On Sunday, the NYT's Peter Baker noted that only 304 of 543 appointed positions have been filled by the Obama administration after nearly a year. Though some of the hold-up has been from petty pork-barrel politics in the Senate, much more has resulted from the White House's incredibly tough preemptive vetting of its own appointees.
This vetting, which has already stopped Paul Farmer from heading USAID, has been defended by the White House, which argues it is ahead of the historical precedent. Why isn't that reassuring?
Even less reassuring is David Herbert's report in the National Journal that the State Department struggling to get security clearances for its interns in time for the periods they were supposed to be working.
One would-be intern, a graduate student at Tufts, came to Washington in May for a summer gig working on development issues. But he never got his security clearance and never started his internship. He's driving home to New York today after spending a frustrating summer spent calling his congressmen for help and wondering what happened.
"With the clearance process, as an applicant, you don't know anything," he said.
Not only are some going home without ever starting, the State Department actually takes this into account when choosing its number of interns. Don't we need to attract more talent into civil service, not scare it off with bureaucracy?
Even worse, the prospective interns most likely to run into delays are those who have spent time living or studying overseas, according to Daniel Hirsch, co-founder of Concerned Foreign Service Officers:
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which handles clearances, farms out most investigations to contractors, who are more efficient at processing applications than the bureau's agents, he said. But when an applicant has lived or traveled extensively overseas (as Buniewicz and others interviewed have), Diplomatic Security (DS) takes over. "Most DS agents consider [personnel security background investigations] to be beneath them, and security clearance investigations are a very low priority item for most overseas DS agents, so they probably sit on the back burner for a while," Hirsch said.
So it is harder to get an early jump on a career at the State Department if you already have international experience. No wonder Paul Farmer gave up on the bureaucratic route.
As a side note, why do interns require such significant security checks? The old joke about interns running everything notwithstanding, are they really handling that much classified material? Any State interns out there, let us know.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Wired correspondent Sharon Weinberger has a compelling investigative piece in the New York Post about the CIA's quest for Russian helicopters to sneak into Afghanistan before the full-scale U.S. invasion. It's a tale of secrecy, corruption, Siberian cold, and credit card rewards.
Here's a bit of Weinbeger's synopsis at Wired's Danger Room:
As with many “black” programs, the contract had elements of craziness: Contracting officials paid the multimillion-dollar contract on a credit card at a local El Paso bar and then used the credit card rebate to redecorate their office; the team traveled under the guise of being private contractors; and the charter crew transporting the group abandoned the team in Russia in the middle of the night.
Ultimately, a five-year investigation into the mission led to the conviction of the Army official in charge and the contractor who bought the helicopters on charges of corruption. The two men, currently in federal prison, are appealing their convictions.
The full article is a thrilling read.
For more of Weinberger's coverage of questionable helicopter contracting, check out her April piece, "How to get a no-bid contract for Russian choppers." Turns out being a middleman in U.S.-Russian arms deals is pretty lucrative.
When U.S. taxpayers shell out for these kinds of shenanigans, at least we're getting some entertainment value.
Above, Russian Mi-17s in 2007.
SERGEY PONOMAREV/AFP/Getty Images
The Globe and Mail's Norman Spector thinks Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper missed a chance at the "three amigos" summit to help out Barack Obama and gain some political points that could be used to sway the president on "buy America" provisions:
On health care reform -- a question he knew he would be asked and had obviously prepared -- he ducked instead of helping the President counter Republican disinformation by seconding Mr. Obama’s observation that the Canadian model is not on the table. Most gratingly, with an insipid smile on his face, Mr. Harper referred to provincial jurisdiction over health care — a half-truth, at best, given the constraints set out in federal legislation.
In interview with ABC's Jake Tapper, that Spector also links to, Harper does seem to be bending over backwards not to defend his own country's healthcare system.Given how divorced from reality the U.S. healthcare debate has become, I'm not sure how much Haper really could have helped Obama. It's not as if the assurances of a Canadian Prime Minister -- even a conservative one -- are really going to assuage those who see "Obamacare" as creeping socialism. Ducking the question and staying as far away from the U.S. debate as possible is not exactly a profile in courage, but is probably prudent.
(Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias)
Maybe it was bound to happen. The Save Darfur Coalition says its mission is "inspiring action, raising awareness and speaking truth to power on behalf of the people of Darfur."
"Toss these message panties onstage at your favorite rock star or share a surprise message with someone special ... later."
Admittedly, this description is the same for the thong regardless of which logo is chosen. But I'm still cringing.
The dealer, CafePress, gurantees that "100% of the profits will be dontated directly to the Save Darfur Coalition (www.savedarfur.org)." And the deal goes beyond just thongs. Save Darfur pet bowls and beer steins are among the other items on offer.
In fact, even though they didn't make it, I'll be surprised if the Save Darfur Coalition doesn't distance themselves, given that they are featured as the recipient. On the other hand, if the Save Darfur Coalition's "millions of everyday citizens" all sent a thong to the White House, someone would have to pay attention.
Britney Spears could be returning to film for the first time since "Crossroads" in 2002, for which she was given a Golden Raspberry award for worst actress of the year. She is said to be reviewing the script for "The Yellow Star of Sophia and Eton" a romantic tragedy partially set in the Holocaust.
As Der Spiegel reports, not everyone is thrilled about the potential casting choice:
Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has said she is horrified..."In films that deal with the Holocaust, the script should be carefully chosen and the cast picked with care," Knobloch told the German tabloid Bild. "It is reprehensible to combine the issue of the Holocaust with Britney Spears in an attempt to secure financing for the film 'The Yellow Star of Sophia and Eton.' Ethical considerations should have priority."
More on the film from Haaretz:
If she accepts the role, Spears will be taking on the title role of Sophia LaMont, a woman who invents a time machine and succeeds in traveling to the time of the Second World War. According to the script, LaMont ends up at a concentration camp and falls in love with a Jewish prisoner named Eton. However, the budding love story is cut short when both are killed by the Nazis.
Britney, time-travel, Nazis. What could they be worried about?
Annie wrote yesterday about how Bermuda and Palau's economic dependency on the United States might have something to do with their decision to accept Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. But Bermuda also has a legal dependency on Britian, and London was surprised, to say the list, by the news, and they're a bit ticked off at Washington as well:
Under a 1968 understanding known as the general entrustment, Bermuda has the right to conduct external relations "on behalf of" Britain, on condition that London is consulted before agreements with other states are entered. At issue is whether the prison transfer represented such a formal agreement, or simply a local immigration matter. The Foreign Office insisted the matter was "a security issue for which the Bermuda government does not have delegated responsibility."
British officials said there would now be talks with Bermuda on the interpretation of the general entrustment. But by this evening they were playing down a suggestion made earlier in the day that the understanding would be suspended. Meanwhile, a Foreign Office official said Britain would help Bermuda carry out a thorough security assessment of the four Chinese Muslim separatists.
Taken by surprise by news of the Uighurs arrival, Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, is understood to have had an uneasy telephone conversation with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, about why London was not told. Clinton reportedly said the US had assumed that Bermuda had agreed the move with Britain before agreeing to host the Uighurs.
Just to connect the memes, the question of whether Bermuda's sovereignty is recognized in U.S. law was one taken up by none other than Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who argued in a 2000 dissent that Bermudans should be considered citizens of a foreign state, despite the fact that the State Department does not recognize the island as a sovereign nation.
No exactly relevant to this question, but interesting.
Via Mike Allen, fun facts about General Motors:
GM has a $458 million market capitalization now - it was $59 BILLION nine years ago. GM will have 40,000 people building cars in America. It had 400,000 in the 1970s.
As Allen points out, if you're an American taxpayer, you're now the proud owner of this white elephant.
The Olympics torch for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver is officially supposed to evoke "the cool, crisp and modern lines that are left behind in the snow and ice from winter sports." But a lot of people are saying the 37-inch white torch, with crimped ends and twist in the middle, resembles a hand-rolled marijuana joint, especially when it's lit (and viewed in the horizontal position).
It doesn't help that Vancouver is a major marijuana-producing area. The Olympic torch has now been dubbed the Olympic Toke.
Photo: © VANOC/COVAN
It's been a tense day for constitutional lawyers, national security reporters, and foreign policy wonks. Why? This afternoon, the Obama administration intends to release memos relating to the controversial "enhanced interrogation" policies of CIA officers in overseas prisons.
There have been careful negotiations between the CIA, Justice Department, and White House over the contents of the release, and it seems the officers involved have been granted immunity from prosecution as a result.
The full set of documents should be released here sometime within the hour.
Update: The only redactions are the officers' names.
Update: Read the memos here.
Here at FP, we don't always pay much attention to U.S. domestic policy, obviously, and the tax-day tea parties confused us a bit. Why weren't the protesters dressed up as Native Americans (like in the Boston Tea Party) or Mad Hatters? Weren't top-bracket taxes higher under Reagan?
Regardless, we've glommed onto a U.S. domestic issue which suggests a foreign-policy disaster: the U.S. state of Texas threatening to secede. Texas Governor Rick Perry, angered, like the tea-bag-partiers, over Obama's spending and tax policies, has implied that Texas might leave the Union.
So what would Texas look like as a foreign country?
It would be the world's thirteenth largest economy -- bigger than South Korea, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. But its worth would crater precipitously, after NAFTA rejected it and the United States slapped it with an embargo that would make Cuba look like a free-trade zone. Indeed, Texas would quick become the next North Korea, relying on foreign aid due to its insistence on relying on itself.
On the foreign policy front, a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower. Obama wouldn't look kindly on secessionists, and would send in the military to tamp down rebellion. If Texas miraculously managed to hold its borders, Obama would not establish relations with the country -- though he might send a special rapporteur. (We nominate Kinky Friedman.)
So, Texas would need to court Mexico and Central American nations as a trading partners and protectors. Those very nations would also pose a host of problems for Texas. President Perry might find friends in anti-U.S. nations like Venezuela and Cuba, but their socialist politics would rankle the libertarian nation.
And Texas would become a conduit for drugs moving north to the United States from Mexico, maybe even becoming a narco-state. It would need to invest heavily in its own military and policing force to stop drug violence within its borders -- taking away valuable resources from, oh, feeding its people, fending off U.S. border incursions, and improving its standing in the world.
In short: the state of Texas would rapidly become direly impoverished, would need to be heavily armed, and would be wracked with existential domestic and foreign policy threats. It would probably make our failed states list in short order. Probably better to pay the damn taxes.
And of course -- Texas isn't seceding. Only regions in civil war or self-governing areas in very weak states manage independence. Perry was floating a piece of asinine political rhetoric, running a heated race against fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson and courting small-government conservatives of all stripes. Plus, more importantly, Texas can't secede, according to the 1869 Supreme Court Case, Texas v. White. Ah well.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Chuck Norris has offered to be President of Texas, greatly reducing the possible internal threat of unionists or external threat of U.S. military forces to the seceded country. (H/t Ezra Klein.)
Photo: Flickr user Susan E. Gray
Bloomberg reports that the holding company for collapsed New York investment bank Lehman Brothers is hanging on to a valuable asset until prices rebound, to help pay off the company's creditors.
The asset? Uranium. How much? Enough for a bomb, if you knew how to do it.
Lehman, once the fourth-largest investment bank, has an estimated $200 billion in unsecured liabilities left to pay. The uranium, which may be as much as 500,000 pounds, might fetch $20 million at today’s prices of about $40.50 per pound, said traders who asked not to be named because of the confidential nature of the data. Marsal said the traders’ estimate of Lehman’s uranium holding is “reasonable,” while declining to be more specific....
Lehman “tested” the uranium market after its bankruptcy filing in an effort to raise cash, pulling back after it did because “everyone was low balling,” Marsal said. With $10 billion in the till today from other asset sales, Lehman isn’t in a hurry any longer to sell uranium, he said.
“We plan on gradually selling this material over the next two years,” he said. “We are not dumping this on the market and have no fire-sale mentality.”
Writing in the Washington Times, Audrey Hudson and Eli Lake report that the Department of Homeland Security has produced and disseminated a nine-page report on the threat of "rightwing extremist activity," spurred by the global economic crisis, election of a black president, and the return of "disgruntled war veterans."
The nine-page document was sent to police and sheriff's departments across the United States on April 7 under the headline, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
It says the federal government "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months" to gather information on "rightwing extremist activity in the United States"....
"Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action," the report says. "In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded."
In producing the report, the United States joins numerous European countries facing possible right-wing nationalist activity. But Europe's long-struggled with nationalism stoked by immigration from ethnic minorities; it has right-wing anti-immigration political parties, mainstreaming sentiment which might otherwise be considered or become extremist.
In a widely publicized move, the Obama administration is due to finally and officially announce its easing of restrictions to Cuba. U.S. citizens will now be able to travel and send money to the country more easily. (See FP's photo essay on Cuba for more details; and this FP article by Nestor Carbonell for a convincing argument against rushing into engagement.)
The Miami Herald says the announcement, to be made this afternoon, is meant to coincide with the Summit of the Americas, which starts on Friday in Trinidad and is attended by heads-of-state from North and South American countries.
Thankfully -- apparently the pet-poisoning revelation hasn't hurt relations.
The Hill reports that in 2007 Cuba poisoned the pet animals of U.S. diplomats working in the country:
The 64-page report written in 2007 states that the life of U.S. diplomats serving in the U.S. Interest Section (USINT) - which issues visas and performs other diplomatic services in Havana - was laden with poor morale "in part because USINT life in Havana is life with a government that ‘let's [sic] you know it's hostile'"....
"Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime has recently gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal has been to instigate dissension within USINT ranks."
The report comes just as the Obama administration is attempting to strengthen relations and ease strictures on the Communist country. Which begs the question: who decided it release it now?
The New York Times' Julia Preston, who reports today on Barack Obama's plan to start pushing for immigration reform as early as May, seems to doubt the political wisdom of the U.S. president's move.
As she notes, it could get extremely ugly, with immigration opponents likely to "mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs."
And indeed they will. Lou Dobbs is going to have a field day, and the Republican base is going to lose its collective head. It doesn't seem even remotely plausible that Obama will get a bill passed in this economic climate.
That said, perhaps the president has another aim in mind. Maybe he doesn't expect to pass legislation this time around. Maybe he's thinking ahead to the 2010 midterm elections, and looking to give the Republicans just enough rope to hang themselves on this issue. If he moves forward, the GOP's worst elements will come to the fore, branding the party for years to come as narrow-minded and regressive. Without George W. Bush as the voice of tolerance and reason on immigration, the party's base will swiftly alienate Latino voters once and for all, and meanwhile frighten white suburban voters who are repulsed by racial appeals.
At least, that's the only explanation that makes sense.
In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). In each of those cases, global investors, afraid that the country or its financial sector wouldn’t be able to pay off mountainous debt, suddenly stopped lending. And in each case, that fear became self-fulfilling, as banks that couldn’t roll over their debt did, in fact, become unable to pay. This is precisely what drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy on September 15, causing all sources of funding to the U.S. financial sector to dry up overnight. Just as in emerging-market crises, the weakness in the banking system has quickly rippled out into the rest of the economy, causing a severe economic contraction and hardship for millions of people.
But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.
Johnson shows how financial firms became more and more profitable, and a bigger and bigger part of the U.S. economy. More capital meant more political capital, he argues, which eventually meant nobody prevented the melt-down. The same political entrenchment makes fixing the banks difficult.
The obvious solution to the financial crisis, Johnson says -- informed by his time at the I.M.F. -- is simple. The United States should determine which banks can't survive and temporarily nationalize them, instead of simply recapitalizing them, he says. But the relationship between top financiers and the government means this won't happen -- at least not unless things get much worse.
Still, his article includes a list of the policies (or lack thereof) which most contributed to the bubble and burst. It's a great crib sheet of what Capitol Hill and the G-20 Summit will tackle, piece by piece, to reform the system.
• insistence on free movement of capital across borders;
• the repeal of Depression-era regulations separating commercial and investment banking;
• a congressional ban on the regulation of credit-default swaps;
• major increases in the amount of leverage allowed to investment banks;
• a light (dare I say invisible?) hand at the Securities and Exchange Commission in its regulatory enforcement;
• an international agreement to allow banks to measure their own riskiness;
• and an intentional failure to update regulations so as to keep up with the tremendous pace of financial innovation.
It's fascinating, scary reading.
The British government is planning to retake political control of its dependency Turks and Caicos, after a corruption scandal unseated the Carribean islands' prime minister (shown here with his estranged wife, the U.S. actress LisaRaye, who is also under investigation):
Mr Misick, 43, a British-trained lawyer, has overseen the transformation of the islands since taking control in 2003. He is alleged to have built up a multi-million dollar fortune since he was elected in 2003.
The Premier and his fellow government ministers are alleged to have sold off Crown land to property developers for their own personal gain.
With two private jets on call and a series of luxury homes, Mr Misick claims that his lavish lifestyle has been necessary to court the high-end developers who have helped to transform this former colonial backwater. Celebrities with homes in the islands are understood to include Bruce Willis, Donna Karan, Michael Douglas, Keith Richards and Oprah Winfrey.
After resigning, Misick blasted Britain's decision to suspend the islands' constitution and transfer control to a London-appointed governor as "tantamount to being re-colonised."
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
This is disturbing to say the least:
Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.
“I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
A funding crunch, exacerbated by cuts in the January budget, has left many senior researchers across the county scrambling to find the money to continue their experiments.
Some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist.
When asked about those rumours, Mr. Goodyear said such conversations are not worth having.
George W. Bush caught a lot of (understandable) flack from scientists for his partial embrace of "intelligent design" education, but even he chose a science advisor who stated clearly that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology."
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
In a wonderfully Onion-esque article, The Calgary Sun reports on former U.S. President George W. Bush's first public engagement since leaving office. Bush is in Canada to address the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, but first stopped off in a local Italian joint.
The story nabs some on-the-ground impressions from intrepid locals: Bush was a "funny and a down-to-Earth kind of guy. We even got some pictures with him." Another notes, "I tried pointing him out to my mom but she didn't get to see him."
And the article duly reports on what's really important up in Canada: "Bush wasn't the only high-profile guest there last night...Calgary Flames forward Olli Jokinen happened to walk in minutes before."
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Last night, NBC late-night comedian Jay Leno -- hosting U.S. President Barack Obama this week -- riffed extensively on the international implications of the increasingly catastrophic AIG bailout during his monologue:
[The AIG executives] bankrupt the company, took $170 billion of our dollars and they're giving out bonuses. You know the main thing they want to reward their people for? Convincing the Treasury Department to give $170 billion dollars to a failing company, so they can give out bonuses for a job well done. You know what "AIG" stands for -- anybody know? Adventures in Greed.
They don't have to account for any of us. Now it turns out they gave $35 billion -- not million, $35 billion -- of our money to bail out European banks. See, this is how a global economy works. Our hard-earned tax dollars are used to bail out German banks for making bad investments in American companies that shut down because the Japanese owners moved the whole thing to India, China, and Mexico. Boy, you thought St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland? Let's send him down to Wall Street!
Turns out, Leno's right. This week, AIG released a document listing the "financial counterparties" who received $101 billion directly from the U.S. government's "emergency loan." AIG used more than of half the Treasury funds to pay down money owed for things like credit default swaps -- most of which went to foreign companies' coffers. Using data BusinessWeek broke down, we made the above chart.
Funny how the comedians are besting the finance experts now, huh?
In a press release, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice announce the withdrawal of the "enemy combatant" definition of Gitmo detainees. The memo says that, under President Obama's orders, the department is reviewing detention policy:
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
The Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
The memo states that the government will no longer detain combatants who provided "insignificant or insubstantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban. (The Bush administration came under fierce criticism for holding persons with little or no connection to the terrorist organizations.) More than 200 remain incarcerated at Camp Delta; it's unclear if any -- or how many -- will be released under the new legal standards.
Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
As Antiguan voters headed to the polls today, the main topic of debate was who, exactly, let billionaire financier and alleged Ponzi-scheme operator Allen Stanford become the driving force behind the country's economy:
The billionaire is one of the island's most prominent citizens and its largest private employer. Hundreds of people work for his two restaurants, one newspaper, cricket grounds, a development company and a three-branch local bank as well as the headquarters of his Stanford International Bank.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, whose United Progressive Party is seeking to retain its majority of 17 parliamentary seats, has said his opponents sought to "literally give away Antigua and Barbuda to Allen Stanford" when the financier brought his offshore bank here from Montserrat in 1990.
Spencer's opponent, Lester Bird, a close Stanford ally, denies the claim — although his Antigua Labor Party was in power at the time.
Tom Shaw/Getty Images
Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow interviewed the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. Her first question: Should her job even exist, or should the 22 federal agencies and 200,000 employees under the D.H.S. banner disaggregate?
Napolitano, the former governor of border-state Arizona, didn't get defensive at Maddow's question, she just calmly explained her plans for the agency. Surprisingly her top priority seems to be Mexico.
Sounding sensibly hawkish, Napolitano stressed the importance of federal agencies working together to systematically to stop the flow of guns and money south and give Mexican authorities the shot in the arm they desperately need.
What's so weird about this? Two things.
First, Janet Napolitano is the secretary of homeland security, not defense or state. But rather than ineptly responding to natural disasters and taking a lot of flak for airport lines, Napolitano has taken leadership over the U.S. response to the burgenoning crisis, which may include sending troops across the border. She's acted as point-person for local politicians and leadership from the White House, State, Defense, and the Attorney General's office. Texas Governor Rick Perry turned to her to ask for a thousand more troops.
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
Cato's Daniel Griswold catches an interesting provision in the omnibus appropriations bill passed by the house:
Buried in the $410 billion catch-all appropriations bill now before the U.S. Senate is a provision that would end a program that has allowed Mexican truck drivers to deliver goods to destinations inside the United States....
Under current restrictions, goods coming into the United States from Mexico by truck must be unloaded inside the “commercial zone” within 20 miles or so of either side of the border and transferred to U.S.-owned trucks for final delivery. U.S. goods going to Mexico face the same inefficient and unnecessary restrictions.
The Bush administration established a pilot program that allows certain Mexican trucking companies that meet U.S. safety and other standards to deliver goods directly to U.S. destinations, while the Mexican government has agreed to allow reciprocal access to its market. But the Democratic Congress and the new Democratic president have vowed to finally kill the program, and the provision inside the appropriations bill will probably deliver the final blow.
So much for being "very careful about any signals of protectionism." Maybe that only applies to Canada.
(Hat tip: Hit & Run)
The inauguration of Barack Obama wasn't just the event of the day in the United States. It received above-the-fold coverage in countries all over the globe, as Jan. 21's front page of the United Daily News in Taipei, Taiwan, above, shows. To see more Obama-blaring newspaper front pages from Namibia to Israel to Poland and more, check out this week's photo essay, "The Inauguration Heard 'Round the World," which features images obtained from the Newseum.
Attention D.C. residents: You know that bamboo plant livening up your office? It's needed for panda food.
The National Zoo has run critically low on bamboo and might run out before the winter ends. The zoo harvests bamboo on its premises and at other locations in the area, but for unknown reasons, the stands aren't regrowing normally.
The three furry balls of cuteness are on loan from China. Let's hope this bamboo shortage doesn't adversely affect U.S.-China relations. Fortunately, there are some promising signs: The zoo has received many offers since issuing its appeal. However, for the bamboo to be accepted, it must meet specific criteria:
By the way, check out the panda cam.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Is there no problem a surge can't fix? Michael Chertoff tells the New York Times that the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to build a fence and boost security on the Mexican border aren't just about immigration, they're also to keep Mexico's drug violence on the other side of the border. If it does spill over, they have a plan:
"We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge — if I may use that word — capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with" the Defense Department, Chertoff said in a telephone interview.
Officials of the Homeland Security Department said the plan called for aircraft, armored vehicles and special teams to converge on border trouble spots, with the size of the force depending on the scale of the problem. Military forces would be called upon if civilian agencies like the Border Patrol and local law enforcement were overwhelmed, but the officials said military involvement was considered unlikely.
I'm glad that DHS is paying attention to the unfairly overlooked drug violence in Mexico, but I doubt that U.S. military personnel operating in the southern United States would be any more effective at combating drug traffickers than the 45,000 troops that Mexico has deployed in its own territory. Or, for that matter, the Colombian military's U.S.-funded efforts.
Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Photo: Mike Lutz/DHS via Getty Images
Today, the last publicly viewable statue of fascist Spanish dictator Francisco Franco on the European continent was taken down in the city of Santander:
To commemorate this occasion, here's a look at some other notable statue-topplings:
Nov. 2, 1956: Residents of Budapest, Hungary, destroy a statue of Stalin during a demonstration against communist domination. The statue had been toppled Oct. 23, 1956, at 9:30 p.m.
Aug. 22, 1991: A crowd watches the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka (a predecessor of the KGB), being toppled in Moscow.
Aug. 23, 1991: The statue of Lenin is dismantled in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius as the government banned the Communist Party. Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and declared its independence in 1990.
April 9, 2003: Iraqis watch a statue of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein falling in Baghdad. Before it fell, a U.S. marine had briefly covered its head with an American flag. The impression it conveyed of conquest rather than liberation prompted the U.S. military to bar display of the U.S. flag in most circumstances.
Nov. 23, 2003: Protesters topple a papier-mâché statue of U.S. President George W. Bush in central London. They were demonstrating against the state visit of Bush to Britain and the war in Iraq.
Oct. 13, 2007: A man jumps on a statue of former Mexican President Vicente Fox in Boca del Rio. The statue, which was going to be unveiled the next day, was knocked down by a group of unidentified people.
Photos: RAFA RIVAS/AFP/Getty Images, AFP/Getty Images, ANATOLY SAPRONENKOV/AFP/Getty Images, WOJTEK DRUSZCZ/AFP/Getty Images, PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images, EVA-LOTTA JANSSON/AFP/Getty Images, SAUL RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
Using data from the Department of Homeland Security, Northwestern University grad student Ian Stevenson created this gorgeous animation showing the flow of immigrants into the U.S. over time, color-coded by their regional origin. Each dot represents 100 people:
(Hat tip: Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward)
Justin Fox explains why Detroit's Big Three get no love:
Most Americans simply no longer identify with the domestic auto industry (or with the states of Michigan and Ohio). To the Southerners who now make up the core constituency of the Republican Party, it's a bunch of coddled, unionized workers trying to get handouts that the South's auto industry (Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Mercedes, BMW ...) doesn't need. To the coastal urbanites and suburbanites who now make up the core constituency of the Democratic Party, it's an industry that makes crappy big cars and fights against higher fuel efficiency standards. And to the business press it's the worst thing of all: a trio of companies that are neither exciting nor financially successful.
Are those good reasons to deny Detroit aid? No, probably not. But they do explain why Detroit needs to come up with better reasoning of its own if it hopes to get any help from Washington.
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