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Belgium political crisis deepens after PM resigns

Monday, December 22, 2008

By Nikki Tait
The Financial Times (UK)

(BRUSSELS) Belgium is struggling to resolve its political crisis and put a new premier in place before the Christmas holidays start later this week.

The country was plunged into yet-another bout of political turmoil on Friday when prime minister Yves Leterme offered his coalition government’s resignation to Belgium’s king.

The move was triggered by accusations that officials had tried to influence an appeal court ruling which blocked the dismantling of Fortis, the troubled financial services group.

Over the weekend, King Albert II held lengthy talks with the five ruling coalition parties in an effort to find a solution and it became clear that Mr Leterme himself was unlikely to return to office.

Even so, one possibility is that the current coalition government could remain in power, but with a new leader. The parties have signed a deal covering a four-year term to 2011 and this option would create less immediate disruption than some of the other alternatives.

But finding a candidate to take on the job - at a time when the country is struggling with the economic and financial crisis, the Fortis fallout, and the divisive domestic issues which pit the more separatist Flemish communities from the Francophones - is not easy.

Various names have surfaced in the local media - including Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister brought back to head an interim government last year, Hermann van Rompuy, president of lower house of parliament, finance minister Didier Reynders, and Marianne Thyssen, who heads the Flemish Christian Democrats, the largest party in the parliament.

However, some of the potential candidates are thought to be reluctant to take on the job, and others seem unlikely to win broad support....(Click for remainder).


Frank Criticizes Obama's Invocation Choice

Congressman Joins Other Gay Voices in Opposing Warren's Invitation to Inauguration

By Staff Writer
Associated Press via

The first openly gay member of Congress
said yesterday that it was a mistake for President-elect Barack Obama to invite the Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.

"Mr. Warren compared same-sex couples to incest. I found that deeply offensive and unfair," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

"If he was inviting the Reverend Warren to participate in a forum and to make a speech, that would be a good thing," Frank said on CNN's "Late Edition." "But being singled out to give the prayer at the inauguration is a high honor. It has traditionally been given as a mark of great respect. And, yes, I think it was wrong to single him out for this mark of respect."

Warren, a best-selling author and leader of a Southern California megachurch, is a popular evangelical who stresses the need for action on social issues such as reducing poverty and protecting the environment, alongside traditional theological themes.

But gay rights advocates, who strongly supported Obama during the election, are angry over Warren's backing of a California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage. The measure was approved by voters last month.

Although Warren has said that he has nothing personally against gays, he has condemned same-sex marriage....(Click for remainder).


The Last Word on Rick Warren?

By David Corn @ CQ Politics

'Tis the season, so....

I was on Rachel Maddow's show on Friday night, discussing the Rick Warren wrangle. What a surprise, we agreed--mostly. But she seemed to think that the Warren controversy could remain the story of the inauguration from now until January 20. I noted that it was clear to me that the Obama crew had calculated that the current dustup is not nearly as big as the holy war that would ensue should the president-elect rescind his invitation to the super-pastor. Unless the present outrage widens, I observed, the controversy could fade.

But before it does, I'd like to take one more (polite) shot at Warren. I do find him an intriguing fundamentalist, given his interest in climate change and poverty alleviation. And he has certainly tried to oppose gay marriage without appearing like a hate-monger. I suppose that's worth something. But while campaigning fervently against gay marriage, he recently said:
The issue to me is, I'm not opposed to that as much as I'm opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.
Warren's critics have pointed to this quote as evidence that he equates gays and lesbians with incest-lovers and pedophiles. (Indeed, when asked if he thought these other examples are "equivalent to having gays getting married," he said, "Oh, I do.") But I'd like to note Warren's adherence to this 5000-year definition of marriage.

Why doesn't Warren know his Bible better?  (Click for remainder).


Cheney's Contempt for the Republic

As Vice President Dick Cheney goes public in exit interviews about his vision of expansive executive powers, it's getting clearer how close the American Republic came to suffering major deformity – if not destruction – in the past eight years.

By Robert Parry

It is also apparent that the risks to the Republic are not over, unless incoming President Barack Obama repudiates many of the executive powers that Cheney and his boss, George W. Bush, made central to their governing style.

In a revealing Dec. 21 interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Cheney disclosed that he briefed congressional Republican – and Democratic – leaders about the administration’s program of warrantless wiretapping inside the United States and that the leaders, presumably including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, endorsed the spying.

This so-called “terrorist surveillance program” fit with the Bush-Cheney view that the President wields virtually unlimited powers during wartime, even a conflict as vaguely defined as the “war on terror.”

Though Cheney cited constitutional precedents from the Civil War and World War II to justify his position, what has made the “war on terror” such an insidious basis for asserting the broadest presidential powers is that it is amorphous both in time and space.

Unlike conventional wars that have beginnings and ends – as well as battlefronts – this “war” is theoretically everywhere and never-ending. That means that the principles of a Republic – with constitutional limits on executive power and “unalienable rights” for everyone – would not just be suspended during a short-term emergency but essentially be eliminated forever.

In the interview, Cheney argued that the bridge to this new paradigm of an all-powerful Executive was crossed with the de facto granting to the President of the authority to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack....(Click for remainder).


Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire?

By Frank Rich

DURING the Great Depression, American moviegoers seeking escape could ogle platoons of glamorous chorus girls in “Gold Diggers of 1933.” Our feel-good movie of the year is “Slumdog Millionaire,” a Dickensian tale in which we root for an impoverished orphan from Mumbai’s slums to hit the jackpot on the Indian edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

It’s a virtuoso feast of filmmaking by Danny Boyle, but it’s also the perfect fairy tale for our hard times. The hero labors as a serf in the toilet of globalization: one of those mammoth call centers Westerners reach when ringing an 800 number to, say, check on credit card debt. When he gets his unlikely crack at instant wealth, the whole system is stacked against him, including the corrupt back office of a slick game show too good to be true.

We cheer the young man on screen even if we’ve lost the hope to root for ourselves. The vicarious victory of a third world protagonist must be this year’s stocking stuffer. The trouble with “Slumdog Millionaire” is that it, like all classic movie fables, comes to an end — as it happens, with an elaborately choreographed Bollywood musical number redolent of “Gold Diggers of 1933.” Then we are delivered back to the inescapable and chilling reality outside the theater’s doors.

Just when we thought that reality couldn’t hit a new bottom it did with Bernie Madoff, a smiling shark as sleazy as the TV host in “Slumdog.” A pillar of both the Wall Street and Jewish communities — a former Nasdaq chairman, a trustee at Yeshiva University — he even victimized Elie Wiesel’s Foundation for Humanity with his Ponzi scheme. A Jewish financier rips off millions of dollars devoted to memorializing the Holocaust — who could make this stuff up? Dickens, Balzac, Trollope and, for that matter, even Mel Brooks might be appalled....(Click for remainder).


I'll be thrilled to see you go, Dick Cheney

By Mike Lupica
New York Daily News

At least Dick Cheney, as wrong a guy as we've ever had this close to the presidency, goes out in character, thinking that he and George W. Bush were right about everything. The problem is that Cheney's character now sounds as weird and unhinged as Jack Nicholson's in "A Few Good Men."

There was Cheney on the Fox television network Sunday, always more a home to him than Yankee Stadium is to Derek Jeter, defending the last days of a dying administration and a dying Republican empire, defending Bush and Iraq and Donald Rumsfeld, defending Guantanamo and torture and surveillance and all the rest of it.

Cheney never got around to defending Scooter Libby, the felon who was once his chief of staff, but maybe that was because he ran out of time.

He did go after Joe Biden big Sunday, because Biden said during the campaign that Cheney was the most dangerous vice president the country has ever had.

"If [Biden] wants to diminish the office of vice president, that's obviously his call," Cheney said to Chris Wallace.

No, Cheney is the one who diminished that office. He goes now, and not a moment too soon. When Wallace asked him Sunday about polls showing the approval rating for this administration at 29%, Cheney shrugged and said, "Eventually you wear out your welcome in this business."

He made it sound as if that was something that happened just the other day. The truth is, Cheney wore out his welcome a long time ago the way this President did, long before the economy tanked, because of a war in Iraq that he wanted more than anybody.

But then Cheney, whose five deferments during the Vietnam War were an all-time world record for a major American politician, has always loved any war that he didn't actually have to fight himself.

Dick Cheney also had this to say about Joe Biden Sunday:
"I think that President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president. And apparently, from the way they're talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I've had during my time."


Inside a Gritty Brooklyn Factory, Potomac Fever

Todd Heisler/The New York Times
By Caroline H. Dworin
The New York Times

ON Thursday, Dec. 11, Jim Donnelly got the call at his office on Jay Street in Dumbo for the biggest job he had ever had. Emmett Beliveau, the executive director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, told him that Precise Continental, Mr. Donnelly’s 26-year-old printing company, had won the bid to produce one million gold-and-black engraved invitations for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Mr. Donnelly gathered his staff for the announcement, and a cheer went up. “They were ecstatic,” he said. “They wanted to be a part of history.”

Todd Heisler/The New York Times
To meet the Jan. 2 deadline, Mr. Donnelly’s 65 employees have to work around the clock. But no one was complaining, Mr. Donnelly said, and he put out dozens of calls for rush orders of paper, ink and the like.

According to Mr. Donnelly, Precise Continental was selected over rival printers because it is a union company, it uses recycled paper and it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which promotes responsible forest management. Although Clark Stevens, a spokesman for the inaugural committee, would not confirm that those factors were decisive, he did say, “These are issues that President-elect Obama campaigned on and that have concerned him throughout his career.”

Several days after the phone call, the snow fell heavily on the cobblestones in Dumbo, and trains rattled over the Manhattan Bridge. Inside Precise Continental, there was an almost poetic combination of mechanical repetition and human industry, all on an enormous ink-stained wooden floor. It could have been the 1800s....(Click for remainder).


What the UAW Made

By Trapper John

I spent the summer of 1999 working for the UAW legal department. It was the best job that a union-oriented first-year law student could ask for: great bosses, co-workers who shared your values, and interesting work. But most importantly, there was a pervading sense that you were -- in some small way -- helping to build the one institution that, more than any other, made the American middle class. Every day, I'd walk into the doors of Solidarity House, the massive, International Style union headquarters on the Detroit River, and know that this was the place where Walter Reuther and his team of talented unionists crafted the strategies that built the post-war boom. I'd know that in that same building, Steve Yokich -- the brilliant, if often abrasive, president of the UAW -- and the other leaders of the union were planning to preserve what Reuther had wrought against the depredations of NAFTA and the WTO. And I knew that I was doing my part, however minor, to contribute to the cause. You simply can't buy that feeling.

But to those of my friends outside of the labor movement, the UAW was a mystery. Actually, to call it a "mystery" would imply that they cared about it enough to wonder about it, which they didn't. The UAW didn't mean much, if anything, to them -- it was just either just another union, or some anonymous facet of the auto industry, or three letters that signified nothing at all. And I couldn't blame them. It's not like labor history is really taught as part of standard American history. It's not as if the news media covers labor or workplace issues with any degree of understanding or interest. That summer, I often found myself wondering how it could be that an organization that was so critical to the creation of modern America could be so ignored. And so I thought a lot about how we could change things, how we could put the letters U-A-W on the lips of the pundits and the politicians again.

Well, this wasn't what I had in mind.

Ten years after my stint at Solidarity House, the UAW is finally on the minds and lips of just about everyone, as the nation's attention is focused on the precarious state of the auto industry. And thankfully, a majority of Americans, if not a majority of the Senate, realize that we can't just blithely cite "creative destruction" and let an industry that directly and indirectly accounts for about ten percent of American jobs just up and die. But even as there seems to be a consensus that it's in the best interests of America to save the Big Two-and-a-half, there's a conflict about what the UAW ought to be forced to do in exchange for government assistance to the car companies. Bob Corker wanted to break the union in exchange for a Detroit bailout. George Bush's TARP assistance plan appears to follow Corker's lead. Even some Democrats talk about UAW members needing to make less money....(Click for remainder)


The Legacy of George W. Bush



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