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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Council Submissions

The Council submissions are up.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Financial Reform Back on the Brink

Only a couple days after announcing a big breakthrough on financial reform, the same package may be back on the brink. First, Senator Feingold announced that he would vote against the measure.

In case you haven't caught this bombshell yet, Senator Feingold announced that he won't support the FinReg bill as negotiated. This means the bill needs to go back to square one unless there's a Republican defector in the next day or two, which is extremely unlikely.

Hours later, Senator Scott Brown announced the same.

I am writing you to express my strong opposition to the $19 billion bank tax that was included in the financial reform bill during the conference committee," wrote Brown. "This tax was not in the Senate version of the bill, which I supported. If the final version of this bill contains these higher taxes, I will not support it."

This only leaves four undecided Senators: Grassley of Iowa, Snowe and Collins of Maine and Senator Cantwell of Washington. All would have to vote for the measure for it to get sixty votes.

Mr. McDonald and the Absurdity of Liberal Empathy

Otis McDonald is the epitome of every liberal's definition of the "little guy". He's 76 years old. He's a grandfather. He was born into poverty in Louisiana and he lives in the rough Chicago neighborhood of Morgan Park. That's where gangs like the Gangster's Disciples all congregate. Shootings, lootings, and robberies are all a way of life in Morgan Park. Despite Chicago's longstanding handgun ban, the gang bangers have no problem getting a gun. McDonald is a law abiding citizen that also wanted a gun to protect himself and his family against the gang bangers. He's now the plaintiff in the landmark case decided yesterday.

This is great. I am so happy," McDonald said from Washington, D.C. "It's a milestone."

McDonald, the son of Louisiana sharecroppers, said he got emotional as the ruling came down.

"I was feeling the poor blacks who years ago had their guns taken away from them and were killed as someone wished. That was a long time ago, but I feel their spirit. That's what I was feeling in the courtroom," he said.

So, how do the liberals on the court, those that President Obama claims show more empathy, feel about McDonald's predicament?

“The reasons that motivated the framers to protect the ability of militiamen to keep muskets available for military use when our nation was in its infancy, or that motivated the Reconstruction Congress to extend full citizenship to freedmen in the wake of the Civil War, have only a limited bearing on the question that confronts the homeowner in a crime-infested metropolis today,” Justice Stevens wrote in his final dissent before retiring.

He said the court should have proceeded more cautiously in light of “the malleability and elusiveness of history” and because “firearms have a fundamentally ambivalent relationship to liberty.”

So, when there's a real live person that epitomizes the little guy, the liberals have no use for his struggle. Instead, they rely on some sort of unprovable theory that fits their ideology. I'm no fan of judging based on who is more sympathetic but when that's only an excuse to judge based on your ideology, that's even worse.

The Folly of a Breadth of Experience on the Supreme Court

This week you'll hear plenty of pols, mostly Democrats, proclaiming that it's a good thing that Elena Kagan has never been a judge. We will be told that having a wealth of outside experience will bring a better dynamic to the court. All of this will be nonsense.

The Supreme Court has the most myopic job description in our government. Yet, the basic and limited sets job duties are required to be mastered better than anyone in the world. All the Supreme Court ever does is hear cases and rule on constitutionality. That means that Supreme Court justices need to know the constitution and case law better than anyone on the planet.

There's only one way for someone to achieve this. That is to be a judge for a long time, to hear cases, and to rule on these cases in as large a number as possible. That can only come from being a judge for as long as possible.

It's silly to believe that being a little coach or a volunteer will somehow bring the kind of experience that will help to maximize the skills necessary to be a superior Supreme Court justice. Neither will help a justice to know the constitution and case law so that they can more fully and effectively think through a case and come to the proper conclusion, CONSTITUTIONALLY.

Yet, Senators we've voted to do this job will have us believe that far from actually being on a bench and making the very decisions a Supreme Court justice will make, some sort of nebulous real world experience is necessary. In fact, the only real world of the Supreme Court is the real world of the bench.

Dow Futures Down: Progressive Economics Feared

The DJIA will test four digits again as its hovering near 10000 again today. The Eurozone is again worried that everyone will be bankrupt soon.

Two days of little movement for U.S. stocks is likely to end Tuesday, with renewed worries over euro zone debt pushing overseas markets lower, as well as U.S. stock index futures.

The Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all registered single-digit moves both Friday and Monday, but this morning's worries likely mean a sharply lower opening, and those worries have also sent many investors to U.S. Treasuries. The 2-year yield hit a record low in overnight trading, while the benchmark 10-year note's yield hit a 14-month low.

Let's all remember that the president attended the G20 and demanded that everyone else continue to spend.

Yet, the entire rest of the G20 rejected this idea wholesale. The only person at this point that thinks that Obama should continue to borrow and spend, besides Obama, is Paul Krugman.

We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world — most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.

The rest of the world has realized that endless spending of money the government doesn't have is not only inefficient but leads to borrowing and/or taxation and both of those are contractionary. As such, the rest of the world gave Obamanomics a chance and now it's being rejected entirely.

Brewer V Obama

Talk about a visual. The sign says "Travel not recommended". That's the border that the Obama administration says it's done more than any administration to secure. It's so secure that parts are a literal war zone.

Yet, the president is determined to sue Arizona because that state dares to take on illegal immigration head on. This is a loser politically, electorally, and on a policy level. Governor Brewer has become the face of tough immigration enforcement and she challenges every half measure that the Obama administration makes as simply not good enough.

The Texas and Arizona governors criticized the Obama administration's border security plans Monday, saying not enough National Guard troops are being deployed to their states.

"What we heard wasn't anything what we hoped to hear," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told reporters after a 90-minute briefing by federal officials sent by President Obama.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican like Brewer, said the deployment to his state was "insufficient to meet the needs of securing the Texas-Mexico border."

There's no politicking that will relieve Obama here. Until and unless Obama takes definitive steps to secure the border Jan Brewer will be there to point out just how badly the federal government is failing at it.

That will also keep this issue on the front pages. This might be the biggest loser for Obama of all his policy losers. He loses by at least 60-40 in all polling. He loses because he's wrong. Texas, California, and Arizona are under seige and the president is trying to figure out how to use this as an opportunity to legalize millions of illegals. That's the narrative and the more he confronts Brewer the more that's crystallized.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Russian Spies Nabbed

This story appears straight out of a Tom Clancy novel.

The FBI has arrested 10 people for allegedly serving for years as secret agents of Russia's intelligence organ, the SVR, with the goal of penetrating U.S. government policymaking circles.

According to court papers unsealed Monday, the FBI intercepted a message from SVR headquarters, Moscow Center, to two of the defendants describing their main mission as "to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US." Intercepted messages showed they were asked to learn about a broad swath of topics including nuclear weapons, U.S. arms control positions, Iran, White House rumors, CIA leadership turnover, the last presidential election, the Congress and political parties.

After a secret multiyear investigation, the Justice Department announced the arrests Monday in a blockbuster spy case that could rival the capture of Soviet Col. Rudolf Abel in 1957 in New York.

More coverage here.

UPDATE: This story only gets juicier.

A ring of 11 Russian moles right out of a Cold War spy novel was smashed Monday — and among those busted was a flame-haired, 007-worthy beauty who flitted from high-profile parties to top-secret meetings around Manhattan.

Russian national Anna Chapman — a 28-year-old divorcee with a masters in economics

, an online real-estate business, a fancy Financial District apartment and a Victoria’s Secret body — had been passing information to a Russian government official every Wednesday since January, authorities charged.

In one particularly slick spy exchange on St. Patrick’s Day, Chapman pulled a laptop out of a tote bag in a bookstore at Warren and Greenwich streets in the West Village while her handler lurked outside, receiving her message on his own computer, the feds said. A similar exchange occurred at a Midtown coffee shop at 47th Street and 8th Ave.

The State Department and the Russians have given statements on the state of US/Russia relations in the aftermath of this development.

"to make a public statement in the spirit of the spy novel intrigues of the Cold War era" and noted that "these kinds of incidents have occurred in the past when our relations were on the rise."

"Such actions are ungrounded and pursue improper goals," the ministry said in a statement. "In any case, it is regrettable that all this is happening against the background of the 'reset' in Russian-American relations announced by the U.S. administration."


Supreme Court Overturns Chicago Handgun Ban

The news is breaking.

In its second major ruling on gun rights in three years, the Supreme Court Monday extended the federally protected right to keep and bear arms to all 50 states. The decision will be hailed by gun rights advocates and comes over the opposition of gun control groups, the city of Chicago and four justices.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the five justice majority saying "the right to keep and bear arms must be regarded as a substantive guarantee, not a prohibition that could be ignored so long as the States legislated in an evenhanded manner."

The ruling builds upon the Court's 2008 decision in D.C. v. Heller that invalidated the handgun ban in the nation's capital. More importantly, that decision held that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was a right the Founders specifically delegated to individuals. The justices affirmed that decision and extended its reach to the 50 states. Today's ruling also invalidates Chicago's handgun ban.

The decision is 5-4, with Anthony Kennedy joining the conservative wing against the four liberals. This further clarifies that the second amendment is in fact not only an individual right but a right that extends to all Americans everywhere in the country.

The City of Chicago argued that the right to bear arms is only a federal right that can be infringed by states and localities. Ironically, most of the same liberals that argued in favor of Chicago's right to stop people from bearing arms also argue that Arizona doesn't have the right to enforce federal immigration laws. That's even though both follow the principal of the Supremacy Clause.

In fact, in the case of the Arizona law, there is more wiggle room. In that case, Arizona passed a law that mirrored federal law. In this case, Chicago passed a law the directly challenged the constitution.

That said, this ruling finally ends all constitutional debates on the second amendment. It's an individual right to bear arms and it applies to everyone and can't be infringed on by anyone.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Senator Dodd Says it All

Chris Dodd, in a moment of candor he'll likely want back, said this about financial reform.

It’s a great moment. I’m proud to have been here,” said a teary-eyed Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee led the effort in the Senate. “No one will know until this is actually in place how it works. But we believe we’ve done something that has been needed for a long time. It took a crisis to bring us to the point where we could actually get this job done.”

Now, everyone should remember this moment of candor by Nancy Pelosi.

Between health care and financial reform, that's more than 4000 pages of bills. The reality is that both Pelosi and Dodd are right. In health care, there were more than one hundred new bureaucracies and regulators created. In financial reform, it's not even clear just how many there will be. There will, however, be an enormous amount of new power given to the Treasury. The new Consumer Financial Protection Agency will also have an enormous amount of power. Fannie/Freddie are left out of the reform and it's unclear if the big banks will lose or gain power. So, everything from credit cards, hedge funds, and derivatives will have new rules but Fannie/Freddie won't have anything? That's why Chris Dodd has never been more right.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Deal Reached on Financial Overhaul

At dawn this morning, House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on sweeping financial regulations.

President Obama declared victory Friday after congressional negotiators reached a dawn agreement on a sweeping overhaul of rules overseeing Wall Street.

Lawmakers shook hands on the compromise legislation at 5:39 a.m. after Obama administration officials helped broker a deal that cracked the last impediment to the bill -- a proposal to force banks to spin off their lucrative derivatives trading business. The legislation touches on an exhaustive range of financial transactions, from a debit card swipe at a supermarket to the most complex securities deals cut in downtown Manhattan.

Speaking to reporters as he left the White House to attend an economic summit of world leaders in Toronto, the president said he was "gratified" for Congress' work and said the deal included 90 percent of what he had proposed. He said the bill, forged in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown, represents the toughest financial overhaul since the Great Depression.

All of the changes were reached on a party line vote, so much for bi partisanship. Most importantly, I doubt any one can still explain any part of this bill. So, it's likely that financial regulation will go the way of health care according to Nancy Pelosi

we'll find out what's in it when it passes

The bill deals with everything from credit cards, credit default swaps, and mergers. We've already heard rumblings that totally free checking will go away. The ramifications of this bill will not be known for years.

Council Winners

The Council winners are up.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Despicable Article II

Lost in the bruhaha over the Rolling Stones article is the fact that the article itself is not only poorly written but total nonsense. Let's start with the worst part of the piece.

The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France's nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose.

That's a total distortion of reality. The Counter Insurgency manual that General Petraeus wrote in 2006 is an academic look at counter insurgency. To say that it draws on Algeria and Vietnam is to conveniently and selectively pick out only certain parts of the manual. The fact is that Petraeus is a military historian as well as tactician. The manual draws on all the counter insurgency campaigns of the last three hundred years, Algeria and Vietnam included, but those two aren't the only ones, and they aren't the models. Instead, the counter insurgency manual is an analytical look at counter insurgency. So, Algeria and Vietnam are not models. Rather strategy from both along with dozens of other campaigns is looked at and analyzed, both for what was done right and wrong.

This is just one of many parts in which the authors' bias is on display. What's truly shameful is how selectively the author quotes McChrystal. Does anyone really believe that in the month that Hastings followed McChrystal around that all he did was swear, complain, and disparage his superiors? That's unlikely and yet those are the only quotes used. Does anyone really believe that every single soldier is complaining and down on the mission? Yet, that's the only quotes that are in the article.

It's very easy to tell any story you want when you spend a month following someone and then are tasked to write something that takes fifteen minutes to read. That's exactly what happened here. The author has no use for the military. He has no use for the Afghanistan theater. He probably has no use for McChrystal himself and that's exactly the sort of article he wrote.

Obama's Afghan Turnaround?

Former General Stanley McChrystal put President Obama into a near impossible position and President Obama may have turned that into a deciding turning point in the Afghan war.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday replaced Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and nominated Gen. David Petraeus to replace him while affirming support for a counterinsurgency strategy encountering problems.

The dramatic shift came a day after McChrystal's disparaging comments about America's civilian leadership surfaced, and reignited the national debate on the war in Afghanistan -- now in its eighth year with a June death toll of coalition forces that is close to becoming the highest of the war.

Obama accepted McChrystal's resignation "with considerable regret" and named Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, to take over pending Senate confirmation.

Folks like Joe Liberman and John McCain are fond of saying...

General Petreaus literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency

That's because that is true both figuratively and literally. With the successful campaign in Iraq, Petraeus showed the world how to run a counterinsurgency manual. Meanwhile, his actual counterinsurgency manual was published in 2006, shortly before he went to Iraq. Petraeus is taking over with the Afghan theater in disarray but then again, nothing liked more dire than Iraq circa the beginning of 2007. Petraeus has an opportunity to make a case in every history book as America's greatest military person.

Afghanistan has three x factors: the rules of engagement, the timeline for withdrawal, and most importantly, Karzai. Immediately, we'll see if Petraeus will make the rules of engagement. The confirmation hearing should also be a pre qual to his battle over a timeline. Karzai remains the biggest concern. In Iraq, however, no one thought that Nuri Al Maliki could be a great leader right up until he was. Will Karzai go the way of Maliki or the South Vietnamese?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Home Sales Way Down

The first data for new home sales following the end of the tax credit has come in and it spells danger.

Sales of new homes plunged a record 33% in May to a record-low level after a federal subsidy for home buyers expired, according to data released Wednesday by the Commerce Department. Sales dropped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 300,000, the lowest since records begin in 1963.

There's more coverage here.

The Commerce Department said sales dropped a record 32.7 percent to a 300,000 unit annual rate, the lowest level since record keeping started in 1963, from a downwardly revised 446,000 units in April. The fall unwound two months of gains, which had been inspired by a government tax credit for home buyers.

Stocks are off across the board on the news. There was a fear among many that this sales credit would go the way of most of the government induced stimuli, most namely cash for clunkers. That is that as soon as the stimuli ended the sales would deflate. That's what happened in May. So, the housing market continues to be in a state of disarray.

Council Submissions

The Council submissions are up.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Worst Week of the President's Term?

How many times have you heard a pundit make that proclamation about the president in the last year? I can think of at least five times in the last year when someone has made that proclamation. That doesn't say much for the president, but I also expect someone to make that proclamation again.

The nuclear bomb, pardon the pun, left by General McChrystal today has left the president with few options. If he doesn't fire McChrystal, he looks weak. Meanwhile, if he does, Afghanistan goes into even greater chaos. No matter what he does, McChrystal's words have left the impression that the Obama administration is in complete chaos.

Then, today a U.S. District judge ruled that the Obama administration's six month moratorium is illegal.

In a victory for drilling proponents, a federal judge struck down President Obama's six-month moratorium on

deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, saying the administration rashly concluded that because one rig failed, the others are in immediate danger, too.

The White House promised an immediate appeal. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president believes strongly that drilling at such depths does not make sense and puts the safety of workers "at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford."

The Interior Department had halted approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling of 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.

The policy is already unpopular and now a judge has ruled it illegal. Just think about that. General McChrystal claims that Obama knows nothing about war policy and a judge says he knows about as much about the law.

The announcement by the administration that they'll sue Arizona, which went over about as well as all their policies, was immediately followed by Jon Kyl's shocking accusation that Obama is holding the border hostage to comprehensive immigration reform which is about as popular as Obamacare.

This all happened this week. It's yet another bad week in what is quickly turning into a disastrous Presidency.

Gerard Beloin to Run for US Congress

I've featured several stories on Gerard Beloin. He's recently announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire in the Republican Party. That will be a race for the seat left open by the retirement of Judd Gregg. Beloin will likely be a longshot but he's also the perfect candidate to have a spring board of support with the endorsement of a Tea Party group. Here's Beloin's story again.

The McChrystal Bruhaha

I smell a tell all coming someday.

The top U.S. war commander in Afghanistan is being called to the White House for a meeting with President Obama after issuing an apology Tuesday for an interview in which he took shots at top administration officials and his staff described the president as unprepared for their first one-on-one encounter.

In the article in this week's issue of Rolling Stone, Gen. Stanley McChrystal also said he felt betrayed and blind-sided by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

McChrystal's comments are reverberating through Washington and the Pentagon after the magazine depicted him as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration.

Some conservatives, like Laura Ingraham, have been downplaying just how unprofessional these comments were and instead holding them out as another sign of the chaos of the Obama administration. That's a mistake. Thes comments are inexcusable. Last I checked, most of the folks that were disparaged in the Rolling Stone piece are folks that McChrystal reports to.

I don't know what things are like on the ground in Afghanistan. It's very possible that things are chaotic on the ground and McChrystal may feel as though the administration isn't giving him the support necessary to win. That's no excuse for trashing most of it in public like this. The military relies on discipline and respect for the chain of command is tantamount to that discipline. McChrystal wouldn't stand for any soldier saying something like this about him to the media and no one should accept him doing it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mika Brzezinski Becomes a White House Propagandist

The important part is here.

Do you want to know why I have a file that I've been working on with the White House—and I'll be very transparent about that? Because of your friend Rudy Giuliani who came here last week spewing out a whole bunch of nothing.

Now, it's good that Brzezinski said this but this is what happens in Iran, Syria and North Korea. Brzezinski just flat out admitted that she is running propaganda for the White House. The reason, in her mind, is entirely irrelevant.

Even if she thinks that Giuliani said a bunch of "nonsense", that's not an excuse to become a propagandist.

Kyl V Obama

That video is in the process of going viral. It's going viral because of this comment.

The problem is, he said, if we secure the border, then you all won't have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform. In other words, they're holding it hostage.

The White House has responded in kind.

The President didn’t say that and Senator Kyl knows it. There are more resources dedicated toward border security today than ever before, but, as the President has made clear, truly securing the border will require a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system.

The White House renewed its commitment to comprehensive reform. Once again, the debate over illegal immigration has turned into something totally different. The only thing interesting is the assertion by the White House that the borders can only be secured through comprehensive immigration reform.

That of course is total nonsense. First, Congress passed into law in 2007 that a fence be built to cover the entire Southern border. That fence has been barely built. All the White House needs to do is put in more resources in building it and the entire Southern border would have a fence. Second, the president can put five thousand, ten thousand, and even fifty thousand national guard troops on the border right now if he wanted to. He needs no legislation to do that. None of these action require comprehensive immigration reform. Both would significantly improve border security.

Fannie/Freddie Price Tag on the Rise

Moneynews has the analysis on the latest price tag.

For all the focus on the historic federal rescue of the banking industry, it is the government’s decision to seize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September 2008 that reportedly is likely to cost taxpayers the most money.

So far the tab stands at $145.9 billion and rising, the New York Times reports.

The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that the final bill could reach $389 billion.

Some analysts even estimate the total may reach $1 trillion, which Sean Egan, president of Egan-Jones Ratings, recently told Bloomberg is “a reasonable worst-case scenario."

Fannie/Freddie currently holds about $5 trillion worth of loans. The biggest struggle is figuring out the worth of those loans and just how many will default. That's why it's difficult to estimate just how much the tax payers will be on the hook.

Beyond that, Fannie/Freddie are now effectively most of the residential housing market along with FHA loans. So, their long term viability is tied to how quickly the housing market turns around. That's yet another major variable.

One thing that isn't a variable is that both are in desperate need of reform. It's clear that reform of Fannie/Freddie is something that isn't on the table any time soon. Without reforming these two, we are in constant danger since both pervert the market at all times.

KSM Decision After November

The decision on where to try KSM has been buried and that may be no accident.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago.

Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections— when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment.

We, as a country, have a lot on our plates. So, it's not exactly clear how much people will notice this lack of action. There's no doubt, however, that it's entirely political. KSM was about not merely to be tried but to plead guilty and accept the death penalty at the beginning of the Obama administration. Instead, the president stopped that process and moved the trial to New York. Following outrage, that was stopped and KSM has been in legal limbo since. The administration has had more than enough time to make a decision. It simply has continued to punt.

Meanwhile, it's important to note that President Obama said once that KSM would face swift justice.

I think this notion that somehow we have to be fearful, that these terrorists possess some special powers that prevent us from presenting evidence against them, locking them up and exacting swift justice, I think that has been a fundamental mistake.

Meanwhile, KSM was on the verge of pleading guilty and accepting a death penalty when Obama stopped that about a year and a half ago. Now, it looks as though we'll be two years into the Obama administration before a decision is even made. Obama likely is concerned about the wrath from groups like Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, and Amnesty if he simply goes back to military tribunals. Meanwhile, he's finding that the logistics behind a civilian trial are nearly impossible.

Of course, it should be noted that as State Senator Obama didn't take a record number of votes. This was one of many overlooked criticisms while he ran for President. Obama is again voting present however he's no longer in a position to vote present.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is There Anything Real About Mark Kirk

First, we learned that Congressman Kirk claimed to have one a military award he never won. Then, we learned that he claimed to be deployed in Afghanistan when he was really in Afghanistan training on weekends. Now, we learn he's been inflating his record as a teacher.

New questions are emerging about a candidate's record in the race for the U.S. Senate.

First Mark Kirk was questioned about the accuracy of his military record. Now there are questions about what Kirk says about his teaching career.

Did Mark Kirk misremember, exaggerate or lie when he talked about a teaching job he held 29 years ago? Did he really believe that some of the pre-schoolers he taught might bring a gun to class? It is the latest episode in a sometimes unbelievable US Senate campaign.

While he has never claimed to have been an accredited teacher, Congressman Kirk's campaign often mentions their candidate's brief experiences in the classroom: He taught the 1982-83 academic year at a private high school in London and earlier in 1981, the campaign says, at a church run nursery school in Ithaca, New York.

What's really amazing about all this is that Kirk has won five elections to the U.S. Congress. None of his opponents, and he usually won handily, ever figured this out. It appears that Mark Kirk can't seem to keep things straight about his own history and that doesn't give one a good feeling about how he'll speak about the issues of the day.

It once seemed impossible that Alexi Giannoulias could win. He's the ultimate insider in a year when that is not a good place to be. Furthermore, all his so called accomplishments are now seen as liabilities. It appeared as though the failure of his family bank would be the major story. Now, the story is Mark Kirk's inability to tell the truth.

It should be noted that LeAlan Jones is the Green Party candidate for Senate from Illinois. He once polled at 14%. He's had no scandals that we know of.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Man Caused Disaster

My cohort in the Watcher of Weasels, Bookworm room, wrote what I thought was an excellent introduction, but it was the whole post. She did, however, give me carte blanche to use that intro and turn it into a full commentary. So, alas...

Reading the news today about, among other things, the Gulf oil spill, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Euro collapse, Iran, Israel, Turkey, the economy, the border, and illegal immigration, I’ve had two phrases that stuck in my brain and refuse to leave. The first is Janet Napolitano’s near-deathless bit of bureaucratese, “man-caused disasters,” one that she and her minions created to obscure the fact that Islamic fundamentalism is the common denominator binding together those mass killings around the world that involve guns, airplanes, tractors, rocket launches, beheadings, beatings, hangings, etc.

The second phrase is Obama’s statement, one with which I fully agree, that “elections have consequences.”

Combine those two phrases — “elections have consequences” and “man-caused disaster” — and you end up with this, the ultimate man-caused disaster:

This man caused disaster wasted no time. The chief of staff boldly proclaimed that we can't let a crisis go to waste, and the man caused disaster wasted no time. Not two months into his term, this man caused disaster spent $787 billion. That was supposed to keep our unemployment rate below 8% but of course it's hit 10% and hovers near there since. This man caused disaster told us we must spend this money. After all, the solution to a crisis in which families and banks took on too much debt could only be solved by the government taking on too much debt. Voila. Now, the government does have too much debt. This man caused disaster didn't create debts and deficits. Instead, the man caused disaster created debts and deficits 2.0. Now, we have deficits way north of $1 trillion as far as the eye can see. Our debt is nearing in on 100% of our GDP and Moody's is threatening to cut our bond ratings. They're only threatening but these threats haven't changed the mind of this man caused disaster. So, sometime in the next few months, a year, or a few years those threats will be a reality. Then, this man caused disaster will cause a disaster to anyone that wants to borrow for a car, a house, a credit card, or even a student loan.

So far, the only man caused disaster of this man caused disaster's notorious health care bill will be the man caused disaster at the ballot box for Democrats this November. Soon, though, everyone will feel the effects of this man caused disaster. We recently learned that about half of those that have health insurance will lose it. We've learned that health care costs will increase 20% more than they would have without the bill, and we've learned that about 15% of hospitals will go out of business trying to comply with this man caused disaster all caused by the man caused disaster known as Obamacare.

The border is so porous that Phoenix now only trails Mexico City in kidnappings. The state of Arizona is so desperate that they passed their own law to enforce federal immigration laws. The key difference will be that Arizona will actually enforce this law. How does the man caused disaster respond? He won't enforce any immigration laws until we all agree to grant amnesty to up to 20 million folks that entered the country illegally. Oh, and, he'll sue the state of Arizona for having the gall to do the job he refuses to do.

This man caused disaster spent the entire campaign telling Americans that Afghanistan was the good war (as opposed to Iraq which would then be the bad war) So, he escalated the war in Afghanistan. The man caused disaster couldn't leave well enough alone and so as he was announcing an increase in troops he also announced an end to the war. The analysts say this second pronouncement is for "domestic consumption" but our Afghan partner, Hamid Karzai, didn't get the memo. He seems to think that this pronouncement could be a man caused disaster to his own neck. So, he's hedging his bet and he's playing footsy with our enemies all while pledging allegiance to us. Since the closest this man caused disaster came to war policy was an especially rowdy night at the local coffee shop in Hyde Park, he may not realize that it's much more difficult to win a war when our partner is simultaneously partnering up with our enemies.

Of course, our so called ally in Afghanistan must feel in good company. After all, lots of our allies must feel like enemies by the way they're treated by this man caused disaster. Our only true ally in the Middle East, and the only true Democracy, has been disrespected, strong armed, threatened, all while the same man caused disaster has reached to most of her enemies with deference due a nobel laureate. Then again, Israel is in good company. Alvaro Uribe may wind up being Colombia's George Washington, but in the view of this man caused disaster, he takes a second seat to leftist Daniel Ortega. Then, there's the Brits. They've been our partners in war and peace since they were our enemies in war and peace. Churchill, Thatcher, and Blair partnered with FDR, Reagan and Bush to free Western Europe, then Eastern Europe and finally Afghanistan and Iraq from tyranny. Those accomplishments are insignificant in the mind of this man caused disaster. First, he sent the bust of Churchill back, then he gave Gordon Brown some DVD's that didn't work, but finally he sided with a leftist over Britain in a dispute over the Falkland Islands.

Meanwhile, our enemies are stronger and more ferocious. North Korea was feeling bold and so they shot up a South Korean ship. Iran laughs every time a limp Security Council resolution against it is passed, and soon China will own everyone's debt. The answer from this man made disaster appears to be to ask for more limp Security Council resolutions and to borrow even more from China.

Then, there's the ultimate man caused disaster, the oil spill. No one blames the man caused disaster for causing this man caused disaster. Instead, this man caused disaster made that man caused disaster exponentially worse. How much one knows. Maybe, if this man caused disaster had scratched the numerous White House concerts, fundraisers, and golf outings, the other man caused disaster would have been under more control. Instead, the oil spews, the pelicans choke, and millions watch their livelihoods evaporate. One man caused disaster meets another man caused disaster.

Totally Free Checking Going Away

Bank of America may lead the banking revolution away from totally free checking.

Bank of America Corp. and its rivals are moving away from free checking accounts as they grapple with losing millions in fee revenue from new regulations on overdrafts.

BofA is quietly testing new pricing plans on checking accounts nationwide, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The newspaper said the Charlotte-based bank

(NYSE:BAC), which ranks fifth in Raleigh-Durham market share, is considering tiered pricing plans that encourage customers to do more business with BofA to avoid charges, rather than imposing flat monthly fees for all.

Overdraft fees were touted by the administration as one part of their crackdown on banks.

Banks will have to secure their customers' consent before charging large overdraft fees on ATM and debit card transactions, according to a new rule announced Thursday by the Federal Reserve.

The rule responds to complaints from consumer groups, members of Congress and other regulators that the overdraft fees are unfair because many people assume they can't spend more on a debit card than is available in their account. Instead, many banks allow the transactions to go through, then charge fees of up to $25 to $35.

For small purchases, such as a cup of coffee, the penalty can far exceed the actual cost of the transaction.

Of course, ironically enough, this was part of a populist push to take on the banks on behalf of the middle class. Totally free checking has become a staple among all the major banks for the last decade. If that goes away, that's a fee on everyone that has a checking account (though the plan is to only charge those with only a checking account and waive fees on this with multiple accounts) That would bring pain to far more of the middle class. That appears to be the end result of yet another regulation.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill: Why I Supported Rudy

Imagine if Rudy Giuliani was president. Do you think that the relief effort would look so disorganized? Do you think the government would look so impotent? Do you think the president would look so helpless?

For me, the presidency is much less about ideology and much more about leadership and effectiveness. Those are two things that go beyond ideology. That's why it never really bothered me that Rudy was pro choice and pro gay marriage. I didn't want someone ideologically mirrored to me. Instead, I wanted someone that could lead.

Presidents need to lead in crisis, in legislation, and simply day to day. In crisis, that's when leadership, and a lack of leadership, is most acute. Dick Morris described Obama's problem most succinctly.

And that intervention is the proper job of the president. He has to step in, ask the right questions, get inside and outside advice, and decide how to intervene to move the bureaucracy one way or the other. President Clinton had an excellent sense of how to do this and when to get involved. President Obama does not.

When the spill started, he and his campaign staff – now transplanted to the White House – reacted the way a Senator or a candidate would, blaming British Petroleum, framing an issue against the oil company, and holding it accountable. But what he needed to do was to review the plans for coping with the disaster and intervene to move the bureaucracy in untraditional but more appropriate directions. Instead, he let business as usual and inertia move the process.

The reason that Obama has been so incompetent in time of crisis is because he's a State Senator that ran for President while serving in the U.S. Senate. There's a reason why the last former legislator to be president was JFK. Ask any Governor that also served in the Senate and they'll all tell you they made more decisions in a month as Governor as they did their entire term as Senator.

They are two totally different skill sets. I didn't worry about Rudy in crisis because I already knew that Rudy handled crises effectively. Instead, Obama seduced people with his words and those that voted for him thought this was easy.

It's not. Leading and being effective don't just happen. They are skills that are difficult to find. Just because someone makes a great speech doesn't mean they can lead. Obama's no leader and that's becoming obvious.

Congressman Barton Calls BP Fund Extortion

There's been plenty of speechifying and grandstanding at the hearing with BP CEO Tony Hayward on both sides but this comment by Congressman Joe Barton of Texas is sure to be the headliner.

Already, Democrats and liberals are seizing on the comment.

Rep. Joe "Smokey" Barton (R-TX). Said it was a "shakedown". Like I said, I want to see someone conduct a polling question and ask this:

Do you agree with Rep. Joe Barton's (R-TX) characterization that the agreement between Obama and BP executives for a $20 billion escrow fund to pay for the damage they caused was a "shakedown"?

The White house was quick with a statement of its own.

What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction. Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a ‘tragedy’, but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now. Members from both parties should repudiate his comments

Yesterday, I was worried about the legality of the administration's actions but politicians should always be careful when they use explosive language. There's been a lot of politics on both sides over this disaster. Democrats have been eager to tie Republicans to BP, and now Congressman Barton has handed them a gift.

That soundbite will be played in a loop for days and Democrats will show moral outrage over the Republicans' lack of compassion for the folks in the gulf. The word "extortion" has give Democrats an opening. They will take it.

New Jobless Claims Point to More Problems

Just as the jobless claims inched toward four hundred thousand, they took a step back this week.

Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the highest level in a month.

First-time jobless claims have hovered near 450,000 since the beginning of the year after falling steadily in the second half of 2009. That has raised concerns that hiring is lackluster and could slow the recovery.

Yesterday, there was a poor real estate number. On the other hand, there's some good news from manufacturing.

Manufacturing in the Philadelphia region expanded in May for a ninth straight month, another sign factories are leading the recovery.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s general economic index rose to 21.4 during the month from 20.2 in April. Readings above zero signal growth.

Since the economy began recovering last summer, a pattern has emerged. For every two steps forward, the economy takes a step back. So, a year into this so called recovery things remain very choppy. Meanwhile, Keynesian policies have drowned the nation's economies in debt. That, along with the choppy recovery, has given rise to a world double dip recession.

The risk of a double-dip recession is growing, especially in the euro zone, where restructuring Greece's debt is inevitable, famous economist Nouriel Roubini told CNBC Tuesday.

Moody's became the second major agency to cut Greece's debt ratings to "junk" late on Monday, as it admitted that the country does not face immediate liquidity problems due to a joint IMF/EU aid package, but that the austerity program will probably weigh on its economic growth prospects.

"I would say that the risk of a double-dip recession is highest in the euro zone… I would say there is a more than 50 percent probability," if not of a technical double-dip then of economic stagnation in the area, Roubini said.

A double dip recession is nothing more than an economic term. What is clear is that our economy isn't strong, isn't going to strengthen soon, and it will cause pain for years to come.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where Does the Administration Get the Authority

BP and the Obama administration have agreed to set up an escrow fund and the administration has even assigned Ken Feinberg to administer the fund.

Ken Feinberg isn’t God. But forgive us if we get confused from time to time. The man we earlier deemed “The Special Master of America” will, the WSJ reports, soon be tapped to become the independent administrator of an oil-spill escrow fund being negotiated by BP and the Obama administration.

According to the NYT, BP has agreed to put $20 billion into the fund.

According to the NYT, the “preliminary” terms of the deal “would give BP several years to deposit the full amount into the fund so it could better manage cash flow, maintain its financial viability and not scare off investors.”


The White House and BP agreed on Wednesday that the oil giant would create an independent $20 billion fund to pay claims arising from the worst oil spill in American history.

Bowing to pressure from the Obama administration, the company also said it would suspend paying dividends to its shareholders for the rest of the year and would compensate oil field workers for lost wages.

Now, BP has agreed to set up this fund voluntarily. Mr. Feinberg, more recently the pay czar (another dubious constitutional power), would be in charge of analyzing claims and then administering a fair payment out of the fund. It's important to note that receiving payment from this fund doesn't mean than an individual or entity can't sue BP in other places.

The question is what authority does the administration have to take BP's money and then to distribute that money to the folks in the gulf. This is inherently a civil process. That's what we have civil judges for. Ken Feinberg is not a judge. He serves on no court. This is done entirely outside the civil process. In fact, the administration itself is part of the Executive branch. We have separation of powers exactly to avoid this. The judicial branch is the one deemed to decide guilt and exact punishment, financial and otherwise. Now, our chief executive is usurping a power of the judiciary.

By doing this, the administration is creating a shadow court system strictly for civil suits related to the gulf mess. The judicial process can be painfully slow, and this process would likely cause all sorts of heart ache in the judiciary. The constitution is not a suicide pact. Still, we can't simply ignore the constitution because we've found a more orderly way to do things. While this may wind up paying money out more quickly and orderly, it's also under authority found neither in the Constitution nor in case law.

The Obama Presidency Will Redefine the Role of Government

The same people now screaming that government isn't doing enough in the gulf were screaming the government was doing too much months ago.

That's something you've heard President Obama and his defenders, dwindling as they are, say numerously since the Gulf crisis began. Of course, the only people that want no role for government at all are anarchists and while they also criticize Obama that's usually only at G20 meetings.

Until the end of April 2010, the Obama administration was one government expansion after another. We now own AIG, two car companies, Citigroup, and both Fannie and Freddie. Obamacare and financial reform would also be massive expansions of government. If cap and trade passed, that would be yet another expansion of government. There are also those proposals that have no hope of passing like net neutrality that also expand the role of government.

Then, in April, the illegal immigration debate began and president Obama said he can't secure the borders without comprehensive immigration reform. Then there was an oil spill and government was downright impotent. The same government that wanted to expand its powers seemingly everywhere was doing nothing in the two areas that the public wanted action most.

Like I said earlier, only anarchists want no role for government. Everyone else believes that there's some role for government. That's been the debate throughout the Obama presidency. That was at the heart of the health care debate. How much role in health care should the government have?

Now, the same people criticizing Obama earlier for expanding government power are demanding more government action in immigration and the spill. Meanwhile, all the same that claimed the government needed to do more to hold down health care costs and hold banks accountable are saying that government isn't all powerful to seal the border and stop an oil spill.

What we have is yet another debate on the role of government. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration, properly defining the role of government.

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Fannie/Freddie on the Brink

Both have been asked to be delisted from the NYSE, where they are both currently trading.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shares were halted as regulators announced that both companies are being asked to delist from the NYSE and any other national securities exchange.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator for both Fannie [FNM 0.9244 --- UNCH (0) ] and Freddie [FRE 1.22 --- UNCH (0) ], has directed both to delist their common stock and their preferred stock, the agency announced Wednesday in a press release.

Under normal circumstances, both companies would be dead man walking. Their only hopes would be for some shark to swoop in and buy them out. In this case, none of that will likely happen.

Our housing market is simply in no position to have these two go under. They are now owned by the federal government and will continue to be owned by the feds. This will make the process of transfer to private hands that much more difficult. Of course, that's so far in the future that we have many more worries before that anyway.

These companies are bleeding so much red that they no longer qualify for inclusion the NYSE. If they were a normal company, bankruptcy or outright dissolvement would follow soon. Now, this action is likely a precursor to more federal bail out dollars.

Meanwhile, housing starts were down in May.

U.S. housing starts fell more than expected in May to their lowest level in five months, a government report showed on Wednesday, as a popular homebuyer tax credit that had buoyed construction activity over the past two months expired.

That's the latest evidence that housing continues to struggle. Equities are down 1% on the news.