[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/27/art.getty.mitch.mcconnell.jpg caption="Sen. Mitch McConnell also said he doesn't mind the 'party of no' label congressional Democrats and the White House try to pin on Republicans."]
CNN Congressional Producer
Despite crushing defeats in the last two elections, Senate Republicans have new “energy and enthusiasm” aimed at winning back the majority, says their leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Why the turnaround?
“President Bush had become extremely unpopular, and politically he was sort of a millstone around our necks in both ’06 and ’08,” McConnell said in a roundtable with reporters Friday. “We now have the opportunity to be on offense, offer our own ideas and we will win some.”
Many of those ideas get presented as amendments to Democratic bills which, though usually defeated, can still draw attention to GOP policy alternatives and often force Democrats to take difficult votes.
“They become the way you chart the course for a comeback,” McConnell said. “Which in this country, always happens at some point.”
“The pendulum swings,” he said.
Interestingly, McConnell said many of the clever ideas for amendments come from conservative think tanks and other Republican thinkers off Capitol Hill.
“Newt Gingrich, for example, has an idea a minute. Many of those are quite good. Many of those become amendments,” he said.
McConnell also said he doesn’t mind the “party of no” label Congressional Democrats and the White House try to pin on Republicans.
“I don’t feel anyone should be apologetic for opposing a bad idea,” McConnell said. “I’m not fearful of an effort to demonize dissent,” he said.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/03/24/obama.mexico.policy/art.juarez.cnn.jpg caption="A police convoy moves in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, last month, across the U.S. border from El Paso, Texas."]
Tom Foreman | Bio
“Attention shoppers, have we got a blue light special for you!”
Think of the biggest, most active, far-reaching companies catering to American consumers today. Think of Wal-Mart, Target, or McDonalds. Think of all the trucks you see on the open highway, and how many of them must be transporting products to support those mega-businesses. Now imagine a whole different set of trucks rolling all over the country just like that, only these trucks are filled with illegal drugs. That’s kind of what we are up against on the Mexican border.
“Absolutely. The cartels are like huge retail chains. They’ve been setting up their operation, their routes, and their franchises for the past 20 years.” That’s what a guy at the Drug Enforcement Administration told me when I called to ask about these drug wars raging on the border. Simply put, he said, the big bosses are getting squeezed as law enforcement tries to crack down on their trade, and they are fighting back.
Exactly how much money is involved is hard to say. Drug dealers insist the government guesses too high, and the government says the dealers are too cagey to admit their sales figures. Imagine that. Nevertheless, I broke down the math on one State Department estimate and came up with this: every hour, four million dollars worth of illegal drugs come into America. That’s a million every 15 minutes. So no matter how you slice it, these guys have billions at stake, and it’s no surprise they are willing to fight for it.
Years ago a nationally renowned drug counselor, who worked in one of New Orleans’ toughest housing projects, told me, “Man, these kids are making $300 a night selling on the corner. If I tell them to give that up to work at the convenience store for minimum wage, they’ll tell me I’m crazy.”
CNN Financial News Producer
Wall Street’s rally stalled today as investors took a step back after a three-week advance that sent the major gauges up more than 20%.
The Dow Industrials had climbed nearly 650 points this week alone on the heels of better-than-expected reports on housing and durable goods orders that sparked hopes the economy is closer to stabilizing. Investors also welcomed the latest plans from the government this week to stabilize the financial system.
Americans increased their spending for a second straight month in February even though their incomes slipped due to the continuing wave of massive layoffs.
The Commerce Department says spending by individuals rose 0.2% last month, after increasing a revised 1.0% in January. Personal income, meanwhile, fell 0.2% in February, following an increase of 0.4% in the previous month.
CNN Chief Business Correspondent
We’ve seen a week of positive indicators, capped with news that personal spending is up a bit.
– Mortgage rates remain at lows we haven’t seen in more than 50 years
– Markets are down for the day, but strongly up for the week – we are likely to see the 3rd back-to-back week of gains, which would be the first time that has happened since Roman Times (not really, but it’s been a long time)
– In fact, markets are up almost 20% from the lows that we hit on March 9th
– Have we hit a bottom, or just an “emotional” bottom (we’re over the complaining and are actually starting to look for deals.)
– The President is smokin’ the peace pipe with major financial CEO’s at the White House
BUT, unemployment is up in 49 states, and we’re a week away from an unemployment report that is expected to show that more than 600,000 people were laid-off in March, and that the nation’s unemployment rate increased from 8.1% to 8.5% (it was 4.9% when the recession started.)
AND, we have a CNN Money Summit tackling all of this tonight at 11pm ET.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/27/grave.2.jpg caption="Anderson visits a cartel's mass grave on the outskirts of Juarez."]
We just drove to the outskirts of Juarez. A windswept patch of scrubland where underneath some power lines we found three shallow graves.
Nine people were found here just a few weeks ago. Four men buried in one grave, three men and two women buried in another. The third grave was used for some of their possessions.
I'm told only one of the victims was shot, the rest were beaten. It's assumed they were victims of a cartel.
Murders here don't really get solved. There are too many killings, too many suspects, and besides, investigating crimes is how police get killed. They show up at a crime scene, take pictures, remove the bodies, but rarely are the crimes actually investigated.
Often the dead go unclaimed, unidentified. The city buries them in communal graves. No headstones, no names. Just metal signs with serial numbers indicating how many people are in each plot.
Hundreds of men and women. They've simply disappeared.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/03/25/clinton.mexico/art.clinton.mexico.afp.gi.jpg caption="Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Mexico for a series of meetings on the drug crisis and other issues."]
The Washington Post
It's an indictment of our fact-averse political culture that a statement of the blindingly obvious could sound so revolutionary. "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on her plane Wednesday as she flew to Mexico for an official visit. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border . . . causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians."
Amazingly, U.S. officials have avoided facing these facts for decades. This is not just an intellectual blind spot but a moral failure, one that has had horrific consequences for Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and other Latin American and Caribbean nations. Clinton deserves high praise for acknowledging that the United States bears "shared responsibility" for the drug-fueled violence sweeping Mexico, which has claimed more than 7,000 lives since the beginning of 2008. But that means we will also share responsibility for the next 7,000 killings as well.
Our long-running "war on drugs," focusing on the supply side of the equation, has been an utter disaster. Domestically, we've locked up hundreds of thousands of street-level dealers, some of whom genuinely deserve to be in prison and some of whom don't. It made no difference. According to a 2007 University of Michigan study, 84 percent of high school seniors nationwide said they could obtain marijuana "fairly easily" or "very easily." The figure for amphetamines was 50 percent; for cocaine, 47 percent; for heroin, 30 percent.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/03/19/afghanistan.fighting/art.soldiers.afp.gi.jpg caption="Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers listen to a speach in Nadi Ali district, Helmand province."]
The New York Times
I came to Afghanistan skeptical of American efforts to transform this country. Afghanistan is one of the poorest, least-educated and most-corrupt nations on earth. It is an infinitely complex and fractured society. It has powerful enemies in Pakistan, Iran and the drug networks working hard to foment chaos. The ground is littered with the ruins of great powers that tried to change this place.
Moreover, we simply do not know how to modernize nations. Western aid workers seem to spend most of their time drawing up flow charts for each other. They’re so worried about their inspectors general that they can’t really immerse themselves in the messy world of local reality. They insist on making most of the spending decisions themselves so the “recipients” of their largess end up passive, dependent and resentful.
Every element of my skepticism was reinforced during a six-day tour of the country. Yet the people who work here make an overwhelming case that Afghanistan can become a functional, terror-fighting society and that it is worth sending our sons and daughters into danger to achieve this.
In the first place, the Afghan people want what we want. They are, as Lord Byron put it, one of the few people in the region without an inferiority complex. They think they did us a big favor by destroying the Soviet Union and we repaid them with abandonment. They think we owe them all this.