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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

William F. Buckley, Recurring Pop Culture Icon



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In today’s Morning Jolt, I asked readers for any long-forgotten references to National Review in popular culture. The other day in the office, other NRO-niks and I tried to come up with all the movies and television shows that have referenced or mentioned National Review Annie Hall, obviously; spider-killing is proud tradition at NR. Tom Selleck picked up a copy of National Review in an episode of Magnum, P.I. Robin Williams’s Genie briefly imitated William F. Buckley in Aladdin. NBC’s Community offered a bizarre reference, although perhaps the magazine needs a “Make-Out Meter.”

Readers already offered three we missed.

First, perhaps the best thing you’ll see all day: This bit of brilliance from the old Canadian sketch comedy series, SCTV, featuring Joe Flaherty as William F. Buckley, Catherine O’Hara as Jane Fonda, and Martin Short as Tom Hayden:

Then, from the old WB animated series Animaniacs, Yakko Warner briefly morphs into “William Yakkley, Jr.” in a segment that features a Sam Donaldson clone, “Fonaldson.”

Finally, Dustin Hoffman said he based his Captain Hook in 1991’s big-budget “Hook” upon Buckley’s voice and mannerisms.

Tags: WFB , Pop Culture , Something Lighter

Strange, Obama Never Seems Disengaged from Partisan Politics



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The last Morning Jolt of the week notes worsening developments with Russia, as the president visits fundraisers and a deli in Los Angeles.

This morning Charles Krauthammer tries to explain what’s going on with our president:

The preferred explanation for the president’s detachment is psychological. He’s checked out. Given up. Let down and disappointed by the world, he is in withdrawal.

Perhaps. But I’d propose an alternate theory that gives him more credit: Obama’s passivity stems from an idea. When Obama says Putin has placed himself on the wrong side of history in Ukraine, he actually believes it. He disdains realpolitik because he believes that, in the end, such primitive 19th-century notions as conquest are self-defeating. History sees to their defeat.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is one of Obama’s favorite sayings. Ultimately, injustice and aggression don’t pay. The Soviets saw their 20th-century empire dissolve. More proximally, U.S. gains in Iraq and Afghanistan were, in time, liquidated. Ozymandias lies forever buried and forgotten in desert sands.

That’s probably a piece of the puzzle; Obama, like most of us, gravitates towards a perceived solution that doesn’t require him to do anything difficult. But notice Obama doesn’t rely on “the arc of the moral universe” in the domestic sphere or dealing with his opponents in the United States. He’s not relying on karma, fate, or the law of unintended consequences in his push for a domestic agenda.

Tags: Barack Obama , Russia

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Judge Tosses GreenTech Lawsuit Against Watchdog.org



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Good news for the good folks at the Franklin Center and Watchdog.org:

A U.S. judge in Mississippi on Thursday threw out an $85-million lawsuit in which an electric car company founded by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe alleged Watchdog.org had libeled the firm.

Judge Michael P. Mills said GreenTech Automotive failed to prove his Mississippi court had jurisdiction over Watchdog.org’s parent, Virginia-based Franklin Center, and Watchdog’s Virginia reporter, Kenric Ward.

The judge’s order noted that Watchdog’s “articles were not aimed at Mississippi” or even GreenTech itself.

“The articles were aimed at McAuliffe and his bid to become Governor of Virginia, and McAuliffe sustained the ‘brunt of the harm’ of the published articles while GreenTech allegedly suffered from the residuary effects of the articles,” Mills said.

McAuliffe, of course, will have to console himself with the governorship for the next three and a half years.

Tags: GreenTech , Terry McAuliffe

Even Obama’s Big Donors Are Getting Tired of His Fundraisers



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Inevitable:

President Obama hit the Bay Area for a fast cash-and-grab fundraising drive Wednesday, but there were signs that even in one of the nation’s most reliable Democratic ATMs, donor fatigue is setting in.

That SFGate article notes that Obama has made 18 trips to the Bay Area during his presidency.

There’s even an indication that the president is just going through the motions:

The president’s perfunctory stump speech at the fundraiser — at least the portion witnessed by the press pool, which was ushered out for the question-and-answer session — reprised the same themes he addressed in his last visit to the Bay Area. He made no mention in his public remarks of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Gaza, the downing of a Malaysian passenger plane over Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine or other current events.

Tags: Barack Obama

$34 Million USDA Program to Grow Soybeans in Afghanistan ‘May Not Be Viable’



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All of what you are about to read is true; this is not a giant promotional scheme for the book.

The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction published a review of its inquiry into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $34.4 million soybean program in Afghanistan. The American Soybean Association submitted the program proposal and a funding request to USDA. The inspector general’s office report expressed “concerns about the viability of the project and the apparent lack of analysis and planning performed prior to the project’s initiation.”

The report found:

* Scientific research conducted for the UK Department for International Development between 2005 and 2008 concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented by ASA.

* The ASA did not conduct feasibility studies prior to initiation of the project in 2010.

* USDA provided $34.4 million to ASA despite the lack of prior planning and analysis, and despite evidence that may have put the success of the program in doubt.

* The sustainability of the soybean-processing facility is in serious doubt because Afghan farmers are not cultivating soybeans in sufficient quantity to make it economically viable, nor is there any significant demand for soybean products in Afghanistan.

* The significant problems creating a market for soybean products in Afghanistan should have been expected, since Afghans apparently have never grown or eaten soybeans before.

Inspector General John Sopko wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:

I understand that Afghanistan’s operating environment poses daunting challenges for reconstruction and development programs, and that any project in the country is bound to meet its fair share of difficulties. However, what is troubling about this particular project is that it appears that many of these problems could reasonably have been foreseen and, therefore, possibly avoided.

He recommended “that USDA thoroughly review the process by which the Food for Progress program evaluates project proposals and makes its final selections.”

Above: Part of your $34 million in tax dollars at work in Afghanistan.

Had I written about this in the book, everyone would have said the novel jumped the shark and became implausible.

Tags: Afghanistan , Government Waste

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In Sum, the Morning’s News Is Bad. Bad, Bad, Bad.



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No getting around it; the roundup in today’s Morning Jolt is grim.

Today’s News: Bad. Bad, Bad, Bad.

Let me save you a bunch of time: All the news overseas is bad this morning. Bad, bad, bad.

Breaking news out of Algeria:

An Air Algeria-operated MD83 carrying 116 passengers and crew disappeared en route from Burkina Faso in Africa to Algiers, the aircraft’s owner said.

The plane, which took off in the west African country shortly after midnight, was supposed to land at 05:10 a.m. local time, Swiftair, a charter company based in Spain said in a statement today. The plane carried 110 passengers and six crew.

“There has been no contact with the plane until now,” Swiftair said. “Emergency teams and the company’s personnel are working to figure out what happened and will notify people as further information is available.”

Ukraine:

While Kiev made significant advances against rebels in the country’s east in recent days, Ukrainian and U.S. officials say Russian weapons are continuing to pour over the border. The escalation in fighting suggests Russian President Vladimir Putin has no intention of dialing back his support for the separatists, denting Western hopes that international attention from the airliner crash would force him to change course.

Russia:

On almost any other issue you can think of, Russian views differ radically from the consensus here in America. Russians have extremely different opinions about the conflict in Syria, viewing the war in that unlucky country not as a brave struggle for freedom but as a chaotic war of all against all. They have different views about the war in Libya, where they see the overthrow of Gaddafi not as a new beginning but as the start of chaos and disorder. They have different views about 9/11, with shockingly large numbers of Russians supporting “alternate” explanations of one of history’s most carefully studied and well-documented terrorist attacks. (I was recently asked what “theory” of the attacks I supported only to be told that it was “my opinion” after I noted that al-Qaeda was clearly and obviously responsible.) Even something as seemingly straightforward and non-political as a meteor strike attracted a range of bizarre theories and pseudo-scientific “explanations” like the onset of an alien invasion or the testing of a new American super weapon. These wacky ideas (“the aliens are attacking Siberia!” “The grand masons are responsible for 9/11!”) would be extremely funny if they didn’t represent such a tragic deficit of reason.

A tiny bit of good news in Israel:

Israel Defense Forces said it hit 35 terror targets overnight. A day earlier, the number was 187.

The Israeli military also reported a sharp fall in the number of rockets fired from Gaza in the early hours of Thursday, although as the day wore on, more rockets were lofted toward Israel, some in the direction of the international airport in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli military said it captured 150 “terrorist suspects” in Gaza Wednesday.

Another tiny bit of good news:

Under pressure from Israeli and American officials, the Federal Aviation Administration lifted a temporary ban on flights by American carriers to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport late on Wednesday night.

The European airlines are reinstating flights.

Now back onto the bad news . . . 

France:

Unable to reach the Grand Synagogues of Sarcelles, some of the rioters smashed shop windows in this poor suburb where tens of thousands of Jews live amid many Muslims. They torched two cars and threw a firebomb at a nearby, smaller synagogue, which was only lightly damaged. It was the ninth synagogue attack in France since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two weeks ago.

Belgium:

Police removed a sign from a Belgian cafe saying that Jews were not allowed following a complaint by an anti-Semitism watchdog.

Germany:

The German government reassured Jews living in Germany that they should feel safe in the face of anti-semitic chants and threats heard at some of the protests against Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza, and said such behavior would not be tolerated.

From now on, no Europeans are allowed to brag about how sophisticated they are.

Tags: Israel , Europe , Russia

Bruce Braley, Missing a Few — Okay, 75 Percent — of Veterans Committee Meetings



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Tough day for Democratic Senate candidates. Below you see the news about Montana senator John Walsh, and now bad news for Representative Bruce Braley, running in Iowa:

Over a two-year period, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley missed 75 percent of meetings for a committee that provides oversight over the Veterans Administration, including one meeting on a day he attended three fundraisers for his 2012 campaign.

Look, it’s not like the VA needed a lot of close oversight in recent years, right?

Tags: Bruce Braley

Goodbye, Montana Democratic Sen. John Walsh



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Montana senator John Walsh, a Democrat and recent appointee, was an underdog yesterday. He’s pretty much toast today:

An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh’s master’s degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.

Awaiting comment from Vice President Joe Biden, who is waiting to see what Neil Kinnock says first.

Tags: John Walsh

Obama on Our Dangerous World: ‘We’re Not Quite Yet Where We Need to Be’



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We will spend a good portion of the next two and a half years wondering about the president’s psychological condition. At yesterday’s DNC fundraiser, he declared,

The world has never been healthier, it has never been wealthier, it has never been more tolerant, there’s never been more opportunity than there is today.

Are you feeling it, America?

This was the president’s assessment of the state of the world today:

THE PRESIDENT: And yet, despite all this, people are anxious. Now, some of that has to do with some big challenges overseas. I am very proud that we have ended one war, and by the end of this year we will have ended both wars that I inherited before I came into office. [Applause.] But whether people see what’s happening in Ukraine, and Russia’s aggression towards its neighbors in the manner in which it’s financing and arming separatists; to what’s happened in Syria — the devastation that Assad has wrought on his own people; to the failure in Iraq for Sunni and Shia and Kurd to compromise — although we’re trying to see if we can put together a government that actually can function; to ongoing terrorist threats; to what’s happening in Israel and Gaza — part of people’s concern is just the sense that around the world the old order isn’t holding and we’re not quite yet to where we need to be in terms of a new order that’s based on a different set of principles, that’s based on a sense of common humanity, that’s based on economies that work for all people.

Also note the president’s declaration:

Sometimes when you’re watching the news — which I generally don’t do because I — [laughter] — whatever they’re reporting on I usually know about — but it can get depressing, right?

This from the president who said he was not aware of the Veterans Affairs scandal, the Department of Justice’s seizing the records of the Associated Press, the IRS scandal, the Fast and Furious scandal, and spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany until he heard about it from media reports . . . 

Tags: Barack Obama

Our Sudden De Facto Travel Ban on Israel



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From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Our Sudden De Facto Travel Ban on Israel

If your direct flight from New York to Tel Aviv suddenly turns around in the eastern Mediterranean and heads back to Paris . . . do you get the frequent-flyer miles for the new longer route?

Perhaps there’s a bit of logic to the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to bar all flights into Tel Aviv — after the shoot-down in the Ukrainian skies, surely everyone in the aviation world is more jittery than usual. But by barring flights, we’re giving Hamas what they want. We’re stopping all U.S. flights into Tel Aviv for 24 hours . . . and then what?

We’ve just told Hamas that we’ll stop our flights into Israel whenever they hit near the airport. The airport is well within range; it’s just a matter of firing enough until one gets through the Iron Dome air-defense system and scaring away air travelers.

With the U.S. decision, most European carriers announced they were cancelling flights to Israel, too. Cruise ships are altering their courses and canceling stops in Israel. Think about it, this is a de facto travel ban to Israel. (Anybody arriving in Israel by boat or overland right now? Didn’t think so.) Right now our State Department merely recommends against traveling to North Korea. Right now you can book a flight from a U.S. airport to Havana, Cuba, or Caracas, Venezuela. But you can’t fly to Tel Aviv . . . with one exception.

Israeli airline El Al is still flying . . . and a guy most folks on the Right don’t like very much is taking a bold stand:

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg is heading to Israel Tuesday night, flying on El Al in a show of unity with the Jewish state while U.S. and European airlines are canceling flights amid deadly fighting in Gaza.

“This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement emailed by former City Hall spokesman Marc La Vorgna shortly after 8 p.m.

“Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely,” Bloomberg continued. “The U.S. flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel.”

Bloomberg will be accompanied by one aide and, during his brief stay, plans to meet with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, La Vorgna said.

This sure feels like a backdoor way to pressure Israel to accept a cease-fire on terms it doesn’t like.

Tags: Israel , Obama , FAA

Obama Pledges to Dutch, ‘We Will Not Rest,’ Heads to Fundraisers



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Of course:

Obama’s schedule for the rest of the day:

President Obama’s fundraising swing through the Seattle area Tuesday will include a high-priced dinner event benefiting a Democratic super PAC. The event is at the Hunts Point home of former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and his wife, Jan, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Seattle Times. The price tag for the event is $25,000 per person, with proceeds going to the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group that accepts unlimited donations . . . 

The event at Sinegal’s home is in addition to an earlier scheduled fundraiser at the Seattle waterfront home of Bruce and Ann Blume, who were fundraising “bundlers” for Obama’s 2012 campaign. The afternoon event will benefit the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The man has a busy schedule to keep.

Tags: Barack Obama , DNC , Russia , Dutch

The EPA Plays a Kardashian Game While Toxic Smoke Burns in Afghanistan



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The Environmental Protection Agency, hard at work, as ever: “Just last night, government officials at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water sent out a tweet confirming they’ve achieved C-list status in the game.”

Let’s face it, “C-list celebrity” is a really accurate label for this lame-duck administration. 

Meanwhile, in environmental news on the other side of the world

In May 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $4.4 million contract to construct solid waste management facilities, including two incinerators, at Shindand Airbase, a coalition base located in Herat province in western Afghanistan housing approximately 4,000 U.S. and Afghan military personnel and contractors. At the time of the contract award, Shindand Airbase was primarily using open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its solid waste. In addition to the two U.S. Forces- Afghanistan-operated incinerators, in September 2009 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded an $11 million contract for incinerators at various bases for use by the Afghan military…

A May 2013 U.S. Forces-Afghanistan evaluation found that the Afghan-operated incinerators were in operable condition and the Afghans had been trained and had the proper equipment to operate their incinerators; however, the Afghans did not use them because the burn pits were cheaper to operate.

CENTCOM commented that the Afghans fail to use the incinerators because they do not perceive that the health benefits of using the incinerators are worth the cost of the fuel to run them. Nevertheless, CENTCOM stated that coalition leadership continues to encourage the ANSF to use the incinerators.

Toxic smoke emanating from Afghan burn pits poses a threat to the health of coalition personnel serving with Afghans at Shindand Airbase and will not be confined to the Afghan-controlled side of the base.

 

 

Tags: EPA , Afghanistan

IG Report: Veterans Administration Undersecretary Too Cozy with Contractor



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Not that the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have enough problems, but a new report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found favoritism, preferential treatment, and unnecessary spending by the VA’s recently-retired undersecretary for memorial affairs.

Steve Muro, the undersecretary who managed the National Cemetery Administration,  just happened to retire one month before the IG report was completed and released. That report offers an unflattering portrait of some of his decisions:

We concluded that Mr. Steve Muro, former (retired) Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, NCA, VACO, engaged in a prohibited personnel practice when he created a position within NCA and preselected an employee, who was also a friend, for that position. Over a 3-year period of time, the employee planned to retire several times, but when retention incentives and quality step increases (QSI) no longer enticed him to remain, Mr. Muro created a promotional opportunity which raised the employee’s salary by approximately $10,000 annually, thereby increasing the employee’s retirement annuity by about $400 each month.

We further found that Mr. Muro engaged in preferential treatment of an NCA contractor, Ms. Patricia Noonan, President of Noonan & Associates, when he developed a less-than­ arm’s-length relationship with her; when he continued to communicate with her via email and telephone after being given guidance to cease those communications; misused his title when he gave her an unfair competitive advantage by providing her a letter of recommendation, which she used to procure additional NCA contracts; and when he improperly supported her in her efforts to obtain additional VA contracts.

(Note: Patricia Noonan should not be mistaken for Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan.)

Telephone records reflected that between October 26, 2012, and October 18, 2013, Mr. Muro and Ms. Noonan exchanged over 1,200 telephone calls and that he called her about twice as many times as she called him. This included calls during business hours as well as between 6:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., weekends, and holidays. Mr. Muro told us that some of these calls were personal in nature but that a lot of them were business-related. He said that they talked whenever he had the opportunity, which included evenings and weekends…

VA financial records reflected that NCA paid Ms. Noonan $374,167 for services rendered to NCA between February 3, 2010, and September 28, 2013, for 90 different transactions.

Noonan & Associates officially protested its exclusion from subsequent Department of Veterans Affairs contracts; after a review the General Accounting Office found that the VA “reasonably concluded that the protester had an organizational conflict of interest.”

President Obama nominated Muro for his undersecretary position in 2011 and he was confirmed. In 2008, Muro was selected by President George W. Bush to receive a Presidential Meritorious Rank Award, recognizing “exceptional leadership, accomplishments and service over an extended period of time.”

Tags: Veterans , VA

Chinese-Made Bicycles and the Wisconsin Governor’s Race



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From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:

Could Chinese-Made Bicycles Be a Factor in Wisconsin’s Gubernatorial Race?

In Wisconsin, the governor’s race featuring Republican incumbent Scott Walker – perhaps a potential presidential candidate – and Democrat Mary Burke remains pretty close. The Walker campaign thinks they’ve got an opportunity to damage Burke by pointing out how her family’s business shipped jobs to China:

The dispute over Trek Bicycle Corp. flared up last week. The Walker campaign began airing an ad criticizing Trek, the Burke family business, for outsourcing jobs to low-wage China. Trek has not disclosed how much its contract workers there are paid per hour.

If they’re not disclosing it, we can surmise it’s not much.

For what it’s worth, Trek president John Burke – the brother of the candidate – said, “Mary had nothing to do with sourcing decisions at Trek. Those decisions were made by my father and myself.” Burke is no longer on the board of the company, but owns stock.

So she’s not a direct out-sourcer herself; she just profits from the outsourcing decisions of others. Much better!

And back in 2004 – when she was with the company – the U.S. Department of Labor investigated whether employees at Trek qualified for the “Trade Adjustment Assistance Program,” a federal entitlement program that assists U.S. workers who have lost or may lose their jobs as a result of foreign trade.

The Department of Labor concluded,  “The investigation revealed that production and employment at the subject firm declined from 2002 to 2003. The investigation further revealed an increase in company imports of bicycles during the relevant period.” But the Department of Labor concluded the workers did not qualify for one of the forms of assistance because “workers in the workers’ firm do possess easily transferable skills.”

Burke was at “Netroots Nation,” the big progressive blogger conference this weekend. She’s asked about “rumors in the media about you and Chinese employees and the minimum wage – is there any truth to that, or any story behind that?”

Burke’s answer, in its entirety: “I’d be happy to address that. Trek is the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the United States. Trek employs early 1,000 people in Wisconsin. In addition to $50 million in payroll in Wisconsin, by supporting millions of dollars in goods and services from all other Wisconsin businesses, small businesses across the state, its impact on the Wisconsin economy is incredible. so  Trek is very proud to be a great Wisconsin employer, a great contributor to Wisconsin, it was founded nearly 40 years ago right there in Wisconsin, and it has grown to be a global company with its headquarters in Wisconsin.”

That is a nice little series of statements and platitudes that doesn’t reassure anyone in its lack of specifics. Such as – does the company get parts, supplies or other materials from China that it could get in the United States? If so, how many? And if so, how much are the workers who produce those parts, supplies and other materials paid? When did the company start getting these supplies from China and were they available from U.S. suppliers, and at what price?

Also note that when Burke brags that the company is “the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the United States,” the company wins that distinction by making 10,000 bicycles per year in the U.S…. out of 1.5 million total. So this company makes a LOT of bikes in Germany and China.

Wisconsin liberals have accused her and her family from prospering from outsourcing:

She also claims in the interview that she never made decisions to ship jobs overseas and that she is opposed to unfair trade deals, both claims which aren’t truthful. Burke was a key family member in a family business. In his book, her brother calls her the “brains of the family.” Burke can’t on the one hand take credit for much of Trek’s business success, but then somehow sell the notion that there was a firewall between her and Trek outsourcing thousands of American bike manufacturing jobs.  

Plus, Burke is one of Trek’s private owners and currently sits on their board.  This is a real-time issue.   Did she object or do anything to stop Trek for sending jobs to China?  Is she doing anything right now to bring back the Trek jobs back? 

During her time at Trek, Burke served as a board member on the Bicycle Parts Suppliers Association (BPSA), a powerful trade association that, among other things, has lobbied for weakening tariffs and free trade.  In addition, they’ve defended Chinese manufacturing and fought regulations during the recent Chinese manufacturing lead paint scare.

So, while it is nice to hear Mary Burke bemoan unfair trade deals, the reality is that she in past has fought for them and personally profited from them. 

Keep in mind, Mary Burke is running on… raising the minimum wage, and also said the minimum wage hike “wouldn’t affect” her family’s business.

Well, we know it wouldn’t affect those Chinese workers.

Of course, we know how this all ends. Every Madison progressive, every union member, every liberal beating the drum for protecting American jobs who sneered about Mitt Romney’s greed will shrug their shoulders and vote for her… just because she’s the Democrat. 

Tags: Mary Burke , Scott Walker , Minimum Wage , Outsourcing , Wisconsin

This Administration Thinks It’s Handling Putin Well



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Another piece of evidence to support the theory that this administration thinks it’s doing a terrific job, on every front, all the time:

First, it’s spelled ”moxie.”

Second, Obama and his fans love to blur the lines between acknowledging Putin’s ruthlessness and willingness to act, with little fear of consequence, with some sort of admiration for him. Remember when this crew used to sneer at the Bush administration for its bluster and overconfidence? Remember when they insisted the preceding administration wasn’t part of the “reality-based community”?

Third, even if Putin isn’t looking so swift now — not that the Russian people will ever hear of it — this administration is high-fiving itself over public relations while Vladimir Putin and his allies gain territory, power, and influence. Sure, handing top-of-the-line anti-aircraft missiles to the separatists in Eastern Ukraine makes Putin look wildly reckless to the point of foolishness. But how much does that really matter when Putin still has so many other levers of power? A military that dwarfs Russia’s neighbors, Middle Eastern client states, enormous intelligence agencies, leverage from gas and oil exports, a stranglehold on domestic media and public opinion…

Putin is demonstrating that his allies increasingly control what happens on the ground at the crash site, and that international condemnation means nothing to the separatists. His actions in Crimea indicate that international public opinion doesn’t matter much to him, either.

If there’s no serious consequence to Russia, beyond another series of financial sanctions that Putin’s regime clearly doesn’t sweat, who really doesn’t look so slick?

Does this look like a man who worries about sanctions? 

Tags: Barack Obama , Vladimir Putin , David Axelrod

The Era of Presidential Attention Deficit Disorder



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Today’s Jolt features updates on the crises in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, a key measuring stick of GOP outreach, and then this nagging feeling stirred by watching the White House in recent months… or years…

Great. Now We’ve Got Presidential Attention Deficit Disorder.

Here’s one big question: Will we still be talking about Ukraine and Israel/Hamas at the end of the week? Or will some other part of the world – or perhaps our own border – blow up then, pushing Ukraine and everything else back to the inside pages?

Remember those kidnapped schoolgirls? Remember how releasing the Taliban Five was an ominous indicator for Afghanistan? Remember ISIS taking over Iraq? Remember the Syrian civil war? Aren’t there still oodles of Central American kids coming over our border?

Does our media lose interest in these crises because the president isn’t interested in them? Or does the president feel like he’s doing fine because the media stops covering them?

Take a look at the president’s schedule for the coming week, as laid out in Mike Allen’s other morning newsletter…

On Monday morning, the President will sign an Executive Order to protect LGBT employees from workplace discrimination. In the afternoon the President will award Ryan M. Pitts, a former active duty Army Staff Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks and sign H.R. 803, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, at an event at the White House; the Vice President will also attend.

“Afterward, the President will travel to Seattle, WA to attend a DNC event. Later in the day, the President will travel to San Francisco, CA, where he will remain overnight. On Wednesday, the President will attend a DCCC event in the San Francisco area, and later in the day will travel to the Los Angeles area, where he will remain overnight. On Thursday, the President will visit a community college in Los Angeles to deliver remarks on the importance of job-driven skills training, particularly for fast-growing sectors such as health care. Later, he will attend a DNC event

That’s three days of fundraisers! Two feel-good ceremonies on touchy-feely domestic issues! It’s like Obama has decided he’s governing in the late 1990s.

If you mention an Obama fundraiser, inevitably some snotty lefty will respond, “Sure, because Obama’s the first president to ever attend a campaign fundraiser.” No, but he’s the first one to ever do so many:

In his first term, Obama attended more fundraising events than any other president in recent history. According to author Brendan J. Doherty, from 2008 to 2012 Obama went to 321 events, compared to just 80 for Ronald Reagan.  And, as the chart below shows, he’s done 72 events in his second term – 34 this year alone. So far, he’s ahead of  the pace of George W. Bush, who had been to 30 events at this point in 2006. In his two presidential terms combined, Bush hosted 318 fundraisers. Obama has already smashed that number with 393 events to date.

I wonder if the big theme in the second half of 2014 is going to be increasingly open questions about Obama’s connection to reality, or whether he’s locking himself in an ever-thicker psychological and scheduling cocoon, behaving as if he’s enjoying a fabulously successful presidency and that the world is getting better, more tranquil, and more prosperous on his watch.

Does this song play on an endless loop in the Oval Office?

Newt Gingrich:

From his perch in the amazingly Obama-centric world in which our President lives, look again at what the rest of us think of as serious problems.

Have any of the 1,000-plus Hamas rockets been aimed at Obama? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.

Have any of the thousands who are crossing the border tried to move into the White House? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.

Is ISIS an immediate threat to the United States that is likely to blow up the next golf course the President is playing at? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.

If you can reduce your presidency to a Starbucks visit, a man with a horse-head mask, shooting pool and visiting Joe Biden’s burger joint for lunch, you can have a successful presidency as you have defined it, even if the world is disintegrating.

It’s not just lunatic right-wingers like ourselves noticing this presidential ADD; Canada’s Robert Fulford writes, “Barack Obama, who apparently distrusts American power, personifies this approach. He moves capriciously from subject to subject. One week he’s furious about Syria and announces that Bashar al-Assad has to go. When Assad doesn’t go, Obama loses interest. He seems always to be making a fresh start. When he’s not doing that, he’s “pivoting,” shifting his interest from one continent to another. He seems detached much of the time, then committed, then detached again.”

 

Tags: Barack Obama

America’s Never-Used $2.89 Million Food Processing Facility in Afghanistan



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The Pentagon spent $2.89 million to build a food processing facility in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, a project of the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. This morning the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction unveiled a review finding that the facility has never been used and is not being maintained.

The report from Inspector General John Sopko says the facility “could have been a success story.” Once a bombed cotton factory site in Helmand province, the aim was to turn the site into a cold and dry storage warehouse and packing facility – allowing the farmers of the province to ship and process their crops and produce and sell to more faraway markets.

The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations began the project in 2010 and then passed it to the Army Corps of Engineers – hiring a contractor to build one cold storage and one
dry storage warehouse, demolish two existing structures, make road improvements; provide on-site power generation and an electrical distribution system, a new water well and to remove mines and unexploded ordnances from the site.

All of the work presumed that, upon completion, the Afghan government would be able to find a buyer or manage the facility itself.

In May 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the contractor’s finished work — 243 days behind schedule, but up to specifications. The contractor blamed the delays on security concerns, including “threatened and actual Taliban violence, difficulties transporting needed equipment across the border into Afghanistan, and difficulty getting experts on the installation and operation of the facility’s equipment to come to Afghanistan.”

The facility, providing approximately 10,000 square feet of cold storage and 13,000 square feet of dry storage, was transferred to the Afghan government in September 2013.

And then… not much happened.

As the IG report notes, “potential investors told [the Pentagon’s Business and Stability Operations task force] that the Afghan district governor had asked for money from the investors and the construction contractor before leasing the property.”

One potential buyer had his Kabul-based cold storage facility unexpectedly damaged and could not generate the funds to purchase the U.S.-built one. The Afghanistan government says it is still looking for potential buyers.

Helmand Province is one of the world’s biggest sites for opium production and a region that frequently endures fierce fighting between the Taliban and its foes.

In fact, it’s not clear who can get to the facility safely right now.  SIGAR inspectors attempted to visit the Gereshk storage facility on two occasions—January and March 2014; both times International Security Assistance Force denied the request to visit the facility, citing high insurgent activity in the area. The Pentagon, in its written response to the IG report, noted that its own Task Force for Business and Stability Operations personnel “have been unable to travel to the site for more than one year.”

The Inspector General’s report recommends, “before approving future investment projects of any kind, [the Pentagon ensure there “are willing investor(s) capable of assuming ownership of and responsibility for maintaining constructed facilities; or, in the absence of investors, that the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Interior is willing and able to assume those responsibilities itself.”

Nice-looking facility our tax dollars bought. Shame no one’s using it. 

Tags: Afghanistan

Justice Is Blind . . . and Sometimes Deaf and Mute



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The scoreboard at the end of the week:

U.S. Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi: Still jailed in Mexico.

Bowe Bergdahl: Back on active duty, now out in public.

The Taliban Five: At large.

Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas: Detained for several hours and then released with notice to appear before an immigration judge.

Obama critic Dinesh D’Souza: Awaiting sentencing for a guilty plea to a criminal count of making illegal contributions in the names of others.

Attempted presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr: Still dividing time between a mental hospital and 17 days a month visiting his mother’s hometown of Williamsburg, Va.

Tags: Department of Justice , Bowe Bergdahl

Traditionally, Loose Bears Are Not Good News.



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The White House, July 8:

Indeed, the Bear is loose, and that’s the problem.

Tags: Barack Obama , Russia

Somebody Has to Pay for This Massacre in the Sky



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From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Somebody Has to Pay For This.

By the time you read this, it’s possible the world will know more about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. But some of the pieces are starting to come together.

1. Pro-Russian separatists have been shooting down Ukranian planes with increasing frequency in recent months — up until now, military transports and cargo planes.

2. Thursday the Russian separatists bragged about shooting down a non-passenger plane shortly before the Malaysian flight disappeared: “In the vicinity of Torez, we just downed a plane, an AN-26. It is lying somewhere in the Progress Mine. We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace.”

3. The Russian separatists have the kind of advanced surface-to-air missiles and launching system needed to hit an airliner traveling at this high altitude.

4. The Ukrainian government’s security agency released audio of an intercepted phone call, allegedly showing Russian separatists and Russian intelligence officers discussing the shoot-down:

Igor Bezler: We have just shot down a plane. Group Minera. It fell down beyond Yenakievo (Donetsk Oblast).

Vasili Geranin: Pilots. Where are the pilots? . . . 

“Greek”: Is there anything left of the weapon?

“Major”: Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.

“Greek”: Are there documents?

“Major”: Yes, of one Indonesian student. From a university in Thompson.

Militant: Regarding the plane shot down in the area of Snizhne-Torez. It’s a civilian one. Fell down near Grabove. There are lots of corpses of women and children. The Cossacks are out there looking at all this.

They say on TV it’s AN-26 transport plane, but they say it’s written Malaysia Airlines on the plane. What was it doing on Ukraine’s territory?

Nikolay Kozitsin: That means they were carrying spies. They shouldn’t be f…cking flying. There is a war going on.

Could this audio be doctored or falsified in some way? Yes, although it would represent an enormous risk on the part of the Ukrainian government.

Barring some other piece of evidence, Occam’s Razor suggests that Russian separatists thought they were firing their missiles at another Ukrainian plane that wasn’t a passenger airliner . . . and promptly killed 298 people. Reports continue to suggest 23 of the passengers were Americans.*

This is not something random and terrible happening to strangers, citizens of other countries, living lives far from here. This was murder of 23 Americans, guilty of nothing worse than booking a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, who had nothing to do with the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

Every one of the passengers’ deaths is an outrage; the deaths may also have far-reaching consequences:

About 100 of the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash were heading to Melbourne for a major AIDS conference, conference attendees have been told.

Delegates at a pre-conference in Sydney were told on Friday morning that around 100 medical researchers, health workers and activists were on the plane that went down near the Russia-Ukraine border, including former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange.

Russian president Vladimir Putin didn’t order the separatists to shoot down the airliner. But his intelligence agencies and military have provided all kinds of support to these separatists. To borrow P. J. O’Rourke’s metaphor, Putin gave whiskey and car keys — and powerful explosives — to teenage boys. The disastrous consequences were not hard to foresee. You can see it in the absurd, nonsensical, instant justification by one of the speakers that if the plane is labeled “Malaysia Airlines,” it must be a disguise for a spy plane. Putin didn’t commit murder; just reckless endangerment.

There will be a lot of debates and discussions about what the United States can or should do in response to this reckless, deadly decision. But let’s begin by asking, if we had the opportunity to reach out and strike 23 Russian separatists involved in the decision to launch this missile, would we do it? I’d like to think so. Fighting a war is not inherently evil, nor is stupidity, but the combination of the two is a fertile ground for evil. These guys need to be taught a lesson, and it’s not clear who can teach them.

Commercial airliners fly — usually quite high — over dangerous or not-so-friendly parts of the world all the time. Right now commercial jets are avoiding Eastern Ukraine. Should they avoid Syria, too? Iran? Iraq? Afghanistan? If so, you’ve just cut off India and a big chunk of Asia from Europe.

These guys need to pay — and Putin needs to see consequences of his reckless support of these dumb, brutal goons.

Moe Lane:

I never thought that I’d see the day that the US government would just shrug off a no-fooling war crime committed against our citizens.

* UPDATE: As of Friday afternoon, the report is that “at least one”, not 23 Americans were killed in the attack on the plane. The magazine of Stephen Glass and Zach Scott Thomas Beauchamp seems to think citing a report from Reuters constitutes dishonesty. 

Tags: Russia , Ukraine , Malaysian Airlines 17

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