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Thursday, April 30, 2009

President Obama Vs. the Speculators

The big business news this morning is the announcement that Chrysler will soon file for bankruptcy.

Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday afternoon in New York, a move President Obama said would give the company a "new lease on life."

The president also announced that Chrysler has met his demand to strike a partnership with Italian automaker Fiat and said he thinks the alliance has a "strong chance of success."

Chrysler faced a Thursday deadline to produce a restructuring plan, but some of the automaker's creditors reportedly declined an offer Wednesday from the Treasury Department that would give the lenders $2.25 billion in exchange for forgiving Chrysler's $6.9 billion debt.

This was initially a blow to the White House because they had been working tirelessly to put together a proposal to keep the company going with the UAW as the main shareholder. Yet, according to Politico, the White House sees opportunity in this setback.

With a flash of anger Thursday morning, President Barack Obama offered a blistering critique of “a small group of speculators” who refused to go along with the government’s plan to keep Chrysler out of bankruptcy.

And while he is setting up a dramatic showdown with Wall Street, it might be exactly the fight that the White House wants right now.

The White House had offered Chrysler’s lenders a deal to take roughly 33 cents on a dollar to write off the company’s debt. Most took the deal, but a few holdouts said it wasn’t good enough — and their refusal to go along pushed the company into bankruptcy.

Now Obama is calling them out.

Let's leave the politics aside for a minute. I think the politics are a lot more complicated than taking a populist stand against a group, hedge funds, that are easy to demonize. Look at what the White House has done vis a vis the automakers. They gave each loans to avoid bankruptcy. They demanded that one CEO be let go. They demanded business plans in lieu of a new loan. They got in the middle of stakeholder negotiations. Now, when those negotiations didn't go in a way they liked, they have decided to use the bully pulpit of the Presidency to demonize one of the negotiating parties. For sheer chutzpah, Obama then continues to claim that he doesn't want to run the automakers. Well, he could have fooled me given everything he has done recently?

What's important about all of this is that President Obama is tying more and more industries to the government and he's not afraid to demonize those entities, in the business process, that he feels are getting in his way. The chilling effect of such a combination can't be understated. Let's take junk bonds. Those are bonds of corporations deemed a high credit risk. How would a hedge fund now feel about investing in a junk bond? If that company goes under, they will be targeted for demonization if they have the "audacity" to hold out for the best deal for themselves, a la the bond holders of Chrysler.

What about any of the hedge funds that are supposed to get involved in the Private Public Partnership to buy toxic assets? You are watching your fellow colleagues get pulverized in the press for holding out for the best deal for themselves, and now you are supposed to invest millions and billions alongside the government. Does President Obama really expect any of these "evil" hedge funds and private equity firms that he is now demonizing to invest any money alongside the government when he sees political advantage in demonizing them when they attempt to make money?

What about energy? President Obama is trying to fast track a plan so that the government effectively has a hand in just about all energy decisions. What if you are working with an energy source that the government deems unworthy? How do you now feel about the demonization of hedge funds? What if you, too, cross the government? Will you face the same wrath, and how much will that cost your business?

It may or may not be politically effective to go after the hedge funds because they dared to hold out for a better deal for themselves in relation to Chrysler, however, economically, it is downright shameful.

So Far, So Ugly in the Republican Political Civil War

The Politico graphically illustrates just how ugly the political civil war is getting in the aftermath of Arlen Specter leaving the party.

Faced with a high-profile defection and the prospect of political irrelevance in the Senate, Republicans took off the gloves Wednesday for a ferocious game of finger-pointing.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and George Voinovich blamed the Club for Growth for imposing a right-wing litmus test that chased Arlen Specter out of the Republican Party. The Club for Growth blamed Specter — first for helping to ruin the GOP and then for leaving it. A leading Republican strategist blamed the party for turning its back on moderates. Sen. Lindsey Graham sniped at Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Specter’s pollster blamed the stimulus bill. Karl Rove blamed Specter himself.

And the National Republican Senatorial Committee set about trying to taint Specter among Pennsylvania Democrats by reminding them that he was once aligned with Republican President George W. Bush

Here is the NRSC ad.

Yesterday, I spoke about how the Club for Growth has become a sort of boogeyman of those that are considered moderates in the Republican party. It appears that demonization has been given more credence with both Voinovich and Hatch now taking up the same cause.

This looks like nothing short of a circular firing squad. We have fingerpointing from one side of the party to the other side almost no one is left to spare. It's counter productive on a level not seen. The CFG, for instance, has millions of supporters nationwide. What do you think anyone sympathetic to their cause feels when someone in the party blames that group for its demise?

Meanwhile, you have the purist base almost daring moderates like Olympia Snowe to follow Specter out of the party. The party leadership is busy trying to make sure they themselves aren't to blame. That's why we both have fingers pointed at Michael Steele and by Michael Steele.

The effect of this is obvious. The party will splinter into several pieces with each blaming the other for all their problems. If the first two days are any indication, things will get rather ugly. The CFG is just the first so called sacrificial lamb of those with an agenda. Look for other groups to be demonized. Look for leaders to blame each other. That's also all very natural because this civil war is also a struggle for power. Weakening others in a position of power stregthens your own position. Ultimately of course, it is the party itself that is the loser. There is nothing worse than party leaders all pointing fingers at each other. That's what's happening so far, and it doesn't appear to be subsiding.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The H1N1 Virus: Obama's Next Test

Let me have a thought experiment about the H1N1 virus, better known as the swine virus. I've heard that Mexico is struggling containing this virus. They are also in the middle of a drug war. In this war, dozens if not hundreds often die daily. So many are dying that bodies are often not discovered for days if not weeks on some more rare occasions. Well, imagine if this virus were to mutate with a dead body. That sounds like the sort of nightmare scenario that virus like AIDS are created.

Here's another thought experiment. Imagine if significant numbers of government buildings were shut down for weeks if not months at a time. For instance, the Mexican government has announced that all non essential government workers are now indefinitely laid off.

Mexico's president told citizens on Wednesday to stay home for a five-day partial shutdown of the economy, after the World Health Organization raised its alert level and said a swine flu pandemic was imminent.

In his first televised address since the crisis erupted last week, President Felipe Calderon told Mexicans to stay home with their families. The country will suspend
non-essential work and services, including some government ministries, from May

What sort of effect would it have if significant numbers of buildings, both private and public, had to be shut down indefinitely. If there are major disruptions for any significant amount of time, the pain to our economy at this moment would be devastating.

According to the CDC, this virus can spread very quickly.

Human-to-human transmission of swine flu can also occur. This is thought to occur in the same way as seasonal flu occurs in people, which is mainly person-to-person transmission through coughing or sneezing of people infected with the influenza virus. People may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

So, once out, this can spread very quickly.

It's clear that a virus like this mishandled could not only have an impact medically but economically. Mishandled, this virus could still be doing damage for years if not decades. Furthermore, all of this needs to be done without creating a panic. As such, in many ways, this is turning out to be a real test for the Obama administration. If he were to be able to contain the damage, he would nipping a potentially serious problem in the bud. If he mishandles it,

President Obama Vs. the Tea Parties and Fox News?

On tax day, President Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, somewhat famously said that the president was unaware of the mass demonstrations. Today, at a townhall event, President Obama finally did acknowledge the tea parties. (H/T to Hot Air)

Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which I’m not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, Obama said, “let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we are going to stabilize Social Security.”

“But,” Obama continued, “let’s not play games and pretend that the reason [for the deficit] is because of the Recovery Act.”

Now, first, let's deal with the substance of his statement. His budget shortfall for the first year is nearly $2 trillion. The stimulus was only $787 billion and so there is another more than one trillion dollars well beyond the stimulus in deficit spending. The president wasn't paying much attention to the tea parties apparently. The stimulus was only one small piece of the protest.

The protest was about out of control government spending. The kind that brings nearly two trillion in deficits in one year. It includes a bloated stimulus, bank bailout, mortgage bailout, an omnibus spending bill with nearly 8000 earmarks, and a budget that is nearly $4 trillion for the year.

President Obama has inherited a bloated budget deficit of about half a trillion and more than tripled that. Who exactly are we supposed to protest for this massive government expansion if not those in charge? As is now a pattern, the president has created a straw man to misdirect from the issue at hand.

More importantly though is the very fact that he acknowledged the tea parties and the Alinsky like manner that he tries to marginalize them. The not so subtle reference to Fox News is very important. This is standard operating procedure of the Alinsky tactic of marginalizing your opponent. The manner he does it in essentially attempts to marginalize both the tea parties and Fox News all at once.

Remember, Alinsky rule 13 is identify, isolate, freeze and escalate. That he acknowledged the tea parties effectively accomplishes the first, identify. By marginalizing both the tea parties and Fox News, he tries to isolate both. (by marginalizing both as fringe elements against his agenda) This is meant to freeze their momentum and the next step is to escalate the attacks.

That both the tea parties and Fox News are getting the Alinsky treatment not only from the MSM but now from the president himself should be a badge of honor and also a sign that they are effective. Alinsky used his tactics on forces more powerful than those he lead. As such, the president is inherently acknowledging that the tea party movement is a formidable force against his agenda.

More than that, the president has now effectively demeaned a grassroot group of voters. Furthermore, he has lowered himself into a verbal battle with citizens whose only sin apparently has been to disagree with his agenda and to speak out against it. This is a situation to be watched. If the president is wise, this will be the last time he speaks ill of the movement. Presidents have little to gain from attacking citizens and voters. The gain even less by lowering themselves into a verbal battle with their critics. Alinsky's tactics worked well for those with little other power. They don't work well for the most powerful person in the world.

Republican Moderates Vs. the Club for Growth

The first serious salvo shot in the Republican political civil war has been fired by moderates at the Club for Growth. The battle lines were drawn when Arlen Specter himself singled out that group in his explanation for his switch to the Democratic party.

Of course, Specter conveniently didn't mention that his former primary opponent, Pat Toomey, was the previous president of Club for Growth.

There's nothing I hate worse in politics than when one group singles out a relatively unknown group or person and makes them a boogeyman. That's what many Democrats did with Karl Rove, and the same thing is happening now.

The Club for Growth is a policy and watchdog group specializing in tax and spend issues with a philosophy of fiscal conservatism and free markets. To no one's surprise, CFG often backs fiscal conservatives against fiscal moderates in Republican primaries. For this, some moderates have turned them into boogeymen. Here's how one moderate voice puts it.

It happened in my former district (MI-07) when the CFG knocked off Joe Schwarz and put wingnut extremist Tim Walberg in power…only to lose the seat to Democrat Mark Schauer the next election. It happened in MD-01 when Andy Harris knocked off Wayne Gilchrest, allowing Frank Kratovil to take the conservative Eastern Shore district. It even happened in northern Idaho, where Walt Minnick, a Democrat, defeated CFG star Bill Sali in 2008. In the Rhode Island Senate race in 2006, the CFG nearly eliminated Lincoln Chafee, thereby weakening him for the general election match against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.

Now by wing nut extremist (a really crass term now used by the mainstream), they of course mean a solid fiscal conservative. There are a handful of examples that all of these folks come up with. Of course, there are times when a candidate is brought out of a primary that becomes unelectable in the general election. Look at the example they have given. Lincoln Chafee switched to being a Democrat following his loss and endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. Does that sound like a Republican that the base should have supported? There are near 500 legislative elections in each election cycle and because there are a handful isolated this, we are lead to believe, means that CFG is now the boogeyman?

Give me a break. The reason that CFG has now become the boogeyman for moderates is because they carry enough power. Their voice is one of credibility on fiscal issues in Republican circles. Moderates are almost always vulnerable on fiscal issues and so the CFG is always a threat to their own power base.

As I said, the Specter switch has lead to a political civil war within the Republican party. The moderates are claiming that rigid adherence to conservative principles won't give the party the big tent it needs to win. They apparently will go further. They also will claim that Reagan conservatism is passe and no longer in trusted by the electorate. Such a supposition would come from thin air since Reagan conservatism hasn't existed since Reagan. As such, if the public doesn't any longer believe in it, they are doing it telepathically.

To do this, they will call those that strictly adhere to fiscal conservatism wingnuts, right wingers, and hard right ideologues. They will propose an alternative that they will claim will reach out to moderates but also one that believes in no political philosophy. Now, it's one thing to have your opponents demonize you, but when those in your own party do it, that's just suicidal.

It seems that for now at least, the moderates are insistent on fighting a political war they will lose. If the Republican party base has a choice, they will choose true and consistent conservatives. The moderates won't be able to move the party. The base wants Republicans to be conservatives. That's what the tea parties showed and it's what the losses in the last two elections show. It appears the moderates are for now determined to practice scorched earth policy in a war they will ultimately lose, and the Club for Growth appears to be the first target in that strategy.

Council Submissions

Council Submissions
Bookworm Room - Torture, Real and Imagined
The Razor - Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs
The Glittering Eye - Disease Vectors
Right Truth - The next 1,360 days
The Colossus of Rhodey - Did the NY Times bury an “inconvenient” torture memo story? And a torture question …
Wolf Howling - Words Have Meaning Rick
Soccer Dad - It’s easy being green. Not.
The Provocateur - Is Commercial Real Estate Next?
Joshuapundit - Exposing The Palestinian’s Phony ‘Demographics’ Threat Against Israel
Non-Council Submissions
Submitted By: Bookworm Room - The Washington Times - Barack’s in the basement
Submitted By: The Razor - NY Post - 100 Days, 100 Mistakes for Barack Obama
Submitted By: The Glittering Eye - Right Wing Nut House - The Moral Parameters of Torture
Submitted By: Right Truth - The Onion - Millions and Millions Dead
Submitted By: The Colossus of Rhodey - The New Republic - Regift, Please!
Submitted By: Wolf Howling - Michael Sheurer @ WaPo - Say Its Osama. What If He Won’t Talk?
Submitted By: Soccer Dad - Legal Insurrection - Which city would you sacrifice?
Submitted By: The Provocateur - The New Ledger - What Will the Stress Tests Mean
Submitted By: Joshuapundit - Cheat Seeking Missiles - John And Teresa And Conflict

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Coming Political Civil War in the Republican Party

Well, if you love politics, the political theater now is of endless fascination. I recently wrote about the Democratic party over interrogation investigations. The president is about to pass one hundred days in office, and now the move of Arlen Specter into the Democratic party has almost guaranteed a political civil war inside the Republican party. This political civil war will almost certainly be sensationalized and built up by the media because the media knows full well that a visible political civil war will hurt the party in general. So, you are likely to hear phrases like a "battle for the soul of the Republican party" over and over in the media for days, weeks, and months to come.

Here is just a snippet of what is to come. First, here is what you will hear from the moderate wing.

“You haven't certainly heard warm encouraging words about how [the GOP] views moderates,” said Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans in the Senate. Snowe said the party's message has been, “Either you're with us or you’re against us.”

Here is what the conservative wing is likely to say.

I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

So, basically, the faultlines are set. They are set between those that believe in a big tent, and those that believe the Republican party must hold to conservative principles. Another way to look at it is a fight between the elites like David Frum and the base like those attending the tea parties.

Now, let's dispense with some things that are obvious. The fault lines are pretty obvious. You either believe that you want the party to be inclusive or you believe the party must stand for conservative principles. It's that simple and no matter how long this goes it won't change. Second, in this political civil war, the moderates will lose. Look at it this way. Specter went against the base and voted for the stimulus. This left an opening for a traditional like Toomey to run against him. Specter knew that he had no chance to win in the primaries as a result and switched parties. He's a microcosm of the war and he lost. The party is conservative and that's what the voting base wants. Second, like any political civil war, there are ultimately no winners. An airing of dirty laundry in which party leaders are battling each other is ultimately not good for the party as a whole.

Now, here is the good news. This might wind up being a good thing. After such a thumping, this is the sort of thing that is natural and maybe necessary. Maybe, there needs to be a battle for the soul of a party. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for folks like Jim Demint to become new leaders. It allows for leadership to emerge and so the party won't necessarily be viewed as the party of Rush Limbaugh.

Here's the bad news. This is likely to get ugly, really ugly. The sort of back and forth I quoted is only the beginning, and you can bet each and every Republican will be asked to weigh in, and often, their statements may not be pleasant to the other side. You can bet all sorts of bitter statements and accusations will come in the next days, weeks and months. Today was an emotional day but there was a lot of ugliness already. Now, we can hope that things will calm down, but it's likely they will only ramp up.

Furthermore, it's very possible that in airing out this war the party may again perpetuate the image that they are divisive and full of zealots. The image that the party is full of people that have horns may again be presented. If that's the case, a lot of moderates and independents will be lost.

Now, here are the facts. The

Arlen Specter Epitomizes the Republican Conundrum

About a week prior to the tea parties, I was discussing the protests with a friend of mine. He continued to interchange the term Republican and conservative as though they were the same. I finally had to correct him and remind him that Republicans stopped being conservatives a long time ago. This piece by Scott Rasmussen illustrates the conundrum perfectly. The Republicans slowly moved away from their conservative principles until over the last eight years, they zoomed away from them.

It's very easy to understand where the Republican party needs to go, but much more difficult to figure out how to get there. The party functions right when it is a party of true conservative principles: socially conservative, strict constructionist judicially, fiscally conservative, free market, free trade, border hawks, and national security hawks. The problem becomes how to get the party to govern that way. Starting in 2001, the party held every branch of government. What did we get? We got the centrally planned NCLB, prescription drug benefit, comprehensive immigration reform, McCain/Feingold, and budget deficits till the eye can see. In other words, as I learned from then HUD Secretary, Steve Preston, it's easy to say you're a small government conservative, but much more difficult to govern that way. (Preston claimed to be for small government and then proceeded to list a laundry of government initiatives he championed in six months as HUD secretary)

Once you get into power, the allure of power takes hold. That accounted for much of the Republican's power. Their absolute power corrupted absolutely. Rather than governing as conservatives they governed as corrupt politicians. They began to trade favors, make promises, and this all lead to out of control, wasteful, and corrupt government. The second problem is that it's easy to say you're a conservative, but then you have to pass something. Given legislative rules it's very rare for one party to be able to do anything without the input of at least a few members of the opposite party. Well, when you compromise with moderates and liberals, the legislation ceases to be conservative. That's how we get McCain/Feingold, McCain/Kennedy, the prescription drug benefit, etc. Sure reaching out sounds like a great idea in theory. That is until you explain to your base why border enforcement is being combined with amnesty.

The third conundrum is who makes up the party. The true base was at the tea parties. They are the purist conservative: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, border hawks, and national security hawks. This rigid platform is in constant tension with the big tent. Every political party needs to reach out but eventually that reach out winds up with an Arlen Specter. Here's someone that made up the last vote of a near $1 trillion stimulus, he's pro choice, and often pro union. So, what does the party do? Does the party make its tent as big as possible and dilute its brand, or does the party define itself on its core principles and tell everyone else to take a hike?

On this last question, ironically enough, both sides will claim that this fiasco has proven them right. The purists, like me, will say that Specter left because the base was rejecting. That's true. Specter wasn't going to win in the Republican party. The moderate big tenters will say that Specter leaving shows the party is being run by the zealots. Of course, Scott Rasmussen's analysis clearly shows that far too much Specter like policy has alienated the beltway Republicans from the base.

I can tell you that there is no way that Republicans will win pushing Democratic lite policies. Moderates are already proclaiming that this is further proof that the base is far too conservative. It's true that conservatives have absolutely no use for moderates. It's also true that conservatives have absolutely no problem using a scorched earth policy to remove all remaining moderates. It's further true that conservatives can be vindictive when they see a Republican compromising on moderate legislation. Yet, the Republicans lost, and they lost huge, not because they were too conservative but too moderate. Does anyone really think that if Republicans had managed a balanced budget during the economic boom that they would have lost in 2006?

A party has to stand for something or it stands for nothing. If they reach out to moderate politicians, then what. Then, the party continues to produce legislation that looks more like its backed by liberals than conservatives. That's exactly why they're in the minority now. The base isn't going to come back with further comprehensive immigration reform bills, hokey mortgage schemes, and more NCLB. If the Republican party wants to regain its brand, it needs to champion core conservative principles and work hard to get credibility back on them. This is a moment of choice. The Republicans can view the loss of Specter as a reason to reach out to people that will ultimately be rejected by its base or it can view this as the beginning of a party getting back to its core principles.

Arlen Specter to Switch Parties

This is being reported everywhere and Ben Smith has the full statement from Soecter's office. The important thing to run through now is the math. Currently, there are 56 Democrats in the Senate. Both Socialist Bernie Sanders and Independent Democrat Joe Liberman caucus with the Democrats. It appears that Stuart Smalley will win in Minnesota. That will bring the number of Senators caucusing with the Democrats to 59. Now, that's just under the magic number of 60. With Specter that number goes up to 60. Still, don't expect any resolution to the race in Minnesota for at least a month, and I suspect that Republican lawyers will now do everything they can to grind it to a halt. Soon enough though, the Democrats will have a filibuster proof majority.

As for Specter, this looks like pure political survival. All the polling put Specter in big trouble in the upcoming Republican primary in Pennsylvania in 2010 to Pat Toomey. Pennsylvania is no Connecticut and so an independent run would have been no easy task either. Specter's goose was likely cooked in the primary when he supported the stimulus. Running as a Democrat likely puts him in the lead. Pennsylvania is solid blue. Toomey's small government low taxes message works in the primary. So, too, does his anti Obama message. It won't work nearly as well in a general election.

Chrysler, GM, the UAW, the President and Myriad of Conflicts of Interest

When I read it this morning, I couldn't believe what I was reading. The whole idea is so corrupt and absurd even a business school class wouldn't study something like this. It's too absurd to imagine being done in real life. The UAW, the United Auto Workers, will now become majority shareholders in Chrysler and significant shareholders in GM. Meanwhile, the U.S. government will become majority shareholders in GM. What Fiat is thinking in merging with Chrysler I can't figure out.

So, the man that only two weeks ago said he had no plans of running an automobile company is now on the brink of becoming the biggest shareholder in GM (that's the president). Meanwhile, the UAW will now represent both the workers and the management. This sort of corrupt conflict of interest is the type of thing I covered in the Grady scandal and Robert Brown, then head of the board of Grady Hospital, rewarded his own architecture firm several sweetheart contracts. Now, we are going to have the same party represent both labor and management. Think about it. We are going to have a government deeply tied to the unions as the majority owner of GM and the unions themselves will be the second biggest owner.

The UAW has been a significant and early supporters of the President. Just think about the dust up created by the ties between Dick Cheney and Halliburton during the Iraq War. Now, we have a president that was supported significantly by a union, and he's in the middle of orchestrating a deal in which the exact same union gains signficant control over two automakers. This is brazen Chicago style corruption and it's right in front of us.

This is the sort of corruption the MSM claimed just about each and everyday the Bush administration was engaged in. Now, it is being done right in front of us and no one is pointing out the obvious. Everyone is looking at this with peculiarity. It isn't peculiar. It's corrupt. This is payback plain and simple. The president rejected an earlier restructuring plan, fired the CEO, and now he's on board with a plan that gives the unions 40% control of the company. The worst part is that this isn't done in some backroom and hidden from the public. He's doing it right in front of everyone. He's brazenly paying off the unions, and he's doing it with a major announcement that the entire press corps can write about. The president is able to do all of this because he knows that the majority of the press corp will pay no attention to the obscene corruption that he is laying out right in front of them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Obama's House of Cards Popularity

The reason I don't watch MSNBC was confirmed this weekend. No less than three times did I flip onto the station for a brief minute when I noticed that they were analyzing, again, some poll that put Obama's popularity at 69%, which according to the graphic made him the most popular president in recent history. The answer for his defenders to any number of policy criticisms is to point to his popularity and to use that as proof that he is right and his opponents are out of touch.

The president continues to be popular for two reasons primarily, his own personal popularity and because he had a flurry of activity in the first hundred days. He has the perception of someone in charge and engaged. That's all good and well, however, at some point, we are going to start judging what he has done, not merely judging that he's done something.

By spending such an obscene amount of money, he has also ramped up the expectations. Does anyone really believe the public will accept an unemployment rate of near 10% in November of 2010 given that our deficit will be over one trillion dollars? Look at what's happening and it is nearly impossible to imagine that we will be anywhere but there come next November. We have been losing north of 500,000 jobs the last three months. It's likely that we will lose that many in April (when the numbers come out on Friday). In fact, it's likely those will be the numbers for several more months. Even when the economy stops losing jobs at this pace, it will still continue to lose jobs for many more months.

Remember, jobs are a "lagging indicator". That means they are the last thing to go. As such, even if the economy began to recover by the end of the year, it would likely be the end of next year before we started creating new jobs. So, even a best case scenario means we are still near ten percent unemployment by the end of next year. Even during the much more mild 2001-2002 recession, we didn't gain new jobs until July of 2003. The Democrats tried to run on the "jobless recovery" but national security was the order of the day in November of 2002. That won't be the case in November of 2010. This scenario assumes that everything Obama will have done will actually work. What if it doesn't work? What if his opponents are right? What if massive government borrowing and spending really isn't stimulative? What if our economy will only disintegrate under the weight of trillions of dollars in new debt? Then, come November of 2010, we will be in the middle of an economic disaster, and everyone but the greatest ideologue will blame the president for creating that disaster.

By so actively taking action, Obama is also more quickly taking ownership. It just won't be credible for Obama to argue it's all Bush's fault come November of 2010 given the stimulus, TARP, the mortgage bailout, the auto bailout, and his massive budget.

Even his supporters struggle to justify almost everything he has done. Does anyone really believe that the answer to our economic crisis is educational reform, green economy, and health care reform? Both TARP II and the stimulus are already proving to be filled with waste and abuse. It's true that this is something you won't hear in the media, but does anyone really think that a trillion and a half dollar boondoggle has any chance of stimulating the economy?

Then, there is Geithner's plan to remove the so called toxic assets. This is nothing more than a boondoggle for buyers and sellers of these assets and that's at the expense of the tax payers. Again, no one is doing any serious reporting of this, but does anyone believe that such a boondoggle will do anything substantive? Furthermore, the banks still have a looming credit card and commercial loan crisis. Nothing has been done to address either, and if they materialize, that means that banks would fall regardless of all the steps now taken. In other words, President Obama will have authorized nearly two trillion dollars in new spending to prop up banks only to see them fall anyway.

Worst all for Obama is that he has done this entirely in a partisan manner. Come November of 2010, he won't have any Republican cover for the failing economy.

Then, there is foreign policy. His defenders defend his endless apologies and reaching out to our enemies by proclaiming that he is building a base for a new geopolitical vision. In other words, he hasn't gotten anything of substance, but soon, he will. Well, come November of 2010, he'll have to get something of substance. He got no troops in Afghanistan. The next test is to see if any substantial number of prisoners will be taken from GITMO by our allies. Then, there's Iran. What if Iran is still moving forward with a nuclear weapon despite his outreach? What if Cuba is still maintaining political prisoners despite his outreach? What if Venezuela is still a tyrannical regime despite his outreach?What Imagine if Israel winds up bombing their nuclear facilities and a regional war breaks out. What would that do to his image of making over the world? Pakistan is about to fall apart. Afghanistan is falling apart and even Iraq is getting worse. At some point, Obama will need to show something tangible for all of these radical maneuvers. If in fact hapless Europeans are still hapless and tyrants are still tyrants, then Obama will look like a dangerous and naive president that sold out his country and made friends with evil enemies without seeing anything of substance accomplished.

Defenders of the president, and all Americans, had better hope that ending waterboard and other enhanced interrogations really won't hurt our efforts to get information. Because if they are wrong, we'll get hit. If we're hit, not only will thousands of Americans be dead, but so will Obama's presidency.

Is Commercial Real Estate Next

When I saw then HUD Secretary Steve Preston, I had a chance to speak privately with a gentleman involved in commercial real estate law. He told me that his business had suffered much the same as most real estate. He told me that much of the commercial real estate swoon came in relatively small towns that had seen unsustainable growth during the boom. Their commercial business had in fact grown far beyond what the town could sustain.

During the real estate boom, it was not unusual to see towns of 5 and 10 thousand nearly double over that five year period. With it, there came an influx of commercial real estate. After all, someone had to provide food, gas, and retail to all these new folks. When residential real estate crashed, much of the growth crashed with it. Since much of this residential growth was created through non sensical loans, much of this growth eventually wound up turning into foreclosures. Since these towns grew at unsustainable rates, there was no one there to take their places. As such, what were booming suburban towns turned into depressed suburban towns.

Commercial real estate mortgages are very different than residential. They did NOT necessarily go through the same sort of irresponsible revolution that residential did. For the most part, commercial real estate is entirely based on cash flows. In simple layman's terms, a commercial bank wants to see that a property can get at least 120% in terms of income as expenses monthly. There is nothing anywhere near no money down loans. Even appraisals themselves are based almost entirely on the cash flow generated so for the most part, it is much more difficult to create an irresponsible loan.

As such, if commercial real estate falls, it WON'T be because of the loans created. Commercial real estate, if it falls, will fall because the economic downturn will create far more vacancies than is normally accounted for by formulas that create the rates. Remember, a commercial bank wants your monthly income to 120% of your monthly expenses. (this includes everything, taxes, mortgages, and all other expenses) It also gives a accounts for what is known as a vacancy factor. In other words, banks understand that 100% of the units won't always be rented out and so the bank wants to account for a reasonable vacancy factor. So, what happens if the economy is so weak that vacancies exceed far more than anyone expected? All formulas are off and mortgages aren't paid back.

There's more. Remember, the intrinsic value is determined in large part by the income. So, if a building is 50% occupied, it also is currently valued at far less. That means no one else can get a vary large loan on it either. There is one other major problem. A fairly large percentage of commercial loans are done as balloon loans. That means after 3, 5,7, or 10 years, there is a massive payment due unless they are sold or refinanced. Under normal times, this isn't an issue, because doing either isn't that big a problem. Now, both of those things are going to be a problem.

So, we may now be facing the beginning of a long cycle of busting commercial real estate mortgages. With exploding vacancies, properties will be difficult to manage the cash flows on. This will create a problem selling and refinancing. With many commercial real estate loans being balloon loans, this could lead to the next bust.

Think of it this way. Commercial real estate mortgages could be the best indicator of where our economy is at. If there is no bust, then that means that vacancies aren't out of control. It means that things have bottomed out and businesses are managing. If, however, we hear about a commercial real estate mortgage bust, then we all know that our economic crisis is going to be very deep and very long.

The Torture Controversy

My cohort from Watcher of Weasels, Rob Miller of Joshua Pundit, has his first piece up on the American Thinker, and it's called the Torture Controversy.

Amidst the huge controversy surrounding the story on the so-called torture memos, the bedrock issues are being almost entirely ignored in favor of political theater. And the potential for harm is enormous.

After promising not to indulge in revenge politics like some downscale banana republic after a change in leadership, President Obama suddenly decided to do exactly that, opening the way for prosecution of Bush Administration officials based
on the release of some previously classified memos regarding what are referred to as 'enhanced interrogation techniques' like waterboarding.

Feel free to comment here or there.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Coming Political Civil War in the Democratic Party

On some level, they totally deserve it. After all, they have engaged in a purely political process over the serious issue of national security. So, it is pure karma, that the whole thing will wind up blowing up in their faces. So, get ready for a political civil war inside the Democratic party over how to proceed with the investigations into alleged torture by the Bush administration.

There are some simple political rules. One of the most simple is that the party that presents the more united front is the one that wins most political issues. Here, the Republicans win. The Republicans have circled the proverbial wagons. Even those that are against waterboarding and any other enhanced interrogations believe that any investigation now is not only wrong but compares to a "banana republic". Meanwhile, the Democratic party is struggling for a common narrative. Struggling most is the president himself.

There are at least three narratives coming from the Democratic party now. The most extreme is the so called "truth commission" championed by Pat Leahy. Then, there are those like Dianne Fienstein who want the Senate to continue its investigation. The president has endorsed the Department of Justice to investigate any potential crimes. Then, there are those that want 9/11 type bi partisan investigative body. Then, there is Joe Liberman who agrees with the Republicans. (there may be more like Liberman but they aren't talking yet)

So, what we have is all sorts of powerful Democrats all with their own agenda, and each of these agendas is playing out in the media. More than that, no one knows how far this will need to go. So far, the designated sacrificial lamb of the day of all Democrats is Judge Jay Bybee. Currently, he sits on the 9th circuit but he worked in the Office of Legal Counsel when this issue came up. He wrote several of the now published memos giving legal opinion for the legalization of waterboarding. While everyone agrees that Bybee must go, there is likely to be little agreement over just how far it will go. Those like Leahy and John Conyers who would like to take this all the way to the top. Once again, the opinions within the party will vary and their varying opinions will be displayed in all the media.

This was the sort of thing that happened to the Republican party on immigration. The Senate, lead by John McCain, favored comprehensive reform while the House favored more hardline enforcement first. This all played out in a bitter summer of 2006 debate that did no one in the party any favors in the next election. Now, the Democrats find themselves in a similar position.

What will play out over the next weeks or even months is high profile disagreements over the nature and scope of investigations of the Bush administration. The reason that such a disagreement is so corrosive is because it means the party won't have a coherent message. With this becoming a front page story, the party will be off message on a major story. The only redeeming part for the Democrats is that all of this is happening early in the election cycle. That can turn into a negative if all of this is still going on next November. Either way, we can all sit back, enjoy some popcorn, and get ready to watch the political civil war in the Democratic party.

Enhanced Interrogations: the Constitutional Argument

It's true. I am no Constitutional scholar but I will give it my best shot anyway.

To start the argument, I will pose a question. When can the President use their power as Commander in Chief? Now, this is a question without a definitive answer. In my opinion however, that is a power the President always has. Now, to make sure that the president doesn't abuse this sweeping power, the Constitution has laid in place several checks on it. The biggest check is the oversight power of the Congress. The second check is the power of the press.

As such, the president has carte blanche to do just about anything as commander in chief. It is then the job of the Congress and the press to make sure that this power is not abused. Now, let's apply that to the issue of enhanced interrogations. In this case, the president, acting as commander in chief, ordered the CIA to use certain techniques on certain Al Qaeda suspects in certain situations. In much the same way, FDR used the same power to create an office of censorship during WWII, Wilson created a Creel Commission during WWI, and Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Then, after the fact, the Congress was duly informed and briefed. In fact, throughout the process, the Congress was briefed. If anyone felt there was abuse, it was then the time to voice concerns and investigate. In fact, the Congress didn't merely oversee the process but they funded it. Throughout the process, they funded it.

In this case, the Constitutional process was duly followed. The president acted as commander in chief. He personally took responsibility for the order, as is his power as commander in chief. In each case, the Congress was briefed. The Congress never objected or investigated. Furthermore, they continued to fund the program. Now, years later, some want to go back and do investigations after the fact. If we allow this, all policies would eventually wind up in court. Just imagine if a small government conservative winds up president and then decides that universal health care is unconstitutional. Then, what...will they haul in Obama's health secretary to face charges?

Then, there are those that say that the Constitution was followed but we broke international law bu violating the United Nations Convention Against Torture. This is a matter of debate. First, here is how the convention defines torture.

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

That's hardly definitive. What exactly is severe? Is it severe to simulate drowning, play loud music, or hold someone in a dark and cold room? That's unclear and ultimately up to each individual country to define.

There's more. The Convention sets out no specific remedies if a country did violate. Even if we did, what does that mean? There is no specific punishment for violation. So, what is anyone supposed to do with the knowledge that we did? If the UN wants to bring sanctions against the U.S., let them bring that to the floor. Since we have veto power, I can only assume that we will veto any such sanction.

Obama's Cabinet: A Motley Crew of Misfits, Criminals and Incompetents

Who would have thought that after almost a hundred days, it would be Hillary Clinton that would be one of Obama's least controversial advisors? Of course, a cabinet, once referred to by the mainstream as a supreme collection of professionals, has turned into nothing short of a motley crue of misfits, criminals, and incompetents. In fact, the last of problematic cabinet choices is so large that I know that I will forget many important missteps in Obama's cabinet.

It all started when it was revealed that his original Commerce Secretary pick, Bill Richardson, was being investigated in a pay to play scheme. More recently, car czar, Steve Rattner, is also being investgated in his own pay to play scheme. These two are only the beginning of Obama's advisors that are caught up in legal and ethical scandals.

The most high profile of the missteps came with the nomination of Tim Geithner. Starting with the revelations about his own tax problems, the Treasury Secretary has become the butt of many jokes. His initial release of his four point economic plan was so vague that the market dropped several hundred points. Ever since, Geithner has struggled for the confidence of Wall Street, the beltway, and main street. Other lower profile nominees including Hilda Solis, Tom Daschle, Ron Kirk, Nancy Killefer, and Kathleen Sebelius have also been plagued by revelations of unpaid taxes. Both Killefer and Daschle ultimately had their nominations derailed as a result.

Kathleen Sebelius, yet to be confirmed, has also recently had to disclose that she initially under reported donations from Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas abortion doctor known for performing thousands of late term abortions. Then there is the nomination of Rosa Brooks, to a mid level post at the Pentagon. Brooks, most recently an L.A. Times columnists and Georgetown University professor, is known for not only her virulent anti Bush perspectives, but her equally virulent anti Israel stance and her connection to George Soros. Her last column called for a bailout for the newspapers.

Brooks wasn't the only questionable choice for a position on national security issues. The most high profile misstep came when Obama nominated Chas Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council. This position requires no confirmation and so it became nearly unprecedented when Freeman's name was withdrawn. Outcry came from many statements by Freeman that were also viewed as anti Israel, soft on China's record on civil rights, as well as his connections to the Saudi royal family.

Then, there is the Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano. She has made a series of her missteps that have even created a small amount of calls for her resignation. She drew the ire of the Canadians when she said that some of the 9/11 hijackers entered through Canada. She also inaccurately said that entering the country illegally is not a crime. Of course, her biggest gaffe was releasing a DHS report that singled out conservative "terrorists" including those returning from war.

There is also lesser known scandals involving second in command at HUD, Ron Sims and and the controversy surrounding Dawn Johnsen to head of the Office of Legal Counsel.
The scary thing is that most often the most scandalous events come from decisions cabinet members and advisors make while in office. The Obama administration has attained a stunningly large number of scandals largely before that can even occur. Imagine the scandal we are in for when this group of misfits, incompetents, and criminals actually has a chance to craft policy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tony Cole: From Bus Boy to Patronage: Gotta Love Cook County

Introduction: If you are out of work or struggling to stay on time with your bills, you are definitely not going to like this story.

This time last year Tony Cole was a bus boy making about $10 an hour. Currently, he is out of work. In between then though, he has travelled an employment road very few will travel. In November last year, he was offered an administrative assistant position with the Cook County government. That job paid about $48,000 a year. He was then the administrative assistant for the Chief Financial Officer of Cook County, Donna Dunnings. Dunnings is the cousin of Todd Stroger, President of Cook County. ( I would be remissed if I didn't remind everyone that President Obama endorsed Stroger for this post in 2006) Stroger raised some eye brows when he appointed his cousing to the six figure position of CFO but then again, in Cook County, the eye brows were relatively low.

Within weeks of moving into the County Government, Cole received a pay raise to nearly $60,000 a year. Then, on February 1, 2009, he was promoted into the human resources department of the Highway Department. He also received another small pay raise to just over $61,000 a year.

The story only begins there. In November 20th of 2008, Cole was arrested and bailed out of jail by Eugene Millins, a childhood friend of Stroger's. The credit card of Donna Dunnings was used to bail him out. That same day, the FBI finished a background check that they faxed to the County. It listed to prior criminal convictions by Cole that he didn't list on his application. Then, the State Police finished their on February 20th and also sent that to the County. Then, about a month after this Dunnings again bailed Cole out of jail on another arrest.

Yet, only two weeks ago, when the inspector general completed his report, did Stroger finally fire Cole. When the story caught on, he also fired his cousin. In the meantime, Stroger can't seem to keep his story straight. He has insisted that he only recently found out about the criminal background check even though multiple agencies claim they informed him months ago. He also claims he only knew about one arrest even though his own cousin bailed out Cole.

All is not lost here. I am happy to report that this story is on the top half of page one of the Chicago Tribune today. The Trib is taking this seriously. Furthermore, the Tribune has been keeping a running clock until the primary in February of 2010 following the sales tax increase. They have definitely put Stroger in their cross hairs and have decided to take him on and they won't bury any of his misdeeds deep in their newspaper.

There is some cynicism here as well. Stroger isn't merely corrupt but a buffoon. To take him on is to pick the easy target. The same Tribune is loathe to report on too much corruption by the likes of Richard M. Daley. That's because Daley is extremely shrewd as well as corrupt. Taking on Stroger is all good and well, but to take on corruption, the media must take on all its forms and not simply pick and choose the easiest target.

Council Winners

Winning Council Submissions
First place with 1 2/3 points! - Joshuapundit - The Real Holocaust Denial
Second place with 1 1/3 points - (T*) - The Glittering Eye - For the Want of a Horseshoe Nail
Second place with 1 1/3 points - (T*) - Soccer Dad - Preoccupied with occupation
Second place with 1 1/3 points - (T*) - Wolf Howling - Throwing Green Fuel On An Economic Fire
Third place with 2/3 points - (T*) - The Razor - Obama Administration Sucking Moonbats Out of Private Sector
Third place with 2/3 points - (T*) - Bookworm Room - Honing our arguments
Fourth place with 1/3 points - Right Truth - Witch Hunts (and you are the witch)
Winning Non-Council Submissions
First place with 3 points! - Doug Ross@Journal - Let Them Eat Dirt
Second place with 1 1/3 points - Elder of Ziyon - More of those “civilians” killed in Gaza (UPDATED)
Third place with 1 point - (T*) - American Daughter - The Intimidation Begins
Third place with 1 point - (T*) - AIFD - Obama Administration Stacking the Deck with Islamists
Fourth place with 2/3 points - Rortybomb - Ban Mortgage Prepayment Penalties at the Federal Level, 1: Texas
Fifth place with 1/3 point - (T*) - Portfolio - Confessions of a TARP CEO’s Wife
Fifth place with 1/3 point - (T*) - The Journal of the American Enterprise Institute - The Coming of the Fourth American Republic
Fifth place with 1/3 point - (T*) - Britannica Blog - Shock peace therapy for the mideast

It's All Framing GOP: Socialist is Far too Provocative

There is now a debate raging with the Republican National Comittee. The state Republican chairs want the national chairman, Michael Steele, to begin to refer to President Obama as a Socialist.

Republican state party leaders are rebelling against new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele for failing to dub President Obama and the Democrats as “socialists.” And the rebels insist that the label matters.

Even though Mr. Steele has called his Democratic adversaries “collectivists,” at least 16 state leaders say the term lacks the pejorative punch needed to sway public opinion and want all 168 members of the Republican National Committee to debate and vote on it.

It is the first time in memory that a sitting national leader of the Republican Party has faced a public challenge over his ideological leadership by conservative members of his own national committee.

At the tea parties, I cringed a bit everytime I saw a sign that referred to Obama as a Socialist. That's because such provocative language will get you noticed, but it also presents an image of an extremist.

Don't get me wrong. If you are a blogger, or columnist, being provocative is simply good marketing. That's a way to get noticed. Yet, the RNC is not a bunch of bloggers. The RNC needs to not only appease their base but be able to reach out to those folks sufficiently moderate that they are willing to listen to Republican's message.

Socialist is a very loaded term. Again, if you are a blogger, loaded is excellent, because you don't need to appeal to a cross section of folks. You can target extremes and wings and be very successful. The RNC has no such luxury. They can't only target extremes. So, when a moderate hears the RNC refer to President Obama as a Socialist, what they are likely to draw is that the RNC is full ideologues perfectly willing to demonize their opponents.

The best analogy of this is the Minutemen. The image they presented of themselves was one of extremists, and it lead to they being effectively painted as racist. If the RNC starts to routinely call Obama a Socialist they look bitter and extreme. They are coarsening the debate.

There are plenty of effective ways of painting Obama's policies properly while not using loaded terms that turn off moderates. He's a tax, borrow, and spend liberal and that isn't nearly as loaded. In fact, Republicans spent decades effectively painting their opponents as tax and spend. Obama's policies are akin to the Social Democracies currently going on in Europe. Characterizing him as such also doesn't unnecessarily conjure up visions of Mussolini. Instead, it conjures up visions of stagnant growth and double digit unemployment the way they have in Europe.

Frankly, the very fact that such a debate is even occurring inside the RNC is a sign that the blind are leading the blind. First, why would this ever be leaked? Those that leaked it don't have the best interest of the party at heart. It's likely they have their own agenda. That this is even public in and of itself hurts the party. It says that so called leaders are serious in trying to compare Obama to the likes of Mussolini. (yes, I once compared him to Marx but again, effective for a blog but not for a national party)

I belong to a local Republican group. Its leaders often tell me that when they meet non Republicans a common observation is that they are surprised that we Republicans don't have horns. That's the image that those outside the party have of the party itself. That's not a good image to have, and one of the reasons that we have it is the over the top rhetoric. Calling the President a Socialist is a great way to advance that image.

The Stunning Hubris of President Obama

That everything surrounding the so called torture memos has become a toxic political football should surprise no one. What should surprise everyone is why the White House, upon releasing the memos, thought that anything but what is happening now would happen. According to Politico, privately administration officials thought that releasing these selected memos would allow the country "to move forward" and "end this particular ugly chapter".

Was the administration really that obtuse and full of hubris that they thought that releasing selected memos that painted their predecessors in a bad light would end the story? I can only assume that this line of thinking is the result of more than two years of fawning media coverage. I can only assume that never ending fawning media coverage made them think that they could control this story and manipulate it so maximize their own positive image and maximize the negative image of the Bush administration?

Did they really not think that no one in the Bush administration would push back? Did they really not think that selectively releasing only a few memos would open up a lot more new questions than resolve old answers?

The hubris of the administration only begins there. For months, the administration has been simultaneously following two simultaneous narratives on the story. First, the administration was determined to look forward not backward. Second, the administration was determined to hold any "lawbreakers" responsible. It seems no one noticed that the two are contradictory. Obama has made no secret that he believes laws were broken. Well, if laws were broken, then folks need to be held accountable. Of course, if we are going to hold folks accountable, we need to look backward not forward.

So, is anyone surprised that after months of saying he wasn't going to pursue charges, he switched. The narrative he had built was built on such a contradiction. At some point, he was going to move from one plank to another and thus flip flop. So, the stunning hubris seems to be that no one noticed that they were creating an untennable dichotomy.

Now, since this has exploded, the entire administration looks like deer in headlights. No one can explain what exactly they plan to do. Will the release more memos? Will they form a truth commission? Will they prosecute? While the message from the administration has been totally incoherent the last week, the story has exploded. They've lost total control.

The hubris doesn't stop there. Now, comes word that they will release new photos of prisoner abuse in response to an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request by the ACLU.

The Department of Defense -- on the heels of the firestorm over the release of Bush-era memos on CIA interrogation techniques -- said Thursday it plans to make public at least 44 photos depicting potentially abusive treatment of detainees at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The decision to release the photos was announced Thursday in a letter filed in a federal court in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2004.

It sets a May 28 deadline for the Department of Defense to produce 21 images that the court in 2006 ordered the government to release and 23 additional related images, as well as "a substantial number of other images" in the Army's possession.

Does the administration not see that this will only explode the story even more? The administration seems to think that they can act at will with no push back. They are convinced that they can will this story so that the Bush admin looks horrible and there won't be any push back. Make no mistake, they didn't have to release these photos now. This has been gong on for years. They could have fought this off for several more years. Instead, they decided to release more photos of prisoner abuse right in the middle of an exploding story on interrogation of prisoners.

The most stunning hubris is their belief that none of this will have any negative consquences. By releasing the memos, they are asking for the CIA to become passive. By releasing these photos, they are asking for our military to be demonized. By treating this story as such, they are asking for a hyper polarized environment. Yet, it appears the administration doesn't seem to see any of this as much of a problem.

Shocking Accusation On Last Night's Factor

On last night's factor, Bill O'Reilly made this shocking accusation.

Here is a summary. The whole entire NBC family, owned by General Electric, has been by far the most pro Obama network for a long time now. General Electric has been faltering ever since Jack Welch was succeeded by Jeffrey Immelt. The NBC family has been losing money for years. Furthermore, their finance divisions, GE Capital and the now defunct WMC Mortgage, have created billions in red ink. Right now, the company is heavily lobbying the administration for bailout funds. The stock is down near 70% since he took over nearly a decade ago.

President Obama is looking to attack climate change. His signature legislation is cap and trade.
GE, according to the Washington Examiner, has set up a joint venture called Greenhouse Gas Services, which would invest heavily in carbon credits. As such, this venture would stand to be the beneficiary of billions in revenues if cap and trade passed. Also, following some critical commentary by CNBC headlined by the Santelli rant, Immelt and NBC boss, Jeff Zucker, went to their headquarters themselves and told the staff to knock it off. Santelli says that he was sent to a "re education" camp.

Furthermore, O'Reilly didn't mention two other things of note. First, the NBC family has been pushing heavy on green technology and Jeffrey Immelt has been named a member of Obama's Economic Advisory Board.

If you live around me, this should all seem very familiar. This is standard issue Chicago politics in its "finest". This is exactly the sort of multi layered conflicts of interest that have made Chicago famous for being corrupt. We have a corporation that on the one hand makes a point of providing favorable coverage for a politician. On the other hand, they ask for not only money but help push a bill that would put them in line to make billions.

Of course, the real story is that outside of the Factor and the Examiner, no one is covering this story. For a comparison, just think about how much media coverage we saw about the possible conflicts of interest between the Iraq War and Dick Cheney's former relationship with Halliburton. Here we have the same kind of conflicts and yet the media is totally silent. In fact, everything I just reported is fact. The only question is whether or not there has been a specific quid pro quo taken. The only way to know that is to investigate that further. Yet, the media in its entirety is sitting quietly. We have a significant indication that a powerful media company and the President of the United States are locked in an extremely corrupt quid pro quo and no one in the media cares. This is how low we have sunk.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Trillion and a half Dollar Boondoggle

Way back when, while the stimulus was still being debated, I wrote this piece.

The stimulus is not an $800 billion bill. Rather it is one hundred thousand pieces of spending ranging from tens of thousands to tens of millions. In order to work, they all, for the most part, have to be spent wisely and without corruption. It becomes a leap of faith that localities like Auburn, Al. are spending on stimulative projects rather than merely boons for themselves and their friends. In order to work, these nearly one hundred thousand projects need to be puppetteered by federal, state, and local governments all working to make them stimulative. The President is confident it will work, but looking at Stimulus Watch makes me less than confident.

I surmised then that there was no way that the federal government was going to keep track of each and every penny spent. Instead, they would write checks to states, they would write them to localities, and localities would be the ones following the money. This was going to filled with potential waste and corruption. You are now relying on thousands of localities, many of them corrupt, to oversee the stimulus themselves.

Well, now we have this report from Jake Tapper.

The Government Accountability Office today issued a report on the $787 billion stimulus bill called "RECOVERY ACT: As Initial Implementation Unfolds in States and Localities, Continued Attention to Accountability Issues Is Essential."

The GAO study asserts that officials from most of the states surveyed "expressed concerns regarding the lack of Recovery Act funding provided for accountability and oversight. Due to fiscal constraints, many states reported significant declines in the number of oversight staff -- limiting their ability to ensure proper implementation and management of Recovery Act funds."

Because the economic downturn has led to "fiscal constraints, many states reported significant declines in the number of oversight staff, limiting their ability to ensure proper implementation and management of Recovery Act funds.

So, states and localities are in charge of following the money and the feds haven't even given them enough money to be able to do this sufficiently. In other words, pretty much no one is watching the nearly $800 billion in stimulus. More interesting will be just how much other media will report on this report. Since this particular report paints the administration negatively, you can bet this will be overlooked by almost all of the MSM.

Furthermore, this report follows another report by the Office of Inspector General which also concludes that the TARP funds aren't being overseen nearly effectively enough. For instance, banks are required to disclose what they plan on doing with TARP funds, but not required to account for what they have actually done.

So, what do we have? We have an administration that promised transparency and accountability and so far it has created a $1.5 trillion boondoggle for corrupt bankers, states, and municpilaties, and the losers are the taxpayers.

This Pandora's Box Has a Mind of It's Own

It's taken only a week but but the story surrounding Bush's enhanced interrogation techniques has exploded and now it is totally beyond anyone's control. Now that the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, the only way for this to stop being a story is for all relevant questions to be answered, one way or another. Now, let's review what has happened just in the last 24 hours. First, we found out that then NSA Director, Condi Rice, personally approved the water boarding of Abu Zubaydah.

As national security adviser to former President George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice verbally approved the CIA's request to subject high-ranking Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding in July 2002, the earliest known decision by a Bush administration official to OK use of the simulated drowning technique.

Rice's role was detailed in a narrative released Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It provides the most detailed timeline yet for how the CIA's harsh interrogation program was conceived and approved at the highest levels in the Bush White House.

Then, we learned that several, yet unnamed, members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, have been briefed on this program since 2002.

Republicans, hoping to turn the tables on Democrats who are open to prosecuting Bush-era lawyers for justifying "enhanced" interrogation techniques, are seeking to reveal the names of those lawmakers who were briefed on the tactics as much as seven years ago. FOX News has learned there were more than 30 meetings and briefings with members of Congress on the subject since 2002.

The first such briefing dealt with the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the Al Qaeda operations chief who ran the training camps in Afghanistan where the Sept. 11 hijackers were trained. Sources said California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, now the speaker of the House, attended the meeting with then-Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla. (who later became CIA director), and she did not raise any objections.

In the meantime, far left outfit has added fuel to the fire with this ad.

Meanwhile, just for good measure, this diatrobe from Shep Smith of Foxnews is going viral.

Meanwhile, former Bush speechwriter, Mark Thiessen, has been advancing the story of how we successfully stopped an attack on L.A. after waterboarding KSM.

This story isn't going away. Furthermore, no one person or entity controls it anymore. It will continue to be the lead or at least near it, in my opinion, until all the questions are sufficiently answered, who, what, when, where, how, and why. Of course, the next question is what entity is fit to answer all those questions in a manner that the public feels is unbiased. Only time will tell on that.

If something formal, and most importantly trustworthy to all, isn't created soon, then revelations, which will occur regardless, will ultimately hurt everyone much worse. For instance, the president got hurt when an internal memo sympathetic to the Bush administration by his current chief of intelligence, Dennis Blair, was leaked. If some sort of body isn't formed soon, we will simply find out through a series of leaks.

We are all going to find out the details of most if not all of the briefings that Congress had on these techniques. We are certainly going to find out exactly who attended. It would be much better for the legislators involved to come forward themselves and acknowledge their attendance than have that information leaked to the public. We are going to find out the details of successes of this program, so it would be better for the president to declassify this information. If we continue to find out such details through leaks, he looks as though he is determined to only present one side.

This will all go on until all relevant questions are answered and then this story will stop having teeth. In other words, we are about to air all sorts of dirty national security laundry. If the president really wanted to move forward, that has failed miserably.

The worst part is that in the end it will make little difference. There are two schools of thought on this. The first is that torture rarely works, and even if it did, it wasn't worth it. The second is that bad actors weren't giving up information and we took the steps necessary to save lives. After all of this is aired, it's unlikely that very many people's views will change from where they are on one of these two sides. In fact, since both positions will find plenty of evidence to back them up, it's likely the only thing that will happen is that opinions will harden. As such, we are in for a very bitter partisan battle that will ultimately change very few minds.

When Will Angela Merkel Apologize for Hitler

Whenever there is a debate over whether or not Obama's apology tour all over the world, those that defend the president are quick to point out that it shows maturity and humility for a president to recognize and acknowledge not only triumphs of their country's past but errors and faults. Here is one example.

A mature nations acknowledges its shortcomings.Quite simple really. Butyou seems to have difficulty grasping it.

A "show" of strength differs from real strength. Again, elementary.

A strong nation can admit mistakes because it knows it is still the strongest. You don't make yourself weaker by acknowledging flaws, you set an
example. Human knowledge 101.

In particular, he is showing how he is different to one of the most hated Presidents in modern history.

The days of talking self-righteously about America while refusing to consider other viewpoints are over.

To those folks I ask a few simple questions. Why isn't German Chancellor Angela Merkel apologizing for Hitler? When will Nicholas Sarkozy apologize for Napolean? When will the world receive and apology from Gordon Brown for King George? How about Putin? When will he apologize for Stalin? If you want something more recent, how about this? Both Merkel and Sarkozy ran on against the policies of their predecessors, foreign policy and domestic. When will they apologize on a world stage for the years under Chirac and Shroeder?

If it is a sign of a "mature nation" to recognize both faults and accomplishments on the world stage, why do supporters of Obama only demand that our president show such "maturity"?

The answer to this question lies at the heart of the fallacy of their argument. I believe in their view if Obama demanded of his counter parts that which he deems necessary from himself, he would be portrayed as exactly the arrogant bully that he is trying to avoid. The only way for Obama to bring the world together is for him and him alone to show humility while giving everyone else a free pass on their own country's past misdeeds.

Think about that for a minute. The president is going on a tour of the world and pointing out each and every wrong that his country has ever done. Yet, the rest of the world gets a pass from doing the same, even though they all have just as much to apologize for, if not more. He's doing this because he believes only such humility will allow for an environment of mutual understanding so that we can work in a productive manner on the world stage.

In other words, Obama holds himself to standards he wouldn't hold others to because that's the only way he thinks the rest of the world can rally around him. In other words, the only way that President Obama thinks he can rally the world around his geopolitical goals is to inherently make the United States look weaker than the rest of the world. Keep in mind he has been flying around the world pointing each of our mistakes while nearly totally disregarding the mistakes the rest of the world has made.

That's a peculiar and rather ironic point of view. We are the world's only super power. Our leader thinks that the only way for the world to come together is for that super power to inherently be weakened first on the world stage. Maybe it will work, but I've never heard of a plan in which you weaken yourself first in order to get others to work with you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Entirely Political Exercise Masquerading as Constitutional Debate

Let's try a thought experiment. Let's suppose that the Bush administration didn't use waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques when capturing the likes of KSM. Let's further suppose that there was an attack several years later and it was then learned that KSM knew about it but we didn't get that information from him. Does anyone believe that this day, now, we wouldn't be using each and every tough interrogation technique available? Does anyone believe that anyone but the truly looney would have any doubt about their legality? Does anyone think we would be debating whether or not we should try those that made legal opinions about its legality?

What's truly infuriating about this debate is that many on both sides are turning a political debate into a Constitutional one. Let's make this clear. Whether or not waterboarding and other tough techniques are or are not torture is NOT clear. It is a debate that folks all stripes can have till everyone is blue in the face and reach no resolution. Furthermore, whether or not this is or is not Constitutional is also entirely unclear.

Here's how I know. Back in the 1940's, FDR set up an office of censorship. That's right. FDR brazenly violated the First Amendment. Now, I don't remember any of the lawyers involved in formulating the legal opinion to allow him to do this ever being threatened with prosecution. I don't remember anyone involved with this policy ever being threatened with prison. During WWI, Woodrow Wilson set up the Creel Commission, which among other things opened up mail of war opponents. This blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment landed no one in jail. Just more recently, the District of Columbia was found to violate the 2nd Amendment with their handgun ban. Despite decades of illegal activity, no one associated with the formulation or implementation of this blatantly unconstitutional policy was ever threatened with jail time.

The main difference between the three examples that I cited and the Bush policy is that those three were perpetrated against American citizens themselves not our enemy during war time. Now, some will purport to say that while FDR can censor and face no punishment, President Bush can't dunk Al Qaeda in water in order to gain valuable information that winds up saving American lives.

If the Obama administration believes this policy is both unnecessary and unconstitutional, then they should proceed without it. Furthermore, the best way to prove their point is to keep America as safe as the Bush administration did without its use. All the Obama administration needed to do to indict this policy is to make sure that there were no attacks under its watch without using it. Yet, that wasn't good enough. Istead of simply moving forward with that goal, they skipped, three months into their term, by trying to indict, literally, their predecessors.

This is a political exercise masquerading as a Constitutional one. What exactly will justice find to be illegal? Al Qaeda wear no uniform. They represent no country. They target civilians. Where exactly in the Constitution is there a black and white assertion that waterboarding these folks is against the Constitution. If the current Justice Department decides this interrogation technique is illegal, they can draw that opinion. Furthermore, the Obama administration can follow that opinion. To then decide that because another administration interpreted the Constitution differently on the same issue that would be an illegal act would masquerade a political debate as a Constitutional one.

Council Nominees

Council Submissions
Right Truth - Witch Hunts (and you are the witch)
The Provocateur - Dr. Andrew Agwunobi Strikes Again
Joshuapundit - The Real Holocaust Denial
The Razor - Obama Administration Sucking Moonbats Out of Private Sector
Rhymes With Right - About The Secession Thing
The Glittering Eye - For the Want of a Horseshoe Nail
Bookworm Room - Honing our arguments
Soccer Dad - Preoccupied with occupation
Wolf Howling - Throwing Green Fuel On An Economic Fire
Non-Council Submissions
Submitted By: Right Truth - American Daughter - The Intimidation Begins
Submitted By: The Provocateur - Portfolio - Confessions of a TARP CEO’s Wife
Submitted By: Joshuapundit - Doug Ross@Journal - Let Them Eat Dirt
Submitted By: The Razor - The Journal of the American Enterprise Institute - The Coming of the Fourth American Republic
Submitted By: Rhymes With Right - Right On The Left COast - Close West Point?
Submitted By: The Glittering Eye - Rortybomb - Ban Mortgage Prepayment Penalties at the Federal Level, 1: Texas
Submitted By: Bookworm Room - Britannica Blog - Shock peace therapy for the mideast
Submitted By: Soccer Dad - Elder of Ziyon - More of those “civilians” killed in Gaza (UPDATED)
Submitted By: Wolf Howling - AIFD - Obama Administration Stacking the Deck with Islamists
Submitted By: The Watcher - Thomas Sowell at The Jewish World Review - Are You an ‘Extremist’?

The Ideological Pandora's Box

Right at the beginning of his presidency, then President Bush took a lot of heat from the right for not pursuing investigations against Bill Clinton regarding several high profile pardons in his last remaining days. President Bush knew full well that while the base wouldn't be happy, he also wouldn't be able to move on with his own agenda if he decided to take up such a highly polarizing issue. Right now, I would like to be a fly on the wall of meetings with David Axelrod, Obama's chief political advisor. Does Axelrod see the recent hubub over "torture" with the same politically explosive ptential for polarization?

In my opinion, President Obama has stepped into a minefield, politically, and it won't be easy to get out. Once President Obama released classified memos regarding enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding, he opened up a pandora's box that won't easily close. The immediate political benefit is obvious. He immediately sets himself up against the previous administration. That's brilliant. Bush's popularity is abysmal and his is strong. (for now) He had to know that simply releasing the memos wouldn't end the story. Now Cheney wants other memos released. he wants memos released that showed what sorts of information we gathered regarding the techniques. Now, Obama is stuck. If he releases these memos and they verify Cheney, he sets off a larger and more partisan debate. If he doesn't, everyone will still wonder if Cheney is right and wonder why Obama won't release them.

Obama could have limited the damage by ending things there, but that wasn't good enough. So, yesterday, he suggested that he would be open to prosecutions of Bush officials. That would certainly please his political base, but no one else. Show trials of Bush officials would make the partisan battles of the Lewinsky debacle seem mild. In fact, show trials of Bush officials would make the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton seem mild.

Now, President Obama has ceded to the Justice Department to see if there are any punishable offenses. Well, there are only a few outcomes to this. First, Justice could decide that there are no punishable offenses. That, ironically enough, would be the best outcome for Obama. Yes, that would be embarrassing and the left would scream, but that scenario would end the whole sordid affair fairly quickly. On the other hand, Justice could begin to hand down indictments. Let's take that to its logical conclusion. Ultimately, the person responsible most for authorizing waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques was the president himself. After all, whatever opinions were written, it was the commander in chief that authorized them. If the techniques are found to be illegal, then the only logical conclusion must be to indict President Bush.

Such is what all far left folks want, and again, only far left folks want it. Now, just imagine the partisan explosion that an indictment from the current administration of the president of the previous administration. That wouldn't merely consume Obama's presidency, but overwhelm it. To call such an environment toxic would be quite the understatement. Does anyone believe anything would be done while the previous president were under indictment?

Then, there is the other possibility that Obama would create a 9/11 like bi partisan commission. Again, there's only a few scenarios here. If the hearings are televised, they would almost certainly turn partisan. Every Democrat would make the assertion that these techniques were torture. Every Republican would stress just how many lives were saved. The final report would either be a partisan hit job or it would be balanced. So, if it were balanced, the conclusions would go something like this. The techniques were extreme and even illegal, but as a result, thousands of lives were saved. This would set off a partisan explosion that would polarize the nation. Those that agreed with the techniques would say see they saved lives. Those that opposed them would say see they are torture. If it's partisan, toward either side, it would set off a partisan explosion that would polarize the nation obscenely. Do you see a pattern forming? Any hope of being post partisan would go by the wayside almost laughably.

Finally, there is another specter looming. What if in the next two years, we are hit. Then, ultimately, the reason we were hit wouldn't matter. At least 50% of the nation would conclude that it was because Obama stopped using these techniques. He would be viewed as a vindictive president more worried about bloodying his predecessor than protecting the nation. Forget his presidency, he would admire the legacy of Herbert Hoover. The Democrats would be through for decades.

This is an awful political football. The president should have recognize that there was nothing to gain by throwing it. Instead, he's decided move forward with it. Now, he can't simply walk back. People are expecting a Justice investigation and they're expecting a blue ribbon panel. There is political pitfalls whether he gives on both or on either.