industry, but the White House warned against draining funds from a huge finance industry bailout.(AFP/Getty Images/File/Brendan Smialowski)

“It’s hard for me to imagine we’ll have a return to positive growth before the fourth quarter of 2009, even with a $500 billion stimulus,” says Barry Eichengreen, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He sees the unemployment rate rising to 9.5 percent in early 2010, from 6.5 percent now.

The first dose of fiscal medicine might come within weeks, following the return of Congress today for a lame-duck session, and would focus on stepped-up government spending. The balance, including a tax rebate, would come after Obama assumes the presidency in January.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, Pennsylvania, says the economy may contract 2 percent next year without a package of at least $300 billion. With it, “we could get growth pretty close to zero,” he adds. That would still be the worst result since 1991.

A `Bolder’ Approach

“The breadth and potential depth” of the crisis call for a “bolder” approach, Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling said in congressional testimony Nov. 13. A package costing $300 billion to $400 billion “should be the starting point….

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/bloomberg/20081117/pl_bloomberg/aez
5fruymj4q;_ylt=Ak9FS0yn8CqAZ9eabFQuVA2s0NUE

Gulf War vet health research lacking

November 14, 2008

Even as possibly hundreds of thousands of veterans suffer from a collection of symptoms commonly called Gulf War illness, the government has done too little to find treatments for their health problems nearly two decades after the war ended, a panel commissioned by Congress said.

The advisory panel of medical experts and veterans wants at least $60 million spent annually for research, calling it a “national obligation,” according to its report, obtained by The Associated Press.

By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Writer

The report, which goes to the Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake on Monday, said the Defense Department cut research money from $30 million in 2001 to less than $5 million in 2006. Both departments have identified some of their research as “Gulf War research” even when it did not entirely focus on the issue.

“Substantial federal Gulf War research funding has been used for studies that have little or no relevance to the health of Gulf War veterans,” the panel concluded.

Independent scientists have declared that the symptoms of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War do not constitute a single syndrome. They have pointed to pesticide, used to control insects, and pyridostigmine bromide pills, given to protect troops from nerve agents, as probable culprits for some of the varied symptoms.

Based on earlier studies, the panel estimates that between 175,000 and 210,000 veterans from the war suffer from a pattern of symptoms related to their service. It notes that about one-quarter to one-third of those who served are affected by complex symptoms at rates higher than those in the military who did not deploy. Symptoms include fatigue, memory loss, pain, headaches, and difficulty sleeping.

“Studies indicate that few veterans with Gulf War illness have recovered over time and only a small minority have substantially improved. … Few treatments have been studied and none have been shown to provide significant benefit for a substantial number of ill veterans,” the panel concluded.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081114/ap_on_go_ca_
st_pe/gulf_war_illness;_ylt=AqAfuTZjVxPi2cxYvFvew7as0NUE

WarGulf photobox.jpg
Above: Images from the “Gulf War” Clockwise from top: USAF aircraft flying over burning Kuwaiti oil wells; British troops in Operation Granby; Camera view of a Lockheed AC-130; Highway of Death; M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle 

Auto Maker Bailout “Doubtful”

November 14, 2008

A senior Democratic senator raised doubts on Thursday that an attempt to bail out U.S. automakers had enough support to clear Congress this year. 

As Republicans amplified their concerns about a bailout, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd raised the biggest red flag for fellow Democrats trying to craft a $25 billion rescue and pass it during a post-election session set to start next week.
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By John Crawley and Rachelle Younglai, Reuters 

“Right now, I don’t think there are the votes,” Dodd of Connecticut told reporters about prospects in the Senate. “I want to be careful of bringing up a proposition that might fail,” he said.

Although Dodd said “we ought to do something” and personally backed using money from the ongoing $700 billion financial services rescue program to help Detroit, he was skeptical that enough Republicans would support a bailout.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, also cautioned that success of a bailout rests with Senate Republicans and the White House. With their slim majority, Democrats cannot force a measure through the Senate or trump a White House veto.

The White House opposes the approach being taken by congressional Democrats but has not threatened to block any bailout. Bush administration officials have said they would consider other steps Congress can take to help General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler LLC.

Dodd said there have been “legitimate issues raised” about how to help.

Read the rest:
http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idINN1339
368420081114?rpc=44

Chances Dwindle on Bailout Plan for Automakers

November 14, 2008

The prospects of a government rescue for the foundering American automakers dwindled Thursday as Democratic Congressional leaders conceded that they would face potentially insurmountable Republican opposition during a lame-duck session next week.

By David M. Herszenhorn  
The New York Times
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At the same time, hope among many Democrats on Capitol Hill for an aggressive economic stimulus measure all but evaporated. Democratic leaders have been calling for a package that would include help for the auto companies as well as new spending on public works projects, an extension of jobless benefits, increased food stamps and aid to states for rising Medicaid expenses.

But while Democrats said the stimulus measure would wait until President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January, some industry experts fear that one of the Big Three automakers will collapse before then, with potentially devastating consequences.

Despite hardening opposition at the White House and among Republicans on Capitol Hill, the Democrats said they would press ahead with efforts to provide $25 billion in emergency aid for the automakers. But they said the bill would need to be approved first in the Senate, which some Democrats said was highly unlikely.

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/business/
14auto.html?_r=1&hp=&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&a
dxnnlx=1226649694-VV22vNLQxrIE1qxIf8tqEQ

A Lemon of a Bailout

November 14, 2008

When you get gemons, “make lemonaide” the saying goes.  But when spending taxpayer billions for a fiscal and economic recovery plan or “bailout” that almost nobody likes, a lemon can get in the way….

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, November 14, 2008; Page A19

Finally, the outlines of a coherent debate on the federal bailout. This comes as welcome relief from a campaign season that gave us the House Republicans’ know-nothing rejectionism, John McCain‘s mindless railing against “greed and corruption,” and Barack Obama‘s detached enunciation of vacuous bailout “principles” that allowed him to be all things to all people.

Now clarity is emerging. The fault line is the auto industry bailout. The Democrats are pushing hard for it. The White House is resisting.

Underlying the policy differences is a philosophical divide. The Bush administration sees the $700 billion rescue as an emergency measure to save the financial sector on the grounds that finance is a utility. No government would let the electric companies go under and leave the country without power. By the same token, government must save the financial sector lest credit dry up and strangle the rest of the economy.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is willing to stretch the meaning of “bank” by extending protection to such entities as American Express. But fundamentally, he sees government as saving institutions that deal in money, not other stuff.

Democrats have a larger canvas, with government intervening in other sectors of the economy to prevent the cascade effect of mass unemployment leading to more mortgage defaults and business failures (as consumer spending plummets), in turn dragging down more businesses and financial institutions, producing more unemployment, etc. — the death spiral of the 1930s.

Read the rest:
 http://www.washingtonpost.com/w
p-dyn/content/article/2008/11/13
/AR2008111303348.html?hpid=opinionsbox1