Entries from April 2011

Qaddafi’s Son Killed in Airstrike

April 30th, 2011 at 11:52 pm 15 Comments

Reuters reports:

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi survived a NATO airstrike on Saturday night that killed his youngest son Saif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren, a Libyan government spokesman said.

Mussa Ibrahim said Saif al-Arab was a civilian and a student who had studied in Germany. He was 29 years old.

Libyan officials took journalists to the house, which had been hit by at least three missiles. The roof had completely caved in in some areas, leaving strings of reinforcing steel hanging down among chunks of concrete.

A table football machine stood outside in the garden of the house, which was in a wealthy residential area of Tripoli.

Bachmann: Debt Debate “Similar” To Holocaust

April 30th, 2011 at 11:46 pm 15 Comments

The AP reports:

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann on Saturday described the loss of “economic liberty” that young Americans face today as a “flash point of history” in which the younger generation will ask what their elders did to stop it.

In a speech to New Hampshire Republicans, Bachmann recounted learning about a horrific time in history as a child — the Holocaust — and wondering if her mother did anything to stop it. She said she was shocked to hear that many Americans weren’t aware that millions of Jews had died until after World War II ended.

Bachmann said the next generation will ask similar questions about what their elders did to prevent them from facing a huge tax burden.

“I tell you this story because I think in our day and time, there is no analogy to that horrific action,” she said, referring to the Holocaust. “But only to say, we are seeing eclipsed in front of our eyes a similar death and a similar taking away. It is this disenfranchisement that I think we have to answer to.”

The generation of Americans just entering the work force now could eventually see 75 percent of their earnings sucked up by income taxes, Social Security and Medicare, Bachmann said. Those young workers are going to wonder what people were doing while “watching quite literally our economic liberty pulled out from under us.”

Obama Team Preps for Online Campaign

April 30th, 2011 at 11:42 pm Comments Off

Politico reports:

President Obama’s aides have quietly turned the key in the engine of the massive campaign-in-waiting that’s been operating under the name Organizing for America for the past two years, and will begin his reelection with the sort of online and field organizations most presidential campaigns would be glad to have 16 months from now.

The leadership of the field organization — with hundreds of employees, tens of thousands of volunteers and massive online assets (primarily, a giant email list) — is shifting from the Democratic National Committee to the new campaign in Chicago. And in mass emails and in a quiet series of one-on-one meetings with volunteer leaders, the group is resetting its relationship with its supporters.

And while many Democrats have complained that Organizing for America’s vaunted abilities began to sputter once Obama became president, people watching the organization closely say it has succeeded in what may have been its central mission all along: building an unparalleled reelection organization while staying under the political world’s radar.

“Nothing like this has ever happened this early or this big,” said Natalie Foster, a former DNC new media director.

Obama’s reelection campaign may lack the novelty, and the purity, of his first campaign. Aides hope, though, that any enthusiasm gap — which they believe will close as the race begins to take shape — will be made up for by the sheer scale and capacity of the newly re-tuned organization.

Obama’s campaign will “give a little on the enthusiasm, but they gain a lot on the fact that they’re starting with this huge set of resources they didn’t have in 2008 ,” said a Democrat closely watching the ramp-up.

That Organizing for America remains very much a political powerhouse to be feared may come as a surprise to some who have bought into the popular narrative that group has floundered since the 2008 campaign. And early in Obama’s presidency, OFA did suffer from being wildly over-hyped: it was to be a juggernaut that would transform legislative politics, sending members of Congress of both parties running headlong in fear.

The group, to the dismay of some of Obama’s key supporters, never attempted to bring the “movement” feel of the campaign to a truly independent new organization. Its website remained BarackObama.com, and – after an early foray drew complaints from Capitol Hill – it shied away from doing anything that could get the president in trouble with his less trail-blazing allies in Congress.

But despite the fact that OFA did not live up to admittedly unrealistic expectations, it did play a role in keeping Democrats on board during the protracted health care fight, mobilizing on a large scale despite a sour national mood and skepticism of the bill, even among Democrats. The group’s 2008 breakthrough had been linking the online organization with offline action, and the organization’s leaders last month detailed some of their results in a Huffington Post article, writing that in August of 2009, more than 34,000 OFA members attended 410 town hall events to back the bill, and that 65,000 supporters paid in-person visits to members of Congress.

The New Face of France’s Far Right

April 30th, 2011 at 11:37 pm 4 Comments

The New York Times reports:

Step inside an office building in the town of Nanterre, just west of Paris, and you are confronted by what the nostrils register as an odor of the past, for it’s a rare thing these days to encounter the lingering taint of cigarette smoke in public spaces. The trail of it leads upstairs to a corner office and to the woman who has, in the past few months, come to dominate French newspapers and chat shows, where she is depicted variously as the new face of European bigotry or a herald of a new European political realignment.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front Party, greeted me with an aggressive handshake and the abrupt body language of a person who has a lot to do. It was mid-March. A flurry of polls had just come out showing that she would beat Nicolas Sarkozy if the French presidential election were held at that moment (the election will take place a year from now), and she was working hard to press her advantage. She wore a simple navy blue suit and no jewelry, and her hair was pulled back somewhat haphazardly, with stray wisps dangling. Her gaze is steely, but her eyes have humor in them. Her deep voice, with its smoker’s rasp, carries authority.

Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was a founder of the National Front in 1972 and served as its leader, and perennial presidential candidate, until his retirement in January, at 82. Along the way, thanks in part to his penchant for crisply expressed opinions — that the Nazi occupation of France was “not particularly inhuman,” that the gas chambers were “a detail,” that “the races are unequal,” that someone with AIDS is “a kind of leper,” that “Jews have conspired to rule the world” — he and his party became emblems of European right-wing extremism. The height of his popularity came in 2002, when he reached second place in the initial round of voting for president and won the right to enter a head-to-head contest with the incumbent president, Jacques Chirac. Le Pen was trounced in that election, and his party faded as a force to be reckoned with.

Then in January, Marine — at 42, the youngest of his three daughters — won a battle to succeed her father as president of the party. Almost overnight, she brought the National Front not just back into the spotlight but also into outright competition. The polls that show her matching or outpacing Sarkozy have shuffled the French political game board. Of late, Sarkozy has fired his diversity minister, declared that multiculturalism has been “a failure” and staged a “debate on Islam” that French Muslims saw as a swat at them — all moves that are widely viewed as a direct response to Marine Le Pen’s rise. She derided Sarkozy’s support for the recently enacted ban on full face veils as a pandering political maneuver that addressed only “the tip of the iceberg” of what she views as the Islamization of French culture.

Marine Le Pen’s sudden prominence draws attention to the contrasts between her and the man she hopes to replace. Where Sarkozy is stylish, Le Pen tends toward simplicity. Where he has become, to many, a classic say-anything-to-please-anyone politician, Le Pen’s followers find her to be a straight-talker. Sarkozy is seen as representing the elitists who support the increasingly unpopular European Union, while Le Pen wraps herself in the mantle of the French republic. Even in derisive nicknames, she comes across as the stronger: Sarkozy is Monsieur Bling Bling; Le Pen has been called la peste blonde — a play on both la peste noire, the French term for the Black Death, and, more recently, la peste brune, which referred to the Nazi menace.

“Never in modern French history has the far right challenged like this,” Frédéric Micheau, adjunct director of the French polling agency IFOP, told me. “This is something totally new.” This jump in support for so polarizing a figure raises a question that has ramifications not only in France but also in other places where the far right is resurgent: is Le Pen fille a different person from her father, or has racism simply become mainstream?

Taliban Announces New Offensive

April 30th, 2011 at 11:31 pm Comments Off

The New York Times reports:

KABUL — The Taliban announced that the insurgent group’s spring fighting season would begin officially across Afghanistan on Sunday in an unusual news statement that aimed to project an image of strength and concern for civilians, even as NATO warned the public to expect insurgent efforts to launch a major attack.

The United Nations special representative, Staffan de Mistura, meanwhile, said both sides should redouble their efforts to avoid killing civilians as the fighting is expected to ratchet up with the arrival of good weather.

“If there is a spring offensive , who should not be paying the price is civilians,” he said. “Since the Taliban have been responsible for the biggest civilian casualties, we are addressing them first, but we are also addressing NATO and asking them to do the same.”

According to the United Nations, the insurgents were responsible for 75 percent of civilian casualties in 2010 and NATO forces were responsible for 16 percent. (In the remaining cases, the culprit was unclear.)

The Taliban appeared aware of the concerns those numbers raised, and in their news release they twice mentioned civilian protection. They said they would make every effort to avoid attacks that hurt civilians, but also warned that “all Afghan people should bear in mind to keep away from gatherings, convoys, and centers of the enemy.”

The Taliban define the enemy as NATO troops, as well as foreign and Afghan contractors who assist NATO and the Afghan government. And the news release explicitly said that civilian members of the High Peace Council, created by the government to reach out to the insurgents, would be targets.

The release said the council’s members were “trying to pave the way for the prolongation of the American occupation by cashing in on the name of jihad, religion and tribal chieftainship.”

NATO officials see the Taliban promises to protect civilians as little more than propaganda.

Gov’t Praised for Tornado Response

April 30th, 2011 at 11:29 pm 2 Comments

The New York Times reports:

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It has been the deadliest natural disaster on American soil since Hurricane Katrina. But the government response to the tornadoes that devastated the South last week has, at least in the first few days, drawn little of the searing criticism aimed at federal agencies back in 2005.

In numerous interviews in the low-income Alberta neighborhood here on Friday, shortly before President Obama and other officials toured what is now an unimaginable wasteland, residents said they had few complaints about the handling of the aftermath by state, local and federal agencies.

Many expressed mild frustration about limits on their access to damaged homes, the pace of road clearing and power restoration, and traffic jams caused by roadblocks and nonfunctioning signals. But most agreed that government and charitable agencies were coping as effectively as feasible with immediate demands for shelter, food, water and medical care, along with search and rescue operations.

“It ain’t like Katrina,” said Darius Rutley, 21, whose house in Alberta was obliterated. “We’re getting help.”

Axavier Wilson, 20, who survived the storm in a closet as the rest of his house blew away, said he had been impressed that both Gov. Robert Bentley and Mr. Obama had visited right away. “I don’t think there’s much to mumble and grumble about,” he said. “Everybody feels secure about getting help.”

There was a single cry of “Help us!” on Friday from a man who watched the president’s motorcade roll through a treeless lunar landscape, but hardly the wails of stunned desperation shouted from New Orleans rooftops.

It was a very different kind of storm, of course, with different demands for response. And clearly, disaster recoveries should be judged over months, not days. But the early moments of this operation suggest that certain logistical and political lessons have been learned.

Stung by criticism that he waited 12 days to tour the Gulf Coast after last year’s BP oil spill, Mr. Obama took barely 40 hours to land in Tuscaloosa, the hardest-hit area in the eight Southern states struck by tornadoes last week. The death toll stands at 349 people; Alabama officials said that included 250 in their state, with 39 in Tuscaloosa County.

“I’ve never seen devastation like this,” Mr. Obama said after Friday’s tour. “It is heartbreaking.” “We’re going to make sure that you’re not forgotten and that we do everything we can to make sure that we rebuild,” he added.

Top federal officials, including Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, were in touch with Mr. Bentley shortly after the tornadoes landed Wednesday, according to a timeline from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

NATO Rejects Qaddafi Truce

April 30th, 2011 at 4:35 pm Comments Off

Reuters reports:

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Saturday he was ready for a ceasefire and negotiations provided NATO “stop its planes,” but he refused to give up power as rebels and Western powers demand.

The rebels and NATO rejected Gaddafi’s offer, saying it lacked credibility. A spokesman for the insurgents said the time for compromise had passed and NATO said air strikes would go on as long as Libyan civilians were being threatened.

Weeks of Western air strikes have failed to dislodge the Libyan leader, instead imposing a stalemate on a war Gaddafi looked to have been winning, with government forces held at bay in the east and around the besieged city of Misrata while fighting for control of the western mountains.

With neither side apparently able to gain the upper hand, Gaddafi struck a more conciliatory tone in an 80-minute televised address to the nation in the early hours of Saturday.

“(Libya) is ready until now to enter a ceasefire,” said Gaddafi, speaking from behind a desk and aided by reams of paper covered in what appeared to be hand-written notes.

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“We were the first to welcome a ceasefire and we were the first to accept a ceasefire … but the Crusader NATO attack has not stopped,” he said. “The gate to peace is open.”

Gaddafi denied mass attacks on civilians and challenged NATO to find him 1,000 people who had been killed in the conflict, kindled by pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

“We did not attack them or cross the sea … why are they attacking us?” asked Gaddafi, referring to European countries involved in the air strikes. “Let us negotiate with you, the countries that attack us. Let us negotiate.”

But as he spoke, NATO warplanes hit three targets close to the television building in Tripoli in what state media said was an attempt to kill Gaddafi who has ruled since a 1969 coup.

The air strikes left a large crater outside the attorney general’s office but did not damage the building, and hit two other government offices housed in colonial-era buildings. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

The rebels’ transitional national council dismissed Gaddafi’s gesture, saying the Libyan leader had repeatedly offered ceasefires only to continue violating human rights.

Ryan: Reid ‘Playing Politics’ With Budget Vote

April 30th, 2011 at 4:29 pm 12 Comments

Politico reports:

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan on Friday dismissed the impact of the coming Senate vote on his budget plan, saying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is “playing politics” by holding a vote on the House budget after the recess.

“He likes to play politics — that’s what he’s doing,” Ryan told Politico after a town hall meeting in his southeastern Wisconsin district. “I don’t worry about that.”

The vote will force Senate Republicans to decide whether they want to vote down the House Republican budget or risk facing ads accusing them of cutting Medicare — something House Republicans have already experienced. At least five Senate Republicans — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — will be under close scrutiny, since they’ve been the most willing to break with their party on other issues.

Obama: End Big Oil Subsidies

April 30th, 2011 at 4:27 pm 3 Comments

Politico reports:

President Barack Obama used his weekly address to the nation to reiterate his call on Congress to stop granting tax subsidies to oil and gas companies.

“When oil companies are making huge profits and you’re struggling at the pump, and we’re scouring the federal budget for spending we can afford to do without, these tax giveaways aren’t right,” Obama said Saturday. “They aren’t smart. And we need to end them.”

Despite recent signs of economic recovery, families across the country are experiencing “real pain” from soaring gas prices, Obama said. He pointed out that even as people were struggling to fill their gas tanks, some big oil companies reported more than $25 billion in earnings in the first few months of this year, far surpassing profits from the same period the year earlier.

As much as he supports the business successes of energy firms and lauds their entrepreneurialism, “I do have a problem with the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies we’ve been handing out to oil and gas companies,” Obama said.

In a letter to congressional leaders this week, Obama urged “immediate action” on the tax subsidies, arguing that the revenue generated from the move should be invested in clean energy programs to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

In the letter, Obama said he was “heartened” by the “openness” House Speak John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed on April 25 to the idea of eliminating tax subsidies for energy companies. “Our political system has for too long avoided and ignored this important step, and I hope we can come together in a bipartisan manner to get it done,” Obama wrote.

Petraeus Must Fight for CIA

April 30th, 2011 at 2:48 pm 16 Comments

General David Petraeus is taking on a new job responsibility:  if confirmed by the Senate, he will become the twenty-second CIA Director.  Many former members of the intelligence community are backing his selection.

In an email response, former President and CIA Director George H. W. Bush commented to FrumForum: “I am enthusiastic about this appointment.  I have great respect for General Petraeus, and I think this is great for the country and great for the intelligence community.”

FrumForum interviewed other former intelligence experts to see if they agree with President Bush’s assessment of Petraeus.  All interviewed describe the general as being intelligent, well respected, politically savvy, well-liked by congressional figures on both sides of the aisle, and a good bureaucrat.  However, they also commented that there is some anxiety and apprehension since the last two directors, Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta were leaders who were great advocates for Agency professionals, well-trusted by their overseas counterparts, had good working relationships with Congress, and were very fair minded.

Will having only a military background hamper Petraeus’ effectiveness as CIA director?  The obvious comparison will be to Michael Hayden, an Air Force general.  A former CIA official noted that, “Petraeus is a great General but does not have the background in the intelligence world.  Hayden worked in intelligence a very long time before he became CIA director.”  Pete Hoekstra, the former ranking member of the intelligence committee, would have preferred someone whose career was not exclusively with the military since “there is a fundamentally different approach and culture between the CIA and the military.  The military is a very much hierarchical organization.  President Obama’s national security team seems dominated by military people between the DNI Director and possible CIA Director.”

A former CIA operative agrees with Hoekstra and wonders, “can Petraeus as CIA director, during certain circumstances, firmly explain to the President that the intelligence does not support his policy.  Since the general has been in the Army for over thirty years he is used to saying to his commanders ‘yes sir; how can I serve you?’”

Fran Townsend, the former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, does not see the military mentality of Petraeus as a problem.  She believes that “Petraeus has shown himself to be unafraid and unabashed for speaking the truth.  He is a man who has always succeeded and I cannot imagine him taking a backseat to anybody.”

Another apprehension about General Petraeus is that he was in charge of the war strategy.  The military assessment of the Afghanistan war was more positive than the CIA assessment. Again, many pointed out that there is a different mentality in the military where underlings are expected to follow authority. Will the general allow the analysts to have the freedom to write the truth as the facts present themselves?   A former high-ranking CIA official feels Petraeus is “smart enough not to squash CIA views.  He will challenge them but it’s a good thing to question the analysts.  Being demanding is not a bad thing.”

Hoekstra emphasized that by the time Petraeus becomes Director there will be a pretty good indication of the situation in Afghanistan: “will the positive analysis of Petraeus’ office be correct or will it be the CIA analysis?  The ultimate question is will his objectivity be clouded by the fact that he ran the Afghan operation?”

The expertise of the general was also called into question.  The issues he has worked with for the last ten years have been centered on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The agency deals with other issues such as China, Russia, counter-proliferation and counter-narcotics, as well as political and economic issues.  Townsend does not feel these areas will be short-changed since “he has succeeded in every assignment that was given to him.  I think he will be equally successful at the CIA.  He will have to determine the CIA’s role going forward.”

A high-ranking former CIA official offers a word of warning: be careful about bringing in a large number of people who want to change or fix everything. Petraeus should use Panetta as an example: he only brought along his chief of staff to make sure morale was not negatively affected.

Everyone FrumForum spoke with agrees with Hoekstra that “if there is going to be a military person there is no one better than Petraeus.  Considering what he has done for the country I will give him the benefit of doubt and wish that he does well at the CIA.” Hopefully the general will be in the mold of Dwight Eisenhower who knew how to use our intelligence to protect America’s national security.