Morning Must Reads -- Yemen's top export... and import 

Washington Post -- Obama aide defends trial for suspect in Christmas Day attempt to bomb plane

It’s a new year, but the battle between the Obama administration and Dick Cheney rages on, as the president’s top terrorism adviser was sent out to defend the move to try the underwear bomber in civilian court rather than jerking him into the less-accommodating military tribunal system as an enemy combatant.

As full-body scanners are popping up for more flights and the administration’s systemic review continues, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has got a public defender and a better understanding of the Fifth Amendment.

Writer Karen DeYoung explores:

“Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said it was a ‘very serious mistake’ to send Abdulmutallab to federal court.

‘He was trained, equipped and directed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,’ Lieberman said on ABC. ‘That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war, held in a military brig, questioned now, and should have been ever since apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get people in Yemen.’”

My column for today on the politics of terrorism is here.


Wall Street Journal -- Yemen to Hold Six Returned Detainees Indefinitely

We’ve shut down our embassy in Yemen because it was likely to be attacked and the country is teetering on the brink of civil war between the government and al Qaeda-backed insurgents. Even so, the repatriations of enemy combatants from Yemen at Guantanamo Bay will continue with a pledge from the government in Sana’a to sit on the returned detainees for the “foreseeable future.”

A bipartisan coalition of Congress want at least a pause in the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down the prison camp in light of news that former inmates are training terrorists in Yemen, home to nearly half of the remaining inmates. The White House believes that allowing the prison to remain open would be a “propoganda tool” for al Qaeda.

Writer Jay Solomon tells us about some of the Yemenis headed home.

“One of those released, Ayman Batarfi, is a Yemeni doctor who told Pentagon interrogators that he had twice met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and endured the U.S. military assault on the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001, according to Pentagon documents. Mr. Batarfi also said he had assisted a Malaysian microbiologist, Yazid Sufaat, in seeking to purchase equipment for a medical facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan. U.S. officials have subsequently accused Mr. Sufaat of seeking to produce anthrax and other biological weapons on behalf of al Qaeda. Mr. Sufaat was arrested in Malaysia, but never charged there.”


Associated Press – NATO: 4 U.S. service members dead in Afghan blast

The Taliban has taken credit for the suicide bomb that killed seven members of the CIA at an Afghan base last week, claiming it was retaliating for the escalation of drone air strikes in recent weeks – an unusual departure for a group that has mostly fought like warriors, not slaughtered like jihadis.

The Taliban is keeping with its old ways, too. The first American military casualties of 2010 came as a roadside bomb killed four service members in the southern part of the country. The British lost one soldier in a separate attack in the Helmand province. RIP.

“Afghan insurgents are increasingly turning to improvised explosive devices — also called roadside bombs — in their fight against Afghan and international forces. Of the 304 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan last year, 129 were due to IEDs, according to a tally by The Associated Press.”


Wall Street Journal -- The Biggest Losers


The Journal editorial page harkens us back to Christmas Eve, when the Obama administration announced that what had been a provisional, $200 billion bailout for mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were to become permanent, unlimited commitments.

The administration’s efforts to help the economy have been hindered by an outbreak of prudency among lenders and borrowers. But if the president gets Fannie and Freddie to start acting like the old days (when Rahm Emanuel was on the board at Freddie), it may create trickle-down exuberance.

But rather than inflating a bubble, going bust, and sticking taxpayers with the bill like last time, the new arrangement for Fannie and Freddie means we all pay from the start.

“The loss cap is being lifted because the government has directed both companies to pursue money-losing strategies by modifying mortgages to prevent foreclosures. Most of their losses are still coming from subprime and Alt-A mortgage bets made during the boom, but Fannie reported last quarter that loan modifications resulted in $7.7 billion in losses, up from $2.2 billion the previous quarter.

The government wants taxpayers to think that these are profit-seeking companies being nursed back to health, like AIG. But at least AIG is trying to make money. Fan and Fred are now designed to lose money, transferring wealth from renters and homeowners to overextended borrowers.”


New York Times -- In Health Bill for Everyone, Provisions for a Few

In the smash and grab atmosphere of the final days of the Senate health debate, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon won inclusion of a provision that says non-union construction firms are not covered by an exemption from having to provide insurance for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

The provision will drive up non-union contractors’ costs – not so much that they will be as expensive as union contractors, who rely on government work – but enough to drive up homebuyer and commercial real estate costs and maybe put some independent contractors out of business.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t allow the measure into her bill, which was already unpleasant medicine for moderate members from growing states to swallow.

As Writer Robert Pear points out, it’s just one of dozens of side deals and favors that have to be unwound before a final plan can emerge later this month.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the unemployment rate in the construction industry was 19.4 percent in November, nearly twice the national rate.”


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Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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