Thursday, February 26, 2009

John Bolton for President?

Crossposted at

Okay, nobody freak out. I am not…let me repeat…NOT jumping off the Palin bandwagon - not even close. Sarah is my candidate in 2012, period. That said, I think there is a serious problem with our overall field of potential primary candidates: they’re ALL governors

Don’t get me wrong, I like Governors, they make great nominees – but I’m starting to get unnerved by the potential of a primary contested solely by domestic policy experts. Palin, Romney, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Jindal, Crist - ALL lack foreign policy credentials, and it’s going to be harder to give those issues their due if no-one in the field is really well-schooled in that department. In my humble opinion, there absolutely MUST be at least one candidate in the race who can make sure that all of the candidates – including my beloved Sarah – get their feet held to the fire regarding terrorism, defense, international relations, and national security. Some have suggested that David Patraeus could make a wild-card run, but I personally think that’s a pipe dream. Instead, we need to find somebody willing to become a second-tier, single-issue candidate who is in the race in order to channel the debate (much in the way that Tancredo and Hunter kept Immigration relevant in the 2008 primaries…love ‘em or hate ‘em, it worked).

I had previously thought about suggesting firebrand think-tank head Frank Gaffney for this role, but even I knew that was a bit of a stretch. However, after attending yesterday’s session of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), I realized that I had been neglecting one of the conservative movement’s most forceful and eloquent voices on foreign policy issues – Former U.N. Ambassador John “The ‘Stache” Bolton.

As far as I’m concerned, Ambassador Bolton is the complete package politically – he’s ridiculously smart, has a memorable personality, seems to have a lot of fire in his belly, and (most importantly) is one of the more dynamic speakers I’ve seen. He positively brought the house down at CPAC this morning, and I remember that he did the same last year. Anyone would be hard-pressed to handle him in a foreign policy debate, and his dynamism might even give him a chance of pulling off a Huckabee-esque breakout – especially considering that he would have a virtual lock on security-focused voters. The only real problem is that he can be a bit of a bomb-thrower, but that can be an asset in a primary campaign, and it’s definitely a good thing if he were to find himself in contention for the VP slot after the primaries (I would pay good money to see a Biden-Bolton smackdown).

The biggest question is what’s in it for Ambassador Bolton if he doesn’t win (which would be a pretty good bet). Well, he could put himself in the catbird seat for Secretary of State or National Security Advisor if the GOP nominee defeated Obama - or he could use his momentum to launch his own policy organization, dramatically raise his profile in the media, and cement his position as the right’s dominant voice on foreign policy. As I see it, he really can’t lose.

So, do you think that we are going to need a “security candidate” in the 2012 race, and if so, what to you think of the idea of drafting The ‘Stache?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting Ready for CPAC

Hey everyone, the internet at my house has been blown out life's been a little crazy. That said, I'm going to be at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) until Saturday, and I'm going to try to put in as many updates as I can.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Avigdor Lieberman? Foreign Minister? Oy Vey!

I can't believe I'm still talking about Israel, but I guess it saves me the trouble of bellyaching about the stimulus package and rest of the depressing news out of the Obama Administration...and you probably find it more interesting than the other story I'm watching, which is the unrest in the French-owned Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique (which you may hear about soon). And, since Sen. Roland Burris isn't resigning yet, we're going to do an update on Israeli coalition negotiations.

Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is going to be Prime Minister, but other than that, everything else is up in the air. Bibi seemed prepared to offer the Kadima Party full partnership in the government, with leader Tzipi Livni keeping her job as Foreign Minister and Kadima #2 man Shaul Mofaz taking the Defense Ministry. Sweet deal, but Livni told him to take a hike...she wanted a rotation deal where she would take over as Prime Minister in two years and serve out the second half of Bibi's term. So, Netanyahu had to turn to the left wing Labor Party to save his hopes of forming broad-based "unity government"...but they essentially told him to take a flying leap. There will likely be a second meeting between Netanyahu in Livni, but at this point it looks like the country will instead be governed by a narrow coalition of right-wing parties...which brings us back (once again) to Israel's most fascinating and eccentric politician, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party.

With Kadima and Labor both rejecting the opportunity to join the Netanyahu Administration, it will now be paramount for the Prime Minister to keep all of his coalition partners happy. Of course, the largest single partner will be Lieberman and his following of hardcore nationalists, and it looks like Lieberman has decided what he wants in exchange for propping up Netanyahu. It's not the Defense Ministry (where I thought he could end up), it's the Foreign Ministry.

Now, let me try to paint a picture of how difficult of a spot this could put Netanyahu in. Let us pretend that America has an Israeli-style government, and John McCain is the Prime Minister-designate. The Republican Party only holds a quarter of the seats Parliament, and Prime Minister McCain's original plan had been to form a coalition with the Moderate Party of America, led by Hillary Clinton (equivalent to Livni and Kadima), but she turned him down. He then turned to the Socialist Party, led by Barack Obama (equivalent to the Labor Party), who also refused (thank goodness). Left with no other option, McCain must turn to the illegal-immigration-focused America First Party, led by firebrand Rep. Tom Tancredo (equal to Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu). This actually seems like a decent fit, as the two have a lot in common on spending and foreign relations, and it would be workable except for one exchange for his support, Tancredo demands that McCain make him Secretary of State.

I don't care what you think of Rep. Tancredo, it would be hard to imagine giving the country's top diplomatic position to an anti-illegal firebrand who is not exactly known for his tact. In the same way, Netanyahu might have to swallow hard before giving the Foreign Ministry to Avigdor Lieberman, who campaigned on the idea of revoking the citizenship of Israeli Arabs unless they take some sort of loyalty's a PR nightmare. My guess is that Bibi will try to wheel and deal by offering him another Cabinet position, but assuming Livni doesn't have a change of heart, it seems likely that Lieberman will get what he wants. There are only three top-tier Cabinet ministries: Foreign, Defense, and Finance - and Bibi really wants to keep Lieberman away from the Defense Ministry (equal to Secretary of Defense). I don't think Lieberman is much of an economist - so he's not going to want the Finance Ministry (Treasury Secretary). Hence, it's probably a good bet that Lieberman will become Foreign Minister. Putting him in charge of Israel's relations with the rest of the world is a scary prospect...but putting him in charge of the military would be much scarier.

So, my fellow Americans...get ready to meet Israel's most eccentric leader, as he's now likely to be the first guy you see on CNN whenever Israel ends up in the news. If nothing else, he will definitely be entertaining.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prime Minister Netanyahu!

Ten days after the elections in Israel, we finally know who won the Prime Minister's office. Earlier today, Yisrael Beiteinu Party leader Avigdor Lieberman announced that he would be throwing his support behind Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu when he recommends a Prime Minister to President Shimon Peres. So, while Netanyahu's Likud Party finished second in the elections, he now has the support of both the third-place party (Yisrael Beiteinu) and the fifth-place party (Shas). This puts him within 10 votes of a majority in the 120 seat Knesset with a total of 53 seats (27 Likud, 15 Yisrael Beiteinu, 11 Shas). Theoretically, this leaves Likud in a position to form a coalition of only right-wing parties if necessary (although that is not the preference of either Netanyahu or Lieberman)

Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni of the first place Kadima party is getting no love from her potential coalition partners, as neither the left-wing Labor Party nor the far-left Meretz Party will be recommending that President Peres tap Livni for Prime Minister (they will endorse no one). At this point, Livni has pretty much conceded defeat, announcing that she will reject an offer to join Netanyahu's coalition government - denying him the national unity government he wants (Personally, I think she's quite a sore loser). That said, Netanyahu probably will get a broad coalition, as he is still likely try to bring in the Labor Party.

Either way...we can now finally congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu on his return to power after ten years in the wilderness.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Joining the Race42012 Team!

I just wanted to let you all know that, starting today, I will be writing in two different locations. Obviously, things around here are going to continue normally, but I have also been invited too join the team over at (formerly known as Race42008).

Thanks to R4'12 Managing Editor Kavon Nikrad for this opportunity, and I hope that the "Brickyard" crew will join me on this new adventure.

Click here to read my first Race42012 post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cao Slams "So-Called Stimulus"

At this point, just looking at this blog should tell you what I think of Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana. He showed great courage by voting against the Democratic "stimulus" package last week, and he's been getting SLAMMED for it in the media and left wing blogosphere. However, he proved he is more than capable of firing back with a strongly worded letter in this morning's New Orleans Times-Picayune (re-posted below). He may be the single shyest man in Congress, but he certainly doesn't seem to pull any punches when it comes to writing.

According to many in the media, Congressman Cao ended his political career by voting on conscience rather politics - and I last personally would love nothing more than to shove those comments back in their faces. As far as I'm concerned, Rep. Cao proved this week that he is the guy we thought he was when he took down William Jefferson in last year's election. So, for my two cents, it's time for us to circle that wagons around Joseph Cao and do everything we can to make sure that, instead of getting bounced in 2010, he gets a promotion to the U.S. Senate.

This past Friday, I voted against the so-called stimulus bill. I wanted a bill that would stimulate the economy without wasteful spending and that would answer the needs of my district. Unfortunately, this wasn't it. Voting no was a tough decision -- my most difficult yet in Congress -- but I believe it was the right decision.

President Barack Obama's intentions with this bill were good, but the result is loaded with big government spending and dubious initiatives that will do little to help the average American. The costs of the stimulus bill far outweigh the benefits. Even the White House's own analysis ranked the 2nd District dead last in terms of the number of jobs created yet the bill will increase 2nd District citizens' share of our national debt to more than $38,000 per person.

The passage of the stimulus bill was neither fair nor transparent. The entire process was characterized by traditional Washington back-room dealing and was intended to ram through a trillion-dollar spending frenzy with as little debate and scrutiny as possible.

Some will say I bowed to political pressure to "fall in line" with the Republican Party. This could not be further from the truth. My first and only responsibility is to the people of the 2nd District; I am committed to working with Republicans and Democrats alike to pass important legislation, such as the critically needed children's health insurance program we passed earlier this year.

As your representative, I have worked tirelessly to bring jobs back home, securing $129 million to assist local hospitals and moving forward the backlog of local FEMA projects to restore basic services like firehouses, health clinics and schools. If we can get even a fraction of these projects off the ground, it will do far more for the 2nd District than the stimulus bill.

U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao


Enjoy Bottled Water!

I attended a blogger briefing today at The Heritage Foundation, and one of the presenters brought up something that I just HAD to share with all of you. Apparently, the bottled water industry has become the latest threat to humanity in the eyes of radical left wing green groups. It has a carbon footprint, creates solid waste, and (most importantly, in my opinion) threatens government control of our water supply.

Hence, green groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council are now ordering us to drink tap water...despite the fact that, not too long ago, these same groups were lecturing us on the extreme danger of drinking impure, contaminated tap water. But now, in the name of advancing socialism...I mean...uh..."saving the planet", their stance has changed to "by all means, drink the contaminated water, just be sure you have a filter to protect yourself." And to add insult to injury, cities are now banning bottled water from certain functions and placing "sin taxes" on its sale.

Luckily, our friends at the Competitive Enterprise Institute have set up in order to highlight this moronic crusade against clean water. Be sure to check out the site, watch the featured video, and sign their petition.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Video: Bristol Palin "On the Record"

As promised, I am posting links to the videos from tonight's "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren". Click here to go to the "On the Record" video list, where the top video is currently Part 1 of the Bristol interview. Then, be sure to check out Part 2 (with special appearances by Sarah Palin and Baby Tripp) and Greta's interview with Gov. Palin at the finish line of the Iron Dog snowmachine race.

Bristol Palin Goes "On The Record"


Busy day at work today, so full-length posts will be waiting for tonight. That said, I HAD to mention this story quickly. Greta Van Susteren is back in Alaska to check in with the Palins, and she has scored a groundbreaking interview...not with Sarah or Todd, but with BRISTOL Palin.

As far as I'm concerned, sitting down with Greta is a tremendous act of courage for Bristol. Nobody would blame this young woman if she never said another word to the media in her life, so she is really showing some chutzpah by sitting down for a one-on-one interview with a national news channel.

In my personal opinion, Bristol Palin has suffered more degrading abuse by the media than any other person in this country (including her mother and George W. Bush). She deserves our total support, and I think that anyone who reads this blog or participated in the Draft Palin movement is obligated to watch tonight.

Good luck, Bristol...way to show the slimebags that you're not going to be pulled down by their classless lies and smears.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Draft Cao for U.S. Senate

I watched today's stimulus vote very closely - not because the outcome interested me (everybody knew the monstrosity would pass), but to see how which Republicans decided to break ranks. Actually, I was really only watching one vote in particular, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-Louisiana). Most political junkies will remember Rep. Cao as the giant-killer who took out scandal-ridden Rep. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson on his way to becoming the first Vietnamese-American Congressman in history. He was an instant hero for the otherwise humiliated GOP, but there were a few problems...which is why this post was not written months ago.

First, Cao is a political novice with few defined issue positions other than a staunch pro-life stance and a commitment to redeveloping New Orleans - not to mention a newly-minted Republican (in 2007, he ran for State Representative as an Independent). He cast himself as a totally open-minded post-partisan, and considering that he represents a heavily-Democratic district, many were rightly concerned that he could become one of the most moderate Republicans in Congress. Secondly, Cao's election was a bit of a fluke - facilitated by the incumbent's scandals and and postponed election (due to Hurricane Gustav). Despite his newfound rockstar status, it seemed highly unlikely that he would even come close to winning a second term. How could we be sure that this guy wasn't going to go liberal, and how could we possibly protect him if he did live up to his promise? Today, I think we may have some solutions to both issues.

I was disappointed to hear this morning that Rep. Cao was one of the only Republicans "leaning yes" on today's stimulus vote. His New Orleans-based district REALLY DOES need infrastructure money for reconstruction (and redevelopment was one of his big campaign issues). So, in order to get the funding his district desperately needs, he was openly flirting with becoming the only Republican to support the bloated, non-stimulating proposal. And then the fight over Cao's vote began.

The White House assigned a staffer to do nothing but hound Cao for his vote, and the Republican team started applying pressure too. Cao asserted his independence when asked whether fellow Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise had been assigned to "whip" him into line against the bill, and I admired his response even if I didn't like what it implied, "Steve Scalise doesn't know kung fu. I know kung fu. He can't whip me." However, Cao proved today that he could also withstand direct pressure from President Obama and pundits who said that he had to vote with the Dems to save his chances of re-election - he voted "no".

Now, while his vacillation may have implied greater moderation, I don't think that anyone can now doubt that Joseph Cao is a faithful public servant who is motivated totally by doing what he thinks is right. He has good conservative instincts, he's honest, he's an upstanding citizen, and he's independent minded - so even if he goes a little moderate sometimes, I like him a lot. More importantly, I think he's a tremendous asset to the Republican Party, and we need to make sure that he sticks around for a while...and, no offense, but running him for re-election in a district that's 70% Democrat would be roughly equivalent letting him water-ski in the bayou (otherwise known as "trolling for gators").

Luckily, we do have one - and ONLY one - shot at saving Joseph Cao from certain political destruction in 2010....we can run him as a primary challenger to U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA). You may remember that, in 2007, Vitter admitted to being a past patron of the prostitution service run by the now-infamous "DC Madam". This guy is vulnerable, and you can count on the Dems to target him in 2010. So, while Vitter may have a strong conservative voting record, I frankly don't think we should be wasting the party's time and money defending his indefensible actions. In fact, it's likely that Vitter's re-election race will make a mockery of the American political process - as there is already a very strong internet movement to highlight his improprieties by drafting porn star Stormy Daniels to run against him (and Miss Daniels is telling national media outlets that she's seriously considering it).

In all frankness, the people of Louisiana deserve better than the oversexualized circus that would result from a Vitter vs. Daniels race. And, considering the other candidates, the soft-spoken, devoutly religious Cao would probably represent a refreshing change of pace. Furthermore, Louisiana is notorious for corruption, and voters have recently become VERY receptive to candidates with a "clean government" message. This is how Cao got into Congress in the first place, and also how Bobby Jindal got to the governor's mansion.

Cao may be a little moderate at times, but he's an upright, downright honest man and a committed servant of the people. So, he could be just what the doctor ordered for both the GOP and the Great State of Louisiana. In fact, he's probably the only way the Republicans can remove the taint of Vitter without handing the seat to a Democrat. If bloggers start agitating for his candidacy now (and the people here know a thing or two about such operations), we could potentially keep Joseph Cao in Congress AND get rid of a black mark on our party (Vitter) in one fell swoop.

So, I guess my next question is whether anyone here is from Louisiana and how many of you might be willing to help kick-start some "Draft Cao" talk on the blogs (I'm not going to be launching a blog on the subject like last time, but I'm definitely willing to help out someone who will).

NY Gov. States the Obvious

Headline on MSN this morning: "Governor: 'SNL' is insensitive" Really?! I would never have guessed. It's not like Saturday Night Live has a history of harsh humor or anything...

That was the first Paterson skit from a few months ago, and there was a second one a few weeks ago (you should watch that one too). Now, I realize that Gov. Paterson is different from most political officials in that he is legally blind, and hence SNL made a number of blind jokes. But seriously, it's not news that SNL employs sophomoric and offensive humor. I also find it ironic that Paterson seems more offended by the blind gags than by the portrayal of him as an incompetent cocaine addict.

However, what REALLY sticks in my craw is that, according to the New York Post, "Paterson said the show's continued parodies hurt disabled people not in a position to fight back". Give me a break. This man is the Governor of New York, and it is more than within his power to fight back on behalf of blind people everywhere! In fact, considering that he is from NYC, it wouldn't bee all that hard for him to make an appearance on SNL and confront his impersonator in a skit (like every other politician who's ever been smeared on that show). That would be much better than his current "I'm a disabled victim" shtick...which will do nothing more than encourage SNL to continue ripping him.

I'd probably be offended too, but seriously, Governor, grow up and confront this thing like a man. I'm sure SNL would be more than happy to have you on (they've already figured out that you're the comedic gift that keeps on giving), and you could show a national audience just how competent a blind man can be. It's easy, it's right in your home town, and best of all, it's not in NEW JERSEY!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peanut-Man Gets His

In many cases, public congressional hearings are used merely as opportunities for Congressmen to grandstand and help their own image - and dragging in the guy who ran the salmonella-infested peanut plant strikes me as just such a situation. However, in this particular case, I will give props to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Sometimes, bad guys need to get their comeuppance publicly - and Stewart Parnell got his in a big way today.

I'm sure a lot of you have seen pieces of this on the news, but I really think you need to watch the whole 4 minutes to see just how much of a laughingstock this guy made of himself. It's one thing to take the fifth when asked if you committed a crime, but it's downright ridiculous to take it when you're merely being asked if you heard the previous testimony. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) did a great job asking just enough questions to make a fool of this guy, and for not letting him go before making sure that Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) got to ask the question that ended up on every nightly newscast in America.

There might not have been much using in brining this guy in in the first place, but it was first-class political theatre. Good work by the bipartisan tag-team of Stupak and Walden.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Israeli Election Liveblog

Click here to skip to the comments section

8:41 PM -
Well, it doesn't look like much is going to change from here on in. Clearly Kadima has the most seats, but the right wing parties won a majority. the decision on who gets to form a coalition goes to the country's ceremonial president, Shimon Peres (a Kadima member). However, Peres will have to meet with the leaders of all the parties to get their recommendations on who to make PM. The kingmaker is probably Avigdor Lieberman of third place Yisrael Beiteinu. I think he's going to recommend that Netanyahu be made PM, but he's playing it coy and leaving open the possibility of joining a Kadima coalition. It's anyone's game, but it looks like there is a good chance that, despite Likud's second-place finish, Benjamin Netanyahu will get into the Prime Minister's office by the skin of his teeth. Since things are stable, I think this will be the last post tonight unless anything big changes. Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.

7:43 PM - 91% of the vote has been counted, and no major changes. Kadima up to 29, Yisrael Beiteinu drops to 15, Meretz and Jewish home both drop to 3. The reason for this is that the Balad Party, an Arab party, got up to 2% of the vote, passing the minimum threshold to win Knesset seats. Hence, Balad now has 3 seats rather than zero, and the Arab parties now total 11 seats. This is also significant because the #3 candidate on Balad's Kneset list, Haneen Zoubi, is fighting to become the first woman to ever represent and Arab party in the Knesset. So, she will get in if these numbers hold. Two other Arab women have sat in the Knesset, but they represented the mainstream Jewish-based parties. While I really dislike the Arab Parties' views, this is a big victory for women's rights in the Arab world. So, congratulations to Ms. Zoubi on her accomplishment.

6:29 PM -
I just got back to my house, and 43% of the votes are in. Now, the seats in the Knesset are divided by the percentage of the national votes each party receives. Hence, the numbers of seats that I will list below are based on what the division will be if the current results remain steady. I will also be listing two breakdowns - one listing the seats won by each party, and one listing how many seats each ideological coalition of parties has won (61 needed for a majority). So without further ad0, here are the current seat totals.

By Party

28 - Kadima (Tzipi Livni)
27 - Likud (Benjamin Netanyahu)
16 - Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman)
13 - Labor (Ehud Barak)
11 - Shas (Eli Yishai)
5 - United Torah Judaism (Yaakov Litzman)
4 - Meretz (Haim Oron)
4 - National Union (Yaakov Katz)
4 - Jewish Home (Daniel Hershkovitz)
4 - Hadash (Mohammad Barakeh)
4 - United Arab List-Ta'al (Ibrahim Sarsur)

By Coalition

62 - Right-Wing (Likud, Yisrael Beitenu, Shas, Jewish Home, National Union)
45 - Left-Wing (Kadima, Labor, Meretz)
5 - Swing Voters (United Torah Judaism)
8 - Won't help anyone (Hadash, UAL-Ta'al)

So, Livni wins the party vote and Netanyahu has the bigger coalition - and both think they just got elected Prime Minister. It's more likely that Netanyahu will get the nod, but if Livni canswing one or two other parties, Livni could take it.

5:25 PM - Netanyahu's people aren't pleased with the exit polls showing Livni in the lead. However, they are also reminding everyone that those exit polls do not poll the military - which usually skews to the right. I would remind every one that every Israel has a universal draft and mandatory military service, so the army is a big chunk of votes that could push Likud past Kadima in the seat count. Guess we'll find out when we get results.

4:58 PM -
Still waiting for first official results.

4:05 PM - Gotta love politicians - not a single vote has been counted and both Netanyahu and Livni's forces have already declared victory. Actually, both have good reason. Exit polls show Kadima winning the most seats of any party. However, the same pols show that Likud-allied parties on the right will pick up far more total seats than left wing parties that would prefer Kadima. So, if the exit polls are right, Livni will head the largest party, but Netanyahu will have a bigger coalition. Oy vey.

3:43 PM - I finally found live streaming TV coverage in English. If you want the same up-to-the-minute info that I'm getting, you can get it from Arutz Sheva Channel 7.

3:12 PM - Polls have been closed for about an hour and all three of the nation's major TV channels have released their exit polls. All three show Kadima in the lead, followed closely by Likud, with Yisrael Beiteinu barely edging out Labor for a distant third. Now, we all know how unscientific exit polls can be, and these results differ starkly from the last phone polls a week ago (which showed Likud first, Kadima second, and Yisrael Beiteinu far ahead of Labor). That said, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is probably bouncing off the walls right now, while Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor are probably in very bad moods. Either way, there is a lot of counting left to be done. I'll let you know official results as soon as I see them.

12:19 PM - Off topic, but I'm doing a little double dipping today while attending a Club for Growth/Heritage Foundation conference on the stimulus.

10:23 AM - Hadn't thought of this, but it's a good point. The Jerusalem Post is saying that the two ultra-orthodox religious parties - Shas and United Torah Judaism - are freaking out about the high turnout. When you depend on a highly motivated religious minority to win seats - your share of the vote gets diluted when the general public are just as motivated as the ultra-orthodox (who in many cases are ordered by their rabbis to show up and vote for their said rabbi's preferred party).

8:58 A M - Ha'aretz News is reporting unexpectedly high turnout, which probably adds more uncertainty about who will win because all of those people who told pollsters are showing up. We've also had several bits of drama. Protesters in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, have disallowed anti-Arab fascist Baruch Marzel from serving as an election monitor in that town, and the violence forced police to remove his replacement (far-right legislator Aryeh Eldad). And finally, some lady in Jerusalem got busted trying to smuggle fake Yisrael Beiteiu votes into a polling station.
It's almost 1:00 AM Eastern Time, which means that polls have been open in Israel for almost an hour (it's almost 8:00 AM there). If you haven't already figured it out, I am absolutely obsessed with this election, as I think the outcome will drastically affect the situation in the Midldle East. Hence, I will be liveblogging the all day - providing you with quick news updates throughout the process. Polls close at 8:00 PM, which will be 2:00 PM here in Washington, DC - so luckily we Americans don't have to pull an all-nighter to watch the results roll in. One quick question for you as readers: would you all prefer that I enter my updates as additions to the top of this post or as seperate posts? Personally, I think it would be better for the comments section if just keep this post active, but I'd like some reader feedback.

Will Benjamin Netanyahu storm back to power after a decade in the wilderness? Will the fast-closing Tzipi Livni and her Kadima Party pull off the upset? Will dark-horse nationalist Avigdor Lieberman and the Yisrael Beiteinu Party shock the world? Will there be anything left of the Labor Party by Wednesday morning? Only time will tell.

Buckle up - because this one is coming down to a phot0-finish and it's going to be one heck of a ride.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Madagascar! (Rated R for Exterme Violence)

When most people think of Madagascar, they probably think of the friendly lion, the dancing lemur king, and the cadre of psychotic penguins that we all know from the movie (and if you don't - just ask your kids or grandkids). However, it's a very real place...and right now it looks more like a horror flick than an animated comedy. Numerous people died yesterday in the capital city of Antananarivo, and quite a lot of them were unarmed protesters gunned down by riot police outside the presidential palace.

The mess started a few days ago when the country's President, Marc Ravalomanana, fired the elected mayor of Antananarivo, who also happens to be the Madagascar's leading opposition leaders. The charismatic young mayor, Andry Rajoelina, decided to fight back by launching a grassroots revolution against Ravalomanana's leadership and declaring himself to be the new head of the country. He's now holding lots of protests and rallies, and when one of those protests marched to the presidential place, the police did some unnecessary shooting. I've also read that there are a lot of looting problems.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of either side. Ravalomanana had no business firing a mayor and seems to like his power a little too much. On the other hand, Rajoelina the supposed voice of democratic reform) responded by throwing a hissy fit and trying to take over the country by force...not terribly democratic if you ask me. He also doesn't seem to have a whole lot of respect for the law, as he would be constitutionally barred from holding the office due to the fact that he is under age 40 (he's 34).

Why am I mentioning this? Well, I'm just sick of stuff like this not getting any coverage in our media. I realize that it's not a neat and tidy issue, and that Madagascar may not be a very big country. However, it's just hard for me to stomach that nobody is noticing that this stuff is going on. (Caution, this video is a bit graphic, but I would suggest watching)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Avigdor Lieberman: International Man of Mystery

I wasn't planning to do another Israel post so soon, but this guy absolutely fascinates me...and has the potential to become a real wild card in our (or anyone's) relations with Israel. Meet Avigdor Lieberman, the man who seemingly came from nowhere to become one of the biggest players on the Israeli political scene. He wont be Prime Minister after next Tuesday's election - that fight is between Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu - but the performance of his Yisrael Beiteinu Party will likely determine who does get the big office, and he is going to land a BIG cabinet job regardless. Right now five of the six top stories on the Jerusalem Post's "Election '09" page are about Lieberman or his party, and the banner at the top of the page was edited yesterday to add his picture alongside the leaders of the three major parties. Not bad, considering that Lieberman built his party entirely from scratch in only ten years. So, who is this guy, and how did he pull off one of the most surprising and meteoric rises in world politics?

In a former life, Lieberman was a big player in the Likud Party, and even worked as Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office during Benjamin Netanyahu's first stint as Prime Minister. But in 1999 he ditched Likud and started a new far-right party from scratch, calling it Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel Our Home"). An unabashed nationalist, Lieberman became known for his harsh anti-Arab rhetoric - demanding that Israeli Arabs swear loyalty to Israel or be stripped of their citizenship - and his controversial peace plan. "The Lieberman Plan" calls for a two-state solution in which predominantly Arab towns in Israel would be traded to Palestine in return for Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories.

Yisrael Beiteinu was primarily composed of Russian Jewish immigrants who came to Israel in the late 20th century (Lieberman himself came from Moldova in 1978), and was able to quickly capitalize on support from the immigrant community. Hence, they won four seats in the Knesset (or Parliament) in the 1999 elections, and Lieberman entered the Knesset for the first time not as a mere freshman legislator, but as the leader of a new political movement. He quickly merged Yisrael Beiteinu into the National Union, a coalition of far-right parties that function as one in elections, and contested the 2003 election under their banner. However, he seems to have realized that the Union was holding him back, and Yisrael Beiteinu contested the 2006 election on their own. He made the right move, and Yisrael Beiteinu rocketed to prominence by winning 11 seats.

While the 2006 showing was impressive, it now seems to have been merely warm-up for next week - when Yisrael Beiteinu will likely become Israel's fourth major political party (the other three being Labor, Likud, and Kadima). Polls currently show Lieberman's forces winning between 18 and 20 seats in the Knesset, and still climbing. The Labor Party, once the dominant force in Israeli politics, appears to be eating Yisrael Beiteinu's dust in the race for third place, and the leaders of Likud and Kadima are rushing to kiss up to the suddenly-popular Avigdor Lieberman.

While Lieberman has expressed his desire to join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-wing Likud Party, he may actually be sabotaging that party's chances. Likud voters, disillusioned with their party's drift to the center, are hemorrhaging to Yisrael Beiteinu. Hence, Netanyahu is quickly running back to the right and trying to woo back voters with the promise that Lieberman will get a senior ministry in his cabinet. Meanwhile, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is also trying to cash in on Lieberman's sudden popularity by publicly declaring that he would be an acceptable coalition partner in her government (despite Lieberman's statements to the contrary).

So, what does this mean for the US? Well, it looks like Lieberman will land one of the major cabinet ministries under either Netanyahu or Livni...meaning he will either be Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, or Finance Minister. If he lands the Foreign Ministry, equivalent to the U.S. Secretary of State, our diplomats will suddenly be dealing with a controversial firebrand as their Isreali counterpart. I said yesterday that Netanyahu might have personality issues with Barack Obama...but there could be even more tension between Hillary Clinton and Avigdor Lieberman. However, I would expect Lieberman to be kept away from the Foreign Ministry, as tact and diplomacy are not his strong suits. More likely, he will be handed the Defense Ministry, putting him in charge of the Israeli military...and if anyone takes less flak from terrorists than Benjamin Netanyahu, it's Avigdor Lieberman. So, having both of them in power simultaneously would be bad news for Israel's enemies. Then again, Yisrael Beiteinu might actually be responsible for installing a leftist government, as they could split the right wing vote with Netanyahu - allowing the dovish Tzipi Livni to run up the middle and become Prime Minister.

Now, to be clear, my endorsement in these elections goes to Netanyahu and Likud. Lieberman is just a tad too radical in his nationalism for my liking, and his distaste for Israeli Arabs doesn't sit quite right with me. That said, it is hard not to admire his work in building Yisrael Beiteinu into a national force so quickly - and it will be hard to ignore the mark he leaves on the Middle East.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Election '09 - Israel Decides

It is one of the most important decisions of our generation, and the repercussions could be felt around the world...No, I'm not talking about the election of Barack Obama, I'm talking about the parliamentary election taking place in Israel next Tuesday. Obviously, Israel has always been a flashpoint in world politics, but a number of on going situations make this election particularly important.

First, there is a great deal of tension between the Israelis and the Iranians. Second, Israel is coming off a major military offensive in Gaza. And Third, US-Israeli relations could become strained if the new Prime Minister's approach differs from that of Barack Obama. So, with the future of the Middle East hanging in the balance, I will be keeping a close eye on this race as it enters it's final week. Today, I'm putting out a quick primer so that you can make sense of Israel's convoluted political scene - this way I will not have to explain as much moving forward.

The race for Prime Minister basically comes down to two people: former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party (pictured top left), a right wing hardliner; and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (top middle) of the Kadima Party, a dovish centrist. Right now, polls show Natanyahu's Likud barely ahead of Livni's Kadima in the race to become the largest party in the Knesset (Parliament). However, one must win a MAJORITY of votes in the Knesset to become Prime Minister, and Israel's election system makes it impossible for one party to win that many seats. In fact, polls currently show first-place Likud winning only about 30 of the 120 seats. There are a plethora of political parties (11 in the last Knesset), all with different individual quirks, and all taking votes from each other - so it is essential to watch at least the top five to understand what's going on.

The third key player other than Likud and Kadima is the left-wing Labor Party, led by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (top left). Labor was once the country's dominant political force, and currently in second place in the Knesset behind Kadima. However, the party has crashed in the polls and will be lucky to finish in third this go-round. In a coalition, Labor would be far more comfortable working with Livni than Netanyahu.

However, to remain relevant, Labor will have to hold off the surging Yisrael Beiteinu Party, and it's charismatic leader Avigdor Lieberman (bottom right). Lieberman's forces, supported mainly by Russian immigrants, scored major gains in the last election, and polls currently show them speeding past Labor into third. The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu represents a HUGE wild card in this election, as most of their votes are being taken from Likud. While most people see Lieberman as closer to Netanyahu in ideology, he also shares several key views with Livni, and could work with either. As of now, Netanyahu's biggest fear seems to be that Livni will win not on her own merit, but because Yisrael Beiteinu will siphon a lot of Likud votes at the last minute.

And finally, the last major force to watch is Shas, led by Eli Yishai (bottom left). Shas is the orthodox religious party of the Sephardim (Jews originating in the Middle East or Spain), and will probably finish fifth. They are right-wing hardliners when it comes to policy on the Palestinians, but skew to the left on domestic issues, as their Sephardic voter base is a poor demographic. They have committed to joining a Netanyahu-led government, but the rub is that they may have a hard time working with Yisrael Beiteinu in a coalition.

So, have I confused you yet? I'm guessing that's a "yes", but I'm doing this now so that I can just cover the horserace when the election actually happens (otherwise I'd have to explain this stuff all in the middle of my coverage...which would REALLY annoy you). For now, just be glad I'm not talking about all of the other parties that will come up later - like Meretz, United Torah Judaism, the Gil Pensioners Party, the National Union, Jewish Home, Hadash, Balad, or the United Arab List-Ta'al.

If you want actual coverage right now (assuming I haven't melted your brain with my list of people and parties), the two leading English news outlets in Israel are Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post. This race is going to be a lot of fun to cover.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Worst Cabinet in History?

I keep starting blog posts, only to have news break and change my plans. I was going to write about the election in Israel, then Qadaffi got elected head of the African I was going to write on that, but I had a late night last night, so this morning I decided to to go back to Israel. Then I heard that Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services. So, now I feel compelled to comment on Barack Obama's amazing crumbling cabinet. (We'll do Israel tomorrow or later tonight).

If you haven't noticed, our new President is being repeatedly embarrassed by his cabinet choices. First, Commerce Secretary-designate Bill Richardson dropped out after becoming involved in a grand jury investigation. Then, we found out that Attorney General-designate Eric Holder was heavily involved in Bill Clinton's dubious, last minute pardon of fugitive Marc Rich. Then, we heard that there were tax problems surrounding, of all people, TREASURY Secretary-designate Tim Giethner. THEN, Obama created the new position Chief Performance Officer to monitor government spending, only to see nominee Nancy Killefer withdraw today over tax issues. And finally, Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to lead the HHS Department, which happens to be one of the biggest departments in the federal government.

I haven't been been able to do too much research yet, but so far it looks like the Obama Administration is suffering more embarrassments than any incoming administration in recent memory. It's not uncommon for one Cabinet nominee to bite the dust in confirmation. For instance, George W. Bush lost his first choice for Labor Secretary, Linda Chavez, and George H.W. Bush lost his first choice for Defense Secretary, John Tower. However, losing two is pretty bad, especially when it is compounded by the withdrawal of a high profile non-cabinet officer (Killefer) and major ethical concerns holding up the confirmation of two other cabinet secretaries (Geithner and Holder).

In all frankness, I think that the incoming administration has displayed a rather appalling lack of vetting skills, and they are rightly being embarrassed. I also think that the Daschle situation may have been the last straw for the mainstream media...because if today's coverage on CNN is any indication , the honeymoon may have been officially cancelled.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Sunday Confession

I know this is a political blog...but sometimes you just have to embrace the spirit of the moment, and nobody is thinking about much other than football today. So, we can talk about the stimulus package and the elections in Israel tomorrow. Today, it's time to eat junk food, laugh at commercials and cheer on the team of your choice...which brings me to the subject of this post:

I was raised in Colorado, so the Denver Broncos are the team that I'm most consistently loyal to, but my extended family roots are in Altoona , Pennsylvania. So, when the Steelers make it to the Super Bowl, three generations of Coloradoans embrace their roots and cheer on their team. A lot of the time, I would side with them, but I'm also a guy who loves underdog stories. So, I would like to take this opportunity to express my solidarity with the team that I will be cheering for in today's game:

Here's hoping that Warner and company can bring home the Cardinal's first championship in six decades. LET'S GO CARDS!