Friday, May 23, 2008

Overnight - A roundup of news items that you might have missed

Never say never, because it has a way of showing up ahead of schedule when you do. Cindy McCain released part of her 2006 tax returns today. She had income of $6 million, paid $1.7 million in taxes, and took deductions of $570,000.

No soup recess appointments for you! The Senate is in pro forma session over the Memorial Day "recess." A pro forma session means that the senate technically stays in session and it denies the president the opportunity to make recess appointments of odious characters (Sam Fox and John Bolton were recess appointments) to posts that require Senate confirmation. Freshman Senator Sherrod Brown gaveled the days session in and out. "That's the fastest I've ever done it. I'm willing to do it," Brown said of showing up when nearly every senator has already left town. "We're not going to let them get away with that kind of abuse of power."

IDF fighters scrambled toward Tony Blair's plane
Blair, the International Mideast peace envoy, was on a private plane from the World Economic Forum summit in Sinai, Egypt to an investment conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem Wednesday when it penetrated Israeli airspace, the official said...The plane failed to respond to repeated control tower radio calls demanding that it identify itself, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media...As is common practice in such a case, the Israeli air force sent two fighter jets to intercept the aircraft. They flew above the former British prime minister's plane and quickly established contact. The pilot told them of the traveler on board, the official added.

This is why we call him "Attackerman" Spencer Ackerman deconstructs aWol's speech at Ft. Bragg yesterday and determines that he was lying out his ass. And then, Spencer goes in for the kill: But worst of all is Bush’s line that “the enemy has made clear that Iraq is the central battleground of the great ideological struggle of our time.” You know who used to speak like that? KGB director Yuri Andropov, a true believer in the Brezhnev Doctrine. It led him right into Afghanistan. Notice that there’s no more Soviet Union.

It's about damn time! After talks between U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and General Than Shwe in Burma's remote capital, Mr Ban announced that Burma would be opened to all aid workers to provide services to victims of the Cyclone Nargis that devastated the nation three weeks ago. Correspondents hastened to add that Burma has a long history of withdrawing promises made to the UN, and that the terms under which workers and aid will be let in are unclear. So we will see. But I hope for humanitarian reasons that they follow through this time.

ANC calls on South Africans to take 'back the streets' The Secretary General of South Africa's ruling African National Congress has denounced the xenophobia and violence against foreigners as a "disgraceful pogrom" and called on members of the party to step up and form local committees to combat the recent spate of violence against immigrants that has left 40 dead and 15,000 displaced and seeking shelter. Gwede Mantashe says that they should work to "take the streets back from criminals", whilst giving support to the police and help to the victims. The situation is so dire that for the first time since the end of Apartheid, soldiers ahve been sent into the streets to quell the violence.

Oh, Goody... Russia and China are cozying up. Another example of just exactly what we don't need right now. "Medvedev's choice of China for an early diplomatic foray as president seemed to signal a desire to continue Moscow's assertive foreign policy - particularly toward the United States - that was a hallmark of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, during his eight years in office...Medvedev was inaugurated as president this month, but Putin retains significant powers as prime minister...The announcements Friday in Beijing came as the two giant neighbors, who challenged the United States - and each other - during the Cold War, grapple with newer tensions over an array of military and economic issues, including their rivalry over the energy resources of Central Asia." Both nations oppose the planned "missile shield" in Poland, especially Russia, which sees it as a gambit to advance American global hegemony.

Was the apology quick enough? Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton quickly apologized Friday after citing the June 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in defending her decision to keep running for the Democratic presidential nomination despite increasingly long odds. "I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever," the former first lady said. The episode occurred as Clinton campaigned in advance of the June 3 South Dakota primary. Responding to a question from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader editorial board about calls for her to drop out of the race, she said: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just, I don't understand it," she said, dismissing the idea of abandoning the race.

More trouble for the GOP? The prominent Cuban-American organization that Republican President Ronald Reagan once counted on to secure victory in Florida was electrified on Friday by an appearance by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. In a lunchtime speech to the Cuban American National Foundation, Obama offered a new Cuba policy approach to an audience accustomed to presidential candidates coming to show solidarity, but not to challenge the longstanding isolation of the island's communist government. Obama touched on one of his more radical ideas: an often-criticized willingness to meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro. "I know what the easy thing is to do for American politicians. . . . Every four years, they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington, and nothing changes in Cuba," said Obama, who was greeted by a standing ovation and scattered chanting of his campaign slogan "Yes We Can." "After eight years of the disastrous policies of George Bush, it is time, I believe, to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions." He repeated previous statements that if elected president, he would immediately lift the limits on Cuban Americans who want to travel to Cuba or send remittances to family on the island. Wow! Diplomacy! Who'd have thunk it?

I like Joe Biden when he gets pissed.
He hit back at Joe Lieberman today, in the same forum that Lieberman fired his salvo from on Wednesday - the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. He has been in knee-capping mode lately, and I am enjoying it. He has a grasp of foreign policy rivaled by few, and listening to him tear into Joe Lieberman and George Bush is music to my ears. "The worst nightmare for a regime that thrives on tension with America is an America ready, willing and able to engage. Since when has talking removed the word "no" from our vocabulary?...It's amazing how little faith George Bush, Joe Lieberman and John McCain have in themselves – and in America." (Michael Hirsch at Newsweek noticed the change in Biden, too.)

Another reason why Joe Biden is right: In a week of dramatic developments in the Middle East, the most dramatic development of all may have been the fact that the United States, long considered the region's indispensable player, was missing in action. As its closest allies cut deals with their adversaries this week over the Bush administration's opposition, Washington was largely reduced to watching. More painfully for President Bush, friends he's cultivated — and spent heavily on — in Lebanon and Iraq asked the United States to remain in the background, underlining how politically toxic an association with the U.S. can be for Arab leaders.
Over the past few days:
-The Lebanese government, which has received $1.3 billion and political support from the Bush administration, compromised with the Hezbollah-led opposition, giving the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group, which Washington considers a terrorist organization, a greater role in running the country.
-Israel ignored U.S. objections and entered indirect peace talks with Syria through Turkey, another longtime U.S. ally.
-The U.S.-backed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki deployed military forces to Baghdad's Sadr City slum under an agreement that specifically excluded U.S. troops.
-Saudi Arabia, a crucial oil supplier and long a major buyer of U.S. weapons, is quietly closing what could be a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Russia, according to a U.S. defense official.
Worst. President. Ever. No. Question. About. It.