30 June 2009

Reverse Discrimination?

Why is it called reverse discrimination?

Isn't it just discrimination?

More On Citizens United Rehearing

Court opens door to possibility of corporate political spending

Campaign finance watchdogs are concerned that a little-seen order issued on the Supreme Court’s final day could lead to tens of millions of corporate dollars being spent on television advertising — an ad blitz candidates would have difficulty countering.

On Monday, instead of ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court issued a rare order for further arguments on the case.

By seeking new arguments on those cases, campaign finance watchdogs said, the court is poised to make a substantial ruling that could have wide-reaching consequences.

“The court, at the very least, is considering reversing more than 100 years of campaign finance precedent prohibiting corporate spending,” said Paul Ryan, associate legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “It would be a pretty large step, and remarkable step, for the court to overturn a century of public policy.”

Overturning that ban would presumably allow corporations to begin spending money on political campaigns, either in support of or opposition to a candidate.

It would be the first time since Congress banned corporate political expenditures in 1947.

If the Supreme Court does overturn either case, the effects on political campaigns will be dramatic, said Marc Elias, a partner at Perkins Coie who served as general counsel on Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign and who is heading legal efforts for Democrat Al Franken in the disputed Minnesota Senate contest.

“The ban on corporate spending on federal elections is at the center of our current campaign finance system,” he said. “If that were to change it would radically alter the system that we have.”

Student Loan Caps Go Into Effect

Federal Student Loan Repayment to Be Based on Income

The U.S. Education Department will allow student loan borrowers to reduce monthly payments based on income, in a change that takes effect tomorrow.

Fees and interest on new student loans will fall as well, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said today in a conference call with reporters. The department also will release $13 billion in grants from the fiscal 2009 federal budget for schools in low- income areas, he said.

The income-based repayment program may benefit at least 1 million current and former students with loans

Caps on student loan payments to take effect this week

Thousands of college graduates across the country will be able to get some relief from their student loan bills under a new federal program that goes into effect Wednesday.
HOW IT WORKS The Income Based Repayment program allows graduates to cap their monthly loan repayments at 15 percent of their total income. For those with low incomes or children, required repayments are less – and in some cases, nothing at all.
WHO'S ELIGIBLE The program encompasses federal loans that account for about two-thirds of all student debt. The forgiveness is not available for loans made by banks or other loan companies, such as Citigroup or Sallie Mae.

Here's more on the whole student loan forgiveness movement: Student Loan Forgiveness Initiative Gaining Momentum?

Franken Wins Senate Battle; Dems have 60

The Minnesota Supreme Court has declared comedian-turned-politician Al Franken the winner of the state's U.S. Senate race, ending an eight-month-long election saga and giving Democrats a 60-seat majority that theoretically would allow them to block GOP filibusters.

In a unanimous ruling, the court rejected Republican Norm Coleman's legal arguments that some absentee ballots had been improperly counted and that some localities had used inconsistent standards in counting votes. The ruling led Coleman to concede his Senate seat to Franken, who could be sworn in as soon as next week, when the Senate returns from a recess.

"The Supreme Court has spoken. We have a United States senator," Coleman said in a news conference outside his home in St. Paul. "It's time to move forward."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) signed the election certificate declaring Franken the winner yesterday evening.

The Democrats now have their largest majority in the Senate since 1978.

What did it cost?

Franken’s campaign reported spending about $6 million through the month of April, in the recount, and a total of about $24.6 million on the entire two-year campaign for the Senate. That doesn't include any expenses between April and now. Why would someone spend $25 million to get a job that pays $179,000.00 per year? It just doesn't add up does it? Maybe that is why they are all crooks.

Tax and Spend Without End, Amen

We'll Need to Raise Taxes Soon

Expect Congress to seriously consider a value-added tax.

In a March 27 forecast, Goldman Sachs estimated average annual deficits of $940 billion through 2019. If this proves true, deficits would remain above 4% of GDP through the next decade and the national debt would reach a whopping 83% of GDP, a level not seen since World War II. The public is restive over this threat: In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Americans were asked which economic issue facing the country concerned them most. Respondents chose deficit reduction over health care by a ratio of 2 to 1.

But even with a Social Security fix the medium-term deficit outlook will be poor. Sometime soon, perhaps in 2010, Main Street and financial markets will exert irresistible pressure to reduce the deficit.

The problem is the deficit's sheer size, which goes way beyond potential savings from cuts in discretionary spending or defense. It's entirely possible that Medicare and Social Security will already have been addressed, and thus taken off the table. In short we'll have to raise taxes.

We all know the recent and bitter history of tax struggles in Washington, let alone Mr. Obama's pledge to exempt those earning less than $250,000 from higher income taxes. This suggests that, possibly next year, Congress will seriously consider a value-added tax (VAT). A bipartisan deficit reduction commission, structured like the one on Social Security headed by Alan Greenspan in 1982, may be necessary to create sufficient support for a VAT or other new taxes.

Warnings On Our Growing Debt

Debt and Taxes: The CBO's Dire Projections
How bad is the CBO's latest report on the country's budgetary future? The Washington Post calls the office's numbers "dire." U.S. News says they're "off the wall." And in a post about the report on his blog, the CBO's director, Douglas Elmendorf, writes that "under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path." What's the problem? In a word, debt ...

Brevity Act: Read the Bill!

The Brevity Act: Time for a 28th Amendment

The entire foundation of our country - the complete design for our entire government — is clearly explained in only 11 pages.

No single Amendment is a full page. Many are only a single sentence.

Yet the bill that was passed on June 26, 2009 by 219 of our elected representatives — people to whom we’ve entrusted our Constitution, men and women who have sworn an oath to uphold it - was more than 1200 pages long. That’s over 100 times longer than the U.S. Constitution! And not one member of Congress, NOT ONE, read the whole thing!

A word comes to my mind to describe this: “INSANE.”

And to all challengers to the 219 Congressional morons who voted to pass a bill which they never read, here’s your campaign speech:

My opponent voted for a Bill he/she never read. Only an idiot would do that. Would you walk into a voting booth with a blindfold on and just push some buttons? Or would you read and consider what you’re voting on before you vote? I promise I will not vote for anything I haven’t read in its entirety.

Let the debate begin!

Dems, GOP Agree on One Thing: Spend

Washington Examiner: Washington's spending corruption is a bi-partisan rot

Nothing better illustrates why the bankrupting of America is an unstoppable freight train than last week’s announcement of a $500 billion transportation bill.

The most likely reason Oberstar, Mica, DeFazio, and Duncan said nothing about how this $500 billion boondoggle will be paid for is because they don’t know.

Worse, they probably couldn’t care less.

Oh sure, all would undoubtedly protest such a characterization vehemently, but the facts speak otherwise. Spending keeps going up, as does the government’s deficit and the national debt. But congressmen like these four keep piling on additional spending with hardly even any lip service for the idea of how it will be paid for when the bills come due.

This time around, the bill includes nearly 12,000 earmarks, together worth more than $19 billion. Watching Oberstar, Mica, DeFazio and Duncan, it is indeed difficult to see much difference between the donkeys and the Dumbos.

Citizens United Rehearing

Some of the other decisions have captured the headlines, but here is one that is really interesting. The two other cases, Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. FEC, both held that Congress could restrict corporations from using their general treasury funds to pay for certain types of election advertisements.

Briefing set on Citizens United rehearing

The new issue is whether the Court should overrule either or both of two prior rulings on campaign finance law — Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce in 1990 and part of McConnell v. F.E.C. in 2003.

In the Austin decision, the Court upheld the power of government to bar corporations from using funds from their own treasuries to support or oppose candidates for elected state offices.

In the part of McConnell that the Court will reconsider, the Justices upheld a provision of the 2002 campaign finance law that bars corporations and labor unions from using their treasury funds to pay for radio or TV ads, during election season, that refer to a candidate for Congress or the Presidency, and appear to urge a vote for or against such a candidate.

The Citizens United case involves a non-profit group’s campaign-season film sharply attacking the presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

More here:
CQ Politics: High Court Decides To Rehear Clinton Documentary Case

And here:
Washington Post: Justices to Review Campaign Finance Law Constraints
At issue in the case is a part of the law that forbids corporations, unions and special interest groups from using money from their general treasuries for "any broadcast, cable or satellite communications" that refer to a candidate for federal office within a certain time frame before an election.

In the past, that has meant 30-second to one-minute campaign ads. But a lower court said the same rule applied to the conservative group Citizens United's production of a scathing 90-minute movie on Clinton as she pursued the Democratic presidential nomination.

The three-judge panel applied a ruling written in 2007 by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. that an ad is covered by the law when it is "susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate."

Citizens United's attorney, former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, had told the court that it should use the case to overturn the corporate spending ban the court recognized in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, as well as its decision in 2003 to uphold McCain-Feingold as constitutional.

Ricci, et al., v. DeStefano, et al.

From SCOTUS Blog: Analysis: Ricci, without the rhetoric

The cases of Frank Ricci and his 17 New Haven, Conn., firefighter colleagues — all whites except one Hispanic — now return from the Supreme Court to lower courts, with only one thing settled: their rights under a federal civil rights law were violated.

The Court’s ruling in Ricci, et al., v. DeStefano, et al. (07-1428) and a companion case with the same name (08-328) says nothing at all about a remedy for that violation, and leaves a host of questions to be answered.

The new standards the Court has imported into the Title VII legal equation are not really specific or well-defined, so it very likely will take future lawsuits to sort out just what the new requirements mean. In practical terms, it is very likely that employers will have to go to greater lengths to assure that testing protocols are race neutral, and will have to have sounder legal advice about the risks they take under Title VII if they apply test results that have a negative impact on minority workers.

Among the large questions that did not get addressed at all, perhaps the most significant was whether government employers, even if they have a ”strong basis in evidence” that they think will justify making a race-based job selection, will escape liability under the Constitution.

The Court said explicitly that it was not ruling on the question of whether compliance with that standard would satisfy the Constitution’s command of racial equality — in other words, whether a government employer genuinely worried that accepting test results would work against minorities can escape a constitutional violation if it casts aside the results and thus shuts out whites who scored better.

Can't Get No Relief

Housing in Peril as Obama Fails to Get Breakthrough

Four months after President Barack Obama pledged $275 billion to shore up home sales, the engine that powered every U.S. recovery since 1960 is stalled.

Bankers’ reluctance to finance buyers who won’t live in properties is one barrier to a turnaround. Stricter qualifying rules and a rise in the cost of residential loans to 5.42 percent have impeded new mortgage lending, which is at a 13-year low. An inventory of 2.1 million unoccupied houses on the market, created by the fastest foreclosure pace in history, may be a drag on a revival.

The $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit in the U.S. economic stimulus package and a government program to subsidize some mortgage payments have had little effect, according to Eric Belsky, executive director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Obama administration’s housing market program includes $75 billion to reduce payments for people in danger of losing their properties. Data about the borrowers receiving assistance won’t be released by the Treasury until July, according to Michael Barr, assistant secretary for financial institutions.

Quote of the day

"The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples' money" -- Margaret Thatcher

Public Option Health Insurance Questioned

NY Times: The Pitfalls of the Public Option. Some excerpts below.

IN the debate over health care reform, one issue looms large: whether to have a public option. Should all Americans have the opportunity to sign up for government-run health insurance?

Even if one accepts the president’s broader goals of wider access to health care and cost containment, his economic logic regarding the public option is hard to follow. Consumer choice and honest competition are indeed the foundation of a successful market system, but they are usually achieved without a public provider. We don’t need government-run grocery stores or government-run gas stations to ensure that Americans can buy food and fuel at reasonable prices.

Which raises the question: Would the existence of a dominant government provider of health insurance be good or bad?

It is natural to be skeptical. The largest existing public health programs — Medicare and Medicaid — are the main reason that the government’s long-term finances are in shambles.

Fairness is in the eye of the beholder, but nothing about a government-run health care system strikes me as fair. Squeezing providers would save the rest of us money, but so would a special tax levied only on health care workers, and that is manifestly inequitable.

In the end, it would be a mistake to expect too much from health insurance reform. A competitive system of private insurers, lightly regulated to ensure that the market works well, would offer Americans the best health care at the best prices.

The health care of the future won’t come cheap, but a public option won’t make it better.

29 June 2009

Justices Rule for White Firemen In Bias Lawsuit; overturn Sotomayor

The Supreme Court restricted how far employers may go in considering race in hiring and promotion decisions, a ruling that puts workplaces across the nation on notice that efforts to combat potential discrimination against one group can amount to actual discrimination against another.

The court ruled for white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who said city officials violated their rights when it threw out the results of a promotions test on which few minorities scored well.

The case drew outsize attention because President Obama's nominee for the high court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, had been part of a unanimous panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that endorsed a lower-court ruling upholding New Haven's decision.

It's really too bad Newt Gingrich apologized for calling her a racist.

Is she really the best choice?

British agents killed Neda Soltan

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has ordered an inquiry in to the "suspicious" death of Neda Soltan, the woman shot by government militiamen during a protest in Tehran.

The President sent a letter to the chief of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, requesting a serious investigation to help to identify and prosecute “the elements” behind the killing earlier this month.

With the arrest of the British Embassy employees, this was looking even more like the Carter administration.

Reporting on Honduras: A Deliberate Misunderstanding

I find the media's and the Obama Administration's reaction to the events in Honduras fascinating in their seemingly deliberate misunderstanding of the situation there.

Hell, even the bloggers at the progressive Daily Kos concede the legality of the removal of the Honduran President under their constitution: Peculiarities of the 1982 Honduran Constitution

There's been a ton of discussion of the legality of yesterday's coup d'etat in Honduras, in which President Manuel Zelaya was deposed. A simple reading of the Honduran Constitution appears to show the coup was in fact constitutional.

Wizbang asks a loaded question: Does Barack Obama Like Democracy?
So, this is the pattern that is forming with Obama: he refuses to support democracy in Iran by denouncing the fraudulent elections and supporting the protesters. At the same time he supports Zelaya's Chavez-inspired attempts to illegally change Honduras' constitution so it helps him maintain power, and denounces the Honduran Supreme Court's attempts to protect its constitution.
Maybe they will finally stop calling it a coup. Washington Post: Clinton: U.S. Not Declaring Events in Honduras a 'Coup'

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today the U.S. government is refraining from formally declaring the ouster of Honduras's president a "coup," which would trigger a cutoff of millions of dollars in aid to the Central American country.

Clinton's remarks reflected the complex situation in Honduras, where the congress overwhelmingly voted to depose Zelaya after he had been forcibly removed.

The congress then named a new president, Roberto Micheletti, from the same party.
Zelaya, a close ally of Venezuela's anti-American President Hugo Chavez, had clashed with congress, the Supreme Court and the military in recent weeks, particularly over a referendum that might have permitted him to run for another four-year term.

The Honduran congress and Supreme Court said the referendum was illegal.

The latest from the WSJ: Two Presidents Locked in a Fight for International Support

Mr. Micheletti, as president of the Congress, pinned the presidential sash on Mr. Zelaya during his 2006 inauguration. Now he has the almost impossible task of winning international support for his administration until he can be replaced after presidential elections, which already had been scheduled for November.

On Monday, Mr. Micheletti was hard at work. He insisted Mr. Zelaya's ouster was no coup. "We did not arrive at the presidency with thoughts of vengeance," he told reporters. "We must seek the unity of Hondurans."

Mr. Micheletti calls himself a "right-wing progressive" and says he is a good friend of the U.S., which he said has always helped Honduras. Mr. Micheletti has served in political and party posts in five Liberal governments.

Mr. Micheletti said in an interview that he is worried by Honduras's current isolation, and made a plea for understanding from Latin American governments and especially the U.S. "If [the U.S.] does not recognize us, it would be condemning to failure the aspirations of Hondurans," he said.

An Example of What You Didn't Know You Didn't Know

What’s A ‘Spooey’? A Field Guide To Freeway Interchanges, Part 1

What’s A ‘Double Trumpet’? A Field Guide To Freeway Interchanges, Part 2

Quote of the Day

Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself -- Mark Twain

Our State Department Favors The Wrong Side. As Usual.

Honduras Defends Its Democracy

It seems that President Mel Zelaya miscalculated when he tried to emulate the success of his good friend Hugo in reshaping the Honduran Constitution to his liking.

It remains to be seen what Mr. Zelaya's next move will be. It's not surprising that chavistas throughout the region are claiming that he was victim of a military coup. They want to hide the fact that the military was acting on a court order to defend the rule of law and the constitution, and that the Congress asserted itself for that purpose, too.

Honduras is fighting back by strictly following the constitution. The Honduran Congress met in emergency session yesterday and designated its president as the interim executive as stipulated in Honduran law. It also said that presidential elections set for November will go forward. The Supreme Court later said that the military acted on its orders. It also said that when Mr. Zelaya realized that he was going to be prosecuted for his illegal behavior, he agreed to an offer to resign in exchange for safe passage out of the country. Mr. Zelaya denies it.

Besides opposition from the Congress, the Supreme Court, the electoral tribunal and the attorney general, the president had also become persona non grata with the Catholic Church and numerous evangelical church leaders. On Thursday evening his own party in Congress sponsored a resolution to investigate whether he is mentally unfit to remain in office.

The struggle against chavismo has never been about left-right politics. It is about defending the independence of institutions that keep presidents from becoming dictators. This crisis clearly delineates the problem. In failing to come to the aid of checks and balances, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Insulza expose their true colors.

More here:

The Supreme Court's ruling was supported by Congress, the country's attorney general, top electoral body, and the country's human rights ombudsman, who all said that Zelaya violated the law.

The armed forces of Honduras arrested President Manuel Zelaya, on June 28, 2009, at his home -- just hours before a controversial referendum -- after he violated rulings of the Supreme Court of Honduras.

Later that day, the Honduran Supreme Court made public that it had ordered the removal of the president.

Roberto Micheletti, the head of Congress and a member of the same party as Zelaya, has since been unanimously sworn in as President by the National Congress on a show of hands on the afternoon of Sunday 28 June for a term that ends on 27 January 2010.

The event was greeted with applause in Congress, which had denounced Zelaya's repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions.

Why is this being called a military coup in our media? The arrest was carried out on the orders of the Honduran Supreme Court, and was approved unanimously by the Congress, which is apparently controlled by the same party as the ousted President. It sounds like Zelaya was trying to turn himself into a dictator a la Chavez.

The position of the Obama administration on this situation does not make sense to me.

More here: Fausta's Blog: Coup in Honduras - Correction: This is NOT a coup

The Unstimulating Stimulus: The Vindication of Ricardian Equivalence?

Back in February, I posted on "ricardian equivalence." The controversial idea, suggested by David Ricardo, is that government deficits do not affect the overall level of demand in an economy.

Therefore, any government stimulus would not stimulate, as taxpayers would reduce consumption in anticipation of future higher taxes to offset the costs of the stimulus. So with the stimulus not stimulatin' and people saving money instead of spending, the theory may be correct.

Super savers

Ricardo reckoned that rational taxpayers would see a tax cut, if it occurred at a time of government deficit, as simply a sign that future taxes would have to rise. They would thus save the money so they can use it to meet a higher tax bill. Is this the chain of reasoning? (How many consumers actually know the size of the US budget deficit?) It may be that governments only hand out tax rebates in recessions, when consumers are cautious anyway. Nevertheless, Ricardo seems to be vindicated this time round (last year's Bush tax cuts were also a bit of a damp squib for consumption).

This matters because of the political argument over whether tax cuts or spending increases are the best way to get out of a recession. Arguably, consumers are more likely to spend more if they feel their employment status has improved, perhaps because they have got a job on some infrastructure project.

However, spending splurges have problems too. There is a lot of waste. There are also a lot of lags between the commitment of money and the actual outlay; in the interm, the economy might recover of its own accord. And, of course, if Ricardian equivalence is right, then the majority of consumers might anticipate higher taxes as a result of the stimulus package and cut back on their spending, offsetting any gains from the lucky few that join the government payroll.

It must be admitted that, while economists think they have learned the lessons from the 1930s about how to avoid a depression, stimulus packages on this scale have simply not been tried before. We don't know how they will work, or what the side-effects (higher government bond yields, reduced incentives for entrepreneurs) will be.

THE WHIG'S Previous post on 6 Feb 09: Ricardian Equivalence: No stimulus in a stimulus

The Fierce Urgency to Spend

Obama, Democrats in Congress Clash on Spending

President Barack Obama is facing his first open clashes with congressional Democrats over spending, as the White House tries to curb lawmaker demands for big-ticket items in the military and transportation budgets.

Democrats say such skirmishes over some specific priorities are expected, and that Mr. Obama and Congress remain generally united in seeking to spend responsibly.

Republicans have been increasingly attacking Democrats on spending. "Here we are, families all over this country are having to tighten their belts, millions and millions are reducing spending, and we're giving big increases to agencies up here," said Tennessee Republican Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. in an interview.

Yet many Republicans have joined Democrats in support of many of the contested projects.

You Have to Understand ... No Tax Hikes on the Middle Class Promises Were Made By CANDIDATE Obama, and this is PRESIDENT Obama ...

Axelrod: Obama Won't Rule Out Middle-Class Tax Hike

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the president won't rule out a health care reform bill that includes a middle-class tax hike.

I pressed Axelrod on whether Obama will draw a line in the sand and veto any bill that funds health care reform with tax hikes for people making under $250,000 a year -- despite a pledge Barack Obama made during the 2008 presidential campaign not to raise taxes on the poor and middle-class.

"One of the problems we've had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other. And you don't get anything done ... "

Iraq Withdrawal

Via The Moderate Voice, this article from Foreign Policy, Iraq on the knife's edge

With all the excitement further east, it is almost possible to forget that the coming week will be a momentous one for Iraq. Almost possible, but not quite, because tragically, Iraq still generates more than its fair share of newsworthy events.

I also know that it would be a mistake to overreact to the expected surge in enemy attacks which we are seeing now. Such surges were expected (and sometimes seen) around every previous major Iraqi milestone such as an election, referendum, or anniversary. Those attacks feel particularly jarring now for two reasons: first, the baseline violence is far calmer than it was before other such anniversaries, so the uptick is more dramatic; and second, at previous critical junctures, Coalition and Iraqi forces conducted mini-surges of their own to preempt the violence, but now the catalyzing event is a withdrawal (or more precisely, a repositioning) of combat power, thus making those preemptive tactics more difficult.

Starting this week, the parade of critical junctures in Iraq will accelerate. If the Iraqis go ahead with plans to put the SoFA to a national referendum, the parade could become a stampede. When even skeptical war critics like Fareed Zakaria are penning articles about "Victory in Iraq" that read almost like a Bush valedictory speech on the topic, the opportunity for a decent outcome in Iraq seems tantalizingly close. I hope we are not jeopardizing that outcome with a premature withdrawal.

Slate: Leaving Iraq
What will happen when U.S. combat troops withdraw?

So, is all hell about to break loose in Iraq?

By June 30, all U.S. combat troops are scheduled—in fact, they're required—to be withdrawn from all of Iraq's cities, towns, and villages.

Many Americans and Iraqis fear that the progress achieved in the last couple of years—the dramatic reduction of violence and casualties, the growing sense of security in areas that were once soaking with dread and bloodshed—will be eroded and reversed, perhaps completely.

The rise in spectacular suicide bombings in the last few weeks—as U.S. soldiers have stepped up their retreat to large bases in the outskirts—is widely seen as the shape of things to come.

For better or for worse, there isn't much we can do about this situation, however it develops. If the Iraqi government—which we helped make sovereign—wants us to leave, then we'll leave, and so it should be. The SOFA is Obama's inheritance, but it's a convenient one. Without the withdrawal from Iraq, he wouldn't have enough troops to reinforce the fight in Afghanistan—or enough money to finance his domestic agenda.

The Economist: Is it getting worse again?
As American troops prepare to leave all the towns, Iraqis are getting nervous

But the Iraqis are slowly realising that Mr Obama really does intend to remove the bulk of his troops before 2011. So they may at last be starting to focus on passing long-delayed bits of important nation-building legislation, such as an oil-and-gas law, constitutional amendments, and even a law governing elections. Without a modicum of cohesion at the heart of government, how can Iraq’s security forces stick together in the face of sectarian or ethnic tension? Iraqis know that establishing a more cohesive and broader-based government is at least as important as beefing up the Iraqi security forces.

A crucial general election is due in January—and everybody knows that the Americans want to witness a peaceful poll leading to a stable government before they can withdraw completely. So there is a fresh ferment of political horse-trading and alliance-testing.

Yet, whether the Americans stay or leave, Iraq still suffers from its worst failing. There is still no party or leader that can reach across the country’s divisions and appeal to Iraqis of every ethnic and sectarian hue.

Skepticism On Global Warming

WSJ: The Climate Change Climate Change

Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as "deniers." The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

In April, the Polish Academy of Sciences published a document challenging man-made global warming. In the Czech Republic, where President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading skeptic, today only 11% of the population believes humans play a role. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre to lead the country's new ministry of industry and innovation. Twenty years ago Mr. Allegre was among the first to trill about man-made global warming, but the geochemist has since recanted. New Zealand last year elected a new government, which immediately suspended the country's weeks-old cap-and-trade program.

The collapse of the "consensus" has been driven by reality. The inconvenient truth is that the earth's temperatures have flat-lined since 2001, despite growing concentrations of C02. Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.

LGF Warns of John Birch Society ...

LGF: The Return of the John Birch Society

Thanks to the promotional efforts of people like Glenn Beck and Ron Paul, some long-discredited extremist groups are making a comeback — perhaps chief among them, the John Birch Society...

"For some, that name means nothing. ... Yet for others, the John Birch Society is urgently relevant to the matters of today, in its support of secure borders and limited government, its distrust of the Federal Reserve and the United Nations, and its belief in a conspiracy to merge Mexico, Canada and the United States.

This so-called North American Union, it asserts, is part of a larger plot by an amorphous, amoral group of powerful elite — including but not limited to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Rockefellers — to take over planet Earth. Call it the New World Order.

Some of these theories may sound like cable television chatter, or the synopsis of a Dan Brown bestseller. But Birch leaders say this plot is real, with roots going back more than 200 years to a secret, insidious brotherhood called the Illuminati, and with most American presidents among its many dupes and abettors."

And they’re just one of the groups finding fertile soil for their propaganda at “tea party” demonstrations, as the article notes ...

28 June 2009

You Can't Call It Progress

Demolished! 11 Beautiful Train Stations That Fell To The Wrecking Ball (And The Crappy Stuff Built In Their Place) wonders why we used to build public spaces that looked like this:

And replaced them with public spaces that look like this:

Tax Burden Crushes Small Business

Taxes as a Cause of Small Business Bankruptcies
Consistent with the growing tax burden on small-business owners, as well as the growing body of evidence linking higher tax burden with limited entrepreneurial growth and higher closure rates, this study has found that tax problems constitute an important reason for bankruptcy filings for a sizable number of entrepreneurs.
The discussion mentions the complexity of the tax laws as a major problem.

You don't hear a thing coming out of Washington regarding the reduction of this burden.

No Compassion, No Mercy

“Punished mercilessly” – Is this Islam?, from a suprising source, Anderson Cooper's CNN blog:

“Annihilate the rioters,” demanded one of Iran’s fundamentalist clerics during Friday prayer. He believes that the opposition “defied the orders” of Iran’s Supreme Leader, who “rules by God’s design.” Therefore, “they should be punished mercilessly.” Either way, his words couldn’t be harsher or more extreme. Some would say those words couldn’t be more un-Islamic.

The first pillar in Islamic faith is the declaration called “Shahda” that there is no god but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet.

The first verse of every chapter in the holy Muslim book, the Quran, goes like this, “In the name of God, most merciful, most compassionate.” Devout Muslims start many of their activities or speech with these glorious words.

Where is the compassion in the Iranian mullah’s speech? Where is the Mercy?

He’s directing his wrath at his own people; their only crime was to ask for an honest vote and to insist that their votes counted in a timely presidential election. They are the ones who shouted from their rooftops every night since their demonstrations began, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar” –God is Great. They are the ones who were denied their legal right to demonstrate so they had to defy the regime and take to the streets anyway.

You Have to Understand ... Transparency Promises Were Made By CANDIDATE Obama, and this is PRESIDENT Obama ...

From The Volokh Conspiracy: The End of Transparency (Before It Ever Began)

Earlier this week, the White House officially abandoned President Obama's "Sunlight before Signing" pledge (which I discussed here and here).

As the NYT reported:

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised that once a bill was passed by Congress, the White House would post it online for five days before he signed it.

“When there’s a bill that ends up on my desk as president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing,” Mr. Obama said as a candidate, telling voters he would make government more transparent and accountable.

When he took office in January, his team added that in posting nonemergency bills, it would “allow the public to review and comment” before Mr. Obama signed them.

Five months into his administration, Mr. Obama has signed two dozen bills, but he has almost never waited five days. On the recent credit card legislation, which included a controversial measure to allow guns in national parks, he waited just two. . . .

The Administration also appears to be backing off its promises for greater access to government documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

[regarding Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade Bill] If legislation of this sort, which establishes the first-ever regulatory controls on the most ubiquitous byproduct of modern industrial society, imposes new efficiency requirements on all-manner of appliances and consumer products, could trigger the imposition of tariffs on foreign products (likely in violation of U.S. trade commitments), furthers the federal government's environmentally destructive love affair with corn-based ethanol, contains numerous provisions drafted or urged by various special interest groups, and (at least in one version) contained provisions designed to create a national housing code, can be adopted by a House of Congress within hours of being written (let alone becoming public), then any claim of transparency in government is a farce.

As it turns out, there was not even a copy of the final bill language available in any form when the bill passed.

Rather, as David Freddoso reports, the House Clerk had a copy of the 1090-page bill that emerged by committee and a copy of the 300-page set of amendments agreed upon at 3am Friday morning, and many provisions in the latter consist of the likes of "Page 15, beginning line 8, strike paragraph (11) . . ."

In other words, it is highly doubtful that more than a handful of member of Congress knew the contents of the legislation they voted on.

Don't Forget About Bosnia

Bosnia echoes to alarming rhetoric

At the end of the Bosnian Civil War, it was agreed that the country would remain a single nation. However, the Serbs were granted their own officially-recognised region, known as the Republika Srpska. It has its own parliament, and a fair degree of autonomy.

But now some fear this delicate constitutional compromise could be falling apart.

It is 17 years since the Bosnian Civil War began, sparked off by each different ethnic group believing that the others were trying to take over, and that they had to fight back. The risk is that these fears, and the inflammatory rhetoric that tends to drive them, may be gaining ground once again.

The Most Dangerous Sport

Cheerleading still most dangerous sport

Safety efforts have helped but sport still responsible for majority of injuries

Researchers have long known how dangerous cheerleading is, but records were poorly kept until recently.

An update to the record-keeping system last year found that between 1982 and 2007, there were 103 fatal, disabling or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with the vast majority (67) occurring in cheerleading.

The next most dangerous sports: gymnastics (nine such injuries) and track (seven).

Houston VA Disability Claim Delay Among The Worst in U.S.

Houston Chronicle: Backlog of VA claims in Houston one of highest

Houston has one of the biggest backlogs and some of the longest waiting times in processing veterans' claims for disability benefits in the nation, according to the most recent data released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Nearly 18,000 veterans are waiting for the Houston VA Regional Office to process their applications for disability benefits, the Houston Chronicle reported Saturday.
Also, 26 percent of those claims in Houston have been pending for more than half a year, compared to the national average of 21 percent.

Total claims in Houston, including nondisability compensations and pensions, add up to almost 24,000, with 24 percent pending over six months. That percentage is also higher than the national average.

The number of claims on appeal from Houston — 11,389 — is the highest in the country.

"The situation at VA's Houston office is among the worst in America," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a national advocacy group. "Our veterans and their families deserve better."

Perder la Cabeza

Maureen Dowd today is funny, talking about Gov. Sanford, read the whole thing:

Genius in the Bottle
With Maria, he was no longer the penny-pinching millionaire Mark, who used to sleep on a futon in his Congressional office and once treated two congressmen to movie refreshments by bringing back a Coke and three straws.

No, he was someone altogether more fascinating: Marco, international man of mystery and suave god of sex and tango.

Tax increases are coming

President Obama's top political adviser refused to rule out the possibility that the White House might agree to a tax hike on health insurance plans that would hit middle-income Americans.

Speaking on ABC's "This Week" program, David Axelrod declined to repeat Obama's "firm pledge" during the campaign that families making under $250,000 will not see "any form of tax increase, not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."

Instead, Axelrod said the president has no interest in "drawing lines in the sand" on the issue of how to pay for the costly health reform plan making its way through Congress.

"One of the problems we've had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other. And you don't get anything done," Axxelrod said. "That's not the way the president approaches this."

Axelrod insisted that Obama is "very cognizant of protecting people -- middle class people, hard-working people who are trying to get along in a very difficult economy." And he promised that the president "will continue to represent them" in negotiations with Congress over health reform.

He also repeated Obama's preference for a cap on the deductions that people making over $250,000 can take on their taxes as a way to pay for health care changes.

But under repeated questioning from host George Stephanopoulos, Axelrod said the White House is open to "a lot of different formulations" for paying for health care reform.

Well, well, well... The socialists plan to raise my taxes to pay for a healthcare plan I don't want. Its pretty much par for the course.

Quote of the day

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty. -- Thomas Jefferson

Stanford Pleads Not Guilty; Bail Is Set at $500,000

A federal judge set bail on Thursday at $500,000 for R. Allen Stanford, the Texas billionaire accused of masterminding a $7 billion fraud against 30,000 investors, but prosecutors said they would appeal the decision.

Mr. Stanford, wearing an orange jumpsuit, entered his plea of not guilty before Federal Magistrate Judge Frances H. Stacy in a Houston courtroom.

Story here.

As a condition of his bail, Mr. Stanford must live with his girlfriend, Andrea Stoelker, and wear an electronic tracking device. He will remain in a Texas jail until he puts down $100,000 in cash. A prosecutor, Paul Pelletier, argued that Mr. Stanford was a flight risk and should be held until his trial.

Jeffrey Ferguson, an examiner working with court-appointed receivers testified that only $1.18 billion of the $7 billion could be accounted for.

At least Madoff had the decency to plead guilty and save the DOJ the overwhelming expense of a trial.

In addition to Mr. Stanford, three other executives of the Stanford Financial Group, Laura Pendergest-Holt, Gilberto Lopez and Mark Kuhrt, entered not guilty pleas Thursday.

Stanford is definitely a flight risk. He has been poor before and didn't like it. It's not like he surrendered and cooperated with the investigation. I would be surprised if one of the co-conspirators doesn't roll for a deal.

Besides, anyone who is represented by Dick DeGeurin is guilty.

Iranian authorities arrest eight British embassy employees in Tehran

Iranian authorities arrested eight employees of the British embassy in Tehran, accusing them of "playing major parts" in the recent unrest over a presidential election, the semi-official Fars news agency reported today. The move comes amid deteriorating relations between Iran and the West in the wake of a crackdown against Iranians opposed to the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Though the atmosphere in Tehran's streets has calmed, the aftershocks of the disputed election continue. All eight British embassy employees arrested were members of its political section. Authorities with a search warrant detained at least one of the embassy staffers at his home Saturday morning. Authorities brought him back to his apartment later in the evening and seized computers and documents.

British foreign secretary David Miliband condemned what he described as the arrest and continued detention of "hardworking" embassy staff. "This is harassment and intimidation of a kind that is quite unacceptable," he said in a BBC interview. "We want to see (them) released unharmed."

Hey, this "talking to Iran" stuff is really working out.

27 June 2009

Madoff's Wife Cedes Asset Claim

Ruth Madoff, the wife of one of the most reviled swindlers in history, has agreed to give up her potential claim to more than $80 million worth of assets, keeping just $2.5 million in cash in an agreement reached with federal prosecutors.
The settlement involving Mrs. Madoff was finalized alongside a court order of forfeiture against Mr. Madoff in the amount of $170 billion, which represents the amount of money that prosecutors say flowed into his investment firm.

However, that massive amount is largely symbolic and simply an indication that prosecutors can tap any assets of Mr. Madoff's they can find. Much of that money went back out to investors in the form of withdrawals but also funded the Madoff family's lavish lifestyle and that of some associates.

Wow, how generous of Ruth to only keep $2.5 million in stolen cash. She ought to be in the cell next to Bernie so she could nag and bitch him to death.

Ahmadinejad accuses Obama of interfering in election

Iran's president slammed President Obama on Saturday, saying officials in the Islamic republic are astonished over what they see as his interference in Iran's disputed elections.

"Didn't he say that he was after change?" Ahmadinejad asked Iranian judiciary officials in a speech. "Why did he interfere? Why did he utter remarks irrespective of norms and decorum?"
His remarks are countering Western criticism of the June 12 elections, which the government said Ahmadinejad won in a landslide.

Ahmadinejad spoke a day after Obama discussed the unrest in Iran during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Just when you thought Ahmadinejad couldn't get any crazier....

Ferrari of Houston team wins class at 24 Heures du Mans

In the 77th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, won overall by Peugeot Sport, the Houston-based Risi Competizione team once again demonstrated its dominance in endurance GT racing by winning the GT2 class for the second year in succession with a two lap advantage over the second placed finisher, BMS Scuderia Italia. This is the fourth endurance win for the team owned by privateer Giuseppe Risi, and comes after 2008 Le Mans, 2008 Petit Le Mans and 2009 Sebring 12 Hours.

The Ferrari 430 GT of Jaime Melo, Mika Salo and Pierre Kaffer was not only joined on the podium by its sister Ferrari which finished third – piloted by Krohn Racing’s Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Eric van de Poele – but they led an astonishing Ferrari result which shows that nine of the ten Ferrari 430s entered in the race were classified in the top 11 places in class. Only a Spyker intruded in an all-Ferrari top ten.

Visit the Ferrari of Houston website here.

Governor Sanford Went to Argentina, and All South Carolina Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Glad To See He Wasn't Wasting His Youth

Facebook: Opposition Research Dream Come True

But as California’s 32nd District special primary election drew closer, several of Pleitez’s Facebook pictures resurfaced in a direct mail attack piece paid for by another Democratic candidate, California state Sen. Gil Cedillo.

“Here’s a sample of what you’ve been missing if you haven’t checked out 26-year old congressional candidate Emanuel Pleitez’s Facebook page on the Internet: Lots of women, hard liquor, dancing on the table, and all-night partying,” read the mailer, which was accompanied by multiple pictures from Pleitez’ page.

But Facebook is becoming ubiquitous for politicians, and strategists say the more it’s used the greater the possibility that Facebook will become a campaign weapon.
Opposition researchers say they couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a godsend for us,” said Jason Stanford, president of Stanford Research. “Most times you have to get someone’s enemies to give you an embarrassing photo. Now, candidates themselves are posting them on the Internet.”

A candidate can control access to Facebook photos by utilizing the system’s privacy settings, Stanford said.

Even with that option, Pleitez elected not to use them, saying he wanted to start off with a “transparent” campaign. Consequently, some of the images used against him suggested he was inebriated, while others showed him surrounded by women.

"Lots of women, hard liquor, dancing on the table, and all-night partying." Sounds like a hell of a guy. He's got my vote.

Having a few drinks, and being surrounded by women. Oh, goodness me.

Yeah, that's not something that older politicians do. Hell, if only that were all they were doing. At least the candidate mentioned above was having fun with his own money. Instead of jetting off, at taxpayer expense, to Argentina.

What, he should be sitting at home alone, reading Proust, and going to bed by 9?

What kind of society are we becoming, that we can't enjoy a beverage, a smoke, and the company of the opposite sex? If I wanted to live in Saudi Arabia, I'd move there.

Must the people that can run for office be celibate, non-smoking, teetotaling, vegan, abstentious recluses?

You just eliminated the Founding Fathers, for a start.

Poll: South Carolinians Want Sanford to Quit

Most South Carolinians Say Sanford Should Go
Sixty percent of South Carolina respondents to a Survey USA poll conducted Wednesday said Sanford should resign his office in the wake of his disclosure of his relationship with a woman in Argentina. Just more than a third -- 34 percent -- said he shouldn't resign.

Warning About Coming Inflation

Inflation is great future challenge: Greenspan

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said on Friday that inflation poses a major threat to long-term economic recovery and its threat must be confronted.

Greenspan said the need for governments to finance large fiscal deficits over the next few years could lead to political pressure on central banks to print money to buy much of the new debt.

Meanwhile, government spending commitments over the next decade were "staggering."

"Historically, the U.S., to limit the likelihood of destructive inflation, relied on a large buffer between the level of federal debt and rough measures of total borrowing capacity," he said.

"Current debt issuance projections will surely place America precariously close to that notional borrowing ceiling."

"The U.S. is faced with the choice of either paring back its budget deficits and monetary base as soon as the current risks of deflation dissipate, or setting the stage for a potential upsurge in inflation."

Apart from the inflation risk, Greenspan said another potential danger in current U.S. fiscal policy was the funding of the economy through public sector debt.

"For the best chance for worldwide economic growth we must continue to rely on private market forces to allocate capital and other resources," he wrote.

"The alternative of political allocation of resources has been tried; and it failed."

Finally -- Obama Corrects Approach to Iran

Violence May Hinder Talks With Iran, Obama Says

President Obama, whose campaign for the White House included a pledge to open talks with Iran, said Friday that the prospects for such a dialogue had been dampened by the brutal crackdown in the wake of the nation’s disputed presidential election.

At a White House news conference with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, Mr. Obama intensified his reproach of Iran’s government and called for an end to deadly attacks against its people. He also engaged in an unusual exchange with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, brushing aside a suggestion that he apologize for criticizing Iran.

“I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people,” Mr. Obama said. “And he might want to consider looking at the families of those who’ve been beaten or shot or detained.”

With Ms. Merkel at his side, Mr. Obama delivered some of his most pointed remarks against Iran since the violent protests began two weeks ago.

Obama was slow in adjusting his attitude to Iran. I suspect he did not want to accept that his ideas about negotiation with Iran would no longer suffice, and that the public perception against Iran has hardened.

The true nature of the regime in Iran has been demonstrated once again. Iran is not interested in negotiations, with us or with its own citizens.

This puts Obama right back where all other Presidents have been with Iran since Carter, in that there is no real chance of meaningful dialogue with the Iranian government.

Read The Bill

Read The Bill from Sunlight Foundation on Vimeo.

You didn't have the time to read the 1100 page stimulus bill. And neither did members of Congress—by their own choice. Most lawmakers—on both sides of the aisle—were only given 13 hours to read the bill before it was passed.

Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly. Many members of Congress wish they had more time to Read the Bill.

ReadTheBill.org is a commonsense solution - we want Congress to post all bills online for 72 hours before they are debated. That gives members of Congress - and you - three days to read legislation and consider how it could potentially affect each of us in our daily lives. A 72 hour rule would also give you a chance to let your senators and representative in Congress know what you like, or don't like, about a bill before they vote.

If no one is taking the time to read these crucial pieces of legislation, then no one knows what's in them before they are passed.

ACORN Probe Dropped

Conyers abandons plan to probe ACORN

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. has backed off his plan to investigate wrongdoing by the liberal activist group ACORN, saying "powers that be" put the kibosh on the idea.

Capitol Hill Democrats had bristled at proposed hearings because it threatened to rekindle criticism of the financial ties and close cooperation between President Obama's campaign and ACORN and its sister organizations Citizens Services Inc. and Project Vote.

The groups came under fire during the campaign after probes into possible voter fraud in a series of presidential battleground states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada.

ACORN and its affiliates are currently the target of at least 14 lawsuits related to voter fraud in the 2008 election and a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act complaint filed by former ACORN members.

The group's leaders have consistently denied any wrongdoing and previously said they welcomed a congressional probe. The group did not immediately respond Thursday to questions about Mr. Conyers being convinced to drop those plans.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Obama prepares to hold Gitmo guys indefinitely, just as Bush did

Personal Savings Rate Climbs Sharply

The personal savings rate of U.S. households jumped sharply in May:

The Commerce Department said the savings rate soared to a 15-year high of 6.9 percent in May as spending rose a modest 0.3 percent.

The report, which touched off a moderate decline in stocks, was a clear sign that the American consumer is still feeling doubtful about the economy. The news sent investors in search of government debt as a safety measure.

"One of the reasons people save more is they are less confident," said Howard Simons, a strategist with Bianco Research in Chicago. "These are the same people who are in financial markets. As long as we don't have particularly attractive alternatives elsewhere, the safety of the Treasury market looks pretty good."

What are the implications of the sharp recent increase in the personal savings rate?

More than 20 years ago, economist Hyman Minsky (1986) proposed a "financial instability hypothesis." He argued that prosperous times can often induce borrowers to accumulate debt beyond their ability to repay out of current income, thus leading to financial crises and severe economic contractions.

Until recently, U.S. households were accumulating debt at a rapid pace, allowing consumption to grow faster than income. An environment of easy credit facilitated this process, fueled further by rising prices of stocks and housing, which provided collateral for even more borrowing. The value of that collateral has since dropped dramatically, leaving many households in a precarious financial position, particularly in light of economic uncertainty that threatens their jobs.

Going forward, it seems probable that many U.S. households will reduce their debt. If accomplished through increased saving, the deleveraging process could result in a substantial and prolonged slowdown in consumer spending relative to pre-recession growth rates.

Alternatively, if accomplished through some form of default on existing debt, such as real estate short sales, foreclosures, or bankruptcy, deleveraging could involve significant costs for consumers, including tax liabilities on forgiven debt, legal fees, and lower credit scores. Moreover, this form of deleveraging would simply shift the problem onto banks that hold these loans as assets on their balance sheets.

Either way, the process of household deleveraging will not be painless.

26 June 2009

Politicians in House Act in Own Interests, Pass Cap and Trade

The Cap and Trade Bill passed the House today, by a vote of 219-212. The bill is expected to have a difficult time in the Senate. Good.

The bill is an expensive and cumbersome method of limiting pollution. The measure is opaque, and is vulnerable to corruption. This is demonstrated by the political favors handed out to ensure passage. If you give large contributions to political campaigns, you can get special treatment, and are exempted from the requirements.

Thus, in addition to being unfair and corrupt, the cap and trade bill undermines the purported purpose of the legislation, that is, to reduce carbon emissions. If large polluters can get out of having to comply with the law, doesn't that defeat the whole purpose?

Only if you believe the purpose of this bill is to reduce carbon emissions. The real purpose of the bill is to ensure the re-election of incumbents, as it will generate huge sums from industries seeking favorable treatment. Thus, the law is used for corrupt purposes, that is, simply as an excuse to extort money for politicians.

Our political elites have already corrupted the tax code for this purpose. Apparently, that is not enough. Once again, the coercive power of the state is used to secure the positions of the incumbents for life.

What else is there to think when the cap and trade bill was rejected by both the Investor's Business Daily, and Greenpeace USA? What other indicators do you need to confirm the error committed by the House of Representatives today? Face it, the cap and trade bill serves no one's interests except the politicians themselves.

Greenpeace Opposes Waxman-Markey
Climate Bill not Science-Based; Benefits Polluters

Waxman-Markey: Man-Made Disaster
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY Posted Thursday, June 25, 2009 4:20 PM PT
Fiscal Policy: The House of Representatives is preparing to vote on an anti-stimulus package that in the name of saving the earth will destroy the American economy. Smoot-Hawley will seem like a speed bump.

Wife of Judiciary Chairman Conyers Pleads Guilty to Bribery

Monica Conyers, the wife of the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., pleaded guilty to one count of bribery in a federal court in Detroit, this morning.

According to court documents, in late 2007, Mrs. Conyers, president pro tem of the Detroit City Council, twice accepted envelopes filled with cash, once in the parking lot of a Detroit McDonalds.
This case focuses around dealings with Detroit businessman Rayford Jackson who pleaded guilty on Monday to giving $6,000 to a member of the Detroit City Council to help steer a wastewater treatment contract to Synagro Technologies.

And that's not even the worst of it!!

This corrupt, crook doesn't even lose her job!!! WTF? Would your boss fire you? Would you fire an employee?

Why is it that corruption is so acceptable now?
When did this kind of thing become okay?

The Problem With Our Government, Illustrated

Fighting Over Money On the House Floor

They won't fight over principles, but they will come to blows over earmarks.

Politico: Obey-Waters clash on House floor

Witnesses, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it appeared that Waters pushed or shoved Obey.

The pair were seen shouting at each other and had to be separated by members -- who were gathered on the floor casting final votes before heading off to a party at the White House.

Waters, according a Democratic staffer familiar with the situation, approached Obey to ask him to fund one of her longstanding earmarks, the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center.

Obey -- who irked Waters a few weeks back by banning "Monuments to me" funding projects named after the politicians that earmark them -- told her no, emphatically enough to be heard across the chamber.

"I'm not going to approve that earmark!" Obey shouted.

Much here to demonstrate what is wrong in Washington:
  1. two long-serving septuagenarians (who should have been term-limited decades ago)
  2. fighting over an earmarks (which should be prohibited)
  3. over a self-named project (which is offensive -- basically, running for re-election with tax dollars).

What Are the Political Deals In The Cap and Trade Bill? Who Knows?

Cap And Trade is another scheme to transfer wealth from the middle class to big business campaign contributors. Remember, it is for your own good.

Cap and Trade to Limp Across Finish Line?

What seems to have tipped the balance is a deal Pelosi struck with Minnesota's Collin Peterson, Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, providing for special treatment for ethanol under the act. That was enough, apparently, to get Peterson and a number of other farm-state Democrats on board. The extent to which farm-state politics have been driven by ethanol in recent years is a story--a scandal, really--that has not yet been properly told.

If a "climate change" bill eventually does become law, it will probably consist of little but a gift bag for favored Democratic Party constituencies, funded by what may be the biggest tax increase in American history.

The Democrats, not having read the bill, were unable to comment.
SF Chronicle: Pelosi betting on concessions to pass climate bill

During months of negotiations, Pelosi joined bill sponsors Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, and Ed Markey, D-Mass., in securing compromises with advocates for the oil industry, rural areas and coal-dependent electric utilities that the lawmakers believed were needed to push the measure through the House.

The president also wanted to auction 100 percent of the emissions allowances to polluters, but bill sponsors agreed to give away 85 percent of those credits for free during the early years of a cap-and-trade program.

A big breakthrough came this week when Waxman and Pelosi largely ceded to demands by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and a bloc of farm-state lawmakers for provisions that would benefit agriculture.

They agreed to protections for corn-based renewable fuels and to put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of decisions about projects such as no-till farming and reforestation that trap greenhouse gases.

Kate McMahon, the energy and transportation policy campaigner with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said Pelosi and Waxman caved to Peterson's demands because they wanted to rush the climate change legislation through the House this week.

Problems In VA Medical System

VA Medical System in Shambles, Veterans Groups Say

With Veterans Affairs hospitals giving botched radiation treatments to nearly 100 vets and exposing 10,000 to HIV and hepatitis viruses, veterans advocates and lawmakers say the VA health system is in dire need of proper oversight and funding.

Sharia Law Enforced In Somalia

Somali Islamists Cut Off Hands and Feet of 4 Thieves

An Islamic court in Somalia on Thursday cut off a hand and foot from each of four men convicted of stealing phones and guns, drawing hundreds of onlookers as the weeping men were punished at a military camp.

The Shariah court that carried out the sentences is run by the powerful insurgent group al-Shabab, which is trying to topple Somalia's U.N.-backed government and install a strict form of Islam.

Last week, the national security minister and Mogadishu's police chief were among those killed.

The country's lawlessness has spread security fears round the region and raised concerns that al-Qaida is trying to gain a foothold in the Horn of Africa.

Pressure Applied to Lawmakers

For moderates, it's not easy being green

As House Democrats race toward a Friday floor vote on a controversial energy and climate change bill, moderate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are feeling a little like Kermit the Frog.

It’s not easy being green.

Moderates — in both parties — are stuck in the middle of what David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, calls a “treacherous vote.”

Freshmen are complaining that Pelosi has given them too little time to review the whopping 1,200-plus-page bill. As of Wednesday, several said they remained undecided.

Waxman and Markey held a second meeting with moderate Republicans on Wednesday, urging them to back the legislation. A vote against the legislation, Democrats warn, could later allow them to label Republican candidates as against creating new green jobs, decreasing dependence on foreign oil and transitioning to a clean energy economy.

25 June 2009

Don't Go There

Just hide it in your underwear: Top court rules strip search of teen was illegal

In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas found the search legal and said the court previously had given school officials "considerable leeway" under the Fourth Amendment in school settings.

Officials had searched the girl's backpack and found nothing, Thomas said. "It was eminently reasonable to conclude the backpack was empty because Redding was secreting the pills in a place she thought no one would look," Thomas said.

"Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments," he said. "Nor will she be the last after today's decision, which announces the safest place to secrete contraband in school."

Thanks for the tip, Justice Thomas!

Bipartisan Bernanke Blasting

Bernanke Blasted in House
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke faced open hostility from lawmakers who barraged him during a Congressional hearing over his handling of the financial crisis and the central bank's role in reshaping the banking system.
Republicans, Democrats Gang Up on Bernanke

House lawmakers aren’t known for bipartisanship, but congressmen from both parties managed to come together from opposite sides at a House Oversight Committee hearing today to besiege Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The onslaught was near universal, but the attacks came on different flanks. Republicans railed against what they perceived as a government imposing its will on business.

Democratic criticism centered more on the bailout, and accusations that the government had a hand in hiding the size of Merrill’s losses. Bernanke denied any knowledge of the size of those losses until late in the game.

The situation was best described by Rep. Mike Quigley (D., Ill.). “Some want this narrative to be about a poor CEO with the boot of government on his neck,” he said, describing what he perceived as the Republican position. But he had a different take: “How a wiley CEO of a major corporation was gaming the system and recognized a $15-20 billion opportunity” to get federal money.

Bernanke Grilling May Weaken Case for Fed as Risk Regulator

Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s grilling by legislators over Federal Reserve conduct in Bank of America Corp.’s takeover of Merrill Lynch & Co. may reduce the odds the central bank will win new powers in a regulatory overhaul.

Criticisms by members of both parties are likely to diminish support for the Obama administration’s plan to make the Fed the single agency responsible for the largest and most interconnected financial institutions. The proposal, part of a broad revamp of bank regulation, would give the Fed power to dictate standards on capital, liquidity and risk management.

“It may be more important for us to find another systemic risk regulator,” Representative Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat and member of the House Oversight Committee where Bernanke appeared, said in a Bloomberg Television interview after the hearing. Congress should “hesitate to put any more authority on the back of the Federal Reserve,” he said.

Representative Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican on the House panel, said the Fed’s actions “ought to be a note of caution to those who want to dramatically increase its power and authority.”

The Fed Is In A Box

Fed Board Maintains the Status Quo

Facing an economy that is perking up slightly but still deep in recession, the Federal Reserve left its rescue policies unchanged on Wednesday and said that it would keep interest rates low for “an extended period.”

The central bank’s caution and the new data highlighted the difficult balancing act that policy makers increasingly face. On the one hand, the economy remains so weak that many policy makers want to keep revving up activity by printing money. On the other, they are under pressure from bond investors, who have signaled growing worry that the Fed’s efforts will eventually drive up inflation.

Long-term interest rates have edged up noticeably since the central bank’s last policy meeting on April 29, partly because investors have become worried about the huge scale of government borrowing.

Since the central bank reduced the overnight federal funds rate to a hair above zero, it has been forced to focus on lowering long-term rates by buying nearly $2 trillion in Treasury bonds, government-guaranteed mortgage-backed securities and bonds issued by government agencies. Buying bonds drives up their prices and reduces their yields, effectively lowering interest rates.

Those purchases did have that effect initially, but long-term Treasury rates have been edging up again, threatening the central bank’s recovery plan.

“The Fed is in a box,” said Frederic S. Mishkin, a former Fed governor who recently returned to his post as a professor of economics at Columbia University’s business school.

“With an economy that still has so much slack in it, having an accommodative monetary policy that will help promote a recovery is what’s needed right now,” Mr. Mishkin said. At the same time, “The Fed does not want to be seen as enabling fiscal irresponsibility, and the markets are very concerned about that.”

This Is What I Get For Complaining

Why do I tempt the fates so?

Yesterday, I just had to complain about the heat here in Houston. So what happens today?

Yes, of course, it was 110 degrees today.

That is what I get for complaining about 107 degrees.

Sorry, Houston, it's all my fault.

Apparently God has little else to do than to teach me these little lessons.

GOP Governors Disappoint

Sanford’s extramarital affair a problem for GOP

Several Republican governors haven't looked like political grown-ups

From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's cringe-inducing nationally televised response to Obama's first budget address to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's suggestion that his state might secede, GOP governors — including those said to be eyeing a potential 2012 presidential bid — haven't exactly looked like the political grown-ups many party strategists had promised.

This Would Be An Important Development in Iran, if True

International Business Times: Rafsanjani has enough support to remove Khamenei: reports

As the Iranian government continues to crackdown on protestors against the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, behind the scenes there is reported to be movement which, although hidden, could bring an end the reign of the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and Mr Ahmadinejad.

According to unconfirmed reports Rafsanjani is currently lobbying and meeting with members of the Assembly of Experts to gain support for the removal of Khamenei and for replacing the position of Supreme Leader with a form of collective leadership.
According to Al-Arabiya, high-up sources say that Rafsanjani has already gained enough support within the Assembly for the removal of Khamenei, but has found less of a positive response to the proposal to replace the position of Supreme Leader altogether.

I had read about this effort a few days ago, but thought it only a rumor. Still, no idea how accurate the report is.

Democrats Out To Screw the Poor

The Cap and Tax Fiction

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has put cap-and-trade legislation on a forced march through the House, and the bill may get a full vote as early as Friday. It looks as if the Democrats will have to destroy the discipline of economics to get it done.

Despite House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman's many payoffs to Members, rural and Blue Dog Democrats remain wary of voting for a bill that will impose crushing costs on their home-district businesses and consumers. The leadership's solution to this problem is to simply claim the bill defies the laws of economics.

Low-income Americans, who devote more of their disposable income to energy, have more to lose than high-income families.

Even as Democrats have promised that this cap-and-trade legislation won't pinch wallets, behind the scenes they've acknowledged the energy price tsunami that is coming.

A better indicator might be what other countries are already experiencing. Britain's Taxpayer Alliance estimates the average family there is paying nearly $1,300 a year in green taxes for carbon-cutting programs in effect only a few years.

Americans should know that those Members who vote for this climate bill are voting for what is likely to be the biggest tax in American history. Even Democrats can't repeal that reality.

Cap and Trade Bill Imposes Import Tariffs

U.S. Democratic Leaders Run Into Bumps As Climate Vote Looms

Democratic leaders are running into bumps in passing a climate-change bill through the U.S. House of Representatives this week - including opposition within the party's own ranks.

A new obstacle is also emerging as Democratic leaders seek to incorporate ideas from their colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee, which was left out of the bill-writing process. The committee has proposed penalizing imports from countries that fail to adopt climate-change policies specified by the U.S. Congress. Some people fear that will send the wrong message to the international community ahead of negotiations in December on a global climate-change treaty.

According to a proposal reviewed by Dow Jones Newswires, the committee has proposed what would amount to automatic tariffs if 85% or more of iron, steel, cars or other manufactured products come from countries that aren't taking comparable actions to fight climate change. The only way for the U.S. president to avoid the penalties - which could be triggered as early as 2018 - would be to seek a joint resolution from the U.S. Congress.

24 June 2009

Houston: Hotter Than Hell

This is an image from my car yesterday, about 5:30 pm.

The official figure may be lower, but this is how hot it is on the streets.

And it is only June.

107 degrees in June is just crazy, even for Houston.

It is going to be a long summer.

At 8:15, coming home from dinner, it was still 100.

Too hot.

Maybe I will use metric instead, to feel better.

So its only 42 in celsius. That doesn't sound as hot.

Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina

Is this just a screwball South Carolina story or something bigger that relates in part to the trouble Republicans are having finding any traction at any level of government?

The governor’s trip – taken together with the bitter intra-party battles over the budget in South Carolina and Sanford’s profile as a potential GOP presidential contender – is raising questions about whether he committed “serious misconduct” as chief executive, which is an impeachable offense under South Carolina’s constitution.

Without a doubt this kills any presidential aspirations Sanford had.