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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Navigating Foreign Policy in a World of Bad Actors

When I first heard about the coup in Honduras, I immediately thought of something that Bill O'Reilly once said. He covered the war in El Salvador. He said that when he speak to common folk in El Salvador, they told him both sides, the military lead government and the leftists militias, were rotten to the core. The outbreak in Honduras has immediately turned partisan. Supporters of the president also now support deposed leader Manuel Zelaya. Here's an example of that support from the Huffington Post.

Viewed from a distance, the streets of Honduras look, smell and sound like those of Iran: expressions of popular anger - burning vehicles, large marches and calls for justice in a non-English language - aimed at a constitutional violation of the people's will (the coup took place on the eve of a poll of voters asking if the President's term should be extended); protests repressed by a small, but powerful elite backed by military force; those holding power trying to cut off communications in and out of the country.

These and other similarities between the political situation in Iran and the situation in Honduras, where military and economic and political elites ousted democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya in a military coup condemned around the world, are obvious.

Meanwhile, conservatives have called the coup totally legal and necessary. They have taken defending most of the actions of the new government. The fact is this. Military stormed the quarters of the leader of the nation and arrested him at gun point in the early morning. To not see that this is wrong is to be willfully blind. Furthermore, these same folks are now cutting off television signals, detaining journalists, and imposing martial law. These are not necessarily nice folks.

Of course, Maneul Zelaya is far from a good guy himself. This all started when attempted to move forward with an election the Supreme Court had ruled illegal. He has alligned himself with Hugo Chavez and he was clearly on the road to a leftist dictatorship.

So, what does President Obama do? He had three options. The first was to declare this an internal issue and distance himself. This was a long term untennable stance. At some point, he would either have to recognize the new government, and inherently support the coup, or to cut diplomatic ties, and inherently make it illegal. The other two options were to support the coup or Zelaya.

Obama, of course, chose the third option. The first problem with Obama's decision is that he made an absolute moral stance. This situation has no absolute morals. In Obama's view, coups are inherently evil and thus, we must oppose this coup. What about the rise of leftist dictators? Aren't those equally as evil?Why wouldn't we oppose the rise of another leftist dictator?

Furthermore, he has condemned the coup without condemning the actions of Zelaya that lead to the coup. If the coup is "illegal", how does President Obama view a leader that ignores the ruling of the highest judiciary?

The second problem is that he has alligned himself with someone that gives America no strategic value. In fact, all this does is strengthen the hand of our enemy, Hugo Chavez. In El Salvador, the U.S. wound up supporting the military government not because they were beacons of goodness, but because they were the enemy of our enemies, the leftists. We have the same situation here. The new government is not a beacon of goodness, but they are opposing a leftist alligned with Hugo Chavez. There are no good options, but ultimately, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. President Obama chose the wrong side.

Video, Quote, and Word of the Day



“Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It's like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can't control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn.”

Mike Tyson

The New and Improved PPIP Is Ready to Launch

It received much fanfare, speculation and criticism when it was first introduced both in February and in March. Now, the Private Public Investment Program (PPIP) is about set to launch. Secretary Geithner first talked about this in February. When he made his initial speech on the matter, he was very vague and general. The market proceeded to plunge four hundred points in the aftermath. Secretary Geithner came back in March with a much more detailed plan and the market responded more favorably. The plan is extremely complicated and it's ultimately unclear if it will work. It has also since gone through a major rework. The PPIP is the Treasury's plan to try and get so called "toxic assets" off the books of banks. Removing these so called "toxic assets" (very poorly valued Mortgage backed securities for instance) was one of the center pieces of the administration's economic recovery. It would allow for an auction among selected hedge funds and other private financial firms to buy these "toxic assets. The private firms would put up some of their own money and the federal government would loan the rest. (as such the public private investment) Now, it's just about ready to launch.

The PPIP has gone through a long gestation process, interviewing many prospective investors and scaling back its scope, which at one point was hailed as a $1 trillion endeavor. It now looks to do business worth around $50 billion.

Markets initially rallied when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced back in March, a two-pronged plan to offer government financing to lure investors into buying bad loans and toxic securities from banks.

Originally, the program was supposed to be worth near one trillion dollars. Some estimates put "toxic assets" at near five trillion dollars. Clearly, what we have now won't resolve much of anything. I can only hope and assume that the Treasury has decided to roll it out in a small way to see how it works. If so, that might be wise. This plan is terribly complicated and rolling it out all at once could spell disaster. Still, given the enormous amount of toxic assets banks hold, it's easy to see just how difficult this task will be given they are only rolling out $50 billion for now.

What's much more curious is the list of hedge funds involved in the PPIP. There are reported to be nine and those nine includes GE Capital. It's frankly nothing short of uncanny how often GE, and its subsidiaries, are on the receiving end of a favorable Obama program. It's no secret that both MSNBC, CNBC, and NBC, all GE affiliates, have given President Obama very favorable coverage. Now, we have another example of GE receiving a favorable business deal from the administration.

In April, Bill O'Reilly featured this Talking Points Memo about a GE subsidiary that would stand to benefit handsomely from cap and trade.

Meanwhile, after working behind the scenes, GE was able to convince the Obama administration to change the guidelines of TARP and TALF in order to qualify for bailout funds.

At the same time, GE has avoided many of the restrictions facing other
financial giants getting help from the government.

The company did not initially qualify for the program, under which the government sought to unfreeze credit markets by guaranteeing debt sold by banking firms. But regulators soon loosened the eligibility requirements, in part because of behind-the-scenes appeals from GE. As a result, GE has joined major banks collectively saving billions of dollars by raising money for their operations at lower interest rates. Public records show that GE Capital, the company's massive financing arm, has issued nearly a quarter of the $340 billion in debt backed by the program, which is known as the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, or TLGP.

GE qualified as a bank merely because they own two small banks in Utah. Of course, it is the very same GE Capital that was the recipient of the bailout.

This of course brings up another issue. Why was GE Capital chosen as one of the hedge funds to participate in the program? Aren't we only supposed to be dealing with hedge funds that are healthy? More than that, if GE Capital received a bailout, then wouldn't it stand to reason that they would be using government funds to buy these toxic assets. Wouldn't that remove the "private" from the public private partnership. Here's how the Treasury Department describes the sort of company it wants in the partnership.

The Treasury Department today announced the receipt of more than 100 unique applications from potential fund managers interested in participating in the Legacy Securities portion of the Public Private Investment Program (PPIP). A variety of institutions applied, including traditional fixed income, real estate, and alternative asset managers.

Successful applicants must demonstrate a capacity to raise private capital and manage funds in a manner consistent with Treasury's goal of protecting taxpayers. Treasury will also evaluate the applicant's depth of experience investing in eligible assets. Finally, the applicant must be headquartered in the United States.

Now, given that GE Capital needed bailout money, wouldn't that mean that both their ability to raise PRIVATE capital and their ability to manage funds would be suspect?

Just think about this for a minute. Here's how the PPIP is supposed to work. The private companies would put up only one twelfth of the money. The rest would be loaned from the government. If the investment ultimately lost money, the loans would be forgiven. Any profits would be shared by the private firm and the government. That's a pretty sweet deal for any firm chosen to participate. It's even sweeter when said firm recently received a government bailout. It sounds as though GE Capital will essentially be allowed to buy up toxic assets with no risk and all government money. (I have emailed GE for comment. So far I haven't received a response. I will update if one comes. The Department of Treasury says they will soon release their guidelines for choosing companies to participate in PPIP and have no comment until then)

Playing Both Sides: How ACORN Profits from the Making Homes Affordable Program

The roots of ACORN becoming the bogeyman in conservative circles could likely be found in that group's involvement in the Community Reinvestment Act. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if conservatives blamed the CRA, wrongly in my opinion, largely because ACORN is so tied to it.

With the CRA, ACORN would often stage massive demonstrations in front of banks in order to intimidate bank managers into complying and providing more loans for low income folks. These demonstrations were often quite confrontational, in your face, and were rooted in Saul Alinsky tactics. What wasn't reported nearly as much was that ACORN stood to benefit financially from all of these tactics.

The Community Reinvestment Act allowed ACORN a never ending campaign in which ACORN would "enforce it". Enforce it they did and often with heavy handed tactics. They would picket banks, show up at homes of bank managers, and often demand boycotts of those banks they felt weren't complying with CRA. Because enforcing something like CRA is perpetual, CRA became a perpetual campaign. Worse yet, often ACORN would go directly to the federal government, through HUD, for funding. In other words, their heavy handed tactics were being subsidized by the tax payers. Of course, we'll never know how much money these campaigns got because all of it first started at CCI and then who knows where it wound up.

Now, the CRA is toxic and so that never ending money machine has dried up. It appears that ACORN has found another government program from which to profit in much the same way, the Making Homes Affordable Program.

Several newspapers around the country are reporting that ACORN is sponsoring rallies across the country in an attempt to pressure banks to become part of President Obama's Making Homes Affordable Program. (H/T to Michelle Malkin and MsPlaced Democrat)

Protesters in more than a dozen cities across the country are demanding that a group of mortgage companies who benefited from federal bailout money participate in a government program designed to prevent foreclosures.

They say the companies should sign on to the Obama administration initiative called “Making Home Affordable.” The administration estimates it could help up to 9 million financially troubled homeowners stay in their homes…

The protests are scheduled Tuesday in 14 cities, including Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, Los Angeles and Miami. They’re organized by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, also known as ACORN.

What none of these news reports seem to report is that ACORN, and its affiliates, will stand to gain financially from the aggressive implementation of Making Homes Possible. That program includes aggressive loan modification programs for troubled borrowers.

Several weeks ago, I was on a conference call with the National Conference of Mayors and ACORN about this very program. So, while they publicly engineer a media campaign to pressure banks to submit to Making Homes Possible, privately they are also making the necessary political connections to benefit from it's implementation. As such, ACORN itself stands to gain in a very lucrative way financially from the successful implementation of this program. For instance, I, along with Nancy Armstrong, have reported on significant corruption in ACORN's relationship with the city of St. Louis in the implementation of this program. There, they charge the city $750 for every loan modified. As such, they have a financial interest in seeing as many banks as possible enter into this program.

What do we find on the main page of ACORN affiliate, ACORN Housing Inc.?

for foreclosure prevention assistance: The Acorn Housing Home Equity Loss Prevention program (HELP) assists families that are having problems making their mortgage payments by advocating on their behalf with their lender to negotiate an affordable solution. Our trained counselors are experts in foreclosure prevention and can tailor a plan of action aimed at your particular situation. To get help now, click here and fill out an application online. When completed, you can download an authorization form which you need to sign and send back to us along with any requested documents we need to prepare your case.

In other words, ACORN's housing arm, ACORN Housing Inc. is a major player in the non profit loan modification world. As such, ACORN Housing Inc. would stand to benefit financially from more banks joining the Making Homes Affordable program. In fact, as Nancy Armstrong recently found out ACORN has secured nearly $8 million in government grants all around the country to help implement loan modifications and home counseling for troubled borrowers.

Mind you, none of this is illegal. Yet, you can see that there is a clear conflict of interest when a grass roots organization lobbies major banks to join a program they themselves stand to profit from. If the conflict were disclosed, there wouldn't be any problems. Though, if the conflict were disclosed, ACORN's image as the protector of the poor would likely suffer.

It is this connection that most media unfortunately miss. For instance, this St. Louis fails to mention entirely ACORN's agreement with the city to provide counseling for $750 per file. How much different would the story look if it was disclosed that ACORN stood to benefit financially from the demonstrations they organize?

The story is made further seedy by this reality. The foot soldiers that ACORN uses to make up the mob crowds that demonstrate banks are almost always poor folks, with a total lack of sophistication. They are told to stand in front of the bank and make their presence felt. They don't know that they are being used as part of an orchestrated plot by ACORN to line its own pockets. They, themselves, think that they are merely standing up for the poor and helpless. As one insider told me

they will parade the gullible and marginal to strong arm the greedy.

Again, I would have no problem with any of this if it was all disclosed. If ACORN disclosed their financial interests in their grass roots activities that would be one thing. Instead, what they really do is present themselves as the protectors of the poor, all the while profiting handsomely from their protection.

I Agree with George Soros?

A few weeks back, I wrote this piece analyzing the different forms of an economic recovery: indicated by the letters l, u, v, and w. In it, I predicted that we would form a W shaped recovery. In a W shaped recovery there are one or more false rallies only to find the economy back in a recession.

I believe that we will see this W shaped recession. It's why I am still bearish. Whatever short term signs we see of a recovery, they are, in my opinion, overwhelmed by the long term problems caused by the action in response to the recovery. In other words, I believe the medicine will wind up worse than the ailment.

Between the Fed's quantitative easing (creating money out of thin air and buying bonds with it), the massive stimulus, the bank bailouts, all of these things have run up our debt to massive levels. What does this cause? First, it causes higher interest rates, high inflation, and a weak dollar. Already, we are seeing signs of the negative effects of this. Oil has steadily been rising over the last two months. That's partially to do with the dollar, as oil is priced in dollars.

What will $3 a gallon gas prices do to our recovery? I have spoke often about the rising interest rate in the Ten Year U.S. Treasury. That's back to just under 3.7%. This has recently caused a massive short term run up in mortgage rates. What will 6% or even 7% mortgage rates do to our recovery?

Speaking in front of business interests today, George Soros echoed my beliefs.

Billionaire investor George Soros on Tuesday predicted a "stop-go" economy for the United States, saying fears of inflation will drive up interest rates and choke off growth.

Soros, one of the world's most successful hedge fund managers who was speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Wall Street Journal, said borrowing costs are the major headwinds for the economy.

"As markets revive, fear of inflation will drive up interest rates, which will choke off recovery," he said.

Rising U.S. Treasury yields have driven mortgage rates back up, threatening a recovery in the housing market and a refinancing boom that has helped preserve the still-fragile health of recession-weary households and the banks that lend to them.

The rise in bond yields and mortgage rates may also act to check the huge recent rally in global stock markets of the past three months, with the Federal Reserve trying to end an 18-month recession and yet not spur inflation.

What Soros never addressed is the role of President Obama, the candidate he furiously supported in the race, in engineering the recovery he now predicts. In fact, Soros was downright disingenuous to the point of suspicious in his speech. Soros went on to claim that bubbles can't be avoided, that government must limit the dangers of bubbles, and that regulators are always less knowledgeable than the market itself. In fact, if I didn't know Soros any better, I would say he's a free market champion after reading the notes of this speech. Yet, I know him better. This is the same George Soros that is a major funder of the universal health care campaign. While he speaks about light regulation out of one side of his mouth, he funds Socalist causes out of the other side. So, it would seem he got what he wanted, and yet, in this speech, he indicts the entire domestic policy of President Obama regardless.

Soros is no dummy. He knew exactly what platform Obama was going to implement when he threw the entire weight of his multi billion dollar fortune behind him. Yet, now, suddenly, he comes out to indict that very same platform in its entirety. That obvious dichotomy was neither asked nor answered. That's too bad because it's awfully suspicious.

Time for the Supreme Court to Revisit Quotas, Affirmative Action and th 14th Amendment

Buried in the decision yesterday in Ricci, was this pronouncement by Justice Scalia that this case

merely postpones the evil day" on which the court must decide "whether, or to what extent," existing disparate-impact law conflicts with the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law. Conceding that "the question is not an easy one

Disparate impact is defined as such.

Disparate impact is a legal phrase used in employment law to describe when a facially neutral practice that has an unjustified adverse impact on members of a protected class. Examples of practices that may be claimed to have a disparate impact include written tests, height and weight requirements, educational requirements, and subjective procedures, such as interviews.

The idea of disparate impact, quotas, and affirmative action itself all must be looked at by the Supreme Court to see if they violate the 14th amendment.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In fact, the whole point of the 14th amendment is to rid our society of "protected classes". Yet, we continue with laws and practices in which women and minorities are given preferential treatment simply because of their race and sex.

That's in fact what disparate impact laws are. If a racially neutral practice happens to hurt one protected class, that practice can be outlawed even though the practice itself is not necessarily racial.

The 14th amendment guarantees equal treatment under the law, not equal outcomes. Yet, we continue to allow employers to hire people simply because their race or sex helps them meet quotas. We continue to allow universities to do similar things with admissions.

This is not without consequence. Try and get a job with the Chicago Public Schools if you are a white male. It's much more difficult than a female or a minority.

Yet, we continue to accept affirmative action, quotas, and so called disparate impact laws because all of these are supposed to address prior wrongs. Yet, the Constitution doesn't guarantee a right to make up for prior wrongs. It does, however, guarantee that everyone is treated equally under the law. All three of these practices fly in the face of that very simple concept in the 14th amendment. Hopefully, while the make up of the court is still favorable to such a ruling, the court will finally address this blatant violation of the Constitution.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Congressman Kirk Explains

Congressman Kirk has released a statement explaining why he voted for cap and trade.

For 2009, our top goal should be energy independence. I support exploring for energy off our coasts, expanding nuclear power and building a natural gas pipeline across Canada to lower heating costs in the Midwest – an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

As a Navy veteran, I think is time to set America’s policy towards defunding Middle Eastern dictatorships by cutting our foreign oil bill, giving our troops less to worry about. That is why during the debate on the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill, I voted for the Republican Forbes (R-VA) Substitute, based on the text of the New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence, H.R. 513. Our “Manhattan” energy bill set a goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil by 50% in 10 years and 100% in 20 years. The bill cost $24 billion but would eliminate the $400 billion Americans currently spend on foreign oil. Our bill backs solar, wind, hydro, clean coal and nuclear power. It enhances research, especially in nuclear fusion, bio-fuels, carbon-capture systems and efficiency upgrades. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated by a vote of 172 to 255.

While less ideal than the Forbes Substitute, the underlying ACES bill would still lower our dependence on foreign oil by diversifying American energy production. It is time to break the boom and bust cycle of high gas prices and the need to deploy three separate armies to the Middle East (Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom). As you may know, I am a veteran of the Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom missions. With regard to the main thrust of the ACES bill, I am also concerned about growing air pollution, both from our country and overseas. I do not think we should ignore this problem. While the ACES bill is overly complicated, I voted in favor of the legislation to address these problems, looking forward to major improvements in the Senate. In 1998 and 1999, I served as part of the U.S. delegation to both the Kyoto and Buenos Aires UN Climate Change conferences. In those years, there was a significant debate about the amount and effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide. I was a skeptic and spent hundreds of hours on the subject of 1990s climate science. In the Congress, our job is to learn as much as
possible from the latest peer-reviewed non-partisan scientists and then plot the best course for our nation.

There is now a growing scientific consensus that the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide affects average temperatures. According to the National Academy of Scientists, carbon dioxide levels rose to a high of 290 parts per million 130,000 years ago, causing a 20 degree increase in temperature. As carbon dioxide levels fell, so did average temperatures. Both Presidents Bush and their advisors recognized this long relationship and put forward their own plans to reduce the recent rapid growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, both here and abroad. According to NASA, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose from a pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million in 1850 to 385 parts per million today. According to the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the rate of increase is accelerating, from 376 parts per million in 2004 to 385 today. The National Academy of Sciences reports that the earth’s average temperature already increased by 1.4°F, from 56.8°F in 1920 to 58.2°F in 2007. NOAA also reports that due to a 30% drop in winter ice covering the Great Lakes since 1972, evaporation may be the cause of Lake Michigan’s declining water level.

If we examine the lowest-case NASA projection, they expect the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide to rise to 440 parts per million by 2020. I am a strong supporter of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. When they reported the Democratic health care bill cost $1.6 Trillion, we should take notice and rewrite that bill. That is why I have become one of the leading Republican authors of an alternative health care bill that will be the Congress’s least expensive bill, costing our Treasury very little. I read their report on ACES carefully too. CBO reports that peer-reviewed scientists expect the world’s average temperature to increase by 9 degrees by 2100, lowering U.S. economic output by 3% annually. In sum, they estimated the costs of the bill per household at $140 annually

The main section of the ACES bill affects entities that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon annually, roughly 7,400 sites across the U.S. (e.g. the current Clean Air Act already covers 22,000 sites). The best way to understand this bill is to look at its effect on our district’s main source of electricity, the Midwest Generation electrical plant in Waukegan If you go to any beach in our district, you will see it on the northern Lake Michigan shoreline. In sum, Midwest Generation burns coal to produce four million megawatt hours of electricity, serving 330,000 households annually in northern Illinois. Under ACES, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would issue permits for the four million tons of carbon this plant plans to emit in 2012. Half of the permits would be issued for free, half at a cost of $15 per ton,
totaling $33 million in new costs (electricity generators using solar, wind, hydro and nuclear technologies do not emit carbon and would not pay such costs).

Midwest sells its electricity to Commonwealth Edison. Under ACES, EPA would refund to ComEd $30 million of the $33 million Midwest paid to EPA. The Act requires that this funding be used to reduce the cost of electricity to lower and middle income families. In the end, Commonwealth Edison would pass about $3 million in new costs on to northern Illinois consumers, or roughly $14 annually per home. As you can see, the costs of this bill are modest, mainly intended to move energy production in the United States to renewable technology. Midwest Generation also advised me they strongly supported the bill, as did Commonwealth Edison.

Major emitters can also invest in plants and trees that remove carbon from the atmosphere. By planting nine acres of trees, an emitter can offset a ton of carbon emissions annually. Many of these investments will help farmers and may be arranged by the Chicago Climate Exchange, using our city’s expertise in trading credits for agricultural products. Under this legislation, we also expect total wind power generation to expand at an annual rate of 16%, doubling wind production from its current 3% of U.S. totals power to 6% over the next 10 years. Because the U.S. solar and wind production is still so small, the legislation also contains provisions to encourage the construction of new nuclear plants to power our economic growth. Recently, our country started building new nuclear power plants, with 17 applications for 26 new plants.

ACES also increases energy efficiency standards for homes and commercial buildings – but recently passed Illinois standards are already as stringent as the new federal standards. The effect of this bill will be to increase other states to the Illinois standards. By one estimate, such efficiency standards will lower household energy costs by $3,900 annually. This would cut our foreign oil bills substantially.

In sum, I would have preferred a bill that focused more on energy independence and less on some of the complications in this bill. Nevertheless, the 1990 Clean Air Act signed by President Bush established a cap and trade system to reduce acid rain that proved to be a great low-cost success. Much of the poisoned lakes in the east and New England have recovered from acid rain. In the coming Senate debate, I hope we can repeat this environmental success and aggressively back a national program to defund Iran and Venezuela by reducing America’s need for foreign oil.

Congressman Kirk explains that energy independence is one of the most vital issues on the agenda. That's one of the main reasons for supporting this bill. Kirk acknowledges that this bill is far from perfect, but it appears he wanted it moved along in the hopes the Senate would improve on it. That's a bold, if not risky, view of things. Kirk even acknowledges that support for this bill wasn't his first option. His first option was another bill that never got far enough for a vote.

Congressman Kirk then goes into a short dissertation about the impending doom that will be caused by global warming. This is yet another dubious use of studies to distort reality. I don't know whether or not global warming is real, but I do know that the whole thing is far from a settled matter.

Yet, it is his example that should have clued Kirk in that this bill is bunk. In his example, one local utility company would pay the EPA $33 million. Then, the EPA would pay another local utility company $30 million that would go to subsidize the energy bills of the poor. As such, we'd only see energy bills go up $14 monthly. That's all well and good but all of this money will be moving in a circulary fashion without actually accomplishing anything. Midwest energy wouldn't be producing anything more efficient. Instead, they would pay the EPA for producing far too much carbon. That money would then go from the EPA to Comed to provide poor folks with a subsidy for higher energy costs. All of this money will go all around, but no one will change their energy use in any way shape or form.

Think about it. Midwest Energy is paying $33 million because they are using far too much carbon. That goes to the EPA. Then, Midwest Energy charges Comed more. As such, ComEd charges their customers more. So, the EPA moves $30 million over to ComEd so that they can subsidize the energy bills of the poor. What isn't being done is moving anyone's energy use from carbon based to an alternative.

All that's happening is an increase in energy bills that then gets filtered from one company to the government to another company and then that goes to the poor. The carbon use doesn't change one bit. All that's happening is an increase of energy bills of $14 monthly with absolutely no change in energy use whatsoever. Kirk's own example indicts the whole entire program as a sham.

What Now of Our Policy in South America

President Obama just laid down the marker today regarding Honduras. (h/t Hot Air)

The president called the coup "illegal" and said the U.S. continues to recognize deposed President Manuel Zelaya the leader of Honduras. Now, if we are to follow this to its logical conclusion, then this means that we won't recognize the new government. That means we would have to remove our ambassador from the nation. We'd cut off aid and all diplomatic ties. As such, we would wind up with more diplomatic ties with Venezuela than with Honduras.

More importantly, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the United States have all not only condemned the coup but also continue to recognize Zelaya. How long can the new government survive with all of these groups refusing to recognize it? What will happen once the government falls? Most likely, Zelaya will regain power. Then, he will impose another term and eventually lifetime rule.

Then, you create a leftist axis in Venezuela, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. Our ally in the region, Colombia, has far more leftist dictators to deal with. So, where does that leave our policy in South America? Are we still going to engage with Venezuela? A coup is something you don't necessarily want to make a habit of support, but in this case, a leftist leader trying to be a dictator is even worse. By taking sides with Zelaya, we help to secure yet another dictatorship in an area in which democracies are in an ideological battle with Socialist dictators. Which side are we on exactly?

Video, Quote, and Word of the Day



Somehow I can't believe that there are any heights that can't be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy.

Walt Disney

The Democrats Stunning Chutzpah on Patriotism

Remember when Democrats screamed that they weren't going to stand to be called unpatriotic just because they dissented from then President Bush's policies. Here is John Kerry on the subject.

I have come here today to reaffirm that it was right to dissent in 1971 from a war that was wrong. And to affirm that it is both a right and an obligation for Americans today to disagree with a President who is wrong, a policy that is wrong, and a war in Iraq that weakens the nation.

I believed then, just as I believe now, that the best way to support the troops is to oppose a course that squanders their lives, dishonors their sacrifice, and disserves our people and our principles. When brave patriots suffer and die on the altar of stubborn pride, because of the incompetence and self-deception of mere politicians, then the only patriotic choice is to reclaim the moral authority misused by those entrusted with high office.

I believed then, just as I believe now, that it is profoundly wrong to think that fighting for your country overseas and fighting for your country's ideals at home are contradictory or even separate duties. They are, in fact, two sides of the very same patriotic coin. And that's certainly what I felt when I came home from Vietnam convinced that our political leaders were waging war simply to avoid responsibility for the mistakes that doomed our mission in the first place. Indeed, one of the architects of the war, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, confessed in a recent book that he knew victory was no longer a possibility far earlier than 1971.

Dissent on issues of war and you are exercising your patriotic duty. Dissent on issues of climate change and you are suddenly unAmerican?

They [Republicans] want to play politics and see if they can keep any achievements from being accomplished that may be beneficial to the Democrats. They're rooting against the country and I think in this case, even rooting against the world because the world needs to get its act together to stop global warming."

Paul Krugman seems to take it one step further.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

When Democrats dissented on Iraq, they used straw men to protest with righteous indignation that they wouldn't stand to be called unpatriotic. That's because only the fringe on the right actually made such an argument. No serious conservative or Republican said that those that opposed the Iraq War were unpatriotic. If all these folks were really so viscerally hurt by this reference, we'd assume they'd never question someone's patriotism because of a policy dispute, would they?

That the patriotic card is trotted out so quickly, recklessly and totally without class is really just a sign that their argument is weak. Do they really believe that those that oppose cap and trade are really un American? Do they really believe that those that oppose cap and trade really just hate the planet?

After all, those are pretty serious charges. Krugman's argument appears to be the planet is in trouble and so anyone voting against this bill hates the planet. Isn't that a bit of a leap? Waxman takes it a step further and cites opposition to the stimulus as also un American. I expect that Senator Kerry, the beacon of patriotic dissent, will make sure and condemn these two pronouncements.

These two suppositions are both yet two more examples of why people are so cynical about politics. These statements are not only absurd but totally disingenuous. They aren't meant as serious analysis. Rather, they're a way to demonize your opponents. Rather than engaging in serious debate, on a serious issue, these two have decided to simply demonize their opponents in hopes that such demonization will marginalize them. That's really as cynical as it gets.

Obama, Iran, and Honduras

I am trying not apply cynical and disturbing motivations to Obama's disjointed foreign policy but it's really hard when you look at the situations in Iran and Honduras. So, rather than getting inside his head, I will simply lay out the facts.

In Iran, there was a sham election. Despite record turnout, the results were announced about four hours after polls closed. Iran has no machine ballots nor exit polling. As such, these results would have had to have been hand counted. Even though everyone expected a very close election, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced to have won overwhelmingly.

Then, supporters of the opponent, Al Mousavi, took to the streets in mass protests. The protests were eventually put down, often violently. The opposition candidate doesn't appear to be free to move. Many protestors have been beaten, jailed, and even murdered. Meanwhile, the ruling elites have declared the election valid and call this the final word.

Here, President Obama has been very careful with his words. He has insisted that he doesn't want to meddle. His language has been very even handed. He once pronounced that there was little difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. He has repeatedly referred to the election and its aftermath and "internal Iranian matter".

Meanwhile, in Honduras, the President, Manuel Zelaya, was attempting to run for office one more time despite being at the end of his final term. He called for a national referendum to put it to the voters. Yet, according to the Supreme Court of Honduras, this move is unConstitutional. They declared as such. Despite the ruling of the Supreme Court, Zelaya went ahead with the referendum. When the military refused to set up balloting stations, he fired most of the heads of the military.

When Zelaya insisted on moving ahead with the referendum despite the ruling of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant. The military followed through on their order. Then, the Congress declared that Zelaya was no longer the President and installed a new one, Roberto Micheletti.

Now, some in the conservative media have already taken to siding with the Congress and the Supreme Court. I'm more skeptical. Often in cases like this, there are no good guys. There are only different sorts of bad guys all vying for power.

That said. If President Obama felt that he shouldn't meddle in Iran, he certainly shouldn't be meddling here. The last thing anyone needs is for the world to think that this is being orchestrated by the U.S. Yet, not only was he meddling, but they've been meddling for weeks.

The Obama administration and members of the Organization of American States had worked for weeks to try to avert any moves to overthrow President Zelaya, said senior U.S. officials. Washington's ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, sought to facilitate a dialogue between the president's office, the Honduran parliament and the military.

The efforts accelerated over the weekend, as Washington grew increasingly alarmed. "The players decided, in the end, not to listen to our message," said one U.S. official involved in the diplomacy. On Sunday, the U.S. embassy here tried repeatedly to contact the Honduran military directly, but was rebuffed. Washington called the removal of President Zelaya a coup and said it wouldn't recognize any other leader.

Furthermore, the statements coming out of the White House regarding Honduras are significantly less equivocating.

We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue.

I am having an awful lot of trouble squaring these two situations without becoming cynical and frankly frightened by our foreign policy. In Iran, there was a popular and peaceful uprising that demanded fair and honest elections and an end to tyranny. In Honduras, the President ignored the Supreme Court and moved forward with a referendum that very Supreme Court deemed un Constitutional. As such, both the Supreme Court and the Congress acted in conjunction with each other. The president saw the situation in Iran as one he needed to maintain a passive and even handed approach to. Meanwhile, in Honduras, he sided with the President, and he meddled both in words and deeds. It's even more disturbing when you add that Zelaya is a leftist alligned with Hugo Chavez. Exactly, which side is our president on?

Inside the Ricci Decision

The case of the Ricci Vs. DeStefano has become a lightning rod ever since Judge Sonia Sotomayor was chosen to replace Justice Souter on the Supreme Court. Today, the Supreme Court reversed Sotomayor's decision 5-4. The majority opinion was written by Justice Kennedy and two concurring opinions were written by Justice Scalia and Justice Alito. The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Ginsberg.

Justice Kennedy's logic was can be summed up like this. Simply having an overweighted result where white firefighters scored better was not enough to throw the test out. As such, the city would have to show that somehow this particular test was biased. The city never did and thus they violated Title VII. Here's how Kennedy summarized it.

Fear of litigation alone cannot justify the City’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions. Discarding the test results was impermissible under Title VII, and summary judgment is appropriate for petitioners on their disparate-treatment claim. If, after it certifies the test results, the City faces a disparate-impact suit, then in light of today’s holding the City can avoid disparate-impact liability based on the strong basis in evidence that, had it not certified the results, it would have been subject to disparate-treatment

Meanwhile, in her dissent, Justice Ginsberg concluded that...

The white firefighters who scored high on New Haven’s promotional exams understandably attract this Court’s sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them. New Haven maintains that it refused to certify the test results because it believed, for good cause, that it would be vulnerable to a Title VII disparate-impact suit if it relied on those results. The Court today holds that New Haven has not demonstrated “a strong basis in evidence” for its plea. Ante, at 2. In so holding, the Court pretends that “[t]he City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.” Ante, at 20. That pretension, essential to the Court’s disposition, ignores substantial evidence of multiple flaws in the tests New Haven used. The Court similarly fails to acknowledge the better tests used in other cities, which have yielded
less racially skewed outcomes.1

By order of this Court, New Haven, a city in which African-Americans and Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of the population, must today be served—as it was in the days of undisguised discrimination—by a fire department in which members of racial and ethnic minorities are rarely seen in command positions. In arriving at its order, the Court barely acknowledges the pathmarking decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U. S. 424 (1971) , which explained the centrality of the disparate-impact concept to effective enforcement of Title VII. The Court’s order and opinion, I anticipate, will not have staying power.

Here is how Justice Scalia, in his concurring opinion, counters this argument.

Petitioners were denied promotions for which they qualified because of the race and ethnicity of the firefighters who achieved the highest scores on the City's exam. The District Court threw out their case on summary judgment, even though that court all but conceded that a jury could find that the City's asserted justification was pretextual. The Court of Appeals then summarily affirmed that decision.

The dissent grants that petitioners' situation is "unfortunate" and that they "understandably attract this Court's sympathy." But "sympathy" is not what petitioners have a right to demand. What they have a right to demand is evenhanded enforcement of the law--of Title VII's prohibition against discrimination based on race. And that is what, until today's decision, has been denied them.

As such, the majority believes that merely having an overweighted test result is not enough to allow a test to be thrown out because the test must be shown to have racial biases. Meanwhile, the dissent believes that having an overweighted result is in and of itself proof of the test's racial bias. Furthermore, since no firefighters had the right to the promotion, they shouldn't be awarded them. Furthermore, since other cities test's results have created more racially diverse results, that's also proof that other tests should have been used.

The decision itself will likely not do all that much to railroad Sotomayor's nomination. After all, this was 5-4. Furthermore, she is replacing somone that voted the way she would have. What ought to raise many more problems is the depth with which the Supreme Court went in explaining their decision. The decision is 93 pages. Four justices weighed in in writing. Whereas, Sotomayor issued a brief one page decision. What is clear is that Judge Carbones, who scolded Sotomayor for dismissing serious Constitutional issues in her own decision, has been proven right in this case.

Whatever side of the decision they fell on, the Supreme Court certainly believes that there were many significant Constitutional issues to weigh. That was something that Sotomayor dismissed entirely in her own decision. That's what I would focus on if I were the Republicans. Here is Brad Blakeman agreeing with me.

That fact that she was reversed will certainly add fodder for those on the fence and those who oppose her. Some of the more germane questions that should be asked are: 1. Why at the time did you feel that the Ricci Case should have been dismissed on its face and not heard by your Court?, Your decision in the Ricci case was a terse one page decision, yet, the Supreme Court decision was more than 90+ pages going through in depth the Appellant’s Equal Protection and other Constitutional claims, why did you not take up the Appellants Constitutional arguments?

This decision certainly adds to the intrigue of the hearings coming next month.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Voyeurism, Celebrity, and Our Michael Jackson Obsession

The only time that I can remember feeling sadness about the death of an entertainer was the death of Frank Sinatra. Sinatra's career spanned nearly six decades. It included an Oscar along with all sorts of musical accolades. I don't remember the media going into quite this sort of a saturated obsession when Sinatra died. It's true that Sinatra died mostly of old age. Yet, Sinatra was exponentially the better singer, actor, and entertainer than Michael Jackson.

Yet, it appears the rest of the world stopped when news broke of Michael Jackson's death. It took all other news off the front pages. The massacre in Iran was no longer all that important. Even passage of the monumental cap and trade in the House took a backseat to the coverage of Michael Jackson's death.

For about a day, cable news couldn't talk about anything else. There was endless speculation about his death, and endless recaps of his life. The whole thing was entirely surreal. Jackson ceased being any sort of a rock icon more than a decade ago. For the better part of the last two decades, Jackson was something akin to a circus freak and even likely something much more sinister.

The most obscene part of the whole thing is this. The story of Jackson's death could be summed up in about ten minutes. The rest of the time the media engaged in endless speculation. It was the sort of repetitive speculation that ultimately didn't advance the story though in any meaningful way. It did, however, I assume advance the ratings of everyone that engaged in it.

So, what is it that makes people watch? Why do people care so much? This story is the perfect confluence of the sort of voyeurism we get in a trainwreck, the attraction of celebrity, along with scandal and mystery. So, a tragic but ultimately frivilous story winds up taking all the oxygen of the media. It's frankly unclear when any other story will find any oxygen left for itself.

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A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

Mark Twain

Coup in Honduras

This morning, in a daring pre dawn raid, the President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was arrested by military force and forced into exile in Costa Rico. The Congress then elected its leader, Roberto Micheletti, to replace Zelaya. The military acted on the order of the Honduran Supreme Court.

The whole dispute started when Zelaya attempted to serve another term in office. He was about to finish his constititutionally mandated final term next year. He wanted to serve another term. As such, he planned on having a referendum allowing him to serve another term. His opponents said that a referendum was not the Constitutionally prescribed way to allow him to serve another term.

As such, the military not only began opposing Zelaya, but the referendum. As such, his Defense Minister, Edmundo Orellana, was removed and so was General Romeo Vasquez, the head of the armed forces. Meanwhile, the heads of the army and marines resigned in protest.

Then, two days ago, the Honduran Supreme Court ruled the referendum unconstitutional. The President, Manuel Zelaya, went ahead with the referendum even though the military, the judiciary and the legislature were now all against him. Then, this morning, the Supreme Court ordered an arrest warrant for the President.

Zelaya is a leftist and an ally of Hugo Chavez. He was, at least in the opinion of his opponents, attempting to turn the country into a dictatorship much like Chavez has in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the U.S. worked behind the scenes for the last couple days to stop the coup. (H/T to Hotair

The Obama administration worked in recent days to prevent President Zelaya's ouster, a senior U.S. official said. The State Department, in particular, communicated to Honduran officials on the ground that President Obama wouldn't support any non-democratic transfer of power in the Central American country.

"We had some indication" that a move against Mr. Zelaya was a foot, said a U.S. official briefed on the diplomacy. "We made it clear it was something we didn't support."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined Mr. Obama Sunday in criticizing the Honduran coup and calling for the restoration of the democratic process.

The President is calling on all sides to "respect Constitutional order". Television stations aren't working today and power is out in many parts of Honduras. It goes without saying that the situation remains "fluid".

President Obama Dangerous and Dogmatic Commitment to Health Care Reform

Presidential advisor said something fairly startling regarding health care this morning. In response to a question about whether or not taxing employer provided health insurance benefit would be off the table, here's how Axelrod responded.

One of the problems we’ve had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other. And you don’t get anything done. That’s not the way the president approaches us. He is very cognizant of protecting people — middle class people, hard-working people who are trying to get along in a very difficult economy. And he will continue to represent them in these talks,”

The president has been similarly coy about whether or not he would institute the value added tax to pay for health care reform.

With budget deficits soaring and President Obama pushing a trillion-dollar-plus expansion of health coverage, some Washington policymakers are taking a fresh look at a money-making idea long considered politically taboo: a national sales tax.

Now, if I had a chance to ask Axelrod a question, I would ask him if a marginal tax increase was off the table in order to pass health care reform. It appears that the president is convinced that massive health care reform is in and of itself the best policy no matter how we get there.

In medicine, there is a very important principle, first do no harm. Politicians would be wise to follow the same rule. The world is littered with laws that wound up doing much more harm than good. It appears the president believes that the key to his legacy and to future American prosperity is Euro socialist style health care reform. Furthermore, it appears that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

For a clue to Obama's belief system, we really only need to look at Obama's own words.

Obama praises Bill Clinton more highly than any other contemporary Democrat, because Clinton recognized the staleness of the old political debate between Left and Right and came close to moving beyond it with his politics of the Third Way, which "tapped into the pragmatic, nonideological attitude of the majority of Americans." But Clinton blew it, and the author gradually lets you know it. First, he regrets Clinton's "clumsy and transparent" gestures to the Reagan Democrats, and his "frighteningly coldhearted" use of other people (e.g., "the execution of a mentally retarded death row inmate" before a crucial primary). Then Obama notes sadly that Clinton's policies--"recognizably progressive if modest in their goals"--had commanded broad public support, but that the president had never been able, "despite a booming economy," to turn that support into a governing coalition. Finally, he gently accuses Clinton of the worst offense of all: strengthening the forces of conservatism. Due to his "personal lapses" and careless triangulations that ceded more and more ground to the Right, Clinton prepared the way for George W. Bush's victory in 2000.

President Obama is looking to be a transformative president on the scale of FDR and Lincoln. He believes that sweeping health care reform is his ticket to presidential immortality. President Obama should heed both the presidencies of FDR and Clinton. FDR wouldn't have much of a legacy had it not been for his victory in WWII. If President Obama thinks that Social Security, Fannie Mae, and other big government policies secured FDR's legacy, then President Obama had better re read history. As for President Clinton, the former president was very adept at reacting to events. When health care reform failed and the Congress transferred over, the president pivoted to the middle and passed a balanced budget and a capital gains tax cut.

The current president doesn't seem to have any of those instincts yet. So far at least, he will move toward passing health care reform at all costs. (except maybe including a conservative idea like health savings accounts) It appears that he believes that sweeping health care reform will be a transformative victory that will resolve everything no matter what he sacrifices in the process. He'd better rethink that approach. First of all, it's unlikely health care reform will pass if it includes massive tax increases like taxing employer's health insurance and the value added tax. Second, the voters will punish anyone that supports such an idea. It will mean breaking his very clear promise not to tax anyone but the top 5%. Sweeping health care reform will be a political, economic, and electoral failure if its first result is to raise everyone's taxes. Raising everyone's taxes isn't much of a legacy, and the president should realize that soon.

If the president continues to be blinded by the laser light focus that sweeping health care reform is itself a means to an end, it will ultimately bring himself, his party, and our economy down.

The Obama Administration's Secret Weapon...Magic

That's what I was thinking about when I was reading this column by Obama supporter, Michael Crowley. Crowley lays out a very strong case for why things are in trouble. Then, he says not to worry. Only, the way in which Obama will succeed seems something akin to magic. First, Crowley lays out why Obama maybe on the brink of serious problems.

So it was an ominous sign for Barack Obama last week when he appeared in the White House for a press conference that was his most uncomfortable to date. Reporters who had thus far treated him with deference and even admiration treated him with something close to disrespect. Obama, as the New York Times put it, "has rarely experienced as combative and contentious an hour on live television as he did on Tuesday afternoon". Had his response to Iran, one asked, been "timid and weak"? Another tweaked the president's "Spock-like language" about healthcare reform. One even grilled an increasingly irritated president about his furtive smoking habits. The treatment left Obama a bit testy. "I got it," he groused. "You're pitching, I'm catching."

Indeed he has been catching - catching flak, that is, from critics on left and right and over both his foreign and domestic agendas. As he approaches the six-month mark of his presidency, his job has become less glamorous and more gruelling. Allies in Congress are restive and for the first time, the whiff of failures and defeats is in the air. Thus the new tone from the White House press corps, which, like animals in the wild, preys on the weak. But don't be fooled by this dark patch. Obama's long-term prospects remain bright.

Crowley, then makes an even starker point.

The only thing that makes his congressional Democratic allies more nervous than supporting sweeping and expensive healthcare reform is the grand climate-change plan, passed by the House on Friday.

So, let's see if I have this straight. The press corp is becoming more combative. His allies are getting more nervous. There's more and more talk of failure. Furthermore, the center piece of his entire domestic agenda lies in bills that make his own allies nervous to pass. Now, there's a recipe for success if I've ever seen one.

So, how does Crowley believe that all will go well? Magic, that's how.

Congress is beginning to craft a healthcare plan with Obama's guidance and the early going hasn't been pretty. Proposals have carried eye-popping price tags ($1.6 trillion, according to one preliminary estimate by a Senate finance committee), while covering a disappointingly small number of Americans. Nor have the Democrats quite settled on how they will pay for a massive expansion of care. Last week, a prominent House Democrat pronounced that "healthcare reform is on life support".

Don't be surprised if Obama resuscitates it. Although many Democrats are nervous about his plan's cost,

As for climate chage, again, Obama will magically create a winner here.

However urgent it may be to fight global warming, public support for environmentalism drops dramatically in times of economic distress. But look for Obama to settle for a modest plan - a symbolic victory - rather than accept a stark political defeat.

Crowley makes a few good points. That is that we still have 16 months until the election. That gives the economy plenty of time to recover. Furthermore, more people than not still blame Bush for our troubles. Finally, we should see stimulus money spent faster going forward.

All of that maybe true, but Crowley continues to ignore reality. First, unemployment is headed to ten percent. Once it crosses over, September or October, then, it will officially be Obama's economy. Second, unemployment will likely reach 11% at least before it tops out. Furthermore, it's a laggin indicator. That means it will continue to rise long after the economy has begun to recover. So, even if jobs begin to come back this time next year, we'll be looking at double digit unemployment numbers come November 2010. Try explaining a three percent increase in unemployment after you've run up the deficit by nearly two trillion dollars.

Speaking of the deficit, Crowley seems to think that massive health care reform can pass even if it adds to the deficit even more. That's pure fantasy. First, the only way for health care reform to pass is if the so called reconciliation rule is used. That can only happen if health care reform stays revenue neutral. Furthermore, Crowley appears totally tone deaf to what Americans are concerned about. The deficit is quickly becoming the biggest fear of Americans of the Obama administration. Crowley seems to think that we can add to it with a massive new health care policy with no political fallout.

On foreign policy, Crowley is equally naive.

Then there are Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus far, Obama has been in crisis-management mode, trying to keep the government in Islamabad from falling apart and firing his top general in Afghanistan for poor management of the war effort there. But conditions may soon improve in both countries; the Pakistani military is finally cracking down on Islamic radicals. Meanwhile, Obama has ordered 21,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. But many analysts think that, much like the Iraq surge, the fight against the Taliban is eminently winnable if there are enough troops and the right counterinsurgency strategy is adopted.

The Pakistanis have supposedly been cracking down on militias many, many times in the last five years. None of them have amounted to much of anything. Yet, now, it's the real deal if you believe Crowley. Furthermore, we're going to turn a dire situation in Afghanistan into a winner through some cryptic counter insurgency strategy that many unnamed "experts" claim is available.

What's missing from Crowley's analysis is any mention of GITMO. That situation is such a mess that Crowley doesn't even pretend Obama will fix it.

Obviously, no one knows what will happen in the future. It's possible that this time next year there will be peace and prosperity everywhere. If it's so, Obama will get credit. However, if that were to happen, it will happen with a plan by the Obama administration that even his supporters don't know about.

Regime Change: the New "Realism" in Iran

That doesn't even come from me. That comes from this Oped in the Washington Post.

Still, by now it ought to be clear that the best chance to protect what Mr. Obama calls "core U.S. security interests" lies in a victory for the Iranian opposition. That may look unlikely for now. But it is considerably more probable than a turn toward detente by those now engaged in murdering young women. There may not be much that can be done to help the opposition, though some tangible steps -- more money for broadcasting into the country, for example -- are readily available. But at the least, nothing should be done that would harm the cause of change. That is not just the moral course; it is the most pragmatic and realistic.

I believe that the riots, mass murder, and tyrannical squashing of free speech in the aftermath of the rigged elections proved that the only policy with a country like Iran, as well as North Korea, is regime change. The article believes that events mean that the new policy must be regime change. Either way, we've arrived in the same place.

The key now is isolation. The first thing that should happen is that several countries should immediately dismiss Iranian ambassadors from embassies in their countries. This strategy is very dangerous because often Iranian protestors use foreign embassies to get treated for injuries. That's because secret police scour the hospitals and arrest those that have injuries consistent with those they themselves have inflicted. If foreign countries expel diplomats, it's only a matter of time before Iran does the same.

Still, there is no better very easy way to isolate a country than to have allies get together and expel diplomats. If Iranians have foreign policy contacts with only Syria, Russia, China, and Venezuela, it's only a matter of time before the regime loses totally legitimacy and falls.

The main weapon must be economic. Right now, the regime uses technology from Siemens to be able to spy on citizens that attempt to inform the world of what's going on. Siemens does business all over the world, including here in the States. That company must make a choice: do business in the world or in Iran. Any company that helps the regime put down its citizens is one that can't do business in the rest of the world.

Iran would fall quickly if it was totally isolated economically. That won't happen because no matter what Russia and China would support it, but those two nations, on their own, aren't enough. If the Western world united so that all major companies had to choose: do business in Iran or the rest of the world, the regime would fall fairly quickly. Of course, this is mostly wishful thinking. We can't even seem to get most of America to sign on to something like this. The rest of the world is a lost hope. Still President Obama could have an effect immediately by divesting all federal funds from any company still doing business in Iran, in any way (be it through foreign subsidiaries or normally) He could encourage state governments to do the same in private conversations.

At some point, the President would need to get countries like Germany, France and England on board. If NATO, for instance, stood united in calling for regime change that would be nearly a death blow if it was combined with the other steps.

What should be clear is that, given what's happened, President Obama must adjust his policy toward Iran in a significant way.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Obama's GITMO Policy Gets More Complicated

On Friday evening, we received this from the administration.

Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that an order, which would bypass Congress, could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.

Now, try and put all of this into perspective. President Obama signed an executive order in his second day on the job committing to closing GITMO within a year. He did this because GITMO was, in his view, a total rejection of our values and morals. Yet, now, he's on the verge of, by executive fiat, holding some folks indefinitely, without charge or trial. Now, how does that square with his view that GITMO was an aberration to everything we believe.

Let's set some more context. Some folks that were in GITMO are now enjoying the beaches of Bermuda. Soon, they will open up a restaurant. Other folks in GITMO will stay incarcerated indefinitely with no charge or trial.

Whatever you think of Bush's policy, he, more often than not, made decisions based on the safety and protection of the citizenry. With Obama, there's really no underlying thread to his GITMO policy. If this is all about due process and giving our enemies constitutional rights, how does that square with keeping some indefinitely with no charges? If this is about protecting the citizenry, why are some terrorists free in Bermuda?

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to renounce

Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion? Friedrich Nietzsche

The Libertarian's Downfall: Conspiracy Theories

Did you hear the one about how the Federal Reserve controls the world? In fact, the Federal Reserve chairman is merely a puppet. They are always controlled by a super secret group of power players. No one, of course, knows exactly who they are because no one knows exactly who actually owns the Federal Reserve. In fact, the president is also merely a puppet. It is this super secret group of power players that ultimately puppeteer the world. It's all part of their goals to create a one world government and ultimately control that government. Furthermore, this is no new plan. This has been going on since the early nineteen hundreds. Way back then, John Rockefeller was quoted as saying that we are all moving toward a one world government and it was important that the right folks would control it. In fact, the North American Union is just such an avenue. Here's how libertarian Ron Paul characterizes it.

And there is a move on toward a North American union, just like early on there was a move on for a European Union, and it eventually ended up.

And there is a move on toward a North American Union, just like early on there was a move on for a European Union, and eventually ended up. So we had NAFTA and moving toward a

NAFTA highway. These are real things. It's not somebody made these up. It's not a conspiracy. They don't talk about it, and they might not admit about it, but there's been money spent on it. There was legislation passed in the Texas legislature unanimously to put a halt on it. They're planning on millions of acres taken by eminent domain for an international highway from Mexico to Canada, which is going to make the immigration problem that much worse.

So it's not so much a secretive conspiracy, it's a contest between ideologies, whether we believe in our institutions here, our national sovereignty, our Constitution, or are we going to further move into the direction of international government, more U.N.

You know, this country goes to war under U.N. resolutions. I don't like big government in Washington, so I don't like this trend toward international government. We have a WTO that wants to control our drug industry, our nutritional products. So, I'm against all that.But it's not so much as a sinister conspiracy. It's just knowledge is out there. If we look for it, you'll realize that our national sovereignty is under threat.

Speaking of Ron Paul, did you hear the one about how Ron Paul only lost the New Hampshire primary because of voter fraud? Apparently there were thousand person demonstrations everywhere but the media ignored them all. It turns out that in some towns Ron Paul had zero votes even though Ron Paul supporters know of people in those towns that voted for him.

My mom, aunt, and dad all voted for RP today in my hometown, My mom and aunt both work passing out ballots, and checking them off. I just looked at the politico map and it says their town has ZERO votes for Ron. Now i know that there isn't corruption on voting in that little town, so where they reported it must be. What do I do, anyone know???

"This town numbers are wrong wrong wrong on this map. I am from Sutton originally and my parents and one aunt all voted for Ron Paul today and Sutton says 0. So this is wrong. This is a town that had 20 people counting the ballots and I have no reason to believe that they cheated. Small town and I was born and raised there. The real numbers will come in by morning. The electronic machines in the big towns are the ones we have to worry about."

Then, there's the Council on Foreign Relations. This isn't merely a foreign policy think tank. In fact, they are the wizards behind the curtains trying to create the New World Order.

The issue involves much more than a difference of philosophy, or political . Growing up in the midst of the "Cold War," our generation were taught that those who attempted to abolish our national sovereignty and overthrow our Constitutional government were committing acts of treason. Please judge for yourself if the group discussed is guilty of such.

If one group is effectively in control of national governments and multinational corporations; promotes world government through control of media, foundation grants, and education; and controls and guides the issues of the day; then they control most options available. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the financial powers behind it, have done all these things, and promote the "New World Order", as they have for over seventy years.

The CFR is the promotional arm of the Ruling Elite in the United States of America. Most influential politicians, academics and media personalities are members, and it uses its influence to infiltrate the New World Order into American life. Its' "experts" write scholarly pieces to be used in decision making, the academics expound on the wisdom of a united world, and the media members disseminate the message.

To understand how the most influential people in America came to be members of an organization working purposefully for the overthrow of the Constitution and American sovereignty, we have to go back at least to the early 1900's, though the story begins much earlier (depending on your viewpoint and beliefs).

Then, there's Bob Barr, Libertarian Party candidate for President in 2008. Did you hear the one about how Bob Barr was a Republican plant sent in to create chaos in the Libertarian Party?

In 2006 the Reform Caucus radically watered down the LP platform. In 2008 the Reform Caucus pushed forward Bob Barr and Wayne Root as the nominees. Due to these two efforts it is now difficult to distinguish the Libertarian Party from a watered down Republican Party. The Drug War is perhaps the only area of clear difference, as the War Caucus (misnamed as the Defense Caucus) insists that it is wrong to list being against wars of aggression as a libertarian value.

In 2008 Alan Keyes also attempted to gain the nomination of the Constitution Party, but succeeded only in getting their ballot line in the state of California. Being the most populous state that ballot line is crucial to any party that seeks to grow large enough to be considered a major party someday, and the vote is split between Keyes and the actual Constitution Party nominee. In 2000 Patrick Buchanan sought and won the nomination of the Reform Party, and that party has since disappeared.

It would not be far fetched to suggest that the Republican Party has been cynically manipulating third parties for their personal gain.

Libertarians have several bold ideas: legalize drugs, get rid of the Fed, the IRS, the FDA, and the Department of Education, just to name a few. Some say it's their extreme ideas that do them in. It's not. After all, the last campaign was won on the platform of change. You want revolutionary change. Just talk to a libertarian for a few minutes. On political philosophy, they make a strong case for limited and less intrusive government.

I've always had an affinity for the libertarian philosophy. That's because libertarians model their political ideology based on the spirit of the founding fathers. The entire revolution was fought over the idea of liberty. The founding fathers fought against the tyranny of an intrusive government. There is some difference between a meddling FDA and the tyrannical king, but ultimately, the fight comes from the same place. Government intrudes in our lives just the same whether it's in the spirit of regulating food or simply a tyrannical monarch.

Yet, it's the conspiracy theories where they lose people. It's one thing to say that the Federal Reserve is an organization out of control with power. It's quite another to link them to a new world order, and claim that the chairman is a puppet being controlled by a secret group of power players that no one can identify. The problem with libertarians is that everything ends in a conspiracy theory. Nothing is as it is. Instead, everything is not as it appears. Ideology gets clouded by nuttiness. Ron Paul wasn't merely a marginal candidate that did much better than anyone expected. Instead, he had his nomination stolen. Everything ends in conspiracy.

It's a matter of framing. The minute you spin yarns you become a nut. Nothing you say matters anymore. Talk to a libertarian for five minutes and you'll find an interesting and provocative political philosophy. Talk to them for ten minutes and you'll find a conspiratorial nut. Unfortunately, that clouds many good political philosophies.

The Toxicity of President Obama

Congressman Mark Kirk was an up and comer in the state of Illinois. He represents the well to do area of the North Shore of Chicago. (for full disclosure he's the rep to my parents) In 2008, Kirk, while targeted by Democrats, won fairly easily in his re election campaign. He's been on the short list as potential GOP candidates for both the U.S. Senate campaign and even the Governorship. All that talk may have ended yesterday when Kirk crossed the line and voted in favor of cap and trade. He has now done something sacreligious in Republican circles.

Has Kirk's vote signalled that he's not interested in running statewide and will likely run for re-election? Is there any chance the IL GOP's conservative base would forgive this vote and work for a Kirk candidacy?

Or has Kirk sealed his political future in Illinois politics with a yes vote on the Democrats' "Cap and Trade"?

The conservative blogosphere is already in full demonization mode of Kirk and the other seven Republicans that voted in favor of this bill. Of course, all of this happened on Friday evening. Wait until Monday when conservative talk radio gets a chance to have their say about the Republican turncoats. By the time talk radio is through with them, they will all become toxic in Republican circles. Arlen Specter has already had to switch parties after he dared to cross over and support the stimulus package.

So much for the president's calls that he would "transcend politics" and become post partisan. In not quite six months, he has become so polarizing that the opposition daring to support any of his domestic agenda is met with political death. Spector knows this all too well. Congressman Mark Kirk is about to find this out first hand. For a president that was supposed to be able to reach out and bring people together, President Obama has become remarkably toxic in some circles.

The Unholy Alliance of Francis Slay and ACORN

(H/T to the research of Nancy Armstrong at Ms Placed Democrat)

A couple weeks back, ACORN CEO, Bertha Lewis, held a conference call with the Conference of Mayors. The call discussed strategies for preventing the growing tide of foreclosures in America's cities. On the call was St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. In fact, the city of St. Louis had already begun an alliance with ACORN in the area of foreclosure prevention.

How is the City combating foreclosures?

In mid-2008, the City of St. Louis convened the Homeownership Preservation Alliance for the City with the Catholic Commission on Housing, ACORN, Beyond Housing, and Better Family Life. We funded the partnership with $500,000. While the Alliance provides counseling for families in danger of foreclosure, the city’s funds also provide direct financial assistance up to $1,500 per family.

We are using the Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding we received from HUD to acquire key properties in neighborhoods most affected by foreclosures and subprime mortgages.

So, what is the Neighborhood Stabilization Program? According to the HUD website, it's part of President Obama's stimulus bill.

The HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program is intended to provide emergency assistance to state and local governments to acquire and redevelop foreclosed properties that might otherwise become sources of abandonment and blight within their communities. The Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) provides grants to purchase foreclosed or abandoned homes and to rehabilitate, resell, or redevelop these homes in order to stabilize neighborhoods and stem the decline of house values of neighboring homes. The program is authorized under Title III of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) (pdf).

So, with this program, HUD earmarks money for foreclosure prevention. Then, that money filters to the cities. Then, each individual city uses that money for various foreclosure prevention programs. In this case, St. Louis was earmarked with $500,000. Then, the city used that money to provide grants to various charities and other homeowner services groups including ACORN. ACORN received $100,000 from the city.

With this money, ACORN would then negotiate loan modifications for distressed borrowers with their banks. Here's the problem. According to city spokesperson, Heather Dunsford, ACORN has worked with 59 borrowers, and of those 35 were referred to other agencies. For this, ACORN agreed to charge the city $750 per borrower. 24 borrowers, at $750 per borrower, is only $18,000. So, where is the rest of the money?

That's what Gwen Cogshell, former St. Louis board member of ACORN, wanted to know and so she organized a press conference in St. Louis this past Wednesday. It's a press conference that you will likely hear nothing about. No local media covered the press conference. Fox News sent out a news crew but that was for a documentary due later about ACORN. That's too bad because several troubling things were revealed at the press conference. For instance, ACORN no longer has an active office in St. Louis. Who exactly was going to counsel the borrowers if there's no one locally to do the duties? Second, the city gave ACORN the money up front. In other words, before ACORN had done one thing, they were given the full grant. So, who exactly was watching the money?

What's more troubling is the series of questions raised. What's happened to the rest of the money? Did it go to housing activities or to activities to other parts of ACORN? Why was money even given to a group with no active office in St. Louis? None of these questions will have answers until ACORN opens up its books. This is the common thread surrounding ACORN. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of criminality, however no one can connect the dots until they see the books. Then, conveniently, those that attempt to connect the dots, are forbidden from seeing the books. We saw this in the case of ACORN 8. We see it again here. A group investigated in no less than fourteen states is given a grant of $100,000. Now, $82,000 is missing from that grant. The only way to know where it went is to see the books. The books are conveniently beyond the sight of all those demanding to see them. How does this group continue to operate as such? The fiasco surrounding their alliance with the city of St. Louis is a great example.