Entries from February 2011

Six Dead in Iraqi ‘Day of Rage’

February 25th, 2011 at 11:30 am Comments Off

The Washington Post reports:

Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq on Friday, in the largest and most violent anti-government protests here since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world several weeks ago.

In two northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds opened fire, killing six demonstrators. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops.

The protests, billed as a “Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services.

“We want a good life like human beings, not like animals,” said Khalil Ibrahim, 44, one of about 3,000 protesters in the capital Baghdad.

Like many Iraqis, he railed against a government that locks itself in the highly fortified Green Zone, home to the parliament and the U.S. Embassy, and is viewed by most of its citizens as more interested in personal gain than public service.

The center of Baghdad was virtually locked down Friday, with soldiers searching protesters entering Liberation Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence reflected the concern of Iraqi officials that demonstrations here could gain traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.

Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up posts throughout the square, where flag-waving demonstrators shouted “No to unemployment,” and “No to the liar al-Maliki,” referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Demonstrators trying to get across a bridge going from the square to the Green Zone clashed with security forces. The demonstrators knocked down some of the concrete blast walls that were put up Thursday night and threw rocks at troops who beat them back with batons. Six riot police and 12 demonstrators were wounded in the melee, said police and hospital officials.

The protests stretched from the northern city of Mosul to the southern city of Basra, reflecting the widespread anger many Iraqis feel at the government’s seeming inability to improve their lives.

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Santorum: Boehner Should Defend DOMA

February 25th, 2011 at 11:13 am 9 Comments

The Hill reports:

One possible Republican presidential candidate is putting pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to defend in court the federal law that bans the recognition of gay marriage.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a social conservative who’s a dark-horse presidential candidate, said the Speaker needs to step forward after President Obama’s decision to direct the Justice Department to drop its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) from judicial challenges.

Santorum tweeted Friday morning:

Time for Speaker Boehner to defend DOMA http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/260615/house-intervention-doma-cases-ed-whelan

Obama abandoned defending DOMA, the 1990s law which allows states and the federal government to ignore same-sex marriages and civil unions in other states, in his latest move to expand the gay community’s rights since taking office.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in his letter to Congress announcing the shift, though, that members of Congress could step forward to defend DOMA in court if they wish.

Boehner did not condemn Obama’s move outright, though his spokesman said earlier this week that the timing was inappropriate for the president to drop its defense of DOMA.

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GOP Cuts Hit Border Security

February 25th, 2011 at 8:58 am 5 Comments

I’ve written about border security previously here at FrumForum and I’m not going to pretend that border security issues are simple ones.  They tie into everything from labor economics to drug policy to civil liberties issues, and reasonable people can debate any number of matters relating to border security.  One thing seems clear, however.  Policing the border is an expensive business and it is a necessity even in tough budgetary times.

That’s why this story is so disconcerting.  I fully realize that in the current budget situation, nothing can be taken off the table.  I also know there is horse-trading in the budget process, so proposals that come up early in the process aren’t necessarily what the sponsors really want or expect to be in the final budget.  That having been said, details like this raise concerns:

The House voted mostly along party lines over the weekend to slash spending by an estimated $600 million for border security and immigration enforcement for the remainder of this fiscal year.  The budget allocates $350 million less for border security fencing, infrastructure and technology than Congress approved last year, and $124 million below what the Department of Homeland Security requested.  The bill also cuts an estimated $159 million over last year for Customs and Border Protection modernization and construction programs, and is $40 million less than the agency sought to get the job done.

While it appears that illegal immigration declined at least for a time during the current economic downturn, the drug cartel warfare in Mexico has worsened.  For example, over 50 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez during one recent weekend. Violence has spread to areas far from the border like Acapulco and Guadalajara, and in a particularly brazen act, two American Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents were shot recently in Mexico.  One of them, Special Agent Jaime Zapata, died in the line of duty.

House Republicans have talked tough about the need for more border security, but they don’t seem to be backing up that rhetoric with financial support.  It’s easy to simply complain about the situation in Mexico and on the border, but it takes real work to try and improve the situation.  That work doesn’t come for free.  While it is true that no aspect of the federal government should consider itself to be immune from budgetary review, it is also true that one can be pennywise and pound-foolish with respect to cutting budgets for necessary services.  Cutting border security funding is one example of such a short-sighted approach.

Libyan Rebels Repel Qaddafi Counterattack

February 25th, 2011 at 4:16 am Comments Off

The New York Times reports:

BENGHAZI, seek Libya — Rebels seeking to overturn the 40-year rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi repelled a concerted assault by his forces on Thursday on cities close to the capital, physician removing any doubt that Libya’s patchwork of protests had evolved into an increasingly well-armed revolutionary movement.

The series of determined stands by rebel forces on Thursday — especially in the strategic city of Zawiyah, near important oil resources and 30 miles from the capital, Tripoli — presented the gravest threat yet to the Libyan leader. In Zawiyah, more than 100 people were killed as Colonel Qaddafi’s forces turned automatic weapons on a mosque filled with protesters, a witness said. Still, residents rallied afterward.

Colonel Qaddafi’s evident frustration at the resistance in Zawiyah spilled out in a rant by telephone over the state television network charging that Osama bin Laden had drugged the town’s youth into a rebellious frenzy.

Al Qaeda is the one who has recruited our sons,” he said in a 30-minute tirade broadcast by the network. “It is bin Laden.”

Colonel Qaddafi said, “Those people who took your sons away from you and gave them drugs and said ‘Let them die’ are launching a campaign over cellphones against your sons, telling them not to obey their fathers and mothers.”

The violence on Thursday underscored the contrast between the character of Libya’s revolution and the uprising that toppled autocrats in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. Unlike those Facebook-enabled youth rebellions, the insurrection here has been led by people who are more mature and who have been actively opposing the government for some time. It started with lawyers’ syndicates that have campaigned peacefully for two years for a written constitution and some semblance of a rule of law.

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Fueled by popular anger, the help of breakaway leaders of the armed forces and some of their troops, and weapons from looted military stockpiles or smuggled across the border, the uprising here has escalated toward more violence in the face of increasingly brutal government crackdowns.

At the revolt’s starting point, in the eastern city of Benghazi, Fathi Terbil, 39, the human rights lawyer whose detention first ignited the protests, drew a map of rebel-held territory in striking distance of Tripoli. “It is only a matter of days,” he said.

Free Libya Learning Self-Government

February 25th, 2011 at 4:07 am Comments Off

The New York Times reports:

BENGHAZI, pilule Libya — The rebels here said they caught a spy in the court building, ampoule the nerve center of the uprising, recording insurgent plans on a cellphone camera. The response was swift. Prosecutors interrogated the man on Thursday, and the rebels said they planned to detain him, for now.

“We want to know if he’s alone,” said Fathi Terbil, the lawyer whose detention set off Libya’s rebellion and who is now one if its leaders.

In the city where the Libyan uprising began, lawyers, prosecutors, judges and average citizens who oppose the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi are adjusting to unfamiliar roles: they are keepers both of an evolving rebellion, as well as law and order in Libya’s second largest city.

And they fret that their gains will be reversed, by people and groups sympathetic to Colonel Qaddafi, who still maintain a presence.

Since Sunday, when government forces withdrew and Benghazi became the first major city to fall under rebel control, residents and rebels here have been left to hammer out a new way of life and governance.

On Thursday, the fruits of that effort were beginning to take a rough shape. A judge, still wearing his robes, wandered through traffic, ordering drivers to put on their seat belts. At another intersection, three young men helped an elderly police officer direct a traffic jam.

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Brooks: Why Mitch Needs To Run

February 25th, 2011 at 4:00 am 22 Comments

David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

On Feb. 11, diagnosis Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana met with a group of college students. According to The Yale Daily News, he told them that there is an “excellent chance” he will not run for president. Then he mounted the podium at the Conservative Political Action Conference and delivered one of the best Republican speeches in recent decades.

This is the G.O.P. quandary. The man who would be the party’s strongest candidate for the presidency is seriously thinking about not running. The country could use a serious, competent manager, which Governor Daniels has been, and still he’s thinking about not running. The historic moment calls for someone who can restrain debt while still helping government efficiently perform its duties. Daniels has spent his whole career preparing for this kind of moment, and still he’s thinking about not running.

The country also needs a substantive debate about the role of government. That’s exactly what an Obama-Daniels contest would provide. Yet because Daniels is a normal person who doesn’t have an insatiable desire for higher office, he’s thinking about not running.

Daniels’s Conservative Political Action Conference speech had a serious and weighty tone. He spoke for those who believe the country’s runaway debt is the central moral challenge of our time. Yet within government’s proper sphere of action, he said Republicans have to be the “initiators of new ideas.” He spoke of the program he started that provides health insurance for low-income residents, and the education program that will give scholarships to students in failing schools so they can choose another.

“Our first thought,” he said, “is always for those on life’s first rung, and how we might increase their chances of climbing.”

He also spoke of expanding the party’s reach. In a passage that rankled some in the audience and beyond, he argued that “purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers.” Republicans, he continued, “will need people who never tune in to Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean.” He spoke as a practical Midwesterner, appealing to hard-core conservatives and the not so hard-core.

Daniels’s speeches are backed up by his record.

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Shuttle “Discovery” Makes Final Liftoff

February 25th, 2011 at 3:54 am Comments Off

The BBC reports:

The US shuttle Discovery has launched from the Kennedy Space Center for the last time.

The orbiter roared into a bright blue Florida sky, leaving the pad at 1653 local time (2153 GMT).

Its 11-day mission will see it deliver a new store room and a sophisticated humanoid robot to the International Space Station (ISS).

Only two further flights remain by Endeavour and Atlantis, which Nasa is trying to see concluded this year.

The orbiter fleet is then expected to retire to museums.

As usual, huge crowds had gathered on all the approach roads leading to the Nasa facility and on the beaches along Florida’s Space Coast – everyone wanting to witness a piece of history.

They all had to wait a little longer than expected – the final countdown was delayed by three minutes as a problem was fixed with the computer system that tracks the shuttle to orbit.

As soon as the issue was resolved, ground controllers restarted the clock and called out to Discovery’s crew: “Enjoy the ride”. Shuttle Commander Steve Lindsey replied: “We appreciate all your work; and for those watching, get ready to witness the majesty and the power of Discovery as she lifts off one final time.”

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US Pulls Out Of “Vital” Afghan Valley

February 25th, 2011 at 3:50 am Comments Off

The New York Times reports:

After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, ask the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.

Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”

The reorganization, which follows the complete Afghan and American withdrawals from isolated outposts in nearby Nuristan Province and the Korangal Valley, runs the risk of providing the Taliban with an opportunity to claim success and raises questions about the latest strategy guiding the war.

American officials say their logic is simple and compelling: the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.

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Lowry: Obama “Cowardly” On Gay Marriage

February 25th, 2011 at 3:43 am 7 Comments

Rich Lowry writes in National Review:

Pres. Barack Obama wants us to believe he’s the most ineffectual opponent of gay marriage imaginable.

If we take him at his word, for sale he’s a supporter of the traditional definition of marriage who just happens to undermine his own position at every turn. If only this were the way he went about advancing the rest of his agenda. What makes his opposition to gay marriage different, medical of course, is that he doesn’t believe it.

Obama is a closeted supporter of gay marriage who’s too cowardly and cynical to be open about it. This should be a grave insult to everyone — to the gay-rights lobby, whose dearest cause he won’t frankly embrace, and to the broader public, whom he apparently deems unworthy of hearing his true views.

In a classic case of political passive-aggression, Obama is creating the greatest possible latitude for the courts to impose gay marriage by fiat, culminating perhaps in a Supreme Court decision that would be the gay-marriage version of Roe v. Wade.

His Department of Justice just announced it will no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by Congress and signed by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1996. Obama opposes DOMA and so do top Justice Department officials. Yet they all had been making at least a show of acting consistently with the longstanding practice of defending from constitutional challenge all laws that can reasonably be defended — until now.

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Boeing Wins $35 Billion Tanker Plane Contract

February 25th, 2011 at 3:38 am 2 Comments

The Washington Post reports:

The weapons contract, which will provide an estimated 50,000 jobs, is one of the biggest in history and by far the largest likely to be awarded under the Obama administration.

The long-awaited decision followed years of contentious jockeying and millions of dollars spent on advertising and lobbying by the two companies. Boeing and European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS), manufacturer of the Airbus, each had won the award once before, only to see it pulled back amid allegations of impropriety in the contracting process.

In the meantime, the Air Force’s 500-strong tanker fleet has become dangerously decrepit. Many of the aircraft, refitted Boeing 707s from a half-century ago, are among the oldest jets still flying.

“Boeing was a clear winner,” Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said at a brief Pentagon news conference announcing the decision. The first 18 of 179 planes, to be called KC-46A tankers, are to be delivered by 2017.

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