30 June 2010

If Wishing Could Only Make It So

ABC News: Robert Byrd's Death: The End of Pork Barrel Politics?
Sen. Byrd's Legacy of Government Projects Helped Create Anti-Washington Backlash

If something was built with federal dollars in the state of West Virginia in the last half century, there is a good chance that Byrd helped get the funding -- more than $3.3 billion over his career. And that is only what such watchdogs as the Citizens Against Government Waste can attribute to him. Recent years have seen disclosure requirements for pet projects that were unheard of when Byrd became a senator in 1959.
For the current fiscal year, Byrd had more earmarks worth more money than any other lawmaker: 89 earmarks for more than $250 million.

Sen. Byrd Is Gone, but Pork Barrel Politics Likely to Persist in Some Form

When Byrd, then in poor health, relinquished his post as chairman of the Appropriations Committee in 2008, he handed the gavel over to Sen. Daniel Inouye, now the second-longest serving member of the Senate, who had $200 million worth of earmarks for the current fiscal year. The ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran, had more than $100 million.

Republicans will use anti-Washington spending as their main weapon in the upcoming midterm elections. But for all the new disclosure online and voters' anger about the debt, and the death and retirement and political defeat of so many appropriators, many still remain on Capitol Hill and will continue to funnel money to their states and districts.

It Looks Like I'm Not The Only One Who Read 1984 In School

I wondered how the Democrats would reconcile their past lambasting of General Petraeus with their current desire that he save their bacon.

PJM: Oceania Has Never Been at War with General Petraeus

Ah, sweet, sweet doublethink:

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.

Hence the Party’s perpetuity: "for the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes . . . The prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity".

The Republicans Only Care About The Deficit When They Are Not In Charge

Mother Jones: Still No Deficit Hawks in the GOP

Democrats And Republicans Would Try To Seek Advantage In The Face Of Armageddon

So I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

NY Times: Spill Is an Election Issue Far Beyond the Gulf
Candidates from both parties and from around the country are trying to turn the oil spill to their advantage.

I'll Bet She Did

NY Times: Kagan Shifts on Disclosure of Legal Views at Hearings

Democratic And Republican Parties Are Part Of The Problem

Excerpt from Independent Political Report: Independents: the Major Parties are Part of the Problem not the Solution

Independent candidates for Congress across the country are making the case that the Democratic and Republican parties are part of the problem, not the solution.

Republicans are talking tough on federal spending and the national debt right now, but where we they just a few years ago when they had control of Congress and the White House?

“Both parties, Republicans and Democrats, have left these issues unaddressed,” said Jeff Vanke, an independent on the ballot for Congress in the Sixth District who will challenge incumbent Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte in November.

In the current proclamations of both the G.O.P. and the Democrats, I find no coherent philosophy; other than whatever one is for, the other is most surely against. This relationship is as irrational and destructive as the famous feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families. For many, it seems the feud has become more important than doing the people’s business, sometimes more important than the objective truth.

29 June 2010

Obama Administration And The Economy: Out Of Ideas Already

RCP: Joe Biden's Summer of Love

Biden last week acknowledged that, though he thought the administration's efforts would do some good, an awful lot of damage has been done. "There's no possibility to restore 8 million jobs lost in the Great Recession," he told an audience of Wisconsin Democrats. (On the same visit to Milwaukee, he called a custard shop manager a "smartass" for suggesting the administration lower taxes.)

The Obama administration constantly calls for more federal stimulus to fund more jobs, but the real problem is the lack of private investment. Biden has a reputation for being long winded (to put it kindly), so the "Summer of Recovery" may be more snooze than pep talk.

Regardless, none of Biden's happy talk about the economy will be able to gloss over the fact the Obama administration has really no idea what to do about it.

Blogging Will Be A Little Light Tonight Because I'll Be At The Eclipse Midnight Showing

No not really.

A "Double Dip" Or Just More Recession

The housing market collapses, the stock market is down about 10% over the last two months, unemployment remains high and shows no sign of improving, consumer spending is weak, and here's the latest: Consumer confidence plunges in June.

Really, instead of a "double dip", the recession which began in December 2007 is just continuing, with no relief.

'Double Dip'? Or Did the 'Great Recession' Really Never End?

Confirmation Charade

Commentary from the LA Times: Why the Kagan hearings will be a charade
Since the Robert Bork hearings punished him for his candor, the point is not to give the most honest answer, but the answer that makes it the most difficult for senators to vote against you.

Consider Monday's thunderclap from the judicial Mt. Olympus: The 2nd Amendment right to own a gun extends to state and local government. Personally, I think Justice Clarence Thomas' separate opinion in favor of the 14th Amendment's "privileges and immunities" clause over the due process clause was the better argument. But that's a debate for another day.

The more newsworthy opinion came from rookie Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She concurred with Justice Stephen G. Breyer's dissent, which held that there is no fundamental right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution. "I can find nothing in the 2nd Amendment's text, history or underlying rationale that could warrant characterizing it as 'fundamental' insofar as it seeks to protect the keeping and bearing of arms for private self-defense purposes," Breyer wrote for the minority.

But when Sotomayor was before the Senate Judiciary Committee one year ago for her own confirmation hearings, she gave a very different impression of how she saw the issue. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy asked her, "Is it safe to say that you accept the Supreme Court's decision as establishing that the 2nd Amendment right is an individual right? Is that correct?"

"Yes, sir," she replied.

Now, both Sotomayor and Leahy festooned their colloquies with plenty of lawyerly escape hatches. That's why Leahy asked the questions the way he did and that's why she answered them the way that she did. It's also why he spun her answers into more than they were: "I do not see how any fair observer could regard [Sotomayor's] testimony as hostile to the 2nd Amendment personal right to bear arms, a right she has embraced and recognizes." He deliberately made it sound as though she was open to an expansive reading of the 2nd Amendment when everyone knew she wasn't (as a judge, she was hardly a hero of the NRA).

Now, let me be clear. Sotomayor was nothing like an exception to the rule; she was following it.

Although the Bork inquisition was a largely partisan affair, the consequences have yielded a bipartisan sham. Republican and Democratic nominees alike are trained to say as little as possible and to stay a razor's width on the side of truthfulness. The point is not to give the best, most thoughtful or most honest answer, but the answer that makes it the most difficult for senators to vote against you. It's as if we expect nominees to demonstrate, one last time, everything we hate and distrust about lawyers before they don their priestly robes.

In fairness to everyone concerned, nobody is shocked to discover that Sotomayor is in fact precisely the dyed-in-the-wool liberal justice everyone expected her to be. But the fact that everyone is in on the lie is just further evidence of the sham Supreme Court hearings have become. They are a nonviolent and fairly bloodless cousin to totalitarian show trials, where everyone follows a script and politicians pretend to be "gravely concerned" and "shocked" upon "discovering" things they already knew.
More here from Reason.com: Confirmation Theater
Elena Kagan is set to participate in a confirmation process she once dismissed as a charade
Kagan now plans to decline comment on any issue that might bear in any way on any case that might come before the Court. She'll do her absolute best to prevent any serious substantive inquiry into her beliefs, and she'll make it clear that it's neither legitimate or desirable for the Senate to insist on exploring her set of constitutional views and commitments. If we aren't permitted to look at her record in public office as an indication of how Kagan might balance government power with individual rights, we're left to judge her on this: Kagan recognizes that the confirmation process is a charade designed to keep information away from the public, and to prevent the public from forming an informed opinion about who will sit on the Supreme Court.

28 June 2010

Only time for brief comments today...

The biggest news was the Supreme Court's decisions on gun rights. Of course, we should all be pleased at the outcome, but I find the 5-4 vote disturbing and dissapointing.

Four justices would deprive citizens of a clearly stated right -- well, does the Constitution mean what it says, or doesn't it?

Interesting to see the decision discussed by those commentators who recently would have called you an extremist for asserting that an individual has the right to keep and bear arms.

The city of Chicago makes in interesting case study, doesn't it? I mean if you can't look at the crime in that city and admit that strict gun control is a failure all around, you demonstrate that you are willing to ignore that facts in front of you when they don't fit your notion of how the world should work.

Next up today was Senator Byrd's death. Oh, spare me the homilies. It is no wonder that he is so lauded by fellow politicians. The man was a entrenched political operative that bought his popularity with other people's money, setting an example for other politicians that no one should emulate, but which they all seek to copy.

I was surprised that NPR at least discussed his KKK past, which most of the media ignores.

Why Is The Merger Of The American Centrist Party And The Modern Whig Party Important?

From a comment by Lance Duncan over at Poli-Tea:

J.R. Bale, NJ Chairman of the ACP, had this to say about the merger:

Why is this merger important?

With a National Debt that has escalated under both major parties, Americans must find another party to bring common sense and fiscal restraint to government. With special interests legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, Americans must find a party that demonstrates a higher integrity.

Uniting centrists and moderates is essential to bringing the United States back from the partisan tribal warfare that has afflicted our country.The Modern Whig Party is now closer to helping bring sanity to government.

Now let's add to Whig membership. Join today.

I'm Not Too Excited About Obama's Promises At The G-20

The Obama Administration has been pushing the other G-20 nations to keep spending. They say it's because they are worried about growth, but I suspect Obama just wants some political cover so he can keep on with his plans to bankrupt our children's future. Besides, its been two years now, and it doesn't look like wanton spending is getting us anywhere except deeper in debt.

Here's an idea: sound financial policies ...

So now it is up to the Europeans to urge constraint on America! Who'd a thunk it. Truly, the world is upside down.

WSJ: G-20 Agrees to Cut Debt

The meeting's concluding statement, a compromise between two competing visions of the international economy, masked divisions between the U.S. and Europe evident in the run-up to the summit. The U.S. has warned that moving too fast to cut deficits and reduce stimulus spending could risk another global recession. European nations, especially Germany, have cautioned that moving too slowly could produce unsustainable debt loads, higher interest rates and even defaults.

Germany, which has held itself out as the champion of austerity, took some potshots. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble used an interview in the French newspaper Le Monde to throw a jab at the U.S., saying Mr. Obama's giant stimulus spending has had little impact on the country's jobless rate, which remains well above 9%.

They might have to make deeper cuts in deficits to comply with its pledge. A White House statement said that government debt in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015, would be at an "acceptable level." President Obama said that next year he would present "very difficult choices" to the country in an effort to meet deficit goals.

The president cited his disappointment with the U.S. tax code. "Next year, when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country, I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficits and debt step up, 'cause I'm calling their bluff," Mr. Obama said.

Yeah, any excuse to raise taxes, eh, Mr. Obama? Hell, you don't even try to make even a half-assed effort to cut spending first.

Oh, all this blather from Obama a the G-20 is useless anyway. A useless as his campaign promises:

No family making less than $250,000 will see "any form of tax increase."

Reduce earmarks to 1994 levels

Pay for the national service plan without increasing the deficit

Enforce pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budget rules

So please excuse me while I disbelieve his administration's promises to reduce the deficit. Except the reckless squandering of our national resources to continue.

My Only Consolation About U.S.A.'s Team Loss In The World Cup ...

... is that Mexico got knocked out, too.

So at least I don't have to listen to any crap from their fans.

Congo Human Rights Advocate Killed

NY Times: Lifetime of Tracking Killings in Congo Ends in Activist’s Own

Early on the morning of June 2, Mr. Chebeya, Congo’s best-known human rights activist, was found dead in his car in the Mont Ngafula area of this capital city, his hands tied behind his back. The Congo police inspector general had summoned him for questioning the afternoon before.

“I’m in front of the office,” Mr. Chebeya said in a text message to his wife at 5:20. “Keep track of me,” said his message sent two minutes later. That was the last she heard from him.

Human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents are routinely harassed or even killed in this strategic, mineral-rich country in the heart of Africa, but Mr. Chebeya was not an ordinary victim. He was the short, bespectacled, intense man who kept going, kept investigating, and kept speaking out, on the radio, in news conferences and at the head of demonstrations, year after year, in the face of constant threats and occasional beatings.

This time, did the police kill Mr. Chebeya? Was someone high up behind his killing? Why has the body of his driver not been found? Was it just a coincidence that the killing was shortly before a major celebration planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of independence on June 30, which Congo is using to try to prove that it has put civil war and instability behind it? (Indeed, the top hotel here is buzzing with Western businessmen pursuing mining deals with government officials.)

Against the government’s narrative of normality Mr. Chebeya offered the opposite view.

“He was showing that the elections of 2006 did not lead to the rule of law,” said Jean-Claude Katende, president of the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights.

Mr. Chebeya’s death was a clear message from the authorities, Mr. Katende said: “Everybody should shut up.”

27 June 2010

Houston City Council Just Keeps On Spending

Houston Chronicle: Missed opportunity
Houston City Council blew its chance to show it feels Houstonians' pain

In last week's 2011 budget deliberations, Council members missed an important opportunity to lead by example — not to mention show they live in the real world. They did so by refusing to cut their own office expenses as part of the overall budget-trimming exercise.

But when it came to their individual bailiwicks, council members just could not bring themselves to do the right thing. By an 11-3 vote, members refused to make the same cuts that they had imposed on other departments - 2 percent for most, or about $8,000 per council office.

True, 2 percent cuts would total only a little more than $110,000; a pittance in the city's multi-billion dollar budget, you might say. But that simplistic assessment misses the larger point. This was tone-deaf public relations on council's part.

The choice ignores an obvious economic reality. Given high unemployment, a significant drop in property tax revenues for the city, cuts at NASA and even the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike, these are already hard times for the people who pay the bills at City Hall - taxpayers. And more bad news for the city may be just over the horizon. A moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf could bring job losses here numbering in the tens of thousands, resulting in hardships not seen here since the mid- to late 1980s. For FY 2011, the council mantra should be: Every dollar saved will count.

You want more tone-deaf? Along the way in last week's budget debate, council members asserted that they should be able to decide how to spend amounts left over in their council accounts as they chose. Earlier this year, Mayor Parker had stepped in, telling council members that any unused funds would revert back to the general fund.

But on Wednesday, by the same lopsided 11-3 count, they voted to force the mayor to choose at least five "core services" to which they can donate their excess.
So … they don't have the money to cut their budgets, but they're still preoccupied with what to do with what's left over?

25 June 2010

Obama's Afghan Policy Needs To Change

The Daily Beast: Petraeus Vs. The Mafia
In swiftly replacing McChrystal with the well-regarded David Petraeus, President Obama emphasized that he was changing the general, not the policy. This is unfortunate because the policy is precisely what needs to change.

While President Obama describes his Afghan counterpart as the democratically elected leader of a reliable ally, saying it doesn’t make it so. President Hamid Karzai heads a government ranked the second-most corrupt in the world, where power rests with thousands of warlords, power brokers, and militiamen.

While some may hold elected or appointed positions, this is incidental to their exercise of power, which depends on the number of armed men at their disposal or because of the wealth they have been able to accumulate. Karzai holds his office not as the choice of the Afghan people but as the result of a massively fraudulent election, as he himself now concedes.

Where local power brokers are in league with the Taliban, it is fatal to cooperate with the government. In too many instances, the nominal government authorities are powerless, corrupt, working with both sides in the conflict, or all of the above. Karzai’s national government cannot remedy any of this. It is corrupt, ineffective, and widely seen as illegitimate. Some senior government officials, including President Karzai, through his half-brother in Kandahar, have their own links to the Taliban.

At General Petraeus’ confirmation hearing, senators should bear down on two questions: Can the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy work without a credible Afghan partner? And is Karzai’s government a credible partner?

The honest answer to both questions is no.

Obama Administration Cynically Willing To Spend Until We Are Broke

Telegraph (UK): Barack Obama is refusing to listen to reason on economic policy
President Barack Obama, backed to some extent by Nicolas Sarkozy of France, wants economic stimulus to continue until the global recovery is unambiguously secure. In the opposite corner is Germany's Angela Merkel, now oddly aligned with Britain's new political leadership in thinking the time is right for fiscal austerity.

Like much of what Mr Obama says and does these days, the US position is cynically political. With mid-term elections looming and the Democrats down in the polls, the administration hasn't yet even begun to think about deficit reduction. Obama is much more worried by the possibility of a double-dip recession and the damage this would do to his chances of a second term, than the state of the public finances.

As it happens, the public debt trajectory is rather worse in the US than it is in Europe, yet Obama has adopted an overtly "spend until we are broke" approach in a calculated bid for growth and votes.

In berating others to carry on spending, Mr Obama is being neither politically wise nor economically sound. He should instead be attending to his own back yard by mapping out some sort of credible, long-term plan for returning the US to balanced budgets. The US is still dangerously reliant on Chinese funding for its deficit spending. It's not going to last indefinitely, and with rising domestic demand in China, may already be on the wane.

Poll: 46% of respondents stated that they would be enthusiastic or comfortable with an independent or third party candidate

From Poli-Tea: Absolute Majorities Oppose Generic Democratic and Republican Candidates for Congress, 46% Open to Independent and Third Party Challengers

In reality, there are more registered voters who opt not to vote rather than throw their votes away in support of a Republican or a Democrat, as voter turnout statistics from the last forty years clearly demonstrate. Even in presidential election years, the candidates of the major parties barely garner the support of a majority of registered voters when their votes are tallied together!

A new poll commissioned by NBC/WSJ (pdf) queried respondents specifically about their attitudes toward third party and independent candidates, rather than maintain the fiction that there are no alternatives to the corporatist stooges of the Democratic-Republican two-party state. Among the findings, via Ballot Access News:
Would you be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate for Congress, a Democratic candidate for Congress or for an independent or third party candidate for Congress?

Republican candidate – 31%
Democrat candidate – 34%
Independent or third party candidate – 25%
Not sure – 10%
Additionally, 46% of respondents stated that they would be enthusiastic or comfortable with an independent or third party candidate, while only 23% stated that they would have reservations or be uncomfortable about the prospect.

Perhaps what is most instructive about these results is not the fact that such a large portion of the public is willing to consider a third party or independent candidate for Congress, but rather that the generic Democratic and Republican candidates are each opposed by an absolute majority of registered voters.

Interest On National Debt Same As Defense Budget By 2012

The Hill: Joint Chiefs chairman reiterates security threat of high debt

Pentagon leaders, the military services and defense contractors must work together to cut bureaucratic bloat and unnecessary programs, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday.

Adm. Mike Mullen also renewed his warning that the nation’s debt is the biggest threat to U.S. national security.

“I was shown the figures the other day by the comptroller of the Pentagon that said that the interest on our debt is $571 billion in 2012,” Mullen said at a breakfast hosted by The Hill. “That is, noticeably, about the size of the defense budget. It is not sustainable.”

But I Don't Want Japan Disease

Commentary at HuffPo by Henry Blodget, CEO of Business Insider: Actually, It's Starting to Look More and More Like We Have "Japan Disease"

The big fear that occasionally wakes even die-hard bulls up screaming is that the US is en route to becoming Japan.

If we're Japan, any recovery in the economy and market will likely be temporary. In the case of the market, any recovery will also be followed by a plunge to lower lows. For another decade, at best.

Japan's economy has basically gone nowhere for the past decade, and its stock market is trading at about one-quarter of its level of 20 years ago. If the US were to suffer the same fate, the DOW will be trading at 4,000 in 2020.

So be afraid, very afraid.

At least for now, we're both in the midst of a deflationary deleveraging, in which money supply growth is miniscule and bank credit continues to contract.

Paul Kasriel of Northern Trust has put together a series of charts that show this comparison, and it's not encouraging. Despite the Fed offering unlimited free credit to the banking system, banks continue to shrink the amount they're lending (except to the Federal government). Thus, this free money is not making its way into the economy, the money supply is barely growing, and credit continues to shrink (for the first time in 60 years).

If you prefer your bad news straight up, click here (or at the link in the story) for some dispiriting charts and graphs.

But if you can't take it, can't face it, and would rather stay in your happy place, then click here.

48% View Federal Government As A Threat To Our Rights

Rasmussen Reports: 48% See Government Today As A Threat to Individual Rights

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Adults see the government today as a threat to rights. Thirty-seven percent (37%) hold the opposite view. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.

Most Republicans (74%) and unaffiliateds (51%) consider the government to be a threat to individual rights. Most Democrats (64%) regard the government as a protector of rights.

Additionally, most Americans (52%) say it is more important for the government to protect individual rights than to promote economic growth.


What to do, you ask? Fortunately for us, we live in a country that has already worked that out:

That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Quote of the Day

"We're at the tail end of the largest economic intervention since World War II, and even on its own narrow, nebulous terms, it has been a colossal failure. The failure is obvious to working people. It's obvious to unemployed people. It's obvious to kindergarteners, to dogs and cats." -- Tim Cavanaugh

Reporters Agog At Actual Reporting

Jon Stewart is right to skewer what passes for news reporting ....

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
McChrystal's Balls - Honorable Discharge
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Now, See Here's Your Problem ...

NY Times: Obama Says Afghan Policy Won’t Change After Dismissal

Our policy in Afghanistan needs to change.

We need to drop support for the corrupt Karzai government.
More here from the Council on Foreign Relations: Time for Sweeping Afghan Policy Review

The United States has embarked on a policy of state-building in a country with little tradition of a strong state. Making matters worse is that the Afghan government is riddled with corruption and the Taliban has the benefit of a sanctuary in Pakistan, which remains as much of a problem as it is a partner.

Such a policy offers little likelihood of enduring results that would come close to justifying the enormous costs--all at a time the United States faces a looming fiscal crisis and mounting strategic challenges in Iran and North Korea.

It's A Ponzi Scheme, And We Are The Last Generation Of Suckers

Excerpt from: Is the Welfare State a Ponzi Scheme?

First they are playing with money that does not belong to them – which means they cannot lose. Also, when the scams finally unravel, the perpetrators have invariably moved on to their next group of unsuspecting victims –where the fleecing begins anew.

Sound familiar? It should. This is the modus operandi of governments all over the world in our current era of Keynesian excess – an era in which new taxes, fees and fines must be continually created and levied in order to pay for promises made in previous years. Of course these government promises are never actually “paid for,” the IOUs just keep mounting as the burden of repayment is extended further down the line to future generations of taxpayers.

Crisis compels the scammers to grow even bolder in their efforts to fleece the taxpayers. In fact, these “too good to be true” scams have only grown more expensive in response to the recent economic downturn.

Not surprisingly, the root cause of the crisis that is threatening to bring down the global economy lies in the unsustainable expansion of the welfare state – which should be a lesson for American politicians of both parties.

24 June 2010

Craptacular Movie Planned, Anticipated

MTV: Debbie Gibson, Tiffany To Star In 'Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid'

If you thought watching a supersized shark take on an equally supersized octopus was entertaining, [and who didn't? -- S.] wait'll you get a load of what the Asylum is cooking up for Syfy. Prepare yourself for ... "Mega Python vs. Gatoroid"!

The Hollywood Reporter reveals that 1980s pop stars Deborah "Debbie" Gibson and Tiffany will star together in the Syfy original Saturday night movie, to be produced by "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus" studio the Asylum. Both Gibson and Tiffany have previously appeared in Asylum films — Gibson in "Mega Shark ..." and Tiffany in "Mega Piranha" — but this is the first time the duo will appear in a film together.

King Canute And The Collapse In Home Sales

Try as they might, the Obama Administration cannot alter economic reality. The housing market has yet to reach bottom. We need to stop wringing our hands about it, embrace the horror, and take steps to allow the bottom to be reached. It is the only sound way to get out of the mess we are in, and to provide for future economic growth.

But the political class is either in a state of denial, or believes that can alter reality by publishing a new rule in the Federal Register. But what else to you expect from a class of people that have spent their entire lives in politics?

Perhaps they need to read the story of King Canute.

So what was accomplished by the tax credit for buying a home? Well, money was spent. Which I guess is an end in itself in Washington. But all that got us was some time for which we paid dear. Home purchases were not increased -- they were simply moved forward. That's all. People who were going to buy anyway moved their purchases forward a few months.

New-home sales plunge 33 pct with tax credits gone

Sales of new homes collapsed in May, sinking 33 percent to the lowest level on record as potential buyers stopped shopping for homes once they could no longer receive government tax credits.

The credits expired April 30. That's when a new-home buyer would have had to sign a contract to qualify.

"We fear that the appetite to buy a home has disappeared alongside the tax credit," Paul Dales, U.S. economist with Capital Economics," wrote in a note. "After all, unemployment remains high, job security is low and credit conditions are tight."

New-home sales in May fell from April to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 300,000, the government said Wednesday. That was the slowest sales pace on records dating back to 1963. And it's the largest monthly drop on record.

Sales have now sunk 78 percent from their peak in July 2005.

Analysts were startled by the depth of the sales drop.

Who are these "analysts" that are always startled? Boy, do they need to find a new line of work, because they suck at their jobs if they didn't see this one coming.

Uncertainty And Corruption Slows Growth, Innovation and Investment in Russia (and America)

LA Times: In Russia, a climate of fear is stifling innovation. A good article, but here's the money quotes, that our political class should also mind:

He speaks of the importance of the rule of law. But after two years in power, he is losing credibility, and his words are wearing thin.

Disgusted and scared by the lawlessness and rampant corruption, they tend to shy away from ambitious plans and avoid taking risks.

Interesting Burglary and Gun Statistic

John Stossel: More Guns Means Less Crime
In Canada and Britain, both with tough gun-control laws, almost half of all burglaries occur when residents are home. But in the United States, where many households contain guns, only 13 percent of burglaries happen when someone is at home.

Texas GOP Drowning In Debt

Houston Chronicle: State GOP chief tackles party's big debt
New Houston chairman trying to keep the party out of bankruptcy

Even as Texas Republicans anticipate soul-stirring victories across the state this fall, their party faces the baleful prospect of immediate bankruptcy.

Steve Munisteri, the retired Houston lawyer who was elected chairman at the party's state convention in Dallas last weekend, knew it was bad. Party finances were a major issue in his campaign to unseat Cathie Adams, the longtime conservative activist who had taken over as party chairwoman just eight months ago. What he didn't realize, he said, is that he would be working 18-hour days his first week in office — and for the immediate future - just to keep the lights on.

"Although nothing really surprised me, it's much worse than was portrayed," he said by phone on Friday.

According to the latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, the party had $264,863 cash on hand and $501,174 in debt. Munisteri said the party actually owed $605,835. The Republican National Committee recently paid a bill worth $134,000, he said; otherwise, the RPT would owe $739,000.

"I have both a big debt, and we're losing money every month," he said.

Time For A Change In Afghanistan -- Defeat al-Qaeda And Stop Supporting The Afghan Government

Some very interesting analysis of the situation in Afghanistan from the well-informed and thoughtful Information Dissemination. Below are excerpts from their posts from the last few days.

Obama's Ernest King Moment

On December 20th, 1941, when President Roosevelt called upon Fleet Admiral Ernest King after King's appointment to COMINCH, Admiral King was reported to have said "When they get in trouble they send for the sons-of-bitches”.

We now know who one of that group is - General Petraeus.

The next will be the person named to replace General Petraeus at CENTCOM - who I hope is General Mattis ... But suspect could be Admiral Stavridis.

It is Time to Call in General Mattis

Is the strategic objective to defeat al-Qaeda and other extremist groups and deny them sanctuary or is it to protect the Afghan population, establish good governance, and rebuild the economy?

Those are two entirely different strategic objectives, but both become the strategic objective when you add the words "that in turn requires a sweeping counterinsurgency campaign."Counterinsurgency has become the slipper that fits every foot, when in fact military history suggests there are other military strategies for military engagement in failed states when unity governance cannot be achieved or established by an external state.

The McCrystal strategy depends, almost entirely, on the Afghanistan Army and Police forces being stood up and taking control of security of the country. How is that working out? I hope the President asks the question.

The McCrystal strategy also depends on a strong central government in Afghanistan, because without it the population of the country could legitimately be labeled the insurgent. How many tribes support the central government? How many support the Taliban? How many are partners with the ISAF? I hope these are questions the President asks.

I also think it is time to draft a strategy to meet the Presidents objectives of defeating al-Qaeda and other extremist groups and denying them sanctuary and give up the central government building exercise that has been completely ineffective - and indeed perhaps counterproductive.

The Marines left Iraq to go to Afghanistan. They wanted it - I hope the President gives it to them. I strongly believe that President Obama needs to pick one of two men - Lieutenant General John R. Allen or General James Mattis. No more West Point COINdinistas guys - it is time to pick a Marine.

It is time to call in General James Mattis.

More on McCrystal

The problem is that we appear to be losing the war, and now you have an internal distraction the enemy had nothing to do with.

The President made Afghanistan his war when he decided to go with General McCrystal's counterinsurgency strategy and began surging additional troops. I don't want to hear how the President of the United States had no choice regarding Afghanistan and was backed into the corner - because to suggest that is true is to basically say Barack Obama is not qualified to be the leader of the free world.

The President has lost his General. Has he lost the General McCrystal counterinsurgency strategy too? Is losing the war not so far behind?

I just wish there was one thing so far during the Obama administration to date I could point to and suggest there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the lack of direction and focus that is displayed in every emerging challenge this administration has faced to date suggests that a pattern of panic, confusion, chaos, and indecision regarding what to do will become the next phase of the Afghanistan war.

23 June 2010

We Need Protection When Big Government And Big Business Are In League With Each Other

Interesting article from the editor of the National Review: Opposing Big Business & Big Government

Rep. Joe Barton's quickly retracted apology to BP for the administration's strong-arm tactics was horribly misconceived. Fundamentally, we don't want a free market and a system of laws to protect corporations, but to protect us from both government and corporations, especially when the two are in league with each other. Corporations like BP tend to be craven, unprincipled, and willing to use government for their own ends - all qualities evident in BP's spectacular green-marketing campaign.

The bigger and more complex government is, the more incentive corporations have to politicize themselves and get in bed with Washington. If they have resources to do it (not everyone can afford Stan Greenberg), they'll protect themselves from the worst while disadvantaging their competitors. This accounts for the corporatist paradox of the Obama administration. The president is so arbitrarily anti-business that The Economist dubs him "Vladimir Obama," yet the same industries he demonizes support key elements of his "reform" agenda.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel argues that Barton's apology to BP is the sum total of Republican thought on the economy, and that the fall election is a choice between Obama-style hyperactive government or the depredations of the execrable BP.

To which the only rational answer can be, "None of the above."

Centrists Unite Under Modern Whig Banner

From NJ Centrist: Centrists Unite Under Modern Whig Banner

In a time of such frustration with the American political system, there is a glimmer of hope, a sprout that needs nourishment to be sure, but a movement that is indeed germinating. Two of the largest moderate political movements, the American Centrist Party and the Modern Whig Party have decided to merge.

Mergers are not easy, but in the name of centrist progress, these two champions have put the American people first. Over 46,000 centrists and moderates are uniting under the Modern Whig Party banner. Additional members expected to join this energized movement.

As the Democrats and Republicans continue their polarized rhetoric designed to damage one another, some patriotic Americans are dedicated to finding another way. Many moderate parties have smaller infrastructures, yet are expanding, as the dissatisfaction with the Washington “blame game” grows.

Why is this merger important? With a National Debt that has escalated under both major parties, Americans must find another party to bring common sense and fiscal restraint to government. With special interests legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, Americans must find a party that demonstrates a higher integrity. Uniting centrists and moderates is essential to bringing the United States back from the partisan tribal warfare that has afflicted our country.

Established in 1833, the Whigs are one of America’s oldest mainstream political parties. They were the original party of Abraham Lincoln and four other U.S. Presidents. Revived by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the grassroots movement has quickly attracted tens of thousands of members. They represent moderate voters from all walks of life that cherry-pick between traditional Democratic and Republican ideals, or can choose another path, in what has been called the Modern Whig Philosophy.

While many of the news outlets may pay little attention to this merger, it is an extremely important grass roots event. The Modern Whig party is expected to seek further mergers to unite centrists and moderates.

To learn more about the merged party, go to www.modernwhig.org/

Obama's Budget Director Flees Sinking Ship

Orszag goes overboard ...

WSJ: Orszag Adieu
According to press reports, Peter Orszag has told friends that he plans to leave as White House budget director because he wants to go out on "a high note." Would that refer to the deficit, or federal spending as a share of GDP?

Mr. Orszag's 18 months on the job is typical for the head of the Office of Management and Budget, though few predecessors have had a gaudier tenure. Budget wonks always say they favor "fiscal responsibility," some more credibly than others. Yet Mr. Orszag did so while serving as an intellectual architect of the $862 billion stimulus, two budgets that boosted spending to levels unseen since World War II and ObamaCare (true costs to come, though conservatively in the range of $2.5 trillion).

Mr. Orszag's first budget proposed to bring federal spending to 27.7% of GDP, and it is projected by the Administration to remain above at least 22% for the next decade—up from the modern average of under 21%.

The Congressional Budget Office's view of Mr. Orszag's budget puts the deficit at 4.3% of GDP in 2015—versus 2.6% in the baseline status quo—and then rising back to 5.6% in 2020.

Democrats on Capitol Hill and President Obama are doing most of this damage, but Mr. Orszag made one signature contribution—to wit, his claim that the only way to reduce entitlement spending was to create a new entitlement.

Quote of the Day

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. -- Groucho Marx

If You Ever Wanted A Reason To Oppose The VAT In America ...

BBC: Budget: Osborne's 'tough' package puts VAT up to 20%

To be fair, the U.K. is facing an awful financial crisis, and their proposed budget has been getting good reviews. But still ...

The Value-Added-Tax (VAT) in Britain was already an eye-popping 17.5%!

It is apparent that this tax is easy to raise. Despite the usual assurances from the political class that any American proposed VAT would be reasonable, in a generation, we would no doubt be right there with the Brits ...

Additionally, the VAT is an a very complex tax system, and I'm all for tax simplification.

And the simplest answer is to say no to any VAT in the U.S.

Yachting While The Oil Spills The New Fiddling While Rome Burns?

I have always wondered about how turns of phrase are coined.

I mean, Bernie Madoff ripped off more people than Charles Ponzi could have ever dreamed up, yet a hundred years later, it's still a Ponzi, not a Madoff scheme.

But why did the name stick on Ponzi? It's not even because he was the first that came up with the idea. Charles Dickens described such a scheme in Little Dorrit, long before Ponzi was even born, and the idea was certainly even older than that.

I recently found out that "The Wave," which people do during lulls in the action at sporting events, is known as the "Mexican Wave" throughout the rest of the world, even though it was invented here in the U.S.A. It's because much of the rest of the world first noticed it at soccer matches in Mexico, about a decade ago.

As I mentioned above, there is scant chance that "Fiddling While Rome Burns" will be replaced with "Yachting While The Oil Spills." Although some new phrase needs to attach to the Gulf catastrophe. Maybe "Golfing During A Disaster" would work ...

22 June 2010

American Centrist Party Merges With Modern Whig Party

Here is the latest from the Modern Whig Party:

We are pleased to announce that one of the largest moderate political movements in the nation has unanimously voted to merge with the Modern Whig Party. This means that we are being joined by a list of about 16,000 Americans who had initially signed on in support of the American Centrist Party. This merger is a natural fit as we both have been working toward a viable, mainstream and non-fringe political movement that values common sense, rational solutions ahead of partisan bickering and ideology.

On a practical level, we are receiving an infusion of a new core of moderate leaders throughout the nation. While the Modern Whig Party was revived by post-9/11 veterans, the effects of this merger further demonstrate the diverse makeup of this political movement. Work is now underway in other areas to expand our reach and maximize our potential while maintaining a foot in reality in terms of the continuing difficult task ahead.

Again, thank you for your continuing support of this political movement and our mutual goal in creating a viable, mainstream and non-fringe political movement.

Best regards,
Executive Committee
Modern Whig Party

This is good news. This is something that has been in the works for several months, and it is good to see it happen. The Modern Whig Party is becoming the undisputed home of moderate, common-sense politial efforts.

Welcome, members from the American Centrist Party!

18 June 2010

Big Institutions Fail

We live in a time in which our large institutions, corporate, governmental, political, and educational, are failing us.

It is time to get flexible, and embrace the little, the new, the young, the nimble.

Where to turn to embrace that politically? Good question.

All choices stink. Democrats are for Big Government (and Big Business) and the Republicans are for Big Business (and Big Government).

NY Times: Add Government to the List of ‘Fat Cats’

You do not have to be working for the minimum wage, after all, to seethe about the effects of the Wall Street meltdown on your retirement savings or the spilled oil creeping toward your shores. You simply have to fear that large institutions generally exercise too much power and too little responsibility in society.

This new American populism is why the federal deficit has emerged as a chief concern for voters, as it did in Mr. Perot’s era — not because it presents an imminent crisis of its own, necessarily, but because it signifies a kind of institutional recklessness, a disconnectedness from the reality of daily life.

The same dynamic explains the current spate of questions over the composition of the Supreme Court, which may soon consist entirely of lawyers trained at Harvard and Yale. It does not seem to matter that virtually all of those justices advanced from the middle class, rather than through inheritance. The pervasive reach of exclusive educational institutions is unnerving to some Americans now, and it helps inspire the caustic brand of populism that Sarah Palin and others have made central to their political identities.

What this means for Mr. Obama is that an anxious populace is now less likely to see his clash with BP as an instance of government’s standing up to a venal corporation, but rather as an instance of both sprawling institutions having once again failed to protect them. In a poll conducted last month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, 63 percent of respondents rated BP’s handling of the oil leak as fair or poor. But the government fared only modestly better, with 54 percent giving it the same dismal marks.

In other words, voters perceive both business and government as part of an interdependent system, and it is hard for them to separate out the culpability of either. Mr. Obama acknowledged as much in his speech Tuesday, when he asserted — in his lone criticism of government’s role in the crisis — that the bureau in charge of monitoring the oil companies had effectively been colluding with them instead.

All of which leaves the old kind of anticorporate populism — “the people versus the powerful,” as Al Gore put it — a beat behind the times, sort of like “flower power” or the Laffer Curve. Mr. Obama and his party are probably right to presume that voters don’t trust BP or any of the powerful companies the president has taken to castigating on a regular basis.

The problem is that they don’t trust Washington to stand up for them, either.

And People Wonder Why We Are In The Mess We Are In

So let me get this straight -- a lot of people recklessly ran up their debts on their credit cards. Pandering to the irresponsible, the Democrats enact a bunch of restrictions on the banks so they won't be able to make as much money fleecing their free-spending credit card customers.

The Democrats pat themselves on their backs, to the applause of the media.

Meanwhile, the banks, looking to replace the revenue lost because of the regulations, turn to their responsible customers, and move to end free checking. See story here: End Is Seen to Free Checking

So we promote a system that protects irresponsibility and punishes the responsible.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Republicans Defend BP

Is it a stunning product of the two party system, or a demonstration of the Republican's continuing love affair of big business? Incredibly, the GOP and their mouthpieces on talk radio have placed themselves in the position of defending BP.

Another exhibit of why the Republicans are hopeless.

They are defending BP. BP! The company who has done more to destroy the Gulf of Mexico, the offshore drilling industry, the most productive fishery in the nation, Gulf tourism, and any hope of establishing energy independence. And the Republicans are in their corner!

I would say it was unbelievable, except it is to be expected.

Look, I don't think much of Obama either, but damn! The spill is not his fault, and if he could stop it, I am sure he would. And as for BP -- well, to hell with them.
I am so upset about the continuing debacle in the Gulf, it has distracted me from just about any other political concerns. And no, I am not going to get more upset because Obama is putting the screws to BP to get them to cough up the dough.

But on talk radio, and the blogs, people are actually following along, and trying to --- well, defend the indefensible, it seems to me.

Just because Obama is for something, or wants to do something, it doesn't mean you have to automatically oppose it.

Big corporations can take care of themselves. But the Republican establishment is more concerned about a big oil company, than all of the livelihoods of all the workers and small businesses that have been ruined because of BP's negligence, not to mention the absolute environmental catastrophe.

If you want yet another demonstration of what is wrong with the Republican Party, here it is.

17 June 2010

Humvee Replacement Slideshow Link

WSJ: Humvee Proves Tough to Follow
Military Needs to Decide What Kinds of Wars It Will Fight Before It Replaces Icon

Here's a slide show so you can see the three proposed replacements. They look pretty cool.

Fujitsu Laptop Dies

I just heard back from my tech guy.

Not even two years old, and my Fujistu laptop is dead. First time that has happened to me.

My advice: don't buy Fujitsu computers.

I've owned an Apple, an HP, and two Dells (including ol' Wheezy here). All worked fine until I got rid of them because they were obsolete.

My Daughter, The Philistine

While in Washington, I took the kids to the National Gallery of Art to take in a little culture.

Among the paintings we saw was the one imaged here, Renoir's "The Girl With The Watering Can." Among the Picassos, the Monets, the Manets, the Cassatts, I thought my daughter would appreciate this one.

I explained Impressionism, and pointed out the details of the painting, explaining that the painting was very famous.

She asked "It's famous?"

"Oh, sure," I replied, "Many are familiar with the painting, and it is studied and appreciated all over the world."

Her response before walking away while rolling her eyes: "Why?"

15 June 2010

Thoughts on Congress

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.

Capitol Visitor's Center Shows Congressional Contempt for the People

"In the summer because of the heat and high humidity, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol." -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

While in Washington last week, I got to experience the Capitol Visitor's Center that Harry Reid thinks so much of. It was completed in December 2008, at a cost of over $650 million, four years behind schedule and $350 million over budget.

If you ever wondered what Congress thinks of the people to whom they owe their power, privileges, and good fortune, here it is. Apparently Congress thinks the public is violent, dangerous, needs to be controlled, and should be neither seen nor heard.

No joke, a guy in the long line next to me started mooing at one point.

The tour offered is short, unsatisfying, and perfunctory. Nearly all of our Capitol is off limits, to be enjoyed only by those who think so very little of us. The arrogance and waste of money that this control center represents speak volumes about the degenerate state of our Congress.

Even worse are the closed streets and ubiquitous security near the palatial House and Senate office buildings. Congress seems to be scared of their own shadow. Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of black Suburbans idle outside, waiting our whisk away our would-be aristocracy, while inside, staffers try to figure out new ways to fleece us.

The Black Screen of Death

My laptop died a couple of weeks ago. I had a planned vacation to Washington, D.C. last week, and was going to blog from there.

But my two year old laptop is down for the count, and tonight I'm back on Ol' Wheezy, my six year old Dell, running Windows XP, hooked back up and still ready to go. That's my reliable computer! What is wrong with this picture?

The short lived computer was a Fujitsu running Vista. I started having problems soon after I bought it, and was never very happy with it. It was expensive, too. An expensive piece of crap.

You already knew Vista was garbage. Fujitsu computers are no better.

I'll be back on Wheezy for a while. But I've had it with Windows. I have decided to bite the bullet and get an Mac the next time. Hopefully, by this fall.