Archive for November, 2010


Gop split on defense cuts

There is a looming rift on the right as many newly elected Republican congressional members want defense spending on the chopping block as they head to Capitol Hill, a position not shared by some of the old school Republicans in Congress.

Military and foreign policy analysts see the incoming group as game-changers in the Republican party.

“Within the Republican party, with the rising Tea Party caucus, you’re going to see, I think, very confusing but interesting politics on this issue over the next couple of years,” said Gordon Adams, a professor of foreign policy at American University.

“The reality is if the Republicans want agreement in their caucus and if they want to join with the Democrats in any way in an effort of deficit reduction all of these pieces need to be on the table and that means defense.”

Sen.-elect Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican who has been outspoken on the matter, has broken from the traditional Republican party line on the issue of defense spending.

“Republicans traditionally say, oh, we’ll cut domestic spending, but we won’t touch the military. The liberals, the ones who are good, will say, ‘Oh, we’ll cut the military, but we won’t cut domestic spending,” Paul said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Bottom line is you have to look at everything across the board.”

Praising Paul earlier this month for saying he would go after defense waste, Sen. Tom Coburn , R-Oklahoma, called taking defense spending off the table “indefensible.”

“We need to protect our nation, not the Pentagon’s sacred cows,” Coburn wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner.

Paul and Coburn are not alone. Taking aim at programs tacked onto the defense spending bill, that are not requested by the Pentagon, Sen.-elect Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, echoed calls to cut waste.

“There is waste pretty much everywhere in the government, and that includes the Pentagon. Part of the problem is Congress voting on systems the Pentagon doesn’t even want,” Toomey said in a debate during his campaign.

“Congress has real serious spending problems, and it manifests itself in many ways. Certainly wasteful defense programs are occasionally in that list,” Toomey said.

Sen.-elect Mark Kirk, R-Ilinois, also voiced support for cuts during his campaign.

“I back spending restraint across the board at the DOD, like no second engine for the F-35 Fighter, closing down joint forces command, across the board reductions,” Kirk said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But the congressman who will likely take charge of the House committee that oversees the Pentagon has no intention of seeing the defense budget shrink.

“Cutting defense spending amidst two wars, is a red line for me and should be a red line for all Americans. You do not need to be a policy expert to realize that investment is key to maintaining a robust defense,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-California — currently the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee — told an audience at the Foreign Policy Initiative on Monday.

In fact McKeon, who is likely to replace outgoing Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton as Armed Services chairman, is opposed to the slower growth that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates desires in an effort to reduce waste.

“The growth in the department’s top line is insufficient to address the future capabilities required by our military. One percent real growth in the defense budget over the next five years is a net cut for investment and procurement accounts. A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline,” McKeon said.

McKeon downplays the rift saying the freshman members are more focues on getting the lay of the land first.

“I think it will just take time to see where they really are on all the issues. Right now they’re probably trying to learn each other’s names and trying to find where they’re going to live and what they’re going to do with their families and hiring staff and getting an office,” McKeon said Monday at the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Rep.-elect Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, is in just that predicament, not ready to take a stand on cuts.

“She will bring her practices as a businesswoman to the federal government, wanting to first get a look at the books before making any decisions on cuts or freezes to various departments,” said Hartzler’s representative.

But defense experts see a struggle between the two camps in the near future.

“The Tea Party movement is going to have more fights with the status quo Republican leadership than it will with the Democrats,” said retired Col. Douglas Macgregor. “And what we’re going to witness over the next two years is whether or not this political movement, which is quite powerful, will succeed in asserting itself and taking control of the Republican party.”

Macgregor and Adams made their comments during a phone briefing Thursday where they released a letter sent to President Obama’s deficit reduction commission, urging its members to cut the Pentagon’s budget. Fourty-five others signed the letter.

The commission’s co-chairmen released a report earlier this month that proposed $100 billion in defense spending cuts in 2015. The full panel will vote on the recommendations by Dec. 1, the date of the commission’s last public meeting.


what Bush misses about the White House

Former President George W. Bush misses at least one aspect of the White House.

“I don’t miss much about being president… I miss being pampered,” Bush joked at an event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Thursday night.

He also addressed his famous genes saying he has “my father’s eyes” and “my mother’s mouth.”

The former president offered the enthusiastic crowd anecdotes from his memoir “Decision Points” that was on sale in the library’s courtyard. The former president said he hopes the volume serves as a starting point in the long-term consideration of his presidency.

He said a full assessment of his two terms in office would happen, but first “The passions of the moment have to pass.”

Most of his remarks centered on the decision to go to war against Al Qaeda and the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Bush appeared with first lady Nancy Reagan to promote his book as part of a lecture series at the library.

“I have zero desire to be in the limelight except to sell the book,” Bush said.


Housing remains affordable

The U.S. housing markets stayed very affordable this past summer: 72.1 percent of all homes sold during the three months ended Sept. 30 were priced so reasonably that people earning the median household income could afford to buy them, according to an industry report.

One big factor enhancing affordability is the continued rock-bottom interest rates, which were at 4.32 percent by the end of September.

“With interest rates remaining at historically low levels, and house prices starting to stabilize, homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for almost 20 years,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Jones, a home builder from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.


Respsonse to cholera outbreak called inadequate

While the United Nations warned that protests were hampering efforts to save lives in the Haiti cholera outbreak, a leading non-profit group lashed out at organizations for what it called an “inadequate” response.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (in English, Doctors Without Borders) issued a blistering critique Friday that said shortfalls in resources have hampered efforts to stem the tide of disease, which has claimed at least 1,100 lives and infected another 20,000 people.

“More actors are needed to treat the sick and implement preventative actions, especially as cases increase dramatically across the country,” Stefano Zannini, the charitable medical group’s head of mission in Haiti, said in a statement Friday. “There is no time left for meetings and debate — the time for action is now.”

Aid agencies have called the situation dire in Haiti, where the devastating January 12 earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and left about 1.5 million people living in congested and unsanitary makeshift camps. Compounding the problem is that Haiti’s already strained health system was virtually wiped out in the quake.


Heart drugs, supplements a risky mix

Herbal and dietary supplements are found in the aisles of supermarkets and health-food stores rather than behind a pharmacy counter, and they can be  dangerous when mixed with the wrong drug.

A new survey suggests that a majority of heart patients taking the popular blood-thinning drug warfarin are risking potentially dangerous complications by combining it with supplements such as fish oil, glucosamine and chondroitin, coenzyme Q10, and multivitamins.

The survey, which included 100 heart patients in Utah, found that more than two-thirds were taking dietary supplements in addition to their prescribed blood thinner, in most cases unbeknownst to their doctor. Nearly half of the patients didn’t view supplements as drugs. Heart trouble? 30 herbal remedies to avoid

“More and more patients are self-medicating with these supplements,” says Jennifer Strohecker, a clinical pharmacist at Intermountain Medical Center, in Salt Lake City. “Many of us will Google something and then go out and try it, and our doctor would never know.”

In a previous study, Strohecker and her colleagues found that nine of the 10 most commonly sold supplements had the potential to conflict with warfarin. The offenders included St. John’s wort, melatonin, glucosamine and chondroitin, and fish oil.

“Even your multivitamin can interact with warfarin,” says Strohecker, who presented her research Sunday at the American Heart Association’s annual Scientific Sessions meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Supplements for cholesterol: what works?

Some supplements have the ability to either enhance or negate warfarin’s effects, which could potentially trigger one of two dangerous complications: severe bleeding or a blood clot.

“People think that a supplement is always natural and safe,” Strohecker says. “They don’t realize that the body sees it as a chemical.” (As she likes to tell her patients in an effort to set them straight, warfarin itself was originally derived from a plant called sweet clover.)

Perhaps the most alarming finding of the survey was the apparent communication gap between doctors and patients. Less than one-third of the survey respondents said that their doctors had specifically asked them about supplement use, though nearly all said they would discuss it if asked. (Patients who don’t view supplements as drugs tend not to list them on standard doctor’s office paperwork, Strohecker says.) How to use supplements safely

In addition to recommending that doctors ask patients about supplement use, Strohecker suggests that patients who choose to take supplements do so consistently.

“I also fully believe that there should be some cautionary statements or some labeling changes on the supplements themselves,” Strohecker says. “It’s a communication thing.”

The Scientific Sessions meeting highlights the latest heart-related research and treatment advances. Unlike studies published in medical journals, the research presented at the meeting has not been vetted by independent experts in the field.



Reality show gives Palin a spotlight

Can Sarah Palin see 2012 from her house? You betcha.

“Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” a reality TV show that follows the adventures of the former governor and her family in their home state, debuted Sunday night on TLC. The program, showcasing the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate as a rugged outdoorswoman, spotlights Palin’s megawatt persona — just in time for the 2012 campaign.

Want to see Palin and her 9-year-old daughter Piper fishing near a real-life “Mama Grizzly” and her cubs? Got it. Want to see Palin and her husband, former “First Dude” Todd, rock-climbing in Denali National Park? Got it. There are seaplanes and dog sleds and firearms, and so on.

Unfortunately for political junkies, there isn’t much to sink their teeth into, unless they also enjoy fresh-caught salmon.

In the first episode, the family complains about journalist Joe McGinniss, who has moved in next door to observe the family for an upcoming book. Todd Palin calls McGinniss’ book a “hit piece.” In protest, Todd Palin and his friends build a 15-foot fence between the two homes.

“It’s just none of his flippin’ business,” Sarah Palin says on the TLC program, comparing the fence-building project to efforts to secure the nation’s border with Mexico.

The Palin kids seem tailor-made for reality TV. Scene-stealing daughter Piper eats cake batter off the whisk and complains about her mom’s constant texting on the BlackBerry. Perhaps it’s another tweet or a message on Palin’s Facebook page. Think “Sarah and Todd Plus Five.”

All of that just might be the point.

“Everything Palin is doing is ambiguous. These things are helpful if she runs for president. But they don’t necessarily commit her to doing so,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “She maximizes her influence as long as people think she might run,” Sabato added.

Palin remains a polarizing national figure. A recent Gallup poll found 52 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the former governor. Another poll conducted by AP-GfK found 49 percent of Americans view Palin unfavorably. But among Republicans, it’s a dramatically different story. That same AP-GfK poll discovered 79 percent of GOP voters like Palin.

The eight-week program wraps up in mid-January, just as many potential Republican presidential candidates will be deciding whether to take the White House plunge. The first GOP presidential debate, hosted by NBC News and Politico, is scheduled for next spring.

Last month, former White House adviser Karl Rove said the reality show raises questions about whether Palin has the “gravitas” to become president.

“I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of ‘That helps me see you in the Oval Office,'” Rove told the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London.

Rove knows something about political stagecraft, having spent years at George W. Bush’s Western White House — his ranch in Crawford, Texas, which offered up endless images of the then-president clearing brush and driving his pickup truck.

Despite Rove’s criticism, the potential Palin-for-president rollout rolls on. In the coming weeks, she is planning to promote her second book, “America by Heart.” Her 16-state book tour includes two important stops — the early presidential battlegrounds of Iowa and South Carolina.




Half happy with midterm results, poll finds

new poll indicates that just under half of all Americans are happy about the results of last week’s midterm elections.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 48 percent of the public says they are happy that the GOP won control of the House of Representatives, with 34 percent saying they are unhappy and 18 percent saying they didn’t know or refused to answer.

The 48 percent who say they are happy with the election results is 12 points lower than the six in ten who said they were happy following the 2006 midterm elections, when the Democrats won back control of both the House and the Senate, and nine points lower than the 57 percent who said they were pleased following the 1994 midterms, when the Republicans won back control of both chambers.

According to the current poll, 52 percent of people questioned who say they voted in the midterms say they were happy with the outcome. That number drops to 42 percent among those who say they did not vote.

The survey indicates that Americans are divided on the Republicans’ plans and policies for the future, with 41 percent approving and 37 percent saying they disapprove. Approval is higher (45 percent ) among those who voted in the election that those who did not vote (35 percent).

“But on balance, both the general public and voters express less positive views of the GOP’s policies than they did of the Democrats’ proposals after the 2006 election,” says the report by Pew.

The new numbers augment the argument by many political analysts and pundits that the Republican’s victory in the midterm was more of a rejection of the Democrats’ policies than an approval of the GOP.

The Pew poll was conducted November 4-7 with 1,255 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points.

Meanwhile, political observers continue to digest what the results mean for both parties looking toward the 2012 election.

One analyst says the results clearly call for Democrats to change their course or they will face what could be a disaster in the presidential and congressional races two years away.

“The election this time saw a negative reaction to the politics of [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid, [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi and President Obama,” University of West Georgia political scientist Gregory Dixon said.

He believes voters are turned off by the liberal stances on big issues shown by Democratic leaders. That’s especially true in the South and Midwest, Dixon said.

“This election is a wakeup call to Democrats. They’ve got to do a better job of connecting with more mainstream voters. This is kind of a cycle in American politics, this is temporary, but it does reflect a shift by Democrats toward the elite liberalism that’s found in the coastal regions of the country but does not connect with more conservative voters in the South and Midwest,” he said.