Granted, it's pretty rare these days for a Cabinet nominee to be unconfirmed; as happened to embattled UN Ambassador Susan Rice, controversial figures just don't get the nomination. But still, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, has drawn bipartisan criticism for his controversial stances on issues ranging from homosexuality to Iran--and yet the Senate is likely to confirm him, per one of its admittedly reluctant members:
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on Sunday he believes former Sen. Chuck Hagel(R-Neb.) will be confirmed by the Senate as secretary of defense.
"I think Sen. Hagel will be approved," the Senate Armed Services committee member said on Fox's "Fox News Sunday." "I think the history of nominees shows and I think his own qualifications also demonstrate that he has the capacity."
Blumenthal did not move off his position that he is reserving his own judgment on Hagel until confirmation hearings
"I'm going to want to ask questions" about Hagel's views on Iran and Israel, for which he has drawn scrutiny, Blumenthal said. "I'm not comfortable yet."
So why did President Obama choose someone who's taking so much heat from both sides of the aisle? Two words, says Mark Steyn: defense cuts.
If the signature accomplishment of the president’s first term was Obamacare (I’m using “signature accomplishment” in the Washington sense of “ruinously expensive bureaucratic sinkhole”), what would he be looking to pull off in his second (aside from the repeal of the 22nd Amendment)? Hagel isn’t being nominated to the Department of Zionist and Homosexual Regulatory Oversight but to the Department of Defense. Which he calls “bloated.”
“The Pentagon,” he said a year ago, “needs to be pared down.” Unlike the current secretary, Leon Panetta, who’s strongly opposed to the mandated “sequestration” cuts to the defense budget, Hagel thinks they’re merely a good start.
That’s why Obama’s offered him the gig. Because Obamacare at home leads inevitably to Obamacuts abroad. In that sense, America will be doing no more than following the same glum trajectory of every other great power in the postwar era.
This is probably the most convincing theory I've seen on the matter. Given the loud concerns over lack of diversity in his administration -- from even those most stalwartly on the president's side -- it does seem strange that Obama would nominate a white man with a history of offending key constituencies. But clearly, he's taking the "more flexibility" comment to heart, and using this opportunity to stock his Cabinet with officials who will make cuts where it matters...to Obama, that is. If Hagel is willing to slash his own budget at the Pentagon, then who is the president to stop him? And with Obamacare stuck on the books, that's more helpful now than ever.
The fact that high-level government officials even needed to address this issue at all should tell you how high over the shark American politics has jumped. But the Department of Treasury today did indeed comment on the "trillion dollar platinum coin" lunacy, and rejected the idea that the White House had seriously considered such a "solution" to the debt crisis. Ezra Klein at WaPo reports:
That’s the bottom line of the statement that Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the Treasury Department, gave me today. “Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit,” he said.
The inclusion of the Federal Reserve is significant. For the platinum coin idea to work, the Federal Reserve would have to treat it as a legal way for the Treasury Department to create currency. If they don’t believe it’s legal and would not credit the Treasury Department’s deposit, the platinum coin would be worthless.
So the government won't try to cheat its way out of actually fixing the debt crisis by minting the coin; in a sense, this is great news, since such a move would be financially irresponsible and politically disastrous. But again, the fact that it was ever a real policy recommendation speaks to our current level of dysfunction.
Of course, as Guy reported, Harry Reid has given President Obama his approval to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling without congressional involvement. It's unclear whether Obama will actually take him up on this offer, but still, any celebrations over the prevailing of common sense are far, far too premature.
For a bit of fun, here's the official White House response to a petition calling for the construction of a Death Star, a la the Empire's deadly ultimate weapon in the Star Wars franchise. Personally, I find the best part of this letter to be the order of the two reasons given: 1) It would cost too much, and 2) Oh yeah, we don't want to blow up other plants, and also, flawed design. Enjoy:
Official White House Response to Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.
This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For
By Paul Shawcross
The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:
- The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
- The Administration does not support blowing up planets. Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
However, look carefully (here's how) and you'll notice something already floating in the sky -- that's no Moon, it's a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that's helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts -- American, Russian, and Canadian -- living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We've also got two robot science labs -- one wielding a laser -- roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.
Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo -- and soon, crew -- to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.
Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.
We don't have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke's arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.
We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country's future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.
If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
It's easy to forget that we're technically still a nation at war in in Afghanistan, given the dearth of media coverage. But U.S. troops are still stationed there, and its president, Hamid Karzai, just completed a visit with President Obama in Washington, where the two discussed plans for the upcoming transition of power from U.S. forces to Afghanistan's. The Washington Times reports:
Despite widespread concerns about the stability of the Afghan government and the persistence of Taliban resistance to Kabul, Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai on Friday announced an accelerated timetable for Afghan troops to take the lead in the fighting by this spring, ahead of a withdrawal of all American forces by 2014.
The two leaders left open the option that some U.S. forces would remain after that date, for training, support and targeted operations against terrorist targets. Mr. Obama said any presence would depend on an agreement guaranteeing U.S. troops immunity from Afghan law, something Mr. Karzai hinted might be possible.
“Our core objective — the reason we went to war in the first place — is now within reach: ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America,” Mr. Obama said in his address.
By this spring, “Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country, and our troops will shift to a support role,” the president said. “In the coming months, I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown. And by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan will be over.”
Obama has said a number of times that he's concerned with ending the wars overseas so as to focus on "nation building at home," and is notoriously content with allowing unmanned drones to fight our battles around the world. However, the ideal plan for the U.S. would entail keeping a few thousand members of our armed forces in Afghanistan -- but only so long as they're granted legal immunity. The administration attempted to negotiate such an agreement with the Iraqi government, but talks failed. An analyst close to that negotiation notes the similarities to Afghanistan but also points to one glaring difference:
Former Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, a career U.S. diplomat who oversaw the administration's failed negotiations in Baghdad in 2011, said "of course" Obama wanted to keep troops in Iraq and is trying now to keep them in Afghanistan.
"The numbers are eerily familiar and the missions are eerily familiar," said Jeffrey, who retired last year from the State Department. "I see him carrying out the same plan in Afghanistan that he tried to carry out in Iraq."
Jeffrey added: "But this isn't a war that Obama and the Democratic Party hate, and we haven't achieved a military victory there. Once you commit these troops to the ground, you are stuck until you get a military victory. We more or less won the ground war in Iraq; we have not won the ground war in Afghanistan."
Thus, it's important to take talks of "ending the war" in Afghanistan with a grain of salt -- it's likely we'll still have troops stationed there even after we've officially transferred power to the Afghan government, and, at least according to one diplomat, perhaps it's better that way.
America's Caringest Mayor is at it again: having saved New York from sugary drinks, Michael Bloomberg has turned his attention to painkiller addiction. The best option to prevent kids from abusing Mom's leftover Valium from her back surgery is, of course, curbing the supply of such drugs, so that's just what Bloomberg intends to do. As such, he's introduced a measure that would limit the supply of powerful pain drugs in emergency rooms -- despite the fact that lower-income families often use the ER as their primary care source. No matter: this is for the common good of New York.
“The city hospitals we control, so … we’re going to do it and we’re urging all of the other hospitals to do it, voluntary guidelines. Somebody said, oh, somebody wrote, ‘Oh then maybe there won’t be enough painkillers for the poor who use the emergency rooms as their primary care doctor,’” the mayor said on his weekly radio show with John Gambling. “Number one, there’s no evidence of that. Number two, supposing it is really true, so you didn’t get enough painkillers and you did have to suffer a little bit. The other side of the coin is people are dying and there’s nothing perfect … There’s nothing that you can possibly do where somebody isn’t going to suffer, and it’s always the same group [claiming], ‘Everybody is heartless.’ Come on, this is a very big problem.”
In the same interview, Mr. Bloomberg stressed the initiative’s simple rationale is to prevent extra pills from piling up in the cabinets of New Yorkers who no longer need them, where they can pose a health risk if they’re abused.
“We talk about drugs, heroin and crack and marijuana, this is one of the big outbursts–and it’s a lot worse around the country than it is here. It’s kids and adults getting painkillers and using them for entertainment purposes, or whatever field of purposes, as opposed to what they are designed for,” he explained. “If you break a leg, you’re going to be in pain, nothing wrong with getting something that reduces the pain. But if you get 20 days worth of pills and you only need them three days, there’s 17 days sitting there. Invariably some of the kids are going to find them, or you’re going to take them and get you addicted.”
That's right: if you're in pain, his answer is essentially, "Deal with it, people suffer all the time." This is better for you, after all -- Nanny Bloomberg says so.
As the Obama administration hunkers down for its second term, the Cabinet reassignments continue, and there was a surprise twist in the process today: Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has offered her resignation to President Obama.
In a letter to employees at the department, Solis said she submitted her resignation to President Obama Wednesday afternoon. After reflecting on her future with friends and family in California over the holidays, Solis said she “decided to begin a new future, and return to the people and places I love and that have inspired and shaped my life.”
“Together we have achieved extraordinary things and I am so proud of our work on behalf of the nation’s working families,” she said. “Leaving the department is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, because I have taken our mission to heart.”
In a statement, President Obama thanked the former Southern California congresswoman for her long career in public service, calling her a “tireless champion for working families.”
Solis’ departure comes amid a reshuffling of Obama’s senior staff and Cabinet as he is set to start his second term. The timing of Solis’ departure was a bit of a surprise, however.
Solis was one of five female Cabinet secretaries, and one of two Latinos, along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Three other women hold Cabinet-level positions, including the departing EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson.
In considering her replacement, diversity could very well play a factor. The administration has come under fire in recent days for its slew of old-white-men nominees and clearly has taken note, given a somewhat defensive tweet featuring a photo of President Obama and a handful of advisors both male and female in the Oval Office.
Thus, it's reasonable to assume that this Cabinet post may go to a "diverse" candidate, and one horrifying suggestion this writer saw today was none other than Jennifer Granholm, former Michigan governor and Current TV host. Given that the Labor Secretary is a relatively secondary post (unlike State, Defense, or Treasury, which deal with more immediate matters), it's not unreasonable to suggest that it could go to someone who could boost the diversity stats at the expense of competency. Time will tell...
Congress has a bad reputation for a unique ability to fail the people in potentially life-altering ways (see: fiscal cliff, healthcare, just about any task more arduous than naming a post office). But just how much disdain do Americans have for their legislative branch?
In addition to finding its current approval rating – which sits at a paltry 9% – Public Policy Polling sought to compare it to some of the least popular things imaginable, illustrating just how low Congress has sunk in the eyes of its constituents. According to the survey, Americans prefer colonoscopies, the NFL replacement refs, and even Nickelback – arguably the most reviled band in the country – to Congress. There is some good news, however: Congress is seen more favorably than ebola, meth labs, and the Kardashian clan. More matchups:
When asked if they have a higher opinion of either Congress or a series of unpleasant or disliked things, voters said they had a higher opinion of root canals (32 for Congress and 56 for the dental procedure), NFL replacement refs (29-56), head lice (19-67), the rock band Nickelback (32-39), colonoscopies (31-58), Washington DC political pundits (34-37), carnies (31-39), traffic jams (34-56), cockroaches (43-45), Donald Trump (42-44), France (37-46), Genghis Khan (37-41), used-car salesmen (32-57), and Brussels sprouts (23-69) than Congress.
Congress did manage to beat out telemarketers (45-35), John Edwards (45-29), the Kardashians (49-36), lobbyists (48-30), North Korea (61-26), the ebola virus (53-25), Lindsay Lohan (45-41), Fidel Castro (54-32), playground bullies (43-38), meth labs (60-21), communism (57-23), and gonorrhea (53-28).
On a more serious note, however, Gallup also released a poll revealing that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe politics is severely hurting the country. Given the highly-publicized spats over the fiscal cliff, it’s unsurprising that most people have little faith in the government to adequately handle the crises America faces. And it’s not just those on the Right who feel this way:
Of those surveyed, 77 percent said the way politics works is causing the nation serious harm, versus just 19 percent who say the effects were not serious. Republicans were most pessimistic, with 87 percent arguing federal politics was damaging the country. But support for the sentiment was broad — 79 percent of independents and 68 percent of Democrats responded in the same way.
"The finding that most Americans think politics are hurting the country fits with a number of additional measures showing that Americans hold the federal government in general and Congress in particular — the main instruments of how American politics work — in low regard," said Gallup's Frank Newport in a release.
It could be worse, though, at least if we take the American people’s preferences into account: the Kardashians could be in charge.
Statesmanship at its finest: during fiscal cliff talks, President Obama reportedly told Speaker Boehner that he would use his two major speeches in January to blame Republicans for the stalled deal. According to the Wall Street Journal, the president wasn't too happy with the options House Republicans were willing to present, and made it clear he was willing to throw the GOP under the bus for the nation's financial woes.
Mr. Obama repeatedly lost patience with the speaker as negotiations faltered. In an Oval Office meeting last week, he told Mr. Boehner that if the sides didn't reach agreement, he would use his inaugural address and his State of the Union speech to tell the country the Republicans were at fault.
At one point, according to notes taken by a participant, Mr. Boehner told the president, "I put $800 billion [in tax revenue] on the table. What do I get for that?"
"You get nothing," the president said. "I get that for free."
Sounds like those talks are going really well.
In seriousness, the article makes clear that the president has refused any and all deals Boehner has offered, even those in which Republicans capitulated on tax hikes for the wealthy, an Obama staple. It's clear that the president and the House are both unwilling to bend to one anothers' terms, and it's disconcerting to see that Obama would rather use his platform to keep pointing fingers than for some more inspiring message, nevermind swallowing his pride and accepting a semi-viable deal.
Obama claims to have modeled himself after Lincoln, but it certainly doesn't sound like he's minding his favored predecessor's example of how to compose a second inaugural address in times of turmoil:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Imagine the man who spoke those words coming before his country in a time of distress and blaming a rival political party for all the nation's ills; it's impossible. Obama is a well-known admirer of the Lincoln biography "Team of Rivals," but while he's talking to the other side, he seems unwilling to listen. Apparently, he's content with laying blame and saving face at the expense of the nation's financial health.
As members prepare for the 113th Congress, several have been dissatisfied with Speaker Boehner's conduct: he's been accused of booting more conservative members off of major committees, and the abject failure that is "Plan B" seems to have been the final straw for some. Breitbart News reports that there's a plan circulating some offices intended to facilitate the election of a new Speaker of the House come January.
Several conservative House Republican members are contemplating a plan to unseat Speaker John Boehner from his position on January 3, Breitbart News has exclusively learned. Staffers have compiled a detailed action plan that, if executed, could make this a reality.
The circulated plan is a comprehensive multi-step process.
According to the plan as drafted, the first step is to re-establish the election of the Speaker of the House by secret ballot, rather than by a public roll call vote. That’s because the members who would oppose Boehner, if there ended up not being enough votes to achieve their desired result or if Boehner scared via threat or coaxed via prize some of the opposition into voting for him, would be sitting ducks for retaliation in the near future.
As one hill staffer considering this path told Breitbart News, the members involved in an unsuccessful coup d’etat would be “toast.”
To establish a secret ballot election for Speaker of the House, one Republican member will need to step forward and introduce a resolution on the House floor on the morning of January 3, 2013, before any other business takes place. Those close to this plan are convinced that a member will step forward and introduce this resolution.
These anonymous staffers note that there is no specific replacement in mind, but that one would surely emerge if a majority didn’t vote for Boehner. And, as the article makes clear, due to House rules that a true majority, and not simply a plurality, must elect the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t be able to win (unless, of course, a few Republicans voted for her).
The second step of the circulated plan would require enough GOP members to band together and vote for somebody other than Boehner as Speaker. Since Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., has resigned his position, there will be 434 voting members on January 3. For someone to win the Speaker election, they’d need to secure 217 votes – or a majority of everyone voting.
Since there are 233 Republicans heading into the next Congress, only 17 Republicans would be needed to unseat Boehner. The House would continue having multiple elections throughout the day on January 3 until it agreed upon a new Speaker.
It's clearly a plan born of extreme frustration with the way things have run in the House over the past two years, but given the lack of a clear viable alternative, and the extremely large coalition that would need to form among Republican members backing that person, at least at this point it seems unlikely. Boehner, for his part, certainly doesn't think so. In a post-cliff-vote press conference, he shrugged off any concern that his fellows would try for his ouster.
“While we may have not been able to get the votes last night to avert 99.81 percent of the tax increases, I don’t think — they weren’t taking that out on me,” he said at a press conference.
Joining him was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the man who had been seen as his chief rival, in a show of unity that seemed designed to quell any talk of a challenge to Mr. Boehner’s speakership.
Of course, it’s possible that the plan is gaining steam behind the scenes – given the anonymity, there’s not telling how many members are backing it, and they're certainly trying to keep it a secret from Boehner himself. Perhaps, come January 3, he'll have to answer to his perturbed colleagues after all.
Yesterday, Katie reported on the violence taking place at the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, as union members protested the passage of Right to Work legislation. Rather than peacefully demonstrating against a law they didn't like, unfortunately, a number of those present attacked the more conservative counter-protesters among them. But today, we learned more: the protesters also destroyed a hot dog stand kept by a Lansing staple named Clint Tarver.
Americans for Prosperity hired him to cater in their tent as they counter-protested, and when the tent came down, he was one of those trapped inside it. The protesters also destroyed much of his equipment, and worse, hurled racist insults his way.
During Tuesday's mass demonstrations that attracted an estimated 10,000 to the Capitol lawn, protesters of the right-to-work law the Legislature was passing and voting on tore down a tent rented by the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Witnesses and Internet videos show protesters, some wearing union clothes, using knives or box cutters to cut the tent's ropes.
Clint Tarver, owner of Clint's Hot Dog Cart, said he was trapped inside as the tent came down and damaged about $400 in catering equipment. Tarver's hot dog cart, which is usually parked outside Lansing City Hall along Capitol Avenue, was not on the Capitol grounds during the incident. [...]
Tarver, who had to crawl out of the collapsed tent on his knees, was overwhelmed Wednesday by the outpouring of support.
"I had no idea so many people cared about 'the hot dog guy,'" Tarver said.
Tarver, who is black, said the protesters called him an "Uncle Tom" and the n-word for working for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group supporting the right-to-work law.
Someone present at the protest took a photo that has since gone viral, depicting Tarver picking up his equipment while the protesters look on:
As an East Lansing native, I have friends who work in the Capitol, and my father works just a few blocks away from where this all happened. (He actually stayed home from the office on Tuesday, the violence and chaos were so disruptive.) Everyone nearby could confirm that it was absolute madness, and a few of my friends posted this very photo this morning, as they're regular customers of "The Hot Dog Guy" and were upset to see what happened to him. For a better idea of who he is:
It's maddening that these protesters would destroy private property and scream obscenities at a man -- especially one so nice as this! -- just because they disagree with him, and it's unfortunate that this story hasn't had more coverage in the mainstream media.
That said, Tarver appeared on "The Dana Show" out of St. Louis today, and confirmed reports that he'd been attacked and degraded simply for doing his job:
If you'd like to help, someone started a page to help donate funds to replace his equipment, and given what a nice guy he is, it's well worth the money. Click here to help!