Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Grand Illusion

Why the bad news this summer was so "Unexpected":
The recession was deeper than we knew, and the economy is weaker than we thought. We weren't making new jobs, because we weren't making new things, period. The economy grew less than 1% in the first half of 2011.

Yesterday, analysts thought the economy was expanding by 2.5% a year. This morning, they learned GDP grew by only 1.6% in the last four quarters. This is a remarkable discovery. It's the difference between thinking we're expanding at a decent, if disappointing, pace, and knowing we're growing around half our historical norm.

Analysts also thought, as recently as twelve hours ago, that the economy declined 6.8% and 4.9% in the quarters bisected by Obama's inauguration. It turns out the actual declines were much steeper: 8.9% and 6.7%.
Wishful thinking and reality just didn't mix. They still don't, regardless of what the MSM might think otherwise.

Deal Time

It looks like it's happening, after all:
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has signed off on a tentative debt-ceiling compromise, saying he hopes lawmakers can finalize a deal and move to a vote as early as Sunday.

At the same time, concerns were spreading on the conservative side that the emerging plan could cut too deeply into defense spending, raising questions about whether the framework can attract enough bipartisan support.

One congressional source said the deal is not yet sealed. But Reid, becoming the first congressional leader to publicly endorse the plan, said late Sunday afternoon through a spokesman that he had signed off on it "pending caucus approval."
Byron York voices his concerns here. Others are slightly more optimistic, but not much.

Do Not Work Until After Doomsday

Heh. Dilbert does default:

The New Radicals

They told me that if Republicans ran, we'd see a rise in fundamentalist extremism, and they were right!
Tens of thousands of Egyptian Islamists poured into Tahrir Square on Friday calling for a state bound by strict religious law and delivering a persuasive show of force in a turbulent country showing deep divisions and growing signs of polarization.

The shape of Egypt five months into its revolution remains distinctly undecided, and Islamists have long been the best organized political force in this religiously conservative country. Some activists speculated that their show of strength would serve as a jolt to the secular forces who helped to start the revolution but who remain divided, largely ineffectual and woefully unprepared for coming elections....

In terms of turnout, one of the largest since the revolution, the demonstration on Friday evoked past scenes in Tahrir Square. But many of the similarities stopped there. Cries for national unity and coexistence between Christians and Muslims made way for familiar religious chants and demands that Egypt adhere to Islamic law, known as Shariah.

“Islamic law is above the Constitution,” one banner read....

“If democracy is the voice of the majority and we as Islamists are the majority, why do they want to impose on us the views of minorities — the liberals and the secularists?” asked Mahmoud Nadi, 26, a student. “That’s all I want to know."
So much for comparisons with Eastern Europe in 1989. Meanwhile, it's tough to start a good coup these days.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Final Days

As the debt battle goes down to the wire, it looks like Harry Reid & Company want to stall their own bill, in spite of President Obama's warnings of apocalyptic doom. Meanwhile, was it all for naught anyway?
The "limited magnitude" of both debt plans put forward by congressional leaders would not put the nation's AAA credit rating back on solid footing, Moody's Investors Service announced Friday.

"Reductions of the magnitude now being proposed, if adopted, would likely lead Moody's to adopt a negative outlook on the AAA rating," the credit rating agency said in a new report. "The chances of a significant improvement in the long-term credit profile of the government coming from deficit reductions of the magnitude proposed in either plan are not high."

It added that "prolonged debt ceiling deliberations" have increased the odds of a downgrade, but that the firm is still confident policymakers will avoid a default.

"It remains our expectation that the government will continue with timely debt service," the firm said.

It also clarified that as far as it is concerned, the nation will only default if it misses an interest or principal payment on U.S. debt, not if it misses payments on other obligations like federal employee salaries or Social Security benefits.
In other words, it's not yet Doomsday. But the problems that created this mess still remain, and won't go away on their own.

Update: Is a deal in the works?

Friday, July 29, 2011

President Spamalot

Whoops. Going to Twitter might not have been the best way to make your case:
President Obama brought his debt battle to Twitter and he lost – more than 40,000 Twitter followers.

Obama asked Americans Friday to call, email, and tweet Congressional leaders to “keep the pressure on” lawmakers in hopes of reaching a bipartisan deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit ahead of an Aug. 2 deadline.

Obama’s campaign staff used the @BarackObama Twitter account to post the Twitter handles of tweeting GOP leaders – state by state, tweet by tweet.

“Tweet at your Republican legislators and urge them to support a bipartisan compromise to the debt crisis,” Obama’s campaign staff wrote on his account before launching the day-long Twitter campaign.

The campaign appears to have served its purpose: Republican Twitter accounts were flooded with pleas for compromise.

Not everyone is a fan of the presidential spam. By Friday evening, the President had lost more than 40,000 Twitter followers - and counting.

Many members of the Twitterati took to the social media platform to voice their annoyance over the barrage of partisan tweets. A search for “@BarackObama unfollow” turned up scores of irritated posts.
Spam is still spam, even in the name of Change.

Homeward Bound

How bad are things in California? Illegal immigrants can't find work:
There are fewer undocumented immigrants in California – and the Sacramento region – because many are now finding the American dream south of the border.

"It's now easier to buy homes on credit, find a job and access higher education in Mexico," Sacramento's Mexican consul general, Carlos González Gutiérrez, said Wednesday. "We have become a middle-class country."

Mexico's unemployment rate is now 4.9 percent, compared with 9.4 percent joblessness in the United States.

An estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants have left California since 2008, though the remaining 2.6 million still make up 7 percent of the population and 9 percent of the labor force, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
....

Mexico's average standard of living – including health, education and per capita income – is now higher than those in Russia, China and India, according to the United Nations.

Mexico's growing middle class "reduces the appetites to come because there are simply many more options" at home, González Gutiérrez said. "Most people who decided to migrate already have a job in Mexico and tend to be the most ambitious and attracted to the income gap between the U.S. and Mexico."

Mexico's economy is growing at 4 percent to 5 percent, benefiting from low inflation, exports and a strong banking system, the consul said.
It's the new Mexican Dream. So how long before they start complaining about our illegal immigrants?

Respectable

Oh, my. First John Lennon and his apparent Reaganism, now Mick Jagger:
Apparently Jagger liked his morning eggs soft-boiled in a china cup, his girlfriends modestly dressed when his parents came to visit, and always brought his mother flowers.

On top of being a social conservative, Jagger appears to have been fiscally conservative as well. Davis claims he managed the Rolling Stone's finances with an eagle-eye, making sure not a penny went to waste.

While Jagger is often portrayed as a libertine, Davis's book is not the first to focus on Jagger's more conservative tendencies. Previous Mick Jagger biographies, including the well-known "Mick Jagger: Rebel Knight" by Christopher Sanford and "Arise Sir Mick: The True Story of Britain's Naughtiest Knight" by Laura Jackson, have also painted Jagger in a less-than-liberal light, in terms of both his personal and fiscal tendencies.
Of course, Mick didn't seem to be the only one who embraced their inner conservative. Sometimes being young doesn't always been being stupid.

What About Abdo?

Janet Napolitano warned the public about those dangerous domestic right-wing extremists, but the Tucson shooter was a paranoid pothead. The MSM highlighted the Norwegian shooter as a right-winger, even though he quoted from the Unabomber. Meet the latest example of left-wing pacifism:
Nasser Abdo, the 21-year-old soldier arrested Thursday in connection with an alleged plot to attack Fort Hood, had ties to a number of prominent anti-war organizations, including Iraq Veterans Against the War and Courage to Resist, Raw Story can confirm.

Abdo, who went AWOL from duty over the July 4 weekend after being charged with possession of child pornography, was an applicant for conscientious objector (CO) status, supported by the Oakland-based GI rights group Courage to Resist. In turn, his efforts to resist deployment were supported by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), one of the best-known anti-war groups in the nation.

He was arrested Thursday outside Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, after police received a tip informing them that Abdo had purchased firearms with cash, from the same gun store that Major Nidal Hasan visited before murdering 13 of his fellow soldiers in 2009.

In the wake of Abdo's arrest, Courage to Resist removed a page on their website that detailed Abdo's plight, but it was preserved through Google cache. Reached by Raw Story, Jeff Paterson, the group's project director, acknowledged that they had tried to cover up their involvement with the soldier and said they would be issuing a statement in the coming hours.

He added that his impression of Abdo was a young man with "mental health issues" who was "very difficult to work with."
I would say that mental health is a frequent issue with the Left...

Executive Invocation

James Clyburn might want him to do it. The problem for our Constitutional Law Scholar-In-Chief, of course, is that he might not be able to:
“On the question of legality, I think it’s very unclear that the administration has the legal power to choose between Congress’s spending priorities,” says Jay Powell, visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington. The Treasury might be obliged simply to pay what bills it can as they come due.

Even if the president decided that a debt ceiling crisis would allow him to use emergency powers to prioritise payments, then he would have few good options to make the necessary cuts of 40 to 45 per cent.

According to simulations run by Mr Powell, if the administration chose to prioritise big spending programmes such as Social Security and Medicare, then it would have to shut down almost everything else – from nuclear security to federal prisons.
As much as he might wish it, Obama simply isn't an Emperor. It's that pesky Constitution, again...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Can You Hear Me, Doctor Wu?

I really haven't paid a great deal of attention to the David Wu debacle, mostly because at this point it's not so much of a shocker to see a creepy Democrat get caught anymore. But the real problem is, as always, the culture that spawned him:
This is as much a scandal for Pelosi and her failed leadership as it is a scandal for Wu. We’re talking about the same proud feminist leadership and the same dysfunctional ethics panel that have dragged their feet on cleaning Capitol Hill’s mountain of other dirty laundry while providing cover to other predatory Dems:

They slapped New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel on the wrist for serial tax-cheating.

They have yet to bring California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters to trial after charging her last year with three violations related to her crony TARP bailout intervention on behalf of minority-owned OneUnited Bank in Los Angeles.

They are just now looking into former New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner’s possible abuse of government resources while sending lurid messages and photos to young women across the country.

And they have only recently reauthorized a probe into the aftermath of allegations that former New York Democratic Rep. Eric Massa sexually harassed several young male staffers.

In that case, you’ll recall that Pelosi’s office and Democratic Rep. Barney Frank’s office had both been told by Massa’s top aides of the out-of-control abuse of underlings — but said and did nothing for months.

Wu’s a creep. But the pattern of malign neglect on the part of his Washington enablers is even creepier.
They do tend to protect their own-until they prove too embarrassing. And sometimes, not even then...

Bring Out Your Ration Cards

Remember, this is the system that Obamacare advocates want us to emulate:
Hip replacements, cataract surgery and tonsil removal are among operations now being rationed in a bid to save the NHS money.

Two-thirds of health trusts in England are rationing treatments for "non-urgent" conditions as part of the drive to reduce costs in the NHS by £20bn over the next four years. One in three primary-care trusts (PCTs) has expanded the list of procedures it will restrict funding to in the past 12 months.
....

Chris Naylor, a senior researcher at the health think tank the King's Fund, said the rationing decisions being made by PCTs were a consequence of the savings the NHS was being asked to find.

"Blunt approaches like seeking an overall reduction in local referral rates may backfire, by reducing necessary referrals – which is not good for patients and may fail to save money in the long run," he said. "There are always rationing decisions that have to go on in any health service. But at the moment healthcare organisations are under more pressure than they have been for a long time and this is a sign of what is happening across many areas of the NHS."
Nationalized health care. It's free! Just try not to get sick...

The Recovery Diet

Non-recovery continues; women and children hardest hit:
Doctors at a major Boston hospital report they are seeing more hungry and dangerously thin young children in the emergency room than at any time in more than a decade of surveying families.

Many families are unable to afford enough healthy food to feed their children, say the Boston Medical Center doctors. The resulting chronic hunger threatens to leave scores of infants and toddlers with lasting learning and developmental problems.

Before the economy soured in 2007, 12 percent of youngsters age 3 and under whose families were randomly surveyed in the hospital’s emergency department were significantly underweight. In 2010, that percentage jumped to 18 percent, and the tide does not appear to be abating, said Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at BMC.

“Food is costing more, and dollars don’t stretch as far,’’ Sandel said. “It’s hard to maintain a diet that is healthy."
But hey, at least they can now get apples with their Happy Meals-if they can afford them...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fair Tax Frenzy

Democrats, not too surprisingly, aren't that enamoured of the idea of a Fair Tax:
House Democrats didn’t mince words Tuesday in bashing the Fair Tax, a proposal popular in some conservative circles that would scrap federal income and payroll taxes for a national sales tax.

Proponents of the Fair Tax say it would increase transparency and better encourage saving among American workers. But Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, which held a hearing on consumption taxes Tuesday, offered a slew of criticisms of the plan, offering concerns about its effect on lower- and middle-class workers.

“I think it is absolutely — what should I say? — inappropriate, to be charitable, to call this a fair taxation proposal,” said Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the committee, who expressed concern about the plan’s effect on Social Security.
Because we know how solvent Social Security is now, right? Unfortunately, it's not just Democrats that are lukewarm to the idea, to say the least:
The proposal has gained support among congressional Republicans, with roughly a quarter of the House GOP Conference sponsoring Fair Tax legislation. Herman Cain, currently a Republican candidate for president, and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) are among the Fair Tax’s other backers.

But, with a few exceptions, Ways and Means Republicans did not rush to embrace the idea at Tuesday’s hearing. So far, Reps. Tom Price (Ga.) and Lynn Jenkins (Kan.) are the only GOP members on Ways and Means that have signed on to the House’s Fair Tax measure.
The Ways and Means Committee would be a lot less important under a Fair Tax, so it makes sense that they'd try and protect their phony-baloney jobs...

Constitutional Crunch Time

Well, he did it with Libya:
Rep. James Clyburn and a group of House Democrats are urging President Barack Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling if Congress can’t come up with a satisfactory plan before the Tuesday deadline.

Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said Wednesday that if the president is delivered a bill to raise the debt ceiling for only a short period of time, he should instead veto it and turn to the phrase in the Constitution that says the validity of the U.S. government’s debt “shall not be questioned.”

“If that’s what lands on his desk, a short-term lifting of the ceiling, the debt ceiling, he should put it on his desk next to an executive order,” Clyburn said at a press conference. “He should sign an executive order invoking the 14th Amendment to this issue.” The Associated Press reported that he was applauded when he suggested the idea at a caucus meeting earlier in the day.

“I believe that something like this will bring calm to the American people and will bring needed stability to our financial markets,” Clyburn added, noting that President Harry Truman did it once during his presidency after Congress was unable to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling.

Obama and others in his administration have said they will not rely on the 14th Amendment. At a town hall last week, Obama said that he has “talked to my lawyers” and “they are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”
So, apparently Congress does matter now. After all, Obama's lawyers told him so.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Carney Show, Financial Armageddon Edition

Hoo boy. Jim Carney fails to play nice with the press:



"Plan? We don't need no stinkin' plan..."

The Age Of Reform

George Soros wants to beat the reform rush:
George Soros, the billionaire hedge-fund manager and philanthropist best known for breaking the Bank of England in 1992, will return capital to investors in order to avoid reporting requirements under the Dodd Frank reform act.

Soros will return money to investors by the end of the year, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing two people briefed on the matter. Soros Fund Management will focus on managing assets for his family, according to a letter to the firm's investors. Soros will turn 81 on August 12.

"We wish to express our gratitude to those who chose to invest their capital with Soros Fund Management LLC over the last nearly 40 years," the letter to investors reads, according to the Bloomberg report. "We trust that you have felt well rewarded for your decision over time."
They might have been thrown under the bus, but at least it's a nice-looking one...

The Great Gap Society

We've had the Hope, this must be the Change:
The median wealth of white U.S. households in 2009 was $113,149, compared with $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks, according to the analysis released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Those ratios, roughly 20 to 1 for blacks and 18 to 1 for Hispanics, far exceed the low mark of 7 to 1 for both groups reached in 1995, when the nation's economic expansion lifted many low-income groups to the middle class.

The white-black wealth gap is also the widest since the census began tracking such data in 1984, when the ratio was roughly 12 to 1.

"I am afraid that this pushes us back to what the Kerner Commission characterized as `two societies, separate and unequal,'" said Roderick Harrison, a former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau, referring to the 1960s presidential commission that examined U.S. race relations. "The great difference is that the second society has now become both black and Hispanic."
They told me that if Republicans ran, only wealthy whites would benefit, and they were right!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Final Pitch

Obama's speech apparently wasn't that great. Via Instapundit, a couple of reviews. First, this:
It is stunning to see the president talk about compromise, when the Administration has yet to put forth its own plan. Stunning when you realize that the Senate, under Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) would not allow Cut, Cap and Balance to have an up or down vote. Stunning when he calls on Americans to call the Senate and House members to demand compromise, but walks out on those same negotiations.

This didn’t seem like a president who was effective. It looked like a panic-stricken leader who was now hoping the like-minded ideologues across America can place enough pressure on Washington to enact non-sensical tax increases. It seems obvious, based on the president’s words, that he is incapable of moving the nation forward based on his “rigid” ideology.

The president was elected to make hard decisions, yet he is unwilling to make any decision.
Meanwhile, John Boehner gets better marks:
He got off some excellent lines. My favorite was this: "The president has often said we need a 'balanced' approach — which in Washington means: we spend more. . .you pay more.....the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today. " He went on, "right now, we have a government so big and so expensive it's sapping the drive of our people...There is no symptom of big government more menacing than our debt. Break its grip, and we begin to liberate our economy and our future."

Where it all goes from here is anyone's guess, but my bet is that it will be some time before Mr. Obama agrees to go on television in prime time if he knows the Republicans are going to have a chance to reply afterward in the same prime time.
Campaigning is always easier when the other side isn't around to respond...

Walker's Reprieve

In Wisconsin, post-protest events prove Scott Walker right:
In Brown Deer and school districts across the state, Walker’s budget repair bill, known as Act 10, is working just as he promised. To make up for a $2.8 billion deficit without raising taxes, state aid to school districts (the largest budget line) was reduced by $830 million. Act 10, Walker said, would give districts “the tools” needed to make up for the lost money as fairly as possible.

But union leaders argued that the fight over the budget repair bill had nothing to do with balancing budgets. It was all about stripping public employees of their “collective bargaining rights.”

“We have said all along that this isn’t about pay and benefits,” Mary Bell, president of the state’s teachers’ union, said in February. “We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help our state in these tough times. But .  .  . we will not be denied our right to collectively bargain.”

Acceding, at least rhetorically, to higher benefit contributions​—​5.8 percent of salary for pension (up from nothing) and 12.6 percent of health care premiums​—​looked like a smart tactic. It made teachers seem reasonable and focused the fight on collective bargaining “rights.”

What few people may have understood, though, is that these are “rights” that most people, including federal employees, don’t have. But Americans don’t like taking away anybody’s rights. The polls in Wisconsin showed voters overwhelmingly opposed to “weakening” or “stripping” or “eliminating” collective bargaining rights. President Obama called the bill an “assault on unions.” Democratic state senator Lena Taylor compared Scott Walker to Hitler.

But as the abstract debate over collective bargaining collides with reality, it is becoming clear just how big a lie the Big Labor line was. Now that the law is in effect, where are the horror stories of massive layoffs and schools shutting down? They don’t exist​—​except in a couple of districts where collective bargaining agreements, inked before the budget repair bill was introduced, remain in effect.
Basically, the teachers' unions were not on the teachers' sides, and were more interested in scoring political points rather than looking out for the rank and file. Plus, there's this:
One striking feature of Walker’s budget repair bill is the flexibility it has given school districts to balance their budgets. For example, things are looking up in the tiny town of Pittsville in the heart of the state, where the district balanced its budget mostly through increased pension contributions and not replacing four retiring teachers.

“We didn’t change anything in our health care at all,” Superintendent Terry Reynolds told me. “If Act 10 hadn’t passed,” he said, “I don’t think the teachers’ union would have wanted to approve the 5.8 percent contribution” to pensions. “That would have been a hard battle to fight. I’m not sure we would have saved dollars there.” Enough money was freed up that Pittsville property taxes will decrease by 9 percent next year.
There's probably even enough money to buy some crow for the unions to eat.

D-Day Countdown

With Default Day fast approaching, and no deal in sight, Obama is pulling out all the stops to get his version passed, including the now-obligatory prime time speech. As for his side's own plan:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is devising a sham that will never pass muster in the House. A Capitol Hill source with knowledge of the plan tells me: “It includes $1.2 trillion in OCO [Overseas Contingency Operations] savings . . . which was assumed anyway, $1.2 trillion (over $1.1 trillion less than [Majority Leader Eric] Cantor identified in the Biden talks) and $300 billion in interest savings.” A Senate aide says dryly that Reid “has about a trillion in ‘savings’ from ending the war in Iraq that’s already going to end.” And a disgusted House adviser bluntly tells me that Reid’s plan “isn’t real.”

We shouldn’t be too harsh on Reid. HE DID reach a bipartisan deal with the House. But the president squashed it. (Note to Congress: Next time don’t ask, just pass it and leave town.) Now we are back to gamesmanship.

It is extremely telling, however, that Reid’s plan contains NO tax hike. As I suspected, Obama doesn’t have enough support even in his own party (and particularly from Senate Democrats facing reelection) to pass the massive tax increases that he and his liberal base demand. And yet Obama at the last minute in negotiations with the speaker of the House last week threw in $400 billion in more taxes. There could only have been one purpose for that, since the Senate is as tax-hike-averse as the House: to create a crisis.
Of course, if you listen to the Democrats, that's the GOP's idea. But hey, at least they, you know, actually had one.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wu Who?

David Wu seems to be discovering who his friends aren't:
Pelosi has been in the Capitol all day as she and other congressional leaders are struggling to reach a deal to raise the U.S. government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling before a default deadline of Aug. 2. Pelosi said she was too busy to comment on the Wu scandal.

Democratic insiders would not comment on Pelosi’s conversation with Wu other than to confirm that the two had spoken and other senior House Democrats have contacted the lawmaker as well.

Wu, who was born in Taiwan, has disappeared from public view in the past day. He is believed to be holed up in his congressional office or residence on Capitol Hill. Wu has not commented on the allegations other than to release a short statement calling the matter “very serious.”
Another day, another scandal, another Democrat thrown under the bus by his colleagues.

After The Flood

Why the waters are so roiled:
While national media have done an extraordinary job of branding "tea party" as a pejorative, that movement was founded on Main Street by Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Those voters, and growing numbers of other Americans, are gravely concerned about how the nation's leadership is handling the economy. The result of their concern is less consumer confidence, which means less spending.

And why would people spend? Gas prices are high, houses have lost value, jobs are hard to find -- and if you have a job, you probably haven't seen a pay raise in a very long time.
Will the situation become too hot to handle? Speaking of gas, it looks like people aren't filling new gas tanks, either.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Not Making the Grade

Why a downgrade is worriesome:
The United States is not on a downgrade watch because the markets fear we won’t raise the debt ceiling in time to avoid a default; the United States is on a downgrade watch because the markets believe the debt-ceiling debate presents the last real opportunity for the government to enact a meaningful fiscal-reform program before it is well and truly too late to avoid a national crisis. The credit agencies, wisely or not, aren’t worried about the short-term political fight leading to an immediate default, but about the near- to medium-term fiscal situation, which is plainly unsustainable.
Meanwhile, it appears the White House is having trouble deciding what sort of message to send, while the bill is still due.

Back To Black

Remembering the troubled life of Amy Winehouse:
Amy Winehouse died on Saturday, at 27 years old, the same age that has mysteriously claimed a few other talented-yet-troubled musicians, from Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain. Her death is probably one of the least surprising tragedies in recent memory, given that we've been witnessing her slow-motion decline for, well, ever since we've known her.

But then again, it's one of the most surprising, because we've been witnessing her slow-motion decline ever since we've known her. It's the only way we've ever known her, so none of her self-destructive antics leading up to this were really all that surprising when they occurred. Winehouse punched a fan? Poor fan! She's lost a frightening amount of weight? What a druggie. She got booed off stage in Serbia? Man, is she a joke. The saddest thing about this tragedy is that Amy had to die to finally surprise us.

When Winehouse was first introduced in the U.S. in 2007 with her single "Rehab," off her album Back to Black, her darkness felt like a schtick -- it was a new, edgy reinvention of the 50s girl group dynamic, and a singer using her bad-girl appeal wasn't any cause for alarm. This was Winehouse's year -- she cleaned up at the Grammy Awards in 2008, snatching Record of the Year for "Rehab," Best New Artists, and Song of the Year for "Rehab."

But critical acclaim aside, Winehouse had built her image as one defined by drugs, alcohol and general misbehavior, and what came in the four years following Back to Black fit nicely into that image. Besides, who really worries about a rock star who does drugs, starts fights and gets wasted? This created an odd dynamic where her behavior was indirectly encouraged and ridiculed -- keep doing what you do, and we'll pay attention to you... for a little while at least.
Some more on the "27 Club" here. In the meantime, here she is in better days:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Family Planning

Healthcare reform. It was supposed to be for all Americans, right? Well:
A major provision of the healthcare reform law designed to prevent businesses from dropping coverage for their workers could inadvertently leave families without access to subsidized health insurance.

The problem is a huge headache for the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, because it could leave families unable to buy affordable health insurance when the healthcare law requires that everyone be insured starting in 2014.

Some of the administration’s closest allies on healthcare reform warn this situation could dramatically undercut support for the law, which already is unpopular with many voters and contributed to Democrats losing the House in the 2010 midterm elections.

“It’s going to be a massive problem if it comes out that families have to buy really expensive employer-based coverage,” said Jocelyn Guyer, deputy executive director at Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

“If they don’t fix this — and by 'they' I mean either the administration or Congress — we’re going to have middle-class families extremely unhappy with [healthcare] reform in 2014, because they’ll basically be facing financial penalties for not buying coverage when they don’t have access to any affordable options.”
Whoops. But hey, it must be part of that "Shared sacrifice" Obama talks about, right?

BS Talks, Boehner Walks

John Boehner givess his side of the story on the debt deal debacle:
"The White House moved the goalpost," Boehner said in a news conference, claiming that the talks broke down when the White House demanded an additional $400 billion in new revenues to the $800 billion that was agreed upon, "which was going to be nothing more than a tax increase on the American people."

Boehner also said, "They refused to get serious about cutting spending and making the tough choices that are facing our country on entitlement reform."

In a hastily arranged news conference in the White House briefing room before Boehner spoke to reporters, a visibly irritated Obama said that "it's hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this deal."

"This was an extraordinarily fair deal," he said, explaining that the White House offered more than $1 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense and $650 billion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in exchange for $1.2 trillion in new revenues.

After informing the president in a phone call of his decision to walk away, Boehner sent a letter to lawmakers saying, "In the end, we couldn't connect. Not because of different personalities, but because of different visions for our country."

Boehner will now work with Senate leaders on an alternative "to find a path forward," he wrote in the letter to lawmakers. But Obama said he wants to see congressional leaders at the White House Saturday to figure out how to avoid a government default.
So much for Plan A from the White House. Oh, wait-they didn't really seem to have one, did they?

Terror Toons

It's come to this:
Yemen-based Al Qaeda sympathizers are in the midst of producing a children’s cartoon to recruit young Muslim viewers to join their cause and take up arms against the West, according to intelligence experts monitoring militant websites.

The British thinktank Quilliam, which aims to combat extremism, found out about the propaganda film on the password-protected Arabic-language al-Shumukh online forum Sunday. According to Quilliam, Abu al-Laith al-Yemin, a contributor to the website, wrote about the project that he is working on with several associates to teach children aboutAl Qaeda’s history and encourage them to engage in terrorist activity, Reuters reported.

“The cartoon movie 'Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula' (AQAP) is a very exciting story that tells the facts about who let down the Islamic religion and the Prophet, and how the Arab leaders are agents of the West and other Islamic issues," Quilliam quoted al-Yemen as saying.

Al-Yemen wrote on the forum that the cartoon will depict events that have actually happened, including raids and assassinations.

“This movie is a religious effort to educate our sons and youth about how to live a noble life under the shade of the Sharia. It's an alternative to the poison that is broadcast by other TV channels broadcast to our children and youth," he said.
Right, because their poison is better. Sharia! It's for the children!

Job Creation

It actually happened in Wisconsin:
Bucking a lackluster hiring trend nationally, Wisconsin added an estimated 12,900 private-sector jobs from May to June - the largest single-month gain since September 2003.

Gov. Scott Walker touted the best job numbers since he took office in January by traveling to Milwaukee to deliver them in person, a departure from the state's custom of issuing the monthly jobs report in a news release.

Tempering the job-creation figures was an uptick in the state's unemployment rate to 7.6% in June, from 7.4% in May. The unemployment rate and job-creation numbers are derived from separate samples - the payroll figures come from a survey of employers, while the unemployment rate comes from a survey of households - and it has been common during the two-year recovery for the two numbers to move in opposite directions from time to time, reflecting the uncertainty in the economy.

Walker noted that job growth in Wisconsin effectively accounted for about half of the new jobs in the nation in June, an abysmal month for job creation.
Maybe this is the real reason why the anti-Walker protesters were so upset-they had job creation envy.

Bullets Across The Border

Oh, this is great news:
Phil Jordan, a former CIA operative and one-time leader of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Intelligence Center, claims that the Obama administration is running guns to the violent Zetas cartel through the direct commercial sale of military grade weapons:

Jordan, who served as director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Intelligence Center in 1995, said the Zetas have shipped large amounts of weapons purchased in the Dallas area through El Paso.

Robert “Tosh” Plumlee, a former CIA contract pilot, told the Times he supported Jordan’s allegations, adding that the Zetas have reportedly bought property in the Columbus, N.M., border region to stash weapons and other contraband.

“From the intel, it appears that a company was set up in Mexico to purchase weapons through the U.S. Direct Commercial Sales Program, and that the company may have had a direct link to the Zetas.”

The U.S. Direct Commercial Sales program is run from the U.S. State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. It regulates and licenses private U.S. companies’ overseas sales of weapons and other defense materials, defense services, and military training. This does not include the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which authorized sales to foreign governments.
Apparently, business is booming. Well, they are in competition with the ATF, after all...

Free Money

That seems to have been the attitude of the Federal Reserve when it came to handing out loans during the financial crisis:
Nearly three years after the loans were made, the Fed still hasn’t provided a satisfying answer for why it made loans to the London-based broker-dealer subsidiaries of Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs [GS 135.49 -0.09 (-0.07%)], Morgan Stanley [MS 23.90 -0.30 (-1.24%)], and Citigroup [C 40.26 -0.06 (-0.15%)], as well as the U.S. broker-dealer subsidiaries of Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley, according to the Government Accounting Office’s newly released audit of the Federal Reserve’s financial crisis activities.

In September and November of 2008, the Federal Reserve extended credit to the affiliates of these Wall Street firms under terms very similar to those it was making under the Primary Dealer Credit Facility. But because these affiliates were not actually primary dealers, loans under that facility were not officially available.

But the Fed made the loans anyway, citing its powers under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act to extend loans in “exigent circumstances.” But it never explained exactly why it decided these loans qualified under this provision.
It must have slipped their minds...

Canned Heat

So, isn't this actually a good thing?
A recent increase in the abundance of particles high in the atmosphere has offset about a third of the current climate warming influence of carbon dioxide (CO2) change during the past decade. The findings have been published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a new study in the online edition of Science.

In the stratosphere, miles above Earth’s surface, small, airborne particles reflect sunlight back into space, which leads to a cooling influence at the ground. These particles are also called “aerosols,” and the new paper explores their recent climate effects — the reasons behind their increase remain the subject of ongoing research.

“Since the year 2000, stratospheric aerosols have caused a slower rate of climate warming than we would have seen without them,” says John Daniel, a physicist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo. and an author of the new study.

The new study focused on the most recent decade, when the amount of aerosol in the stratosphere has been in something of a “background” state, lacking sharp upward spikes from very large volcanic eruptions. The authors analysed measurements from several independent sources – satellites and several types of ground instruments – and found a definitive increase in stratospheric aerosol since 2000.

“Stratospheric aerosol increased surprisingly rapidly in that time, almost doubling during the decade,” Daniel said. “The increase in aerosols since 2000 implies a cooling effect of about 0.1 watts per square meter – enough to offset some of the 0.28 watts per square metre warming effect from the carbon dioxide increase during that same period.”
But I thought the science was settled. Apparently not.

Norway's 9-11

Terror comes to Norway:
Powerful explosions shook central Oslo on Friday afternoon, blowing out the windows of several government buildings, including one housing the office of the Norwegian prime minister. The state television broadcaster, citing the police, said 7 people were killed and at least 15 injured; a spokeswoman for the prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said he was “safe and not hurt.”

Shortly after the explosions, which appeared to be a bomb attack, a man dressed as a police officer opened fire on a summer camp for young members of the governing Labor Party on the island of Utoya about 25 miles northwest of the city, and wounded at least five, a Norwegian security official said.

“The situation’s gone from bad to worse,” said Runar Kvernen, spokesman for the National Police Directorate under the Ministry of Justice and Police, adding that most of the children at the camp were 15 and 16 years old.
....

A terror group, Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or the Helpers of the Global Jihad, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, according to Will McCants, a terrorism analyst at C.N.A., a research institute that studies terrorism. The message said the attack was a response to Norwegian forces’ presence in Afghanistan and to unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad. “We have warned since the Stockholm raid of more operations,” the group said, according to Mr. McCants’ translation, apparently referring to a bombing in Sweden in December 2010. “What you see is only the beginning, and there is more to come.” The claim could not be confirmed. It is not uncommon for terrorist groups to advance claims of responsibility for high-profile attacks, only to have the claims prove to be spurious.
The attacker in the shooting case appears to have been a domestic terrorist. The BBC has live updates here. It sounds about as bad as it can get without something even worse happening.

Gulf Gold Mine

President Obama likes to say he's for job creation. Well, this would be a good place to start (via Hot Air):
Compared to historical trends, pending oil exploration plans are up by nearly 90 percent, but approvals are down by 85 percent — and the approval process has slowed from an average of 36 to 131 days. Over the past year or so, the backlog of deepwater plans pending approval has increased by 250 percent. Drilling permits for both shallow- and deepwater have declined by 60 percent.

Aligning the permitting process with the industry’s production capacity could result in 230,000 American jobs and more than $44 billion in U.S. gross domestic product — all by 2012. That would mean more revenues for the federal government and less money going to foreign governments.

The employment effects would not be limited to the Gulf states. One-third of the jobs would be generated outside the Gulf region in states like California, Florida, Illinois, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
But oil isn't green enough, so the slow pace of permissions will most likely continue. Besides, Team Obama has its own ideas on generating revenue...

Balancing Cap Act

Cap and balance is DOA:
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner searched on Friday for an elusive debt-limit compromise as the Senate rejected a House plan containing deep spending cuts and for the moment put aside a last-ditch fallback option.

The 51-46 party-line Senate vote, and a decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to cancel weekend Senate sessions, left unresolved the urgent issue of how to lift the nation's borrowing powers to avoid a first-ever U.S. default on Aug. 3.

The moves also cleared the way for private negotiations between the president, Boehner and other key players.

But neither the president nor the speaker was openly optimistic that they would succeed.

Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters that, despite reports that Obama and he were closing in on a $3 trillion deficit-reduction deal, "There was no agreement, publicly, privately, never an agreement, and frankly not close to an agreement."
Harry Reid is happy; those who are actually concerned about debt, not so much. Meanwhile, Jim DeMint says the Republicans aren't done yet. So, Harry Reid's celebration may have been premature...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Washington Jailbirds

Should Congresscritters who cook the books, as it were, do time?
The Congress that passed Sarbanes-Oxley concluded that the only way to ensure transparency in corporate numbers was to require corporate officers to certify that their numbers were correct. The penalties for falsely certifying are substantial -- fines of as much as $5 million, and up to 20 years in prison -- on the theory that the fear of personal liability will reduce the incentive to exaggerate future revenue or conceal future liabilities.

By contrast, congressional appropriators and federal agency heads, are under no similar constraints. True, the government does have its own accounting principles. But nobody faces liability if the numbers are off. Nobody has skin in the game.

Consequently, if we need Sarbanes-Oxley (as its supporters still insist) to give us reassurance that we can believe corporate America’s numbers, ought we not to have something similar (as Peterson among others has argued) to reassure us that we can believe the numbers coming out of Washington?
Accountability does have to start somewhere. After all, it's not like most of them can't afford lawyers...

Busting The Beeb

The BBC feels the heat from its critics on global warming:
Among them are former Tory Chancellor Lord Lawson, who was accused by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington, of making “incorrect” claims in An Appeal To Reason, the peer’s book on climate change.

Lord Lawson, chairman of the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the fact that carbon dioxide levels were rising leading to global warming was not under dispute. However, he added, its extent and effect could not be explained by majority scientific opinion alone.

He said: “The BBC is already extremely one-sided on this issue. They have a settled view which is politically correct.

“The idea that because scientific opinion falls largely on one side you can’t have a debate is outrageous. Because there’s a strong majority in basic science doesn’t mean the issue is off the table, yet the BBC says it should be.”

The foundation’s director, Dr Benny Peiser, said the report would lead to biased coverage of climate change and stifle any real debate.

He said: “This is nothing the BBC has not been doing for the past 10 years, however. They are completely biased on the issue of climate change and this is nothing more than an effort to push their green agenda.”

Dr David Whitehouse, the foundation’s editor and a former BBC science correspondent, said the corporation had “lost the plot” when it came to science journalism.

He said the corporation was “grouping sceptics with deniers” which would result in a lack of valid scientific input to its reports.

He said: “A sceptic is not a denier, all good scientists should be sceptics. The BBC has got itself into a complete muddle.

“In seeking to get the science right it has missed the journalism which is about asking awkward questions and shaking the tree.”

But the BBC Trust defended the report. A spokesman said: “The report is not suggesting that climate change sceptics will not have a place on the BBC in future.

“The point Professor Jones makes is that the scientific consensus is that it is caused by human activity. Therefore the BBC’s coverage needs to give less weight to those who oppose this view, and reflect the fact that the debate has moved on to how to deal with climate change.”
But the problem seems to be that the debate hasn't moved on. And that's where the real denial comes in.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Obama's Frankenstein Monster

Why President Obama now owns the debt mess:
Obama is at the middle of a crisis over government borrowing and the national debt because he helped create it. Obama, like many Americans, is obviously weary of the partisan bickering that threatens to cut off the government's borrowing ability and tank the U.S. economy. "The American people do not want to see a bunch of posturing, he huffed at a recent press conference. "What they want is for us to solve problems. He insists it's time to do "something big to fix the huge mismatch between government spending and revenue, which requires Washington to borrow money to finance about 40 percent of all spending.

Yet Obama has had plenty of chances to do something big about runaway spending and the mushrooming national debt, and he's taken a pass every time. He clearly didn't anticipate the showdown that's developed this summer over raising the debt ceiling, figuring Congress would raise the government's borrowing limit this year the same as it has done dozens of times before. Instead, Obama is now fighting to prevent an abrupt and highly disruptive cutback in spending, which would be the outcome if Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling by early August. Even if it is raised, Obama could end up being the first U.S. president to hold office while rating agencies like Moody's and Standard & Poor's downgrade the nation's AAA debt rating.
This is what happens when you try to punt each time. Eventually, the ball comes back to you.

Serious Business

What hath Steve Wynn wrought? It turns out he's not alone in thinking that Obama is a wet blanket:
Wynn's remarks echo those on a lengthening list of CEOs including:

• 3M's George Buckley, who blasted Obama last February as anti-business. "We know what his instincts are," Buckley said. "We've got a real choice between manufacturing in Canada or Mexico — which tends to be more pro-business — and America," he told the Financial Times.

• Boeing's Jim McNerney, who in the Wall Street Journal last May called Obama's handpicked National Labor Relations Board's suit against his company a "fundamental assault on the capitalist principles that have sustained America's competitiveness since it became the world's largest economy nearly 140 years ago."

• Intel's Paul Otellini, who told CNET last August that the U.S. legal environment has become so hostile to business that there is likely to be "an inevitable erosion and shift of wealth, much like we're seeing today in Europe — this is the bitter truth."

• Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who observed to radio host Hugh Hewitt last month that Obama "never had to make payroll," that "nobody has ever created a job in this administration" and that the president is "surrounded by college professors."

• GE's Jeffrey Immelt, one of Obama's biggest supporters, who hit out at the president last year. "Business did not like the U.S. president and the president did not like business," the FT reported him saying. "People are in a really bad mood. We have to become an industrial powerhouse again, but you don't do this when government and entrepreneurs are not in sync."

• Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, another Obama backer, who blasted Obama's bank tax in January 2010 as a "guilt tax," once called Obama's carbon tax idea "regressive" and this month denounced Obama's obsession with corporate jets.

These aren't the only ones. CEOs of battered oil companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil, media companies like Fox News and Forbes, and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce have also spoken out.
Obama seems intent on biting the hand that helped feed him. Is it any wonder those hands would now rather smack him upside the head instead?

Lights Out

As the EPA's cross-state emission rules get set to go into effect, Texas is becoming the recipient of the law of unintended consequences:
Our concern is that the timing of the new requirements – effective Jan. 1, 2012 – is unreasonable because it does not allow enough time to implement operational responses to ensure reliability. We fear that many of the coal plants in ERCOT will be forced to limit or shut down operations in order to maintain compliance with the new rule, possibly leading to inadequate operating reserve margins with insufficient time to reliably retrofit existing generation or build new, replacement generation.

In the state’s deregulated electric market, the generation owner bears the risk of investment and decides when and where to build new generation, and whether to retire or mothball existing generation, based on market conditions. ERCOT’s role in the competitive market is to provide an outlook for future peak demand and how much generation will be needed to maintain long-term reliability of the electric grid. At this time, it is not clear that ERCOT operations has adequate tools to maintain long-term reliability in the face of the possible loss of a large amount of existing baseload generation in such a short period of time.
Getting rid of coal plants without a backup plan-or an alternative source of energy-is going to raise rates dramatically, for both the producers and the recipients. Contrary to what the EPA thinks, economic consequences do matter.

Won't Get Fooled Again

Jim Geraghty responds to moderates who confess to being disappointed in Obama:
Dear wealthy moderate Republicans: I mean no disrespect, as you’ve made more money than I’ll probably ever earn and you’re quite accomplished in your fields. And like you, I find Chris Christie to be a bold and inspiring leader, who makes a very intriguing option at the national level someday.

But not all of us are shocked and stunned about Obama’s class warfare and his demonization of you and the sense that he doesn’t think of himself as your president too. Some of us spent two years telling anyone who would listen that he was a lot more liberal than his bland, blank-slate rhetoric suggested. And was all of this worth it because you “couldn’t live” with Sarah Palin? Really? The prospect of having her living at the Naval Observatory was so epically offensive to your sensibilities that you really thought this, and all of the economic joy we’ve endured for the past 30 months, was the better option?
As someone who isn't necessarily a Palinmaniac, I have to say, for supposedly smart people, that was a pretty dumb reason to vote for the guy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hand In Hand

Everyone knows that San Francisco is a tolerant Utopia, where people of all persuasions can...oh, wait:
An eyewitness tells the seasoned columnist that she saw "a young lesbian couple" arguing with a security guard at the Contemporary Jewish Museum Sunday afternoon.

The security guard allegedly told the couple that they were not allowed to hold hands in the museum. The couple demanded to see someone in charge at the museum and a small crowd began to gather around them as the argument ensued.

A museum spokesperson confirmed that the incident happened last Sunday and that the women met with the head of security, who issued a verbal apology to the couple.
Fair enough. Of course, this being San Francisco, there was an added bit of irony:
In fact, the exhibit the couple was looking at was one devoted to Gertrude Stein, a well-known lesbian artist.
But were there any portraits of Ms. Stein holding hands with someone?

The Donor Who Came In From The Cold

One man's campaign contributor is another country's spy:
Pakistan’s military, including its powerful spy agency, has spent $4 million over two decades in a covert attempt to tilt American policy against India’s control of much of Kashmir — including funneling campaign donations to members of Congress and presidential candidates, the F.B.I. claimed in court papers unsealed Tuesday.
....

The Federal Bureau of Investigation made the allegations in a 43-page affidavit filed in connection with the indictment of two United States citizens on charges that they failed to register with the Justice Department as agents of Pakistan, as required by law. One of the men, Zaheer Ahmad, is in Pakistan, but the other, Syed Fai, lives in Virginia and was arrested on Tuesday.

Mr. Fai is the director of the Kashmiri American Council, a Washington-based group that lobbies for and holds conferences and media events to promote the cause of self-determination for Kashmir. According to the affidavit, the activities by the group, also called the Kashmiri Center, are largely financed by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, along with as much as $100,000 a year in related donations to political campaigns in the United States. Foreign governments are prohibited from making donations to American political candidates.

“Mr. Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose — to hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the U.S. government’s position on Kashmir,” Neil MacBride, the United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, said. “His handlers in Pakistan allegedly funneled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to U.S. elected officials, fund high-profile conferences and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”

A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy denied any connection to matter, saying, “Mr. Fai is not a Pakistani citizen, and the government and embassy of Pakistan have no knowledge of the case.”
Well, if you can't trust the Pakistan government, whom can you trust?

Dog Daze

In Iran, rebellion against the state has literally gone to the dogs:
Buying and selling dogs is illegal in Iran, unless they are guard dogs or used by police. Dogs are considered "haram," or unclean, in Islam. Until recently, keeping dogs as pets was limited to a small circle of Westernized Iranians.

But access to satellite television—and American programs depicting families playing with pups—has turned dog ownership into a sign of social status in Iran.

"It's the latest fashion now to buy each other puppies as birthday gifts," says Amin, a 25-year-old. He had never pet a dog until traveling to a village two hours outside Tehran to obtain a German Shepherd puppy.

Authorities are striking back. Last year, Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi issued a fatwa, or religious edict, denouncing dog ownership. In April, Iran's parliament passed a bill to criminalize dog ownership, declaring the phenomenon a sign of "vulgar Western values."
I guess the Puppy Police just don't know how heroic dogs can be. Of course, heroism and loyalty are unfamiliar concepts to the Iranian authorities.

Passing The Cap

The Republicans have called Obama's bluff:
Defying a veto threat, the Republican-controlled House voted Tuesday night to slice federal spending by $6 trillion and require a constitutional balanced budget amendment to be sent to the states in exchange for averting a threatened Aug. 2 government default.

The 234-190 vote marked the power of deeply conservative first-term Republicans, and it stood in contrast to rising support at the White House and in the Senate for a late stab at bipartisanship to solve the nation's looming debt crisis.

President Barack Obama and a startling number of Republican senators lauded a deficit-reduction plan put forward earlier in the day that would include $1 trillion in what sponsors delicately called "additional revenue" and some critics swiftly labeled as higher taxes.

The president said he hoped congressional leaders would "start talking turkey" on a deal to reduce deficits and raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit as soon as Wednesday, using the plan by the so-called Senate Gang of Six as a roadmap.
Not everyone supported the bill, and it most likely will be DOA in the Senate, where another deal seems to be in the works. In the end, nobody may be fully satisfied with what, if anything, gets done. The main thing is that the Republicans are at least trying to do something, which is more than can be said for their counterparts.

Jet Blues

It's a bit old, but here's Warren Buffett, who's not exactly hostile to Obama, begging to differ with the President on his jet-set comments:



Meanwhile, as is so often the case with deals involving Democrats, some corporate jets are more equal than others.

You Say Tomato

How do you argue for higher food prices if you're a liberal? Do something like this:
What you do is find a visible target, especially one that is sensitive about its reputation, and then savagely attack them in public, bullying them and shaming them so that they cave in to your demands just to make you go away.

If you can’t attack the people or group directly responsible for the problem, then attack a secondary target anyway, so that the secondary target will out of fear solve your problem for you — again, just to make you shut up and go away.

So, in this case, the altruistic Alinskyites came up with a solution: Go to produce retailers, and demand that they raise their tomato prices, so that they could then take that extra money from the customers and use it to voluntarily pay more per pound to the tomato growers, who would then take that extra money and give it to the farmworkers.
It's for the farmers! Even if fewer people will be able to afford their produce...

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Mayor On Marriage

Say what you will about Giuliani, but when he's right, he's right:
He may not agree with the vote in New York to legalize gay marriage, but former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said the Republican Party should butt out of the bedroom and stick to fiscal policy.

"I think the Republican Party would be well advised to get the heck out of people's bedrooms and let these things get decided by states," Giuliani said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "We'd be a much more successful political party if we stuck to our economic, conservative roots."
....

Giuliani, who is considering a run for president in 2012, has long supported civil unions. Although he said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, he can "live with" the legalization in New York.

"I think it's wrong, but there are other things that I think are wrong that get decided by democratic vote," Giuliani told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. "I see more harm, however, by dwelling so much on this subject of gays and lesbians and whether it's right or wrong in politics."
Rudy has never been a favorite of social conservatives, but, as a New Yorker, this is probably the best position that he could take. Hopefully the rest of the GOP will listen.

Capping Bluffs

So how serious is Obama about actually cutting spending? Apparently not very:
The White House on Monday warned President Obama will veto GOP legislation to “cut, cap and balance” spending and the budget.

In a statement of administration policy, the White House Office of Management and Budget labeled the GOP bill as an “empty political statement.”
....

“Neither setting arbitrary spending levels nor amending the Constitution is necessary to restore fiscal responsibility,” the White House said in its statement. “Increasing the federal debt limit, which is needed to avoid a federal government default on its obligations and a severe blow to the economy, should not be conditioned on taking these actions. Instead of pursuing an empty political statement and unrealistic policy goals, it is necessary to move beyond politics as usual and find bipartisan common ground.”

The president's veto threat was followed by a full-on assault from administration officials who blasted the GOP proposal as "extreme, radical [and] unprecedented."
But what's Obama's alternative? More of the same? So much for "Armageddon," then.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Killing The Debt Beast

Victor Davis Hansen concludes an essay on the Debt Dragon by commenting on why killing it may not actually be possible at this point:
What is the status of the debt limit crisis now? The annual deficit and the aggregate debts are so massive that all the talk of a few billion cuts here and there, or even a trillion or so, means little. To save us, we would have to slash two or three entire departments (e.g., perhaps energy, education, agriculture, etc.), end all agriculture subsidies, raise the retirement age, freeze cost of living raises for Social Security, clamp down on food stamp and entitlement abuses (almost 50 million now receive them), and do far, far more — while encouraging the private sector to drill, mine, grow food at unprecedented rates, as government trimmed regulations and revised the tax code to encourage wealth creation.

But it is far easier to create monsters and joust over the slices of a shrinking pie. So the current economic paralysis will persist as we continue demonizing the mythical “them” — until we stop acting like Greeks cursing better off Americans as if they were German bankers who are to be damned for their success.
Unfortunately, Obama is now acting like the said Greek who is cursing corporate jet-setters (as opposed to Hollywood or Washington jet-setters)for their success while trying to minimize his failures. That's not noble Knightly behavior.

Rx Rations

Jennifer Rubin challenges a David Brooks article about health care rationing:
Brooks in the end doesn’t have the nerve to reach the logical conclusion of his arguments. He declares, “Obviously, we are never going to cut off Alzheimer’s patients and leave them out on a hillside. We are never coercively going to give up on the old and ailing. ” Well, then what is the point of his column? If he can’t stomach these outcomes why shouldn’t we continue to spend substantial sums to improve and elongate life?

Perhaps the point is to rationalize reductions in health-care dollars spent on the elderly, which by gosh is precisely what the Obama administration is trying to pull off with its Independent Advisory Patient Board. Limiting care, conscience free! After all, do all these old people really enjoy living to 90?

By all means we should have the debate over public and private resources. Let’s come up with market solutions that increase competition and reduce cost. Let’s minimize out unnecessary, external costs (e.g. malpractice insurance). And for the record, I am in favor of living wills and allowing those with terminal illnesses to refuse care. But let’s not kid ourselves.

Anyone, for example, who has had an elderly parent, a friend with cancer, or an experience with mental illness knows the difference our health-care system, warts and all, has made in the lives of millions and millions of Americans. Who of us would choose to receive only the medical care available 20 years ago?
Apparently those who feel that our system needs to go backwards, not forward.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Goldman's Gloom

Oh, boy. The folks at Goldman-Sachs aren't enthusiastic about the future:
Following another week of weak economic data, we have cut our estimates for real GDP growth in the second and third quarter of 2011 to 1.5% and 2.5%, respectively, from 2% and 3.25%. Our forecasts for Q4 and 2012 are under review, but even excluding any further changes we now expect the unemployment rate to come down only modestly to 8¾% at the end of 2012.

The main reason for the downgrade is that the high-frequency information on overall economic activity has continued to fall substantially short of our expectations. … Some of this weakness is undoubtedly related to the disruptions to the supply chain—specifically in the auto sector—following the East Japan earthquake. By our estimates, this disruption has subtracted around ½ percentage point from second-quarter GDP growth. We expect this hit to reverse fully in the next couple of months, and this could add ½ point to third-quarter GDP growth. Moreover, some of the hit from higher energy costs is probably also temporary, as crude prices are down on net over the past three months. But the slowdown of recent months goes well beyond what can be explained with these temporary effects.
But it can be explained by the fact that the recovery was never as strong as advertised. And more sales pitches disguised as press conferences won't help.

Tea Party Hangover

When all else fails, blame the opposition:
For two years now, “Blame the Tea Party First” has been the Democrats’ favorite mantra. “Firsters” invoke the Tea Party to make sense–for themselves–of the otherwise inexplicable fact of large-scale public opposition to President Obama, and they hold the Tea Party responsible for many of the nation’s deeper problems, from incivility in our discourse to an inability to set aside intransigent partisanship.

Generosity in describing one’s foes is a rarity, especially among conspiracy theorists. But Firsters have carried their animus against the Tea Party to unprecedented heights by failing to credit it with what is today right before everyone’s eyes. Without the Tea Party, there would be no debt limit negotiations going on, just as there would have been no budget reduction deal last December. Without the Tea Party, President Obama would not be posing as the judicious statesman, but would be pushing –as in truth he still is–for more stimulus and further investments in high-speed rail. Whatever pressure now exists to treat the debt problem derives directly or indirectly from the explosion of energy that has been generated by the Tea Party.

In lambasting the Tea Party movement for its stubborness, Firsters have silently acknowledged what for two years they had all but denied. Instead of being in fact a front for racism or opposition to abortion, the “baggers,” as they have been derisively called, are genuinely insistent on cutting spending and containing the growth of government. Everything is less complicated than it seems. Supporters of the Tea Party are who they said they were.
In other words, they're the ordinary folks that the Democratic Party claims to represent. Except that they really don't, of course.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lazy Days Of Summer

Quite frankly, I don't know if this is actually a bad thing or not:
Halfway through the year, the Senate is on pace for its least productive legislative session since records were first kept, and the House is also operating at a clip well below normal, according to an analysis of floor activity by The Washington Times.

Congressional analysts say the action regularly stalls when power is shared between the two parties, but this year’s slow pace, particularly in the Senate, is at a historic low even by standards of divided government.

Through June 30, the upper chamber had passed the fewest bills since the Congressional Record started keeping monthly data in 1947. The Senate had also amassed the second-fewest total number of pages in the Record — a measure of floor action — and notched the sixth-fewest number of floor votes.

One senator called the pace of activity “glacial,” and the nadir may have come this month, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, canceled the chamber’s Independence Day vacation to work on debt reduction, only to hold two meaningless votes and then adjourn early.
And that's with financial armageddon pending. Can you imagine what it would be like if they actually did more with their time?

It's A Deficit Thing

Well, Whoopi Goldberg suggested it should happen, and now it has-the race card has now officially come into play:
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) on Friday strongly suggested that members of Congress are making it difficult for President Obama to raise the debt ceiling because of his race.

"I do not understand what I think is the maligning and maliciousness [toward] this president,” said Jackson Lee, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “Why is he different? And in my community, that is the question that we raise. In the minority community that is question that is being raised. Why is this president being treated so disrespectfully? Why has the debt limit been raised 60 times? Why did the leader of the Senate continually talk about his job is to bring the president down to make sure he is unelected?”

"I am particularly sensitive to the fact that only this president — only this one, only this one — has received the kind of attacks and disagreement and inability to work, only this one," said Jackson Lee from the House floor.
I guess she missed when his predecessor was in office...

Bought & Sold

President Obama tries to convince Americans that they really, really want tax hikes:



Some actual numbers are here. Needless to say, it doesn't exactly reflect a ringing endorsement of "revenue enhancement."

Seeing The Light

The old-fashioned light bulb is safe for at least another year:
The U.S. House approved a provision to save for a year the 100-watt incandescent light bulb, which has become a pear-shaped symbol of personal freedom to some Republicans.

Lawmakers passed on a voice vote an amendment to energy-spending legislation for fiscal year 2012 barring the Energy Department from implementing or enforcing lighting-efficiency standards set by 2007 legislation. The law would effectively push the traditional bulbs off store shelves, starting with the 100-watt version next year.

Republicans passed the amendment over objections from Democrats, environmental groups and lighting manufacturers such as Fairfield, Connecticut-based General Electric Co., which have retooled factories and products to meet the new standards. Critics said consumers should be able to buy the cheapest bulbs on the market.

"The federal government has no right to tell me or any other citizen what type of light bulb to use at home," said Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican who sponsored the amendment, during debate yesterday. "It is our right to choose."
Light 'em while you've got 'em...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Huff And Bluff

Why Republicans should call Obama's bluff:
Because it is a bluff. Obama is not going to shut down the government rather than accept a short term deal. He’s also not going to default. Doing so would virtually ensure that even if he doesn’t have to raise the debt ceiling in 2012, come January 2013, he’ll be cleaning out the Oval Office to make room for the next resident.

Is this what I would have liked to get out of this confrontation? Certainly not; I’d have liked a broader deal that raised some new revenue and cut a lot of spending. But I think the time for that is past. What you can do is make the White House have a lot more conversations like this. . . . And if I’m wrong, and he does force a default, then it’s the fault of the Democrats, not you! It doesn’t get much better than that, right?
Of course, the Democrats could always go with Plan B. Even if it is the other side's.

Unfair And Unbalanced

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they weren't out to get you:
Newly released emails show the Obama administration communication team privately discussed whether to exclude Fox News from interviews in late 2009, despite claims at the time that the White House did not intend to snub the cable news channel.

The emails, obtained and released by watchdog Judicial Watch, pertain to a kerfluffle over whether the administration tried to lock Fox News out of a round of interviews with "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg, who was then responsible for reviewing compensation of Wall Street executives.

The perceived slight in October 2009 led to a confrontation with the press corps, not just Fox News -- afterward, the administration ultimately granted the interview to Fox News, along with other news outlets. Administration officials at the time rejected any suggestion that they had tried to exclude Fox News in the first place.

But the emails suggest the subject was at least discussed.

"The Obama administration seems to have lied about its attempt to exclude Fox News Channel from access to an interview with the 'pay czar,'" Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.
Quite frankly, I don't know why the White House objected to their presence. After all, it's not like they would have been allowed to ask questions, anyway...

Party On

America may be broke come August, but so what? Let's party!
The president is planning an extravagant fundraising bash Aug. 3 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, including a birthday concert teeming with celebrities and – for couples contributing $35,800 – a private dinner with the president. All this just one day after the government is scheduled to run out of cash!
....

The excitement kicks off at 4 pm with a concert that may feature singer Jennifer Hudson and other A-List stars, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

To show that hope and change is for everyone, a pauper section will be included for those contributing a measly $50. But the general admission ticket is $200, and the more you give, the more you get.

For $1,000, you can sit in the rich people’s area with easy access to alcohol. And for $10,000 you not only get a great seat, but a photo with The Birthday Boy.
So, rest assured-President Obama will still be able to afford to have a good time, even if America can't.

Spare Change

Leave it to the government to make coins that nobody uses:
Passed by Congress in 2005, the Presidential $1 Coin Act ordered the mint to make millions of coins to honor every dead president, but not even Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., one of the co-sponsors of the original bill, uses the legal tender.

"Do you use these things? Do you have any of these things in your pocket?" Reed was asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl while holding the dollar coins. "I don't I tell you, but I like everyone else repeatedly use nickels, dimes, quarters. In fact I have a little jar in my car for the traffic meters."

Reed and other senators sent a letter this week to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Mint Acting Director Richard Peterson asking for help in improving the program while eliminating waste of taxpayer resources.

Meanwhile, the coins keep coming off the production lines, already more than a billion made and counting. The Fed's report estimates that they could have more than $2 billion in excess $1 coins by the time the program is expected to end five years from now.
Is it any wonder that the Fed can't stop printing money?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mr. Popularity

So, how has that whole "Smart diplomacy" and "Transformative" thing worked out? Not that well, according to a new survey:
According to the poll, the Arab world doesn’t seem to be happy with any of America’s foreign policy positions. Respondents rated Obama’s policies as the least popular, when compared with other leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
....

Most surprisingly, Obama’s approval ratings are even lower than President Bush’s before he left office in 2008. They dropped from 26 percent to 12 percent in Morocco, 9 percent to 5 percent in Egypt, 16 percent to 10 percent in Jordan and 22 percent to 12 percent in the UAE (though they did improve in Saudi Arabia, and tick up slightly in Lebanon).

Obama’s unique background was supposed to make him a prime candidate to improve the relationship between the U.S. and the Arab world. But more than halfway through his first term, not only has there been no progress, it looks like relations are worse than before.
It's not exactly the way to get taken seriously...

Hold Or Fold

If you think you've got all the cards, do you really want to admit otherwise?
Republicans said tense negotiations over raising the $14.3 trillion debt limit at the White House ended when President Obama stormed out of the meeting with a stern warning to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.): “Don’t call my bluff.”

“It ended with the president abruptly walking out of the meeting,” Cantor told reporters upon returning to the Capitol Wednesday.
....

Cantor said he asked Obama if he would consider allowing two votes on the debt ceiling to give leaders more time to negotiate additional budget savings while avoiding a calamitous default.

“That’s when he got very agitated, seemingly, and said that he had sat there long enough, and that no other president — Ronald Reagan wouldn’t sit here like this — and that he’s reached the point where something’s got to give,” Cantor said, describing the president’s reaction.

“He said to me, ‘Eric, don’t call my bluff. I’m going to the American people with this,’ “ Cantor said. “I was somewhat taken aback,” he added, with a smile.
Obama's problem is that most of the American people already feel like he's dealing them a bad hand...

Shared Sacrificial Lambs

Well, so much for that idea:
The Senate on Wednesday blocked a resolution that would have called for “shared sacrifice” from the wealthy in resolving the ongoing debt-limit impasse.

The symbolic measure, introduced last month by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), failed to secure the 60 votes necessary to end debate. Fifty-one members, all members of the Senate Democratic caucus, voted in favor of proceeding on the measure, while 49 senators – including 47 Republicans and two Democrats, Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) – voted “no.”

The measure would have expressed the “sense of the Senate that any agreement to reduce the budget deficit should require that those earning $1,000,000 or more per year make a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort.”

Some Republicans had supported previous moves to proceed to the measure in the hope of offering amendments to it that would express the GOP’s position in the debt-ceiling debate. But Reid blocked those efforts through a procedural move prohibiting any amendments from being considered.

Democrats had been hoping to use the non-binding measure to further their case that tax increases must be included in a bipartisan debt-limit agreement.
In other words, it was another stunt vote that didn't work. So much for "Serious" debate.

Shout It Out Loud

Obama doesn't like being yelled at:
A long-running tiff between the White House press corps and the West Wing over presidential access flared anew today when press secretary Jay Carney faced off with reporters over the right to shout questions at the president during debt talks.

Obama chafes at the time-honored practice of answering questions shouted at him during pooled, non-press conference events — and his staff has often opted for “stills sprays,” excluding print reporters or TV cameras who might capture Obama in the less than flattering non-act of snubbing a query.

When asked today why TV crews and print reporters were barred from the pool covering the White House meeting with congressional leaders on the deficit, Carney responded by pointing out that the administration has held two press conferences in the past two weeks and allowed TV cameras into the spray earlier this week.

"People shouted questions at him," Carney said. He then added, "The purpose of the meeting is not to create a circus, but to negotiate, so today we're doing stills only."
He has a point-after all, it is somehwat disrepectful to simply yell out questions to the President of the United States with no sense of discipline. On the other hand, part of the press's job is to ask questions, even those that weren't in the script.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You Can't Take That to The Bank

Obama makes no promises:
President Obama on Tuesday said he cannot guarantee that retirees will receive their Social Security checks August 3 if Democrats and Republicans in Washington do not reach an agreement on reducing the deficit in the coming weeks.

"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Mr. Obama said in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, according to excerpts released by CBS News.

The Obama administration and many economists have warned of economic catastrophe if the United States does not raise the amount it is legally allowed to borrow by August 2.

Lawmakers from both parties want to use the threat of that deadline to work out a broader package on long-term deficit reduction, with Republicans looking to cut trillions of dollars in federal spending, while Democrats are pushing for a more "balanced approach," which would include both spending cuts and increased revenue through taxes.
Is Obama playing politics, or a game of chicken? If that's the case, Republicans so far aren't blinking, and in fact have offered their own alternative for Obama. So, deal or no deal? Time is running out.