Monday, February 14, 2011

Video: Protests in Yemen continue Al Jazeera

Dale Jr. Wins the Pole...Again

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
On Friday Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole for the Bud Shootout thanks to a lucky draw. Today he won the pole for the Daytona 500 the old fashioned way - by going faster than everyone else. He'll share the front row with his teammate Jeff Gordon. Interestingly, Earnhardt won the pole with Gordon's former crew chief, Steve Latarte. The crews were jumbled up in the offseason to try and improve both team's performance. It seems to be working.

The rest of the 43 car field will be determined by a formula that's almost as complicated as an Obamacare flowchart. Next Thursday there will be two 150 miles races that will determine the starting order, as well as who gets to go home without racing. Forty-eight cars have entered but only 43 will race on Sunday.

Earnhardt was the only car in qualifying to break 186 miles-per-hour average for the lap. During the Bud Shootout last night, with cars drafting two-by-two, Michael Waltrip ran a lap of 206 mph. NASCAR doesn't want them to go that fast because of the chance a car could get airborne, so there will be some tweaks to the rules package this week in hopes of getting the speeds back down around 195 in the draft.

The Twin 150's on Thursday will be exciting to watch. The drivers who are already guaranteed spots in the field will be going for the best starting position while the go-or-go-homers will be fighting to get in. Could get pretty wild toward the end of each race.

Dale's pole is a rather emotional moment on several levels.  First of all, he's a fan favorite.  Secondly, this year mark's the 10th anniversary of his father's death on the last lap of the 2001 race.  Much of the crowd will be pulling for him to win it all.

Egypt jubilant over president ouster

sat7egyptprotest.bmpScreen grabs of Egyptian protests (courtesy of SAT-7)
Egypt (MNN) ― Egypt is basking in the glow of making history. On Friday, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, clearing the way for the armed forces to restore order until the September elections.

Over concerns that the military may not be so keen to step aside in the fall, Terry Ascott, SAT-7 CEO, responds, "We've seen enough poor judgment in the last few hours and days, where President Mubarak thought he could stay despite the anger on the street. I don't think the military or anyone in the military will make this mistake in this day and age, after what has happened over the last 18 days."

SAT-7 is a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa. Their team in Egypt not only captured the unfolding of the events, they noted a fascinating aspect that arose. Seemingly, the Christmas Eve sectarian violence gave way to something bigger as those gathering under the banners of the Crescent and the Cross unite for change in government.  

The miracle of Tahrir Square came when Muslims and Christians prayed together. Ascott says, "It's a great time to pray for the church in Egypt. It's got a  great start. Christians and Muslims have been on the street side by side. They've recognized, in each other, a common cause. They've recognized each other as equal citizens in the Egyptian struggle."

Even as the jubilation gives way to the realities of building a stable government, Ascott cautions believers to continue on with the momentum gained by the people. "I hope that as we move forward, the church will be able to build on that. I hope they will also be able to engage in the social and political reconstruction of the country, because they have been marginalized for so many years."

Even as SAT-7 captured the demonstrations in the streets, there was little they could do with the programming. Offices had to be closed because of the studio's proximity to the hundreds of thousands gathering. "We've been frustrated by not being able to do much live programming out of Cairo because the satellite tracks are basically taken by the news service, and our own normal way of getting programming out over the Internet has been blocked."

However, their team in Lebanon came through at a critical time. "We've also been able to support the Egyptian church and the voice of the Christians in Egypt through live programming from our Beirut studio. where we engaged with church leaders in Egypt by phone."

Once their situation became known, Egyptian believers were encouraged who came forward with support.  "It was really interesting to see the response, especially from the Iraqi church that has suffered so much. They were expressing their love and concern for the church in Egypt."

To encapsulate the shout that turned the Arab world upside down is impossible, but from the many voices came this theme: unity.   

As believers re-engage in Egyptian society as salt and light, Ascott urges others to "pray for the future that it would indeed be a new era of freedom of expression; and not just freedom of expression, but freedom of citizens to practice their beliefs."

US frees jihadist who trained 7/7 jihad bomber after just five years

They say Mohammed Junaid Babar has agreed to become an informant. "Jihadi who helped train 7/7 bomber freed by US after just five years," by Shiv Malik in The Guardian, February 13 (thanks to Block Ness):
An American jihadist who set up the terrorist training camp where the leader of the 2005 London suicide bombers learned how to manufacture explosives, has been quietly released after serving only four and a half years of a possible 70-year sentence, a Guardian investigation has learned. The unreported sentencing of Mohammed Junaid Babar to "time served" because of what a New York judge described as "exceptional co-operation" that began even before his arrest has raised questions over whether Babar was a US informer at the time he was helping to train the ringleader of the 7 July tube and bus bombings.
Lawyers representing the families of victims and survivors of the attacks have compared the lenient treatment of Babar to the controversial release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
Babar was imprisoned in 2004 - although final sentencing was deferred - after pleading guilty in a New York court to five counts of terrorism. He set up the training camp in Pakistan where Mohammad Sidique Khan and several other British terrorists learned about bomb-making and how to use combat weapons.
Babar admitted to being a dangerous terrorist who consorted with some of the highest-ranking members of al-Qaida, providing senior members with money and equipment, running weapons, and planning two attempts to assassinate the former president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf.
But in a deal with prosecutors for the US attorney's office, Babar agreed to plead guilty and become a government supergrass in return for a drastically reduced sentence....

The Muslim Brotherhood: a less dire outlook

by Arnold Bogis on February 13, 2011
The amazing events in Egypt this past week  have, for the most part, been a feel good story. While the future of that country is unclear and will remain so for quite a while, that has not prevented various pundits, experts, talking heads, and journalists from stoking fears of an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood.

Since the vast majority of the commentary has been negative and not exactly nuanced, I thought it might be helpful to point out a few pieces that could inspire if not optimism at least such not dire pessimism.
The first comes from the New York Times that examines the past, present, and future prospects of the Brotherhood.  It also gives voice to the opinions of the mostly secular protesters who took to the streets:
The Muslim Brotherhood, a mainstream group that stands as the most venerable of the Arab world’s Islamic movements, is of course also a contender to lead a new Egypt. It has long been the most organized and credible opposition to Mr. Mubarak. But is also must prepare to enter the fray of an emerging democratic system, testing its staying power in a system ruled by elections and the law.
“This is not yesterday’s Egypt,” declared Amal Borham, a protester in Tahrir Square.
“It is their right to participate as much as it is mine, as much as it is anyone else’s in this country,” added Ms. Borham, who considers herself secular. “They are part of this society, and they have been made to stay in the shadows for a very long time.”
“The system made them work in the dark and that made them look bigger than they are,” said Ahmed Gowhary, a secular organizer of the protests. “Now it will be a real chance for them to show that they are more Egyptian than they have appeared.”
“Their real power,” he added, “will show.”
The reporter also describes the differences between the events in Iran and Egypt:
Unlike the Shiite Muslim clergy in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood is neither led by clerics nor based on a clerical organization. In many ways, it represents a lay middle class. The very dynamics are different, too: cassette tapes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches helped drive Iran’s revolution, whose zealots sought to export it. The Internet helped propel the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the medium’s own diffusion helping carry it from the backwater town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia to Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Perhaps most importantly, the revolutions occurred a generation apart, a note echoed in the Brotherhood stronghold of Munira, along streets of graceful balustrades of the colonial era and the utilitarian architecture of Mr. Nasser and his successors.
“The people are aware this time,” said Essam Salem, a 50-year-old resident there. “They’re not going to let them seize power. People aren’t going to be deceived again. This is a popular revolution, a revolution of the youth, not an Islamic revolution.”
A scholar provides a dose of reality in regards to the Brotherhood’s ability to deliver results:
“The ability to present a mainstream national reform agenda and mobilize and galvanize Egyptians around this agenda, this is something the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to do,” said Emad Shaheen, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. “The youth have achieved in 18 days what the Brotherhood failed to achieve in 80 years.”
In a BCSIA Power & Policy blog post, “Religious actors can be democratizers,” Harvard professor Monica Toft provides additional (generally) optimistic analysis:
The evidence is mixed, but on balance I predict the MB will be a force for democratic change. What is my evidence? I have two sorts. The first regards the MB itself and the second is the role of religious actors in politics more generally.
Even were the MB to become more integral of the political process in Egypt, the numbers indicate that its influence is already quite limited; and although the MB continues to include extremist, more fundamentalist elements (however defined), these represent a small fraction within the organization itself, and an even smaller fraction of Egyptian society.
Time will tell whether the MB continues to adopt a representative and more democratic orientation. But, if the history of democratization and the trends over the last four decades are any guide, the chances are that it will represent the interests of Egyptian society more broadly. In other words, the MB is unlikely to dominate Egyptian politics moving forward, but even if it does play a major role, that role is likely to be more democratic and constructive than many who abjure religious political groups fear.
Both pieces are well worth reading in full.

House Budget Cuts a Tribute to New Members

By Bill Wilson

When House Republicans released their campaign promises for the 2010 election, they wrote they would “roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt”.

The clock is ticking and the House Republicans have taken a first big step toward achieving $100 billion in federal government spending cuts over the next year, and this achievement is a tribute to the new House Republicans who demanded that the Republican Appropriators go back to the drawing board and double the number of cuts first proposed.

The reason this is only a first step, and not the victory lap that some are proclaiming, is that as Human Events reports, the actual cuts to current spending in the Continuing Resolution (CR) are only $59 billion against the actual spending. While some are measuring the cuts against Obama’s proposed budget that never passed into law, this sleight of hand is not really necessary.
Get full story here.

The TSA Head Is Our Big Government Bozo

Video by Frank McCaffrey
Get permalink here.

Wisconsin Takes on Big Labor

By Adam Bitely
Wisconsin is yet again leading the way forward for the entire nation. Governor Scott Walker, in a bold and brave step, is making drastic and far reaching changes to the relationship between his state and the government employee unions that represent Wisconsin government employees.

The changes could not come soon enough, as Wisconsin is facing devastating budget shortfalls.

The plan proposed by Governor Walker effects most state and local employees, including teachers. Most local law enforcement and fire fighters will be exempt from his proposal.

The proposal that Governor Walker has put in front of the legislature will greatly limit the role that the government employees’ unions play in Wisconsin.
Get full story here.

Globalization Makes Love Cheaper

By Rebekah Rast

Chocolates and flowers are perfect complements to each other any day of the year, but today many see them as a requirement.
This isn’t just true in America. People all over the world love chocolate and flowers. These two items are in such high demand worldwide that much of the selection you see today was imported into the U.S. — giving you the opportunity to choose between myriad types of flowers and a multitude of flavorful chocolates to wow your special someone.
The Heritage Foundation found that Americans saved more than $16 million on roses last year thanks to U.S. trade policy toward Colombia. “Under the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA), many products from Colombia are exempt from U.S. import tariffs. Colombia is the biggest supplier of cut flowers to U.S. consumers, and the ATPA exempts Colombian roses from the 6.8 percent U.S. tariff. This import-tax cut saved American rose buyers $16.6 million last year,” the Heritage article explained.

Without this trade agreement it’s probably safe to say that many women would be disappointed to find that they would not receive their annual bouquet due to the much higher cost of a dozen long-stemmed roses.
Get full story here.

CPAC Conference By:Delonte Harrod

Daryl Mikell Brooks and
Hon. Newt Gingrich

February 10th  was the beginning of CPAC.  Conservatives from all over the nation came to Washington DC, Marriott Hotel to spur one another on. The CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) is a self-explanatory conference for, drum roll please…… conservative Politicians, Activists and Journalists. Over the last couple of years many have gathered to talk about political issues and to encourage each other in the philosophy of conservatism.
                The conference consisted of well known main-stream conservative speakers such as Michelle Bachman, Paul Ryan, Ron and Rand Paul, Donald Rumsfield, and newly, self-appointed conservative Donald Trump. In addtition, there were conservative organizations, media, and authors present. Media outlets setup booths for job opportunities making avaible jobs for young conservative college students looking to break into media. Some media outlets like the World Journalism Institute, a Christian organization that trains young Christians how to be journalism offered workshops to students.  Media outlets like PJTV (Pajama Television) a video blog and Human Event campured onsite interviews with participates as well as public servants.
Daryl Mikell Brooks and
Hon. Tim Pawlenty
                The event swarmed with young idealist republicans, libertarians and Tea Partiers. These will be the next generation of vibrant young leaders taken on the mantle of conservative principles. It was amazing to see their energy for the cause; sometimes demonstrating more vigor and energy for the current issues than the veterans. The reason for the attendance of some young people was not monolithic. Some came for jobs, some to rally fellow college students to the cause, and some for the current conservative super stars. Alex, a college student from Washington College, Maryland Eastern Shore, mentioned that she is a member of a college group only for Republicans. She mentioned that she was there because of her parents, “my parents inspired me to be a republican, my parents are small business owners and I have seen them be affected by our current economy.” She goes on, “they taught me to work hard for everything and I appreciate that.” She also mentions, beaming with ethusiasim for conservative opinionist, Glenn Beck. “I would marry Glenn Beck”, she quoted over and over. There were also some having heated discussions about how financially conservative the government should be; a microcosim of the macro version of the Republican verses Tea Party debate.
                The usual rhetoric was spewed across the Republican and Tea Party pulpit, “smaller government, cut spending and Obama is a socialist” all in the same breathe.  Crowds cheered, as speakers all seemed unified with one voice and I suspect the same message will take the conservative movement into the 2012 race.  
David Palmieri and friends
Delonte Harrod at CPAC Dinner

Daryl Mikell Brooks  walking with Ron Paul

Brooks and PA Ron Paul Supporter

Brooks at CPAC Dinner

Richard Dreyfuss at CPAC

Brooks, Friend and Palmieri
Brooks and Friend
Brooks and Friend
Daryl Mikell Brooks and a friend

Brooks and Friend

CPAC 2011 Closes with Record Crowd

(Washington, DC) The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a project of the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF), concluded today with a keynote address from Congressman Allen West of Florida and the announcement of the 2011 CPAC/Washington Times Presidential Straw Poll results.  This year's gathering, the largest and most successful CPAC on record, included more than 11,000 conservative leaders and activists meeting to discuss many of the political and social issues challenging our nation today.     
Congressman West addressed a standing room only crowd, receiving a series of standing ovations as he discussed international, social and economic policy.   This was Congressman West's third trip to CPAC.  Two years ago, he attended as a concerned private citizen.  Last year he gave a well received speech that catapulted him to the forefront of the conservative movement in Florida, providing the momentum to win a very competitive Congressional race.  This year he was invited to give the 2011 CPAC Closing Keynote Address in recognition of his powerful work in support of conservative ideals. 
The 2011 CPAC/Washington Times Presidential Straw Poll had a larger number of participants than any CPAC straw poll in past years, with a total of 3,742 votes.  This was an increase of almost 56% over last year's numbers.  In this year's poll Texas Congressman Ron Paul received 30% of the vote.  He was followed closely by Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who received 23% of the vote.  Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie each received 6% of the vote.  Former Speaker Newt Gingrich received 5%.  Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachman, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels each received 4% of the vote.  Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin received 3% while Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and South Dakota Senator John Thune each received 2% of the vote.  Former Utah Governor John Huntsman and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour each rounded out the voting with 1%.  Other candidates received 5% of the vote, and 1% were undecided.  The poll was opened to all CPAC participants.
At the three day conference at the Wardman Park Marriott in Washington, DC, conservative activists from across the country attended speeches by Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Ann Coulter, Mitch Daniels and other prominent leaders.  Attendees from every state in the union took advantage of dozens of exhibitions, panel discussions, film and documentary premiers, and social events to engage other conservatives.    
The American Conservative Union is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization.  The American Conservative Union Foundation's annual CPAC meeting is the largest gathering of conservatives annually.   


Washington, DC --  Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Chairman David A. Keene last night announced Tom McCabe of Olympia, Washington, as the 2011 recipient of the Ronald Reagan Award, an honor given annually to a conservative leader fighting in the trenches for the principles embodied by Ronald Reagan.  The award was presented during the conference's annual Ronald Reagan Banquet for which Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was the keynote speaker.

In presenting the award, Chairman Keene said, "Tom McCabe, during his tenure as the Executive Director of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) for more than 20 years, built the organization into a force for free enterprise and conservative principles. Unlike most business associations across the nation, BIAW has been, under Tom's leadership, steadfast in its dedication to the defense of small business and entrepreneurship against the onslaught of the labor unions, trial lawyers, liberals and environmental extremists."

McCabe worked in the Department of Veterans Affairs during the Reagan Administration. In 1989, he and his wife Susan moved to her home state of Washington. In 1990, McCabe was named Executive Director of the BIAW and, over the next 21 years, created the premier business trade association in the state by adhering to the simple truths of promoting freedom, free enterprise, lower taxes and less regulation.

"Tom's strength of character and dedication to conservatism made him a target of the liberals and the Democratic left who always oppose conservatives and even some Republicans who have attacked Tom and BIAW to please the left in furtherance of their own political ambitions. The Ronald Reagan award is given each year to a conservative warrior and we are proud to present this year's prize to such a warrior -- Tom McCabe," Keene concluded.

The American Conservative Union is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization.  The American Conservative Union Foundation’s annual CPAC meeting is the largest gathering of conservatives annually.  Testifying to the exponential growth of the conservative movement, this year’s conference has proven to be the most highly attended in its decades-long history with fifteen percent more attendees than last year and twice as many exhibitors.  With forty percent of registrants being first time attendees, this year's CPAC will emphasize the development of a younger generation of conservatives.

Demonizing Christie Will Not Lead to Democratic Victories

By Richard A. Lee

Since he took office a little more than a year ago, Governor Chris Christie has been demonized by his critics. Chrsitie’s actions have generated harsh charges that he’s a bully, that he’s stubborn, and that he’s insensitive.

The sharp criticism, however, has not produced the results Christie’s political opponents had hoped for. Instead, the Governor continues to enjoy high poll numbers and has emerged as a popular national figure, with a loyal and ardent group of supporters who rally around his words and actions.

With all 120 seats in the State Legislature on the ballot in November, there is a lesson to be learned here.

Democrats are likely to continue to rail against the Republican Governor. That’s normal politics, but it may not be the best strategy for victory in the current political climate.

A special election that took place last year in the 14th Legislative District provides some insight into what may lie ahead in this year’s contests. In that special election, conducted after State Senator Bill Baroni resigned to take a post at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein defeated Republican Tom Goodwin, who had been appointed to Baroni’s former Senate seat.

On one hand, the demographics and dynamics of the 14th District are unique, so the results of last year’s special election should not be viewed as a precursor to all of this year’s legislative elections. But on the other hand, the pointed attacks that Democrats regularly level against the Governor were not a major factor in Greenstein’s successful campaign. As operatives from the Greenstein and Goodwin campaigns explained during a February 10 conference at Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, Greenstein’s victory was due in large part to her work as a State Assemblywoman and the relationships she built during her 10 years in the Legislature. Since Christie’s favorability rating did not drop below 58 percent during the campaign, it would have been ill advised to attack the Governor.

On the Republican side, the Goodwin campaign’s strategy – to paint Greenstein as a tax-and-spend Democrat – did not produce a victory. Other factors – such as the Democrats’ advantages in funding and registered voters – likely played just as great, or greater, roles. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that that the type of rhetoric which voters typically hear from both parties during political campaigns was not a major factor in the outcome of this race.

Voters are growing increasingly frustrated with the polarization and partisanship dominating the world of government and politics. The optimist in me hopes that candidates and their campaign staffs will take heed of what transpired in New Jersey’s 14th Legislative District last year and replace some of the rhetoric with substance. The realist in me is not so optimistic.

# # #

Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute. A former State House reporter and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media, politics and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies. Read more of Rich’s columns at richleeonline and follow him on Twitter.