Two years into his presidency, the man who promised to restore America's standing in world public opinion has rendered himself personally irrelevant on the world stage. President Obama came into office more popular abroad than he was even at home, where he won a resounding election victory. European crowds thronged his speeches; leaders complimented him on his cultural sensitivity; the foreign press praised his cosmopolitan roots. The cognoscenti were so enamored of Obama that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize barely nine months into office. The move embarrassed even Obama.
But as the world faces a cataclysm of popular revolt stretching across North Africa and into the Middle East, Obama stands mostly on the sidelines. He did nothing to support the brave Iranian demonstrators who flooded the streets of Tehran after fraudulent elections there in 2009. He waited too long to weigh in on the side of Egyptians who demanded an end to autocratic rule in their country.
Now, as tens of thousands of Libyans flee their country and despot Moammar Gadhafi orders air attacks on his own people, Obama dispatches his secretary to Capitol Hill to quiet administration critics urging the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
The wisdom of setting up a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone is debatable, but that wasn't the message Secretary Gates delivered. He implied that we couldn't do it because the U.S. doesn't have enough aircraft carriers in the region to support it. The administration seems intent in engaging in the opposite of saber rattling; call it saber sheathing instead. Following the decision to dispatch a chartered ferry to evacuate Americans trapped for days in the escalating violence in Tripoli, his comments make us look weak.
The protests spreading throughout the Arab and Muslim world came with little warning -- and it is far too early to tell whether things will end well for the people in the region or for United States' interests. For more than 60 years, the one thing that has united Arabs is their hatred for Israel and Israel's ally, the United States. Arab rulers have managed to quell opposition by ginning up hatred of Israel, crushing those who dare to challenge them, and -- in oil-rich countries -- providing a standard of living just high enough to keep the general populace from open revolt.
But it wasn't Obama who saw the demand for democracy coming. It was his predecessor George W. Bush. Indeed, the push for democracy in the Middle East was the linchpin of his foreign policy in the region. He gave countless speeches on the subject, rarely missing an opportunity to promote his freedom agenda. Yet, the very people who fawned over Obama openly reviled Bush.
Did Muslim Lobby Force Firing of Popular Radio Host?
Washington, D.C. radio station WMAL is once again being accused of firing a popular talk-show host because of his criticism of radical Muslims. The station, a major source of news and information for the nation's capital, claims that popular morning host Fred Grandy resigned on his own, but Grandy tells AIM that he was essentially forced to leave after his wife, who is also outspoken about radical Islam, was cut from the program.
The growing controversy over Grandy's departure has resulted in some Grandy supporters charging the station with being "Sharia-compliant," a reference to Islamic law, and with bending under pressure from the Council on American Islamic-Relations (CAIR), a Muslim lobbying organization that combats what it calls "Islamophobia" in the media.
Grandy, a former actor and Republican member of Congress, told AIM, "My wife and I have used our program over the last several months to warn about the spread of radical Islam at home and abroad. Last week, Catherine (known on the show as Mrs. Fred) delivered a very tough indictment against stealth jihad, and for her efforts she was told she was off the show. I then told management without Mrs. Fred at the microphone, I could not remain either and have resigned effective this morning."
A WMAL statement, which makes no mention of terminating "Mrs. Fred," was released on Thursday and claimed that "Fred Grandy has informed WMAL of his intention to resign from the station and its morning program, The Grandy Group. Veteran broadcast talent Bryan Nehman will continue to anchor the morning program and in the interim will be joined by several notable guest hosts and regular contributors. The station's morning show will also continue to provide the latest news, traffic and weather reports to its audience. WMAL remains committed to its goal of providing a forum for discussing a broad spectrum of issues while delivering compelling programming including Chris Plante, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin."
The statement on the Grandy matter was read on the air by another WMAL host, Chris Plante, who said that his broadcast opposition to radical Islam has not been curtailed in any way.
Grandy told AIM, "We cannot affirmatively conclude CAIR or any of the prominent Islamic organizations had anything to do with this. We do know, however, in 2005 representatives of CAIR in DC were successful in getting midmorning host Michael Graham fired for anti-Islamic statements he had made on the radio and TV."
Graham was fired from WMAL after describing Islam as a "terrorist organization" on his program and refusing to apologize or modify the description.
James Lafferty of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force, who insists that Grandy was "forced to walk away" from his program after the banning of his wife from the show, blames the controversy on CAIR. "CAIR frequently criticized Grandy for reading FBI reports and court documents on his radio show which labeled CAIR as `an unindicted co-conspirator' in the federal Holy Land Foundation terror finance trial," Lafferty said.
But CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper acted surprised by the news of Grandy's resignation and responded, "What is their evidence for that claim?," when informed that his group was being blamed for his departure.
Lafferty told AIM, "I heard from two very good sources that CAIR was involved in this and not only targeting Grandy but Sean Hannity." He said CAIR's strategy was to knock Grandy off the air and then go after Hannity, a nationally syndicated radio host carried by WMAL in the afternoon. Hannity also hosts a Fox News Channel TV show.
Lafferty has urged supporters of the Grandys to protest on Monday, March 7, and Tuesday, March 8, during "Call Out WMAL Days." He wants the public to call WMAL at (202) 895-2350 and (202) 686-3100 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each of those days and tell the station, "you will not listen to their station until Fred and Mrs. Fred Grandy return."
"America expects radio stations to be committed to free speech and the truth," he says. "We expect WMAL to grow a backbone and stand up to CAIR and the other radicals. Call early and often."
Economists: State, local pension funds understate shortfall by $1.5 trillion or more
Doubts about government pension accounting have been voiced by analysts for years, but with shortfalls in state and local pension plans exacerbated by the recession, the push to refigure pension fund shortfalls has gained political momentum.
The trillion-dollar gap arises from the government method of accounting, which several experts say significantly underestimates the cost of future pension payments.
"It's been a perfect storm," said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. When the pension liabilities are correctly tallied, "you get a very, very large number."
The cost of pension plans for the approximately 17 million state and local government workers have come under heightened scrutiny in recent weeks, particularly in Wisconsin, New Jersey and other states where governors are struggling to balance budgets and reduce costs.
In Wisconsin, for example, Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants state workers to pay 5.8 percent of their wages to fund the pension.
Even under current accounting methods, state and local governments are facing massive pension shortfalls - at least $344 billion, according to calculations by the Center for Retirement Research and other groups.
But when the accounting is revised to value future payments more accurately, in the critics' view, the amount that pensions are underfunded grows to more than $1.9 trillion, according to Munnell's calculations for 126 large plans.
Those calculations have been published in part in a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research.
By comparison, the entire federal debt held by the public is $9.3 trillion.
"By virtually any measure, that's an enormous number," said Jeffrey R. Brown, a finance professor at the University of Illinois who has studied the issue. "When you're short that much money, at some point you have to pay the piper."
If the pension obligations are as enormous as critics say, virtually every state and local government running a pension will have to invest more in its pension plan - either by cutting services or raising taxes - or gamble that it will achieve a high rate of return on its investments.
Shortage of Goodwill in Berkeley
When it comes to the foreign terrorists detained at Club Gitmo, the moonbats of Berkeley spread their arms wide in sanctimonious welcome. But Goodwill stores that help Americans cause them to fold those scrawny arms across their sunken chests:
Solano Avenue merchants are trying to stop the nonprofit giant from opening a thrift store in the upscale commercial district, saying it would be a magnet for the homeless, noisy delivery trucks and bargain-hungry shoppers not likely to patronize the area's boutique baby stores and Persian rug shops.
Goodwill hasn't reached an agreement with the landlord yet, but.
That has not stopped some merchants from circulating anti-Goodwill petitions and asking the city to stop the project on the grounds that it would alter the character of the neighborhood. .
The city cannot act on the issue until Goodwill signs a lease and moves ahead with the permit process. If there are enough complaints, a public hearing on the permit could be scheduled.
Meanwhile, vacant storefronts have been growing more numerous along Solano Avenue. With a little help from bureauweenies, they should be able to keep one vacant rather than let used goods be sold to the lower classes.
Brainless ban on lead again
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's father used a horse to get around his 1,100-acre Montana farm. When Jon got older, he sold the horse and bought a motorcycle.
Now, Montana's junior senator is trying to help keep the young citizens of Montana riding. At the start of this Congress, Tester reintroduced legislation dubbed "the dirt bike bill" that makes it possible for retailers to sell motorized vehicles (dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles) properly sized for children as young as six.
Why can't 6 year olds ride dirt bikes you may ask? If you thought it had something to do with the inherent danger of zipping around on what is essentially a small Harley Davidson, you'd be wrong. Instead, it has to do with lead. In 2008, the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Act made it illegal for children's toys to contain more than a specified amount of lead.
Concern over lead in children's toys came to a head in 2006 when a 4-year-old boy named Jarnell Brown of Minneapolis died after swallowing a heart-shaped charm bracelet made by Reebok. The charm, which came free in a box of shoes, turned out to be made almost entirely of the heavy metal, and Brown died of lead poisoning.
As part of subsequent toy-safety legislation, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., added a provision that would ban the metal from children's toys. The bill has led to the recall of an array of toys including dinosaur play sets, body boards, fishing poles, animal masks, and dolls.
As far as the bill was concerned, if children were going to ride dirt bikes, they had to adhere to the same set of regulations as Barbie dolls. And children's dirt bikes and ATVs had enough lead in their brake parts, battery terminals, and other internal components to keep them off the market. To Tester, this wasn't horse sense; it was horse's ass sense.
"I don't think of them as toys," he said. "There's a big difference between a dirt bike and a dollhouse. I really don't see there being a big risk of children chewing on the motor and getting lead poisoning," Tester said.
A spokesman for Klobuchar said that that she never intended for dirt bikes or ATVS to be included in the bill, and is has in fact voted in favor of exempting them from the lead ban.
To some, a dirt bike is more than just a play thing, it's the best way to enjoy the Big Sky State's great outdoors. The fourth-largest state in the country, Montana really is an "all-terrain" state, featuring everything from the mountains to the prairies. Sure, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the outdoors, but few offer the high-speed and dust-kicking capabilities of motorized vehicles.
Tester says riding dirt bikes and ATVs to enjoy this eclectic landscape is a quintessential Montana experience. It's something he remembers from his youth when he used to ride around on his Honda 160 with his friends. It's a practice he passed down to his granddaughter when she got her first ATV at the age of four (it was small enough that Tester said he would certainly bend the frame if he tried to sit on it).
Government can't regulate just one side of the market: "I've spent the last week or so teaching price controls in my intro-to-economics class. One thing I tried to stress is that controls are often sold to the citizenry in a way that disguises what they really do. I don't mean just the obvious point that there are unintended consequences. I mean that such laws appear to regulate only the 'bad guys' while protecting the innocent folks on the other side of the transactions. In reality government can't regulate just one side of the market: Regulations on sellers are necessarily regulations on buyers, and regulations on buyers are necessarily regulations on sellers"
Keynesian politics and the minimum wage: "The minimum wage sets a lower bound that, even in good times, prevents the least-productive workers from finding work. In recession times, it's even worse. Keynesians in the golden age of Keynesianism were quite critical of the minimum wage and were sympathetic to its victims."
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)