30 March 2010

STUDY: Congress Sucks

A new study by the fine people at PEW finds that a whopping 86% of people have a negative view of congress.

The Pew Research Center does a pretty good job on their surveys and I think they are credible and reliable and for the most part, fair. However I take issue with the title of the article which reads, "Gloomy Americans Bash Congress, Are Divided on Obama." Gloomy Americans? Yeah I guess we pretty much are these days. If 86% have a negative view of Congress, why pin the result on us pissed off citizens? Why not say, "Americans Prepare to Hold Dismal Congress Accountable."

As the day of reckoning for health care reform approaches, Americans have
little to cheer about. Nearly everyone (92%) gives the national economy a
negative rating. Closer to home, 85% say that jobs are hard to find in their
community. A majority (54%) now says that someone in their household has been
without a job or looking for work in the past year, compared with 39% in
February 2009. And the proportion saying they got a pay raise or a better job in
the past year fell from 41% in January 2008 to 24% currently.

Public gloom about the economy and personal finances extends to opinions about the future of health care costs. Regardless of what happens with the health care bills this
week, Americans expect their own health care costs to rise in the coming years.
While 51% say their health care costs would increase if the proposed legislation
becomes law, even more (63%) believe their health care costs will increase if no
changes are made to the health care system.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 10-14 among 1,500 adults, finds that public views of the health care bills before Congress remain more negative than positive – 48% generally oppose the bills before Congress while 38% favor them. But just 18% of Americans would prefer Congress pass nothing and leave the current system as it is. It is in this
context that attitudes toward Washington are best understood. When asked for a
single word that best describes their impression of Congress, “dysfunctional,”
“corrupt,” “self-serving” and “inept” are volunteered most frequently. Of people
offering a one-word description, 86% have something negative to say, while only
4% say something positive.

Baseball season is near

Ahhhh baseball season again. Too bad the Astros have slept through the off season again. On the bright side, the team probably isn't trillions in debt to China for overspending on payroll. Seriously, if you take away Roy Oswalt and Lance "Chubs" Berkman, who have they got?

The rebuilding Washington Nationals are unveiling a new lefty on opening day, but he's only good for one pitch.

Major League Baseball announced Monday that President Obama will throw out the ceremonial first pitch April 5 at the Nationals' season opener against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies.

Obama's appearance marks the 100th anniversary of the first time a president inaugurated a season by throwing out the first pitch. William Howard Taft started the tradition on April 14, 1910, in a game between the Washington Senators and the
Philadelphia Athletics.

I like seeing the president do things like this. It's an endearing quality and I guess I'm sentamental about it. It will be interesting to see the crowds reaction.

Maria Conchita Alonso pens letter to Sean Penn

It's nice to see someone famous spout back at some of the dribbling liberal screamers. Why is it that the conservative stars are all pretty low key (okay except for Ted Nugent) and all of the liberal pansies are always in your face? Why don't Sean Penn, Barbara Streisand, Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, and Oprah go live somewhere else if they hate America so much?

Dear Sean Penn - Please stop spouting support for Hugo Chavez.

That's the message "Running Man" actress Maria Conchita Alonso has for the Oscar-winning actor.

She states the decree in an open letter posted on NewsBusters.org."Even though I have great respect for your artistic talent," Alonso said in the letter, "I was appalled by a recent television interview where you vigorously showed support for the regime of Hugo Chavez."

The interview in question occurred during a recent appearance on "Real Time with Bill Maher," the HBO talker where Penn stated that journalists should go to prison for calling Venezuela’s leader a "dictator."

"There should be a bar in which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies," Penn said,
noting that members of the "mainstream media" have repeatedly referred to the South American president as a dictator despite the fact that he has been reelected numerous times.Penn called these elections "transparent," but Alonso took him to task for this claim.

"Then WHY didn't the government allow a manual recount of the votes and computer information when doubt set in?" she said in the letter.

"Chavez did win his first elections," the former Miss Venezuela wrote, "but like Hitler, he betrayed what the country gave him."

Alonso, who was born in Cuba and raised in Venezuela, details her love for the country, but expresses sadness at how she feels Chavez has damaged the nation.
"It's startling to observe how Venezuela, where I was happily raised, is fast becoming Cuba's mirror image," she wrote, stating how Chavez is overseeing the "dismantling of fundamental democratic rights deserved by its people and citizens of the world."

Amen, Maria! And, thank you for speaking up.

26 March 2010

Quote Of The Day

"People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both." -- Benjamin Franklin

California To Hold Ballot On Pot

Personally, I don't care. The root question our society faces is, where do we draw the line between what is legal and illegal. Right now, that line is somewhere in between my glass and marijuana. Our culture is much more stuck up than most of Europe when it comes to recreational drugs and other "vice" crimes.

Fourteen years after California decided marijuana could be used as a medicine and ignited a national movement, the state is likely to vote on whether to take another step into the vanguard of drug liberalization: legalizing the controversial weed for fun and profit.

It may just solve California's budget problems.

25 March 2010

Petraeus Makes An Early Primary Trip

As reported on Fox:

Gen. David Petreaus says his appearance at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics has nothing to do with politics or New Hampshire, which hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential primaries.
Which of course, means the opposite.

Trace Adkins and the West Point Glee Club

If that doesn't make you want to thank a soldier, there's something wrong with you.

New NFL Overtime rules

I'm glad the NFL addressed this. Previously, whichever team won the OT coin toss would elect to receive, march 40 yards down field and kick a sure thing field goal.

Pity, the rule only applies to playoff games.

Starting next season, if a team wins the coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball.

If the game is still tied after that, play will continue under the current sudden-death rules. Should the team winning the toss immediately score a touchdown, then the game is over.

24 March 2010

Would the new Healthcare bill cover that?

Hopefully the new Heathcare bill covers foot-in-mouth disease. Maybe Joe Biden can get some treatment.

Rahm Emanuel is pretty famous for his loose language and Dick Cheney has had his moments too. I think it's hilarious but I bet the Obama Administration wants to keep Joe stuffed in a box.

Full disclosure, I curse a fair amout too, just not around my kids.

Heathcare's Back Room Deal

President Obama agreed to sign an executive order to appease anti-abortion Democrats, namely Bart Stupak. The order supposedly reaffirms that no tax dollars will be used to fund abortions. This was just a stunt. If the healthcare legislation calls for tax dollars to fund abortions, no executive order could stop them. Executive orders do not trump the law of the land, and few people actually know what is in that legislation.

So why did Stupak give the green light on the bill? Because the Obama Administration awarded airport grants to three regional airports in Stupak's district just two days prior. Now you might say they give grants to regional airports all the time so this is not out of the ordinary. Bullshit. More people pass through the Denny's down the road in a single day than pass through these three airports combined.

Alpena County Regional Airport received a $85,500 grant, but had only 7,519
passenger boardings in 2008 (the most recent year for which there is information) according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data. Alpena County Regional Airport serves fewer passengers than even the late Rep. John Murtha’s famous “Airport for Nobody.”

Delta County Airport has even less customers than that, but still received a $179,209 grant.

Chippewa County International Airport received a $461,700 grant, but had only 13,733 passenger boardings in 2008.

More here. It's sad but this is how government works now. It is no longer about what needs to be done or what the people want. It's about what is in it for me. Its bad enough this bill got passed without a majority of the population supporting it, but on top of that we get screwed for another $700K on the way out.

Who knows what other quid pro quos there are out there?

23 March 2010

The boys room is not a water park

Fan of The Simpsons? Here is a site that lists all of the blackboard sentences written by Bart at the opening of the show.

A fire drill does not demand a fire.

There was no Roman god named "Fartacus"

Rudolph's red nose is not alcohol-related

Hillbillies are people too

A burp in a jar is not a science project

22 March 2010

US warns Gulf of Aden shipping at risk

There hasn't been much room in the news lately for anything other than health care. Here is a piece I'm a little surprised passed under the radar.
From Debka: The US office of Naval Intelligence warned Monday, March
22, that ships sailing off Yemen's Red Sea and Gulf of Aden coasts run the risk
of al Qaeda attacks similar to the suicide bombing of the US warship Cole in
2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors. The risk is greatest in the Bab al-Mandeb
strait between Yemen and Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden.

It's one of the last places I would want to be on a ship no matter what. Unless that ship was the USS Ronald Reagan or something similar.

21 March 2010

Welcome to Socialism

It appears the long debated health care legislation will pass today. Congress is voting on a bill to spend nearly a trillion dollars, the subject of which effects every American and none of us knows what it says. It sounds like a lark.

Quote of the Day

Any change is resisted because bureaucrats have a vested interest in the chaos in which they exist. -- Richard M. Nixon

The Snitch in Your Pocket

Most of us are in varying degrees attached to our mobile devices. Our ability to stay "connected" has bred our desire and dependence on that technology. However, like a tracer round that connection works both ways and big brother is on the other end.

Amid all the furor over the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping
program a few years ago, a mini-revolt was brewing over another type of federal
snooping that was getting no public attention at all. Federal prosecutors were
seeking what seemed to be unusually sensitive records: internal data from
telecommunications companies that showed the locations of their customers' cell
phones—sometimes in real time, sometimes after the fact. The prosecutors said
they needed the records to trace the movements of suspected drug traffickers,
human smugglers, even corrupt public officials. But many federal
magistrates—whose job is to sign off on search warrants and handle other routine
court duties—were spooked by the requests. Some in New York, Pennsylvania, and
Texas balked. Prosecutors "were using the cell phone as a surreptitious tracking
device," said Stephen W. Smith, a federal magistrate in Houston. "And I started
asking the U.S. Attorney's Office, 'What is the legal authority for this? What
is the legal standard for getting this information?' "

Those questions are now at the core of a constitutional clash between
President Obama's Justice Department and civil libertarians alarmed by what they
see as the government's relentless intrusion into the private lives of citizens.
There are numerous other fronts in the privacy wars—about the content of
e-mails, for instance, and access to bank records and credit-card transactions.
The Feds now can quietly get all that information. But cell-phone tracking is
among the more unsettling forms of government surveillance, conjuring up
Orwellian images of Big Brother secretly following your movements through the
small device in your pocket.

How many of the owners of the country's 277 million cell phones even know
that companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint can track their devices in
real time? Most "don't have a clue."

Do you trust big brother?

20 March 2010

Lets Be Real

Standards.... we all have our standards. George wanted a woman with, "thick, lustrous hair" and I won't go out with a woman who has a cat. I won't drive an Asian car. Yes, I know they are made in Alabama now but I don't care. But the fact is, in a pinch it doesn't really matter.

And that's my point. A lot of us are in a pinch right now. The published unemployment number is a joke - 9.7% my ass. In a pinch, (like now) you do a few things. You stop unnecessary spending. You tighten the budget by adjusting the thermostat, the satellite package and the grocery list. You have a staycation. You do what you have to do until the storm passes. The last thing anyone needs is to have their situation made worse.
Being poor sucks in any country but especially in the US, which is so proud
of being the Richest Nation on Earth that it makes sure everyone lives up to
that whether they can afford to or not. Consider the case of Avondale, Arizona resident Christine Stevens, who has been in deep water (financially speaking) since
losing her bank job in January 2009. She decided to discontinue her electricity service and make do with solar panels – Arizona has no shortage of sunshine, after all – and using an ice box in lieu of a refrigerator.

But such frugality defies Avondale city codes, which require a refrigerator, heating and cooling system, and electricity enough for all. So Stevens' house was condemned, and Stevens kicked out. "We explained to her that the panels weren't enough to sustain a quality of life there," Avondale's code enforcement manager said. Stevens is back in her home now, after spending 11 nights sleeping in her car, but could still lose the property.

When you're worried about someone's quality of life, adding them to the
ranks of the homeless might not be the best way to improve it, but it's close
enough for government work. Sometimes more drastic measures are needed, like the
ones taken by city officials in Mountain View, California: they kicked an old lady
named Loretta Pangrac out of her house
, demolished it, and billed her almost $20,000 for their troubles.

Pangrac's roof was in bad shape and she couldn't afford to repair it, so the whole house was condemned as a dangerous "public nuisance" – even though Pangrac was the only member of the public actually endangered by it. To recoup their self-imposed costs, city officials placed a lien against the property. Even without the lien, it's doubtful Pangrac could sell the vacant lot for enough to buy another house. She suggested living in a trailer on her land, but of course that would violate city ordinances. Laws against trailers are commonplace, since citizens living in trailers because they can afford no better tarnish the reputation of the Richest Nation on Earth and the municipalities therein.

I want my neighbor to fix his siding and paint his house and all the things that make it a great neighborhood. But I know he isn't working at the moment and can ill afford these expenses right now. I'm not suggesting we rewrite these municipal laws. I'm just saying lets think before we enforce every last little thing. Bureaucrats never made anything better and apparently they have a communal inability to reason.

19 March 2010

The Whig Turns Two

Yes, THE WHIG turns two today.

We hope you have enjoyed our posting on, well, whatever we find interesting.

And thanks for reading.

18 March 2010

Help Support Including Third Party and Independent Candidates in Opinion Polls

I am relaying this entire post from Poli-Tea, in an attempt to support a good idea.

A Poli-Tea Action Alert? Shining a Light on the Media Blackout

In my recent post on duopolist bias and third party media strategy, I suggested pressuring polling organizations to explicitly include third party and independent candidates in their public opinion surveys for specific elections.

As a follow-up to this, I have drafted a short letter, which I just emailed to Rasmussen, urging them to do precisely that. The reason why I chose to begin with Rasmussen should be clear from the letter itself. Obviously, one email does not carry very much weight, which is why I am also asking you to join me in this effort.

Please feel free to copy and paste or even re-work the following, and send it on to Rasmussen Reports at info@rasmussenreports.com, or even call them at 732-776-9777.

Rasmussen Reports,

I am writing to urge you to include third party and independent candidates for office in your regular surveys of public opinion for the 2010 elections. In a number of recent polls, you have included a third party "Tea Party" for consideration on the "generic ballot", revealing significant support within the US electorate for this third party or independent option.

Currently, however, the "Tea Party" is registered as an actual third party in only two states; yet there are ballot qualified third party and independent candidates for office at all levels of government in almost all 50 states. With few exceptions (ex. Chafee in RI and Cahill in MA), Rasmussen typically gauges support for these candidates by asking respondents if they support Republican X, Democrat Y or "some other candidate," as for instance in your recent survey covering the gubernatorial race in Illinois. This, however, fails to assess support for any specific alternative to the major party candidates.

One wonders what level of support Democrats and Republicans would garner in a given race if you asked respondents to choose between Independent X, Libertarian Y, Green Z or "some other candidate." Rasmussen Reports often quotes Scott Rasmussen himself saying that Americans are "united in the belief that our political system is broken, that politicians are corrupt, and that neither major political party has the answers."

I agree with this assessment and therefore urge you to begin actively gauging support for specific, ballot qualified, third party and independent candidates for office in your polling nationwide.

Obviously, suggestions and criticism are welcome in comments.

d.eris, I am glad to do what I can to help.

Health Care Vote Count Update

From The Hill, where they are regularly updating the vote count. Click the link for the full lists.

WHIP COUNT: House Democrats' positions on the healthcare reform bill

All House Republicans are expected to vote no.

If every member votes and all GOP lawmakers vote no, the maximum number of Democratic defections to pass a bill is 37, which would result in a 216-215 tally.

Firm No, Leaning No, Likely No (36)

Firm Yes (17)

Leaning Yes or Likely Yes (15)

Undecided (48)

Related news: Hispanic Dems will vote yes on healthcare
Half a dozen members of the CHC held a news conference to announce their support. They were unhappy with language that barred illegal immigrants from accessing the public health insurance exchanges. More than a dozen had threatened to vote against the Senate bill and its companion reconciliation package.

Some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had threatened to vote no unless the Senate's immigration-related provisions are changed. It looks like they changed their minds.

In The Frenzy Over Health Care, What About Jobs?

Obama, Dems Fighting the Wrong War: Health Care Amid Jobs Crisis

What's intriguing today is the thunderclap unheard. It's the greatest jobs crisis in three-quarters of a century. All political hands are on deck for health care. But to most Americans, the storm is elsewhere.

More than 6 million Americans have been unemployed for at least a half-year. That's double the previous record for long-term unemployment, in the early 80s, since tracking began in 1948. The Obama administration projects at least a 9 percent unemployment rate until 2011.

The Pew Research Center reported Thursday morning that a majority, 54 percent, say that someone in their household has been without a job or has looked for work in the past year. Only 39 percent said the same last February.

One in five adults say they have lost their job in the past year. And there is pervasive anxiety among those with jobs. One in four workers believe they will likely be asked to take a pay cut or be laid off in the coming year.

This explains why a majority, 52 percent, views the most important issue today as the economy and jobs. The second most important issue is health care, at only 13 percent, according to a February CBS/New York Times Poll.

Yet Washington's priorities appear to be the inverse.

More On The Coming U.S. Bond Rating Downgrade

From The Daily Beast: America's Debt Gets Scary

The country’s top-notch credit rating is in danger of being downgraded, Moody’s is warning—and if a ratings agency that completely failed to predict the financial crisis is sounding the alarm, we should all be afraid.

The current warning shouldn’t be taken lightly, precisely because ratings agencies like Moody’s have been so late in the past. Calling attention to the country’s debt level must mean we are really heading for trouble.

Health Care Reform To Cost $940 Billion. Or Does It? Costs Skewed To Reduce Estimate

WSJ: Health Overhaul to Cost $940 Billion Over Decade

The latest version of the Democrats' health overhaul will cost $940 billion over a decade and expand insurance coverage to 32 million Americans, according to a Congressional Budget Office report cited Thursday by Democratic aides.

After appearing in peril just weeks ago, Thursday's developments showed how the health overhaul has gained significant momentum in recent days. Democratic leaders and the White House plan to put heavy pressure on wavering members over the weekend in a bid for the remaining votes.

The legislation calls for the most significant changes to the health system since the government created the Medicare program for the elderly more than four decades ago. The bill would create a near-universal system of health insurance by giving tax credits to lower earners to offset the cost of buying insurance and expanding the Medicaid federal-state insurance program for the poor.

It would prevent insurers from denying coverage to people because they have a pre-existing health condition and revoking their policies if they became ill. In exchange, nearly all Americans would be required to carry insurance or pay a fine.

Small businesses would get tax credits to help them provide coverage, and large employers would pay a penalty if they didn't provide affordable coverage and their workers obtained a government insurance subsidy.

It wasn't clear whether some of the newest changes sought by the White House will remain in the legislation. The White House is seeking a new federal rate board to regulate insurance premiums. Some Democrats have questioned whether the board would pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, who must vet the package of changes to make sure they're all related to the federal budget.

Questioning those estimates here: Almost all $940 billion incurred in just six years

This is why they’re delaying the start of the program, of course. If it kicked in right away, the decade-long estimate would obviously be well into the trillions. So they simply stalled it for four years, incurring just $17 billion in costs — or 1.8 percent of the total 10-year estimate — through 2013 so that wavering Democrats could go back to their districts and tell baldfaced lies to their constituents about the pricetag.

Action Increasing To Assert State Sovereignty

NY Times: States’ Rights Is Rallying Cry for Lawmakers

Whether it’s correctly called a movement, a backlash or political theater, state declarations of their rights — or in some cases denunciations of federal authority, amounting to the same thing — are on a roll.

Some legal scholars say the new states’ rights drive has more smoke than fire, but for lawmakers, just taking a stand can be important enough.

In most cases, conservative anxiety over federal authority is fueling the impulse, with the Tea Party movement or its members in the backdrop or forefront. Mr. Herrod in Utah said that he had spoken at Tea Party rallies, for example, but that his efforts, and those of the Patrick Henry Caucus, were not directly connected to the Tea Partiers.

And in some cases, according to the Tenth Amendment Center, the politics of states’ rights are veering left. Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, for example — none of them known as conservative bastions — are considering bills that would authorize, or require, governors to recall or take control of National Guard troops, asserting that federal calls to active duty have exceeded federal authority.

“Everything we’ve tried to keep the federal government confined to rational limits has been a failure, an utter, unrelenting failure — so why not try something else?” said Thomas E. Woods Jr., a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a nonprofit group in Auburn, Ala., that researches what it calls “the scholarship of liberty.”

And while some efforts do seem headed for a direct conflict with federal laws or the Constitution, others are premised on the idea that federal courts have misinterpreted the Constitution in the federal government’s favor.

And at the Tenth Amendment Center, the group’s founder, Michael Boldin, said he thought states that had bucked federal authority over the last decade by legalizing medical marijuana, even as federal law held all marijuana use and possession to be illegal, had set the template in some ways for the effort now. And those states, Mr. Boldin said, were essentially validated in their efforts last fall when the Justice Department said it would no longer make medical marijuana a priority in the states were it was legal.

A funny thing happened to me today

I was in an elevator with a woman and she didn't want to have sex with me. And the same thing happened in Amsterdam.

A union representing Dutch nurses will launch a national campaign on Friday
against demands for sexual services by patients who claim it should be part of
their standard care.

The union, NU'91, is calling the campaign "I Draw The Line Here," with an advert that features a young woman covering her face with crossed hands.

The union said in a statement on Thursday that the campaign follows a complaint it had received in the last week from a 24-year-old woman who said a 42-year-old disabled man asked her to provide sexual services as part of his care at home.

The young woman witnessed some of the man's other nurses offering him sexual gratification, the union said. When she refused to do the same, he tried to dismiss her on the grounds that she was unfit to provide care.

It is unclear if these issues are addressed in the proposed health care legislation.

Republicans Alienate Voters

Roll Call: Long-Term Future Looks Bleak for Republicans

Yes, the Democrats will likely lose Congressional seats — only twice in the past 100 years has the president’s party not lost seats in its first midterm elections. But the fact is that the demographics of the country are overwhelmingly favorable to the Democratic Party, and only getting more favorable with every day. Far from being able to look forward to a conservative renaissance, the GOP has a very bleak future.

And, of course, it’s not only Hispanics who are pallbearers for the Republicans. Young voters and blacks prefer the Democrats as well. The Democrats can capitalize on their loyalty, as the two groups came out in unprecedented numbers in 2008. A new analysis from Gallup found that Obama’s approval rating had dropped among all groups — except young people, who favor the president at a whopping 66 percent. Both blocs have supported the Democrats for years — and both are growing as shares of the American population.

The reality is that white males, the core of the GOP’s base, are shrinking in number and electoral power. Nearly 98 percent of Ronald Reagan’s voters in 1980 were white, when they formed 89 percent of the electorate. But in 2008, they formed less than 75 percent of voters. With nonwhite voters voting for Democratic presidents upward of 90 percent of the time, the numbers just seem to put the GOP’s future in the intensive care unit.

Houston Chronicle: Dick Armey blasts Republicans on immigration, saying GOP is alienating Latino voters

Armey, one of the creators of the "Contract with America" that launched the 1994 Republican revolution, says that the party needs to be more careful when it discusses immigration reform — something the former University of North Texas economics professor strongly supports.

Armey says the issue of immigration needs to be handled with "sensitivity." He described the hard-edged, immigrant-bashing rhetoric of former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, who spoke at a recent Tea Party convention in Tennessee, as "destructive."

"Republicans have to get this right and get off this goofiness," Armey said. "Ronald Reagan said 'tear down this wall.' Tom Tancredo said 'build this wall.' Which is right?"

With Latinos forming the fastest-growing electoral bloc in the nation, Armey says the GOP seems to be saying, "Let's go out and alienate them."

Going From Bad To Worse

CBS News: National Debt Up $2 Trillion on Obama's Watch

The latest posting from the Treasury Department shows the National Debt has increased over $2 trillion since President Obama took office.

The debt now stands at $12.6 trillion. On the day Mr. Obama took office it was $10.6 trillion.

President George W. Bush still holds the record for the most debt run up on his watch: $4.9 trillion. But it took him over four years to rack up the first two trillion dollars in debt. It has taken Mr. Obama 421 days.

The most the administration says it can do is try to slow the growth of the National Debt - but its own forecasts show it doesn't look promising.

In the 2011 federal budget released last month, the administration projects the National Debt will soar ever upward to over $25 trillion in the year 2020. The total debt will amount to more than 100 percent of the national economy as early as 2012.

America's decline

My friends and I have been talking about this for years now. From the blunders on the right to the apologists on the left, our image is tarnished around the world.
From a Newsweek article: Call it America's Age of Angst. The buzz of negativity seems to be everywhere. DECLINE AND FALL: WHEN THE AMERICAN EMPIRE GOES, IT IS LIKELY TO GO QUICKLY reads the cover headline for British historian Niall Ferguson's article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Faced with an unemployment rate near 10 percent, a ballooning deficit, and a grueling partisan battle over health-care reform, both President Barack Obama and his Republican critics in Congress are complaining loudly about the government's inability to get things done. In the meantime, there's a growing sense that others—here, China
is always first on the list
—are steadily chipping away at America's leadership position in the world.

When you're on top, everyone wants to knock you down. It's the natural order whether you're Kansas basketball, Peyton Manning or the U.S.A. It would be nice if our leaders showed more concern about our standing as a country instead of just their own.

17 March 2010

Third Straight Change Election Is Coming

The Hill: Populist rage

I am one of the 300 million Americans who are not allowed to know what happened in the backroom meetings we are not allowed to attend.

There is a populist rage in the land, a rage I share when I see factories shut down, jobs destroyed and homes foreclosed while those who brought our country to a near-depression make millions of dollars, hire lobbyists to promote their greed and attend closed meetings with a Congress in the grip of special interests and a president who compares bank CEOs to baseball players and says they deserve huge bonuses because they are shrewd businessmen.

There is a populist rage in the land. The 2010 elections will be won by those who express it, but the price of victory at the polls will be integrity in public office.

Voters aren’t stupid. Polyester populism will fool no one in November.

We are a nation of voters who believe we have been played for suckers once too often. We are madder than hell. The president, his chief of staff and both parties in Washington continue business as usual and ignore this overwhelming public revulsion at their peril.

President Obama and Democrats in Washington need to have a serious heart-to-heart discussion about what went so dramatically wrong after two great mandate elections in 2006 and 2008.

Realignment is dead. 2009 was wasted. The landslide mandate was lost. Virtually nothing in Washington has changed. The populist rage that brought down Republicans now threatens both the Democratic majority in Congress and Republican incumbents who fail to realize that populist anger is coming for them, too.

The third straight change election is coming, and nobody in Washington is safe.

The fellow that wrote the above is Brent Budowsky, who was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He is right, except he leaves out one thing, probably due to his background.

It is that there will be no real change with the current crop of Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

Bi-partisan Dysfunction: Democrats and Republicans Blow Health Care Reform

NY Times: The Health Care Letdown

Republican cries for fiscal responsibility also ring hollow when you consider the party’s record of establishing higher-cost private Medicare plans and enacting a drug benefit that wasn’t paid for. The fact is that under the Republicans’ watch, critical problems of escalating health costs and access to affordable coverage were largely ignored.

Yet Democratic leadership worsened the erosion of bipartisanship. With dissonant voices excluded, too many Democrats failed to recognize that most Americans, who already have health insurance, wanted the assurance of continued, affordable coverage. Health security, especially in a severe recession, should have been the central concern.

Democrats trying to lead health care legislation through Congress made a multitude of missteps. One of these was to fixate for months on the “public option,” only to wholly discard it.

No less embarrassing was the way the majority leadership killed a bipartisan amendment to establish an F.D.A.-regulated system for importing prescription drugs. Safe importation would have produced nearly $100 billion in savings, $19.4 billion of which would have been realized by the federal government. But the amendment conflicted with the deal Democrats had made with the pharmaceutical industry.

Ultimately, Democrats decided to pass their bill with no Republican support, sacrificing bipartisanship and empowering every Democratic senator to seek inappropriate concessions.

Should they succeed in blocking reform, Republicans should take no consolation. When Congress next attempts reform, in a decade or more, health costs and the number of uninsured and underinsured will have escalated — and the likely outcome will be the single-payer system that Republicans most abhor.

Three in four Americans say the health care system needs to be overhauled, and many provisions in the pending legislation have strong support. What’s more, the core of the Senate’s legislation closely resembles the very bill the Republicans offered in 1993 as an alternative to the Clinton plan. This makes clear that bipartisan reform was achievable, and indicts Congress for its failure to realize that goal with broad public support.

Quote of the day

"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can count on a lot of support from Paul." -- George Bernard Shaw

Massive Future Budgetary Gap Looms

CNN Money: U.S. states: Running with the PIIGS

As we watch the Greece situation unfold, the fiscal metrics in the United States become even more concerning. According to my estimates, the United States is running a debt-to-GDP ratio of 84% and deficit-to-GDP of almost 11%.

The United States last defaulted on debt in 1933 by refusing to repay certain bonds in gold as promised. While we are not suggesting that a U.S. debt default is anywhere near imminent, the ratios outlined above are concerning and do place our federal government squarely in the Pig Zone.

Furthermore, dig into fiscal imbalances at the state level and the picture gets even worse. According to a recent study by the Pew Center, a nonpartisan think tank, there is a $1 trillion gap between $3.35 trillion in pension, health care, and other retirement obligations on state balance sheets versus the $2.35 trillion in assets to cover them. This is a massive future budgetary gap, which will have to be funded, at least partially, by debt.

Will We All Sing Happy Smurf Songs After Health Care Reform

The Atlantic: Health Care Nightmares

Assume this passes; what happens afterward?

I don't think that many people believe that the answer is "Nothing: the bill becomes law, and we sing happy smurf songs all the way to the longest life expectancy in the Western world!"

Even the bill's proponents expect it will need some follow-up work. But what will that follow-up work look like?

Contact Your Member Of Congress

Why not? They are supposed to be working for you, right?

Ok, ok, stop cussing.
Unless you are a big donor, or a lobbyist, in which case you responded by thinking "That's right they do!" But if you are that person, you probably have their cell phone number in your speed dial. Or their nose up your ass.
But for the rest of us, the idea our member of Congress gives a tinker's damn what we think got at least a derisive snort.
Still, an email can't hurt. So send one, and give 'em hell. Tell them what you think about the Health Care bill.

From the official House of Representatives site: Write Your Representative

16 March 2010

Quantum State: Pelosi To Use Uncertainty Principle To Pass Health Care

Health Care reform in the House of Representatives exists in a quantum state, where you can't measure the support for it without changing the result. Apparently, voting for the Health Care Reform bill changes the amount of support for it.

I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised that at a time in which politics is both absurd and deadly serious, that a political party with a large majority acts like it is in the minority, and a reform that is both unpopular as proposed but supposedly will be wildly popular once enacted, will be passed without actually voting on it.

So wrap your mind around this ...

Washington Post: House may try to pass Senate health-care bill without voting on it

After laying the groundwork for a decisive vote this week on the Senate's health-care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Monday that she might attempt to pass the measure without having members vote on it.

Instead, Pelosi (D-Calif.) would rely on a procedural sleight of hand: The House would vote on a more popular package of fixes to the Senate bill; under the House rule for that vote, passage would signify that lawmakers "deem" the health-care bill to be passed.

The tactic -- known as a "self-executing rule" or a "deem and pass" -- has been commonly used, although never to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care bill. It is one of three options that Pelosi said she is considering for a late-week House vote, but she added that she prefers it because it would politically protect lawmakers who are reluctant to publicly support the measure.

"It's more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know," the speaker said in a roundtable discussion with bloggers Monday. "But I like it."

Holy Crap! U.S. Bond Rating To Be Downgraded

The irresponsibility and wanton spending that has resulted in this humiliation is just astonishing. This should be huge news. With a lower bond rating, it will be more expensive to borrow money, costing us billions more in the future. Heads need to roll in D.C.

Bloomberg: U.S., U.K. Move Closer to Losing Rating, Moody’s Says

The U.S. and the U.K. have moved “substantially” closer to losing their AAA credit ratings as the cost of servicing their debt rose, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Under the ratings company’s so-called baseline scenario, the U.S. will spend more on debt service as a percentage of revenue this year than any other top-rated country except the U.K., and will be the biggest spender from 2011 to 2013, Moody’s said today in a report.

“We expect the situation to further deteriorate in terms of the key ratings metrics before they start stabilizing,” Cailleteau said. “This story is not going to stop at the end of the year. There is inertia in the deterioration of credit metrics.”

The U.S. government will spend about 7 percent of its revenue servicing debt in 2010 and almost 11 percent in 2013, according to the baseline scenario of moderate economic recovery, fiscal adjustments in line with government plans and a gradual increase in interest rates, Moody’s said.

Under its adverse scenario, which assumes 0.5 percent lower growth each year, less fiscal adjustment and a stronger interest-rate shock, the U.S. will be paying about 15 percent of revenue in interest payments, more than the 14 percent limit that would lead to a downgrade to AA, Moody’s said.

Hey didn't Geithner promise that the U.S. bond rating would not be downgraded?

Oops, it looks like he did. From 7Feb10 ABC News: Geithner: U.S. Will Not Lose AAA Bond Rating

Oh, and he was at it again today! Sec. Geithner: 'Not a chance' U.S. will lose AAA bond rating
But Geithner, appearing at a House Appropriations Committee hearing, expressed confidence that both parties and the administration would work together to find a plan for fiscal solvency.
Now there's a laugh. The two political parties that caused this mess are the ones that will not act responsibly? And working together? Bipartisanship?

Hey, Geithner, maybe you haven't been keeping up with current events, but "post-partisan" is getting it's ass kicked! It's game over, man! Game over!

Updated and bumped to top.

When A Problem Comes Along, You Must Whip It ...

The good folks over at The Hill are keeping track of the votes in the Health Care bill so you don't have to. It looks like they are updating the link below, so if you are interested, or want to see the full list, go check it out.

WHIP COUNT: House Democrats' positions on the healthcare reform bill
If every member votes and all GOP lawmakers vote no, the maximum number of Democratic defections to pass a bill is 37, which would result in a 216-215 tally.

House Democrats not on this list are expected to vote yes. However, some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who are not mentioned below have threatened to vote no unless the Senate's immigration-related provisions are changed.
All House Republicans are expected to vote no.

Firm No, Leaning No, Likely No (37)

Firm Yes (5)

Leaning Yes or Likely Yes (17)

Undecided (55)

Move To A Left Third Party?

Labor groups threaten a move to a third party. There are still vestiges of a "Labor Party" that arose from the 80s and 90s from such beliefs. The threat below will probably be seen for the empty threat it was intended to be, as the SEIU is deeply tied into the Democratic party.

Instead of threatening a new party, they could support the Greens. The full article mentions the Working Families party as well.

Politico: Liberals warn Democrats on health care

Labor and progressive leaders are threatening House Democrats who oppose health care legislation with potentially destructive third party challenges in November.

In districts where Democrats vote “no,” voters “will have the Republican against health and the Democrat against health care, and they’re going to ask themselves, ‘Where’s the candidate that shares my values,’” [SEIU President]Stern told POLITICO. “A lot of us would like to run another candidate.”

“I am not the only labor leader looking at [the question of] what is the price of betrayal,” he said, suggesting that Pennsylvania and Illinois could also see liberal third party challenges.

The left has already sponsored a serious primary challenge to Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, but backing third-party candidates – who could easily split the vote and hand a seat to the Republicans – would mark a new level of disgust with Democrats opposed to health care.

Rules for independent candidacies vary by state, and New York’s labor-backed Working Families Party has already taken the first step, with its state committee voting to bar endorsements of any candidate who votes against health care legislation.

Throwing Some Sunshine Onto The Obama Administration

The Raw Story: Obama agencies invoking secrecy provision more often than under Bush

An Associated Press review of Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major agencies found that the use of nearly every one of the law's nine exemptions to withhold information from the public rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October.

The AP review comes on the heels of another bit of government transparency news: that the Obama Administration has threatened to veto a congressional intelligence bill because it objects to efforts to increase intelligence oversight.

Among other things, the proposed legislation would subject intelligence agencies to General Accountability Office review. US intelligence agencies are currently immune from review by the Congressional auditing office.

Sunshine Week In Texas

Sunshine Week 2010: Come to Texas Watchdog all this week to see profiles of Texans fighting for open, transparent government

Here's the link for Texas Watchdog.

Texas Watchdog: Open meetings act flouted by State Board of Education: Quorum Report

Location Of Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Unknown

BBC: Mystery of missing Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng deepens

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng continues following comments from China's foreign minister.

Mr Gao went missing at the beginning of last year. He was believed to be in police custody, but no-one knows for sure.

His case is unusual because there has been little official word on what has happened to him - apart from several contradictory comments from Chinese officials.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said earlier this year that Mr Gao was "where he should be".

Last month, China's embassy in Washington told a US-based human rights group, the Dui Hua Foundation, said Mr Gao was working in Urumqi, a city in the far west of the country. The foreign minister's comments look set to deepen the speculation surrounding Gao Zhisheng.

From FreeGao.com: Missing By Force for Over One Year, where you can sign an petition demanding his release.

Quote of the Day

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies. -- Groucho Marx

It Is A Descent Into Something ...

Financial Times: A needed reform descends into farce

Specialists – let alone ordinary voters – struggle to remember the differences between the Senate bill, the House bill, and the president’s unfinished merged proposal. In the last big push to get reform through, using whatever deals, scams, ruses and parliamentary evasions fall to hand, the public and their concerns are pushed ever more to the periphery of Washington’s vision.

The White House is supporting reconciliation – a procedure that allows the Senate to accept revisions to its bill by simple majority. This defeats the Republican filibuster. It also complicates the parliamentary process, since not all provisions are allowed under reconciliation.

Already beyond abstruse, now in the realm of surreal farce, the debate is thus becoming yet more inward-looking and unintelligible. Can language on abortion be included in a reconciliation measure? (Probably not.) Can the Senate parliamentarian be overruled? (What is the Senate parliamentarian?) All that is missing is a speech in favour of the plan by Groucho Marx. Recovering voters’ respect for the outcome, even assuming the outcome is good, looks an ever more distant prospect.

Under reconciliation, first the House must pass the Senate bill; then both chambers pass the reconciliation measure. Despite their big majority, House Democrats have not mustered the votes. They worry that if they pass the Senate bill, Senate Democrats will renege on their yet-to-be-obtained promise to pass the measure that modifies it.

So this plan, solidly opposed by Republicans, is struggling to command sufficient support even in the president’s own party, whose two Congressional branches do not trust each other to co-operate. This is the same plan, you recall, that the public will come around to in due course. Democrats facing tight elections are right to worry that “in due course” might be a long time. It is hard to see how the public will forget this mess between now and November.

You. Return Your Census Form. Now.

Got and filled out my census form today. I thought I'd do a little research about it and do a post.

Good Lord! There are a lot of people out there hostile to the census. So I found this out:

$0.42 versus $56. This is how much it costs the government if residents mail back their census form (42 cents each), compared with the estimated cost of obtaining a household’s census response in person if a household fails to mail back the form.

So answer your damn census form, you pack of crazies.

Otherwise, some guy in China will have to buy another bond.

Life Found Under Antarctic Ice Sheet

It has greater implications than just a new source of shrimp ...

In a surprising discovery about where higher life can thrive, scientists for the first time found a shrimp-like creature and a jellyfish frolicking beneath a massive Antarctic ice sheet.

Six hundred feet below the ice where no light shines, scientists had figured nothing much more than a few microbes could exist.

That's why a NASA team was surprised when they lowered a video camera to get the first long look at the underbelly of an ice sheet in Antarctica. A curious shrimp-like creature came swimming by and then parked itself on the camera's cable. Scientists also pulled up a tentacle they believe came from a foot-long jellyfish.

The video is likely to inspire experts to rethink what they know about life in harsh environments. And it has scientists musing that if shrimp-like creatures can frolic below 600 feet of Antarctic ice in subfreezing dark water, what about other hostile places?

What about Europa, a frozen moon of Jupiter?

15 March 2010

Voters Abandon Party Primaries

USA Today: Voter turnouts for primaries 'a concern'

Since 1962, the percentage of eligible voters picking Democratic and Republican nominees for governor and U.S. Senate has been declining to less than 10% per party. The percentages are even lower for U.S. House and state legislature primaries, Gans says.

A ripple effect on national politics is possible. Michael McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University, believes the partisan nature of most primaries for local office has had an impact. "There's a recruitment chain," McDonald says. "If you're punishing moderates in the farm leagues, they're never going to make it to the big leagues."

Just Getting Started

Foreign Policy: The World's New Gay Rights Battlegrounds

They're here, they're queer, and governments from Africa to Asia don't quite know what to do about it. Four countries where gay rights movements face an upward battle for equality.

Public Sector Pensions, Unfunded Liabilities, Sovereign Defaults, And You

Barron's: The $2 Trillion Hole
Promised pensions benefits for public-sector employees represent a massive overhang that threatens the financial future of many cities and states.

SOVEREIGN DEFAULT IS A hot topic these days. With Greece tottering and other European countries in fiscal distress, some have even voiced the possibility that a U.S. state -- also considered a sovereign entity -- could suffer a general-obligation debt default.

Says Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University: "In many ways, some of our states are like General Motors before its bankruptcy, suffering from falling revenue, borrowing money to cover operating expenses and operating under crushing legacy health and pension liabilities. It's entirely possible, given the gigantic size of the pension liabilities, that some states might do what was once the unthinkable at GM and default."

Such assessments might be alarmist. A rebound in the U.S. economy and a continued rally in stocks would do a world of good for ailing public pension funds. And only one state -- Arkansas in 1934 -- has defaulted on its GO bonds in the past century with their holders suffering losses. Arkansas, however, was a special case. In addition to the Great Depression, it was ailing from large local debts it had assumed as a result of catastrophic floods in the 1920s.

But what if the stock-market rally falters, the economy doesn't return to full health, jobs remain scarce and tax revenues remain depressed?

Chavez (and Sean Penn) Afraid Of Free Speech

Venezuela's Chavez: Internet should be regulated
In a televised speech, Chavez said: "The Internet can't be something free where anything can be done and said ... "
Looks like Sean Penn would go even further than just shutting down the internet. From The Guardian: Sean Penn: Journalists who call Hugo Chávez a dictator should be jailed

If I haven't made it clear before: Hugo Chavez is a dictator.

Your Tax Dollars At Work: Congress Rides In Style

Politico: Lawmakers spend 1K/month on taxpayer-funded cars

The economy is still limping along, but some members of Congress are nevertheless riding in style: At least 10 House members are spending more than $1,000 a month in taxpayer money to lease cars.

Some lawmakers blame their high lease costs on a policy, enacted in a 2007 energy bill, requiring that the vehicles they choose be fuel efficient. Others say their two-year terms in office prevent them from taking advantage of lower-cost, longer-term leases.

A spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), who is paying $1,628 to lease a GMC Yukon, cited those reasons — and others.

Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) — one of the richest members of Congress, with a net worth of more than $36 million — spends $1,279 in taxpayer money on his vehicle ...

Sunshine Week: Federal Government Secretive, Operates in Shadows. Local, State Government Rated More Open

This week is "Sunshine Week" to promote more openness and accountability in government.

As part of Sunshine Week, a new poll shows that people believe government operates in secrecy.

Public cynicism that the federal government operates in an atmosphere of secrecy is as strong as ever, despite President Barack Obama's promises to make government information more easily available to the public.

A new survey of 1,001 adult residents of the United States found that 70 percent believe that the federal government is either “very secretive” or “somewhat secretive.” The largest portion of respondents, 44 percent, said it is “very secretive.”

I think it is interesting that, according to the poll results, local government is considered more open, then state government, with the federal government rated the more secretive. This level of trust correlates with the distance from the voter, thereby justifying the position of the Modern Whig that decisions should be made at the most local level possible.

The Modern Whig Party supports the push for more decision-making to be made at the local and state level. It is easy for a voter to interact with their local government, but extremely difficult for an individual to influence distant decision-makers. (Not to mention the push by the elite for more decisions to be made at the international level, where citizen involvement is not even contemplated!)

Of course, the relatively distrusted federal government could do much more to bring openness and transparency to decision making. President Obama made such promises on the campaign trail. So, how's he doing? More than a third of the agencies, 35 in all, said they had no internal documents showing how or whether the new Freedom of Information policies were being put into effect.

The conclusion of the report (click here for PDF): "The picture is decidedly mixed and does not yet show a trend toward greater releases of records across government." and
Despite President Obama’s pledge of a “new era of open Government” and Attorney General Holder’s pronouncement that, “[l]ong delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand[,]” executive agencies have shown only mixed success during Obama’s first year in closing their oldest open requests.
Here's the report: Sunshine and Shadows: The Clear Obama Message for Freedom of Information Meets Mixed Results Survey Suggests Need for More Pressure and Leadership

Despite 2,309 Page Bill, No One Knows What Is In Final Version

The Hill: House Democrats release bill for Budget markup Monday

House Democrats on Sunday night set into motion what they hope will be the final steps on healthcare reform.

The House Budget Committee on Sunday evening released text that will serve as the base legislation for the changes the House will seek to the Senate bill this week.

Specifically, the Budget committee released a 2,309-page effort that had been previously recommended to the Education and Labor Committee and Ways and Means Committee last year.

The measure posted online does not include the substantive changes to the Senate healthcare bill that House Democrats will seek.

Those changes will be offered during the markups in the Budget and Rules committees, which the budget panel hopes to begin on Monday afternoon.

Quote of the day

"It is difficult to make our material condition better by the best law, but it is easy enough to ruin it by bad laws." -- Theodore Roosevelt

More Fraud, Waste Uncovered In American-Funded Iraqi Projects

NY Times: New Fraud Cases Point to Lapses in Iraq Projects

There have already been dozens of indictments and convictions for corruption since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the new cases seem to confirm what investigators have long speculated: that the chaos, weak oversight and wide use of cash payments in the reconstruction program in Iraq allowed many more Americans who took bribes or stole money to get off scot-free.

Some of the cases involve people who are suspected of having mailed tens of thousands of dollars to themselves from Iraq, or of having stuffed the money into duffel bags and suitcases when leaving the country, the federal investigators said. In other cases, millions of dollars were moved through wire transfers. Suspects then used cash to buy BMWs, Humvees and expensive jewelry, or to pay off enormous casino debts.

Some suspects also tried to conceal foreign bank accounts in Ghana, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Britain, the investigators said, while in other cases, cash was simply found stacked in home safes.

While North Koreans Starve, Kim Jong-IL Hides Billions in Luxembourg Banks

Daily Telegraph: Kim Jong-il, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, has a $4 billion (£2.6 billion) “emergency fund” hidden in secret accounts in European banks that he will use to continue his lavish way of life if he is forced to flee the country.

The money is the profits from impoverished North Korea selling its nuclear and missile technology, dealing in narcotics, insurance fraud, the use of forced labour in its vast gulag system, and the counterfeiting of foreign currency.

“I believe this is the most extensive money-laundering operation in the history of organised crime, yet the final destination of the funds has not been given the proper attention it deserves,” said Ken Kato, the director of Human Rights in Asia.

“Somewhere in the world, there are bankers who are earning a large sum of money by concealing and managing Kim Jong-il’s secret funds, and at the same time, almost nine million people in North Korea are suffering from food shortages,” he said.

“I believe the secret bank accounts are now in Luxembourg, or have recently been transferred from Luxembourg to other tax havens.”

Tomorrow Is Here: The Problem Of Putting Things Off Until Tomorrow Is That Tomorrow Arrives

This day has been a day long in coming. Of course it arrives at a bad time -- that is the way these things always work out. We had ten years of warning, and so of course everyone will act as if this were a big surprise.

The timing also illustrates the problem with running such an enormous deficit, as mentioned here before. It prevents the government from being able to deal with new issues and pressures.

But you can't just blame the Democrats. The Republicans had plenty of opportunity, but took no action -- and yes, they had to opportunity to place Social Security on a sound footing, but failed to do so.

Just another example of the irresponsibility of our political class. Of course, they are getting rich, and everything is fine for them, thank you for asking.

msnbc: Social Security needs Uncle Sam's IOUs — now
Government expected to borrow more, especially abroad, to start payback
This year, for the first time since the 1980s, when Congress last overhauled Social Security, the retirement program is projected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes — nearly $29 billion more.

Sounds like a good time to start tapping the nest egg. Too bad the federal government already spent that money over the years on other programs, preferring to borrow from Social Security rather than foreign creditors. In return, the Treasury Department issued a stack of IOUs — in the form of Treasury bonds — which are kept in a nondescript office building just down the street from Parkersburg's municipal offices.

Now the government will have to borrow even more money, much of it abroad, to start paying back the IOUs, and the timing couldn't be worse. The government is projected to post a record $1.5 trillion budget deficit this year, followed by trillion dollar deficits for years to come.

Social Security's shortfall will not affect current benefits. As long as the IOUs last, benefits will keep flowing. But experts say it is a warning sign that the program's finances are deteriorating.

Social Security is projected to drain its trust funds by 2037 unless Congress acts, and there's concern that the looming crisis will lead to reduced benefits.

Fed Starts Laying Groundwork for Higher Rates

msnbc: Issue for Fed is not if, but when rates will go up
Inflation potential will be topic when central bank leaders meet this week

Federal Reserve policymakers may signal at their meeting this week how and when the improving economy will lead them to start raising record-low interest rates.

Higher rates are still months away, Chairman Ben Bernanke and other Fed officials have signaled in appearances on Capitol Hill and in speeches. They've indicated that low rates are still required to foster the economic rebound.

Yet once the recovery is firmly entrenched, Fed policymakers will need to raise rates to keep inflation in check. Before they do, they first will want to signal that credit will soon be tightened. The trick is doing so without jolting investors and borrowers, who would face higher rates on certain credit cards, some mortgages and other loans.

Democrats Twist Arms On Coming Health Care Vote

The Hill: Some Democrats play hard to get as leaders hunt for healthcare votes

The search for votes by House Democratic leaders and the White House has intensified. Over the next week and perhaps longer, the pressure to vote yes will be relentless as the Democratic Party inches closer to passing legislation it has been seeking for decades.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), a critic of the Senate measure's language on abortion and a likely no vote, told the National Review Online that the push to pass the bill has "reached an unhealthy stage. People are threatening ethics complaints on me..."

With the election looming, many Democratic centrists in the House have declined to comment on which way they are leaning.

Horsetrading, however, can be a dangerous game when the spotlight is so bright. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) secured language in the upper chamber measure that would have given his state preferential treatment on Medicaid payments. The public, including Nebraska constituents, lashed out against the deal, dubbed the "Cornhusker kickback." Nelson's political stock took a hit and he has since called for it to be scrapped.

Some Democrats have made it plain that they are firmly against the measure. By doing so, these Democrats are hoping to send a message to Pelosi and President Barack Obama: Don't bother with me.

One thing is clear: Tension is rising in the House.

A skittish House Democrat lawmaker who voted no in November repeatedly declined to answer whether he is a yes or no this time around. “You know where I am on this one. You know where I am on this one,” he said.

Asked if marking him as a “no” vote would be incorrect, the lawmaker paused, and then responded, “I haven’t seen any [legislative language] yet!”

14 March 2010

Americans Flee Mexico

WSJ: Violence In Mexico Stretches To U.S.

On Saturday, three people associated with the U.S. Consulate General office in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, were killed, prompting the evacuation of dependents of U.S. State Department personnel on Sunday. Among those killed were a couple driving in a car in broad daylight with their baby in the back seat. The baby was unharmed.

In the tourist resort of Acapulco, at least 15 people were killed in gangland hits over the weekend, officials said, including six local policemen.

Violence is on the rise at another key point of the U.S.-Mexico border—the city of Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas. Officials say the drug war there is entering a dangerous new phase, in which two formerly aligned drug gangs have fallen into open warfare.

The three Saturday killings shook the American expatriate community in Ciudad Juárez, where more than 400 people have been killed this year.

The shootings took place within minutes of each other in two different locations. In one incident, a U.S. citizen employed by the Consulate and her husband, also American, were killed, White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said. In the other, the Mexican husband of a Mexican citizen who worked at the Consulate was killed.

Hell has frozen

As evidenced by the presence of LADA in F1.

This weekend was the opening round of the F1 season. LADA is a sponsor of the Renault team.
Alonso and Ferrari take first blood.

Stuck On Same Flawed Health Care Bill

I have to admit, I agree with this assessment:

Maybe you remember what President Obama promised in his State of the Union address. He said....

...he was going to finally focus on jobs and the economy for the remainder of this year. I applauded him for that. Well, here it is, it’s almost spring. And what is he out there talking about again? That same 2,700-page, multi-trillion dollar healthcare legislation.

So, an entire year has gone to waste.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and many more jobs are in danger. Even now, the president still hasn't gotten the message. Somehow, the greater the public opposition to the healthcare bill, the more determined they seem to force it on us anyway.

Their attitude shows Washington at its very worst – the presumption that they know best, and they’re going to get their way whether the American people like it or not.

And, when politicians start thinking like that, they don’t let anything get in their way – not public opinion, not the rules of fair play, not even their own promises.

They pledged transparency. Instead, we have a healthcare bill tainted by secrecy, concealed cost, and full of backroom deals – and that’s just not right.

But before a casual reader thinks that I just want to say "No" to any healthcare reform, please note some links below. I originally support heathcare reform efforts. I supported Hillary's ideas in her campaign, while thinking that McCain's ideas and that of the Republicans in general were inadequate.

But as the process has dragged on and on, I became disillusioned, and now believe that the current efforts in Congress will prove ineffective, overly expensive, and in general are the wrong approach. We need a more comprehensive reordering of the entire system, which is not what we will be getting. Without cost controls, without a seperation of coverage from employment, and without Medicare/Medicaid restructuring, the proposed changes will fail, and we will be further in debt and no closer to the goal of more affordable care for all.

20Jan10: No Mandate on Health Care
18Jan10: Is There A Lesson In The Massachusetts Special Senate Election?
15Jan10: Health Care Reform Degenerates
3Jan10: For All The Drama, Money, and Time, Health Care Legislation Still Would Not Cover Everyone
19Dec09: The Real Problem With Health Care -- Cost
9Dec09: Interest In All Americans Having The Same Healthcare That Congress Gets
1Dec09: Report on Health Care
11Nov09: Health Care Reform To Fail Without Containing Costs

Here are some options that would fix healthcare, any one of which would be preferable to the mess we are about to have shoved down our throats:

Swiss Healthcare System: Part III, more here: Still Advocating the Swiss Healthcare Model (healthcare based on the Swiss and Belgian systems)

Do You Want The Same Health Care That Congress Gets? (Healthy Americans Act)

Here's An Alternative Health Care Reform Idea From Martin Feldstein (using amount currently spent on healthcare to provide full coverage for medical expenses that exceed 15% of income)

Health Care Reform (proposals made by Hillary Clinton in her 2008 campaign)

Plata O Plomo: Corruption Worsens Along U.S. - Mexican Border

It is well past time for us to get serious about security along our border. Not only is it a threat to our security, but our porous border is causing real mayhem in Mexico.

US Customs: Mexican cartels corrupt border agents

Mexican drug cartels are infiltrating federal law enforcement agencies along the southwest border and those charged with weeding them out say they don't have the money to catch all the corrupt agents, homeland security officials told a U.S. Senate panel Thursday.

James Tomsheck, assistant commissioner with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Internal Affairs, told a Senate homeland security subcommittee in Washington that only about one in 10 of the new hires for agency jobs are given polygraph tests, and of those, 60 percent are deemed unsuitable for employment.

That means that many who joined the agency during the recent hiring boom and did not take polygraphs could have joined with corruption already in mind, Tomsheck said.

"That 60 percent number is alarming to me," said U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who chaired the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration.

The Associated Press reported last year that four applicants for border protection jobs were not hired when polygraph tests and background checks confirmed they were infiltrators from drug trafficking operations.

"Transnational criminal organizations are doing all they can to infiltrate CBP through our hiring initiatives," Tomsheck told the subcommittee.

An AP investigation tallied corruption-related convictions against more than 80 enforcement officials at all levels — federal, state and local — along the southwest border since 2007.

Since 2003, 129 customs officers and Border Patrol agents have been arrested on corruption charges, said Tom Frost, the Department of Homeland Security's assistant inspector general for investigations

Economist: Assets on the other side
Mexico’s drugs gangs are getting ever more clever

Corruption does not have to be widespread to matter. Individual officers have enormous discretion at the ports of entry. They make the call about whether a truck should be waved through the lane or diverted for secondary inspection, often in a matter of seconds and based on nothing more than a quick look and their practised intuition.

Corruption is often blamed on plata o plomo—meaning silver or lead, bribes or threats. Some experts say that the American formulation is more like plata o sexo, or both. Scott Stewart of STRATFOR, a global intelligence company, recalls a case in which an agent was taking bribes from the drugs people to buy gifts for his girlfriend, who was herself a honey trap.

All that said, customs spokesmen admit that the rise is worrying. Many of the agents are new, and the cartels are eyeing them up. The drug-traffickers used to focus on agents who were already in uniform, particularly those with financial difficulties. Now they are becoming more ambitious, and recruiting future agents before they even apply for the job.

No Pain, No Pain

Sense of Events: Government's new motto: It's good to be king!

The recession and the ongoing jobless recovery devastated much of the private-sector work force last year, sending unemployment soaring, but government workers emerged essentially unscathed ...

Why is this important? Two reasons.

First, government at almost all levels is growing like unchecked cancer, and spending along with it.

The second reason the growth of government employees should cause alarm is that increasingly, government employees are unionized, therefore politicized. In fact, the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, is is heavily political.

The result is that government employees are setting government policy in a virtual mode: they do what unions do, collective bargaining, to force job security and benefits.

To preserve the sovereignty of the people, government must shrink, especially the federal government. But the relative security, higher incomes and political power of government workers and their unions almost guarantees this cannot be done easily, if it can be done at all.

Already, there are far more people employed by government in America than are working in manufacturing. And from December 2007 until near the end of last year, private-sector employment dropped dramatically (as we all know) while government employment, excluding education, rose sharply

The growth of government has been impelled by two main factors.

One is the now-entrenched political philosophy of both parties that America is a problem to be fixed, and Americans are a people to be managed ...

Since the instrumentalities of government management (well, control) are the bureaucratic structures of government, it's no wonder that government's size has exploded in both the number of employees and the appetite for money. The only way this growth can be sustained is first to milk and then to control the economic activity of the country. Increasing mandates, regulations and taxes are how that is done.

Democrats Divided

msnbc: Divided party? It’s not just GOP, but also Dems
Widening cracks within party could make for an even bleaker election year

For all the evidence of a divided Republican Party, the Democratic Party has its own widening cracks that could make a potentially bleak election year even more dour.

Republicans are wrestling with their own deep splits. There's a family feud over whether the Republican Party should strictly adhere to conservative principles or be more inclusive. That infighting is prominently on display in a slew of contentious primary contests.

But the fissures among Democrats, festering for months, are striking because the party controls both the White House and Congress, and unity was in style just a year ago as Democrats celebrated the first months of Obama's tenure with bigger majorities on Capitol Hill.

Then, the governing began in earnest — and so did the complaining.

The Democratic Party has always been more of a coalition party than the Republicans, bringing together varied factions that include labor, minorities, civil rights activists, social progressives and anti-war protesters. Each part seldom gets everything it wants.

Expectations were lofty, given the Democratic control of the federal government. That only brought the potential for serious letdowns and, thus, infighting.

Democrats and Republican Prepare To Face Off Over Texas Redistricting

Houston Chronicle: Census likely to kick off redistricting fight

While the Census is nonpartisan, the redistricting process is highly political. How districts are drawn can determine whether they are competitive or are solidly Democratic or Republican.

Texas currently sends 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats to Congress. If the state gets four new seats, they likely will be split: two Republican and two Hispanic Democratic.

“The political parties tend to view redistricting first through the lens of partisan advantage,” said Nina Perales, regional counsel for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Perales noted that in 2003 the Republicans created a new black district in Houston with the intention of defeating Anglo incumbent Democrats Chris Bell and Nick Lampson. That new district now is held by U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.

The Texas redistricting battle that stretched from 2001 to 2003 was highly partisan, caused Democrats to break two legislative quorums and resulted in power shifting from Democrats to Republicans in the Legislature and congressional delegation.

Fast population growth in one area may not mean that is where a new congressional district goes. A large population may be divided into multiple districts if it creates a partisan advantage.

“Ultimately, it's a political decision,” Republican consultant Eric Opiela said.