|10:51 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Concerned Veterans for America has launched a new video series on the failures of the Obama administration's foreign policy doctrine of "leading from behind." The launch begins with Libya as a case study in what's gone wrong with U.S. foreign relations. Watch the video below:
“Libya is a prime example of why Obama’s strategy of ‘leading from behind’ makes the world a more dangerous place and America less secure,” said Pete Hegseth, CVA's CEO, in a statement. “The Obama administration touted the military operations against Libya in 2011 as an example of their new and improved national security strategy – war from the air, no footprint on the ground, and allies taking the lead. But the current chaos in Libya today shows that that strategy has been a complete failure that has only emboldened and strengthened radical Islamic groups that threaten not only the region, but also America and America’s allies."
'We Still Have More Work To Do'9:01 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The State Department's Rose Gottemoeller, under secretary for arms control and international security, spoke at the Brookings Institution Thursday where she reaffirmed the United States' "unassailable" commitment to putting the nuclear weapons genie back in the bottle. Gottemoeller told the attendees at the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative-sponsored event that "the U.S. commitment to achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons is unassailable."
She went on to note that the nation's stockpile of active weapons is down 85 percent from maximum cold war levels, falling to 4,804 in 2013 from a high of 31,255. But, she said, "We still have more work to do."
As you all might know, I have been traveling quite a bit lately and was just recently in the Czech Republic for a conference on the Prague Agenda. I reminded people at that conference that when President Obama laid out his vision for the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons, he made it clear that it was not a desirable, but unattainable dream. The Prague Agenda is an achievable long-term goal and one worth fighting for. I will say here what I said in Prague. There should be no doubt: the U.S. commitment to achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons is unassailable. We continue to pursue nuclear disarmament and we will keep faith with our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments, prominent among them, Article VI. Our responsible approach to disarmament has borne fruit in the form of major reductions in nuclear weapons, fissile material stocks and infrastructure. These efforts have led us to reduce our nuclear arsenal by approximately 85% from its Cold War heights. In real numbers, that means we have gone from 31,255 nuclear weapons in our active stockpile in 1967 to 4,804 in 2013. We know we still have more work to do.
According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is put out by the Federation of American Scientists, Russia has about the same number of active weapons now as the U.S., and both countries have several thousand more warheads awaiting deactivation. Due to security concerns governments are reluctant to divulge exact numbers, but it's generally beleived that most of the older nuclear powers (U.S., Russia, the UK, and France) have reportedly been gradually declining their stockpiles. Israel, never publicly acknowledging its possession of nuclear weapons, is believed to be holding steady on its stockpile. China, India, and Pakistan, on the other hand, are all still believed to be gradually increasing their numbers. The exact status of North Korea's nuclear program and stockpile of weapons remains unknown.
8:32 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Congressman Keith Ellison wants Elizabeth Warren to run for president of the United States.
“I would love to see Elizabeth Warren in this race. I think it would be fantastic. I think that it would help the quality of the debate and she may win,” Ellison told liberal activists who are urging a Warren run, according to MSNBC. “But even if she doesn’t, I think she’ll make Hillary Clinton a better candidate.”
MSNBC points out:
That’s the closest any major elected official has come to endorsing the Massachusetts Democrat, who has said repeatedly that she is not going to run for president.
Ellison added that he feared Clinton, the presumed frontrunner for the nominee, “could just walk into the general [election] without having committed to some important real, real economic populism.”
“So, I’m supportive of what [DFA] is doing, I’m supportive of what MoveOn is doing, and I think Elizabeth Warren is one of the great, bright lights of our time,” he added.
MoveOn.org and DFA, which grew out of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, officially kicked off their campaign to draft Warren Wednesday in Iowa, and have together committed $1.25 million to the effort.
Ellison is chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
7:57 AM, Dec 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Matthew Continetti, writing for the Washington Free Beacon:
“It’s a sad day for freedom,” Marco Rubio told Bret Baier after President Obama announced he would normalize relations with Cuba. Not a sad day, senator: a sad year.
If there was a theme to 2014, it was Obama’s persistence in bailing out dictators and theocrats from political scrapes and economic hardships, his tenacity in pursuit of engagement with America’s adversaries no matter the cost to our strength, principles, credibility, or alliances.
In this president the thugs in Havana and Caracas, Damascus and Tehran, Moscow and Naypyidaw and Beijing have no better friend. For these bullies, these evildoers, these millenarians and sectarians, Barack Obama is more than a dupe. He is an insurance policy.
Cuba is but the latest example of this president’s failing to exercise leverage in the pursuit of American strength and security and prestige. Here are the Castro brothers, decrepit and spent, their revolution a joke, their economy in peril thanks to the collapse in oil prices brought on by a strong dollar and increased U.S. supply.
Read the rest here.
8:32 PM, Dec 18, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Neil Shah of the Wall Street Journal writes:
The typical affluent family in America now has nearly seven times the wealth of a middle-income family, the biggest wealth gap in three decades, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center. Last year, the median wealth of upper-income families in the U.S. ($639,400) was 6.6 times bigger than that of middle-income families ($96,500), up from 6.2 times in 2010.
Upper-income families now have a median wealth level that is nearly 70 times that of lower-income families.
In a totally unrelated development, the nations richest zip-codes and counties are clustered around Washington, D.C.
2:33 PM, Dec 18, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Washington Post editorializes:
IN RECENT months, the outlook for the Castro regime in Cuba was growing steadily darker. The modest reforms it adopted in recent years to improve abysmal economic conditions had stalled, due to the regime’s refusal to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Worse, the acceleratingeconomic collapse of Venezuela meant that the huge subsidies that have kept the Castros afloat for the past decade were in peril. A growing number of Cubans were demanding basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.
On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regimeeverything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.
As part of the bargain, Havana released Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was unjustly imprisoned five years ago for trying to help Cuban Jews. Also freed was an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent in Cuba — as were three Cuban spies who had been convicted of operations in Florida that led to Cuba’s 1996 shootdown of a plane carrying anti-Castro activists. While Mr. Obama sought to portray Mr. Gross’s release as unrelated to the spy swap, there can be no question that Cuba’s hard-line intelligence apparatus obtained exactly what it sought when it made Mr. Gross a de facto hostage.
1:36 PM, Dec 18, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
The AP reports:
Paul said in a radio interview with Tom Roten of News Talk 800 WVHU in Huntington, West Virginia, that many younger Cuban Americans support opening up trade with Cuba. He also said many U.S. farmers would back Obama's moves because the country is a new market for their crops.
"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," Paul said. "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.
"In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea," he said.
Opponents of Obama's decision, such as Florida senator Marco Rubio, have argued that the embargo would serve as leverage for securing freedom for the Cuban people after the Castros, who are in their 80s, are dead.
"It is a lifeline for the Castro regime that will allow them to become more profitable ... and allow them to become a more permanent fixture," Rubio said on CNN yesterday. "The embargo is leverage, these sanctions are leverage."
"We have just lost a significant part of our leverage ... not a single democratic concession," he continued.
1:33 PM, Dec 18, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
American forces were involved in their first ground battle with Islamic State fighters, according to Kurdish media outlet Shafaq News, near the Ain Al-Assad base in the Anbar province of Iraq early Sunday. The report could not be independently verified.
The Pentagon has not released information on any American involvement in ground fighting with Islamic State.
Since announcing US-led-coalition airstrikes against Islamic State in August, US President Barack Obama has repeatedly stated that he would not commit troops to another ground war in Iraq. Yet the Pentagon’s top brass have since said that the option remains on the table.
12:48 PM, Dec 18, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Buried in the avalanche of Cuba and North Korea news was this revealing tidbit about the Obama administration's environmental priorities:
The Obama administration will set duties on solar products from China and Taiwan that combined could exceed more than 200 percent, adding fuel to a renewable-energy clash between the U.S. and China.
The Commerce Department also finalized its plan to include in the tariffs any solar panels assembled in China, no matter the origin of the cells.
The department issued final duties on solar cells manufactured in China and Taiwan in a case brought by SolarWorld AG (SWVK), a German company with a factory in Oregon. The U.S. International Trade Commission must rule in the last step before the tariffs are finalized. A decision is due next month.
Now if you believe that climate change is an urgent, nay, eschatological priority, wouldn't you want to encourage as many people as possible to start using solar panels to lessen our dependence on carbon-based energy? How on earth does drastically raising the price of solar panels through government action do that? It doesn't.
Tariffs and duties on cheaper Chinese solar panels do, however, keep more federal subsidies flowing to American alternative energy companies. And those companies spend a fair amount on influence peddling. Note that SolarWorld's annual lobbying expenditures doubled when Obama was up for reelection, and SolarWorld's stock is up a little over 10 percent from yesterday on the heels of the announcement. I don't know if SolarWorld, a German company with a factory in Oregon, is guilty of doing anything more than being on the wrong side of economic history by opposing free trade. I do know that there's a pretty big precedent for solar energy companies getting political favors from the Obama administration.
This late in the Obama administration the name "Solyndra" almost seems quaint. Despite the undeniably scandalous facts surrounding that particular company and its political donations, there was a flurry of stories last month saying that the Department of Energy loan program that enabled Solyndra was actually turning a profit, and liberal journalists took a victory lap. However, the claim the loans were making money turned out to be misleading bunk even though almost no one bothered to correct their previous stories saying otherwise.
12:24 PM, Dec 18, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The New York Times reports that:
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of debate over a method of extracting natural gas.
The state will, however, get behind the building of “three new Las Vegas-style casinos,” so there will be jobs for dealers and croupiers and people who park the gamblers’ cars. New pawn shops will spring up across the state.
Still, one wonders. If gambling the route to economic growth and prosperity – which are desperately needed in rural New York – then how do you account for Atlantic City?
11:51 AM, Dec 18, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama quietly issued 12 pardons and 8 commutations late yesterday afternoon, which happened to be one of the busiest news days of the year.
Here are the dozen folks pardoned:
The President granted pardons to the following twelve individuals:
· Roy Norman Auvil – Bartonville, IL
Offense: Possession of an unregistered distilling apparatus; working a distillery on which the required sign is not placed (District of South Carolina)
Sentence: Five years’ probation (Nov. 16, 1964)
· Bernard Bryan Bulcourf – McIntosh, FL
Offense: Counterfeiting Federal Reserve notes (Southern District of Florida)
Sentence: 90 days’ confinement in a community treatment center, followed by three years’ probation (Nov. 18, 1988)
· Steve Charlie Calamars – San Antonio, TX
Offense: Possession of phenyl-2-propanone with intent to manufacture a quantity of methamphetamine (Western District of Texas)
Sentence: 57 months’ imprisonment; three years’ supervised release (May 31, 1989; as amended Apr. 8, 1994)
· Diane Mary DeBarri, fka Diane Mary Wilhelm – Fairless Hills, PA
Offense: Conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine; distribution of methamphetamine (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Sentence: 90 days’ imprisonment; five years’ probation conditioned on performance of community service as directed by the court (June 15, 1984)
· Donnie Keith Ellison – London, KY
Offense: Manufacture of marijuana (Eastern District of Kentucky)
Sentence: Five months’ imprisonment; three years’ supervised release (Sept. 1, 1995)
· John Marshall French – Clovis, CA
Offense: Conspiracy to transport a stolen motor vehicle in interstate commerce (District of South Carolina)
Sentence: Three years’ probation conditioned on performance of 100 hours of community service and payment of $2,337 restitution (Mar. 2, 1993)
· Ricardo Marcial Lomedico, Sr. – Point Roberts, WA
Offense: Misappropriation of bank funds by an employee (Western District of Washington)
Sentence: Five years’ imprisonment (Nov. 21, 1969)
10:11 AM, Dec 18, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Obama feels liberated, aides say, and sees the recent flurry of aggressive executive action and deal-making as a pivot for him to spend the last two years being more of the president he always wanted to be.
This breathless news comes from Politico and one wonders if even they don’t get a little weary of the Perils of Obama routine.
Why should we care if he feels liberated and is going into his pivot man routine? The United States is being humiliated and wrong-footed by the runt totalitarianisms of the world (North Korea, Cuba) which can’t be lost on larger and more dangerous hostiles (Iraq, Russia) and the news is that the president has gotten his groove back? That he has now become what he always really wanted to be?
How nice for him.
9:31 AM, Dec 18, 2014 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
The fiesta is over. Mexico, a remarkably important nation of some 120 million people—indeed, the world’s fifteenth largest economy—is descending into crisis. Students have been slaughtered en masse with the complicity of a corrupt police force. The country’s young president and his finance minster are embroiled in a corruption scandal. And the recent fall in oil prices—which looks set to continue—only portends further suffering.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When 48-year-old Enrique Peña Nieto was elected Mexican president in 2012, his country’s future looked bright. A self-styled reformer, the leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and former governor of Mexico State moved immediately to implement his Pact for Mexico, which called for the achievement of some 95 goals over his six-year term.
Peña Nieto enjoyed remarkable success over his first two years in office. He liberalized the country’s telecommunications market, greatly weakening the monopoly of billionaire (and New York Times savior) Carlos Slim. Ditto for Mexico’s television broadcasting market, ending the domination of Televisa. In a move that American conservatives are likely to envy, Peña Nieto also managed to overhaul Mexico’s sclerotic education system, introducing new standards for hiring teachers. ("Professional merit must be the only way to be hired, and remain and advance as a teacher," he said on signing the law.) And perhaps most significantly, he ended a 75-year old monopoly, whereby state-owned energy company Pemex enjoyed total control of the country’s sizable oil and gas industries. Foreign companies will now be able to operate in Mexico and invest in Pemex as well. It was little wonder when in early 2014 Time dubbed Peña Nieto “the man who saved Mexico.”
Or not. For since early this fall, Peña Nieto and his PRI government have begun to unravel. The president’s approval rating now stands at a ghastly 39 percent.
Peña Nieto’s troubles began in September when 43 students were kidnapped and murdered in the anarchic Guerrero State in southern Mexico, a major drug trafficking hub. Remarkably, it subsequently emerged that the local police—and even the mayor of the city where the atrocity occurred—were involved in the murders. The case brought back memories of the bad old days of hideous drug wars and corrupt local police forces—an era that Peña Nieto and his predecessor former president Felipe Calderon were said to have vanquished. Major protests were sparked by the tragedy—protests that continue even today, and which have recently grown more violent. Amazingly, it wasn’t until early December that Peña Nieto even bothered to travel to Guerrero to address the crisis.
8:35 AM, Dec 18, 2014 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
In October 1940, Americans flocked to movie theaters to see Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, mocking the most powerful tyrant on the globe. In December 2014, movie theaters and then the production company cancelled the release of The Interview because of threats of terror from a tinpot, though totalitarian and evil, tyrant who rules a weak and decrepit nation.
It's not that there is (unfortunately) no precedent for this: consider the Mohammed cartoons. It's not that movie theaters don't have to be attentive to the well-being of those who attend their movies. It's not that there isn't something ridiculous about the lack of Western interest in a totalitarian dictatorship's starving millions of its people, while its attempt to prevent an American movie from being shown makes the front pages.
Still. The surrender to North Korea is a historical moment. It's far more significant than President Obama's announcement the same day of his opening toward Cuba. That is merely another sign of an administration's strategically weak and morally rudderless foreign policy. The capitulation to North Korea could be—unless we reverse course in a fundamental way—a signpost in a collapse of civilizational courage.
In his 1978 Harvard speech, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn saw it all, and said it all:
“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.
“Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable, as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and with countries not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
“Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”
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