Friday, February 10, 2012

Quick Hits - February 10, 2012

Thousands took to the streets of Athens today to protest the austerity measure deal reached yesterday between Greek political leaders.  The marches marked the first day of a 48 hour general strike announced in the wake of the agreement to meet the demands of the European Union required for a 130 billion Euro bailout needed by the country.

Violence broke out outside the Greek Parliament building as hooded youths threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police - who responded by using tear gas.

Despite the agreement being reached by Greek political leaders, the Greek bailout remains very much in limbo.  The Finance Ministers for 16 European Union members have determined that the Greek austerity plan fails to achieve the needed goals.  Additional funds are needed given the continued bad state of the Greek economy which is experiencing 20.9% unemployment and a negative GDP growth of 6% - 7%.  They are demanding that prior to any bailout funds being made available to Greece, the political leadership make an additional 325 million Euro of budget cuts, pass the austerity measure into law through the Greek Parliament, and provide assurances for the European Union that all of the austerity measures will remain Greek law after the April national elections.

The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, was quite blunt in defining the Greek 'deal' as completely insufficient - that it misses the debt reduction targets to bring the Debt to GDP ration down from 160% today to 120%.  He is demanding an entirely new plan from Greece that will meet the targets set by the EU before any bailout will be provided.

Markets are down in Europe and the US as a result.

The likelihood of a Greek default remains extremely high as the European Union is showing little willingness to bend from their austerity demands on the Greek government - and inside of Greece, there is little real political or social will to change course from the socialist / nanny state programs that created the fiscal crisis.  Some pundits believe that the additional demands from the EU in the wake of the Greek political deal reflect a decision being made within the EU that the EU would be better off if Greece did default and was forced to leave the Euro.

A Greek default will force the country to enact the austerity measures that go against the current political and social will.  They will have no option beyond spending only the revenues they actually receive if they cannot borrow.  However, at some point, one would have to think that the masses in Greece will realize that they need to change their approach towards government and economics if they are going to rebound from their current problems...and more government assistance / control will not achieve this.

Twin bomb blasts occurred today in the Assad stronghold of Aleppo, Syria targeting security buildings for the regime.  The blasts killed 25 and wounded 175.  The Syrian state news agency immediately blamed opposition groups for the deadly bombings - a claim denied by the opposition groups.  This is the first major violence in Aleppo.  Similar attacks took place last month in Damascus.

Syrian armor and artillery units continue to hammer the opposition controlled city of Homs.  Over 100 were reported killed in the last barrage and attacks bring the total to an estimated 600 this week.

In an interesting and thought provoking analysis, this essay looks at the current unrest in the Middle East region / Arab Spring / Syrian uprising as a collection of effects that have their roots in the end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.  With this collapse, the argument is made that the desires of the victorious imperial powers, initially just Britain and France, but in the latter half of the 20th century, the Soviet Union to create artificial boundaries that largely disregarded tribe and tribal boundaries along with the new rise of Salafism are at the core of the instability in the region.

Within this context, and despite the new threats against Israel by the hacker organization, Anonymous, Israel is far from the most important considerations or causes of the regional instability.  Israel, on the contrary, has been a convenient foil - for Arab despots to misdirect the attention of their own people towards and for jihadists to use as a rallying point.  Lost on too many is what Israel really represents - which is not as a Jewish state, but as a successful pro-Western, pro-Democracy civilization in the region demonstrating what can be achieved by embracing these values.  Over one million Arabs live in Israel and have far more freedoms in that country than they possess in all of the neighboring Arab nations...and clearly more freedoms than Christian's or the few remaining Jews do in those Arab countries.

Domestically, President Obama is scheduled to speak this morning regarding the controversy over the Administration's dictate that all organizations, including religious organizations, provide free contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients to their employees if if those organizations oppose these steps as part of their religious beliefs and teachings.

Reports from the WH Press Corps are that the President will announce a retreat from the mandate by providing these religious organizations an 'accomodation' to not require the employers to provide the services, but to advise them where they can get these services and have healthcare providers do so at no cost.

UPDATE - This is exactly the accommodation that the President has made - that religious organizations are no longer required to pay for these services on behalf of the women who work in these organizations - but that the healthcare provider, the insurance companies, will be the one's to pay for these services.

A top official of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops says that adopting the Hawaiian model is completely unacceptable.

The Administration, in it's efforts to press and expand the power of the federal government, continues to insist that this is an issue based on women's rights and the 'benefits' to society for the a woman to have free and unfettered access to these services.  This trumps the concerns around religious objections or the ability for religious organizations to freely practice their religious beliefs which can include an objection to contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients.

Try as much as they are to paint their mandate, and now this accommodation, as based around women's rights, the real focus remains far more focused in traditional progressive politics and beliefs - which date back to Margaret Sanger, eugenics, and her efforts to control 'unsatisfactory' population...
Robert Creamer–Democrat strategist, Obama 2008 campaign aide, and political architect of ObamaCare–argues that the new contraceptive mandate for Catholic institutions isn’t really about equality for women, or religious liberty.

Rather, it is about population control.

Creamer–like his wife, the pro-abortion Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)–embraces the left-wing fallacy that children are a burden on the planet, which the state should encourage the church–and everyone else–to limit.
It's unknown how well the President's accommodation will work to defuse the challenges he is facing around the mandate.  In the US Senate, at least 5 Senate Democrats are on the record opposing the mandate.
ABC says Lieberman, Manchin, Casey, and both Nelsons (Bill and Ben) have headed for the lifeboats, but I think that count’s already outdated. According to Fox News’s Chad Pergram, John Kerry also thinks the new rule “needs to be compromised, adjusted.” If all six vote with the GOP caucus to either repeal the rule or expand the conscience exemption, then McConnell starts with 53 votes, but since Scott Brown’s been desperate lately to show he’s as good a Democrat as Elizabeth Warren, in reality it’s probably only 52. Even with pressure mounting on swing-staters like Tester and McCaskill, it’s hard to believe they’ll get to 60. Which means unless The One reverses himself on this, nothing’s likely to happen.
I suspect that this 'accomodation' will be the only token gesture the President will make towards the religious liberty concerns until he is ordered to do otherwise by the Supreme Court.  Think back a month or so...the SCOTUS announced a ruling that stood strongly against the Administration's policies which insisted that religious organizations could not use religious practices to determine who could or would be an employee of that religious organization. The Administration felt religious organizations hiring or dismissing an employee for not following that organizations' beliefs and teachings was discriminatory.  The SCOTUS strongly rejected this argument insisting that these organizations could make employment decisions based on employees following or not following the beliefs and teachings of that organization.

This is fundamentally no different - and ultimately is just another of the battle being waged by this Administration in favor of the religion of the state as opposed to religion of faith, in particular, Christianity.

In yet another stunning overreach, the Obama Administration has also unilaterally decided to gut another law that they find both inconvenient and working against the interests of the teacher's unions.  Even though the 'No Child Left Behind' law does not include any waiver provision to eliminate a state's requirement to adhere to the law, the President has created a waiver provision applicable for 10 states to allow him to selectively determine how, when, where, and for whom the law will be enforced.
Even worse, nothing in federal law grants Obama the power to issue these conditional waivers. He is unilaterally rewriting federal education policy through selective enforcement. The American Enterprise Institute's Frederick Hess tells the Christian Science Monitor: "NCLB, for all its flaws, was crafted by the US Congress … [but] these waivers impose a a raft of new federal requirements that were never endorsed by the legislative branch. Once this administration opens this door, it’s hard to imagine future administrations not building on this precedent."
And last year The Brookings Institution wrote:
It is one thing for an administration to grant waivers to states to respond to unrealistic conditions on the ground or to allow experimentation and innovation. ... The NCLB waiver authority does not grant the secretary of education the right to impose any conditions he considers appropriate on states seeking waivers, nor is there any history of such a wholesale executive branch rewrite of federal law through use of the waiver authority.
It's stunning to consider the hypocrisy of the progressive Democrats who spent 8 years railing against President George W. Bush's alleged abuses of executive authority - and then sit quietly as President Barack Obama acts in these manners.

Want to be surprised by another media doubles standard that is as egregious as the above hypocrisy?  Time Magazine's Mark Halperin concedes that the GOP 'would be creamed' by the media if it went 1,106 days without passing a federal budget as the Democrat controlled Senate has done.

Would this bother you if it were in your school district or with your daughter?

An Austin, Texas teacher has been charged with giving a 'morning after' abortion pill to a 16 year old student in his class who was upset because she had unprotected sex with her boyfriend.  Without the knowledge or consent of the parents, he gave her the pill and later collected a payment from the student and her boyfriend to cover the cost of the pill.  In Texas, the pill requires a doctor's prescription for those under the age of 17.

Authorities have charged the teacher with a felony - and he's angry at the student for 'getting him into trouble'...

Despite the 'sunshine' of rising poll numbers for President Obama, in addition to lower than expected turnouts and enthusiasm over the GOP Presidential primaries, I believe that the President remains in deep trouble for his re-election in November.

Gaffes, missteps, and outright bad decisions motivated by base politics continue to plague the President - ranging from Fast and Furious, to Obamacare, to Dodd / Frank, to the token Bank Foreclosure Settlement, the National debt / Fiscal Crisis, Foreign policy missteps, and an economy that still is in the slowest recovery since the Second World War.  I think back to 1980 where Ronald Reagan didn't surpass Jimmy Carter in the national polls until late September.  Unlike 1980, the sources of information are far more widespread.  The arrogance and the actions of this Administration to force its will are also antagonizing far more of Middle America than is being seen by the mainstream media or pollsters.

On This Day in History

1763 - The Seven Year's War, also known in the US as the French and Indian War, ends with the signing of the Treaty of Paris by France, Great Britain, and Spain. 

1962 - Francis Gary Powers, shot down in 1960 while flying a U2 reconnaissance aircraft over the Soviet Union, is exchanged for a Soviet spy captured by the United States

1996 - World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov loses the first game of a six game match against Deep Blue, an IBM computer.  Kasparov ultimately won this first match, three wins and two ties, but lost a rematch with an enhanced Deep Blue computer in 1997.

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