Archive for February 2009
Iraq War: President Obama traveled to Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Friday to announce that the U.S. would stay in Iraq at least until 2012 and keep 50,000 troops there even after combat ends. Sound familiar?
Obama’s withdrawal plan would take U.S. forces in Iraq down from a current 142,000 troops to 35,000 to 50,000. Under the status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Iran, negotiated and signed last year by the Bush administration, all forces must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
In short, though President Obama will get credit, it was Bush’s plan — not Obama’s.
When Obama first began running for the nation’s highest office in 2006, he vowed he would immediately withdraw all U.S. combat forces if elected. At the time, few with any knowledge about the conflict in Iraq took him seriously.
And sure enough, faced with the realities on the ground in Iraq and in the campaign back home, Obama changed his stance last year from immediately withdrawing all combat forces to one of removing, as his campaign Web site said, “one to two combat brigades each month, and (having) all our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.”
Now comes his much-awaited plan. Technically, Obama won’t be able keep his most recent promise on troop withdrawals, but he’ll come close. For that he can thank President Bush and the highly successful “surge” in troops he and Gen. David Petraeus put in place, making withdrawal possible.
In Friday’s remarks, Obama told the assembled Marines: “Today I’ve come to speak to you about how the war in Iraq will end.” But in fact, the actual war has been over for some time. We hate to tell the Bush-haters out there, or to relive painful recent history, but President Bush won it, making the current pullout possible.
That victory was underscored in January when Iraq held largely peaceful elections, in which voters mostly repudiated extremist parties in favor of the moderate leadership of Nouri al-Maliki.
In his comments Friday, Obama noted the progress made.
“Thanks in great measure to your service,” he said, “the situation in Iraq has improved. Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.
“Al-Qaida in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces, and through our partnership with Sunni Arabs,” Obama continued. “The capacity of Iraq’s Security Forces has improved, and Iraq’s leaders have taken steps toward political accommodation.”
He further lauded January’s elections showing Iraqis have begun “pursuing their aspirations through peaceful political process.”
All very true. Iraq has been a big success, which explains why you never see or hear about it in the mainstream news anymore. Suicide bombings and attacks on troops have become relatively rare, and now that Bush is out of office, there’s little political profit remaining for the left in bashing America’s bold Mideast initiative.
Whether you agree with Bush or not, he brought a kind of democracy to Iraq that can be found nowhere else in that region. His plan rocked al-Qaida back on its heels, to the point where its survival is in doubt. Iraq is a model.
In short, Obama’s policy is really, in most respects, Bush’s policy. That the troops can now come home proudly is a tribute to Bush’s steadfastness. But Obama will be wise not to remove them all.
We kept troops in Europe and Japan after World War II and in South Korea after the Korean War. Bush’s policy proved that democracy can take root where no one thought possible. But as in Europe, Korea and Japan, it must be protected.God Bless, The Truth Tracker Jason R. Bootie
The drug war is on.
On the same day that the secretary of homeland security told Congress that drug-related violence along the Mexican border had grown beyond the ability of the department to handle, the DEA announced an operation against a major Mexican drug cartel that netted more than 750 suspects – almost all of them in the U.S.
“I believe this is going to require more than the Department of Homeland Security,” Janet Napolitano said Wednesday during her first Capitol Hill appearance since her confirmation last month as homeland security secretary.
“So we are reaching out to the national security adviser, to the attorney general and others about how we within the United States make sure we are doing all we can in a coordinated way to support the president of Mexico,” said Ms. Napolitano, explaining that containing border-related drug violence will require more than the 22 agencies and 200,000 employees in her department.
TWT RELATED STORY: 755 arrested in drug cartel operation
Border violence, which claimed more than 1,000 lives in January and about 6,000 in 2008, is already on the radar of Pentagon and CIA officials, who have told The Washington Times of their involvement in the current crisis in Mexico and say they are watching developments closely.
U.S. intelligence officials told The Times that the effects of the global economic crisis on Mexico have helped narcotics traffickers recruit more people and corrupt more Mexican officials.
At his first meeting with reporters Wednesday, new CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said that Mexico was a “priority” for the agency.
“Mexico is an area of concern because of the drug wars going on there,” Mr. Panetta said. “The president [of Mexico] has courageously taken on that issue, but nevertheless, it’s an area that we are paying attention to, a lot of attention to.”
Meanwhile Wednesday, Justice Department officials announced the arrest of 755 people associated with Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel as part of a two-year probe dubbed “Operation Xcellerator.” The operation also netted $59 million, 12,000 kilograms of cocaine, 16,000 pounds of marijuana and about 1.3 million Ecstasy pills.
But as a measure of how thoroughly Mexico’s deadly drug gangs have entrenched themselves in the U.S., Justice Department officials said only 20 of the arrests took place in Mexico, with the rest taking place north of the border.
And in a specific example of the spread of Mexican drug-gang violence across the U.S., a confidential Department of Homeland Security advisory said an assassination attempt on a South Carolina deputy sheriff was the work of three illegal immigrants as part of a Mexican-American gang with ties to the drug trade.
Lexington County, S.C., Deputy Sheriff Ted Xanthakis and his K-9, Arcos, both survived the ambush by three men armed with a 12-gauge shotgun during a Feb. 8 incident in West Columbia, S.C.
Two of the men were identified in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) report as members of the Surenos gang, or SUR-13, a collection of hundreds of Mexican-American street gangs with origins in the oldest barrios of Southern California and which federal law enforcement agencies accuse of involvement in smuggling drugs and illegal immigrants.
Violence on the Mexican border and its reverberations throughout the U.S. are emerging as one of the gravest and least expected problems confronting the Obama administration, a point that was made by President George W. Bush in a late December interview with The Washington Times.
Mr. Obama will need to deal “with these drug cartels in our own neighborhood,” Mr. Bush said. “And the front line of the fight will be Mexico. The drug lords will continue to search for a soft underbelly. And one of the things that future presidents are going to have to make sure of is that they don’t find a safe haven in parts of Central America.”
In her testimony Wednesday, Ms. Napolitano sounded a similar note, saying: “I’ve actually found the situation in Mexico one of the top priority items on my desk. It was on my desk when I was governor of Arizona, but as the secretary of homeland security, I see it in a much broader way.”
Thousands of Mexican troops have been sent to the border by President Felipe Calderon to patrol drug routes and bust drug runners.
But the drug cartels have retaliated at levels of violence never before seen, and Ms. Napolitano warned that failure could turn Mexico’s border areas into a war zone that the central government cannot effectively control, as happened in Colombia.
“They’ve been targeting in some of those homicides public officials [and] law enforcement officers as a process of intimidation,” Ms. Napolitano said.
The homeland security chief has already met with Mexico’s attorney general and the U.S. ambassador there, and said the U.S. is “working to support President Calderon in his efforts.”
“That is primarily the product of the president of Mexico and his government going after these large drug cartels, so that we never run the risk, never run the risk of Mexico descending into, say, where Colombia was 15 years ago,” Ms. Napolitano said.
The cocaine trade turned Colombia into a battle zone, with the Medellin and Cali cartels able to attack the highest levels of Colombian politics with kidnappings and assassinations.
The U.S. has spent billions of dollars on anti-drug efforts, and teamed up with the Colombian government to knock down cocaine production, but to this day the national government in Bogota does not effectively control large parts of the country, where the drug-linked Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is the de facto government.
U.S. officials will focus in particular on the traffic of guns and cash from the U.S. to Mexico to support “these very, very violent cartels,” Ms. Napolitano said.
“I believe our country has a vital relationship with Mexico, and I believe that Mexico right now has issues of violence that are of a different degree and level than we’ve ever seen before,” she said.
“But in my view, from a homeland security standpoint, this is going to be an issue, working with Mexico, that is going to be of real priority interest over these coming months,” Ms. Napolitano said.
The Obama administration says that the drug-gang violence on the U.S. side of the border does not match what is going on in Mexico’s border states, but says there is a contingency plan in place that will not include militarizing the U.S. side of the boundary.
• Sara A. Carter, Ben Conery and Jerry Seper contributed to this report.God Bless, The Truth Tracker Jason R Bootie
Take everything they earn, and it still won’t be enough.
President Obama has laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda since LBJ, and now all he has to do is figure out how to pay for it. On Tuesday, he left the impression that we need merely end “tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans,” and he promised that households earning less than $250,000 won’t see their taxes increased by “one single dime.”
This is going to be some trick. Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can’t possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama’s new spending ambitions.
Consider the IRS data for 2006, the most recent year that such tax data are available and a good year for the economy and “the wealthiest 2%.” Roughly 3.8 million filers had adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 in 2006. (That’s about 7% of all returns; the data aren’t broken down at the $250,000 point.) These people paid about $522 billion in income taxes, or roughly 62% of all federal individual income receipts. The richest 1% — about 1.65 million filers making above $388,806 — paid some $408 billion, or 39.9% of all income tax revenues, while earning about 22% of all reported U.S. income.
Note that federal income taxes are already “progressive” with a 35% top marginal rate, and that Mr. Obama is (so far) proposing to raise it only to 39.6%, plus another two percentage points in hidden deduction phase-outs. He’d also raise capital gains and dividend rates, but those both yield far less revenue than the income tax. These combined increases won’t come close to raising the hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue that Mr. Obama is going to need.
But let’s not stop at a 42% top rate; as a thought experiment, let’s go all the way. A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That’s less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable “dime” of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.
Fast forward to this year (and 2010) when the Wall Street meltdown and recession are going to mean far few taxpayers earning more than $500,000. Profits are plunging, businesses are cutting or eliminating dividends, hedge funds are rolling up, and, most of all, capital nationwide is on strike. Raising taxes now will thus yield far less revenue than it would have in 2006.
Mr. Obama is of course counting on an economic recovery. And he’s also assuming along with the new liberal economic consensus that taxes don’t matter to growth or job creation. The truth, though, is that they do. Small- and medium-sized businesses are the nation’s primary employers, and lower individual tax rates have induced thousands of them to shift from filing under the corporate tax system to the individual system, often as limited liability companies or Subchapter S corporations. The Tax Foundation calculates that merely restoring the higher, Clinton-era tax rates on the top two brackets would hit 45% to 55% of small-business income, depending on how inclusively “small business” is defined. These owners will find a way to declare less taxable income.
The bottom line is that Mr. Obama is selling the country on a 2% illusion. Unwinding the U.S. commitment in Iraq and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire can’t possibly pay for his agenda. Taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise as well.
On that point, by the way, it’s unclear why Mr. Obama thinks his climate-change scheme won’t hit all Americans with higher taxes. Selling the right to emit greenhouse gases amounts to a steep new tax on most types of energy and, therefore, on all Americans who use energy. There’s a reason that Charlie Rangel’s Ways and Means panel, which writes tax law, is holding hearings this week on cap-and-trade regulation.
Mr. Obama is very good at portraying his agenda as nothing more than center-left pragmatism. But pragmatists don’t ignore the data. And the reality is that the only way to pay for Mr. Obama’s ambitions is to reach ever deeper into the pockets of the American middle class.God Bless, The Truth Tracker Jason R. Bootie
The violence associated with Mexican drug cartels is now spilling over onto the America side of the border in Arizona and Texas, state officials have admitted.
The New York Times reports that Arizona has seen a dramatic spike in drug-related abductions, home invasions, and even men dressed in SWAT gear wielding military-grade weaponry.
A home invasion here last year was carried out by attackers wielding military-style rifles and dressed in uniforms similar to a Phoenix police tactical unit. The discovery of grenades and other military-style weaponry bound for Mexico is becoming more routine, as is hostage-taking and kidnapping for ransom, law enforcement officials said.
The Phoenix police regularly receive reports involving a border-related kidnapping or hostage-taking in a home.
The Maricopa County attorney’s office said such cases rose to 241 last year from 48 in 2004, though investigators are not sure of the true number because they believe many crimes go unreported.
The violence, said Commander Dan Allen of the State Department of Public Safety, is “reaching into Arizona, and that is what is really alarming local and state law enforcement.”
In Texas, state Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw told the El Paso Times that drug violence has indeed crossed the border.
“Yes, absolutely it has occurred; there’s no question about it,” he said.
The violence has led Governor Rick Perry to request an additional $135 million for border security from the state legislature.
This admission comes after news that Texas activated the lowest stage of its border security plan after protests and violence broke out in Mexican border towns last week and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, told reporters last Thursday that drug-related violence has not crossed the Mexican-American border.
“Right now it has not (crossed the border). But it is a contingency we have in mind because it could,” she said. “We have contingency plans should violence spread into the United States.”The Truth Tracker Jason R. Bootie
Academy Award-winning actor and activist George Clooney met privately Monday night with President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to urge the new administration’s action on the crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan.
Mr. Clooney told reporters that Mr. Obama said once a foreign policy review is completed, he would appoint a “full-time, high-level envoy” to the region to report directly to the White House.
“The administration has assured me that Darfur is one of a small handful of foreign-policy reviews being undertaken at the [most senior] level,” Mr. Clooney said.
He said the envoy would be “a huge policy step” since, in many cases, envoys have only been in the region “when the fire starts.”
The actor, who made a documentary highlighting the Darfur conflict and has been outspoken on the issue, said it was “nice to hear” that the region is a priority for the Obama White House.
“There was some concern that this could fall off the radar,” he said. “There’s quite a few other things [the administration is tackling], but they assured me this is high on their agenda.”
He also delivered to Mr. Obama 250,000 postcards from Americans who want the new president to help end the crisis in Darfur.
“This is a moment in time with a brand-new administration,” Mr. Clooney said, adding that Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden were active on the issue “long before” winning the election. He also praised the work of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mr. Clooney said he was not seeking government money or government troops.
“It’s about involvement, it’s about diplomacy,” he said, adding it is “not something the U.S. could do alone.”
The meeting was not announced beforehand by the White House; the actor had been scheduled to meet with Mr. Biden only, but ended up getting face time with both men.
An official statement from the vice president’s office described the meeting.
“The Vice President met this evening with George Clooney to discuss Mr. Clooney’s recent trip to Eastern Chad, where he visited Darfurian refugee camps,” the statement read.
“The Vice President informed Mr. Clooney about the Administration’s ongoing review of Sudan policy and welcomed his observations from his trip. The Vice President thanked Mr. Clooney for his work on this issue, which he believes is an important contribution to the public’s understanding of the conflict in Darfur.”God Bless, The Truth Tracker Jason R. Bootie
Forget the stimulus — this one moved really fast.
From the Humane Society:
U.S. House of Representatives Passes Captive Primate Safety Act
WASHINGTON (Feb. 24, 2009) — Eight days after a chimpanzee kept as a pet attacked and critically injured a Connecticut woman, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Captive Primate Safety Act, H.R. 80, introduced by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., to stop interstate commerce in primates as pets. The bill passed by a vote of 323 to 95. The bill now moves for consideration to the U.S. Senate, where the effort to pass the legislation is being led by U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund expressed thanks and appreciation to Reps. Blumenauer and Kirk for introducing the bill, and to Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.V., for their leadership in bringing the measure to the House floor so expeditiously.
“There is no reason for any private citizen to keep a primate as a pet, and this trade is driven by unscrupulous dealers who sell primates across state lines for thousands of dollars,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “Congressional action on this animal welfare and public safety issue will complement our efforts at the state level to dry up the trade and the practice of private ownership of chimps and other primates.”
“As the tragic attack in Connecticut shows us, The Captive Primate Safety Act is necessary, common-sense legislation for the welfare of humans and animals,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “Make no mistake, this bill will protect communities and ensure the humane treatment of these animals. The passage of this bill is long overdue; I salute The Humane Society of the United States and animal welfare advocates for their consistent dedication and I am pleased that together we were able to pass this bill.”
Rep. Kirk said, “It is inhumane to cage primates in private homes. Besides the animal cruelty concerns, the interstate movement of pet primates creates serious public health and safety risks. The Captive Primate Safety Act takes important steps to address these concerns.”God Bless, The Truth Tracker Jason R. Bootie
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is uncharacteristically shunning the spotlight this week in an apparent effort to repair damage to her political stature back home.
Even though just about every big-name governor and leading conservative will be in Washington this week, the former vice presidential candidate skipped this weekend’s National Governors Association meeting and will be absent from the Conservative Political Action Conference later this week.
After suffering through a rocky month back home she spent Friday in rural Alaska, providing state aid to rural communities hit hard by food and fuel shortages.
“To a certain extent, she’s doing damage control in western Alaska,” said Anchorage-based pollster Ivan Moore.
Pain took a number of hits back home, some of them from fellow Republicans, during February.
They first criticized her for flying to Washington for the white-tie Alfalfa Club dinner, headlined by President Obama.
“There’s no one more basic need than to feed Alaskans,” state Sen. Jay Ramras (R) told local television station KTUU. “I have got little tolerance, and I bet they had a whole lot better dinner at the Alfalfa Club than what they’re eating tonight in Emmonak and Kotlik.”
When Palin returned, lawmakers found her husband, Todd, in contempt for refusing to testify about his role in the firing of a state trooper, and her attorney general resigned amid criticism that he protected government employees from the official Troopergate probe. And last week, state officials ordered Palin to pay $18,000 in back taxes on travel expenses she incurred while commuting between her home in Wasilla and the state capitol, Anchorage.
Her fellow GOP governors — and potential future rivals — said this weekend that they missed Palin’s energy and expertise on energy issues.
“She brings an Alaska attitude and an Alaskan perspective and that’s far different perspective than most other states have,” said Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), who has been mentioned along with Palin as a possible candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who was a finalist along with Palin to become Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) running mate last year, said that he still expects Palin and other governors to play a big role in the party’s revival.
“Along with hopefully a whole group of us we’ll be able to lend voice to how the Republican Party can be more effective in the future,” Pawlenty said.
Palin hasn’t said whether she’ll run for re-election in 2010 or for president in 2012. But she has made moves to stay in the national political debate. In addition to going to the Alfalfa Club dinner in February, Palin formed her own political action committee, SarahPAC, and endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in their GOP gubernatorial primary race.
Palin has remained popular with Alaskan voters, at least up until this month.
More than six in 10 Alaskans approve of the job she’s been doing, which is about twice as many as those who disapprove, Moore said. He added that those numbers probably won’t change because of the state’s large number of conservative Christian voters, the pollster added. They may like her even more after her aid mission to western Alaska since she traveled with evangelical leader Franklin Graham, he said.
“She has a very large and solid loyal base and it’s going to take a volcano eruption to make a severe change,” Moore said.God Bless, The Truth Tracker Jason R. Bootie