31 October 2008
It seems that the bailout money is going to pay dividends, executive bonuses, and an acquisitions spree instead of helping any regular folks. Can't say I'm surprised. The bailout was a bad idea.
Barney Frank shuts the barn door after the cows got out: Frank Says Bonuses, Acquisitions Violate Bailout Plan.
It seems that bankers are even more clever than congressmen in getting their hands on taxpayer money. It's a contest, with taxpayers as the losers.
More here: Why do we pay bankers' bonuses rather than help homeowners?
Obama: You don’t endorse me? You’re off the plane!
If McCain kicked off every reporter that didn't back him, he'd have no one left.
Nation is testing ways of recovering uranium in bid to expand nuke program
Scary enough for ya?
Iran has recently tested ways of recovering highly enriched uranium from waste reactor fuel in a covert bid to expand its nuclear program, according to an intelligence assessment made available to The Associated Press.
The laboratories and the Tehran Nuclear Research Center, the site of the reactor, have figured in suspect experiments, including clandestine plutonium separation attempts uncovered by the IAEA.
If the information is accurate then Iran is "trying to get their nose in the tent" of reprocessing material potentially suitable for a warhead, said David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security tracks suspect secret proliferators.
What's even scarier is what is being done about it -- nothing.
Social conservatives fight for control of Republican Party
The social conservatives and moderates who together boosted the Republican Party to dominance have begun a tense battle over the future of the GOP, with social conservatives already moving to seize control of the party's machinery and some vowing to limit John McCain's influence, even if he wins the presidency.
In skirmishes around the country in recent months, evangelicals and others who believe Republicans have been too timid in fighting abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration have won election to the party's national committee, in preparation for a fight over the direction and leadership of the party.
The growing power of religious conservatives is alarming some moderate Republicans who believe that the party's main problem is that it has narrowed its appeal and alienated too many voters.
This is exactly the kind of thing the Blue Tsunami will use to usher in some form of gun control next spring. Given the Supreme Court rulings this year it will be interesting to see what they will try.
In a related story found here, "Fear among gun owners that a President Barack Obama would reinstate gun bans enacted under President Bill Clinton has resulted in record sales."
30 October 2008
You see? They are starting to eat their own.
Some moderate Republicans think McCain has sold his soul to the right, abandoning the bipartisan record he built on immigration and other issues. "He has lost his brand as a maverick," said Rep. Chris Shays, the last Republican congressman in New England, in a tight race in Connecticut again this year.
But conservatives are also angry at McCain and Bush, for mucking up governance so much that a Barack Obama is even possible. Dave Gibson, a 41-year-old independent from Norfolk, Va., summed it up in one word: debt.
In a post on American Chronicle, he wrote:
Under Bush's leadership, the national debt went from $5 trillion in 2001 to $10.5 trillion today. The doubling of our debt has had a devastating effect on our economy and our currency is quickly becoming worthless. Always happy to spend more money, rather than raising taxes Bush simply goes to China or Japan and borrows more. That kind of irresponsible behavior has brought this nation to the brink of a depression and destroys any notion of fiscal conservatism, once a trademark of the Republican Party.
Ouch. As for McCain, Gibson notes his and the president's support for a comprehensive immigration bill that would grandfather in an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. In an e-mail, he said he plans to vote for Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party. "Many of us have grown weary of the politics of appeasement practiced by both Bush and McCain," he said. "As a result, we've stopped caring about this election long ago, when it became [clear] that there would actually be two liberals running for president in 2008."
The Constitution Party huh? Well, to each his own. So far its still a free country. Maybe one day there will be a Modern Whig ticket.
Judith Rodrigues-Lytwyn claims the ensuing affair caused her to suffer "severe stress, anxiety, guilt, fear, humiliation and shame," the lawsuit says. According to the lawsuit, Father Elvis Elano professed his love for her immediately after her first confession at the Church of Our Lady of the Snows in Queens, N.Y. "Your presence struck me like a thunderbolt," Elano allegedly told Rodrigues-Lytwyn, who says she was distraught over her recent divorce and her ex-husband's alleged drug use.
The lawsuit, first reported by the Web site The Smoking Gun, claims Elano immediately began courting her and encouraging her to have sex with him to overcome her grief over her divorce and "because it was ordained by God."
Rodrigues-Lytwyn "immediately became overwhelmed" by Elano's advances and embarked on a four-month-long affair with him, the lawsuit says.
"We're dealing with someone who was going through a difficult period in her life and was manipulated by someone so he could take advantage of her," Rodrigues-Lytwyn's lawyer, Andrew Laufer, said.
Do you remember when you thought things like this were too crazy to be true?
The White House tried to downplay the significance of the numbers, saying they were not unexpected and caused partly by special circumstances such as hurricanes and a Boeing Co. strike.
29 October 2008
They should be ashamed of themselves. But shame is a rare and precious thing in our political class.
The Alaska Republican Party on Tuesday found itself in the awkward position of urging voters to return a convicted felon to the United States Senate.
Mr. Stevens’s decision to stay in the race and seek a speedy trial, and his state party’s decision to support him in those efforts, have put both the senator and the party on treacherous terrain a week before voters choose between him and a strong Democratic challenger, Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage.
I had previously touched on this issue in Corruption, Virtue and the Whigs:
What is the traditional Whig position on corruption?
One sign of the developing rot is the way political partisans will excuse the corruption of politicians they ideologically support. In this way, corruption becomes a political game, allowing corruption to not only continue, but to flourish.
One of the reasons I am interested in the Whig movement is the belief that increased political competition will help cure what is wrong. Of course, any Whig elected to any office in the future will be exposed to the same temptations as the politicians from the Democratic or the Republican Party. We Whigs cannot hope to elect better, incorruptible men and women to office. They will still be just men and women.
But there is one thing we Whigs can do differently, and we must resolve to do it before we get started. When one of our own succumbs to corruption, we must not excuse it. We must resolve now, at the beginning, to confront it head on.
[C]orruption was doubly insidious. It induced officeholders to place their self-interest ahead of the public good and thus reduced their effectiveness as guardians of the people's liberty. At the same time, corruption of private citizens eroded their vigilance and their concern for public life by creating an obsession with materialistic self-advancement. The result would be inevitable. Since neither the people nor their representatives placed a priority on the protection of public liberty and equality any longer, power would encroach on liberty. Tyranny would prevail...
by Will Wilkinson, in which he make several observations. The entire post is worth a look.
First, what little I know of economic sociology tells me that access to economic opportunities is deeply network-relative.
Second, desirable positions aren’t just boxes out there waiting to be filled. They are created, sometimes by the people who occupy them. And they may depend on contingencies of technology.
That there be no systemic, structral discrimination that keep whole classes of talented, motivated people from attaining desirable positions strikes me as obviously desirable, and pretty feasible, too. We’ve made huge strides in just the past several decades. But that’s a point about everybody having a good chance of making the most of their talent and motivation, not an equal chance.
All I know is that I want a entrepeneurial, innovative, high-growth system in part because that’s the kind that increases the chances of landing a desirable position because new ones are always being invented and that diminishes the relative importance and power of many entrenched and exclusive networks.
Elite networks can achieve only limited succeed in opportunity hoarding if new networks, new opportunities, and new hierarchies of prestige and status keep springing up.
A very ominous sign for the Republican Party is how Democratic-leaning these new and lapsed voters are. Not only do they back Obama by a 69%-27 margin, they also prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by a 2-to-1 margin, 66%-31%.
And their views of President Bush? His fav/unfav among these voters is 14%-73%. Ouch.
While Karl Rove had ambitious hopes of turning Bush's presidency into a permanent majority for the GOP, this poll suggests that Bush's lasting legacy could actually be turning off a new generation of voters. After all, consider what young voters who came of voting age during the past seven years might associate the GOP with -- the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, the current economy, various political scandals (Jack Abramoff, Ted Stevens, etc.), and Bush.
There are two major political parties in America, but there are at least three major political tendencies. The first is orthodox liberalism, a belief in using government to maximize equality. The second is free-market conservatism, the belief in limiting government to maximize freedom.
But there is a third tendency, which floats between. It is for using limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility. This tendency began with Alexander Hamilton, who created a vibrant national economy so more people could rise and succeed.
Members of this tradition have one foot in the conservatism of Edmund Burke. They understand how little we know or can know and how much we should rely on tradition, prudence and habit. They have an awareness of sin, of the importance of traditional virtues and stable institutions. They understand that we are not free-floating individuals but are embedded in thick social organisms.
But members of this tradition also have a foot in the landscape of America, and share its optimism and its Lincolnian faith in personal transformation. Hamilton didn’t seek wealth for its own sake, but as a way to enhance the country’s greatness and serve the unique cause America represents in the world. Members of this tradition are Americanized Burkeans, or to put it another way, progressive conservatives.
The Hamiltonian-Bull Moose tendency is the great, moderate strain in American politics. In some sense this whole campaign was a contest to see which party could reach out from its base and occupy that centrist ground.
28 October 2008
An embattled Massachusetts state senator appeared in a federal courtroom today charged with taking $23,500 in bribes, including cash that she stuffed into her bra during a meeting at a tony Boston restaurant that was secretly videotaped by an undercover FBI agent, federal prosecutors said.
Democratic state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson faces 40 years in prison after federal prosecutors outlined accusations that she accepted the bribes over an 18-month period in a money-for-legislative influence sting operation, prosecutors said.
[J]ust as forests are comprised of lots of individual trees, debts are caused by lots of individual decisions to spend money. The old wisdom of another Illinois senator – Republican Everett McKinley Dirksen - rightly advised that "a million here and a million there and pretty soon you're talking about real money."
Eliminate all of the purely local-interest earmarks like the planetarium, and you would save $18 billion in one year. But that's only the start. As Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, so often notes, earmarks are the "gateway drug to federal spending addiction."
Just as senators and representatives protect each other's earmarks in an ingrained culture of mutual back-scratching, they also protect each other's big ticket spending proposals as well. So the message is: "I'll vote for your planetarium in return for you voting for my otherwise unneeded line of new submarines or another duplicative, wasteful welfare program" or whatever.
Apparently not. Or, at least, a new generation is determined to learn the hard way.
What I find depressing about this–as, indeed, about the whole Obama juggernaut–is the extent to which it represents a return of bad ideas that have already been tried time and again, have failed and made people poorer and less stalwart, and yet seem poised to make a sorry comeback once again.
I’ve written about the “déjà-vu-all-over-again” phenomenon before in this space. Bill Ayers? Haven’t we done that? Jeremiah Wright? Haven’t we done that, too?
Haven’t we tried Obama’s “soak the rich,” anti-business economic policies? Haven’t we tried his “can’t-we-all-just-get-along” foreign policy?
Don’t we know that economics is about the creation rather than the redistribution of wealth, and that low taxes and strategies that encourage productivity and investment are best calculated to make the entire society, including the less fortunate, more prosperous?
Don’t we know where appeasement and capitulation get us in foreign affairs? Don’t we remember Jimmy Carter? Haven’t we learned anything?
Recently, Argentina propose similar changes to their savings program. How did that turn out? Not so well. Will Congress heed the lesson from Argentina? I am not optimistic.
Argentina: Cristina's looking-glass world
There the private pension system, which has suffered investment losses but is otherwise sound, now faces permanent nationalisation by a government whose own solvency has been called into question. “The G8 countries are protecting their banks, and we’re protecting our workers and retirees,” declared President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as she announced a bill containing the measure on October 21st.
The immediate effect was to leave them less protected: the Buenos Aires stock-exchange index fell 24% in two days, and investors dumped Argentine bonds, sending their yield soaring to 28%. Many economists and opposition politicians fear that the government’s intention is to raid the pension funds to fill a widening fiscal hole. “A legalised robbery” was how La Nación, a newspaper, dubbed it in an editorial.
Ideological hostility to the private funds played a part in Ms Fernández’s decision to scrap rather than reform the scheme. Ideological hostility to the private funds played a part in Ms Fernández’s decision to scrap rather than reform the scheme. Now the government is strapped for cash.
Of course, all this money belongs to Argentines, not to Ms Fernández. But under the bill, it would be administered by government officials, overseen by a congressional committee. They are likely to give priority to the short-term claims of the public finances at the expense of impoverishing Argentines and their children in the future.
“Where is the state going to stop now?” asks Miguel Kiguel, a former finance official. “Today they’re taking the pension funds. Who’s next?”
He has been accurate in the past, and I have been following his estimates. He is also estimating at least 57 Democratic seats in the Senate, and the Dems picking up 22 seats in the House, for a total of 258, a substantial majority.
For the last several weeks, I've pointed out the underlying and opposing currents which hold sway over the outcome of this election.
Today, I have a news flash. I am no longer wavering on how I believe this election will turn out. In my mind, there is little doubt now.
Eight days from Election Day, here is this blogger's conclusion: Barack Obama will win this election in a landslide. He will capture at least 350 electoral votes and win the popular vote by 7% or more.
McCain may benefit from some measure of the Bradley Effect, but that advantage will be overwhelmed by African-American turnout, Palin-induced defections by moderates, and under-funded, unenthusiastic GOP get-out-the-vote efforts.
This week's update shows Obama with a 375-163 electoral vote edge. The actual result may be a tad closer, but I'd be less surprised if his victory surpassed even that landslide tally.
There has been a lot of speculation as to how accurate the poll numbers are, but the gap had widened to the point where the Democrats are so far ahead, it may not matter. Unless something changes in the next week, it will be a Democratic landslide.
27 October 2008
At least since the passage of the first peacetime federal income tax law about 120 years ago, redistribution of wealth has been a (maybe the) primary item on the left populist/progressive/liberal agenda, and has been implicitly accepted to some extent by all but the most libertarian Republicans as well. Barack Obama is undoubtedly liberal, and his background is in political community organizing in poor communities. Is it supposed to be a great revelation that Obama would like to see wealth more "fairly" distributed than it is currently?
It's true that most Americans, when asked by pollsters, think that it's emphatically not the government's job to redistribute wealth. But are people so stupid as to not recognize that when politicians talk about a "right to health care," or "equalizing educational opportunities," or "making the rich pay a fair share of taxes," or "ensuring that all Americans have the means to go to college," and so forth and so on, that they are advocating the redistribution of wealth?
Is it okay for a politician to talk about the redistribution of wealth only so long as you don't actually use phrases such as "redistribution" or "spreading the wealth," in which case he suddenly becomes "socialist"? If so, then American political discourse, which I never thought to be especially elevated, is in even a worse state than I thought.
US authorities have arrested two white supremacists for threatening to kill Democrat Barack Obama during a "killing spree" of some 100 African-Americans, officials said Monday. The two men planned to kill some 88 people and decapitate 14 African-Americans, before in a final act assassinating Obama, bidding to be the country's first black president, court documents revealed Monday. Daniel Cowart, 20, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, were arrested Wednesday in Tennessee for possession of firearms, threats against a candidate running for president and conspiring to rob a gun store, the Department of Justice said.
The Memphis court was told that just before their arrest Cowart and Schlesselman had bought food, nylon rope and ski masks. They had also scouted out a house to rob on October 21, but left when they saw a couple of vehicles and a dog. They also shot out the window of a local church in Brownsville, Tennessee, before driving back to Cowart's grandfather's home where they chalked racist words and symbols, including a Swastika and the numbers 14 and 88 onto the hood of Cowart's car, before being arrested last Wednesday.
Banks to use bailout for lending, acquisitions
Analysts see plan to weed out weaker companies as plan morphs yet again
The Treasury's $700 billion program to rescue the financial services industry, which began with a three-page memo six weeks ago, is evolving yet again.
Now the Treasury is pouring another $125 billion into small and medium-sized banks, but some analysts contend the program has been transformed to a much more grandiose undertaking that will essentially weed out the weak banks from the strong.
Several of the banks that have received preliminary approval from the Treasury for investments have said they plan to use some of the money for acquisitions.
A U.S. military official in Washington says special forces conducted the raid in Syria on Sunday to target the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria to help fight in the war in Iraq. Syria said troops in four helicopters attacked a building and killed eight people, including four children.
"We are taking matters into our own hands," the U.S. military official in Washington told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.
Though the flow of foreign fighters from Syria to Iraq has been declining, Americans have been unable to shut down the network in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.
It looks like someone realized the clock is winding down. Smoke 'em while ya got 'em.
A mannequin dressed to resemble the Alaska governor, with her trademark beehive hairdo and glasses, was hung by the neck from the eaves of the home in famously liberal West Hollywood.
On the roof, a mannequin of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, protruded from the chimney surrounded in flames, holding his head as he was apparently burned alive.
"We have been getting some phone calls this morning complaining about it but if (the homeowner) isn't in violation of municipal code we have no reason to cite them," West Hollywood spokeswoman Helen Goss said.
"People have First Amendment rights (to free speech)," Goss said. "I would speculate that if it's part of a Halloween display then its political satire." Homeowner Chad Michael Morisette told local KCAL-TV the display should be considered Halloween "art" and said his neighbors would probably be more offended by a similar scene invoking Democrat Barack Obama.
I wonder what the reaction might be if this were a depiction of Barack Obama hanging by a noose? Personally, I would like to string them both up as I don't think either is qualified to be where they are.
The sad part is, this turd will probably be re-elected, while he should go to prison.
26 October 2008
What do the Republicans stand for?
Limited government -- no.
Reduced deficits -- no.
Small business development -- no.
Scientific advancement -- no.
Greater liberty and rights for citizens -- no.
Secure borders -- no.
Improved health care -- no.
Increased prosperity -- no.
Less corruption -- no.
Environmental protection -- no.
New energy technology -- no.
Improvements in transportation -- no.
Transparency in government -- no.
Competence in government -- no.
Reform of tax system -- no.
Ending earmarks -- no.
Putting Social Security on sound basis -- no.
Meanwhile, the United States is confronting the most backward looking, religious fundamentalist, woman-hating barbarians the civilized world has faced for centuries, and the whole world is pissed off at us. That takes real incompetence.
The Republicans were in charge for six years and the only thing they did was go crazy with the public funds and waste time and energy on Terry Shiavo. And now they are about to get their butts kicked by a political party stuck in a late 6os time warp led by a guy without the executive experience to be hired to manage a mid-sized company.
What are the Republicans for? Teaching creationism as science, obsession with abortion, huge deficits despite record revenues, mismanagement in government, financial regulation, military affairs, foreign affairs, you name it. If the Democrats are stuck in the late 60s, the Republicans are stuck in the late 50s.
Let the far right of the Republican Party split off and join the so-called Constitution Party. And the Ron Paulies can go to the Libertarians. May they then wallow in third party hell forever. Those with some common sense can join up with others with some sense and help revive the Whigs.
Since then, the US has bailed out:
Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust, 1984, $87.5 billion
Savings and loan industry, 1989, $160 billion
Airline industry, 2001, $15 billion
Amid failure, Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust was acquired by Bank of America in 1994 for $1.9 billion. The cost of the savings and loan bailout was never recouped and is a failed bailout that influences markets even today. The post 9/11 grants and loan guarantees were not enough to keep the airline industry profitable and to date, that $15 billion is gone.
Previous bailouts that were repaid include:
Lockheed, 1971, $250 million, repaid in 1977, $30 million net
New York City, 1975, $6.9 billion, repaid by 1985
Source: Conde' Nast Portfolio November, 2008. On the web here.
I don't know about you, but I don't have any hope of getting any of my money back from the latest bailout program. And before its over it will be a trillion dollars. Yes, a trillion. This is the ultimate example of why not to trust anyone who is trying to sell you something or someone in government who thinks they know whats best for you.
Analysts and some party activists say losing the White House will highlight the pitfalls of relying too heavily on a narrow foundation of conservative Christians whose support has nonetheless become crucial to Republican electoral success.
But some social conservatives say a victory for Democrat Barack Obama, whom they regard as an "ultra-liberal," will energize them for the 2010 congressional "mid-term" races and the 2012 White House battle. The election is still over a week away and a lot can happen between now and then. McCain has staged huge comebacks before. But almost every major poll has Obama with a commanding national lead as his campaign benefits from an unfolding financial crisis that has shaken America and knocked conservative red-meat issues like abortion and gay marriage off the political stage.
"An Obama victory will galvanize social conservatives for 2010 and 2012 and they will look for a standard bearer they can rally around," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of America's largest evangelical group. Land told Reuters the candidate most likely to "rally the troops" under an Obama administration looked to be McCain's running mate Sarah Palin. The Alaska governor has excited the evangelical base but her strident opposition to abortion rights and other hard-core conservative positions have alienated more moderate voters. William Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League which opposes abortion rights, said religious conservatives were bracing for a new phase in the "culture wars."
"I've been on the phone the last couple of days with some of my friends ... and we're getting ready for the biggest culture war battles ever," Donohue said. "There is nobody in the history of the United States who has run for president who is a more enthusiastic supporter of abortion rights than Obama," he said.
President George W. Bush took almost 80 percent of the white evangelical vote and was the favorite of many socially conservative Catholics during the 2004 election. In fact religious conservatives have played a key role in every Republican victory since Ronald Reagan's in 1980, which some analysts say shows the party cannot win without them. Evangelicals account for one in four U.S. adults according to some estimates, giving them serious clout in a country where faith and politics often mix. But Bush's 2004 win was narrow, won in part on the use of issues like gay marriage to get the faith vote to the polls.
Moderate Republicans say a McCain loss will show the limits of that strategy and demonstrate that the party may not be able to win if it just focuses on pleasing the base without reaching for the center. "Focusing on social conservatism alienates moderate and mainstream voters and will consign us to 160 House seats in the South and the mid-west," said Patrick Sammon, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay Republicans which stresses social tolerance and fiscal conservatism. "We need members from across the political spectrum running as Republicans. (We) need to build a party based on the future, not the past," he said.
That can be a delicate balancing act.
"Republicans must have the support of evangelicals but they can't pursue them in too crass a way because when they do they alienate moderates," said David Domke, a professor of communication at the University of Washington in Seattle who specializes in the "faith factor" in U.S. politics. Some analysts also note that the evangelical movement itself is hardly monolithic as it broadens its agenda to include the fight against climate change and loses its harder edges on some social issues. Polls show abortion and gay rights issues further down the list of evangelical priorities though substantial numbers still care deeply about these issues.
"Their tone will modulate - it will be essential for Republican victory in the years ahead," said Michael Lindsay, a political sociologist at Rice University in Houston and an expert on evangelicals and politics.
I have long thought the Republican Party was wrong to align itself with hard-core evangelicals who vote on only the abortion issue. Where is the fiscal responsibility? Where is the small government?
Syria's state-run television channel had earlier quoted unnamed Syrian officials as saying that US helicopters launched a raid in the east of the country on Sunday.
Al-Dunia, a private television channel, said that American helicopters raided the village of Sukariya, which lies 550km northeast of Damascus.
"Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 16:45 local time (1345 GMT) on Sunday," state television and Sana news agency reported.
Two of the helicopters landed during the raids and dropped off eight US soldiers, who then entered a house, Syrian media reported.
"American soldiers ... attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths," the reports said.
"The helicopters then left Syrian territory towards Iraqi territory," Sana reported.
Sergeant Brooke Murphy, a US military spokesperson, told the AFP news agency in Baghdad, Iraq's capital: "We are in the process of investigating this." If confirmed, it would be the first time that American forces had carried out an attack on Syrian soil.
The US and the US-backed Iraqi government have said that Damascus is not doing enough to stop anti-US fighters, including those from al-Qaeda, from crossing the border into Iraq.
The area targeted by Sunday's raid lies close to the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which in the past has been a crossing point for fighters, weapons and money used to fuel the armed Sunni opposition against Iraq's Shia-led government.
Republican John McCain said Sunday that one-third of the $150,000 that the GOP spent on clothing and accessories for his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and her family, "is given back."
McCain strategist Mark Salter said "about a third of it was returned immediately" because they were the wrong size, or for other reasons.
Salter's explanation was the first time the campaign has said any of the items had been returned.
Last week after the purchases at such high-end department stores as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus appeared in campaign spending reports filed with the government, McCain and his aides repeatedly said the clothes would be donated to charity after the election.
News of such expensive clothes offered a stark contrast to Palin's image as an average "hockey mom."
Barack Obama visits his sick grandmother in Hawaii.
For the last 21 months, she has followed the odyssey of his presidential campaign like a spectator on a faraway balcony.
She underwent a corneal transplant to see him on television. She reluctantly agreed to film a political advertisement when he urgently needed to reassure voters about his distinctive American roots. She told him during one of their frequent telephone conversations that it might not hurt if he smiled a bit more.
And on Friday, Senator Barack Obama spent the day here saying goodbye.
At the Punahou Circle Apartments, a place of his own childhood, Madelyn Dunham, his grandmother, lay gravely ill. For weeks, Mr. Obama has talked to doctors and tracked her condition. When she was released from the hospital last week after surgery to repair a broken hip, he received word that he should not wait until after the election to make what he believes is most likely a final visit.
These are the lead stories on Google News for the McCain and Obama campaigns. With the election only 9 days away, you would think we would have more substantive things to talk about.
25 October 2008
No matter what we do, human nature being what it is, there will always be another panic and failure of the financial system. When it happens, we should approach the problem calmly, and move to correct the excesses. As discussed here for the last month, policy-makers were caught up in the Panic, and flailed about, which is the wrong thing to do.
Capitalism is not just about making money. It is a decentralized system of economic allocation. It is about making and losing money. That needs to be accepted, and planned for. One of the many failures of the Bush Administration was spending recklessly during good times instead of planning for the next downturn, which will always, always happen.
A Short History of Modern Finance: Article on the background to the financial system and the causes of the Panic of 2008.
It is important that the right lessons be learned from the crisis: Shifting the balance
Liberalisation happened for many reasons. Often, regulators were simply trying to catch up with the real world—for instance, the rapid development of offshore markets. In addition, deregulation provided things that voters wanted, such as cheap loans. Each financial innovation that came along became the object of speculation that was fuelled by cheap money. Bankers and traders were always one step ahead of the regulators. That is a lesson the latter will have to learn next time.
Amid the crisis of 2008, it is easy to forget that liberalisation had good consequences as well: by making it easier for households and businesses to get credit, deregulation contributed to economic growth. Deregulation may not have been the main cause of the rise in living standards over the last 30 years, but it helped more than it harmed. Will the new, regulated world be as benign?
One approach is to emulate the British approach to financial regulation. Britain has placed all financial regulation into a single entity called the Financial Services Authority. Britain devised the FSA in 1997 (even taking away banking regulation from the Bank of England) in a conscious attempt to create a single supervisory body. In America the SEC shares authority with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, state insurance commissioners and so on.
Too many people ascribe today’s mess solely to the excesses of American finance. Putting the blame on speculators and greed has a powerful appeal but, as this special report has argued, it is too simplistic. The bubble—and the bust—had many causes, including cheap money, outdated regulation, government distortions and poor supervision. Many of these failures were as evident outside America as within it.
But the crisis is as much the result of policy mistakes in a fast-changing and unbalanced world economy as of Wall Street’s greedy innovations. The rapid build-up of reserves in the emerging world fuelled the asset and credit bubbles, and rich-world central bankers failed to counter it. Misguided monetary rigidity caused financial instability. Much though people now blame deregulation, flawed regulation was more of a problem. Banks set up their off-balance sheet vehicles in response to capital rules.
Rich countries’ biofuel policies pushed up the cost of food. Poor countries’ food-export bans and fuel subsidies compounded the problems. In many ways today’s mess is a consequence of policymakers’ misguided reactions to globalisation and the increasing economic heft of the emerging world.
In the aftermath of the crisis the battle will be to ensure that finance is reformed—and in the right way. The pitfalls are numerous. Banning the short-selling of stocks, for instance, makes for a good headline; but it deprives markets of liquidity and information, the very things that they have lacked in this crisis. Even if the easy mistakes are avoided, improving supervision and regulation is hard.
As a rule, though, governments would do better to harness the power of markets to boost stability, by demanding transparency, promoting standardisation and exchange-based trading.
Over-reaction is a bigger risk than inaction. Even if economic catastrophe is avoided, the financial crisis will impose great costs on consumers, workers and businesses. Anger and resentment directed at modern finance is sure to grow. The danger is that policymakers will add to the damage, not only by over-regulating finance but by attacking markets right across the economy.
That would be a bitter reverse after a generation in which markets have been freed, economies have opened up—and prospered. Hundreds of millions have escaped poverty and hundreds of millions more have joined the middle class. As the world reconsiders the balance between markets and government, it would be tragic if the ingredients of that prosperity were lost along the way.
Here was Paulson's take last April. With the new administration in January, it is a non-starter, but not a bad start for discussion:
Here's a link to how Australia regulates its financial industry.
None of the half-dozen federal regulators, which sit atop hundreds of state rulemakers, sees the whole map. Supervision has not always been divided up for the best reasons: the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for instance, won oversight of big investment banks four years ago, not because it was best placed to do so, but as part of a compromise following legal changes in Europe.
In the long run, say between two to eight years, Mr Paulson hopes to see a new regulatory architecture, with today's hotch-potch folded into three “objectives-based” agencies that some see as similar to the Australian system. That means a remodelled Federal Reserve with an eye on overall market stability; a prudential regulator for banks and thrifts, which would mean the demise of the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS); and a business-conduct agency, taking in much of the SEC's oversight of disclosure and the like.
Columbus Dispatch: Government computers used to find information on Joe the Plumber
I haven't talked about Joe The Plumber because I thought it was (and is) a faltering McCain campaign's effort to seize on a silly gimmick. He's running a terrible, unfocused campaign.
Public records requested by The Dispatch disclose that information on Wurzelbacher's driver's license or his sport-utility vehicle was pulled from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database three times shortly after the debate.
Information on Wurzelbacher was accessed by accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department.
It has not been determined who checked on Wurzelbacher, or why. Direct access to driver's license and vehicle registration information from BMV computers is restricted to legitimate law enforcement and government business.
But still, one regular guy asks a better question of Obama than we have ever gotten from the boot-licking reporters covering him, and the first impulse of these boot-licking reporters is to attack and investigate the regular guy. Heaven forbid that anyone should ask Obama more than a powder-puff question. Or that the media should ever investigate Obama.
I guess we've got four years ahead of being attacked for asking questions, of being accused of racism for daring to not support him, and of proposed attempts to impose the "Fairness Doctrine" to shut down any critical voices. Why don't we re-enact the Alien and Sedition Acts and be done with it?
The scary thing is, the Obama campaign doesn't even have to do anything. It's the media that are doing the attacking for him.
"When the river swirls and the wind blows, and when uncontrollable inflation forces us to revert to the gold standard, and the Federal Reserve bank is exposed as the unconstitutional, neofascist cabal it really is, you'll see me coming over that hill," said Paul, leaving a dusty cowboy hat and a stack of "no" votes on his seat in the House of Representatives.
24 October 2008
The proposals would end tax breaks for employer's matching contributions, and would encourage people to remove money from their 401(k) s at the bottom of the market.
The 401(k) would be replaced by a government-mandated program that would pay a 3% return.
From Workforce.com: House Democrats Contemplate Abolishing 401(k) Tax Breaks
Powerful House Democrats are eyeing proposals to overhaul the nation’s $3 trillion 401(k) system, including the elimination of most of the $80 billion in annual tax breaks that 401(k) investors receive.
An analysis of the effects of this major change at U.S. News: Would Obama, Dems Kill 401(k) Plans?
Under Ghilarducci’s plan, all workers would receive a $600 annual inflation-adjusted subsidy from the U.S. government but would be required to invest 5 percent of their pay into a guaranteed retirement account administered by the Social Security Administration. The money in turn would be invested in special government bonds that would pay 3 percent a year, adjusted for inflation.
The current system of providing tax breaks on 401(k) contributions and earnings would be eliminated. “I want to stop the federal subsidy of 401(k)s,” Ghilarducci said in an interview.
“From where I sit that’s just crazy,” said John Belluardo, president of Stewardship Financial Services Inc. in Tarrytown, New York. “A lot of people contribute to their 401(k)s because of the match of the employer,” he said. “If the tax deferral goes away, the employers have no reason to do the matches, which primarily help people in the lower income brackets,” Belluardo said.
However, most political observers believe that Democrats are poised to gain seats in both the House and the Senate, so comments made by the mostly Democratic members who attended the hearing could be a harbinger of things to come.
The proposal was received favorably by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-California, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support.
Ghilarducci would have workers abandon the stock market right at the bottom of the market.
A stupid idea, according to Warren Buffett: "I don't like to opine on the stock market, and again I emphasize that I have no idea what the market will do in the short term. Nevertheless, I'll follow the lead of a restaurant that opened in an empty bank building and then advertised: 'Put your mouth where your money was.' Today my money and my mouth both say equities."
Ghilarducci would offer a lousy 3 percent return. The long-run return of the stock market, adjusted for inflation, is more like 7 percent.
Look at it this way: Ten thousand dollars growing at 3 percent a year for 40 years leaves you with roughly $22,000. But $10,000 growing at 7 percent a year for 40 years leaves you with $150,000. That is a high price to pay for what Ghilarducci describes as the removal of "a source of financial anxiety and...fruitless discussions with brokers and financial sales agents, who are also desperate for more fees and are often wrong about markets." Please, I'll take a bit of worry for an additional $128,000.
What effect would this plan have on an already battered stock market? Well, I would imagine it would send it even lower, sticking a shiv into the portfolios of everyone who didn't jump aboard.
But I am sure the Chinese would love to jump in and buy all our cheap stocks to fund the retirement of their citizens.
More from Outside the Beltway: America is Saving Too Much
There you go, Americans, you save too much. Stop it. Give that money to the government. They’ll take oh so much better care of it than you will. Never mind that right now Social Security is in actuarial imbalance, and lets not talk about the neutron bomb better known as Medicare and that it is several tens of trillions out of actuarial imbalance. You can trust the government, they are here to help you.
23 October 2008
A federal judge declined to remove a juror yesterday after complaints from other jurors that she had "violent outbursts" and refused to "follow the rules and laws" during deliberations in the corruption trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.An 11-1 hung jury?
While they won't actually be improving anyone's health, education or livelihood in Liberia, all the Americans who participate will feel really good about themselves.
Think the Peace Corps is an effective organization that helps poor nations develop? Then read this article in Foriegn Policy: Think Again: The Peace Corps.
The new G.I. Bill passed by Congress over the summer, which dramatically expands veterans benefits, was lauded as a sign that the country was looking after this generation of warriors; but don't extol its virtues to Grey Adkins, who served two tours with the Navy off the coast of Iraq, is $10,000 in debt and won't see a dime of the new benefits.
Even though it is called the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, the new legislation won't take effect until Aug. 1, 2009 - eight years after jets felled the twin towers and other planes crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. By then, Adkins will have graduated from Towson University. And because the bill is not retroactive, it won't help him at all.
Lynn Sweet at the Chicago Sun-Times writes, "This is an outrageous pay-to-play plan that caters to national elite outlets with deep pockets."
Had we stood our ground 25 years ago instead of pulling out after the bombing, it is possible that 9/11 would not have happened. Likewise, anyone who thinks we can pull back into a shell now and hope terrorism will go away simply isn’t looking at the lessons history offers.
People ask if we are accomplishing anything in Iraq and Afghanistan. I say yes. Terrorists no longer have a safe haven in Afghanistan. If we pull out of Iraq before the time is right, guess who moves in: Iran. The same Iran that trained the Hezbollah bombers who killed 241 of my comrades on that October morning in Beirut. Do we want to look back 25 years from now and regret not having stayed the course again?
22 October 2008
Writing in the NY Times, this article by Thomas Friedman is along the same lines.
We can’t afford a financial bailout that also isn’t a green buildup — a buildup of a new clean energy industry that strengthens America and helps the planet.He lists several ideas. My favorite:
But how do we do that without any policy to affect the price signal for gasoline and carbon?
Finally, if Congress passes another stimulus package, it can’t just be another round of $600 checks to go buy flat-screen TVs made in China. It has to also include bridges to somewhere — targeted investments in scientific research, mass transit, domestic clean-tech manufacturing and energy efficiency that will make us a more productive and innovative society, one with more skills, more competitiveness, more productivity and better infrastructure to lead the next great industrial revolution: E.T. — energy technology.
However, India is the recipient of significant international aid, including aid from the United States. If India has enough money to launch a space probe, then why are we providing them with financial aid? India is home to 800 million poor, but their government has instead made space exploration a higher priority than poverty reduction.
They are free to spend their own money however they wish, but why are US taxpayers footing the poverty reduction bill instead of the Indian taxpayers? Perhaps poverty reduction in India is a higher priority for the US government than it is for the government of India.
In a time of record-setting deficits, why are we giving foreign aid to a government that has money to spare for a national morale-building space shot of dubious scientific value?
I think this is a valid point, and is another effective critisism of the current bailout policies. It has long been recognized that monopolistic control over the economy was not healthy for liberty, but we seem to have lost sight of that. While most can agree on giving a helping hand to small businesses, big business should be able to fend for themselves.
According to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, the biggest Wall Street banks now getting money from the government are just "too big to fail."
We're hearing the same argument elsewhere in Washington for saving General Motors. It's just "too big to fail." So Congress is considering a bailout that would keep GM afloat and sweeten a merger between GM and Chrysler.
Pardon me for asking, but if a company is too big to fail, maybe -- just maybe -- it's too big, period.
We seem to have forgotten that the original purpose of antitrust law was also to prevent companies from becoming too powerful. Too powerful in that so many other companies depended on them, so many jobs turned on them and so many consumers or investors or depositors needed them, that the economy as a whole would be endangered if they failed. Too powerful in that they could wield inordinate political influence of a sort that might gain them extra favors from Washington.
So we're ending up with even bigger giants, with even more power over the economy and politics, subsidized by taxpayers and guaranteed never to fail because they're just -- too big!
Public frustration over the bailout is building. I was emailed this article today. Some of it is true, but it is also a touch paranoid. Still, it does convey a sense of frustration, and seems to have struck a chord. Wall Street's 'Disaster Capitalism for Dummies' 14 reasons Main Street loses big while Wall Street sabotages democracy
While distracted by the "illusion of democracy" in the endless campaign, Congress surrendered the powers we entrusted to it with very little fight. Congress simply handed over voting power and the keys to trillions in the Treasury to Wall Street's new "Disaster Capitalists" who now control "democracy."
Why did this happen? We're in denial, clueless wimps, that's why. We let it happen. In one generation America has been transformed from a democracy into a strange new form of government, "Disaster Capitalism."
The Republican nominee was returning Wednesday to the state whose primary he won in 2000 and again earlier this year. But there were signs it was tilting toward Democrat Barack Obama in the Nov. 4 general election.
Recent polls have shown Obama, an Illinois senator, with a lead no smaller than 7 percentage points, prompting speculation that McCain may have to surrender the state's four electoral votes and focus elsewhere if he hopes to cobble together the 270 needed to become president.
From the way things are looking for McCain, that VC hole in the ground may not look so bad.
Volokh Conspiracy: The Canadian Assault on Freedom of Expression
Ezra Levant: Silly kangaroo! Don't you know the rules? Convict first, then censor!
Instead of being an example of "reasonable" restrictions on freedom of expression, it has become an example of the slippery slope problems inherent in allowing restrictions on freedom of expression based on subjective views of what is sufficiently offensive or problematic to be banned.
The most egregious infringements on freedom of expression in Canada have come from "human rights" commissions whose sole function is to ferret out discrimination. Not surprisingly, the functionaries who man (oops, call out the thought police) these commissions have little regard for protecting competing values such as freedom of expression, which is not part of their job description.
NRO: You Can't Say That!
Even the most zealous advocates of freedom of expression often feel uncomfortable defending the right to engage in Holocaust denial or to propagate degrading pornography. But, not surprisingly, the inevitable result of allowing these initial speech restrictions has been the gradual but significant growth of censorship and suppression of civil liberties across Canada.
21 October 2008
Although most attention is paid to the presidential race, another hefty political battle is rolling on: the congressional race. The Democrats captured Congress in the 2006 elections, as voters turned against George Bush and the Republican Party. Two years have done little to soften their views. The Democrats are poised to turn small majorities in both chambers into dominant ones, perhaps realigning American politics for many years.
Fear and anger over the economy could see the Democrats snatching seats from Republican incumbents. (Despite dismal approval ratings for Congress, voters tend to vent their spleen on the party that holds the White House.) Under Nancy Pelosi as speaker, the House will have a more liberal cast than at any time in recent memory.
I guess it is easier to object to such terms than it is to stop killing your daughters for dating non-Muslims. It is what it is. Expect to see more such political correctness in the coming years.
Yasser Abdel Said, wanted for the murder of his two daughters, has eluded authorities for almost a year. The bodies of the young women — Sarah Said, 17, and Amina Said, 18 — were discovered in the back of a taxicab in Irving, Texas, on New Year's Day.
According to family members, Said felt he was compelled to kill his daughters because they had disgraced the family by dating non-Muslims and acting too "Western." The girls’ great aunt, Gail Gartrell, has always called the case an “honor killing.” And for a few days — until last Friday — the FBI publicly agreed.
“The 17- and 18-year-old girls were dating American boys, which was contrary to their father's rules of not dating non-Muslim boys,” The FBI "wanted" poster read early last week. “Reportedly, the girls were murdered due to an 'Honor Killing.'”
Some Muslims have objected to the term "honor killing" because they say it attaches a religious motive to a crime, which could lead to discrimination against Muslims.
More respect for women from the Islamic world: Afghan court revokes death sentence for student journalist. Instead, he got twenty years. For questioning the treatment of women by Islam. Previously, he had been sentenced to death:
An Afghan appeal court has overturned the death sentence of a student journalist who was accused of blasphemy after distributing anti-Islamic material, instead sentencing him to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors alleged that Kambakhsh disrupted classes by asking questions about women's rights under Islam. They said he illegally distributed an article that suggested the Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women.
In January this year, a lower court in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif sentenced Kambakhsh to death after a trial that took place without a lawyer to represent him.
After Kambaksh was sentenced to death in January, Muslim clerics welcomed the decision and there were public demonstrations against him.
The video that spurred the investigation of five men accused of plotting an attack on soldiers on New Jersey's Fort Dix shows some of them in camouflage clothing, firing rapid-fire weapons on a snowy driving range. An investigator who was on the case from the beginning testified Tuesday that the way the men were firing was unusual. "They were actually advancing toward a target," said Fred Lang, a member of an FBI anti-terrorism task force who was previously in the military. "Through my years as a firearms instructor, I've never seen that done." "There's only one reason for that," Lang said. "It's a fire-and-maneuver tactic."
The video was one of two that jurors were shown in the first day of testimony at the trial.
There was a rumor circulating last week that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago was heading up a team looking into RICO prosecutions of ACORN, but it appears to have been wishful thinking. But now AP is reporting that two senior officials with the FBI are looking into the materials seized from ACORN office raids around the country to see if it can find evidence of coordinational national fraud on the part of ACORN.
Could the government use RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act) to stop ACORN’s outrageous conduct? I think it could. Briefly, RICO 18 U.S.C. § 1961-1968. is a federal law providing extended penalties for those who commit any two of 35 crimes — 27 federal and eight state — within a 10-year period. The underlying crimes range from gambling to terrorism and include some offenses which would seem to cover the reported acts of ACORN (e.g., bribery, mail and phone fraud).
Story here on Pajamas Media.
It would be nice to see laws like this applied equally to the left and the right. I highly doubt anything will come of the investigation. I have become such a cynic.
McCain retorted Tuesday, Oct. 21: “America does not need a president that needs to be tested. I’ve been tested. I was aboard the Enterprise off the coast of Cuba. I’ve been there.”)
DEBKAfile’s military sources cite the new US timeline: By late January, 2009, Iran will have accumulated enough low-grade enriched uranium (up to 5%) for its “break-out” to weapons grade (90%) material within a short time. For this, the Iranians have achieved the necessary technology. In February, they can move on to start building their first nuclear bomb.
US intelligence believes Tehran has the personnel, plans and diagrams for a bomb and has been running experiments to this end for the past two years. The UN International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna last week asked Tehran to clarify recent complex experiments they conducted in detonating nuclear materials for a weapon, but received no answer.
The same US evaluation adds that the Iranian leadership is holding off its go-ahead to start building the bomb until the last minute so as to ward off international pressure to stop at the red line. This development together with the galloping global economic crisis will force the incoming US president to go straight into decision-making without pause on Day One in the Oval Office. He will have to determine which urgent measures can serve best for keeping a nuclear bomb out of the Islamic republic’s hands - diplomatic or military – and how to proceed if those measures fail.
His knowledge of the challenge colored Sen. Biden’s additional words in Seattle: “Remember I said it standing here if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”
Israel’s political and military leaders also face a tough dilemma that can no longer be put off of whether to strike Iran’s nuclear installations militarily in the next three months between US presidencies before the last window closes, or take a chance on coordination with the next president.
Waiting for the “international community” to do the job of stopping Iran, as urged by governments headed by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert - and strongly advocated Tzipi Livni, foreign minister and would-be prime minister - has been a washout. Iran stands defiantly on the threshold of a nuclear weapon.
Story from Debka.
We should have bombed Iran back to the stone age in 1979.
“They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion -- that the state cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.”These are the words of William Graham Sumner, brilliantly analyzed and applied to 21st century America by Amity Schlaes in her recent book, The Forgotten Man.
Sumner wrote of the Forgotten Man: "He works, he votes, generally he prays -- but he always pays -- yes, above all, he pays."Joe the Plumber has struck a chord in the closing weeks of this election because he represents the Forgotten Man. When he confronted Sen. Barack Obama on the campaign trail with the question of what would happen to his taxes under an Obama Administration should he realize his dream of owning his own business, Joe cast the decision that faces us in this election in stark relief:Which will be better for our economy: Politicians redistributing our wealth or growing more wealth?And Sen. Obama gave us an equally stark answer: Under his leadership, America will focus on “spreading around” the Forgotten Man’s wealth, not encouraging him to create more of it.
Joe the Plumber has struck a chord because he reminds us (and should remind politicians in Washington) that government, no matter how well intentioned, has to be paid for and that money comes from guys like Joe. Politicians can either bleed him dry to fund their programs, or they can encourage Americans to create more jobs and more wealth -- and keep government limited and effective.But in a one-party Washington, completely controlled by Harry Reid with a veto-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi with an expanded Democratic majority in the House, and Barack Obama in the White House, the liberal politicians’ impulse to take your money and use it as they see fit will be unrestrained and unrestrainable.
This comes from Newt Gingrich and is found here. The rest of the analysis is worth reading too.
I am forgotten. I won't be getting any of the wealth redistribution which means that some of my money will be redistributed elsewhere. Based on everything I have seen, there isn't much hope for turning this around in the next 2 weeks and the predictions laid out in Newt's piece will become reality. The only thing we can do is get ready for a rough, expensive ride.