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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stoking a Racial Controversy with More Racial Nonsense

In an article about the growing controversy over the "race card" played by Barack Obama, Powerline, a site I generally like, had this very troubling passage.

Shelby Steeledivided African-American public figures into two categories:
bargainers and challengers. Bargainers state, in effect, “I will presume that you're not a racist and by loving me you'll show that my presumption is correct.” Challengers say, in effect, that whites are racist until they prove otherwise by conferring tangible benefits on them. Oprah is a bargainer; so was Louis Armstrong. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are challengers.

Barack Obama made his political breakthrough as a bargainer. By constantly referring to the national yearning (including, he said, by many Republicans) to "come together" as blacks and whites, Obama presumed we are not racists. His reward was an almost magical appeal to broad portions of the electorate.

However, Steele (who believes that bargainers are masking their real, more subtle, view of whites) predicted that Obama would not be able to maintain his bargainer status. That prophesy began to come true when the tapes of Rev. Wright surfaced. Now, as Obama feels the heat of the campaign, he continues his transformation to challenger. In Steele's terms, he no longer offers us the assurances, required of bargainers, that he knows we’re not racists; we now have to prove it to him. Having issued this challenge, Obama can no longer receive our unconditional love.

This is a very sneak and despicable passage, and I expect a lot more from that site. First, the controversial remarks are attributed to Shelby Steele and thus, I can only assume they pass off their responsibility. It is total nonsense and very divisive to stereotype ALL BLACK LEADERS into one of two very unglamorous categories, bargainers and challengers. This is just flat out unfair. First, I am no fan of Oprah but I don't for one second believe that she is looking for positive reinforcement or she will immediately call one a racist.

Furthermore, I don't think that all African American leaders take everything in such a racial way. Juan Williams doesn't fit into either category and neither does Dr. Marc Lamont Hill. Frankly, Barack Obama doesn't see the world through such a prism either. I think he made an awful mistake, but that doesn't mean his entire perspective is predicated on such a racial level. Powerline was so eager to attach to "race card" to Obama that their own race baiting is just as bad as anything that Obama did.

Misunderstanding the McCain Ad

In light of the racial controversy that it ignited, this McCain ad has gotten more attention than it deserves.

Frankly, I find it stupid, silly and downright disprespectful to compare Barack Obama to either Brittney Spears or Paris Hilton. controversyIs it racist though? Bill Press certainly thinks so.

Of all the famous celebrities they could have compared Obama to, why not Tom Cruise? Or Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Donald Trump, or Oprah Winfrey? Why Britney Spears and Paris Hilton? Why two white blond bimbos?

Only one reason. It's a somewhat tamer version of the white bimbo ad used so successfully against Harold Ford in Tennessee. In juxtaposing Barack Obama with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, the McCain campaign is simply trying to plant the old racist seed of black man hitting on young white woman. Not directly, but subliminally and disgracefully.

Bill Press can't really be this dense. After all, the reason that Spears and Hilton were used is they are generally famous for being famous. That is the comparison. The ad tries to say that this guy is not famous for any other reason but that he is famous. The subliminal message is that Obama is here by accident and that he has done nothing to get here. That's why they didn't use Oprah, Donald Trump, et al. All those have legitimate reasons for fame.

Now, again, I find the comparison trivial and way too provocative but the comparison is supposed to elicit the point that he is an empty suit. They were NOT chosen for some racial reason. What I can't figure out is how a relatively intelligent guy as Bill Press couldn't understand the point. After all, there is plenty to criticize when you do understand the point of the ad. It's almost as though he is stoking racial fears where he knows there aren't any. That couldn't possibly happen in the media could it? (snicker in cynical indignation here)

Obama, the Race Card, and Pretzel Logic (Updated)

(H/T to Hot Air) This story was first reported by Jake Tapper.

"John McCain right now, he's spending an awful lot of time talking about me," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said today in Rolla, Mo. "You notice that? I haven’t seen an ad yet where he talks about what he’s gonna do. And the reason is because those folks know they don’t have any good answers, they know they’ve had their turn over the last eight years and made a mess of things. They know that you’re not real happy with them."

Obama continued: "And so the only way they figure they’re going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. So what they’re saying is, ‘Well, we know we’re not very good but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he’s... doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency, you know, he’s got a, he’s got a funny name


Correct me if I'm wrong, but does it not seem as if Obama just said McCain and his campaign -- presumably the "they" in this construct -- are saying that Obama shouldn't be elected because he's a risk because he's black and has a foreign-sounding name?

Now, I may be wrong and this might a minor gaffe of little significance, however this, in my opinion, has the potential to explode. To me, there is no doubt that Obama attempted to use the race card. That is simply unacceptable. Furthermore, the Obama campaign appears to be digging a deeper hole with their pretzel logic.

What Barack Obama was talking about was that he didn’t get here after spending decades in Washington,” Gibbs said. “There is nothing more to this than the fact that he was describing that he was new to the political scene. He was referring to the fact that he didn’t come into the race with the history of others. It is not about race.”

Well, if all Obama meant was that he is from outside the beltway, then, frankly, he is no different from many former Presidents. Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, JFK, Abraham Lincoln and even George Washington himself (since there was no D.C. yet) make up a very partial list of former Presidents with little if any time spent in D.C. The current President spent no time in D.C. If this is what Obama meant, then he needs a history lesson.

Of course, it's unlikely this is what he meant, and it is very similar to another race card he played earlier.

We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid.

“They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”

This is now the second time Obama has played the race card and it is unacceptable and I don't think most voters will like it all that much. The men on our currency are NOT different from Obama because he has spent much time in D.C. They are different based on skin color. It is impossible to draw any other conclusion and given his history, we are now seeing a pattern. This sort of bottom of the barrel politics almost always backfires. It appears to me at least as though Obama is attempting to hint that any attack on him is racial and demagoguery. Well, that's just not how it works. Attacking your opponent is standard operating procedure in campaigns. Obama's attempts to deflect criticism into something nefarious is the worst sort of cynicism.

Depending on how much media attention this gains, this story may wind up proving to be a significant gaffe for Obama. Jonathon Martin also reports. Here is the video.


According to Hot Air, the Obama campaign has released another statement.

“This is a race about big challenges—a slumping economy, a broken foreign policy, and an energy crisis for everyone but the oil companies. Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue, but he does believe they’re using the same old low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign, and those are the issues he’ll continue to talk about.”

These sort of nebulous rhetorical attacks have become standard issue in Obama's arsenal. McCain isn't a racist just a typical cynical politician. Well, in fact, that maybe so, though I would disagree vigorously, but totally irrelevant. That in no way explains the statement that started this controversy. Here it is again.

“What they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me,” Obama said. “You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

That statement was, to me at least, a clear reference to his race. I know a cynical political attack when I see one, and I also know when someone has played the race card. Barack Obama played the race card. He can backpeddle all he wants, but it is now a matter of the record.

McCain's Theme Problem

John McCain, like any other candidate for President, must accomplish quite a lot in a relatively short period of time. He has to try and set the tone of debate, define himself, and his opponent. As such, supporters of McCain are quite frustrated since he can't seem to do any of it with any success right now. Theme, to me at least, is the most important thing in any campaign. Theme is the reason that a voter votes for a candidate. Obama figured out theme right away and he has hammered at the concepts of change, unity, and a new direction. McCain, on the other hand, still hasn't clearly communicated to voters why they should vote for him.

I think supporters of McCain should be extra frustrated because in many ways McCain is a remarkable politician and persona and he has a platform that should give all sorts of voters a reason to vote, but he can't seem to verbalize his platform in a way that is understandable. If I were McCain, I would have a five plank platform and begin hammering away at each plank and define the campaign through it.

1) Aggressive GWOT policy that finishes the job in EVERY theater we are in. This needs to be the leading point of his campaign. McCain is most comfortable on national security issues and during war time McCain needs to point out that war always comes first. McCain has gotten himself stuck debating the surge. It maybe natural for him to point out just how successful a policy he was lonely in supporting worked out, but ultimately voters aren't voting on the past but on the future. Rather, if I were McCain's campaign, I will build the theme on finishing the job in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would build my theme on the idea that the only way to confront Iran peacefully is to win in each theater. While Obama wants to get out of Iraq as soon as possible and then negotiate with Iran, that is a negotiation out of weakness. I would build the theme around the idea that victory is the only thing that matters in war. Whatever anyone thought about Iraq, now is the time for victory. Timetables are the concepts of defeatists.

Furthermore, the same kind of turnaround we had in Iraq can be applied to Afghanistan by shifting strategies to counter insurgency. It's time for McCain to point out why we are winning in Iraq in detail and apply those concepts to Afghanistan.

On foreign policy, this election must be about victory or defeat.

2) The economy

Here, McCain has plenty to work with if he would only get out to the American people and verbalize it. Free markets, lower taxes, and less spending. People say he needs to move away from Bush and he can. He was the lone voice while the Republican Congress went on a spending spree. He needs to hammer away at the excesses that the Republican Congress wraught, and how they contributed to the malaise. Then, he needs to lay out how a McCain Presidency would be different. The fiscal conservatives would welcome McCain's criticism on spending as this is what turned them off in 2006. Then, McCain needs to combine the ideas of less spending with lower taxes and free markets. The other side wants to spend more, regulate more, and tax more and Obama then has the chutzpah to proclaim this is some new and novel concept. This economic debate must come down to free markets or regulation, low taxes or high taxes, less spending or more spending. McCain can and should run away from Bush on the economy, and that's because Bush contributed to out of control spending. That said, he can't run away from free markets and low taxes just because Barack Obama may try and proclaim that is Bush III.

3) Judges.

Here, McCain has an opportunity to turn a marginal issue in a general election into a real positive. That's because he has clearly defined the sort of judge he wants. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has a very peculiar.

Ninety-five percent of the time the law is so clear that it's just a matter of applying the law. I'm not somebody who believes in a bunch of judicial law-making.

What you're looking for is somebody who is going to apply the law where it's clear. Now there's gonna be those five percent of cases or one percent of cases where the law isn't clear. And the judge has to then bring in his or her own perspectives, his ethics, his or her moral bearings. And In those circumstance what I do want is a judge who is sympathetic enough to those who are on the outside, those who are vulnerable, those who are powerless, those who can't have access to political power and as a consequence can't protect themselves from being being dealt with sometimes unfairly, that the courts become a refuge for justice. That's been its historic role. That was its role in Brown v Board of Education.

Wanting a judge that is sympathetic to the little guy is rather nebulous and open to interpretation. McCain wants a strict constructionist, a judge that reads the Constitution as it is and interprets the law based on what the Constitution actually says. This is clearly defined and easy to explain. Try and explain how a Supreme Court justice should rule based on sympathy for the little guy. McCain has the reasonable, logical, and easy to explain position. The Supreme Court has always been a side issue in the general election, and that is a shame. Supreme Court justices are the most lasting legacy of any President. McCain can make it an issue by talking more about it. If he makes appointing strict constructionists one of his themes, that will in and of itself make the Supreme Court a more relevant issue. The issue is there, but he needs to grab hold of it.

4) Energy Independence

This may wind up being the most important issue depending on what gas prices look like in a few months. This issue appears to be working for Republicans. It must become more than merely drilling which has become a good issue for McCain and Republicans as well. McCain has laid out bits and pieces but for now, I don't see a coherent strategy. He likes nuclear power, but I don't understand how he plans on making it marketable on a mass scale. (I have proposed a moratorium on all taxes related to alternative energy) He needs to have a plan that goes beyond rhetoric and platitudes and is transformed into something the public can imagine working. The public can see domestic drilling dropping the price of oil and that's why this issue works for Republicans. The public wants a long term plan that makes us energy independent and neither side has give that.

5) Attacking illegal immigration

Yes, if he makes this a campaign platform, it will be dicey. Of course, Barack Obama will try and demonize the issue. He will likely call him a flip flopper. So what? The public is overwhelmingly against illegal immigration. McCain lost when he tried to bring "comprehensive reform". Multiple times he has said that he has learned from the experience. Well as GI Joe once said, "Now you know but knowing is half the battle". He needs to take this knowledge and formulate a strong, cohesive policy that will attack illegal immigration. He needs a plan that builds the wall by the end of his first year. He needs to come out for putting fifty thousand National Guard troops on the border. Finally, he should come out publicly in support of the SAVE Act, the bill that will streamline employment verification so that all employers will eventually be able to easily confirm that potential and current employees are here legally.

Let Barack Obama stand up for the DREAM Act, driver's licenses for illegals, and all sorts of other open borders policies. John McCain needs to stand up for border enforcement. He can have credibility on this issue if he frames it right. He tried comprehensive reform. The voters overwhelmingly said no. They want border enforcement. He is listening to them and that is what he will bring in his first term.

By making this five planks the theme of his campaign, McCain can give voters plenty of reason to vote for him, not merely to vote against Obama.

Tide Turning Against Illegal Immigration?

That maybe the case according to new findings released by the Center for Immigration Studies.

Some 1.3 million illegal immigrants have left the United States since Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the summer of 2007. If the trend continues, according to a new study, the nation's illegal population will drop by half in the next five years.

Moreover, reports the Center for Immigration Studies, young Hispanic immigrants began heading south before the nation's economy did – a clue that what's driving the new outmigration is a stepped-up border and workplace enforcement, not a souring US job market.

The source of the report – a think tank with a record of opposing illegal and even some legal immigration – is controversial in immigrant communities. But its findings could help frame the debate in a new Congress and a new administration

Now, the last paragraph is vital. This report comes from a group with a clear bias. That said, if their findings are correct, then all I can say is DUH. The findings confirm that (SUPRISE, SURPRISE) if you enforce the border, enforce legal employment, and make things difficult for illegal aliens, you will have less of them. The bottom line is that ICE and other organizations that are charged with rooting out illegal aliens have been demonized by some for their new more aggressive stance. Yet, if these findings are accurate, it turns out the new more aggressive stance has lead less illegals to come here and more to go home.

Economy Gains in Q2

The economy gained in the 2nd quarter of this year (Apr 1- Jun 30) according to numbers released this morning.

Economic growth picked up in the second quarter as tax rebates energized consumers. The rebound followed a treacherous patch where the economy jolted into reverse at the end of 2007.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that gross domestic product, or GDP, increased at an annual rate of 1.9 percent in the April-to-June period. That marked an improvement over the feeble 0.9 percent growth logged in the first quarter of this year and an outright contraction in the economy during the final quarter of last year.

Still, the second-quarter rebound wasn't as robust as economists had hoped; they were forecasting growth to clock in at a 2.4 percent pace. The rebound, while welcome, isn't likely to be seen as a signal that the fragile economy is out of the woods. There are fears that as the bracing tonic of the tax rebates fades, the economy could be in for another rough patch later this year.

There is a lot to analyze in these numbers. First, I have never worried much about what so called experts predict the numbers to be. They are so expert that they rarely actually get the number right.

That said, while 1.9% growth in GDP can seem positive, there is still a lot to be concerned about. If it was driven mainly by the stimulus checks, that is unsustained growth. Normally, you are always looking for growth to be in the neighborhood of 3% quarterly. Given the weakness in the economy, that was of course impossible. Still, this growth is rather mild. If it was driven mainly by the stimulus checks it is temporary. As such, the numbers for the third quarter will be even more important. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Obama Condemns Ludacris

Barack Obama condemned a song by Ludicrus that attacked John McCain in a number of crude ways.

As Barack Obama has said many, many times in the past, rap lyrics today too often perpetuate misogyny, materialism, and degrading images that he doesn’t want his daughters or any children exposed to," said spokesman Bill Burton. "This song is not only outrageously offensive to Senator Clinton, Reverend Jackson, Senator McCain, and President Bush, it is offensive to all of us who are trying to raise our children with the values we hold dear. While Ludacris is a talented individual he should be ashamed of these lyrics."

Some on the right are already treating this with cynicism making snide references to another supporter being thrown under the proverbial bus. It's true. Barack Obama has done a lot of distancing throughout this campaign. That said, I for one am glad that he has taken a stand against rappers. Though to be fair, it is extremely disingenuous for him to proclaim that he has always taken this stand. Here was Obama's posture not but two years ago.

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, contemplating a run for president, met privately Wednesday with rapper Ludacris to talk about young people.
'We talked about empowering the youth,'' said the artist, whose real name is Chris Bridges.Bridges was in town to launch the YouthAIDS ''Kick Me'' campaign to raise HIV/AIDS awareness during a stop at Northwestern University in the Chicago suburb of Evanston.

The gathering at Obama's downtown Chicago office was a meeting of two star powers: Obama, who enjoys rock star-like status on the political scene, and Ludacris, who has garnered acclaim for his music and acting.

By meeting with Ludacris (real name Chris Bridges) right before announcing his run at the Presidency, he legitimized him and the music that he performed. To proclaim now that he has always been against rap music is just flat out not correct.

That said, while I am no fan of Barack Obama making a speech in order to quell controversies, I do believe this gives him an opportunity for a great speech that would give him his Sister Soulijah moment. Right now, he can give the speech about all that ills the African American community including the pernicious lyrics of rap music, out of wedlock births, and absentee fathers. That would be a speech of supreme political courage and one that would be applauded on both sides.

It would also be an opportunity for him to show leadership that the African American community has lacked ever since the death of Martin Luther King. If Barack Obama can lead the way in condemning the mysoginy of rap music, out of wedlock births, and absentee fathers among a host of other social ills. If he can make the case that lifting oneself from poverty takes personal responsibility and move the message from victimization that would go a long way toward making a difference in the community. The African American community is in dire need of a true leader that preaches self reliance and personal responsibility over victimization. Barack Obama has an opportunity to take that message to the masses. I, for one, hope he does.

Joe Klein Vs. the NeoCons

Ever since Joe Klein wrote this rather confrontational piece accusing the so called Neocons of having a foreign policy stance that favored Israel at the expense of the United States, we have seen an adult version of third grade shouting match. Peter Wehner has weighed in. John Podhoretz did as well. Of course, Joe Klein also sat down with Jeffrey Goldberg for an interview to discuss the situation.

In many ways, it feels like all of them have egos that are larger than they should be. Writers and pundits have decided to make the story about themselves rather than about the policymakers they are supposed to cover. On some level, I think everyone should have tried to be the bigger person.

I am also very aware of attempting to stay objective even though my natural instinct is to side with the NeoCons. Still, I can't help but side with the neocons. The insidious thing from Klein's part is two fold. First, let's look at the comments that started it all.

The notion that we could just waltz in and inject democracy into an extremely complicated, devout and ancient culture smacked—still smacks—of neocolonialist legerdemain. The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives—people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary—plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.

Assigning religion to this policy is downright shameful. I assume that Klein, himself Jewish, thought that he was in a position to offer credibility to such an attack. In fact, he was not. By making this about the Jewish religion, he could then naturally move toward making a machiavellian attack on their motives vis a vis Israel.

Of course, what Klein is really doing is deciphering motive. That is impossible unless one can read minds. In fact, he can't and so his assertion that neocons make policy for the benefit of Israel is nothing more than rank speculation. He is using this rank speculation to assign to most insidious motives to some people. For instance, Paul Wolfowitz is among the NeoCons that Klein believes was making policy for the benefit of Israel. In other words, in the mind of Klein, Wolfowitz was working in the Bush administration and the whole time making policy to benefit Israel and not the United States, his employer.

This is not only nonsense but slanderous. Had Klein limited his criticism strictly to policy he would have been on perfectly fine footing. He didn't and instead assigned a motive he couldn't possibly know. By doing it, he turned a legitimate attack into a slanderous character assassination. On that level, I can see where some of the attacked felt they needed to defend themselves. They did.

Pam Stephenson and the Cover Up of Corruption

On December 15th 2000, Sheriff Elect Derwin Brown was gunned down in front of his home two days before he was to be sworn in as Sheriff of Dekalb County in Georgia. The perpetrators of this heinous murder included several individuals all with ties to the Sheriff's Department in Dekalb County in the group's ringleader was Syd Dorsey, then outgoing Sheriff. Worse than that, this crime was the culmination of years of corruption within the Sheriff's Department that had more former Sheriff's in jail than not in jail. Despite the fact that this despicable crime should have shined a bright light on a culture of corruption within the Department that needed immediate wholesale changes, the selected Sheriff Thomas Brown made only cosmetic changes within the department following Derwin Brown's (no relation) murder. As such, Derwin Brown, who ran on a platform of rooting out the very corruption that wound up killing him, continues to have his death be in vain.

How could such a heainous crime and the obscene corruption that followed it be met with such a marginal response? It's because the media in the area took little interest in what the department did in the aftermath of this heinous crime. Because the media cared very little just how much reform the aftermath of Derwin Brown's death would bring to the department, very little reform was actually brought. Unfortunately, when examining the crime at Grady Hospital and the areas surrounding it, one finds a very troubling pattern like the one followed in the aftermath of Derwin Brown's death.

Back in 2004, the Department of Health and Human Services completed an in depth investigation of Grady Hospital and its conclusions were

Grady Hospital poses and immediate threat to the health and safety of the patients

Much like the cosmetic reforms after Derwin Brown's death, the media in Atlanta gave very little attention to this report. One would find nothing more than a by line in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the television media barely made any mention of it. There was little examination of how it came to be that Grady, one of the biggest hospitals in the country, was becoming a threat to the very people it was meant to heal. Because they didn't, Grady Hospital did little to fix the inherent problems that created these findings and no one noticed.

In 2005, Kevin Kuritzky was expelled from Emory University Medical School with 41 days left before he was to graduate. At the time, Kuritzky was leveling serious charges of corruption at the higher ups with Emory and Grady Hospital. Yet, he fellow students would have no little of his situation because the Emory Wheel, the schoo's newspaper, wrote exactly 2 stories about the situation. Thus, while one of their colleagues was being expelled on the eve of his graduation, the entire student body was kept essentially in the dark because their media refused to cover the story.

At the end of November 2007, JCAHO threatened to revoke the accreditation of Grady Hospital. This was a stunning and nearly unprecedented move. It had only happened once prior in the history of JCAHO, King-Drew Hospital in Los Angeles. After a flurry of attention after JCAHO made the announcement, this story, like most involving Grady Hospital, lost all appeal in the Atlanta media. In fact, since threatening Grady with revocation of their license, JCAHO has actually wound up doing absolutely nothing. Furthermore, the actual report that JCAHO filed that produced this action has never been made public. No one in the Atlanta media has made an effort through FOIA to attempt to make this report public. As such, after making a big deal of it in November, there has been nearly no mention of this since. Many local area activists I have spoken with have made their own attempts to take a look at the report. Many of them have told me that they have been stone walled by higher ups within Grady Hospital. In fact, one name mentioned as a perpetrator of the stonewalling is Pam Stephenson, herself.

Back in February of this year, Otis Story Jr. was fired as CEO of Grady Hospital after less than a year on the job. The circumstances surrounding his firing have never fully been explained besides nebulous statements like "going in another direction". Sources I have spoken with suspect that Story simply wouldn't go along with the program of corruption. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear is that the media has no interest in finding out for itself what it is. Of course, after he was fired, the board replaced Story with Pam Stephenson. To say this was a controversial move is an understatement. At the time, Stephenson was also simultaneously Chairmwoman of the Board at Grady Hospital and a State Senator. This obscene conflict of interest and accumulation of power also received little if any attention.

Months later, this story received new media attention when Stephenson used her centralized power to award herself a contract that potentially could reach seven figures. Of course, that was nearly three weeks ago. That particular story turned out to have a twenty four hour life in the Atlanta area news cycle. Since then, there has been scant attention paid to the situation. As such, it appears that Stephenson will be able to consummate the contract and media will again look the other way.

This latest episode continues a long legacy of corruption and media disinterest involving all things Grady Hospital. The first amendment's main value is not in the freedom of speech it provides individuals. In fact, the first amendment was meant so that media like the Atlanta Journal Constitution provided a check against the powerful so that this very corruption would exposed if and when it occurred. In fact, the best check on corruption is a vigorous media always looking to expose it. One of the biggest factors for the long term systemic corruption at Grady Hospital is the media total lack of interest in reporting on it. Time after time, corruption goes on and the media is largely silent in the face of it. What has occurred with the contract involving Pam Stephenson and the manner in which the media in the area has treated it, is yet another example. Until the media decides that corruption is unacceptable Grady will continue to be corrupted and the corruptors will operate with impugnity.

Lawrence Korb Vs. Max Boot

(H/T to Weekly Standard) Last week, McCain foreign policy surrogate, Max Boot, took on Obama foreign policy surrogate, Lawrence Korb, on PBS. Here is a part of note.

Lawrence Korb:The surge means that we added 20,000 more combat troops. But what began to turn things around in Iraq was, in 2006, after the Democrats won control of the Congress, the -- what they called the Sunni insurgents became known as the Sons of Iraq -- you had the Al Anbar awakening -- said that they would team up with us to go after al-Qaida in Iraq, because al-Qaida in Iraq had been so violent, the things they had done. And they realized that we were not going to be there forever.This is the deal, that that has gotten the violence down in Al Anbar Province, which is where it was the heaviest. And then, even before the surge was completed, in February 2007, Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr, told his militia to lay down their arms.


Max Boot:First, let me, if I could just very quickly, correct a misapprehension that Larry Korb is perpetrating here, the same one that Barack Obama has perpetrated before, which is to say that the success that we are seeing in Iraq as a result of the Democratic victory in the November 2006 election.Now, that is just bizarre, because anybody who has been to Iraq knows that the Al Anbar awakening...

LAWRENCE KORB: If you want to correct me, then I'm going to come back, OK? She asked you a question. Answer that one.

MAX BOOT: Larry, let me finish my sentence, please.Anybody who has been to Iraq knows that the Al Anbar awakening began in September of 2006, months before the Democrats took office in the United States. And anybody who has been to Iraq recently also knows that there is no way that these brave Sunnis or the Sons of Iraq would be risking their lives if they saw that American troops were on their way
out.The only reason they are willing to stand and fight against al-Qaida is because they know that the commitment of the United States remains secure and that we will stand with them.

So, because Barack Obama, on multiple occasions, refused to acknowledge of the success of the surge, he, and his surrogates, are now in position to try and assign the success of the war effort to other factors. Of course, this argument is just plain nonsense. The surge, along with its counter insurgency strategy, were integral to the success of the war effort. This point is frankly beyond debate.

The important thing to take from this exchange is that it appears that Obama and his surrogates have dug in and will try and make the argument that downplays the impact of the surge on current success in Iraq. This is a significant victory in the Iraq debate for McCain. Now, I continue to believe that the most important debate over Iraq is forward looking not backwards like this. Furthermore, Iraq is no longer the front burner issue it was, and so Obama could lose the debate entirely and still win the election. That said, as long as Obama, and his surrogates, continue to insist on downplaying the surge, they will continue to be embarrassed the way that Max Boot did to Lawrence Korb.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oil Continues To Drop But Concerns Remain

Oil continued its steep decline dropping to its lowest value in seven weeks.

Oil prices tumbled to their lowest level in seven weeks Tuesday as a stronger dollar and beliefs that record prices are eroding the world's thirst for energy sparked another dramatic sell-off.

The drop — as much as $4 a barrel during the day — was a throwback to oil's nosedive over the past two weeks and outweighed supply concerns touched off by a militant attack Monday on two Nigerian crude pipelines. It was oil's seventh decline in the last 10 sessions.

Light, sweet crude for September delivery fell $1.89, or 1.52 percent, to $122.84 a barrel in early afternoon trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier, prices fell to $120.42, the lowest level for a front-month contract since June 10; they have now fallen more than $25 from their trading high of $147.27, reached July 11.

The concern here continues to be the reason for the decline. According to the analysis (which is much more often inaccurate than accurate) this is due to dwindling demand. Of course, demand is dwindling because the price is so high. At some point the price won't be so high and demand will come back.

The good news is that it has found downward pressure on so called technical levels. This means that speculators will now be apt to try and make money driving the price down. As I said in an earlier post, speculators aren't always the enemy of the working man when it comes to oil. Speculators are trying to make money, period. They don't care if it is driving the price of oil up or down. Given that technically the momentum is down, it is very likely these same speculators are now playing oil the other way.

Still, it is quite frustrating to watch D.C. inactive at this moment. Now, is the time for legislators to cease the moment and signal to the market that we are serious about domestic oil production. That would put the perfect sort of downward pressure on oil on top of the pressure it is already feeling. Congress continues to stall any drilling initiatives. The President could drive oil down even further by merely threatening to release some of the oil reserve if oil doesn't hit a certain number. If the President played it right, he wouldn't even need to actually release any of the reserve. There is plenty our legislators can do right now to signal to the market that they are serious about domestic energy. If they did that, that would put even more downward pressure and we would see oil really tank. Instead, all domestic energy ideas are caught in the middle of partisan rankling.

If, in fact, the experts are right, and oil is dropping because demand has dropped, this is all temporary. At some point, prices will settle into something Americans will accept and they will begin to drive more again. Unless we step up with measures to increase supply, I firmly believe this drop in price is temporary.

Merrill's Mortgages and the Corrupt Dodd/Frank Bill

Those that support the $300 billion bailout created by the Dodd/Frank have justified the bill using two faulty premises. Supporters of the bill refuse to call it a bailout for two reasons.

1) They claim that while borrowers will get new more affordable loans, these borrowers will now have to share their equity with FHA. While this is true, it is also misleading. That's because these borrowers almost always have no equity currently. Let's take an example. Let's say we have a borrower that owes $300,000 on a property worth $250,000. This bill will lower their balance to somewhere in the neighborhood of $225,000. Now, they will have $25,000 in equity but when they sell they will have to split that equity with FHA itself. Of course, this is nothing short of a boondoggle for any borrower that has been irresponsible. Sure, they now only own fifty percent of their equity, but fifty percent of something is still more than one hundred percent of nothing.

2) Banks will have to take a write down on their mortgages. That's true. In this same example, a bank would have to sell their $300,000 mortgage and only get $225,000 back. This may at first appear to be punitive. Yet, let's look what is happening to Merril Lynch's mortgage portfolio.

Yet the investment bank posted a $4.9 billion loss just two weeks ago, in a quarter in which it revealed $9 billion in writedowns.

Merrill has agreed to sell $30.6 billion of its repackaged debt, known as collateralized debt obligations — generally suspect and subprime mortgages — for 22 cents on the dollar. Private equity fund Lone Star Funds is the buyer.

Now, it should be pointed out that Merrill's case is extreme and so other banks would likely get more in the open market. That said, the difference between what they will get from FHA and what Merrill got from the market is quite significant and thus there is no doubt that FHA will offer all these banks, Countrywide and BofA included, a deal they would never get on their own.

As I have often pointed out, Bank of America received a very depressed price when they bought out Countrywide. That's because Countrywide was also holding on to a large portfolio of loans. These loans would also likely get a similar price on the open market to that of the Merrill Lynch backed mortgages. Now that Dodd/Frank has passed, the new entity will likely receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 times for these loans over what they would have received in the open market.

This is the sum total of this corrupt bill. Both the borrowers and the banks are receiving treatment we are NOT supposed to give to folks that act irresponsibly.

Home Prices Tumble Further

Home prices took a tumble in May.

A closely watched housing index shows home prices fell by the steepest rate ever in May, as the housing slump continued to deepen in the U.S.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index, released Tuesday, is off 15.8% for May compared with a year ago, a record decline since its inception in 2000. The narrower 10-city index has fallen 16.9%, its biggest decline in its 21-year history.

No city in the Case-Shiller 20-city index saw price gains in May, the second straight month that's happened. The monthly indices have not recorded an overall home price increase in any month since August 2006.

What continues to happen is a by product of a market that was built on loans done with little or no money down to one being quickly transformed to a market with a minimum of 20% down. This is the direction that Fannie/Freddie are quickly heading toward. On top of this, mortgage insurance providers have faced their own crisis for quite some time though their problems haven't received as much media attention.

Right now, FHA continues to be the only outlet for loans with little or no money down. It's unclear how long that will last. What is clear is that this crisis is nowhere near the end and it will get significantly more bloody than it has. Keep in mind this is a crisis up to four years in the making. Prices have been falling for just less than a year. I don't know how much longer it will go but I have no doubt we are nowhere near the end.

McCain's Sudden Reversal on Affirmative Action

In a wide ranging interview with George Stephanopolous, here is what John McCain said about an affirmative action initiative in his home state of Arizona.

During a "This Week" interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos John McCain reversed himself on affirmative action and endorsed for the first time a proposed state ballot measure which would end race and gender-based affirmative action in his home state of Arizona.

"I support it," McCain declared when asked about the referendum. "I do not believe in quotas... I have not seen the details of some of these proposals. But I’ve always opposed quotas."

McCain has long opposed quotas but his new support for ending affirmative action programs which stop short of quotas puts him at odds not only with Democratic rival Barack Obama but also with the Arizona senator's own views in 1998.

Back then, when the legislature in McCain's home state of Arizona considered sending the voters a measure to end affirmative action, McCain spoke out against it calling it "divisive."

As the piece indicates, McCain's position is in direct conflict with a strong position he took in 1998. Furthermore, his office had no good explanation for the reversal.

I do not have a firm enough grasp on the historical and relevant context of McCain's remark in 1998 to give you the pushback that this question deserves," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds told ABC News.

So, as it stands, this reversal appears to be the product of naked political opportunism by John McCain. The Obama campaign wasted no time in attacking this flip flop.

“Obama told attendees to the Unity conference that he was “disappointed… that John McCain flipped and changed his position. I think in the past he had been opposed to these kinds of… initiatives as divisive. And I think he’s right.”

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, a prominent Obama supporter, issued a statement accusing McCain of having made “a stunning reversal on his respectable record on affirmative action.”

McCain's problem appears partially to be the "nuance" in his previous position. While he appeared to be against quotas, he was against making such quotas illegal. While I can't support McCain's naked political opportunism, I do agree with his current position. Affirmative action is the sort of politically correct policy that makes for a good sound bite but makes absolutely no sense. The best counter to the concept of affirmative action is the case of Jayson Blair. Blair was the recipient of unofficial affirmative action at the New York Times. His editors were convinced that the newsroom needed more balance in their races and so Blair was promoted into positions he never would have received had he been white. As a result, he was thrown into positions he was never ready for. He folded under the pressure and began plagiarizing stories.

Affirmative action produces a student body and workforce that is inferior. Furthermore, it winds up hurting those it is supposed to help.

For instance, researchers Stephen Cole and Elinor Barber found that racial preferences at Ivy League colleges had a large and negative effect on the academic aspirations of black students.

The mechanism worked like this: Blacks admitted to elite schools with large preferences had more trouble competing with their classmates, and tended to get lower grades. Low grades, in turn, sapped the confidence of students, persuading them that they would not be able to compete effectively in Ph.D. programs. As a result, blacks at Ivy League schools were only half as likely as blacks at state universities to stick with plans for an academic career.

Dartmouth psychologist Rogers Elliot and three co-authors found that the same problem was keeping blacks out of the sciences.

Black students who received preferential admissions were at such a strong academic disadvantage compared with their classmates that fully half of those interested in the sciences tended to switch to majors with easier grading and less competition. Again, the net effect of preferential policies was to "mismatch" blacks with their academic environments.

Racism is racism and that's all affirmative action or any quota system is. When someone is chosen over another based on their race that is RACISM. Just because the racism is reversed to help minorities that were the subjects of previous forms of racism doesn't make it any less racist.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Israeli Factor

Dick Morris latest column paints an interesting possibility.

The most important primary for our 2008 election may be yet to come - the Kadima Party primary in Israel in mid or late September. It pits liberal-leaning Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni against hardliner and former Army Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz. (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to sit out the contest and concentrate on staying out of jail.)

According to polling that Morris has seen, the race between Mofaz and Livni is a near dead heat. Livni is the dove and Mofaz is the hawk. If Mofaz happens to win then Morris sees a set of events that could bring a strike by Israel on the Iranian nuclear facility before our election.

The thinking goes like this. A McCain Presidency would be a lot more sympathetic to a strike by Israel on Iran's nuclear program. Since it is by no means a guarantee that McCain will be President, Mofaz, if elected, may not wait.

Morris even offers some implied politcal machiavellia. Mofaz might strike at Iran right before our own election. This would make national security the top issue in the minds of American voters just before our election. Of course, if national security is the number one issue, this gives McCain the best chance to win.

Morris' hypothesis is filled with many what ifs and as a friend of mine used to say

if if was a fifth we'd all be drunk

and thus it's purely hypothetical at this stage. That said the Israeli election is one to keep an eye on as it may very well have a huge impact on our own.

Ten Economic Fundamentals and their Consequences

The City Journal has interesting piece today about ten economic principles that the article says have become settled economic matters. Now, the piece uses so called experts to make the case that these are settled matters. I am always weary of unspecified "experts" that are used to make a point. That said, I think these ten principles should be the basis for any economic plan. Let's look at each of them.

1)The market economy is the most efficient of all economic systems.

This means that all those that are touting universal health care or socialized medicine as the way to go to fix the health care system are NOT founded in any economic principles. The tragic irony is that in my opinion our health care problems come largely from a lack of market activity. Because most folks receive their health insurance from their employer, the population doesn't perform the same market functions they would with most goods or services. There are those now using our economic malaise to push the idea that free market is not the way to go. Their perspective is simply wrong. (Here is how I countered one such argument)

2) Free trade helps economic development.

Free trade has become the whipping boy for much of the economic problems throughout the heartland. The reality is that free trade became the scapegoat for many other problems. The concept behind free trade is very simple. Everyone has things they are good at and things that are in short supply. We trade those things that we are good at, and important those things that are in short supply. This bit of economic common sense won't stop those opportunists from using free trade as some sort of source of demonization. They just won't have economics on their side.

3) Good institutions help development.

As I mentioned earlier, free markets are the key to any successful economic system. Good institutions are key to making sure that any free market doesn't get corrupted. In fact, good instutitions are key to making sure any economy doesn't get corrupted. Good institutions make sure there is fair play. Even here we hav a long way to go to make sure that good institutions overlook the market.

4) The best measure of a good economy is its growth.

This one has plenty of consequences to partisans everywhere. The best measure of growth is Gross Domestic Product. GDP has been growing nearly non stop since the beginning of 2002. It had outstanding three percent plus growth from 2003-2007 and even continues to show some growth, though barely. In other words, based on this principle, the Bush economy was a good economy.

5) Creative destruction is the engine of economic growth.

Capitalism is based on the principle of survival of the fittest. That means whoever is number one had better always watch their backs. This constant struggle to be number is what spawns innovation and innovation spawns growth. The engine to innovation is capital investment and thus anyone that punishes capital investment by raising taxes on capital is stunting growth.

6) Monetary stability, too, is necessary for growth; inflation is always harmful.

Let's call this the Steve Forbes principle. Sacrificing inflation for growth will always wind up slowing down the economy in the end. Once prices rise it stunts growth.

7)Unemployment among unskilled workers is largely determined by how much labor costs.

As our economy gets more and more globalized, unskilled labor becomes more and more obselete. The lesson here is that in the 21st century it is even more vital to be educated. It is the unskilled workers that are more at risk of free trade. Gaining education and skills is the most vital asset in the 21st century.

8) While the welfare state is necessary in some form, it isn’t always effective

Don't tell folks like Hillary Clinton but welfare almost never works. We want an economy short on entitlements only unfortunately we have seen an explosion of entitlements over the last half century. It is due strictly to politics though not to economics.

9) The creation of complex financial markets has brought about economic progress
Remember this the next time someone condemns too many mergers, derivatives, or other sophisticated economic tool. Tools like this get demonized all the time and used to contrast what the working stiff has with what the fat cat has. Yet, it is these tools that help drive our economy. Beware of anyone that demonizes any sophisticated tool.

10) Competition is usually desirable

This goes without saying. It should also mean that the answer to any economic problem is more competition. If more problems were solved by increasing competition we would see more sensible solutions. This principle should be a warning to all those that vehemently defend the oil companies. Six companies dominating the so called market is NOT competition.

Obama's Iraq Policy Morphs into McCain's

(H/T to Hot Air) Here is what Barack Obama recently said to Katie Couric.

You’ve been talking about those limited missions for a long time. Having gone there and talked to both diplomatic and military folks, do you have a clearer idea of how big a force you’d need to leave behind to fulfill all those functions?

I do think that’s entirely conditions-based. It’s hard to anticipate where we may be six months from now, or a year from now, or a year and a half from now.

At this point, there is only a marginal amount of difference between what Barack Obama wants to do and what McCain wants to do. If Obama wants to begin troop withdrawal immediately but also leave a residual force that will be maintained based on conditions, there is now very little difference between his position and McCain's. That said, the difference is open to exploitation by the McCain campaign.

As it stands now on Obama's Iraq policy, which has shown remarkable fluidity, we will begin the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, however our residual force will be entirely conditions based. In other words, we aren't going to remove all combat forces from Iraq in sixteen months, we will merely finish the removal of forces while leaving the residual force. Obama hasn't specified how large that residual force will be. Estimates have put it between 50 thousand and 75 thousand.

So, really the only difference now is that Obama will begin removing forces regardless of conditions on the ground. Now, if this is implemented, it will likely lead to an uptick in violence. If it does, will Obama immediately move forces back in or will he continue with the withdrawal? Will he pause in the withdrawal if it leads to an uptick in violence?

If Obama plans on leaving a significant presence in Iraq, how is his plan in any way different from McCain's...besides the fact that his is much more likely to increase violence? If he plans on leaving a significant presence what is so special about his sixteen month time horizon? After all, American troops will still be in a war zone in significant numbers. Given that our casualties will liekly fall below twenty this month, wouldn't his plan only lead to more U.S. casualties? If the residual force is entirely based on conditions, why isn't the withdrawal horizon itself also based on conditions?

As you can see, this new nuance leads to an endless amount of questions for which there aren't any good answers. These are all questions the McCain campaign needs to hammer Obama on and make him account for numerous hypotheticals for which there are no good predictions. this sort of nuanced position in which Obama wants the best of both worlds where he has a timetable for withdrawal and also a plan that is based on conditions is actually a total disaster waiting to happen. This is what the McCain campaign needs to point out if they want to win the Iraq debate.

Obama's Fuzzy Math and Curious Economic Policy

Barack Obama updated his economic policy today.

Barack Obama will raise taxes on families making $250,000 or more but pledges that anyone earning $150,000 or less will get a tax cut under his proposed budget plan.

The presumptive Democratic presidential candidate told FOX News that he defines the middle class as anyone making under $250,000.

“What I would say is, if you are making more than $250,000, than you’re more than middle class. You’re doing better. If you are making less than $250,000, then you are definitely somewhere in the middle class. And if you’re making $150,000 or less, than I think most Americans would agree that you’re middle class. So that’s why the fact that if you are making less than $250,000, you will not see your taxes go up under an Obama administration,” Obama said in an interview taped in London on Friday and aired on FOX News on Monday.

This is an updated on his policy which used to promise a tax cut to anyone making $75,000 and less. That said, there is a lot here and first of all, saying that anyone making $150,000 or less is "middle class" is far too broad a statement. If you are single individual living in Lincoln, Nebraska and you make $149,000 per year, you are definitely upper class. In New York City, you would be more like middle class.

First off, so called targeted tax cuts, where one group gets a tax cut and another gets a tax increase, is a tax policy sure for failure. It certainly works if you are attempting good political class warfare but it is doomed for failure as a policy. It is those making over $250,000 per year that drive jobs. Those are the entrepeneurs and business owners. While the rest of the population may cheer when they see the super wealthy get theirs, it won't help spur the economy to punish them.

Furthermore, not only is his plan misleading but it doesn't add up. First, he plans on increasing the capital gains tax. Currently, more than half the population is invested in stocks. All of those folks will see an increase in those taxes. Second, he plans on re introducing the death tax. This is a tax on any estate worth one million or more dollars. If someone invested $50/month for forty years and earned 12% return annually that would net over one million dollars. Both of those taxes would hit a lot of people making less than $150,000.

Second of all, there is no way to sustain this tax without suffering obscene amounts of deficits. Obama plans on introducing universal health care, mortgage relief, extended joblessness benefits, and more government spending on so called "green jobs", to name a few of a plethora of new government spending. We are talking trillions of new dollars yearly in government spending. Please note, Iraq only costs about $120 billion yearly. Most of this spending would have to come from increased taxes. The idea that Barack Obama will be able to achieve a trillion new dollars in spending while promising to also lower taxes on everyone but the super rich is pure fantasy.

Furthermore, while he is promising a tax break on everyone but the super rich, he also promises a tax increase on capital gains, as I already mentioned, and corporate tax. Our corporate tax rate is already the second highest in the world. By making it unattractive for corporations to do business here, he will only drive jobs away. This increase along with the increase in capital gains tax will make it very unattractive for capital investment in the country.

The problem with Obama's economic plan is that it is entirely rooted in a populist POLITICAL message. It is NOT rooted in good policy. On a political level, it makes all the sense in the world to bleed the super wealthy dry along with the corporations. It makes even more sense to promise a tax cut to everyone else. Furthermore, you top it off with promises of major spending increases and you have a policy that most economically illiterate Americans find attractive. Of course, you top it off with a nebulous but good sounding term like this just to make it seem plausible...

Obama said the massive budget deficit and investment in infrastructure he wants to make require changes to the tax code.

I am all for changes in the tax code depending on what they are. That said, just because he says doesn't mean they will happen or even more they will work. The tax code is big giant maze of confusion and sophistication from passive income, dividends, gains, etc. Changes in the tax code are a good idea depending on what they are. On the other hand, a sure fire way of knowing that someone has no idea how to really change the tax code is if they merely say they will change the tax code without specifying how. That's exactly what Obama did here.

The so called bottom to top economic growth that Obama is featuring has no chance of succeeding if he punishes the drivers of economic investment at the same time he rewards economic consumers. What this plan will amount to is an increase in consumer spending at the same time business investment is decreasing. That is the sort of economic growth that is not sustainable. Investment is the driver of any capitalistic system. Obama's plan punishes that exact activity.

Only those that have no economic education whatsoever would believe that Obama can pull off a plethora of new spending while at the same time only taxing the super wealthy. On those with no economic education would believe this sort of policy would create the economic expansion necessary. Of course, unfortunately that pretty much covers most Americans.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Perfect Storm: The Looming FHA Bankruptcy and the Bailout

During the refinance and real estate boom, FHA loans were one of the few sub set of niches to experience outstanding growth. That's because niches like sub prime and Alt A loosened their guidelines so much that FHA loans became nearly obselete.

The same thing that made FHA unattractive then maybe the crux of the problems that are coming now, Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP). It is an up front fee of 1.5% charged by FHA at closing and also a monthly fee equal to .005 of the loan yearly. (in other words a $200,000 loan would have an up front fee of $3500 and $1000 yearly or $83.33 per month) Because sub prime didn't have either an up front MIP or monthly MIP, and Alt A didn't have an up front MIP and no monthly MIP on loans below 80% loan to value, this made both attractive when compared to FHA. Furthermore, FHA didn't allow for such things as stated loans. Once those two sub sets began to offer loans with little or no money down, FHA became very uncompetitive.

Of course, times have changed and sub prime and Alt A are nearly non existent. FHA is the only resource left for folks with little or no money down. It is also the place that the Dodd/Frank mortgage bill wants to place all the troubled loans that are now in or on the brink of foreclosure. (this is the corrupt bill that is about to pass and become law) Now, as this chart shows....

The default ratios for FHA are now becoming dangerously high already. With the addition of about $300 billion in new bad loans, it will be like adding gasoline to a flame.

This brings me back to this concept of Mortgage Insurance Premium. This healthy payment is actually paid to FHA itself. This goes into a pool to act as the insurance for loans that default. When defaults are .25%-.5%, there is plenty of money in the pool. Of course, defaults are already reaching past one percent, and FHA hasn't even done any loans for any of these troubled borrowers.

Once those borrowers are added to a mix of loans already too far into default it is already a matter of time before FHA is facing default. Of course, if the insurer is facing default, that puts every bank that will be heavy in FHA at risk. After all, FHA is insuring the loan in case the borrower defaults for the bank. Most of the loans will be originated by banks that are now facing their own liquidity crisis. These banks are counting on Dodd/Frank to bail themselves out just like the borrowers. They aren't going to be able to hold on to billions if not trillions worth of loans unless they are insured. Thus, we will again be facing a situation of a mortgage entity to vital to fail much like we are now facing with Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac. Only this time, the bailout with be hundreds of billions if not trillions.

Right now, both Fannie and Freddie are both tightening up their own guidelines such that FHA is going to become more popular than it was ever intended. Furthermore, there are still at least one trillion dollars worth of Adjustable Rate Mortgages that still need to adjust. Many of these folks will also be looking to get into FHA. All of these factors will combine to make FHA almost guaranteed to fail and so vital that we, the tax payers, will need to bail it out.

Obama's DisGate Day 4

When I first read that Barack Obama had skipped a meeting with the troops on Hot Air, I really didn't think that this story would have that much legs. Don't get me wrong, it is at least as newsworthy as the speech in Berlin. However, given the media the way it is, I thought it would mostly be fodder for the conservative blogs. This story has slowly been getting legs. First, they had one of their surrogates, Retired Lt. Colonel Joe Repya, give this stinging response.

The most solemn duty of a commander in chief is to fulfill his responsibility to the men and women who serve this country in uniform. Barack Obama had scheduled a visit with wounded American troops who have served with honor and distinction in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he broke that commitment, instead flitting from one European capital to the next. Several explanations were offered, none was convincing and each was at odds with the statements of American military leaders in Germany and Washington. For a young man so apt at playing president, Barack Obama badly misjudged the important demands of the office he seeks. Visits with world leaders and speeches to cheering Europeans shouldn’t be a substitute for comforting injured American heroes.”

Then, they just put up this ad.

He was also on ABC This Week with George Stephanopolous talking about it.

If I had been told by the Pentagon that I couldn’t visit those troops, and I was there and wanted to be there, I guarantee you, there would have been a seismic event," McCain told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an interview to air Sunday on "This Week".


But McCain questioned his rival's justification: "I know of no Pentagon regulation that would have prevented him from going there -- without the media and the press and all of the associated people. Nothing that I know of would have kept him from visiting those wounded troops."

McCain went on to note that "in Landstuhl, Germany, when I went through, I visited the hospital. ... I think people make a judgment by what we do and what we don’t do. He certainly found time to do other things."

The Obama campaign, for its part, just responded through their surrogate Jack Reed (D Rhode Island)

I was with Senator Obama last week as we met privately with troops in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Senator Obama listened to their concerns and expressed his gratitude for their service without press or fanfare. He cares for our troops deeply and has worked hard to give them not only the resources they need, but also honor their service with a clearly defined mission and by providing them with the support they have earned when they come home. And just as Senator McCain's support of President Bush's veto of funding for our troops doesn't mean he does not support them, neither does Senator Obama's insistence that we not give George Bush a blank check.

It is certainly not a front burner issue, yet, though McCain is doing his best to make it one. The longer it is in the public consciousness the better it is for the McCain campaign.

Just as an aside, the so called "blank check" that Senator Reed talks about is for funding for the surge while troops were still in the war theater. That is the operation that even the Associated Press now admits has the U.S. on the brink of victory. This is the same surge that Senator Obama initially opposed back when it was politically popular to do so in the beginning of 2007. It is a decision that he can't seem to bring himself to admit was wrong.

Propaganda and the South African AIDS Crisis

Introduction: When I was a stock broker, the legendary stockbroker Wil Rondini followed a company by the name of Female Health Care Corp. His pitch relates to the piece that follows and so here is the beginning....

Back in the 1500's, the Black Plagues swept through Europe. It took nearly a century for the population to regain their pre Black Plague levels. Now, AIDS is sweeping through Africa. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2003 one in four people will have AIDS in South Africa. Unfortunately, in these male dominated societies, traditional forms of contraception are simply impossible. That's why a company just down the road from here has created the female condom...

In response to this piece about the Grady Hospital mess, I received this comment.

Read this about kevin. He is not your friend.

Kevin is Kevin Kuritzky, the subject of the piece, and the piece referenced by this commenter is by an individual named Clark Baker. Baker is loosely affiliated with a group of scientists and other medical experts that have hypothesized that AIDS and the HIV virus don't exist. The group is lead by a doctor and a journalist, Celia Farber and Dr. Peter Duesberg, and both have written extensively hypothesizing that HIV does NOT cause AIDS. Both were subject of an award by the Semmelweis Society. This is what Kevin Kuritzky along with his colleague Jim Murtaugh objected to. This is what caused Baker, a former police officer in Los Angeles, to write this scathing critique of Kuritzky.

For his part, Kuritzky said that any attack by Baker or anyone in his group is a badge of honor. To me, the debate over the existence of AIDS is beneath me. That said, the spread of AIDS throughout the Sub Sahara Africa and especially in South Africa, and wittingly or unwittingly this group played their own small role in allowing the government of South Africa to look the other way.

The statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) are stunning. They estimate that 80% of males between 18-35 are afflicted with the HIV virus. Some of the problems have to do with the culture that Rondini talked about. The demographics of South Africa are such that blacks account for almost 80% of the population while whites account for just less than 10%. Of course, years of Apartheid left much of the black population uneducated and poor. The so called male dominated societies that Rondini spoke of simply meant males that were promiscuous and refused to wear condoms. Many of them were married and after they visited numerous prostitutes they invariably passed the disease along to their spouses and often to then to their unborn children.

Throughout the late 1980's and 1990's this disease was gripping the country and the Sub Sahara around it. The ruling governments of South Africa and its neighbors were looking for any propaganda that would allow them to look the other way while this disease gripped the country. Here is the position of then President Mbeki in 2001.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has written to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, ordering her to consider a cut in the AIDS budget. He claims to have discovered World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics from 1995 on the Internet showing that HIV/AIDS causes only a relatively tiny number of deaths in
South Africa—2,653.

Mbeki cynically warned her that the figures would “provoke a howl of displeasure and a concerted propaganda campaign from those who have convinced themselves that HIV/AIDS is the single biggest cause of death in our country.” He continued, “These are the people whose prejudices led them to discover the false reality, among other things, that we are running out of space in our cemeteries as a result of unprecedented deaths caused by HIV/AIDS.

“Nevertheless, whatever the intensity of the hostile propaganda that might be provoked by the WHO statistics, we cannot allow that government policy and programmes should be informed by misperceptions, however widespread and well-established they may seem to be.”

This is where both Dr. Duesberg and Dr. Farber became unwitting accomplices in their propaganda. Dr. Duesberg wrote several books in the late 1980's and 1990's denying the existence of AIDS. Their theories were embedded in another hypothesis that most gays were also heavy drug users and their so called "AIDS", as Dr. Duesberg at least saw it, was usually simply the degeneration of the body from years of drug use. This theory, laced with homophobia, became the perfect tool for any government looking to deflect any responsibility for dealing with the disease. (a government just like that of South Africa) These books along with much of his other statement became the subject of propaganda for the South African government. Here is what Dr. Duesberg said at one such conference.

According to the WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Records, the whole continent of Africa has generated between 1991 and 1999 a rather steady yield of 60,000 to 90,000 AIDS cases annually, on average about 75,000 (WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Records since 1991). Based on the last available data from South Africa, 8,976 cases were reported there between 1994 and 1996 by the WHO, corresponding to about 4,500 cases per year (WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Records 1998 and 1995). The WHO does not report how many of these cases are deaths, how many survive with, and how many recover from AIDS.

However, it is evident from the WHO data that the African AIDS epidemic is not following the bell-shaped curve of an exponential rise and subsequent sharp drop with immunity, that are typical of infectious epidemics. Instead it drags on like a
nutritionally or environmentally caused disease (Seligmann et al., 1984), that steadily affects, what appears to be only a very small percentage of the African population.

Given a current African population of 616 million (United Nations Environment Programme, June 15, 2000), and an average of 75,000 African AIDS cases per year, it follows that only 0.012% of the African population is annually suffering or dying from AIDS. Likewise only 0.01% of the South African population was suffering from AIDS between 1994 and 1996, based on the 4,500 annual cases and a population of approximately 44 million (US Agency for International Development, "HIV/AIDS in the developing World", May 1999). This means that the new African AIDS epidemic only represents a very small fraction of normal African mortality.

Dr. Duesberg then went on to make the case that AIDS is not real because it doesn't follow the same statistical models as all other epidemics. (you can read the entire diatrobe by clicking the link provided) This sort of hypothesis along with his book, Inventing the AIDS Virus, were used by the South African government for more than a decade as part of a well coordinated propaganda machine so that they could sit by and do nothing while their population repeated the pandameic of the Black Plagues that Wil Rondini spoke of.

It was only in the last two years that the government finally acknowledged the crisis.It was only in the last few years that the South African government finally acknowledged the crisis that is killing off their population.

The South African government yesterday announced a dramatic reversal of its approach to the country's Aids crisis, promising increased availability of drugs and endorsing the efforts of civic groups battling the disease.

"We must take our fight against Aids to a much higher level," the deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, told a conference of Aids activists, who until recently had been ignored and even denounced by the government. "We must tighten up so that ARV [antiretroviral] drugs are more accessible, especially to the poor. Education and prevention of HIV infection must be scaled up. Our people want us to unite on this issue in the best interests of the health and wellbeing of our nation. Working together we can defeat this disease," she said to cheers from a crowd of health professionals, church leaders and labour officials.

Experts said the government's policy change could save thousands of lives. An estimated 5.4 million of South Africa's 47 million people are infected with HIV, one of the highest ratios in the world. "This is a sea change," said Mark Heywood, director of the Aids Law Project. "We're not across the ocean yet, but now the government is sailing in the right direction."

Of course, after looking the other way for nearly two decades while the disease gripped their nation, the measure maybe too little too late. No doubt AIDS deniers like Duesberg and Farber played their small roles in killing millions.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

U.S. Now Winning War in Iraq

(H/T to Hot Air) That is the headline from this piece from the Associated Press.

The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost. Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years. But the Iraqi government and the U.S. now are able to shift focus from mainly combat to mainly building the fragile beginnings of peace — a transition that many found almost unthinkable as recently as one year ago.

Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government.

That does not mean the war has ended or that U.S. troops have no role in Iraq. It means the combat phase finally is ending, years past the time when President Bush optimistically declared it had. The new phase focuses on training the Iraqi army and police, restraining the flow of illicit weaponry from Iran, supporting closer links between Baghdad and local governments, pushing the integration of former insurgents into legitimate government jobs and assisting in rebuilding the economy.

The important part is not the substance of the article but rather the source. Of course, if you have paid attention to Iraq, you would have seen that the counter insurgency strategy has been winning the war for months. In fact, Michael Yon concurred with this thought earlier this month. (Yon has spent nearly five years in Iraq as both a special ops officer and then as a journalist)

The war continues to abate in Iraq. Violence is still present, but, of course, Iraq was a relatively violent place long before Coalition forces moved in. I would go so far as to say that barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What's left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it's time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my
estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.

This thought was echoed by Michael Totten (another journalist who has spent years in the war zone)

As recently as the first half of 2007, the idea of an American victory in Iraq seemed like a fantasy to just about everyone, including me. General David Petraeus surged additional troops to Iraq, however, and he transformed the joint American-Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy into what nearly all observers now acknowledge is a remarkable and unexpected success. Few bothers to argue otherwise anymore. What remains ambiguous and contested is the definition of an American victory.

It’s slightly tricky for a couple of reasons. Pinpointing the exact date when a counterinsurgency ends – not just in Iraq, but any counterinsurgency – is impossible. There are no final battles. There can’t be. And if we don’t know when the war is over, it can be difficult to figure out what over even means in the first place. So how will we know if we’ve won?

Of course, neither Yon or Totten would ever be found in any mainstream publication. This comes from the Associated Press and so it may likely be filtered to newspapers everywhere. So, now that the MSM has declared victory in Iraq, will they notice that Barack Obama is trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with his 16 month timetable for withdrawal.

Re Examining "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

Don't ask don't tell is a policy that the military deals with gays that serve in the military.

Don't ask, don't tell" is the common term for the U.S. military policy which implements Pub.L. 103-160 (10 U.S.C. § 654). Unless one of the numerous exceptions from 10 U.S.C. § 654(b) applies, the policy prohibits anyone who
"demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from
serving in the armed forces of the United States, because it "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." The act prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation, or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States armed forces. The policy also requires that as long as gay or bisexual men and women in the military hide their sexual orientation, commanders are not allowed to investigate their sexuality. The net effect of this policy is that the military does not take an official stance against gay or bisexual desire; one must engage in open homosexual acts to commit a punishable offense.

It was a compromise reached in 1993 between the Clinton administration and the military over gays serving in the military. One of President Clinton's campaign platforms was his insistence to allow all citizens regardless of sexual orientation to serve openly in the military. This was a compromise between the military which had long standing rules against all acts of homosexuality. It is a policy that most elites in the MSM have come to despise. (as indicated by this column)

Today Congress is holding its first hearing in 15 years on the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy barring bisexuals, gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The hearings, called by a House Armed Services subcommittee, are likely to be more notable for the fact that they are being held at all rather than anything of substance they may produce. The simple fact that the hearings are taking place offers the most
significant indication yet that the U.S. is finally reconsidering its strange policy of enforced hypocrisy that came to be called "Don't ask, don't tell." The hearings should also provide a delicate moment for Senator Barack Obama, who has said he opposes "Don't ask, don't tell" but is also reportedly considering one of its major architects, former Senator Sam Nunn, to be his running mate.

Don't ask, don't tell" was itself a misnomer, a media-friendly term that did not accurately describe the 1993 law passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Clinton. The law did not actually prevent the Pentagon from "asking" any service member or potential service member whether he or she is gay. The Pentagon did agree to stop asking about sexuality in recruitment forms and interviews, but it never agreed to stop investigating whether those serving in the military are gay. That's why discharges of gays did not substantially decrease after the law was enacted. Compare the period between 1986 and 1990 with the period a decade later, between 1996 and 2000. According to Randy Shilts' 1993 book Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military, during the first period, which was prior to "Don't ask, don't tell," the Pentagon discharged 5,951 service members for being gay. During the second period, Defense Department figures show that 5,327 gays were discharged — a modest decline of 10%.

Military commanders had only to read the law to see that Congress wasn't serious about protecting gay service members. The law's text is a tissue of barely disguised bigotry. For instance, it points out that service members must "accept living conditions and working conditions that are often spartan, primitive and characterized by forced intimacy, with little or no privacy." One can forgive the historically inappropriate reference to the Spartans — fierce warriors whose loyalty to one another in no way excluded sexual relationships, and indeed may have encouraged them. But the specter of "forced intimacy" recalled the worst kind of anti-gay bigotry: the notion that gays can't control themselves or respect sexual privacy. Nunn himself led reporters and colleagues on an infamous "field hearing" into the sleeping quarters and showers of ships and submarines in May 1993. It was demeaning and schoolboyishly prurient, but as icky demagoguery, the stunt worked brilliantly.

It is certainly not an issue that will be on the frontburner of the list of policies in the next election however Barack Obama has indicated that he intends to end this policy.

Fourteen years ago, the Democratic Party faced a test of leadership, and our party failed that test. We had an opportunity to be leaders on the World stage in eliminating discrimination against gay and lesbian service members, to recognize the patriotism and heroism of the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian citizens who have served our country. Instead, we bowed to fear and prejudice. We were told that American soldiers weren’t ready to serve next to gay and lesbian comrades. We were told that our airmen, sailors and Marines would lose their “unit cohesion” if we implemented a policy of equality. And so, rather than embracing leadership and principle, we embraced Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — a policy that is antithetical to the values of honor and integrity that our military holds most dear. Patriotic gay and lesbian Americans are now told that they may serve their country only if they hide their true identities. They are forced to live a lie as the price of risking their lives for their country.

Fourteen years later, the United States of America lags far behind. We lag behind our military allies, who are repudiating discrimination against lesbian and gay soldiers in ever increasing numbers — in Great Britain, Canada, Israel, nearly every NATO member in Europe — all with no impact upon military readiness and performance. And our politicians lag behind the American people, who now call for the repeal of Don’t Ask,Don’t Tell in super-majority numbers. It is time for a change.

To me at least, opponents of "Don't ask don't tell" are exhibiting political correctness run amok. First, I have spent absolutely no time in the military. My agreement with "Don't ask don't tell" is based entirely on the time I have spent in sports locker rooms. Locker rooms force males of all shapes and sizes get close to other males in ways that they probably never intended. Sports teams also have one goal and one goal only, winning. This laser light approach to one goal takes discipline and focus. Now, imagine such an environment dealing with an openly homosexual
individual within their midst. Of course, when the stakes are only victory in sports that is one thing. The stakes for the military are significantly more.

Much like a sports locker room, a military barracks also forces males to get much closer to each other than anyone ever intended. The military also requires discipline and focus, only it is required in much greater quantity and quality. Currently, our military is fighting wars on two fronts. Imagine if those military barracks are then occupied by a few males that are openly gay. While we'd all like to believe that it would make no difference, I live in reality rather than the politically correct and idealized world that the MSM and Barack Obama occupy.

The military relies on discipline and having an openly gay individual within the confines of cramped barracks threatens that discipline. The unintended consequences of this well meaning but misguided position is unimaginable. A military without discipline is one that doesn't function. The job of the military is NOT to produce individuals that are tolerant of others. That is what self help and sensitivity groups are for. This policy, which would force our military to deal with issues that have nothing to do with warfare during a war, is dangerous at all times and certainly during war.