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Plutocracy: US Media Concerned about the Political Influence of the Super Rich

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 11-01-2011

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Conventional wisdom used to be that Europeans envy the rich, while Americans hope to emulate them. Now, Americans are increasingly concerned about rising inequality and the influence of the tiny elite of the super rich.

Plutocracy is a very popular topic of discussion in the US media at the moment. I am quite surprised.

It can’t be a coincidence that even mainstream and center-right publications like Foreign Affairs, The American Interest and The Atlantic write about it extensively right now:

The American Interest devotes an entire issue on plutocracy, including articles by Fukuyama and Russel Mead. Chairman Fukuyama explains:

We mean not just rule by the rich, but rule by and for the rich. We mean, in other words, a state of affairs in which the rich influence government in such a way as to protect and expand their own wealth and influence, often at the expense of others. As the introductory essay to this issue shows, this influence may be exercised in four basic ways: lobbying to shift regulatory costs and other burdens away from corporations and onto the public at large; lobbying to affect the tax code so that the wealthy pay less; lobbying to allow the fullest possible use of corporate money in political campaigns; and, above all, lobbying to enable lobbying to go on with the fewest restrictions. Of these, the second has perhaps the deepest historical legacy.

Scandalous as it may sound to the ears of Republicans schooled in Reaganomics, one critical measure of the health of a modern democracy is its ability to legitimately extract taxes from its own elites. The most dysfunctional societies in the developing world are those whose elites succeed either in legally exempting themselves from taxation, or in taking advantage of lax enforcement to evade them, thereby shifting the burden of public expenditure onto the rest of society.

Walter Russell Mead discusses "American Dreams, American Resentments":

The professional upper-middle class identifies with populist anger about the wealthy and Wall Street. What it cannot understand is that the plumbers, factory workers and truckers often seem angrier with them than they are with Wall Street malefactors of far greater wealth.

Analysts like Thomas Frank interpret the failure of the lower- and middle-middle class to focus on the real plutocracy rather than the upper-middle class as a symptom of the false consciousness of American workers that has historically stunted the development of genuinely progressive ideology and social movements in the United States.

Chrystia Freeland writes about "The Rise of the New Global Elite" in The Atlantic:

A multibillion-dollar bailout and Wall Street’s swift, subsequent reinstatement of gargantuan bonuses have inspired a narrative of parasitic bankers and other elites rigging the game for their own benefit. And this, in turn, has led to wider—and not unreasonable—fears that we are living in not merely a plutonomy, but a plutocracy, in which the rich display outsize political influence, narrowly self-interested motives, and a casual indifference to anyone outside their own rarefied economic bubble.

Through my work as a business journalist, I’ve spent the better part of the past decade shadowing the new super-rich: attending the same exclusive conferences in Europe; conducting interviews over cappuccinos on Martha’s Vineyard or in Silicon Valley meeting rooms; observing high-powered dinner parties in Manhattan. Some of what I’ve learned is entirely predictable: the rich are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted, different from you and me.

What is more relevant to our times, though, is that the rich of today are also different from the rich of yesterday. Our light-speed, globally connected economy has led to the rise of a new super-elite that consists, to a notable degree, of first- and second-generation wealth. Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition—and many of them, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who didn’t succeed so spectacularly. Perhaps most noteworthy, they are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves. (…)

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein waving away public outrage in 2009 by saying he was “doing God’s work” (…)

At a Wall Street Journal conference in December 2009, Paul Volcker, the legendary former head of the Federal Reserve, argued that Wall Street’s claims of wealth creation were without any real basis. “I wish someone,” he said, “would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth—one shred of evidence.” (…)

… the former five-term Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: iconic libertarian, preeminent defender of the free market, and (at least until recently) the nation’s foremost devotee of Ayn Rand. When the high priest of capitalism himself is declaring the growth in economic inequality a national crisis, something has gone very, very wrong.

Robert C. Lieberman, professor at Columbia University, writes a book review in the latest issues of Foreign Affairs "Why the Rich Are Getting Richer. American Politics and the Second Gilded Age":

Increasing inequality in the United States has long been attributed to unstoppable market forces. In fact, as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson show, it is the direct result of congressional policies that have consciously — and sometimes inadvertently — skewed the playing field toward the rich. (…)

The wealthiest Americans, among them presumably the very titans of global finance whose misadventures brought about the financial meltdown, got richer. And not just a little bit richer; a lot richer. In 2009, the average income of the top five percent of earners went up, while on average everyone else’s income went down. This was not an anomaly but rather a continuation of a 40-year trend of ballooning incomes at the very top and stagnant incomes in the middle and at the bottom. The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from roughly eight percent in the 1960s to more than 20 percent today.

This is what the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call the "winner-take-all economy." It is not a picture of a healthy society. Such a level of economic inequality, not seen in the United States since the eve of the Great Depression, bespeaks a political economy in which the financial rewards are increasingly concentrated among a tiny elite and whose risks are borne by an increasingly exposed and unprotected middle class. Income inequality in the United States is higher than in any other advanced industrial democracy and by conventional measures comparable to that in countries such as Ghana, Nicaragua, and Turkmenistan. It breeds political polarization, mistrust, and resentment between the haves and the have-nots and tends to distort the workings of a democratic political system in which money increasingly confers political voice and power.

 

What do you think?

Does the US (and increasingly Europe) resemble a plutocracy? What’s the effect on the "health" of our societies/democracies?

Is the American Dream still relevant because many super rich were not born rich and many in the lower middle classes blame the upper middle class rather than the super rich?

Can you provide Volcker with the requested shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth?

Cross-posted from my blog Atlantic Review


The Moderate Voice

Grass Roots Starting to Influence State and Local Politics

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 10-01-2011

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In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, November 3rd, as many of us were settling into our beds preparing to bask in pleasant dreams about the outcome of the General Election, Joe Straus, the Speaker of the Texas House, announced:

“I will continue to lead the Texas House in a fair and respectful way as Speaker, and at this early hour, I’m grateful to have 122 colleagues support me for Speaker, including 76 Republicans and 46 Democrats, and I look forward to visiting with more members in the coming days.”

For many of us newly christened political junkies, this just didn’t go down well with our morning coffee. After all, the voice of the people had only been expressed hours before. You may have asked yourself, “In this climate, how dare a politician take our support, the public’s support, for granted?” And there’s the rub - Straus did not believe that he needed our support. No speaker during the last three decades had needed the support of Texas voters. The pre-election Good ‘Ole Boy network had been at work behind the scenes. And, Speaker Straus thought that 2010/2011 would be business as usual.

In 2008 Judge Sam Sparks overturned the “speaker’s statute”. Until then it was illegal for advocacy groups to spend “anything of value” to influence the election of the speaker.

Because of the “speaker’s statute” the Speaker’s race had never been at the forefront of the average voters’ minds. It is possible that no previous Speaker of the Texas House ever pondered if individual Texans would be supportive, if they were given the opportunity to vote for them. It is likely that past Speakers knew that most Texan’s didn’t know the difference between the Texas House of Representatives and the U.S. House of Representatives, and until now, no Speaker ever lost sleep over voter’s preferences.

Since most new grassroots organizations didn’t mobilize until early 2009, well after the last speaker’s race during the last legislative session, we had not learned yet about the importance of that race. But, boy did we learn a thing or two that spring. We watched the delays on the state house floor, we learned about the calendar committees, and the importance of the committee chairs. The role of the Speaker as the ultimate power broker at the state level became crystal clear. And we thought…well, next time around we will be ready, and we will be heard.

After the completion of the 81st Legislative session in 2009, grassroots groups across the entire state began educating themselves about our state legislative process. We hosted several Citizen Candidate Forums here in the Central Texas. It was our goal to look every candidate in the eye and to ask questions that would help us see behind the stump speech to learn more about each candidate’s guiding principles. After learning about these candidates MANY of you donated to their campaigns, block-walked, phone banked, and stepped out of your comfort zones with your neighbors and friends to promote those who had earned your support.

Even as we worked on our Get Out the Vote campaign in the fall, we regularly discussed our post election action plans. We never forgot the 2009 legislative session, and thought that we should begin thinking about the Republican’s upcoming selection for the Speaker of the House. We reached out to a couple of candidates, a few who were active in the Republican Party in my area, and even a blogger or two to try to get ahead of the Speaker issue. We knew that we ran the risk of addressing this issue too late in the game. We were told, “Wait until after the election.”

So, back to Wednesday morning, November 3rd… We were too late to the game to be able to proactively address the issue with our representatives. But once again, boy have we learned a thing or two. Our thanks go out to Speaker Straus for providing us with another learning opportunity. His tactic, announcing his own coronation via press release at midnight, tells me that the Speaker’s race is now a campaign issue. It will be at the forefront of our minds during our upcoming Citizen Candidate Forums.

The Central Texas 9-12 Project does not endorse candidates and we did not endorse a candidate for the Speaker’s race. We did sign the Letter on Leadership which asked our representatives to vote for a conservative candidate. We also supported the Senate Republican Executive Committee’s (SREC’s) request to caucus to select the next Speaker. We wanted an opportunity for constituents to weigh in on the selection process.

Our organization is primarily represented by Dr. Charles Schwertner (District 20), Larry Gonzales (District 52), Paul Workman (District 47), Mark Strama (District 50), and Jason Isaac (District 45). We will note their votes for the Speaker’s race and we WILL remember. We will judge the new Speaker, whoever he is, by the clear actions he takes to advance liberty and strengthen the State of Texas. But, more importantly, we are in this for the long-term, and we will watch, listen, and learn.


Big Government

Israeli ‘Human Rights’ Groups Are Political Agents of Influence

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 09-01-2011

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On Sunday December 19, the self-proclaimed “Israeli human rights” group B’Tselem disseminated a shocking story to the local and international media. B’Tselem claimed that the previous day Palestinian shepherd Samir Bani Fadel was peacefully herding his sheep when he was set upon by a mob of Israeli settlers. He alleged that these kippah-clad Israelis drove up in a car and chased him away. Then they torched the pasture and burned 12 pregnant ewes alive and badly burned five others. B’Tselem furnished reporters with graphic photos of the dead sheep.

While the media published the account without a shred of suspicion, the police found Fadel’s account hard to believe. Observant Jews neither drive nor light fires on Saturdays.

And indeed, when questioned by police investigators, Fadel admitted he made the whole attack up. He accidentally killed his herd himself when he set fire to a pile of bramble. Too embarrassed to admit his mistake, he decided to blame the Jews and become a local hero. B’Tselem was only too happy to spread his lies.

On January 3, Channel 2 aired a video produced by B’Tselem. The video purported to show residents of Yitzhar — a community in Samaria - throwing rocks at Palestinians from the neighboring village Bureen for no reason whatsoever.  Channel 2 presented the footage as further proof - if anyone needed it — that the Israelis who live in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem are a bunch of lawless, hate-filled, violent fanatics.

Unfortunately for B’Tselem and Channel 2, Yitzhar residents also own a video camera. And they also filmed the event. The Samaria Regional Council released the video to the media on Tuesday.

The Yitzhar video exposes the B’Tselem video as a complete fraud. As it happened, on Monday afternoon a group of Palestinians joined by Israelis and/or foreigners descended on Yitzhar and attacked its residents with bricks and rocks of all sizes. Among the assailants was the cameraman who shot the footage presented on Channel 2. Not only did the videographer - who has blond hair - participate in the violent assault on Yitzhar. He staged the incident by alternately throwing rocks, filming, and directing his fellow attackers where to throw their rocks.

The Jews of Yitzhar only began throwing rocks to fend off their attackers.

This past Saturday the Palestinians’ invented what has all the trappings of a new blood libel against Israel.

Every Friday Israeli anti-Zionist activists, Palestinian Authority employees, and foreign anti-Israel groups join forces at Bil’in. Together they attack IDF soldiers guarding construction of the separation barrier adjacent to Bil’in village.

Saturday, the PA claimed that Jawaher Abu-Rahmeh, a woman from Bil’in died from tear gas inhalation at the previous day’s riot. The PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed that her death was an IDF war crime.

Erekat of course, has not distinguished himself as a paragon of truthfulness. To the contrary. He has a long track record of spreading lies about Israel on the international stage. In just one notable example, in April 2002, Erekat claimed in multiple television appearances that the IDF killed more than 500 people at Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield. He also claimed that the IDF buried some 300 people in mass graves.

The UN later reported that during the pitched battle in Jenin refugee camp, 52 Palestinians were killed. 23 IDF soldiers were killed in the battle.

Despite Erekat’s rich history of lies, B’Tselem’s Executive Director Jessica Montell joined his bandwagon immediately. As NGO Monitor documented, in a Twitter post on Saturday, Montell wrote, “Sad start to the year. Jawaher Abu Rahmeh died this morning after inhaling tear gas yesterday in Bil’in demonstration.”

Her claim was echoed in similar statements from her fellow Israeli anti-Zionist pressure groups. Anarchists Against the Wall, Yesh Din, Gush Shalom, Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, and attorney Michel Sfard who is associated with Yesh Din, Al Haq and Breaking the Silence all alleged that the IDF murdered Abu Rahmah with tear gas.

As luck would have it though, eyewitnesses say that Abu Rahma didn’t even participate in the weekly riot. Ilham Abu Rahma, her 19 year old cousin and neighbor told Britain’s Independent that deceased was at home when the riot took place.

For its part, the IDF has reported that the medical information it received about Abu Rahma’s death are not consistent with death through overexposure to tear gas. During her hospitalization, Abu Rahma received an unusual mix of drugs that is usually only administered to treat poisoning, drug overdose or leukemia. The IDF also revealed that Abu Rahma had been recently hospitalized at a Palestinian hospital.

The easiest way to determine what caused Abu Rahma’s death would of course have been to perform an autopsy. The IDF asked for one to be performed. But the PA refused the request and instead buried her in record time.

THE SAD truth is that a case can easily be made that all of this might have been avoided if B’Tselem hadn’t taken it upon itself to delegitimize Israel’s right to self-defense. As part of its efforts, in 2002 B’Tselem spearheaded the international campaign against Israel’s right to build the separation fence to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of its major cities.

As NGO Monitor’s recent in-depth report about the lawfare campaign to use the language of law to criminalize Israel shows, B’Tselem was the first NGO to launch a campaign against the security fence. It coined the draconian term, “The Wall” to define the barrier which is in most places nothing more than a wire fence. NGO Monitor recalls that in 2002 and 2003 B’Tselem “issued two lengthy position papers, which became accepted as the definitive analyses of ‘the Wall’ and were widely adopted.”

B’Tselem’s campaign against the security fence was quickly joined by other NGOs, the UN and the EU. Its allegations formed the basis of the international campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to build the barrier.

That campaign reached a high point in 2004 with the publication of International Court of Justice’s opinion on the matter. The ICJ’s opinion parroted B’Tselem’s charge that Israel has no right to defend itself from Palestinian aggression. So too, the “evidence” against Israel’s right to defend itself submitted by the PLO was based largely on the two B’Tselem reports.

If B’Tselem hadn’t launched the campaign against the fence, it is possible that Israel’s decision to built it might have been greeted with the same indifference as the security fences erected by the likes of India, Spain and numerous other countries in disputed territories. That is, it might have been seen as the legitimate act of self-defense it is.

The central role that B’Tselem and its anti-Zionist comrades in the Israeli NGO community play in the international political war being waged against Israel’s right to exist first came under significant public scrutiny following the publication of the UN Human Rights Committee’s Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead in 2009.

As NGO Monitor and the Zionist student movement Im Tirtzu demonstrated last year, B’Tselem and 15 other Israeli NGOs funded by the New Israel Fund and foreign governments lobbied the UN Human Rights Council to form the Goldstone Commission with the clear agenda of criminalizing Israel and whitewashing Hamas’s war crimes against the Jewish state.

Moreover, B’Tselem and its fellow-NIF grantees, provided 92 percent of the anti-Israel allegations originating from Israeli sources. These allegations - most of which were firmly denied by the IDF - were used by Judge Richard Goldstone and his colleagues to “prove” that Israel committed war crimes in prosecuting its campaign to protect southern Israel from Hamas’s illegal missile onslaught.

Not surprisingly, when scrutinized, like the story about the scorched pregnant ewes, the Yitzhar “bullies” and the “illegality” of the fence, these allegations came apart under scrutiny.

For instance, B’Tselem claimed that during Cast Lead the IDF killed 1,387 Gazans and only 330, or less than a quarter of them were combatants. As NGO Monitor notes, the Goldstone report’s claim that “Only one of every five [Gazan] casualties was a combatant,” clearly was based on B’Tselem’s numbers.

The IDF - which B’Tselem and its comrades claim has no credibility - reported that of 1166 Palestinian deaths, 709 were fighters killed in combat. Goldstone dismissed the IDF data.

Yet in November, Hamas’s “Interior Minister” Fathi Hamad admitted to the London-based Al Hayat newspaper that the IDF’s numbers were far more accurate than B’Tselem’s. According to Hamad, 600-700 Hamas fighters were killed in Cast Lead.

ONE OF the reasons that false stories by the likes of B’Tselem and its fellow Israeli-staffed anti-Zionist pressure groups are treated with respect by the local media and the international community alike is because they are perceived as Israeli groups. Why would Israelis lie about their own army?

Wednesday the Knesset voted to form a commission of inquiry to examine these groups’ sources of funding. The rationale behind this parliamentary investigation is clear. The time has come to determine just how “Israeli” these organizations that form such an integral part of the international political war against Israel actually are. How much of their funding comes from foreign governments? And if their foreign funding is significant, then how can they claim to be Israeli groups?

B’Tselem for instance receives funding from the British, Swiss, and Irish governments, Christian Aid, the Ford Foundation, DanChurchAid, (funded by the Danish Government), Diakonia, (funded by the Swedish and Norwegian governments and the EU), Trócaire, (funded by the Irish and UK governments),and others.

Yesh Din, which specializes in conducting domestic lawfare against the IDF is funded by the Irish, Dutch, British, German, and Norwegian governments, the EU, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

Physicians for Human Rights- Israel, Breaking the Silence, Bimkom, Peace Now, Gush Shalom, Adalah, the Geneva Initiative, the Committee for Peace and Security and so on and so forth all receive massive funding from foreign governments. The Samaria Regional Council alleges that over the past decade, foreign governments have donated hundreds of millions of euros, dollars and shekels to these Israeli “grassroots” groups.

The fact is that these groups’ claim to grassroots’ status is as credible as their allegations of Israeli criminality and Palestinian victimhood. In truth, these NGOs are local agents of foreign governments who use them to advance their anti-Israel policies.

The Knesset’s move to investigate these groups was greeted by righteous rage from the groups’ leaders and sympathetic Leftist Knesset members. The Knesset’s decision was castigated as “McCarthyite,” and “anti-democratic.” But it is clear these groups and their parliamentary allies doth protest too much.

No one is talking about shutting them down. But the Israeli public has a right to know what these groups really are. And our political representatives have an obligation to investigate and expose subversive foreign agents. Israel and Israel’s democratic system is weakened, not strengthened when the state’s international reputation and domestic discourse is hijacked by foreign governments who hide behind their Israeli foot soldiers.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

Big Peace

Is religion losing influence in America?

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 31-12-2010

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The number who think so is near an all time high.
American Thinker Blog

The Limits of Western Influence over Belarus

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 23-12-2010

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We are pleased to welcome back Professor Lucan Way of the University of Toronto with our second Election Report on the recent Belarusian presidential election.

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On Sunday, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka orchestrated his re-election to a fourth term with an official vote tally of 80 percent - a move that was followed by a large-scale crackdown on the opposition. Despite Belarus’s small size and proximity to Western Europe, Europe’s last Dictator has remained virtually unchallenged since gaining power in 1994. What can the West do? Some have recently suggested that the West could more effectively promote democracy in Belarus by taking a tougher stand.

Yet, the truth is that there are severe limitations on the West’s influence over Belarus. First, Russia’s extensive support for Belarus has severely blunted the impact of Western democratizing pressure. Thus, after Lukashenka forcibly shut down the legislature and imposed a dictatorial constitution in 1996, Western financial aid fell dramatically and European powers deprived Belarus of its observer status in the Council of Europe. But massive support from Russia almost entirely inoculated Lukashenka against these measures. Russian assistance, which has included heavily subsidized natural gas and vast revenues via the resale of Russian oil and arms, accounted for an estimated 20 to 30 percent of Belarus’s GDP. As a result, Lukashenka’s abuses only increased. In 1999, four major opposition figures disappeared, apparently at the hands of government-sponsored death squads and elections throughout the 2000s were marked by extensive harassment of opposition and massive vote fraud. During the 2006 Presidential elections, for example, a significant portion of the vote was stolen and police repression and censorship made it effectively impossible for the opposition to carry out a national campaign. The ppposition failed to gain seats in parliamentary elections in 2004 or 2008.

Given Belarusian dependence on Russian assistance, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has ironically been the biggest impetus for change in Belarus. Following years of uncritical support by Boris Yeltsin, tensions between Russia and Belarus increased markedly under Putin, who has sought to reduce Russia’s subsidization of Belarus. Tensions reached a climax this summer when Kremlin-controlled NTV broadcast a highly critical documentary of Lukashenka that was seen by as many as 40 percent of Belarusians. Lukashenka accused Russian companies of funding Belarusian opposition.

It is a vast exaggeration to say that the keys to the Belarusian Presidency lie in the Kremlin. Indeed, Russian criticism of Lukashenka appears to have had little direct impact on Belarusian voters. Yet, Russia’s relations to Lukashenka have strongly influenced the degree of Lukashenka’s vulnerability to Western democratizing pressure. Deteriorating Russian-Belarusian relations forced Lukashenka to seek financial assistance from the West and likely convinced Lukashenka to partially ease control over the electoral process. Thus, while Lukashenka continued to enjoy massive advantages during the most recent election campaign, the opposition was given greater freedom to campaign and far more access to TV and radio than it had enjoyed in 2006. These limited concessions to the opposition were clearly a response to Western demands. But such pressure would almost certainly have been ignored in the absence of tensions between Russia and Belarus.

Such changes, of course, hardly made the elections democratic. Thus, the government appears to have engaged in massive vote fraud and, after the election, assaulted and arrested a number of opposition candidates and detained over 600 opposition activists. (Lukashenka’s readiness to engage in such abuse was likely bolstered by the fact that on the Friday before the elections, Russia agreed to provide Belarus with duty-free crude oil in exchange for a closer economic union.)

The second and perhaps greatest impediment to effective Western pressure is the fact that the opposition has apparently failed to garner large scale mass support. Of course, given the degree of repression and authoritarian control in Belarus, it is quite difficult to adduce the actual extent to which the population backs Lukashenka or his opponents. Yet, few in the opposition claim majority electoral support and available independent polling suggests that Lukashenka has enjoyed much more support than anyone in the opposition. Existing and highly imperfect evidence suggests that Lukashenka is backed by about a third of the population — far less than the official election results but far greater than any of his opponents. This fact deprives the West of a key mechanism for regime change and makes it much harder for either the West (or Russia) to dictate events on the ground.

All of this is not to argue against continued pressure on Lukashenka. Europe needs to unambiguously condemn Lukashenka’s election fraud and post-election crackdown. Nonetheless, a weak opposition and continued (if uncertain) assistance from Russia put Lukashenka in the driver’s seat. Sanctions and isolation are unlikely to yield significant results in the near-term.

The Monkey Cage

D.C. elites pronounce Palin a “negative influence in national politics”

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 16-12-2010

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“We hear it through the media,” Sarah Palin replied — perhaps presciently and with the soupçon of an eye roll? — in October of 2007 when Charlie Rose asked earnestly “Do you know what President Bush’s energy policy is?” during a roundtable with two distaff governors (Palin and Rose above). “You’re presuming there is one,” chimed [...]
Liberty Pundits Blog

China is Moving Past the US in Global Influence

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 15-12-2010

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That’s the implicit message in a new article published in Germany’s Der Spiegel. Looking at the dynamics behind China General Secretary Hu Jintao’s visit to Europe, the author is blunt (and accurate):

“China is seizing on Europe’s debt problems to expand its influence on the continent with large-scale investments and purchases of government bonds issued by highly-indebted states. The strategy could push Europe into the same financial dependency on China that is posing a dilemma for the US.”

The Chinese government is being very shrewd in how it handles the Europeans,  directing its attention and support to those that are most vulnerable and in the most need of economic support.   There has been a shift in their strategic approach to the world.  They are buying more non-dollar bonds with their reserves and are linking these purchases of debt with their geopolitical goals. More:

“Indeed, the rising superpower is cleverly capitalizing on the euro crisis to extend its long-term political and economic influence in Europe. Chinese offers of aid are mainly directed at the shakiest members of the euro zone, the heavily indebted so-called PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). The People’s Republic would like to win them over as long-term allies in the EU.

In the past, China had shown itself to be a ‘friend’ of Greece, Spain and Italy, and it purchased their government bonds at a time when other investors had fled, Premier Wen Jiabao said during a trip to Europe in October. ‘We will continue to provide aid and help certain countries overcome their difficulties.’”

The troubled Euro leaders are clearly sucking up to the Chinese.  Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had the Roman Colosseum bathed in red light when Chinese leaders visited and ordered Chinese characters projected onto the structure.

So long as America itself is mired in debt,  our international prestige will continue to sink.   Our influence in Asia has been on the decline,  and Russia is increasingly linking its economic fortunes with the Chinese. President Obama’s global strategy is based on the notion that if people “like us” our interests will be protected.  The Chinese have a better grip on reality:  it’s better to be respected than liked.

Big Peace

Insurers Searching For Public Relations Firm To Boost Their Influence In Washington

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 09-12-2010

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In Deadly Spin, insurance insider Wendell Potter describes how insurers rely on public relations firms to handle moments of crisis. The industry brought on APCO to discredit Michael Moore’s SICKO, worked with PR companies to shape their message during the health reform debate and consulted these companies when dealing with a death of a beneficiary to whom it had denied treatment. As Potter explains it, these groups have the contacts and the know-how to distribute industry talking points to editors, columnists, think tanks and reporters in a way that distorts their origin and boosts their legitimacy.

This approach is very effective in shifting public opinion and perceptions. The final health care law was fairly similar to AHIP’s original plan and it’s likely that the industry’s attack ads (funneled through the Chamber of commerce) and slew of negative made-to-order reports about reform probably had some impact in shifting the bill further to the right. With that said, it’s troubling to see that the industry is now re-grouping and looking for new PR representation as it moves into the all-important implementation phase of reform:

Five of the nation’s largest health insurance companies are taking a key step toward building their own inside-the-Beltway coalition to influence implementation of the new health law and congressional efforts to change it. The companies – Aetna, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Wellpoint – are shopping around Washington for a public relations firm to represent them, according to a source familiar with their work. Public Strategies and APCO are among PR firms that have spoken with the insurers, the source said.

“They plan to go public,” the person said. “They spent a ton of money [in 2009 on lobbying and the election] and liked being influential and they don’t want that to go away.”

The unfortunate thing for advocates of health reform is that with a Republican Congress — which came into power with the help of contributions from the industry — influencing the debate shouldn’t be terribly difficult, particularly when HHS is already “expanding quality bonuses to Medicare Advantage plans that receive only average quality ratings.” Agreeing, in other words, to the industry’s demands before they even settle on their PR representation. Imagine the other provisions insurers will be able to successfully water down if there isn’t serious push back on Capitol Hill and the advocacy community.

Wonk Room

Insurers Searching For Public Relations Firm To Boost Their Influence In Washington

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 09-12-2010

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In Deadly Spin, insurance insider Wendell Potter describes how insurers rely on public relations firms to handle moments of crisis. The industry brought on APCO to discredit Michael Moore’s SICKO, worked with PR companies to shape their message during the health reform debate and consulted these companies when dealing with a death of a beneficiary to whom it had denied treatment. As Potter explains it, these groups have the contacts and the know-how to distribute industry talking points to editors, columnists, think tanks and reporters in a way that distorts their origin and boosts their legitimacy.

This approach is very effective in shifting public opinion and perceptions. The final health care law was fairly similar to AHIP’s original plan and it’s likely that the industry’s attack ads (funneled through the Chamber of commerce) and slew of negative made-to-order reports about reform probably had some impact in shifting the bill further to the right. With that said, it’s troubling to see that the industry is now re-grouping and looking for new PR representation as it moves into the all-important implementation phase of reform:

Five of the nation’s largest health insurance companies are taking a key step toward building their own inside-the-Beltway coalition to influence implementation of the new health law and congressional efforts to change it. The companies – Aetna, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Wellpoint – are shopping around Washington for a public relations firm to represent them, according to a source familiar with their work. Public Strategies and APCO are among PR firms that have spoken with the insurers, the source said.

“They plan to go public,” the person said. “They spent a ton of money [in 2009 on lobbying and the election] and liked being influential and they don’t want that to go away.”

The unfortunate thing for advocates of health reform is that with a Republican Congress — which came into power with the help of contributions from the industry — influencing the debate shouldn’t be terribly difficult, particularly when HHS is already “expanding quality bonuses to Medicare Advantage plans that receive only average quality ratings.” Agreeing, in other words, to the industry’s demands before they even settle on their PR representation. Imagine the other provisions insurers will be able to successfully water down if there isn’t serious push back on Capitol Hill and the advocacy community.

Wonk Room

Turkey wants return to Ottoman-era influence - and no Israel (Ma’ariv)

Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 29-11-2010

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Iranian-style rhetoric from Turkey, from Ma’ariv, translated by Islamo-nazism blog:

Turkey – “Israel will not be able to remain over time an independent country, and a bi-national state will be established on all of the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River in which Jews and Palestinians will live,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in a number of meetings that he held with journalists and academics, including a number of Israeli academics. Davutoglu’s vision, which he revisited a number of times, is for Turkey to become a dominant force in the Middle East and further, that it will be the protector state of the above-cited bi-national state within a number of years.

Davutoglu, a professor of international relations, is considered to be the principal ideologue of the AKP, the party that is headed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the course of the meetings with academics and journalists, which were held prior to the eruption of the recent crisis between Turkey and Israel in the aftermath of the flotilla to the Gaza Strip and the killing of nine Turkish nationals on board the Mavi Marmara, Davutoglu said he did not believe that Israel would be able to sign peace agreements with its neighbors, including the state that is to be formed in the area of the Palestinian Authority.

The central idea that was put forward by Davutoglu, which he has been trying to promote by means of a number of journalists and Turkish government officials, is that Israel as an independent state is illegitimate in the region and, as such, is destined to disappear. That assessment is rooted in a deeper ideology that aspires to restore to Turkey the historic influence it wielded during the era of the Ottoman empire, which ruled the Middle East for close to 400 years. Davutoglu said on a number of occasions that he believed that peace would be restored to the Middle East only in the wake of deep and substantial Turkish intervention.

In other words, Davutoglu and Erdogan aspire to set a new regional order — Erdogan by means of populist rhetoric and closer ties with Turkey’s neighbors, Syria and Iran; Davutoglu by means of promulgating the ideological basis. This new order, as noted, has no room for Israel as an independent state. Both Erdogan and Davutoglu have been advancing a policy that promotes closer ties with Syria and Iran, and moves away from the West. Davutoglu added in his meetings with the journalists and academics that the historic [colonial] powers, (Britain and France) which conquered the Middle East from the Ottomans, are the ones that are responsible for the difficult situation that currently reigns in the Middle East, since they drew the borders in a way that suited their own political and military interests, without taking into account the demographic affiliation of the region’s residents.

Sounds like an ideal candidate for NATO, doesn’t it?

Iran and Turkey are now jockeying to become the major players in the Middle East because they perceive the weakness and fragmentation of the Arab world and the perceived reticence of the US to throw its weight around in that region outside of pressuring Israel. Iran’s ambition is actually greater than Turkey’s, as it seeks nothing less than world domination based on Islam, but both of them are trying to take advantage of a vacuum of power in the Middle East.

Maybe Israel should enter that vacuum as well.

After all, Iran’s rush to become a nuclear power is not necessarily to use it against Israel immediately - it is to cow the Muslim nations into its orbit, as they lose faith that the US would protect them. Iran sees nuclear weapons, and long-range missiles that can hit most of Europe, as its ticket to being a superpower. Turkey longs for a return to the regional influence it used to have and any alliance with Syria and Iran strengthens its position against more moderate Arab states. Fear is a powerful factor in diplomacy.

Israel already is a nuclear power and has a very good army. We already see that Arab states, especially in the Gulf, are more concerned with Iran than with Israel.

What would happen if Israel offered to protect Gulf states from any Iranian aggression?

Instantly, by the logic of the Turks and Iran, Israel would become a regional superpower. Notwithstanding their rhetoric about Jewish expansionism, Israel has been happy to keep things local unless it is threatened from afar. A move like that would make Turkey and Iran think twice before writing Israel off.

And if Israel would threaten to show some Muslim-style diplomatic muscle, the US might be persuaded to properly take its role as the world’s real superpower - something that it needs to do a lot more publicly in the Middle East. Behind-the-scenes maneuvering does not engender respect from Arabs. If stability is what is desired, only the US can achieve that - and it requires acting like a leader.



Elder of Ziyon

The real corrupting influence of earmarks

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 20-11-2010

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Congressmen totally undercut the high standards they expect from the agencies by forcing them to handle earmarks.
American Thinker Blog

Michele Bachmann’s Growing Influence

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 19-11-2010

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The New York Times is out with a must-read profile of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who has emerged as a leading face in the House of Representative’s swelling Tea Party ranks.

“During the run-up to the health care vote this year, Ms. Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, would head to a conference room in the National Republican Campaign Committee’s headquarters and hold Skype rallies, using the internet video service to address audiences around the country. Staff members walking by could hear the cheering crowds, roaring so loud they reverberated through the glass wall and out into the committee’s hallway. Such is the power of Ms. Bachmann — and also, possibly, the curse.”

“She is a driving force on a cable TV, a provocative and ubiquitous voice in a world where the distinction between personality and power is increasingly blurred. Now, with Republicans poised to retake the House in the new Congress, lawmakers are watching Ms. Bachmann to see if she can harness her status as an uncompromising — and sometimes undisciplined — spokeswoman for conservative principles and turn it into real legislative influence.”
Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire

Earmark Moratorium Shows Tea Party Influence In 2012

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 17-11-2010

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Tuesday’s Republican vote on imposing an earmark moratorium was a direct response to the rising influence of Tea Party conservatives in the Senate. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the de facto leader of the Tea Party Senate caucus, said “the significance of this policy victory cannot be overstated” in an e-mail to supporters.

But a close look at Tuesday’s voice vote to impose a non-binding moratorium on earmarks not only showcases the Tea Party’s clout in the Senate this year, but its significant influence in GOP primary politics in 2012 and beyond.

Several Republican senators who are up for re-election in 2012 and who have previously sought millions in earmarks reversed course on Tuesday to vote for the measure — a move for some that was undoubtedly intended to shore up their right flank in 2012. And even newly elected moderate Republican senators, like Illinois’ Mark Kirk and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, backed the measure, an indication that the politics of opposing earmarks is now viewed in the GOP as a clear political winner.

“Part of a politicians DNA is to talk out of both sides of their mouths,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, an organization that opposes earmarks. “So it’s not surprising that they have put their fingers into the political wind and sensed it has changed directions on earmarks.”

The clearest case in point: Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). Hutchison, who has been quiet about whether she’ll seek re-election in 2012, has been a notorious earmarker in the past and even voted against an earmark moratorium earlier this year. In 2010 alone, Hutchison requested nearly $ 167 million in earmarks either individually or with another member, according to Citizens Against Government Waste’s earmark database. Hutchison made bringing the bacon back to Texas a a central part of her unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

But Hutchison now faces the political reality of being challenged (again) from the right in 2012 should she decide to run for re-election. As Hotline On Call reported earlier this week, several Republicans are already considering primary challenges to Hutchison, running against her establishment profile.

Hotline On Call

Remarkable new paper on the influence of the sun on global warming

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 15-11-2010

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Find it here

It is by De Jager and Duhau. Page 99 onwards is probably the most interesting part. I haven’t been able to download any part of it and Google does not know of it but it is a chapter in a book about global warming in the 21st century. The authors are students of what goes on in the sun, with particular reference to solar cycles.

They find that solar activity has a large influence on earth’s temperature, with only a third of one degree of global warming over the last 400 years NOT predictable from solar activity . And that component could well be due to errors of measurement on the ground.

Of greatest interest, however, they say that we have just finished a grand maximum of temperature and are now headed downhill for a grand minimum — with a forecast drop of around 4 degrees this century. That’s roughly the inverse of what the IPCC predict (a median rise of about 4 degrees)

Given the high degree of correlation between solar activity and terrestrial temperature that the authors report, their prediction is many orders of magnitude more reliable than the output of the chaotic IPCC models that discount any influence from the sun. So global cooling here we come!

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don’t forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here

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Stop The ACLU

Obama: Hey, My Global Influence Rocks, So, Let Me Blame America

Posted by admin | Posted in The Capitol | Posted on 13-11-2010

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Once again, Obama makes it All About Himself at the G20 meeting

President Obama asserted Friday that the punishment his party took in midterm elections has not damaged his ability to advance U.S. interests overseas, saying his Asia trip has shown that many countries still want to work with the United States.

Well, yes, they do want to work with the United States. Not because of Obama, though, but, because we are The United States of America. Someone has a rather high opinion of himself.

Say, how’d that Olympics bid work out? Copenhagen? Nicolas Sarkozy has slammed Obama several times, and thinks he might be insane. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Obama no regarding economic policies many times, and rebuffed him on global trade imbalances at……the G20 meeting. He runs around the world apologizing for American exceptionalism, bows to world leaders, and is generally considered to be a lightweight. Iran toys with him like a rubber mouse. Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan have mostly tuned him out.

In a news conference following the Group of 20 summit, Obama said the United States, while still the world’s most powerful economy, can no longer dictate the terms of how the world does business, especially after a global economic turndown that many blame on American policies.

Right. The worldwide recession was all our fault. Just more of the same old Obama tearing down America on the world stage. And even the NY Times noticed that Obama kinda, well, failed at the G20. At least Jimmy Carter waited till he was out of office before going on a constant blame America rant.

Pirate’s Cove