Starting next month, members of the European Parliament will travel in style on their own specially designed high-speed train from their office in Brussels to their other office in Strasbourg, France. The parliament holds its preparatory meetings in Brussels and its plenary sessions in Strasbourg meaning that every month, 377 MEPs and their staff need to be transported between the two cities. The new train is being touted (mostly by the French who built it) as an eco-friendly and cost-effective alternative to flying. It will still cost European taxpayers more than $300,000 per journey and won't be open to the public.
Cato's Daniel Mitchell compares the train to the special highway lanes once enjoyed by high-ranking Soviet officials. However, I don't really see why putting them on their own train is that much more egregious than chartering a jet or hiring limos. To me, this says more about the monumental idiocy of putting the parliament's two offices 200 miles apart.
Despite the luxurious accomodations, MEPs are still griping that the train's late arrival in Strasbourg will "deprive colleagues of their midday break and the possibility of a proper lunch." I guess it's hard to pass all those non-binding resolutions on an empty stomach.
Note: The photograph above is of a different train.
Does Dmitry Medvedev have a mind of his own after all?
Yesterday, Russia's new president essentially sank a draft law that would have allowed the government to shut down a newspaper suspected of libel without even waiting for a court decision. A lawmaker from the ruling United Russia Party introduced the bill after a tabloid published rumors that Vladimir Putin was leaving his wife for a 24-year-old gymnast. Under Putin, the paper was shut down within days, but Medevedev has indicated that he may be a bit more liberal in his view of press freedom:
It is obvious that the ... draft law could lead only to the creation of hindrances to the normal functioning of the media, and does not accomplish the declared aims -- to defend citizens from the distribution of material that is libelous."
Hopefully, this is an indication that it is still too early to dismiss Medvedev as Putin's sock-puppet. Russia's not going to magically transform into a liberal democracy any time soon, but there's reason to suspect that Medvedev isn't entirely on board with all of Putin's authoritarian tendencies. He may be testing the waters to see how much he can get away with. Given that Putin has rigged the system so that he can impeach the president fairly easily, Medvedev doesn't exactly have a lot of room to maneuver. But it's still encouraging if he's using what power he does have to curb some of the state's most draconian excesses.
Seven years ago, it was Albanian-Macedonian tensions that brought the Republic of Macedonia to the brink of war, but given what happened in the days surrounding Macedonia's parliamentary elections last Sunday, it now appears that Albanian-on-Albanian violence poses the greatest threat to Macedonian stability.
Compared with other former Yugoslav republics, Macedonia has been quite the success story. Its declaration of independence from Yugoslavia was followed by years of relative peace. Violence flared up in 2001 when Albanian guerrilla forces launched attacks on the majority Slavic Macedonian authority, but within the year the respective Macedonian and Albanian leaderships had signed on to the Ohrid Agreement, upping protection and rights for Macedonia's 25 percent ethnic Albanian minority.
And for the most part, Ohrid seems to have worked. Today, Macedonia is an EU candidate country, and it fell just short of a NATO membership invite (no thanks to its neighbor to the south). But rifts within the Albanian community -- between the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) -- could launch the country back into pre-Ohrid bloodshed. And if that's the case, the death count has already begun.
Violence started in the weeks leading up to Sunday's elections with clashes between DUI and DPA members but culminated yesterday when a man with a Kalashnikov reportedly threatened voters at a polling station in the majority Albanian town of Aracinovo while his men stuffed the ballot box. Other sources report that Macedonian police in Aracinovo shot three men, killing one and injuring two in a clash with six armed individuals. The DUI announced that the injured men were party members, accusing the DPA and the police of collaborating to stir up trouble.
That the violence has largely been contained within the Albanian community is a good sign, but intra-Albanian tensions could nonetheless hamper Macedonia's future government.
In case it weren't already clear, the organizers of this summer's Olympics would rather you not protest against China during the games. The Bejing Organizing Committee has posted a set of 57 dos and don'ts for foreign visitors to the games, which include a ban on "religious or political banners or slogans at Olympic venues."
Strangely for a document aimed at foreigners, it's only available in Chinese, but the New York Times reports that other "don'ts" include defacing the Chinese flag, holding unsanctioned demonstrations at Olympic venues or anywhere else, and bringing printed materials critical of China into the country. The International Olympic Committee has yet to respond but it seems unlikely that they will deviate from their general policy of spinelessness.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am Gopalan Nair. Today is May 31, 2008 at 10.40am Singapore time. I am at present in Singapore at Broadway Hotel, Room 708, 195 Serangoon Road, Singapore, 218067. The hotel telephone number is is 62924661. My local SingTel telephone number is 83764236. [...]
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew [at left], look here. I am now within your jurisdiction and that of your corrupt police and your corrupt judiciary who will do anything you want of them, however criminal and illegal.
What are you going to do about it?
Turns out, a lot. Police quickly arrested Nair and charged him with insulting Belinda Ang Saw Ean, a judge whom the blogger had earlier accused of "prostituting herself" for Lee Kuan Yew during a hearing at which the former prime minister testified against opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, who was charged with defamation. Judging by comments like these, I think Nair got thrown in the briar patch, so to speak:
I repeat the threat that Lee Kuan Yew had made on day two of the show trial during the last 3 days in the High Court. When asked by Dr. Chee whether he will sue those who write on the Internet defamations against him, I mean defamations in the Singaporean sense, his definitive unequivocal answer was that he will sue them. There is no doubt in the Singaporean sense, I have defamed him and his Prime Minister son, not only in my last blog post but in almost all my blog posts since my blog's inception in December 2006.
The U.S. embassy says it is "monitoring the case closely." Stay tuned.
For months, the rough consensus of the pundit class has been that Iraq is an albatross around the neck of John McCain. Surge or no surge, the U.S. public had largely made up its collective mind about the war -- the toll on the military, the massive expenditures, and everything else -- and decided it wanted to get out. (As über-pollster Andrew Kohut observers, however voters are divided on how fast to get out, and they overwhelmingly prefer McCain to Barack Obama on national security.)
But what happens when the facts change? May saw the lowest number of U.S. combat deaths of any month in the war's five-year history, and Iraqis are increasingly taking the lead. Iraqi military operations in Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul have all gone better than many outside observers expected. Although it's easy to imagine the violence picking back up again, it's also conceivable that, by November, Iraq could be very calm indeed.
The Washington Post editorial board seems convinced that this will present trouble for Obama. I'm not so sure. It's possible the war staying out of the news will only help focus the race on the economy, where the Democrats have an advantage. But I can see it cutting both ways. At the very least, it will be awkward for Obama to pivot from saying, "the war is lost, let's get out" to "the war is won, let's go home." Readers, what do you think?
Here in the United States, the military has a strong tradition of staying out of politics. Last week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently reminded the Armed Forces of this duty in an essay for Joint Force Quarterly, writing:
The U.S. military must remain apolitical at all times. It is and must always be a neutral instrument of the state, no matter which party holds sway."
But that's not exactly the tradition in Zimbabwe, as Major-General Martin Chedondo the country's army chief of staff made clear on Saturday:
The constitution says the country should be protected by voting and in the 27 June presidential election run-off pitting our defence chief Comrade Robert Mugabe (against) Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC, we should, therefore stand behind our commander-in-chief."
Observers handicapping the upcoming runoff can take this as a sign that the army will do everything it can to prevent a Tsvangirai victory. Chedondo continued:
Soldiers are not apolitical. Only mercenaries are apolitical. We have signed and agreed to fight and protect the ruling party's principles of defending the revolution.... If you have other thoughts, then you should remove that uniform."
He didn't need to add: "Or we will remove it for you."
Israel's been in the news a lot lately (who knew?) and Shimon Peres, one of the country's long-standing political figureheads, shares some of his accumulated wisdom on a blog for the Israeli newspaper Haartez today.
Among his 28 Hallmark-worthy quotations is this gem:
Destinations are more important than parking lots."
Living in parking-starved Washington D.C., I would have to dispute this notion.
While troubles continue for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party, and FP's list of possible successors may turn out to be a crystal ball of sorts, it would appear that Peres is vying to be the successor to the Dalai Lama.
More than a year ago, FP predicted Ehud Olmert's ouster and drew up a list of possible successors. It turns out the Israeli prime minister was able to hang on by the skin of his teeth, but the list still holds up pretty well. Among the top contenders? Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister and the No.2 official in Olmert's Kadima Party.
Last year, Livni made a premature bid for Olmert's job when she excoriated his conduct of the Lebanon war. But today, Livni gave the embattled prime minister a shove that could finally break him by calling for internal elections for a new party leader. It so happens she's the odds-on favorite to win the job, which would make her the new prime minister as long as there are no new national elections.
That would suit Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak just fine, since he and many other center-left Israelis fear that Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party would win. That's why Barak is unlikely to simply withdraw from Olmert's governing coalition and collapse the government.
For now, though, Olmert seems determined to fight on. And judging by how he's been able to persevere thus far despite truly dismal public approval ratings, it would be foolish to count him out altogether.
Embroiled in an ongoing corruption scandal, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is facing calls for his resignation. Today, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (above), who hails from a rival party, said it was time for Olmert to step aside:
I do not think the prime minister can simultaneously run the government and deal with his own personal affair."
"Therefore, out of a sense of what is good for the country and in accordance with the proper norms, I think the prime minister must detach himself from the day-to-day running of the government," Barak told a news conference.
Olmert continues to deny any wrongdoing, but a poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz showed that 70 percent of Israelis think the prime minister is lying. It's hard to imagine he can survive.
As I see it, since Olmert's Kadima Party is already reaching outside of Israel for campaign funds, why not seek talent abroad as well? So, to help Kadima, here are some potential replacements -- all of whom would likely enjoy greater popularity in Israel than Olmert.
1) Jimmy Carter
Pro: Ability to feed entire population peanuts in the event that rising food prices begin to hit home in Jerusalem
Con: Meetings with Hamas officials do not exactly provide great stump-speech material in Israel.
2) Eliot Spitzer
Pro: He's probably not doing much else these days.
Con: If Olmert appears to have expensive habits, what would you call Client #9's personal expenditures?
3) George Bush
Pro: Has looked into Olmert's soul and knows he's a good guy, plus increased Bar and Restaurant revenue from Israelis flocking to have a beer with W.
Con: With Bush's domestic approval ratings comparable to those of Olmert, people might not notice the switch.
As the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama may continue to suffer from, of all things, a likability problem. Two weeks after John McCain pounced on favorable remarks made by a Hamas spokesperson that seemed to identify Obama as the group's preferred candidate, the junior senator from Illinois received another endorsement of sorts, this time from Fidel Castro.
In one of his periodic newspaper columns published in Communist Party newspaper Granma, Castro said he had 'no personal rancor' toward Obama, but 'if I defended him I would do a huge favor for his adversaries.'
Castro went on to call Obama "a strong candidate" as well as "the most progressive candidate" from "the social and human points of view."
Although Castro was highly critical of Obama's plans to continue the 50-year-old embargo, it's a safe bet that the McCain camp was not altogether disappointed with Fidel's comments.
It seems that Americans are finally getting the message: Driving's a financial drag. For the first time in six years, U.S. consumers said they would drive less this past Memorial Day weekend. The U.S. Department of Transportation also reported that March showed the steepest decrease in driving since 1942, when the government first started keeping tabs.
Angry voices are even rising in Europe, where consumers have long paid relatively high prices to fill their tanks.
British truck drivers blocked a highway today and are marching to Downing Street to demand a $1.85 discount on diesel that has now hit $9.00 per gallon. The truckers complain that the higher the gas prices, the greater the government's profits off the taxes. (U.S. consumers pay a flat 18.4 cent federal tax per gallon, but Britain adds about 50 pence onto each liter plus a 17.5 percent VAT on top of the total cost.)
In France, fishing boats blocked ports last week to prevent oil shipments to refineries. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is proposing a tax cut on fuel, though he says the measure should be EU-wide.
All this talk of fuel tax completely misses the point -- only an increase in supply will make a difference in the long run. Brazil has the right idea, announcing it will invest $5 billion in deep water fields, ships, and rigs. That's the kind of government intervention that matters.
The folks at Rock the Vote just sent over the results of their latest poll, conducted by using jukebox-like machines to "survey" more than 72,000 bar and nightclub patrons. Here's the results, as provided by their PR flack:
I guess we can conclude:
1) A fair number of beer guzzling bar rats think all three of the candidates are pretty lame as drinking buddies.
2) Old beer guzzling bar rats in Florida would really like to sit down with McCain and commiserate about how the Maginot Line totally sucked.
3) Three in 10 bar rats have no clue what either the Republican or Democratic party is -- and probably don't care to.
4) Most bar rats could really use some extra cash to pay for beer.
Spain's defense minister Carme Chacón, who was seven months pregnant when she was appointed, gave birth today to a 6-pound baby boy. The interior minister has temporarily taken over her portfolio, but it seems unlikely that she will take the full four-month maternity leave afforded to her by Spanish law. Photos of the pregnant Chacón touring military bases in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Bosnia in recent weeks have become visual emblems of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's push for gender equality in government.
I hope Silvio Berlusconi at least sent a card.
If you were waiting to see who Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is supporting in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, it looks like you're going to be disappointed. Chavez sat down for an informal interview last Thursday with a group of visiting American newspaper editors and refused to bite:
Of the American presidential candidates, Chávez said, "It would be a lie to say I have no preference." But "I shouldn't say anything that would be used against someone."
The 20 editors spoke with Chavez for about 90 minutes on topics ranging from baseball (He's a Yankees fan, ironically.) to his relationship with Fidel Castro. He also stressed that the bombastic anti-American rhetoric he has used in the past is directed at the U.S. government, not ordinary Americans, and certainly not his friends in Hollywood:
I beg for forgiveness if in my speech I've hurt any feelings back in the States. I ask for forgiveness. When I speak about the United States, I do not refer to the people, to the citizens. I refer to the elite that is governing the United States - and not even referring to all of the elite governing the United States. Because we have friends among the elite governing the US. The economic elite, we have friends. We have friends among the cultural elite of the United States . . . Danny Glover. Kevin Spacey came over here. Sean Penn. Those are my friends, close friends . . . And when they come over here, they say what they like and what they don't like. And we still are friends. And that's what we want. We want to be friends. And I hope that with the new government we can then open new space for exchange - and discuss.
Chavez isn't getting too cozy though. He still worries about the U.S. invading to steal his country's oil wealth and is looking into buying more weapons from Russia to guard against this threat. He was also pretty evasive when asked about whether he planned to leave power when his term runs out in 2013, saying, "I don't think the Venezuelan people, at least part of the people, would allow me to get too far away from politics."
With his arch-nemesis on the way out, Chavez may be hoping to boost his appeal to the American population. But given how integral the image of Chavez as a third-world underdog railing against North American neoliberalism is to his appeal and legitimacy in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, it seems unlikely that he would ever get to friendly with the U.S., no matter who's sitting in the White House.
For months, Greece has been threatening to veto Macedonia’s admittance into the EU, all because the two can't agree on the name issue. But with violent outbreaks pock-marking Macedonia in the weeks before its June 1 elections, it appears the tiny Balkan state might just knock itself out of contention before Greece even gets the chance.
Since the beginning of the campaign last Sunday, a member of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) has been stabbed to death and members of the rival Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), have been beaten, shot at, and had their offices attacked. In the latter cases, the DUI has blamed the violence on DPA supporters.
EU leaders have expressed concern over
This seems like an awfully understated response on the part of the EU, for whom Macedonia is quite close to the front of its new membership queue. A candidate country since 2005, Macedonia is on track for EU membership in the coming years. But if the country can’t better control its pre-election tensions, is it really ready? After all, as Bulgaria has shown, EU membership is not just going to make crime and corruption disappear. But on the flip side, the promise of an EU future may be the only thing keeping countries like Macedonia on track toward an eventually stable government.
So back to Greece and its veto-happy approach to its northern neighbor. Is prolonged regional instability really worth it for one little modifier?
An interesting bit of political theater from Moscow:
When Putin came to his old office in the Kremlin on Monday to propose the names of ministers for his government, the former president made for his customary seat on the left of the desk.
"But he paused before sitting down and told President Medvedev: "Now this is your place," Russia's Kommersant daily reported.
"Oh, what's the difference?" Medvedev answered and immediately sat on the right of the desk, where Putin's guests traditionally perched for the eight years of his presidency.
Get the message?
Boris Tadic, Serbian president and leader of the coalition “For a European Serbia,” declared victory after elections Sunday in which his party took an estimated 103 of the national assembly’s 250 seats.
True, yesterday’s large pro-Europe voting turnout did come as a pleasant surprise to
But “victory,” this election was not. If anything, Sunday has shown just how little has changed in
Once again, the SRS, whose founder currently stands trial at the Criminal Tribunal for the former
But the take away message from Sunday's results is not one of Milosevic’s inescapable legacy or of inevitable stagnation. Rather, it’s the recognition that
Inner change was the message of
It seems hard to imagine a scenario in which the massive earthquake that rocked China's western Sichuan Province at 2:28pm local time today has not killed tens of thousands -- possibly more. Beijing originally put the death toll at 61. Hours later, the figure was increased to "up to 8,500." With rescuers, including thousands of Chinese soldiers, still unable to reach the epicenter of the quake, one can only assume this figure is tragically optimistic.
Officials at the U.S. Geological Survey have said that the magnitude 7.9 quake was relatively shallow. Shallow earthquakes do more damage near their epicenters than ones which occur deeper in the Earth. Just over 30 years ago, in 1976, a similarly shallow quake, measuring magnitude 7.5, hit the northern Chinese city of Tangshan. It killed more than 250,000 people.
It's worth watching Beijing's response to the crisis, for a couple of reasons (in addition to any worst-case Olympic scenarios).The first will be to see how real recent transformations in Beijing's disaster response policies are, including a new network of emergency management offices and provisions which give local leaders more autonomy in times of crisis. So far, the speed with which Beijing has responded has been impressive. Can it be sustained and intensified?
The second will be to gauge Beijing's commitment to transparency with regard to the scale and scope of the quake's impact. So far, information seems to have flowed relatively freely to the Western media. As the scale of the disaster increases, and with it the death toll, in all likelihood revealing deficiencies in engineering and infrastructure, it will be interesting to see if these channels of communication remain as open.
Today, Israeli police raided the offices of the Jerusalem municipality looking for evidence of bribes given to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by New York businessman Morris Talansky.
With Israel's media gag order lifted, more details are starting to come out about the investigation. It now appears that the investigators are looking into money Olmert received while he was a minister in Ariel Sharon's government, not when he was running for mayor of Jerusalem as previously reported:
"At present, the investigation is clearly focusing on the period when Olmert served as the minister of industry, trade and labor," the official said, adding that investigators may yet expand their probe to cover the period during which Talansky raised funds for Olmert's various election campaigns. "The investigators have solid information regarding envelopes of cash that were handed over to Olmert, and there is no information regarding the fate of that money."
In an interview on Israeli television, Talansky denied bribing Olmert and said that he had donated to Olmert's campaigns but had no idea how the money was spent. However, according to the New York Times, a minibar company started by Talansky picked up a $4,717 one-night Washington hotel tab for Olmert in 2005. Even at the Ritz-Carton, that's a lot of cashews.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush will arrive in Israel tomorrow and plans to meet with Olmert. Asked about the investigation today, he described the Israeli prime minister as "an honest man, an open man, a guy easy to talk to and somebody who understands the vision necessary for Israelis' security."
Fifty-nine percent of Israelis, on the other hand, don't really see it that way.
Looks like I may have spoken too soon. Nawaz Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, has pulled out of Pakistan's ruling coalition after failing to come to an agreement with the majority Pakistan People's Party on legislation to reinstate judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf.
The two parties agreed on May 2 to submit legislation to the parliament today reinstating the judges who were fired by Musharraf after he declared a state of emergency in November. This is the second self-imposed deadline that the coalition has missed since coming to power in February. Sharif, who hopes to lay the groundwork for Musharraf's impeachment, made reinstating the judges the major issue in his campaign. PPP leader Asif Zardari is less enthusiastic but bringing the judges back, possibly because of his own questionable legal status.
Sharif says he has no intention of playing spoiler in the parliament and will work with the PPP on a case-by-case basis. All the same, it looks like Musharraf may have squeaked out of another tight spot.
It turns out that blatant racists aren't the only interesting appointments to Silvio Berlusconi's new cabinet. Last month, Berlusconi publicly mocked spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero for hiring too many women, saying, “Zapatero has formed a government that is too pink, something that we cannot do in Italy because there is a prevalence of men in politics and it isn’t easy to find women who are qualified.”
Well it turns out that Berlusconi did manage to find a few, including his new equal opportunities minister Mara Carfagna, a former Miss Italy runner-up and topless model turned parliamentarian. The story is actually even more ridiculous since the two have a history. Berlusconi once told Carfagna at a banquet that he would marry her if he was single and reminded her of the medieval law letting estate lords deflower virgins on their wedding night. This, in turn, provoked a public letter-writing war between Berlusconi and his wife that played out in the pages of Italy's newspapers. Berlusconi has previously remarked that right-wing female politicians are more beautiful and the fact that his new environment minister was once named "Miss Parliament" is also probably not a coincidence.
The Berlusconi show is back in town, folks.
If Sunday’s elections follow the gamblers’ gut,
Ironically, a pro-Europe prime minister could only come out of a coalition that includes the leftist parties and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) -- Milosevic's former party. SPS isn't quite what it used to be, but its inclusion still shows how weak the pro-Europe forces in Serbia's politics are.
In the second day of an escalating standoff between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, there are reports of at least one death and five injuries and the possibility of civil war seems less far-fetched.
The unrest first broke out after the government tried to cut into Hezbollah's operations by banning a Hezbollah-run telecommunications network in southern Lebanon. The network was likely Hezbollah's primary means of communication during its 2006 war with Israel.
Then, reports that Hezbollah had installed cameras near the Beirut airport to monitor the movements of anti-Syria politicians -- possibly to assassinate them -- led the government to dismiss the airport's security chief. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed to keep the employee in his post and to strike back at these affronts, irking Lebanon's top Sunni leader Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani:
We used to think that Hezbollah is concerned with fighting the Israeli occupation, and all of a sudden it is turning to be a militant force to occupy Beirut, and this is why we call upon the Arab and Islamic nations to help us and stop these harmful aggressions in Lebanon."
Meanwhile, Ya Libnan makes an interesting point that Nasrallah's campaign may achieve the very thing Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. General Dan Halutz threatened at the start of the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006: to send the country back twenty years. Hezbollah supporters' tent camps have paralyzed parts of downtown Beirut and now they are springing up along the road to the airport which will be a vital source of tourism revenue this summer. It's shaping up to be yet another example of Hezbollah's "resistance" hurting the very people it claims to fight for.
Dana Milbank on the twilight of the Bush presidency:
Eight months before the end of his second term, President Bush is forgotten but not gone. Power has shifted to Congress, attention has moved to the campaign trail, and the White House seems at times to be just going through the motions. For many reporters who remain on the White House beat, it has become a time to phone it in -- literally.
Four minutes after the scheduled start time for yesterday's White House briefing, only 14 of the 49 seats were occupied -- and the 14 included flamboyant radio host Lester Kinsolving, who sat in the Bloomberg News seat; Raghubir Goyal of an obscure Indian American publication, who occupied the New York Times chair; and a foreign journalist in the back row, perusing the White House's Cinco de Mayo dinner menu. Though attendance eventually swelled to 28, many of the nation's leading news outlets left their chairs empty, among them National Public Radio, the Washington Times, the New York Daily News, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, the Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune and the Politico.
When Hillary Clinton signed on to John McCain's proposal to suspend the 18.4-cent federal gas tax this summer and Barack Obama didn't, the Democratic candidates suddenly had a real substantive difference to debate.
The trouble is, there's not much to argue about. Everyone who's looked at this knows that a gas-tax holiday is a silly idea. With gasoline supplies pretty much fixed in the short term, demand will increase and the price will go back up. But instead of the U.S. government capturing that revenue, the oil companies will pocket it. Factcheck.org tried and failed to find a single economist who thought gas prices would drop as a result of the holiday. PBS couldn't find a supporter, either.
Asked about this by ABC's George Stephanopoulos Sunday, Hillary sniffed, "I'm not going to put in my lot with economists." What's it going to be then, prayer circles?
Now, you might say: There's almost zero chance this proposal will go anywhere, so what's the harm? Well, it makes no sense to say you're for "energy independence" while vowing to cut gas taxes. If anything, the U.S. government should raise the federal gas tax to at least 50 cents a gallon, not cut it. Or better yet, tax carbon and bring coal emissions into the mix, too. But above all, don't mislead voters about the choices before them.
I figured something was up when Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) kept calling Kosovo "Kosova" (the Albanian pronunciation) at the most recent House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the Balkans. Turns out Engel's swapped the last "o" in Kosovo for a central boulevard in the heart of Pec, a majority Albanian city in western Kosovo that was once the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch (back in the 15th century, that is).
Sewell Chan, NYT:
It felt a bit surreal on Sunday, during a visit to Pec … to encounter a main boulevard named for Representative Eliot L. Engel, a Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester and Rockland Counties.
The makeup of Mr. Engel's constituency may help explain his advocacy for the province… The Albanian population in the Bronx took root in the 1970s, Mr. Engel remembered. "A lot of them were superintendents when they came,” he said. Groups of relatives or friends would save up money and buy a building, which they would manage. The population surged again in the 1990s fueled in large part by the Kosovo crisis and prompting efforts to organize Albanian-Americans."
New York Albanians are quite the force to be reckoned with. According to Stacy Sullivan in her book Be Not Afraid, For You Have Sons in America, one Kosovar Albanian roofer in Brooklyn helped raise $30 million to fund and outfit the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) -- and largely with American-made guns. At least loopholes in American gun laws have worked out well somewhere.
The folks at Cuban Transition Project at the University of Miami have a handy chart on the shocking extent of Castro family involvement in the Cuban regime. Raúl is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends:
During the past few years family members of both Fidel and Raúl Castro have come to occupy important positions in Cuba's government. This Castro clan represents in addition to the military, the security apparatus and the Communist Party, a significant force in Cuba's political and economic structures.
Here's the list:
Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart
Relationship: Fidel Castro's son
Position: Advisor, Ministry of Basic Industry
Col. Alejandro Raúl Castro Espin
Position: Raúl Castro's son
Position: Chief, Intelligence Information Services, Ministry of the Interior; Coordinator, Intelligence Exchange with China
Ramón Castro Ruz
Position: Fidel and Raúl's oldest brother
Position: Advisor, Ministry of Sugar
Dr. Antonio Castro Soto
Position: Fidel Castro's son
Position: Investment Chief, Frank Pais Hospital. Doctor for Cuba's baseball team
Major Raúl Alejandro Rodríguez Castro
Position: Raúl Castro's grandson
Position: Raúl Castro's military guard in charge of his personal security
Deborah Castro Espin
Position: Raúl Castro's daughter
Position: Advisor, Ministry of Education
Mariela Castro Espin
Position: Raúl Castro's daughter
Position: Head, Center for Sexual Education
Marcos Portal León
Position: Married to Raúl Castro's niece
Position: In charge of nickel industry, member of the Central Committee of Cuba's Communist Party
No pictures available:
Col. Luís Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, Raúl Castro's son-in-law
Chief Executive Officer of Grupo GAESA (Grupo de Administración de Empresas, S.A.) which supervises military enterprises
Alfonsito Fraga, Related to Raúl Castro
Ministry of Foreign Relations
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to fire 60 judges last November helped set in motion the political crisis that led to his party's electoral defeat. But since its February victory, Pakistan's ruling coalition has failed to live up to its campaign promise to reinstate the judges -- to the relief of Musharraf, whose reelection might be declared illegal if the old Supreme Court were to return.
Today, a breakthrough was finally made as coalition leaders Nawaz Sharif, of the Pakistani Muslim League-N, and Pakistan People's Party leader (and Benazir Bhutto's widower) Asif Zardari, agreed in Dubai that legislation to reinstate the judges will be brought to Parliament on May 12. The announcement came two days after the coalition's self-imposed deadline for restoring the judges.
Officially, the deadlock was caused by disagreement over whether the reinstatement should be accompanied by constitutional changes, with Zardari was pushing for new rules to prevent the judges from being sacked again in the future. (Unofficially, Zardari didn't want to bring back Musharraf's arch-enemy, former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry, for fear that the latter would revive corruption charges that the Musharraf-appointed court had dismissed.)
The agreement appears to be a victory for Sharif, who hopes the speedy reinstatement of the judges will lay the groundwork for Musharraf's ouster. Zardari has a different view -- he says he wants to gradually erode Musharraf's power through legislation, and worries that an injunction against the president will be meaningless if the military doesn't play along. Pakistan may have to wait until after May 12 to see who's right.
Today is the fifth anniversary of the day George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, just 42 days after the invasion of Iraq.
This morning, the Center for American Progress hosted a speech by Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha. Murtha, a Vietnam veteran, voted to authorize the war in 2003, but has since become one of its most strident critics. As he put it today:
I was skeptical about giving the president authorization to go to war in 2003, but I gave this president the benefit of the doubt. That decision was a mistake. In Vietnam, we never had a strategy to win. In Iraq, we never had a strategy.
Murtha, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, agrees with a majority of retired and active military officers that Iraq has left the U.S. military unprepared for future threats. He's also very concerned about China's military buildup, and thinks leaders in Beijing are watching the situation closely:
We must refocus our attention to the threats down the road. If you remember in World War II, we cut off the oil supply of the Japanese when they attacked. us. Now, I don't say that's going to happen with China. But one thing's for sure, if they misperceive our readiness to act, we're going to have a real problem.
While it's pretty unlikely that the Chinese are planning another Pearl Harbor (the line was absent from Murtha's prepared remarks so he may have ad-libbed it), it's fair to say that Iraq has decreased both U.S. military readiness and diplomatic standing.
After five years, the administration seems unwilling to come to terms with what an embarassment "Mission Accomplished" was. As of yesterday, White House spokesperson Dana Perino was still insisting that Bush was misinterpreted. "Mission Accomplished," she claimed, only referred to "sailors who are on this ship on their mission" (though it's hard to believe that even she buys that line). However they try to spin it, "Mission Accomplished" will haunt the Bush administration as a symbol of the myopia and reckless optimism that characterized the early days of the Iraq war.
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