Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mid-Week Commentary Digest

Quick Selection of Condensed Commentaries- 

Click on headings for complete articles......


ESCAPING THE UNION

CHARTER SCHOOLS' FIGHT FOR LIFE

Ryan Sager
TEACHERS at two of the most successful charter schools in New York City made a simple request of state officials last week: Free us from the United Federation of Teachers.  Basically, charters represent accountability -- for teachers and for schools. Most charters, especially those belonging to the nationwide KIPP network, have succeeded based on a strong collaboration between teachers and administrators. Teachers agree to work hard, be held accountable and to work knowing that if they don't perform they can be let go.
The KIPP model is intense, with an extended school day, Saturday classes and a rigorous focus on advising and guiding kids all the way to college. But the teachers there are tremendously dedicated, and their schools outperform traditional public schools to an often-stunning degree. And, not for nothing, KIPP teachers generally earn at least $10,000 a year more than their counterparts at traditional public schools.
The UFT has now made it clear that it intends to fight decertification at these schools -- even if it means insulting the integrity of KIPP teachers and pushing changes that would destroy their schools.
Meanwhile, the UFT argues that the KIPP Academy is a conversion charter school, and thus not allowed to decertify -- a position that's not supported by the law and that brings into play the possibility of KIPP teachers being forcedto work under the regular UFT contract. Which would destroy everything that makes their school work.
Funny how the UFT is always so concerned with teachers' voices being heard until they're saying: "Let us out!"

TEACHERS HOLD $WAY

CHUCK BENNETT

These puppet masters' strings are spun from gold.
The United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers unions funneled more than $9 million into their political arms over the past three years, records show. And those arms are jabbing and hooking these days, as the unions fight Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to retain control over city schools.  The state law granting mayoral control expires June 30, and both sides of the issue are lobbying lawmakers aggressively.  The unions' biggest expense in the fight may be a media blitz over the next eight weeks.
The ads are to be paid for directly by the unions or through their political offshoots: Voices of Teachers for Education (VOTE) and the Committee on Political Education (COPE).  VOTE and COPE are so wealthy because individual members of the UFT and its statewide sister union, NYSUT, can elect to automatically donate anywhere from 50 cents to $10 for political purposes out of their biweekly paycheck.  That spare change totaled $9,426,300 from 2006 to the beginning of this year, campaign finance records show.
About one-fifth of the UFT, roughly 52,000 active members, donate a few bucks each paycheck to the political fund. Plus, 12,687 retirees regularly donate from their pension checks, according to the UFT.  The state union is even larger and has about 25 percent of its membership kicking in money.
"One-hundred-fifty-thousand members giving up to $10 out of their paychecks speaks louder to lawmakers than a corporation writing one big check," said Carl Korn, spokesman for the 600,000-member NYSUT.

As the U.S. Retreats, Iran Fills the Void

 AMIR TAHERI

Convinced that the Obama administration is preparing to retreat from the Middle East, Iran's Khomeinist regime is intensifying its goal of regional domination. It has targeted six close allies of the U.S.: Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrain, Morocco, Kuwait and Jordan, all of which are experiencing economic and/or political crises.  Iranian strategists believe that Egypt is heading for a major crisis once President Hosni Mubarak, 81, departs from the political scene. He has failed to impose his eldest son Gamal as successor, while the military-security establishment, which traditionally chooses the president, is divided. Iran's official Islamic News Agency has been conducting a campaign on that theme for months. This has triggered a counter-campaign against Iran by the Egyptian media.
Last month, Egypt announced it had crushed a major Iranian plot and arrested 68 people. According to Egyptian media, four are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Tehran's principal vehicle for exporting its revolution.
Arab states are especially concerned because Tehran has succeeded in transcending sectarian and ideological divides to create a coalition that includes Sunni movements such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, sections of the Muslim Brotherhood, and even Marxist-Leninist and other leftist outfits that share Iran's anti-Americanism.
Information published by Egyptian and other Arab intelligence services, and reported in the Egyptian and other Arab media, reveal a sophisticated Iranian strategy operating at various levels. The outer circle consists of a number of commercial companies, banks and businesses active in various fields and employing thousands of locals in each targeted country. In Egypt, for example, police have uncovered more than 30 such Iranian "front" companies, according to the pan-Arab daily newspaper Asharq Alawsat. In Syria and Lebanon, the numbers reportedly run into hundreds.
Tehran plays a patient game. Wherever possible, it is determined to pursue its goals through open political means, including elections. With pro-American and other democratic groups disheartened by the perceived weakness of the Obama administration, Tehran hopes its allies will win all the elections planned for this year in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
"There is this perception that the new U.S. administration is not interested in the democratization strategy," a senior Lebanese political leader told me. That perception only grows as President Obama calls for an "exit strategy" from Afghanistan and Iraq. Power abhors a vacuum, which the Islamic Republic of Iran is only too happy to fill.

The Next Housing Bust

Everyone knows how loose mortgage underwriting led to the go-go days of multitrillion-dollar subprime lending. What isn't well known is that a parallel subprime market has emerged over the past year -- all made possible by the Federal Housing Administration. This also won't end happily for taxpayers or the housing market.
Last year banks issued $180 billion of new mortgages insured by the FHA, which means they carry a 100% taxpayer guarantee. Many of these have the same characteristics as subprime loans: low downpayment requirements, high-risk borrowers, and in many cases shady mortgage originators. FHA now insures nearly one of every three new mortgages, up from 2% in 2006.
The financial results so far are not as dire as those created by the subprime frenzy of 2004-2007, but taxpayer losses are mounting on its $562 billion portfolio. According to Mortgage Bankers Association data, more than one in eight FHA loans is now delinquent -- nearly triple the rate on conventional, nonsubprime loan portfolios. Another 7.5% of recent FHA loans are in "serious delinquency," which means at least three months overdue.
The FHA is almost certainly going to need a taxpayer bailout in the months ahead. The only debate is how much it will cost. By law FHA must carry a 2% reserve (or a 50 to 1 leverage rate), and it is now 3% and falling. Some experts see bailout costs from $50 billion to $100 billion or more, depending on how long the recession lasts.
In a rational world, Congress and the White House would tighten FHA underwriting standards, in particular by eliminating the 100% guarantee. That guarantee means banks and mortgage lenders have no skin in the game; lenders collect the 2% to 3% origination fees on as many FHA loans as they can push out the door regardless of whether the borrower has a likelihood of repaying the mortgage. The Washington Post reported in March a near-tripling in the past year in the number of loans in which a borrower failed to make more than a single payment. One Florida bank, Great Country Mortgage of Coral Gables, had a 64% default rate on its FHA properties.
The Veterans Affairs housing program has a default rate about half that of FHA loans, mainly because the VA provides only a 50% maximum guarantee. If banks won't take half the risk of nonpayment, this is a market test that the loan shouldn't be made.
A major lesson of Fan and Fred and the subprime fiasco is that no one benefits when we push families into homes they can't afford. Yet that's what Congress is doing once again as it relentlessly expands FHA lending with minimal oversight or taxpayer safeguards.
Beware of Mandatory Arbitration in Card Check
By Michael Barone
The labor unions' drive for the full card check bill seems to have foundered. Specter enters a Democratic caucus where a half-dozen or more senators have made it clear, publicly or privately, that they will not vote for card check.

His statement gives cover to a Democratic leadership that wants to propitiate its labor union funders but does not want to put so many of its members on the spot. A vote to effectively abolish the secret ballot is not easy to defend come election time.


But the unions may have a fallback position: Forget about the secret ballot, and try to pass a bill with mandatory federal arbitration. This might be easier to defend. Every American knows what the secret ballot is; few Americans know what mandatory arbitration means.

Mandatory arbitration would be a major, massive change in American labor law. Currently, unions are free to strike, but employers are free to resist their demands as long as they want. The card check bill would require, after only 120 days of bargaining, a federal arbitrator to step in and impose a settlement. A centralized bureaucrat, not responsible to shareholders (or to union leaders), would determine wages, fringe benefits and working conditions. There would evidently be no appeal
. The card check bill's mandatory arbitration provisions are a recipe for doing to very large parts of the private sector what the UAW did to GM, Ford and Chrysler. Imposing this burden on our economy would be folly of the first order. Here's hoping that Arlen Specter keeps his word this time, and that his new colleagues think hard before they inflict such long-term damage on our country.

Firms Face New Tax Curbs

 JOHN D. MCKINNON and JESSE DRUCKER

The Obama administration will roll out details Monday of what aides are calling a far-reaching crackdown on offshore tax avoidance, targeting many U.S.-based multinational corporations and wealthy individuals.
President Barack Obama will flesh out a proposal included in his February budget blueprint seeking to curb the practice of parking foreign earnings in offshore tax havens indefinitely. By some estimates, $700 billion or more in U.S. corporate earnings have accumulated in overseas accounts in recent years.  A senior Republican aide termed the proposals a "revenue grab," predicting they could end up driving more corporate operations overseas. Some or all of the changes could become fodder for broader tax reform next year.  "If rules are changed on tax deferral and we are taxed in the U.S. on non-U.S. profit, this significant additional U.S. tax cost would adversely impact our ability to invest and grow our business in the U.S....and to compete against our foreign competitors who are not subject to this U.S. tax," said John Earnhardt, a Cisco Systems Inc. spokesman.
The current U.S. rules for corporations carry enormous benefits for companies. Unlike most deferred taxes, those stemming from foreign earnings don't cut into a company's bottom line as long as they are considered "permanently reinvested" overseas.
The result can have a huge impact on a company's bottom line. The pharmaceutical and technology industries are particular beneficiaries.

Obama: Wall Street will play less dominant role

Wall Street is not going to play as dominant a role in the economy as regulations reduce "some of the massive leveraging and the massive risk-taking that had become so common," PresidentBarack Obama says.
The changes in the role of Wall Street and the huge profits that came from that risk-taking could mean other adjustments as well, Obama said in an interview in this week's New York Times Magazine.
"That means that more talent, more resources will be going to other sectors of the economy," he said. "I actually think that's healthy. We don't want every single college grad with mathematical aptitude to become a derivatives trader. We want some of them to go into engineering, and we want some of them to be going into computer design."

Jeb Bush, GOP: Time to leave Reagan behind

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it's time for the Republican Party to give up its "nostalgia" for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election.  The Florida governor joined former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor on Saturday at a small pizza parlor in Arlington for the inaugural event of the National Council for a New America (NCNA).
The NCNA - with a "national panel of experts" made up of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Mr. Bush and Mr. Romney - says the goal of the listening tour is not to recast the party.

CHRYSLER CUT-UP'S CONTRACT KILLERS

'I'm saying that when the president does it that means it's not illegal," shouts Frank Langella's Richard Nixon at Michael Sheen's David Frost in "Frost/ Nixon."
He was wrong, and so was President Obama when he said last week that he'd override the contractual and legal rights ofChrysler's senior lenders and carve up the company between the government and the United Auto Workers.
Typically, lenders who make money available to a company in return for a first claim on the company's as-
O's deal will make investors sit on their assets.
sets get about 80 cents back for every dollar they lend should it hit the rocks. Others to whom the company owes money, but who have no claim on the assets -- workers, suppliers, junior lenders -- get much less.
Yet Obama forced the senior lenders to take something like 30 cents for every dollar they'd lent Chrysler. Many lenders -- the big banks who'd taken federal bailout money -- rolled over. But some hedge-fund managers pointed out that they have a legal, fiduciary responsibility to do the best they can for their investors (which include pension funds) and decided to take their chances with a bankruptcy judge.
Never mind that this is their long-established legal right. Obama is furious with these "speculators," and hinted that he knows where they live and will get even when the new financial-industry regulations are drafted.
Obama is pressuring the some 20 "speculators" who are holding out to accept the crumbs that he's offering. But there is more here at stake than the money immediately involved. As George Schultze, managing member of Schultze Asset Management, a hedge fund, told The Wall Street Journal, "This is about contract and bankruptcy law, and upholding agreements -- which is important in the grand scheme of things."
It certainly is. For one thing, the president is counting on some of these "speculators" to partner with the Treasury and take a big stake in the toxic assets that are preventing the big banks from resuming normal lending. Unprotected by a rule of law, these investors will sit on their assets, rather than partner with a government that might some day decide, after the fact, that they made too much money, or should bear a larger portion of any losses than they had signed on to do.
More broadly, if lenders know that any deals they strike can be overturned by a president who, like Langella/Nixon, can do things that are otherwise illegal because he decides "they are in the interest of the nation," they'll raise the price they charge for their money -- and not only when lending to the government.

White House to seek input on education law

 Education Secretary Arne Duncan is a man on a mission: to hear what teachers, students and parents in at least 15 states think about No Child Left Behind, the controversial education law championed by former President George W. Bush. Duncan is visiting schools in West Virginia Tuesday, the first stop in the first steps toward reviewing and reforming the program.  President Barack Obama has pledged to overhaul the law, but he has been vague about how far he would go, or whether he would scrap it altogether.
"I don't know if `scrap' is the word," Duncan told reporters last week. "Where things make sense, we're going to keep them. Where things didn't make sense, we're going to change them."
Critics also say the law is too punitive: More than a third of schools failed to meet yearly progress goals last year, according to the Education Week newspaper.
That means millions of children are a long way from reaching the law's ambitious goals. The law pushes schools to improve test scores each year, so that every student can read and do math on grade level by the year 2014.
"What No Child Left Behind did is, they were absolutely loose on the goals," Duncan told the Education Writers Association, meeting in Washington. "But they were very tight, very prescriptive on how you get there.
"I think that was fundamentally backwards," he said.
Duncan said the federal government should be "tight" on the goals, insisting on more rigorous academic standards that are uniform across the states. And he said it should be "much looser" in terms of how states meet the goals.
The education community is watching closely to see just what Duncan means by "tight" and "loose." So far, the administration has offered few clues.
But Duncan has left no doubt that he wants to change the name of the law, which is deeply unpopular, according to public opinion surveys.
"I do think the name `No Child Left Behind' is absolutely toxic; I think we have to start over," Duncan said. He has said he would like to hold a contest for school kids to come up with a new name.
Since the law's passage, students have made modest gains, at least in elementary and middle school, the grades that are the focus of No Child Left Behind. The biggest gains have come among lower-achieving students, the kids who now are getting unprecedented attention.
The story is different in high school, where progress seems stalled and where the dropout rate, a dismal one in four children, has not budged.

School Choice for the Few

The new do-as-I-say double standard.

WILLIAM MCGURN

Some hypocrisies are apparently more equal than others. If, for example, you are a politician who preaches "traditional values" and you get caught in a hotel with a woman who is not your wife, the press is going to have a field day with your tartuffery.
If, however, you are a pol who piously tells inner-city families that public schools are the answer -- and you do this while safely ensconcing your own kids in some private haven -- the press corps mostly winks.  Tomorrow afternoon at 1 o'clock in Washington, we'll learn if anything has changed. Two groups -- D.C. Children First and D.C. Parents for School Choice -- are holding a rally at Freedom Plaza, just across from the offices of the city government. As their flier explains, "D.C. families deserve the same kind of choices that the Mayor, City Council Members, and Federal leaders with children have."
Two weeks ago, the Heritage Foundation highlighted this double standard with the release of a new study showing that 38% of the members of Congress are sending or have sent their children to private schools.  That's more than three times the rate for rest of America. For Democrats especially, their choice of a private school for their own families tends to make them opponents of choice for others. The bargain the teachers unions offer is this: We won't fuss about private or parochial schools for your children, provided you don't help any other kid get the same chance.
For the most part they fall in line. And so we have today's Washington, a city where none of the major players making decisions about the D.C. public schools have any skin in the game:
- President Barack Obama. Though the president talks a good game about putting kids first, and could save the Opportunity Scholarships Program with a few words, he remains silent -- even as his daughters attend the exclusive Sidwell Friends School.
There's only one institution capable of holding these leaders' feet to the fire: the national press corp. Parents and their children will be rallying just a few blocks from the White House. What are the odds that our networks and newspapers will think it is worth covering?

Arne Duncan's Choice

'What works' for some kids, but not for others.

Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program for low-income kids isn't dead yet. But the Obama Administration seems awfully eager to expedite its demise.
About 1,700 kids currently receive $7,500 vouchers to attend private schools under the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and 99% of them are black or Hispanic. The program is a huge hit with parents -- there are four applicants for every available scholarship -- and the latest Department of Education evaluation showed significant academic gains.
Nevertheless, Congress voted in March to phase out the program after the 2009-10 school year unless it is reauthorized by Congress and the D.C. City Council. The Senate is scheduled to hold hearings on the program this month, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised proponents floor time to make their case. So why is Education Secretary Arne Duncan proceeding as if the program's demise is a fait accompli?
Mr. Duncan is not only preventing new scholarships from being awarded but also rescinding scholarship offers that were made to children admitted for next year. In effect, he wants to end a successful program before Congress has an opportunity to consider reauthorizing it. This is not what you'd expect from an education reformer, and several Democrats in Congress have written him to protest. 
The Education Department released its annual evaluation of the D.C. program last month -- tellingly, without a press release or media briefing -- and it showed that voucher recipients are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who didn't receive a scholarship. These academic benefits are compounding over time. The study revealed that the program's earliest participants are 19 months ahead of public school peers in reading after three years. Nationwide, black 12th graders as a group score lower on reading tests than white 8th graders. The D.C. voucher program is closing this achievement gap.
See if you can follow this political syllogism. President Obama and his Education Secretary have repeatedly promised to support "what works," regardless of ideology. The teachers unions adamantly oppose school vouchers, whether or not they work. Ergo, Messrs. Obama and Duncan decide to end a D.C. school voucher program that works and force poor kids back into schools where Messrs. Obama and Duncan would never send their own children. What a disgrace.

Obama Rebuffed on Funds to Close Guantanamo

By GREG HITT

Top House Democrats raised tensions with the White House on a key foreign policy goal, rebuffing a request for funding to begin closing the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
President Barack Obama has sought $80 million to begin the process of closing the controversial detention facility, as part of broader legislation needed to continue funding for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unveiling the House version of war spending bill, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D., Wisc.) didn't include the funds, complaining that the administration has not yet developed a clear plan to wind down operations at Guantanamo and relocate the detainees, either abroad or in the U.S.
"When they have a plan, they're welcome to come back and talk to us," Mr. Obey said.

President's Tax Proposal Riles Business

By JOHN D. MCKINNON

Mr. Obama, speaking in the White House grand foyer Monday, vowed to push forward with his plan, which would curb some of the biggest overseas tax advantages enjoyed by multinationals. He said it was a way to restore fundamental fairness while also encouraging more U.S.-based jobs.  The White House plan has three main elements affecting businesses. It would curb corporations' ability to park their overseas business earnings indefinitely outside the U.S. and avoid U.S. taxes, a practice known as deferral. The plan would change the legal treatment of many international subsidiaries that companies have used to shift earnings into low-tax offshore havens. And it would put new limits on corporations' ability to use offshore subsidiaries to generate unjustified foreign-tax credits.
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE
President Barack Obama's plan to impose U.S. taxes on corporate America's overseas profits threatens to open a big crater in the financial statements of technology companies.
While additional taxes are rarely popular, Obama's decision to go after corporate earnings outside the United States is a particularly prickly subject for technology executives because the industry has been steadily boosting its overseas sales amid rising demand for its gadgetry and services.
If Obama's proposal becomes law, the hard-hit companies would include tech bellwethers like Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. Each of those companies realized a benefit of more than $1 billion from lower foreign tax rates in their most recent fiscal years — an advantage that could lost if Obama is able to change the rules.
"It would be like an earthquake for high tech," said Carl Guardino, chief executive of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an industry trade association. "On a Richter scale of 1 to 10, this would be a 12."
Obama reasons that U.S. companies will create more jobs in the United States if there is less of an advantage to setting up operations overseas.
But Guardino disagrees, maintaining that high-tech firms and other U.S.companies are establishing more foreign offices to take advantage of their biggest growth opportunities. And as they bring in more revenue overseas, companies are also able to hire more workers in the United States as well as in other countries, Guardino said.
As it is, Google already generates more than half its revenue outside the United States and that percentage is expected to increase as more people around the world go online and gravitate to the company's services.
If they face higher taxes on their foreign earnings, high-tech companies will be at a competitive disadvantage that will discourage them from expanding their payrolls, Guardino said.
By coincidence, Guardino and about 50 Silicon Valley executives had already scheduled a trip to Washington this week. Guardino said the group plans to focus on meeting with lawmakers to explain why Obama's idea to tax overseas profits would do more harm than good.

'Empathy' Versus Law

……..That President Obama has made "empathy" with certain groups one of his criteria for choosing a Supreme Court nominee is a dangerous sign of how much further the Supreme Court may be pushed away from the rule of law and toward even more arbitrary judicial edicts to advance the agenda of the left and set it in legal concrete, immune from the democratic process.
Would you want to go into court to appear before a judge with "empathy" for groups A, B and C, if you were a member of groups X, Y or Z? Nothing could be further from the rule of law. That would be bad news, even in a traffic court, much less in a court that has the last word on your rights under the Constitution of the United States.
Appoint enough Supreme Court justices with "empathy" for particular groups and you would have, for all practical purposes, repealed the 14th Amendment, which guarantees "equal protection of the laws" for all Americans.
We would have entered a strange new world, where everybody is equal but some are more equal than others. The very idea of the rule of law would become meaningless when it is replaced by the empathies of judges.
Barack Obama solves this contradiction, as he solves so many other problems, with rhetoric. If you believe in the rule of law, he will say the words "rule of law." And if you are willing to buy it, he will keep on selling it.
Those people who just accept soothing words from politicians they like are gambling with the future of a nation. When you buy words, you had better know what you are buying……..
The biggest danger in appointing the wrong people to the Supreme Court is not just in how they might vote on some particular issues-- whether private property, abortion or whatever. The biggest danger is that they will undermine or destroy the very concept of the rule of law-- what has been called "a government of laws and not of men."
Under the American system of government, this cannot be done overnight or perhaps even during the terms in office of one president-- but it can be done. And it can be done over time by the appointees of just one president, if he gets enough appointees.
Some people say that who Barack Obama appoints to replace Justice Souter doesn't really matter, because Souter is a liberal who will probably be replaced by another liberal. But, if no one sounds the alarm now, we can end up with a series of appointees with "empathy"-- which is to say, with justices who think their job is to "relieve the distress" of particular groups, rather than to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Emanuel: Thwarting Iran easier with Israeli-Palestinian talks

The task of forming an international coalition to thwart Iran's nuclear program will be made easier if progress is made in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has said, according to sources in Washington.  Last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Israel that it risks losing Arab support for combating threats from Iran if it rejects peace negotiations with the Palestinians.  Clinton said Arab nations had conditioned helping Israel counter Iran on Jerusalem's commitment to the peace process.
Newt Gingrich blasted the Obama administration for setting itself on a collision course with Israel and endangering the Jewish state.  He called US President Barack Obama's program of engagement with Iran a "fantasy," and his Middle East policies "very dangerous for Israel." He summed up Obama's approach as "the clearest adoption of weakness since Jimmy Carter."

Georgia Halts Tank Battalion Mutiny

Georgia said it had ended a brief mutiny at a military base near the capital on Tuesday that broke out after the arrest of a former special forces commander accused of planning to disrupt North Atlantic Treaty Organization exercises.
The mutiny followed an announcement by the Interior Ministry that it had uncovered a Russia-supported plot to overthrow the government and had arrested the suspected organizers. The defense minister said the mutiny was in response to the arrests the night before.
But the Interior Ministry later backed off and said the coup plotters, backed by Russian troops, were intent mainly on disrupting NATO military exercises set to begin Wednesday in Georgia.
Russia's NATO envoy Dmitri Rogozin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the allegations of Russian involvement in Tuesday's mutiny were "crazy."
The NATO exercises, which continue through June 1, were originally planned to include about 1,300 personnel from 19 NATO and partner nations. But some former Soviet republics have recently decided not to take part.
Among the countries to back out was Armenia, which is dependent on Russia for its economic survival. Four other former Soviet republics -- Estonia, Latvia, Kazakhstan and Moldova -- and Serbia also had decided to pull out, the Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported Tuesday.

China military build-up seems U.S.-focused

hina's build-up of sea and air military power funded by a strong economy appears aimed at the United States, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Monday.
Admiral Michael Mullen said China had the right to meet its security needs, but the build-up would require the United States to work with its Pacific allies to respond to increasing Chinese military capabilities.
"They are developing capabilities that are very maritime focused, maritime and air focused, and in many ways, very much focused on us," he told a conference of the Navy League, a nonprofit seamen's support group, in Washington.
"They seem very focused on the United States Navy and our bases that are in that part of the world."
China in March unveiled its official military budget for 2009 of $70.24 billion, the latest in nearly two decades of double-digit rises in declared defense spending.

Sun Oddly Quiet -- Hints at Next "Little Ice Age"?

Anne Minard
A prolonged lull in solar activity has astrophysicists glued to their telescopes waiting to see what the sun will do next—and how Earth's climate might respond.

The sun is the least active it's been in decades and the dimmest in a hundred years. The lull is causing some scientists to recall the Little Ice Age, an unusual cold spell in Europe and North America, which lasted from about 1300 to 1850. 

The coldest period of the Little Ice Age, between 1645 and 1715, has been linked to a deep dip in solar storms known as the Maunder Minimum.

During that time, access to Greenland was largely cut off by ice, and canals in Holland routinely froze solid. Glaciers in the Alps engulfed whole villages, and sea ice increased so much that no open water flowed around Iceland in the year 1695.

But researchers are on guard against their concerns about a new cold snap being misinterpreted. 

"[Global warming] skeptics tend to leap forward," said Mike Lockwood, a solar terrestrial physicist at the University of Southampton in the U.K. (Get the facts about global warming.)

He and other researchers are therefore engaged in what they call "preemptive denial" of a solar minimum leading to global cooling.

Even if the current solar lull is the beginning of a prolonged quiet, the scientists say, the star's effects on climate will pale in contrast with the influence of human-made greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

"I think you have to bear in mind that the CO2 is a good 50 to 60 percent higher than normal, whereas the decline in solar output is a few hundredths of one percent down," Lockwood said. "I think that helps keep it in perspective."

Murtha's Nephew Got Defense Contracts

Millions in Work Came Without Competition 
By Carol D. Leonnig and Alice Crites

The headquarters of Murtech, in a low-slung, bland building in a Glen Burnie business park, has its blinds drawn tight and few signs of life. On several days of visits, a handful of cars sit in the parking lot, and no trucks arrive at the 10 loading bays at the back of the building.
Yet last year, Murtech received $4 million in Pentagon work, all of it without competition, for a variety of warehousing and engineering services. With its long corridor of sparsely occupied offices and an unmanned reception area, Murtech's most striking feature is its owner -- Robert C. Murtha Jr., 49. He is the nephew of Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has significant sway over the Defense Department's spending as chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
Robert Murtha said he is not at liberty to discuss in detail what his company does, but for four years it has subsisted on defense contracts, according to records and interviews. He said Murtech's 17 employees "provide necessary logistical support" to Pentagon testing programs that focus on detecting chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, "and that's about as far as I feel comfortable going." Giving more details could provide important clues to terrorist plotters, he said.
Murtha said he does not advertise being the nephew of John Murtha and considers it "unfortunate" that some will unfairly assume Murtech received its federal contracts because of his uncle's influence at the Pentagon.
"If we're not doing our job well, we wouldn't be doing our job," he said. "I'm successful at the work I do because of the skill sets I have. . . . You don't know how good someone is unless you work with them."
Over the years, John Murtha has proudly claimed credit for using his Appropriations Committee seat to steer hundreds of millions in Pentagon work to companies in his district, many of them fledgling enterprises run by campaign contributors.
Murtha's power has had beneficial effects within his family. His brother, Robert C. "Kit" Murtha, built a longtime lobbying practice around clients seeking defense funds through the Appropriations Committee and became one of the top members of KSA, a lobbying firm whose contractor clients often received multimillion-dollar earmarks directed through the committee chairman.
Robert C. Murtha Jr. of Murtech is Kit Murtha's son. He also is a former Marine who once served as a presidential security officer and aide to the president for White House functions. He worked for eight years for ACS, a defense and information technology contractor. When Lockheed purchased ACS in 2004, he started several companies, including Murtech, which he registered as a defense contracting firm.
Murtech received its contracts primarily from the Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala., which has been generous to companies in John Murtha's district and enjoys a close relationship with the congressman through a mutual interest in breast cancer research. The Army command has won at least $200 million a year in federal funding for the cancer research, of which Rep. Murtha is a stalwart supporter. In a program called Missiles to Mammograms the command has collaborated with a contractor in Murtha's district, Windber Medical Center, in a multimillion-dollar project to explore using missile-tracking technology to detect breast cancer.
The command awarded its first storage contract to Murtech without competitive bidding, paying $1.4 million a year. Robert Murtha Jr. says the no-bid arrangement was "the government's choice" and occurred because the government "got itself in a bind." A contract with SA Scientific of San Antonio was about to lapse, and the command needed Murtech, then serving as a subcontractor to the Texas company, to store materials for the military's Critical Reagents Program. The program produces lab materials that can be used in handheld devices and sensors to detect the presence of biological toxins.
"We were uniquely qualified because we had already been doing that work," Murtha said.
Meet the 1,400 jobless New York teachers still getting paid
It would seem like a pretty good gig: About 1,400 teachers in New York City are receiving full salaries and benefits even though they don't have permanent jobs. Two hundred and five of them have been without full-time work for three years. And they can continue receiving payments indefinitely even if they never secure new positions.
These educators are members of what is called the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), a program in which unionized teachers are placed when they don't have jobs. They end up there after being displaced by school closings, program cuts, or voluntary transfers. Technically, they work as classroom substitutes, but, when they don't have temporary assignments, they spend their days in school offices, cafeterias, and break rooms. And they are not required to seek full-time positions. "Teach one year, get [displaced], never apply for another job, but, as long as you work as a sub at full salary, you can get tenure at the end of that," says Tim Daly, president of The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a New York-based education advocacy organization that monitors the reserve closely. And some ATR teachers, it seems, are content to stay right where they are. "I'm happy now," one such teacher told TNTP researchers. "I don't have to prep, I don't have to grade tests, I don't have my own class. I don't really have to do anything."
Over the last three years, the city has shelled out almost $200 million to compensate ATR teachers. This school year alone, in the midst of a recession, TNTP has projected the reserve will cost about $75 million. "I could use those [millions] to spend on early childhood education or to fund retention strategies to get our greatest teachers to stay," an official at the city's Department of Education (DOE) says.
Perhaps worst of all, the ATR is part of what was supposed to be an effort to free New York from the stranglehold its powerful teachers' union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), had for decades on teacher hiring.

Lobbyists help Dems draft climate change bill

Lawmakers bristle at Bush parallel

·         By Tom LoBianco 
BARBARA L. SALISBURY/THE WASHINGTON TIMES
TURNABOUT: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Henry A. Waxman were among the Democrats who criticized the Bush administration for holding closed-door meetings to draft energy policy.
Democratic lawmakers who spent much of the Bush administration blasting officials for letting energy lobbyists write national policy have turned to a coalition of business and environmental groups to help draft their own sweeping climate bill.  And one little-noticed provision of the draft bill would give one of the coalition's co-founders a lucrative exemption on a coal-fired project it is building.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, both of California, were among the Democrats -- then in the minority -- who slammed Vice President Dick Cheney for holding closed-door meetings to draft energy policy early in the Bush administration.  A spokeswoman for Mr. Waxman rejected any parallel with the previous administration.

A voter registration drive last year illegally required canvassers to meet quotas to keep their jobs and resulted in thousands of “garbage” registrations gumming up Clark County voter rolls, officials said Monday as they released a criminal complaint against the drive’s organizers.
Larry Lomax, the Clark County registrar of voters, said his office reviewed the 91,002 voter registration forms turned in by ACORN, verifying that information on the form matched information attached to the voter’s driver’s license number or Social Security number.  If it didn’t, those registrations were tagged as requiring identification at the polling place.
There were 28,097 forms that were duplicates or changes of name, party or address, leaving 62,905 new voters.  Of those, 23,186 actually voted in the 2008 general election, according to a report prepared by Lomax’s office.  That means almost 40,000 of the new voters registered by ACORN didn’t vote, and of those, almost 19,000 had information on file that didn’t match what was turned in on the forms.
“That’s 48 percent of those forms that I believe are clearly fraudulent,” Lomax said.
Bonnie Greathouse, the head organizer at the Las Vegas office, said she wasn’t worried about fallout from the charges.  “We’ve had bad publicity before, and all it does is inform the community that we’re here working for the community,” she said. “People always come forward to our defense.
“We’re just community organizers, just like the president used to be.”

Homeland agency pulled back extremism dictionary

The same Homeland Security Department office that categorized veterans as potential terrorists issued an earlier report that defined dozens of "extremists" ranging from black power activists to abortion foes. The report was nixed within hours and recalled from state and local law enforcement officials.  Whites and blacks, Christians and Jews, Cubans and Mexicans, along with tax-hating Americans were among several political leanings listed in the "Domestic Extremism Lexicon" that came out of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) in late March.
The lexicon lists definitions for key terms and phrases used by Homeland Security analysts "that addresses the nature and scope of the threat that domestic, non-Islamic extremism poses to the United States," the report said. Click here to download a PDF of "Domestic Extremism Lexicon"
Commentary by Amity Shlaes
Michele Bachmann’s version of history is “from another planet.” Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, is “chronically stupid.” And Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House, is “busy lying constantly.”
That at least is according to posts on three left-leaning blogs.
Writers who are not pro-Barack Obama are suffering character assassination as well. George Will of the Washington Post, the nation’s senior conservative columnist, has been so assaulted by bloggers that his editor, Fred Hiatt, recently wrote, “I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.”
The disconcerting thing isn’t that the bloggers or their guests did this slamming. We’re used to such vitriol in campaign time. What is surprising is that the attacks are continuing after an election.
In the past, politicians and policy thinkers tended to be magnanimous in victory. They and their friends focused, post- victory, on policy and strategy -- not on trashing individuals.
It ought to be especially true this time, given what wonders are befalling the Democrats. Between Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Al Franken in Minnesota, it looks like the Democrats are in the process of making their Senate majority filibuster-proof. Then there’s the president’s new opportunity to mold the Supreme Court, with the resignation of David Souter.
Still, somehow, the magnanimity isn’t there. Indeed, the closer the Democrats get to total power, the nastier the commentators friendly to them have become.
But the most important factor here is Democratic weakness. The party isn’t comfortable yet at the summit of political power.
The unsteadiness began with Obama: Instead of shaping the stimulus package himself, according to his own principles, he handed over the work to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Appropriations chairman, who in turn produced a porky package without discernible philosophy.
Unsure Policies
Unsure of whether it wanted to punish or stimulate -- and so choosing to attempt both -- the administration generated legislation to help financial institutions and legislation that hurts them by restricting rates and terms for the credit cards they issue. Obama’s call for putting more student loans in federal hands is clever politically, and may even save students money in the short term, but it likely will restrict the availability of such loans in the future.
In short, Obama speaks beautifully but is on his way to a “D” grade when it comes to making the U.S. attractive for international investment, a fact the Chinese are already noting by shopping for non-U.S. bonds.
The Democrats of 2009 are showing less awareness than their predecessors did in President Bill Clinton’s time on the importance of low taxes and reasonable regulation. Only these permit strong growth, a point made articulately by none other than Bachmann herself, in the now-infamous “Hoot-Smalley” TV clip.

Don't start nothing, won't be nothing


By: GREGORY KANE

Here’s why I don’t care that al-Qaeda operatives Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah were waterboarded after Sept. 11, 2001: I remember where I was the day before.
Every American who recalls that day can probably remember where he or she was when those jets hit the World Trade Center. I do too. But I remember where I was on Sept. 10, 2001, at about the same time.
In the lowest level of the World Trade Center, getting off a commuter train from Jersey City, N.J. I had an appointment in midtown-Manhattan and had to take a subway train from the WTC. Had I done that a day later, I’d have arrived at the WTC at just about the time the first or second jet hit.
So when President Obama declassified Justice Department memos that revealed the waterboarding of Mohammed and Zubaydah, perhaps you can forgive me if the knowledge didn’t exactly leave me prostrate with grief. Nor am I feeling the arguments of those
who claim how torture violates our principles and destroys our values.
Does it, really? We were in a war against terrorists. War is called war for a reason. It’s because nasty things get done in a war, lots of them. The Allies killed hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese civilians in bombing raids during World War II. Should we have NOT bombed Germany and Japan because killing civilians violates our principles and destroys our values?
Or does torture violate our principles and destroy our values while wholesale killing of civilians is acceptable?
it occurs to me that there were exactly 1,337 days from Dec. 8, 1941 up to Aug. 5, 1945 – the day before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Japanese government could have surrendered – and surrendered unconditionally – on any one of them.
As for the plight of the Germans, which applies to the Japanese as well, I invoke that great black American adage that goes like this:
Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.
That saying has been around Afro-Americana for decades. It basically means this: if you don’t want to suffer the consequences of starting some trouble, then don’t start any trouble.
Perhaps Obama, instead of piously intoning that America “does not torture,” should instead tell the world, specifically terrorists, that from now on the nation will invoke the great African-American Prime Directive of “Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.” 
If we don’t want to go with the Great African-American Prime Directive, perhaps we can go with one less known. I can’t recall who said it or where I read it, but it goes something like this:
If it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth fighting dirty for.

HOW CHURCHILL DEALT WITH THUGS

By ARTHUR HERMAN

PRESIDENT Obama's forays into history, especially Eu ropean history, are interest ing but not always accurate. Who can forget his description during the presidential campaign of African-American GIs liberating Auschwitz? (It was the Russians.) Or his admission during his recent European trip that he didn't know how to translate a certain word into Austrian? (There is no "Austrian"; Austrians speak German.)
His evocation of Winston Churchill in his press conference last Wednesday took confusion to a new height. The president cited the great British prime minister in support of his ban on enhanced interrogation techniques at Gitmo and elsewhere, noting that Churchill never allowed torture of German detainees in World War II "even when London was being bombed to smithereens."
Churchill recognized that torture -- the cruel, needless infliction of pain as a means of domination and control of others -- was emblematic of man's barbarism, as opposed to the values of what he called "Christian civilization." It was precisely this barbarism that he saw in the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulag -- and that we see among the Muslim fanatics who will stone women to death for refusing to wear the veil or behead reporters.
But Churchill also understood that, if barbarism was one enemy of civilization, another was a moral cowardice disguised as moral qualms -- an instinctive flinching in the face of danger, dressed up as "upholding our values."
"There is no place for compromise in war," Churchill wrote. In choosing between civilized restraint and the British people's survival, he never hesitated. He contemplated using mustard gas if the Nazis invaded England. He authorized the fire bombing of German cities, the so-called terror bombings, in order to cripple the German war effort and morale. He was prepared to let Mahatma Gandhi die during his hunger strike in 1943 rather than be blackmailed into abandoning India, the last bastion against Japanese domination of Asia. 
But there's another, more powerful reason why the British didn't torture their captured German spies. They didn't have to. Thanks to the Ultra code-breaking program, British MI5 had access to nearly every major German High Command decision. Had Ultra not existed, the attitude toward captured German spies would've been a lot less casual. (Sixteen were in fact executed for espionage before war's end.)

Psychotherapy for liberals

Talking with liberals is frustrating, because you can't just talk about facts.  That will only get them all upset, and all they will get out of the experience is never to listen to people like you. Most liberals live in their heads, or in little fluffy white clouds floating right above their scalps and resist efforts to engage them in rational conversation. 
Talking to liberals is very much like doing therapy. The first lesson any psychiatrist learns is that most clients don't listen. They only pretend to listen, and then they never follow any sensible advice. So talking doesn't do the trick. It never does. If talking helped, they wouldn't be there in the first place.
So what do you do?
You wait for life to happen.
And then slowly, a tiny little bit at a time, you gently point out the ways in which clients defeat themselves, over and over again. 
Therapists don't change people. Life does -- sometimes, if we are lucky and very patient.
A good therapist can turn life into learning opportunities. But you have to be very, very patient and forbearing. And the client has to be pretty desperate to learn……more

Obama's Car Team Looks like an Edsel

America has a former New York Times journalist, Steven Rattner, as our auto czar, a man with zero auto industry expertise. And it shows.
To be completely fair to Rattner, he did leave journalism for investment banking, and went on to run a private investment firm, but he has no actual experience in the auto industry. Even worse his firm is now mired in a pay-to-play scandal. This was a problem that the Obama team knew about when it nominated Rattner as the car czar; in Chicago, these types of scandals are met with a blas√© attitude. Speaking of Chicago-style politics, Rattner is reported to have threatened an investment fund which initially refused to give up its rights as a secured debtholder in bankruptcy.
But didn't Barack Obama indict this type of investors as the cause of our misfortunes? But not to worry! Obama has Rattner paired up with a negotiator for the Steelworker's union!
The result of Czar Rattner's reign so far? Chaos.   Last week Business Week published an article that chronicled the process:
During the week of Apr. 13, about a dozen Treasury staffers and outside consultants arrived at GM's sprawling technical center north of Detroit. They reviewed the company's lineup of brands. At that point, GM had announced plans to phase out three weak brands-Hummer, Saab, and Saturn-out of a total of eight.
BCG pushed GM to go further and dump Buick and GMC, even though both make money and get much better pricing than mainstream brand Chevrolet.
The Buick line ranks the highest in dependability, according to J.D. Powers at a fraction of the cost of high end cars made by foreign companies. This is a coveted ranking.
Did the Feds bother spending any time on simple research? I was spending twenty thousand and did my googling. They are spending -- what are we up to by now? Twenty billion and counting? Yet, the Obama team won't spend a few minutes of their time when they spend a few billion of our dollars?
GM pushed back saying that Buick and GMC not only make money but also bring in different buyers than Chevy or Cadillac. Plus, Buick will get three new sedans -- two of which are sold in China -- and could boost profits by garnering more global sales volume. The BCG team didn't demand that the brands be killed, but sources say the review was intense and GM executives felt pressured by the government's hired guns.
Another example: One Treasury official asked when the new Chevy Malibu sedan goes on sale. It has been in showrooms for 18 months

The task force did get one thing right.  "They couldn't imagine why we were spending the time and money to do the Volt," says one senior GM product developer.
Will the current Congress, under President Obama who has made clear the priority he places on being "green", have the courage to call it quits on the Volt-to pull the plug, as it were? One can harbor doubts on that score.
Instead, billions of taxpayer dollars will be devoured by Detroit. There are, after all, deep political reasons behind the largesse shown to the auto industry. Not only will the United Auto Workers and associated unions be prime beneficiaries (they will have a high return on the investments made in the Democratic Party and the election of Barack Obama) but Michigan has become a Democratic bastion. The state -- despite an outflow of jobs and people to other more business-friendly states -- still holds a bevy of electoral votes (17). Several key Democrat Congressional leaders hail from Michigan (Dingell, Conyers come to mind). The state's Governor Jennifer Granholm, is a telegenic (read: beautiful) leader who at one time was being promoted as one of the Democratic Party's leading lights. If the American auto industry continues to decline, the price will be paid by the Democrats in the state. Hence, the bailout billions. Our money.
So how goes that team President Obama sent packing to Detroit with money bulging in their saddlebags? When Washington culture mixes with that of Detroit, watch out below.
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) delivers the Weekly Republican Address on spending, taxes, President Obama's first 100 days, and Republican solutions to curb spending, create jobs, and control the debt. (Former Kansas State Treasurer, and 20 year CPA)





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