House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.
We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:
“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”
The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”
The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.
I don’t understand the controversy about the administration’s plan to arm with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs six Reaper drones already owned by Italy. Critics contend this would be a dangerous proliferation of American technology. But Italy is one of our closest allies, a stalwart democracy, and a country that is already part of the program to buy the F-35, the second-most-advanced manned fighter aircraft in our arsenal.
There is always a risk that remotely-piloted aircraft owned by Italy could somehow fall into the wrong hands—but that is a risk we run every time we operate those same aircraft over hostile territory. Recall that last December, an RQ-170 stealth drone crashed in Iran, where it was recovered by the authorities. That is one of the risks you take with sophisticated technology. But what’s the alternative? Not employing it at all?
According to a recent Washington Post story,
The proportion of Americans in their prime working years who have jobs is smaller than it has been at any time in the 23 years before the recession, according to federal statistics, reflecting the profound and lasting effects that the downturn has had on the nation’s economic prospects.
By this measure, the jobs situation has improved little in recent years. The percentage of workers between the ages of 25 and 54 who have jobs now stands at 75.7 percent, just a percentage point over what it was at the downturn’s worst, according to federal statistics.
Before the recession the proportion hovered at 80 percent.
While the unemployment rate may be the most closely watched gauge of the economy in the presidential campaign, this measure of prime-age workers captures more of the ongoing turbulence in the job market. It reflects “missing workers” who have stopped looking for work and aren’t included in the unemployment rate.
During their prime years, Americans are supposed to be building careers and wealth to prepare for their retirement. Instead, as the indicator reveals, huge numbers are on the sidelines.
“What it shows is that we are still near the bottom of a very big hole that opened in the recession,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.
The Post story goes on to point out that the percentage of prime-age men who are working is smaller now than it has been in any time before the recession, going all the way back to 1948, while the proportion of prime-age women is at a low not seen since 1988. A 50-year-old heating and AC technician from Alexandria, Virginia, was out of work in 2009 but found a job right away. He was laid off again about six months ago and, standing outside the Alexandria unemployment office, said it seems harder this time around.
Because I have been critical of President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues, it is only fair to give credit where it’s due. And the administration does deserve credit for engineering Chinese dissident’s Chen Guangcheng’s flight to safety in the U.S. along with his immediate family.
The administration stumbled initially by conniving in a deal to force Chen to leave sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he had fled after eluding thuggish security forces. But the administration, led in this case by Secretary of State Clinton, was not entirely to blame because it appears that Chen changed his mind about whether he wanted to leave the embassy or not. When he did decide that he wanted to come to the U.S., the administration went to bat for him even though “realpolitik” voices in the administration no doubt urged abandoning him to his fate so as not to disturb bilateral relations. President Obama and Secretary Clinton rightly rejected the siren song of faux realism and not only pressured Beijing to let him go but gave him sanctuary on our shores.
More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:
RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.
Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.
The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:
It was only last month when the State Department was acknowledging that Israel is “one of NATO’s partners [and] has participated over the years in many, many, many NATO activities, consultations, exercises, et cetera.” The context was a surreal exchange between the AP’s Matt Lee and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland regarding how Turkey was vetoing Israel from participating in this week’s Chicago NATO summit. Lee expressed confusion at the bland acquiescence with which the Obama administration was meeting Turkey’s machinations:
QUESTION: Toria, I’m trying to help you out here, because you’re going to get absolutely slammed.
MS. NULAND: I understand. Matt, there is no –
QUESTION: You are. If you can’t come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East and you won’t come out and say that the administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going on in Chicago, that’s – that is going to be seized on.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Turks wouldn’t be objecting to Israel’s participation if someone hadn’t proposed that Israel participate. And if you have proposed that they participate –
MS. NULAND: Again –
QUESTION: — and you’re not willing to stick up for it, I don’t understand why.
The beginning of this month was a week of firsts for Burma’s famed pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a seat in parliamentary by-elections and, unlike after her party’s overwhelming victory in 1990 that was immediately nullified by the ruling junta, was granted her seat on May 1. She was then awarded her first passport in 24 years, which she will use to fulfill other firsts: she will address both chambers of the British parliament, and she will travel to Norway and deliver her Nobel acceptance speech. (She won the Peace Prize in 1991 but was put under house arrest.)
The European Union had already agreed to suspend its economic sanctions against Burma, and on Friday U.S. officials said they would suspend the prohibition against American investment in Burma. This is both a momentous decision and a risky one. As Reuters reports this morning:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the need to protect against the country backsliding on reforms.
The U.S. on Friday said it would suspend a ban on American investment in the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration’s most significant step yet to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.
The State Department said Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and that they agreed Myanmar’s progress remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions’ authorities in place as an insurance policy.
Consider this an update to last February, when another high-ranking Iranian official pledged to “kill all Jews and annihilate Israel.” Last time, the genocidal threat came from Supreme Leader Khamenei’s strategy specialist Alireza Forghani, and was published on a Khamenei-linked website. This time, it’s Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, via what might politely be called the government-affiliated FARS outlet:
Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi… reiterated the Iranian nation and Supreme Leader’s emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes, and noted, “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.” The top military official reminded that the Iranian Supreme Leader considers defending Palestine as a full religious duty and believes that any kind of governance and rule by anyone other than the Palestinians as an instance of usurpation.
No doubt Iranian apologists will soon explain how the Iranian outlet FARS – which is where this passage comes from – is mistranslating Firouzabadi. Maybe the IRCG stooges who work there just don’t understand Farsi!
As Western diplomats prepare to sit down with their Iranian counterparts in Baghdad, wishful thinking and a desire to reach a deal regardless of its contents appears increasingly to shape American strategic thinking. It is fair, however, to ask what shapes Iranian strategic thinking. Here, Iran’s Supreme Leader, his inner circle, and former Iranian negotiators provide important clues.
Take Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranian government says their goal is energy generation, while Western officials believe the regime wants nuclear weapons capability. (The Obama administration’s argument parsing the difference between nuclear weapons capability and nuclear weapons possession misses the point, as only about a week of hard labor separates the two, and the U.S. does not have the intelligence assets to determine whether Iranian authorities have taken the final leap until it will be too late).
The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.
As CNSNews.com reports:
The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.
While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.
Remember the phrase “No Drama Obama”? Perhaps it should be retired after this week.
After all, we learned that Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, apologized to the president for forcing him to accelerate the timetable when it came to announcing Obama’s support of same-sex marriage. The West Wing is reportedly enraged at Biden. Here’s how Politico put it:
Biden’s remarks on “Meet the Press” deeply annoyed Obama’s team, people close to the situation tell Politico, because it aggrandized his role at the expense of Obama’s yeoman efforts on behalf of the community and pushed up the timing of a sensitive announcement they had hoped to break — at a time and place of their own choosing — in the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this fall.
Nor did it tickle anyone, from Obama on down, that Biden — who backed the Defense of Marriage Act while serving in the Senate in the 1990s — seemed to be getting more credit in the LGBT community than a president who has actually taken steps to repeal the Clinton-era law that defined marriage as something that could only take place between a man and a woman.
And it chafed Obama’s team that Biden had, at times, privately argued for the president to hold off on his support of marriage equality to avoid a backlash among Catholic voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to two officials familiar with those discussions.
It’s not a good situation for any vice president to steal the applause and credit from the president; that must be triply the case when it comes to a man with Obama’s self-regard and tendency toward narcissism.
Yesterday, I wrote about the damage that leaks can do to sensitive intelligence operations. Now, ABC News has reported: “The long running operation with the deep cover operative was one that intelligence agencies planned to keep running. It was pulled up short in the past week when leaks developed and put the infiltrator in jeopardy. Sources involved in the intelligence operation said the plan was to keep the operation running until a more complete picture of the still developing plots and plans of the Yemen based group and its sinister, creative bombmaker, were learned.”
This provides further evidence of the damage of spilling secrets. The question is who leaked and why? It does not necessarily have to have been an American leak although the fact that the story was broken by Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press, an American reporter based in Washington working for an American news organization, suggests that it was. Heads should roll–if the administration can figure out who was responsible. Even if this operation were blown by a senator or representative based on classified briefings, the culprit should at least be named and shamed. If it was an executive branch official, he or she should be not only fired but prosecuted as well.
While the Obama administration continues its shameful dithering on Syria, the violence, which has been going on for more than a year, is accelerating. The latest news is that two car bombs have exploded in the center of Damascus, near an intelligence headquarters, killing at least 55 people and injuring more than 350 others.
These types of attacks are a hallmark of al-Qaeda in Iraq. All indications are that this terrorist organization has now migrated from western Iraq into neighboring Syria where it is, in effect, stoking another sectarian war pitting majority Sunnis against the ruling Alawite minority (a Shi’ite offshoot sect). Meanwhile, there are credible reports of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government apparently helping Bashar al-Assad’s regime, especially by serving as a conduit for Iranian assistance. In other words, a deadly sectarian civil war is under way in Syria, and one that, like previous civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq, is drawing in its neighbors. We could be in for years of hellish, destabilizing violence.
Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.
The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).
Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.
Are the Taliban the sort of people we can successfully negotiate with to guarantee the future of Afghanistan? You would think so based on the number of voices in Washington claiming the Taliban have learned lessons from the past decade and they will not be as dedicated to their hateful agenda in the future. We hear they supposedly are willing to give up their alliance with al-Qaeda, their insistence on enslaving the Afghan people to their fundamentalist philosophy, and so on. If only it were so. Alas, this is all wishful thinking from those who want to pull out of the war but avert their eyes from the consequences of an American pullout.
In reality, there is not a shred of evidence the Taliban have moderated in any way. Witness recent Taliban attacks on those trying to educate Afghan boys and girls. In Ghazni Province, Taliban threats recently forced the closure of a school teaching boys and girls together. Indeed, the Taliban have forced the closing of all schools (about 50 in all) in 14 of 17 districts in that province, where Polish troops have had not had much success in pacification efforts. (A brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division is now coming into Ghazni to increase security.) In Paktika Province, meanwhile, Taliban goons ambushed with bombs and guns a convoy of education officials, killing five and wounding three. Paktika is a province in eastern Afghanistan where there have not been nearly enough American and Afghan troops and where plans for “clear and hold” operations are on hold because of the overly hasty troop drawdown ordered by President Obama.
So much for the “kinder, gentler” Taliban. These latest atrocities expose this conceit for the wishful thinking that it is. The Taliban must be defeated, not accommodated.
Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.
In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:
In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.
“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …
“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”
The State Department confirmed this morning that it’s reached a deal with the Chinese government in the case of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng:
The Chinese Government stated today that Mr. Chen Guangcheng has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China. Mr. Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.
The Chinese Government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen’s applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States Government expects that the Chinese Government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States Government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.
This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.
My AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar points out to me that, amongst the declassified Bin Laden documents released today, was mention that Muhammad Tayib Agha, an intermediary between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and American diplomats, was double-dealing and in close contact with bin Laden (see cursory mentions in document 10 and 15) and was discussing, among other items, how al-Qaeda could overthrow Karzai after the American withdrawal.
That the Obama administration continues its ill-considered plan to “engage” the Taliban when it has zero positive to show for its efforts and against all evidence that its strategy is actively harming U.S. servicemen and the U.S. position in Afghanistan and undercutting the desired outcomes in Afghanistan, is nothing short of policy malpractice.
The Obama administration’s reaction to the Chen Guangcheng case is disgraceful, and will taint America’s name among liberty-seeking dissidents for a generation. While all eyes are on China, however, administration fecklessness regarding liberals, friends, and allies is spreading quickly. When it comes to standing up for principle, Obama’s reaction to Chen is the rule, not the exception.
Take Egypt: Adel Emam is perhaps Egypt’s most famous film comedian, sort of a cross between an Egyptian Steve Martin and Leslie Nielsen. Among his most famous films are Al-Irhabi (The Terrorist) and Al-Irhab wal kabab (Terrorism and Kebab). The first—released at the height of Egyptian Islamists’ campaign of terror—skewered the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist terror masters as cynical, hypocritical, and naïve. The latter took potshots at both religiosity and the inefficiency of the Egyptian bureaucracy. Islamists may tell Western journalists and think-tankers they will honor civil liberties, but nowhere do they tolerate satire or ridicule if they themselves are the target. Hence, their targeting of Adel Emam for films made years ago. Emam now faces three months in prison for “defaming Islam.”
At this point, there are so many conflicting accounts in the Chen Guangcheng case that it’s hard to know which is accurate. But in an interview with Daily Beast’s Melinda Liu, Chen maintains that he felt pressured into leaving the U.S. embassy by American officials:
At the embassy, Chen said he came under tremendous pressure from American officials—“not those from the embassy but others” —to leave the diplomatic facility as quickly as possible. From the very beginning, he said, the assumption was that he would stay in China. “I had no information, I got no phone calls from friends, I was isolated,” he told me, his voice trembling. “Then I heard about the threat that my wife would be sent back home to Shandong if I didn’t leave the embassy. So I left.” …
“[Chen's current situation] totally contradicts the rosy picture I got in a conference call I had with U.S. officials Wednesday morning. They summarized the situation, and it sounded like a beautiful, happy scene,” said Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based ChinaAid Association, which has acted as a facilitator in Chen’s case.
Fu had spoken by phone with Chen shortly before I had. “He was very heavy-hearted,” Fu said. “He was crying when we spoke. He said he was under enormous pressure to leave the embassy. Some people almost made him feel he was being a huge burden to the U.S.”