Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Washington Beat tidbits 12-29-10

Washington Beat…
December 28, 2010


North Korea upped the ante in its conflict with South Korea by stating its intent to hold its third nuclear test next year, following tests in 2006 and 2009. Those previous tests didn’t reveal any potent nuclear capability, but are nevertheless a major show of force on the peninsula while tensions run high.Pyongyang’s announcement came one day after South Korea held military drills on the island of Yeonpyeong, where North Korea originally launched an attack on a South Korean submarine in November. Instead of skulking back and letting Kim Jong Il have his way, Seoul has thrown its weight around with tough talk, leading to this latest round of North Korean nuclear intimidation. North Korea is planning on transitioning in a replacement leader, Kim Jong-un, who is thought to be the troublemaker behind the current round of provocation.


President Obama seems to be channeling the ghost of President Bush in his recent order to hold Guantanamo Bay prisoners indefinitely without trial, though they would be allowed to petition for their release through a separate military process. Military officials will serve as representatives for the captives, who might be allowed to challenge their detention as frequently as every year. Critics say the plan robs prisoners of basic rights, but the administration claims that it will be a just alternative to Bush’s policy of detaining with no alternative review process at all. Congress recently passed a law prohibiting Gitmo prisoners from being transferred to U.S. soil, which necessitates a new process of judicial review.


Power plants and oil refineries will face more stringent regulation over the next year after Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said that Congress wasn’t doing enough to protect Americans from the perils of climate change. The 111th Congress has not passed cap-and-trade regulation, but also didn’t pass a bill that would prohibit the EPA from passing regulation by itself. So Jackson is proposing new standards this July, which will be implemented in November 2012 after community “listening sessions” are held. The EPA is battling several state lawsuits that charge the agency with failing to update or publish current standards on power production, gumming up U.S.-based energy production.


The UK is now deciding whether to extradite Julian Assange to the U.S., and if that happens, Assange thinks he will be killed “Jack Ruby-style.” In other words, he believes the extradition will merely be an attempt to get him into the U.S. and get rid of him through sabotage. He’s currently in the U.K. on sexual assault charges launched by two Swedish women, and it seems as though the Brits might acquiesce to American requests.


Oil is above $90 and oil magnate T. Boone Pickens predicts it will climb above $100 next year. Pickens has repeatedly pegged the price of oil correctly and blames the Fed this time around; he says that pumping money into the economy translates into higher prices at the pump. Look for $3 gallons of gas, though, natural gas prices have remained stable.


The 2007 shopping season was a great; 2008 was terrible; and, 2009 was just so-so. But 2010 showed better numbers than 2007, with retail sales rising 5.5%, and even better showings for luxury goods and auto sales. Online shopping was a huge hit, as post-Christmas weather kept shoppers indoors.


What happens when you can’t win the game? Change the rules. That’s what Senate Democrats want to do in the upcoming Congress, where they still maintain a majority and are flustered by the stalling tactics of the Republican minority. Democrats claim that Republicans have stalled legislation dozens of times by forcing cloture votes; Republicans maintain they have been forced to do that since Majority Leader Harry Reid never allows Republicans to offer Amendments to bills. If Republicans can’t agree to the changes, Democrats may unilaterally offer rule changes that are permissible at the start of every Congress, which could spark partisan tensions.


MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman, talking about Barack Obama’s popular appeal in the midst of the holiday season:
"There are gonna be 10 or 20 percent of the American people who are going to continue to hate and fear him and his wife. But everybody else has kind of accepted him for better or worse as a member of the family."

-Jillian Bandes is's National Political Reporter

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