31 January 2010

Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron

Caressa Cameron is winner of Miss America pageant
A 22-year-old beauty and broadcast journalism student from Virginia, Caressa Cameron hopes to earn a master's degree and ultimately become a news anchor. Cameron's plans are to travel for the next year and raise money for charity while carrying the Miss America crown.

The Perot Option

David Brooks wrote a great column the other day. I'm not sure if he is on to something here or not, but it sounds good to me and I think it rings true for alot of people right now. Here's a piece of it.
There is a specter haunting America: the specter of a saner, updated
version of Ross Perot. He is lurking out there, ready to ride the free-floating
anger and distrust of Washington. He is out there now in one of his homes or
private jets, getting madder by the day. He is large of ego, full of money and
cranky in mien.

When he enters the arena, he’ll say that Washingtonians, all of them, are a
bunch of failures. Over the past five years, Washington has tried to reform
Social Security, immigration, health care and energy policy. All of these
efforts have either failed or are close to failure — thousands of people working
millions of hours and in all likelihood producing nothing.

He’ll point out that Washingtonians, all of them, breed selfishness.
Republicans refuse to accept tax increases. Democrats reject spending cuts.
They’ve put the country on a highway to a fiscal crisis, and there are no exit ramps.

When he comes, he’ll present himself warts and all. Yes, I’m an obnoxious
S.O.B., he’ll say. But you need me right now. Yes, I am a blank slate, but
people are so desperate that they’re voting for blank slates. When he comes —
this billionaire Simon Cowell, this political Bobby Knight — he will
change the political landscape, at least for a time.

Its all true. The column appears here. I hope the new saner Ross Perot shows up. I think this hope is what fuels the Tea Party bunch and is the main reason for Sarah Palin's amazing and otherwise unexplained popularity. Whether this candidate shows up or not, I think a fair number of incumbents are running scared. I'ld be for replacing every single incumbent with a perfect stranger.

So Bin Laden cares about climate change now?

Well, living in a cave does offer a small carbon footprint. Which gives Bin Laden more eco-cred than Al Gore has.
"Talk about climate change is not an ideological luxury but a reality,” Mr.
bin Laden was quoted as saying in a report on Al Jazeera’s English-language Web
site. “All of the industrialized countries, especially the big ones, bear
responsibility for the global warming crisis.”

Whatever.

30 January 2010

From Funny or Die: iPad

The iPad - watch more funny videos

Obama's Proposed Federal Budget

NY Times: Obama Budget Freezes Much Domestic Spending

President Obama will send a $3.8 trillion budget to Congress on Monday for the coming fiscal year that would increase financing for education and for civilian research programs by more than 6 percent and provide $25 billion for cash-starved states, even as he seeks to freeze much domestic spending for the rest of his term.

Among the losers would be some public works projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, two historic preservation programs and NASA’s mission to return to the Moon, which would be ended as the administration seeks to reorient the space program to use private companies for launchings.

Exempted from the cuts, however, are national security, veterans programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — the most expensive and fastest-growing areas of the budget.

The three-year freeze would save $250 billion over the coming decade, assuming the overall spending on the domestic programs is permitted to rise no more than the inflation rate for the remainder of the decade — an austerity that neither party has ever achieved in Washington. Even so, the $250 billion in savings would be less than 3 percent of the total deficits projected through 2020.

Washington Examiner: Obama's 2011 budget will include phantom cap-and-trade revenue

President Obama's 2011 federal budget proposal will assume receipt of billions of dollars in revenue generated from the cap-and-trade program even though that proposal appears now to be all but dead in Congress.

Whether it's the $650 billion projected by the Senate bill or the $873 billion of the House bill, it appears highly unlikely, to put it charitably, that either measure will make it to Obama's desk with the cap-and-trade program intact.

That means Obama will be counting phantom revenue as part of his next federal budget proposal.

But then Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus program has produced two million phantom jobs located in phantom zip codes in phantom congressional districts, so perhaps nobody should be surprised to see phantom revenues in a White House budget proposal.

Our Ineffective U.N. Ambassador

Via Eye on the U.N.: BigGovernment.com: Where Has Susan Rice, our UN Ambassador, Been This Past Year?

Over the last year, Rice has avoided tough negotiations and public feuds at the UN and has subsequently produced very few UN resolutions on America’s priority issues. While other foreign Ambassadors speak fondly of Rice and her ability to make nice at the UN, she has been a weak negotiator for the American people.

Many UN veterans have indicated that Rice’s lack of leadership on the Iranian issue in particular has forced the French Ambassador to pick up the slack in trying to forge a new Security Council resolution to increase sanctions. The irony that the French are tougher than the Americans on the Iran issue has not been lost on career State Department officials.

Perhaps the best example of how Susan Rice views her responsibilities at the UN this year is seen in her revamp of the Bush era website for her office. While previous U.S. Ambassadors to the UN have prominently displayed the American flag on their website and proudly displayed the site in red, white and blue coloring, Rice has changed the site to UN Blue, added a large UN logo and only later added a small American flag after several reporters inquired about the dramatic change and missing American stars and stripes.

Rice has gambled this past year that keeping America unengaged at the UN is the best way to be the most popular Ambassador. Unfortunately, though well-liked during her sporadic visits to the UN, Rice has so far been unable to produce any meaningful progress on the world’s most troubling issues.

You May Want To Hold Off On Celebrating

The Economist: America's economy grew by 5.7% at the end of 2009. Yet it remains vulnerable.

There are reasons to doubt that the impressive performance in a single quarter will be repeated in the coming months. Weak fundamentals will prevent the American economy from sustaining that fast pace of growth. Of the 5.7% increase in real output, 3.4 percentage points came from inventory changes, as firms which had operated on a shoestring in the recession built inventories back to normal levels. That brief buying spree brought some workers back to assembly lines, but unless a new source of demand arises the boost from restocking will fade and growth will slow.
There are already signs of a loss of momentum. According to Macroeconomic Advisers, a consultancy, most of the inventory boost came in October, when growth roared ahead at a 16.4% annual rate. By November, growth had already quietened substantially. And throughout the fourth quarter the economy has continued to shed jobs. It is difficult to sustain growth when employment is not rising.

Nor is it clear where new demand might arise. As the GDP report makes plain, personal consumption remains extremely weak; consumption rose by just 2.0% for the quarter, below the 2.8% increase of the previous three months. Spending will probably remain subdued throughout 2010.

And even the fourth quarter's spirited performance may be overstated. Third-quarter growth was originally reported at 3.5%, only to be revised down later to 2.2%.

Alabama Teenager's Descent Into Violent Jihad

Via Jihad Watch: Here is an extensive profile of the American jihadist Omar Hammami, a.k.a. Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, and how he moved from a middle-class Alabama upbringing to the jihad in Somalia and a life full of hatred and violence.

Excerpt from NY Times Magazine: The Jihadist Next Door

Omar Hammami had every right to flash his magnetic smile. He had just been elected president of his sophomore class. He was dating a luminous blonde, one of the most sought-after girls in school. He was a star in the gifted-student program, with visions of becoming a surgeon. For a 15-year-old, he had remarkable charisma.

A decade later, Hammami has fulfilled that promise in the most unimaginable way. Some 8,500 miles from Alabama, on the eastern edge of Africa, he has become a key figure in one of the world’s most ruthless Islamist insurgencies. That guerrilla army, known as the Shabab, is fighting to overthrow the fragile American-backed Somali government. The rebels are known for beheading political enemies, chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. With help from Al Qaeda, they have managed to turn Somalia into an ever more popular destination for jihadis from around the world.

More than 20 of those fighters have come from the United States, many of them young Somali-Americans from a gritty part of Minneapolis. But it is Hammami who has put a contemporary face on the Shabab’s medieval tactics. In a recent propaganda video viewed by thousands on YouTube, he is shown leading a platoon of gun-toting rebels as a soundtrack of jihadi rap plays in the background.

He is identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, “the American,” and speaks to the camera with a cool, almost eerie confidence.

“We’re waiting for the enemy to come,” Hammami whispers, a smile crossing his face. Later he vows, “We’re going to kill all of them.”

Populist Impluses Subverted By The Democrats and Republicans

From Poli-Tea: The Populist Impulse and the Dialectical Defense of Democratic-Repulican Corporatist Government. Go read the whole post.

The reinvigoration of the populist impulse in American politics has the potential to upend long-standing assumptions that form the basis of the cliches that pass for conventional wisdom among professional political commentators and liquidate the ossified structures that maintain the ruling balance of power in favor of the Democratic-Republican duopoly system of government.

Perhaps the simplest way to understand how Democratic-Republican politics channels the populist impulse to the benefit of the ruling order and the political status quo is to consider the ideological division of labor between the Democratic and Republican parties and the resulting dialectic.

In the first moment, Democratic populists rail against the evils of big business while their Republican counterparts rail against the evils of big government.

In the second moment, the partisan Republican construes Democratic populism as an implicit endorsement of big government while the partisan Democrat equates Republican populism with an implicit endorsement of big business.

The outcome of this constellation is all too predictable. Because of their ideological investment in and political commitment to the ruling Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government, Democratic-Republican populism necessarily devolves into its opposite: the elitist defense of big government and big business.

The end result of this dialectic is the reproduction of the ruling order, which is characterized, above all else, by corporatist government, crony capitalism and political cronyism.

Isn't It Disturbing That It Is News That The President And Congressional Republicans Actually Talked To Each Other?

Washington Post: The stuff of riveting political theater
Obama and House Republicans delivered 90 minutes of sharp but civil give-and-take, a spirited debate on both the substantive differences that divide Republicans and Democrats and a frank discussion about the breakdown of government in the age of the permanent campaign.
Modern-Whig blog: Now That's What I'm Talking About!

The President was invited to the Republicans getaway in Baltimore and shocked everyone not only by showing up but by letting Cable news broadcast it Live!

As we watched..the President made his case for many of his political programs and ask the Republicans why they didn't support them..asking them point blank why they would challenge the Stimulus but at the same time appear at public project openings in their states that were paid for by the Stimulus?

He then did something that Republican House members were still talking about today..he stated that he had read Republican proposals and acknowledged them and even admitted many of them had a lot of potential..

Overall after watching this event..I wondered..why don't they do this more often? While not exciting to many in the average public..for those of us who pay attention to politics this kind of close quarters political combat Live on television is very refreshing and (like Presidential debates) helps voters better understand the interaction between our President and members of Congress...to think if they did this on a regular basis, politically biased pundits could be put out of a job!

Ok maybe not but isn't that a nice thought?

Such events make our political system seem a bit more transparent and should be do more often (maybe not as often as Question Time in the U.K. but still) and lets hope it does!

Hawaii Democrats Vote Down Civil Unions

This story isn't getting the coverage I would have thought. Perhaps it is because the legislature is completely controlled by overwhelming Democratic majorities.

The Democratic Party is not as interested in promoting civil unions as their rhetoric. For example, they could repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or Don't Ask Don't Tell tomorrow.

They raise a lot of money on this issue, so it pays to keep the controversy alive, so they can continue to raise money and draw in campaign volunteers. I mean, where else are you going to go on this issue, the Republicans?

Hey, don't feel bad. It is the equivalent of the abortion issue for the Republicans. A way to draw in the enthusiastic donors with empty rhetoric and no intention of taking any stated action.

Or you could take a look at a third party. Just sayin'.

SheWired: Hawaii's House Wusses Out, Killing Civil Unions' Bill

It Is Time Yet To Use The Phrase "The Bush/Obama Administration"? 9/11 Trial To Be Held in Guantanamo Bay.

So you voted for Obama because you thought the Bush Administration's policies on Guantano Bay were wrong? So do you feel like a chump yet?

Now you know how I feel when I can't find a candidate presented by our two ruling parties that offers an economic policy other than Bernanke, Bailouts, and Simuluses. So if you want Guantanamo Bay closed, who are you going to vote for?

Or you could take a look at a third party. Just sayin'.

NY Post: Bay what? Guantanamo eyed for 9/11 trial

The trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed won't be held in lower Manhattan and could take place in a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, sources said last night.

The back-to-the-future Gitmo option was reported yesterday by Fox News and was not disputed by White House officials.

Such a move would likely bring howls of protest from liberals already frustrated that President Obama has failed to meet his deadline for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

It would also indicate that after years of attacking the Bush administration for its handling of the war on terror, Obama officials are embracing one of the most controversial aspects of it.

Tea Party Convention On The Edge?

CS Monitor: Why the Tea Party Convention is tea-tering on the edge

With conservative firebrand Sarah Palin headlining, it’s been billed as an event to fuse and celebrate the tenets of the disparate “tea party” movement that has rocked American politics over the last year, forcing President Obama to take a more frugal and populist stance.

But so far, the first-ever Tea Party Nation Convention, slated for next weekend at Nashville’s Opryland, has been anything but a show of unity.

The decision by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R) of Minn. and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) of Tenn. to pull out of the convention, coming after similar withdrawals from groups like the American Liberty Alliance, has given Americans a glimpse into the vigorous internecine battles tearing at what critics mock as America’s latest mobocracy.

The big beefs:

The price tag: $549 for the convention and another $349 for the speech by Palin is money that many believe could be better spent supporting tea party-backed candidates in next year’s election.

Some have gone further, saying the upscale lobster dinner contradicts the tea party movement’s thrifty image, and feeds into theories that the convention is really a GOP “ruse” that will earn the organizer millions.

Cult of personality: Yes, Sarah Palin is a major conservative figure, but many tea party groups don’t want to get sucked into the kind of “cult of personality” that lifted Obama into the White House in 2008.

Local v. national: From the beginning, the tea party movement has been torn by its local versus national aspirations. Many who oppose the convention say it’s the people who should be speaking to the politicians, not the other way around.

29 January 2010

Will Hillary Challenge Obama in 2012?

This thought has occured to me before, but thought it pretty far fetched. But still ...

Wouldn't that be something? Hillary resigns as Secretary of State, and runs against a weakened Obama after the mid-term elections. If the Obama Adminstration continues on its current path, expect more stories about Hillary's growing rift with the White House.

US News and World Report: A Hillary Clinton Primary Challenge to Obama in 2012?

The chatter has increased in recent days about Clinton leaving the cabinet sometime in the first term, likely over some matter of principle, so that she can position herself to challenge Obama in 2012. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on the part of those Democrats who have already grown tired of Obama.

What is true is that Clinton can still mobilize the political infrastructure necessary to mount an effective challenge to the sitting president. A primary challenge against a sitting president whose approval numbers are above 50 percent and one mounted against an incumbent who is below 50 percent are two very different things, a fact of which the Clinton political team is surely aware.

Speakers Back Out Of Tea Party Convention

Politico: Lawmakers back out of tea party event

In another sign that controversy is taking a toll on next week’s National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tenn., two of its top attractions — Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) — have decided to opt out of their prior plans to speak at the event.

The high-profile blows to the convention come as several sponsors have backed out and organizers are struggling to sell tickets to Sarah Palin’s keynote address amid controversy about the convention’s unusual finances.

As first reported by POLITICO, the convention is being run by a for-profit Tennessee corporation called Tea Party Nation, registered to a little-known Tennessee lawyer whose efforts to position himself as a national tea party leader have put him at odds with some state tea party activists. The lawyer, Judson Phillips, intended to turn a profit from the convention, with the stated goal of seeding a so-called 527 group that would air ads praising conservative candidates or criticizing their opponents, though he now concedes he’s hoping just to break even and has tabled the 527 idea.

Blackburn and Bachmann, tea party favorites along with Palin, cited the financing arrangement in announcing Thursday that they were pulling out.

Nothing Says Change Like Reappointing Bush's Top Economic Official

Bernanke gets a second term as Fed chairman
In a hard-won victory for President Obama, the Senate votes 70 to 30 to keep the head of the central bank for four more years. Senators put market stability ahead of populist anger at Wall Street.

After State of the Union, Democrats in Disarray

Washington Post: After Obama speech, Democrats confused about path ahead

A day after President Obama called on them to renew efforts to pass his ambitious agenda, congressional Democrats remained in disarray Thursday about how to move forward, with at least some pointing at the White House as the cause of the legislative standstill gripping Capitol Hill.

Democrats left town early Thursday weighing their next steps on everything from the stalled health-care bill to competing job-creation packages. Before they departed, some criticized Obama for casting blame on the Senate, where moderates felt singled out for ridicule.

Others sought to shift the burden to the GOP, latching on to Obama's call for Republicans to share responsibility for governing after a devastating special-election loss left Democrats a vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Still others said the president's calls for bipartisanship were wishful thinking and suggested that daring Republicans to block their ambitious agenda would set up a "liberating" contrast for November's midterm elections.

Republican Embrace of the Free Market is a Myth

Volokh Conspiracy: Obama Perpetuates the Myth of Bush as Free-Marketeer

In the State of the Union, Obama continued to blame Bush and the Republicans for our current economic problems. This is understandable for two reasons. First,the GOP does deserve a good deal of blame, though my list of their misdeeds would probably look different from Obama’s. Second, pretty much any president in Obama’s position would do the same thing.

Much less defensible is Obama’s attempt to claim that the Republicans purused free market policies during the last eight years ...

In reality, of course, the Bush-era GOP greatly expanded government control of the economy, including major increases in spending, regulation, and federal “investment” in education.

Far from “maintain[ing] the status quo in health care,” Bush established the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the biggest new government program since the 1960s.

Ironically, Obama referred to the prescription drug program and other Bush-era spending increases as contributing to the deficit earlier in this very same speech.

Aw Shucks, Stop Being So Nice

Foreign Policy: An Aggregation of Nincompoops
Viewed from across the pond, the U.S. government seems at best incompetent and at worst a joke.
All of a sudden it seems as though "Yes We Can" actually means "Well, All Things Being Equal, We'd Like to Have a Go, but, Actually, It's Terribly Complicated and Difficult. So We Won't."

28 January 2010

Secretive Group Passed Out Billions To Bankers

Bloomberg: Secret Banking Cabal Emerges From AIG Shadows

The idea of secret banking cabals that control the country and global economy are a given among conspiracy theorists who stockpile ammo, bottled water and peanut butter. After this week’s congressional hearing into the bailout of American International Group Inc., you have to wonder if those folks are crazy after all.

Wednesday’s hearing described a secretive group deploying billions of dollars to favored banks, operating with little oversight by the public or elected officials.
We’re talking about the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, whose role as the most influential part of the federal-reserve system -- apart from the matter of AIG’s bailout -- deserves further congressional scrutiny.

The New York Fed is in the hot seat for its decision in November 2008 to buy out, for about $30 billion, insurance contracts AIG sold on toxic debt securities to banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co., Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank AG, among others.

That decision, critics say, amounted to a back-door bailout for the banks, which received 100 cents on the dollar for contracts that would have been worth far less had AIG been allowed to fail.

White House Back Door Deals To Be Investigated

Politico: Backlash on W.H.'s backroom deals

Back in May, representatives from six stakeholder groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Advanced Medical Technology Association, met at the White House to announce an industrywide pledge to slow skyrocketing health care costs by decreasing growth by 1.5 percent each year — saving an estimated $2 trillion.

“Two trillion dollars and we don’t know who said what to whom,” Burgess declared. “We don’t know if the deals struck were in the best interest of the public.”

Dinosaurs In Color

msnbc: Dinosaurs sported red feathers, scientists say
The first solid proof of pigmentation has been spotted in the fossilized tail feathers of a smallish meat-eating dinosaur found in China and named Sinosauropteryx. The creature seems to have russet colored rings, according to a paper published online Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Education Key To Future Economic Growth

Education Week: Study Links Rise in Test Scores to Nations' Output
U.S. could see $41 trillion gain in GDP over 80 years, it projects

Relatively small improvements in the skills of a nation’s workforce can have a big effect on its future economic well-being, concludes a new international study that seeks to quantify those benefits.

For the United States, the research suggests, modest gains in student achievement as measured by one international assessment could cumulatively boost the country’s gross domestic product by tens of trillions of dollars over the coming decades.

Here is the report itself: The High Cost of Low Educational Performance - The Long-Run Economic Impact of Improving PISA Outcomes

Spending Proposals

Huffington Post: 'It's Not My Fault But I'll Keep Spending'

If you thought Obama was ready to stop spending billions of dollars we don't have, think again.

Tonight, Obama went on a spending spree that would make Nancy Pelosi happy. The President's new #1 focus is now on creating jobs, he says. It's no longer health care. More than 42 minutes into his speech not a word had been uttered about health care.

But there was plenty said on how to spend your tax dollars even though we are already behind on paying our bills. There was $30 billion for community banks to give to small businesses, billions for infrastructure projects to put unions to work, millions for clean energy businesses, millions for community colleges, millions for more pell grants, millions for child care credits, billions for new home owners, millions for farmers and veterans and the list continues.

While a case can be made for helping each and every one of these groups, there has been no regard for who will pay for these new programs or whether now is the time to spend this money.

The Fault Lies Not In The Stars, But In Ourselves

Had a conversation today with someone I know whom I will call BigDem.

BigDem lamented that the health care reform came to halt. I agreed, saying I also thought that we needed reform. He expressed frustration with the inability to get anything done in Washington. I observed that the system was designed so that it is difficult to get anything done unless there is a broad consensus. I stated that there may be consensus that reform needs to be made, but no consensus on the nature or direction of that reform.

BigDem thought that there was enough consensus to enact reforms, and politics or personalities were just getting in the way.
BigDem then began to go down a list of needed reforms, which we discussed. Removing health care from the employer's responsibility. Requiring individuals to obtain coverage. Supplementing coverage for lower income. Breaking up large health care companies, possibly converting them to nonprofits. Allowing interstate insurance purchases. Converting Medicare/Medicaid to private coverage. Using a combination of states and the feds to regulate different parts of the system.

It turned out that we agreed on a great many things. We were well on our way to solving the problems of the world.

Until BigDem came to the public option. He insisted that reform would be ineffective unless the Federal government was running its own health insurance system. I thought that was not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous to the survivability of private insurance. He didn't think you could have real competition unless the government was running a chunk of the system directly. I argued that the feds did not need to run a public option, that it would be too expensive.
Ho compared it to mortgage guarantee companies, like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. I said exactly.
Looks like there remains a lack of consensus.

27 January 2010

(clap, clap, clap) Good (clap, clap, clap) Evening (standing ovation)

I find the State of the Union too difficult to watch. Too much applause.

Frustration Builds

Politico: Top Democrats at war - with each other

The anger is most palpable in the House, where Pelosi and her allies believe Obama’s reluctance to stake his political capital on health care reform in mid-2009 contributed to the near collapse of negotiations now.

But sources say there are also signs of strain between Reid and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and relations between Democrats in the House and Democrats in the Senate are hovering between thinly veiled disdain and outright hostility.

CBO Says USA Faces "A Daunting Fiscal Future."

The Hill: Lawmakers give cold shoulder to Obama call for budget freeze

President Barack Obama’s proposal to freeze government spending is turning out to be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.

His liberal base warned Tuesday the three-year cap on most non-defense discretionary spending could hamper an economic recovery. Conservatives dismissed it as insufficient and just for show.

The strongest backing in Congress has come from centrists.

“I think it [sends] a very important signal that the government is getting serious about getting its own house in order,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the government’s official fiscal scorekeeper, said Tuesday that the government faces a “daunting” fiscal future. The 2010 federal budget deficit will be $1.35 trillion, nearly as large as last year’s record $1.4 trillion budget shortfall, and deficits will average $600 billion over the next decade, according to CBO’s budget outlook.

“U.S. fiscal policy is on an unsustainable path to an extent that cannot be solved by minor tinkering,” said CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf.

He warned large amounts of debt often crowd out private investment, hampering worker productivity and income.

White House officials acknowledged the freeze wouldn’t fix the country’s red ink problem but would show the government is concerned about it.

More of a Light Frost Than a Freeze

Reason online: Obama's Empty Cost-Containment Rhetoric: Should We Call Him Out on It?

The part of the budget that Obama is chilling is responsible for a whopping one-eighth of annual federal spending. By the prez's own accounting, the action (which I guarantee won't hold up anyway) would save at max a whopping $15 billion in fiscal year 2011.

To put that in perspective: The budget deficit in 2009 was $1.4 trillion. Which will likely be matched, or nearly matched, in 2010. The budget in 2009 was a hair under $4 trillion and was first figured at around $3.5 trillion for 2010 (expect that to rise, as it normally does).

To talk about possibly trimming $15 billion (and that's only in foregone increases to whatever is already being spent) on a budget this size is like an already-broke dinner companion foregoing his third appetizer. It's not gonna help much when the bill comes due.

Seventy Percent Think Federal Government Is "Unhealthy, Stagnant, or Needs Large Reforms"

msnbc: Poll: American public fed up with Washington

Only 28 percent believe the federal government is “working well” or even works “okay,” versus seven in 10 who think it’s “unhealthy,” “stagnant” or needs large reforms.

What’s more, a whopping 93 percent believe there’s too much partisan infighting;

84 percent think the special interests have too much influence over legislation;

nearly three-quarters say that not enough has been done to regulate Wall Street and the banking industry;

and an equal 61 percent complain that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress aren’t willing to compromise.

And the percentage who believe the country is headed in the wrong direction now stands at 58 percent, the highest level of Obama’s presidency.

But if the public is fed up with Washington, its anger isn’t necessarily directed at President Obama.

Only 27 percent say they blame him for not being able to find solutions to the country’s problems. By contrast, 48 percent blame Republicans in Congress and 41 percent blame congressional Democrats.

Tea Party Convention Discord

NY Times: Tea Party Disputes Take Toll on Convention

A Tea Party convention billed as the coming together of the grass-roots groups that began sprouting up around the country a year ago is unraveling as sponsors and participants pull out to protest its expense and express concerns about “profiteering.”

The convention’s difficulties highlight the fractiousness of the Tea Party groups, and the considerable suspicions among their members of anything that suggests the establishment.

The Tennessean: Tea Party Convention: Another sponsor bites the dust

The Atlantic: More Bad News For The Tea Party Convention

Like Closing The Barn Door After The Horse Gets Out

NY Times: Obama to Seek Spending Freeze to Trim Deficits

Obama Administration Urged To Focus On Terrorism

The Hill: 9/11 Commission head presses Obama on anti-terrorism efforts

President Barack Obama did not devote enough attention to fighting terrorism last year because he was distracted by legislative battles over healthcare and climate change, the former chairman of the 9/11 Commission said Tuesday.


A Suggestion For The Academy Award For Best Movie

Sure, you'll hear a lot about artsy movies with good acting, stunning special effects, and plots that make some kind of sense. But none matches the craptacular Mega Shark v. Giant Octopus.

I mean, a shark that jumps up and catches a jetliner?

And eats a passenger that is getting married in two days?

As a review at IMDb asked:

[W]hich of these inspired performances will be awarded the Oscar? The high-flying mega-shark that can swim at 500 knots, or leap 5 miles into the air and snag a plane moving at about 600 miles an hour? Or the big octopus, that swims around aimlessly with such precision? Debbie Gibson's line chewing while constantly pointing her nose directly into the camera? The mono-tonal Japanese scientist guy? Or [Lorenzo]Lamas, who utters delightfully uproarious quips in your ears every 15 seconds

Words in the English dictionary simply cannot adequately describe the sensitive portrayals in this film.

And unlike Avatar, which has its message right out there in the open, the message of Mega Shark is so subtle, so carefully hidden, that it can almost be said to have no message at all.

Or as Mrs. Septimus stated after viewing the above clip, "I wish I had that minute of my life back." It takes a movie like Mega Shark to make us realize the value of our time here on Earth.

Sublime.

26 January 2010

Investigation Into Misspent TARP Secret Funds Approved By Geithner

Fox News: Bailout Watchdog Investigating Fed's AIG Secrecy

Special inspector general for the TARP says the Fed withheld documents he requested when auditing AIG's "backdoor bailouts" of banks it did business with.

An independent investigator is launching two probes into the government's rescue of American International Group Inc. and the insurer's subsequent payments of billions to big banks.

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, says the Fed withheld documents he requested when auditing AIG's "backdoor bailouts" of banks it did business with, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Barofsky's allegations came in prepared testimony provided to members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and obtained by The Associated Press.

The committee is investigating why the New York Fed, then led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, agreed to pay banks billions to cancel their contracts with AIG, which is based in New York.

Geithner approved the deals, which may have cost taxpayers billions more than necessary because he did not demand concessions from banks AIG did business with, according to Barofsky's earlier audit.

Barofsky's second investigation is into e-mails from New York Fed lawyers instructing AIG to withhold some details of the deal from a disclosure filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lawmakers have chastised the Fed for refusing to say which banks benefited from the AIG bailout, and by how much. A series of e-mails released under the subpoena show New York Fed officials and lawyers arguing for AIG to reveal less information than it wanted about those deals and other matters.

Democrats: History, Facts, and Informed Opinion Are Against More Stimulus. But We Tell You, It Will Work This Time!

The Hill: Senate Democrats consider $80B jobs bill

The White House is looking for ways to boost the economy with fiscal stimulus measures, while simultaneously pursuing efforts to cut the federal deficit and debt.

The new Senate bill, according to the draft summary, would be financed primarily with unspent money from the $700 billion financial bailout program.

The House bill included roughly $50 billion for public works projects and roughly $30 billion to help state and local governments avoid laying off workers. The bill also included additional money for unemployment insurance and to extend COBRA health benefits for the jobless.

Now, I thought the $787 Billion Stimulus was a jobs bill. That doesn't seem to be working.

So what is proposed? More of the same! Now, if going $787 Billion in debt didn't work, why are we throwing another $80 Billion at it?

The American: So How Is the Stimulus Working Out? Part II

In October, I showed that while the stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were being spent, the unemployment rate kept going up. In fact, the 10.2 percent unemployment rate then was already far above the 8.8 percent the Obama administration said was the maximum rate America would reach without a stimulus.

Today, I want to add to the evidence showing President Obama’s promise to create jobs with his administration’s spending is full of hot air.

Two things are sure. First, if it weren’t for workers’ mass exit from the labor force (600,000 workers exited in December alone), the unemployment numbers would look even worse that they already do. Second, government spending cannot create jobs.

Here is the chart from the article:




Meanwhile, the public is skeptical, and rightly so: CNN Poll: 3 of 4 Americans say much of stimulus money wasted

"One reason why the economic stimulus bill is no longer popular with the American public is the perception that a lot of the money has been wasted. Six in 10 believe that the projects in the stimulus bill were included for purely political reasons," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

"Nearly three-quarters believe that at least half the stimulus money spent so far has been wasted, and one in five say nearly all of it has been a waste," Holland said.

According to a CNN poll released Sunday, 56 percent of the public opposes the stimulus, with 42 percent supportive of the plan.

Not hard to understand when the Federal government is spending money to repair tennis courts in Montana: Tennis Stimulus

I came to Bozeman to find a city on thin ice over how it's spending stimulus money – $50,000 to erase cracks and potholes in a city tennis court.

Bozeman Mayor Jeff Krauss says the state legislature decided public recreation projects were fair game for stimulus money. About a dozen other Montana cities are doing the same thing.

We looked into that and contacted the Minnesota company contracted to do the Bozeman courts. We were told it will be hiring just two local workers to handle the installation...a two-day job.

Regardless, the Bozeman tennis courts and their new, stimulus-funded rubberized surfaces are expected to be ready for use this spring.

Yeah, let's spend more money on things like this. Good call, Democrats!

Sexist Lawmaker Wishes Opposite Sex Out Of Congress

The Hill: Dem lawmaker: Congress could pass health reform if men were 'sent home' (video at the link)

I am weary of this type of gender-bashing. It is foolish, malicious and out of touch, and no more funny than if a man said this about women.

Which of course, would create a firestorm, whereas this is applauded. And I doubt she will ever apologize.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) is an awful and mean-spirited person, guilty of a horrible stereotype of men! I have taken care of seriously ill children, and my wife, who had some serious complications and infections from a surgery.

And I still think the Democratic "health care reform" is not worth passing in its current form. So how about that?

Adding insult to injury, part of the Democratic Congressional leadership, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) defended and supported the comments by Shea-Porter, saying it was correct.

Nice to know that the female Democrats in Congress think men don't care for or about their loved ones.

25 January 2010

Do You Believe That The Democratic And Republican Parties Are Beyond Repair?

Excellent article over at Real Clear Markets by Bill Frezza: Can Common-Sense Economics Found a New Party?

My apologies for posting most of the article, but it sums up what I am thinking, I had a hard time excerpting it. Go read the whole thing.

Now that the runaway train of one-party profligacy has flown off the tracks in Massachusetts, is there any chance We the People might seize this opportunity to re-examine our party loyalties, challenging the destructive duopoly that's been serving our nation so poorly? How can the decisive repudiations of both the party of George Bush and the party of Ted Kennedy in quick succession possibly be spun to the merit of either?

Isn't it obvious that a disgusted electorate has had enough of both? Why do we continue to give allegiance to political parties captured by extremists and funded by special interests when the vast majority of Americans are socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and politically independent? Isn't it about time for a party to emerge that speaks for us?

How hard would it be to pitch a big tent around a few common sense economic principles, agreeing to disagree on social issues not directly related to saving our country from this tsunami of Demopublican debt?

Would it be so awful if most social issues were decided on the state level rather than by a one-size-fits-all federal government, especially if that size is extra-extra large?

Do you believe that the Democratic and Republican parties are both beyond repair?

If so, why do you keep lurching from one party to the other desperately trying to escape the excesses of whichever is in power? How about relegating both to the permanent minority status they so richly deserve? Where is it written that we are forever stuck with only two political parties?

What foul bit of sophistry convinced Americans that it is not only proper but a civic duty to vote for the lesser of two evils? Isn't that a perfect recipe for perpetuating evil?

What possible value is there in preaching bi-partisanship when it's the parties that are the problem? If a third party isn't there to give us better choices wouldn't incivility, dysfunction, and gridlock be preferable? Isn't that pretty much what we have now? If you claim to be tired of it, then why aren't you supporting a third party?

Must we wait for the arrival of a charismatic leader to get the ball rolling? Don't third parties built this way inevitably fade when their founders do? How about building a party based on ideas rather than politicians? Do these ideas have to pretend to offer comprehensive solutions to all of society's ills? How about focusing on a short list of core functions that the Constitution actually charters the federal government to provide? Wouldn't doing fewer things well make less of a mess than doing many things poorly?

When was the last time you asked yourself questions like this? Isn't it about time you started asking others? If not now, when?

This is pretty much my thinking for supporting the Modern Whig Party.

Eliminating Duplicate Programs Could Save $20 Billion

WSJ: A Debt-Limit Test
How about spending cuts instead?

The Senate is debating a $1.9 trillion increase in the nation's debt limit that would lift Treasury's legal borrowing ceiling to $14.3 trillion. After a $290 billion debt-limit raise last month, this giant new increase is intended to get Democrats past November's election without another reminder to voters of how much debt their spending is piling up.

[Senator Coburn (R-OK)] has a better idea: Cut spending to a level that would allow the government to stay beneath the current debt ceiling for a few more months. President Obama promised in his campaign to eliminate "unnecessary redundancy" in government, so Mr. Coburn is calling for at least $20 billion in spending cuts on programs that are duplicated across federal agencies. That's about 4% of nondefense discretionary spending, and Mr. Coburn's amendment identifies at least 640 programs that could be consolidated.

A few examples: A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found 69 early education programs, administered by nine different agencies. A 2003 GAO report found 44 job training programs, also administered by nine agencies. The Department of Education runs 14 separate programs for foreign study exchanges. Taxpayers spend more than $300 million annually on at least nine Agriculture Department programs to develop biofuels. Too bad we can't pay for all this with wood chips.

Mr. Coburn's amendment would also rescind an estimated $100 billion in "unobligated balances." This is money that was appropriated by Congress but has never been spent.

The built-in growth of federal entitlements alone will require that Congress lift the debt limit before too many months, and Mr. Coburn isn't suggesting that the feds repudiate U.S. bills. But the debt-limit debate is a good opportunity to see if Democrats are serious when they claim to be horrified at budget deficits. Their new-old idea of a bipartisan deficit commission is nothing more than political symbolism to get Republican cover for the tax increases that Democrats prefer over spending restraint.

The debate is also a test for the Republican Old Guard, some of whom dislike spending cuts nearly as much as Democrats do. If Republicans want to give voters a fiscal choice this autumn, they'll rally behind Mr. Coburn's amendment.

Chavez's Socialism Failing

Washington Post: How Hugo Chavez's revolution crumbled

During the past two weeks, just before and after the earthquake outside Port-au-Prince, the following happened: Chávez was forced to devalue the Venezuelan currency, and impose and then revoke massive power cuts in the Venezuelan capital as the country reeled from recession, double-digit inflation and the possible collapse of the national power grid. In Honduras, a seven-month crisis triggered by the attempt of a Chávez client to rupture the constitutional order quietly ended with a deal that will send him into exile even as a democratically elected moderate is sworn in as president.

Haiti only deepens Chávez's hole. As the world watches, the United States is directing a massive humanitarian operation, and Haitians are literally cheering the arrival of U.S. Marines. Chávez has no way to reconcile those images with his central propaganda message to Latin Americans, which is that the United States is an "empire" and an evil force in the region.

Then there is the meltdown Chávez faces at home. Despite the recovery in oil prices, the Venezuelan economy is deep in recession and continues to sink even as the rest of Latin America recovers. Economists guess inflation could rise to 60 percent in the coming months. Meanwhile, due to a drought, the country is threatened with the shutdown of a hydroelectric plant that supplies 70 percent of its electricity. And Chávez's failure to invest in new plants means there is no backup. There is also the crime epidemic -- homicides have tripled since Chávez took office, making Caracas one of the world's most dangerous cities.

At a recent baseball game a sign in the crowd read: "3 Strikes-Lights-Water-Insecurity/President You Struck Out."

Chávez's thugs beat up those baseball fans.

Artificial Props For Home Sales Failing

msnbc: Home sales tumble as first-time buyers back off
Worse-than-expected fall; “It's ‘exit stage left’ for first-time homebuyers”

Sales of previously occupied homes took the largest monthly drop in more than 40 years last month, sinking more dramatically than expected after lawmakers gave buyers additional time to use a tax credit.

The big question hanging over the housing market this spring is whether a tentative recovery will stumble after the government pulls back support. The Federal Reserve's $1.25 trillion program to push down mortgage rates is scheduled to expire at the end of March -- a month before the newly extended tax credit runs out.

Big Government Collapsing Under Its Own Weight

Some excerpts from The Economist: Leviathan stirs again. The entire article is worth a look. The graph is from the article.

Today big government is back with a vengeance: not just as a brute fact, but as a vigorous ideology.

In America, George Bush did not even go through a prudent phase. He ran for office believing that “when somebody hurts, government has got to move”. And he responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 with a broad-ranging “war on terror”. The result of his guns-and-butter strategy was the biggest expansion in the American state since Lyndon Johnson’s in the mid-1960s. He added a huge new drug entitlement to Medicare. He created the biggest new bureaucracy since the second world war, the Department of Homeland Security. He expanded the federal government’s control over education and over the states. The gap between American public spending and Canada’s has tumbled from 15 percentage points in 1992 to just two percentage points today.

In America more than 10,000 baby-boomers will become eligible for Social Security and Medicare every day for the next two decades. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculates that entitlement spending will grow from 9% of GDP today to 20% in 2025. If America keeps its distaste for taxes, it will face fiscal Armageddon ...

The level of public spending is only one indication of the state’s power. America’s federal government employs a quarter of a million bureaucrats whose job it is to write and apply federal regulations. They have cousins in national and supranational capitals all round the world. These regulators act as force multipliers: a regulation promulgated by a few can change the behaviour of entire industries. Periodic attempts to build “bonfires of regulations” have got nowhere. Under Mr Bush the number of pages of federal regulations increased by 7,000 ...

America’s deficit, boosted by recession, is already hovering at a post-war high of 12% of GDP, and the American economy depends on the willingness of other countries (particularly China) to fund its debt. The CBO calculates that the deficit could rise to 23% of GDP in the next 40 years if it fails to tackle the yawning imbalance between revenue and expenditure.

“The question that we ask today”, said Barack Obama in his inaugural address, “is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” This is clearly naive: with deficits soaring, nobody can afford to ignore the size of government. Mr Obama’s appeal for pragmatism has some value: conservative attempts to roll back government regulations have led to disaster in the finance industry.

But left-wing attempts to defend entitlements and public-sector privileges willy-nilly will condemn the state to collapse under its own weight. Policymakers will not be able to give a serious answer to Mr Obama’s question of whether “government works” without first asking themselves some more fundamental questions about what the state should be doing and what it should be leaving well alone.

Congress Must Stop Spending

Reason Online: The Government's Endless Appetite for Spending
It's time for Congress to go cold turkey.

Since they have been in full control of the federal purse strings, Democrats have spent a lot of money and got the country into a lot of debt. Hence the two consecutive increases of the debt limit in 3 months. And they aren’t the only ones. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the federal debt limit has been increased 98 times since 1940—more than once a year on average. Under President George W. Bush alone, Republicans voted to raise the debt limit by more than $6.4 trillion.

In practice, the debt limit is a very poor budget constraint because it does not alter either the spending or revenue policies that determine debt and deficits. Think about it this way: If you want to lose weight, the only solution is to reduce your current weight. Just telling yourself that you can’t gain an additional 30 pounds in the next year won’t help. In fact, it will only make things worse. Congress needs to stop spending money rather ruling that it should simply increase the debt by more than $2 trillion this time around.

Unpopular Stimulus

CNN poll: 56 percent oppose stimulus program

Possible Narratives For The Democrats

Washington Monthly: STRATEGERY AND THE SHIFTING POLITICAL WINDS

The GOP isn't in power right now, but the party still has vulnerabilities to exploit.

* Those guys really screwed up the last time.
Republican rule during the Bush/Cheney was a fiasco unlike anything America has seen in a very long time. The party, however, hasn't changed at all -- it's deliberately fought any efforts to improve -- so to reward the GOP in 2010 would be to endorse the same failures. I still don't know why Democrats never chose to label this the "Republican Recession."

* Why turn back the clock?
Nearly every crisis and policy challenge facing the United States right now -- the recession, two wars, a disastrous job market, a massive federal budget deficit, and crushing debt, a health care system in shambles, a climate crisis, an ineffective energy policy, an equally ineffective immigration policy, a housing crisis, the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, a mess at Gitmo, a severely tarnished global reputation, etc. -- is the result of Republican mismanagement, neglect, corruption, or some combination thereof.

The Dem line seems fairly obvious: if the country needs to put out fires, why vote for a team of arsonists?

* "Party of No"
As a rule, voters tend to like candidates/officials who at least pretend to be interested in problem-solving. "Whatever Dems are for, we're against" shouldn't resonate. Most of the American mainstream seems unimpressed by a party that reflexively rejects every idea, regardless of merit, while offering nothing substantive of its own.

Saints Win, Go To Super Bowl

You don't get to say that very often.

I grew up in a town where the New Orleans Saints were the closest thing we had to a local professional sports team. My friends had Saints posters in their rooms, Saints bedspreads, and Saints decals on the family car. Even I had a Saints jacket -- you know, the ones from the 70s, with the vinyl arms with the logo on the left side. The vinyl had split by the end of the winter.

And the Saints sucked every year. Every year. Every year! Oh, they were terrible.

A lazy Sunday afternoon. My dad dozing in the recliner. "What's the score?" "Oh, the Saints are losing ... "

I live in Houston now, and now have the lousy Houston Texans to lament. My son has the Texans gear in his room, and from the looks of it will have a future of frustration following that team as well.

But patterns set in childhood often continue throughout life, and I have always thought of the Saints as the team I wanted to win. I didn't think I would live long enough to see it. I can hardly believe that the Saints are going to the Superbowl. I just can't imagine such a thing happening.

I suppose Pat Robinson will be coming along any day now with a story of how they made a deal with the devil to win. "True story" he will add. Well, he has already blamed Katrina on the French Quarter.

But to hell with all of that. The New Orleans Saints are going to the Super Bowl.

24 January 2010

Republican Spending Spree Set Stage For The Democrats


It is important to remember that under George Bush and the Republican majority in Congress, federal spending exploded. Sure, they talk about fiscal responsibility now. But when they were in power, they were very careless.

Politics does not operate in a vacuum. With only two major parties, what one does is a signal to the other about what they can get away with. The runaway spending of the Republicans enabled and encouraged the Democrats to new highs (or lows, rather) of spending increases once they came into power.

Sure, the Democratic spending is worse. Even dangerous. But that doesn't mean the Republicans are good. In fact, they were terrible as well. If you think the Republicans have learned anything, the same people are still in charge of the Republican party. They are saying what they think you want to hear, but once in power, they will be back to their same tricks.

Cato @ Liberty: George W. Bush: Biggest Spender Since LBJ

The Congressional Budget Office has released final budget numbers for fiscal year 2009. The numbers allow us to take a last look at the Bush administration’s record on spending from a statistical point of view.

The following three charts show annual average real (or constant dollar) outlays during the tenures of recent presidents. Presidents were in office for either 4 or 8 budget years, except JFK (3 years), LBJ (5 years), Nixon (6 years), and Ford (2 years).

President George W. Bush’s last year was fiscal 2009. Outlays that year were $3.522 trillion, according to the CBO. However, $108 billion was spending for the 2009 economic stimulus package passed under President Obama. Bush was thus roughly responsible for $3.414 trillion of spending in 2009, which includes outlays for the financial bailouts enacted under his watch. (For FY2009, $154 billion for TARP and $91 billion for Fannie and Freddie).

Of course, presidents share spending power with Congress and it is easier for presidents to control discretionary spending than entitlement spending. Nonetheless, the results in these charts reflect the general spending approach taken by the presidents quite well. For example, Bush II was instrumental in adding the Medicare drug benefit, which by 2009 was adding more than $60 billion a year to federal spending.

Mercatus Center: Spending Under President George W. Bush

During his eight years in office, President Bush oversaw a large increase in government spending. In fact, President Bush increased government spending more than any of the six presidents preceding him, including LBJ. In his last term in office, President Bush increased discretionary outlays by an estimated 48.6 percent.

During his eight years in office, President Bush spent almost twice as much as his predecessor, President Clinton. Adjusted for inflation, in eight years, President Clinton increased the federal budget by 11 percent. In eight years, President Bush increased it by a whopping 104 percent.

Graph above is from Cato @ Liberty.

Speech is Money, Corporations are People, Corruption is Freedom

Slate: Money Isn't Speech and Corporations Aren't People
The misguided theories behind the Supreme Court's ruling on campaign finance reform.
The money-is-speech theory turns out to be a rhetorical device used exclusively to provide First Amendment protection for all money that wealthy people and businesses want to give to, or to spend, on campaigns.

Are Tea Parties Just A Front For the Republicans?

While the NY Times runs articles describing how the Republicans hope to use the Tea Party Movement for their own ends ...

NY Times: Republicans Strain to Ride Tea Party Tiger

As they look to make gains in statehouses and Congress this year, Republicans are trying to harness the Tea Party energy that helped make an unknown named Scott Brown the senator-elect from Massachusetts.

Across the country, many Tea Party activists believe that they have to work within the Republican Party if they want to elect fiscally conservative candidates. But they want the party to work for them — not, they argue, the other way around.

For Republican officials, managing the tensions between the two parties — one official, one potent — can be something like a full-time job.

Some Republican Party officials say privately that they are not yet certain whether the Tea Parties will prove to be a real force or simply the loudest voices. But the Tea Parties have proven their populist rage can be a power, whether to destroy Republicans — driving one out of a special Congressional election in upstate New York — or elect them in the most surprising of places, like Massachusetts.

So publicly, Republicans are trying to make nice with Tea Party groups, particularly in states like California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky and New Hampshire, where Tea Partiers are upending Republican unity with primary challenges to establishment candidates.

The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, proclaimed himself “a Tea Partier, a town-haller, a grass-rooter” in a recent interview, and organizers of the national Tea Party convention next month say he has expressed interest in their invitation to speak.

Mr. Steele held a conference call with Dick Armey, head of FreedomWorks, an umbrella for Tea Party groups, to talk about how they would fight together against health care legislation.

Poli-Tea is pointing out that such coordination and coopting indicates that the Tea Party Movement will inevitably fail: On the Inevitable Failure of Strategic Infiltration, or, the Degeneration of Tea Party Activists into Petty Party Functionaries

Consider how many tea party activists have proven incapable of liberating themselves from the ideology of the two-party state and now advocate an infiltrationist strategy that stands in direct contradiction with the movement's original opposition to Democratic-Republican politics as such. Ironically, if they continue down this road, they will likely suffer the same fate as the progressive anti-war movement, which was co-opted and then defeated by the Democratic Party.

The infiltration of the Republican Party by tea party activists is the co-optation of the tea party movement by the Republican Party. Such groups are as deluded as their progressive counterparts in the Democratic Party. Their emulation and adoption of the Obama strategy, which they deride as "far left radicalism," is evidence of their complete capitulation to that which they claim to oppose.

Instead of organizing real, independent opposition to the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government, these activists have chosen to accommodate the ruling political establishment by becoming its willing functionaries and call it resistance!

This takeover by the Republicans has the potential to cause a split in the Tea Party Movement between those who thought the Tea Parties were something different and those who just want some lovin' from the GOP.

TPM: Tea Party Dilemma: To GOP Or Not To GOP?

The Tea Party movement still has not come close to resolving the question of what its relationship with the Republican party should be -- and the issue is creating turmoil in Tea Party circles across the country.

Powerful and well-connected forces within the movement seem determined to harness its grassroots energy for the benefit of the Republican party. But that's not to say it's always a one-way street.

And even the Tea Party Patriots, perhaps the organized faction of the movement that most loudly proclaims its political independence, can't escape the party's reach. In putting together the rallies that brought tens of thousands to Washington last year, it worked closely with FreedomWorks, the conservative advocacy group run by former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey.

But many of the rank-and-file Tea Partiers whose energy helped launch the movement last spring -- and among whom a more libertarian ideology often prevails -- remain deeply wary of getting into bed with the GOP. And lately, they've started speaking out.

In an impassioned cri de coeur that reverberated around the movement last week, Kevin Smith, a Nashville activist who had worked with Tea Party Nation, denounced the organizer of the national convention as a patsy for the GOP.

"What began as cries for true liberty and a public showing of frustration with the big government policies of both Democrats and Republicans," Smith lamented, "has now been co-opted by mainstream Republican demagogues determined to use this as their 2010 election platform."

Here is a good assessment of what went wrong.

Politico: Obama's first year: What went wrong

I'm So Glad They Got Billions From Their Pals, Obama's Treasury Secretary Geithner and Bush's Treasury Secretary Paulson

Washington Post: Goldman Sachs earns $13 billion in 2009

Goldman Sachs reported blockbuster earnings of $13.39 billion for 2009 and said on Thursday that it kept compensation below the levels of its pre-crisis heydays.

Remember, they got $12.9 Billion from the AIG Bailout alone.

Actions Betray Obama's Populist Rhetoric

NY Times: White House Is Confident Bernanke Will Be Confirmed

After a full-scale mobilization, White House officials expressed confidence on Saturday that they had contained a populist uprising among Democratic senators that had threatened President Obama’s nomination of Ben S. Bernanke to a second term as the Federal Reserve chairman.

The first break in what had seemed a potential stampede against Mr. Bernanke was the statement from Mr. Dodd and Mr. Gregg. About four hours later, two Democrats — Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois — issued separate endorsements.

So Obama talks all populist when he is out in the sticks, but quashes any attempt to challenge the financial status quo.

Mr. Hu, Tear Down This Firewall!

I am glad Hillary took China to task for its censoring of the internet. The events of the past week were a step in the right direction.

Internet users, she declared, must be "assured certain basic freedoms" – freedom of expression and of worship, freedom from want and from fear and, most intriguingly, "freedom to connect".

Guardian (UK): Google's run-in with China shows that internet is now a real battleground
It was naive to imagine the regime would not control what its people could read in the internet.

23 January 2010

Free Liu Xiaobo

I just came accross a reference to the article linked to below. I meant to post it back in December, but the blog was down, and I missed it. Better late than never.

The article was written by Vaclav Havel showing he is concerned over the fate of Liu Xiaobo. They are both men I admire. Since the letter was written and published, Liu Xiaobo has been sentenced to eleven years in prison. For organizing a petition demanding some modest rights and some accountability.

WSJ: China's Human-Rights Activists Need Support
The signatories of Charter 08 face the wrath of the state.

Bold New White House Response To Recent Election: Insincere Pandering

WSJ: Obama Sharpens His Populist Tone

I mean, really. Are you buying this? We have an administration that is practically Goldman Sachs's Washington's office, and which is responsible for shoveling billions of dollars into Wall Street, and which is as intimately connected with Big Business as it is possible to get (so much so that it has taken over our largest corporations - GM for one).

And now we are expected to fall for a bit of populist rhetoric? Oh, c'mon! The next thing you know, he will giving speeches saying he will not allow mankind to be crucified on a cross of gold(-man Sachs).

The truth is, both parties are rife with big money, big business, big labor, big media. There is no getting away from it with either the Republicans or the Democrats. And the recent Supreme Court decision providing for unlimited corporate money is just going to seal the deal.

Look, the Democrats are not FDR's party. They haven't been since before I was born. The White House must really hold us in contempt if they think this cheap, tin-horn, shrill speechifying will seperate them from the reality of their policies. Sure, I suppose some nimrod professor somewhere will be excited by it, but I ain't buying it.

Actions speak louder than words. And the actions demonstrate that the Democrats are only slightly less dedicated from removing money from taxpayers and transferring it to their friends in big business than the Republicans.

That leads to the real problem, which is that when is comes to macro economic policy, we are not presented with any real choices. If McCain had won, the economic policies would have been practically identical.

Excerpt from Crooks and Liars: How This Administration Is Creating Third-Party Voters

A commenter over at Matt Taibbi's blog makes some excellent if painful points about this week's election results, and it was so good, so much to the heart of the matter, that I thought you would all want to read it:

The idiot pundits proclaiming this as a protest to Obama’s “overreach” are just morons and deserve to be ignored by anyone with half a brain. In a just world, bankers would wipe out their savings, after which they’d be fired and have to stand in today’s unemployment lines.

The lesson Obama should take from this is that people are not fooled by Obama throwing out platitudes like “I didn’t run for President to please fat-cat bankers” and then appointing people like Tim Geithner of Goldman Sachs to Treasury, keeping Ben Bernanke around, and having people who caused the economic pain for so many people like Larry Summers and Robert Rubin as his economic advisors.

And are not fooled when he does nothing but mouth platitudes, or makes a scene of phoning a bank to tell them not to buy a plane, as the largest round of banking bonuses is handed out the year after they did the financial equivalent of blowing up the world.

And are not fooled when he gives a speech to Wall Street politely requesting them not to be so greedy, and that they don’t need to wait for him to enact legislation to change their behavior.

I think Obama and his circle really believed that if he just talked the talk, and acted more empathetic in his photo-ops, no one would notice they were carrying on with the contempt Bush and Republicans had for the general public. But people did notice, and people who they counted on before to volunteer and vote for them because “they have no one else to vote for” are sick and tired of playing that game – not seeing a meaningful difference between the parties, they didn’t play the game this time and either sat out or expressed their disgust.

Whether he will take that lesson remains to be seen. He seems incredibly tone-deaf to me, and the corporate donors to the Democratic Party have no interest in that message getting through. Whether he’ll even feel the inclination to act on that lesson if it actually does sink in is also highly questionable.

Now I understand why people vote third-party. When the country is teetering on the brink and can’t get by on non-solutions anymore, and avoiding failed-state status actually depends on starting to fix the problems rather than just pretending it’s trying, and EVEN THEN the Democratic Party can only respond by offering trillions to Wall Street and legally requiring people who can’t afford health insurance to buy it from private, oligopolistic, profit-maximizing companies, all because of industry’s hold on Congress… then there’s nothing else you can do.

In such a sick system, all you have left is your integrity as the country goes to hell, and I understand with crystal clarity why people vote third-party.

Hat tip to Poli-Tea, and the post, On the Delusions of Progressive Democrats: Contradiction in Terms, which contains this observation:

To be a Democrat or a Republican today is to be nothing but an enabler and a facilitator of the Democratic-Republican Party's corporatist agenda, whatever your intentions may be.

If you stand in opposition to the corporatist agendas of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and you do so as a Democrat or Republican, you are the problem you seek to resolve. It is that simple.

Luckily, the solution to this problem is ready at hand. Declare your independence from the two-party system and the ideology that reproduces it.

22 January 2010

With Two Choices, Voting Against One Doesn't Mean You Are For The Other

Excerpts from Politico: Why the GOP should still be nervous

Republicans are publicly boasting that money will pour in after the Massachusetts win. If so, they could have enough to compete in November.

But Republicans still will fight against another set of numbers: the large number of voters who simply don’t like the brand the GOP is selling. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found only 30 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of Republicans. That is 8 percentage points lower than the favorability rating for Democrats. And 22 points lower than Obama’s.

Even Republicans aren’t thrilled with Republicans. A CBS News poll showed only 55 percent of Republicans hold a favorable view of their congressional delegation.

And voters also still don’t trust Republicans with big decisions. A recent Washington Post poll found 24 percent trusted congressional Republicans to make the right decisions for the country — 8 points fewer than Democrats and 23 points fewer than Obama.

“Scott Brown didn’t even really run as a Republican,” Dowd notes. “He ran as an outsider.”

Republicans are gleefully proclaiming the death of the Obama presidency, or at least his agenda. They claim the public has turned on him, holding him accountable for the sour economy and unemployment. However, the polls don’t back this up.

The WSJ/NBC poll found 65 percent felt Obama inherited the economic mess, while only 17 percent said his policies were “mostly responsible” for the current situation.

But even if the current political environment holds, the demographic numbers will remain the biggest obstacle to any longer-term gains for the GOP.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said last week he was very concerned about the lack of diversity among GOP candidates and their supporters. The most obvious place for gains in this area would be with Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority group. But a recent Daily Kos poll showed three-quarters of Hispanics hold unfavorable opinions of Republicans. There’s little evidence Republicans are aggressively working to fix their diversity problem: Aside from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, each of their potential 2012 presidential candidates is a white male.

Finally, one number Republicans are closely watching in the short term is the number of conservatives who will challenge establishment-backed candidates in key races. If this number grows too big, it will drain resources and highlight the deep divisions that remain inside the GOP.

Tea Party Convention Controversy

Politico: Latest tea party target: Its own convention

The convention is being held at a fancy resort, features $550 ticket prices, a steak and lobster dinner and a guest speaker with a $100,000 speaking fee. It’s sponsored by a for-profit company with a mysterious wealthy benefactor, and its organizers, who have been accused of secrecy and corruption, have threatened lawsuits against dissenters and clamped down on news coverage.

Sounds like just the kind of thing that tea party activists, whose populist outrage is directed at the Washington and Wall Street establishments, would be up in arms over.

Except it’s a tea party convention.

Previous post: 16Jan10: Tea Partying For Profit

Word of the Day: Plutocracy

Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy; or a class or group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth.

In a plutocracy, the degree of economic inequality is high while the level of social mobility is low.

Big Money Plans To Increase Political Influence

Where does this leave you and me?

Sitting at home and doing what we are told, if the powers that be have anything more to do with it, and thanks to Citizens United v. FEC, they will have more to do with it.

Participatory politics? Ha, that's funny. Now get out of the way, kid.

WSJ: Big Donors Plan Boost in Campaign Spending

Corporations, labor unions and other political entities are gearing up to play a larger role in influencing elections in 2010 and beyond after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down elements of campaign-finance law.

The Supreme Court on Thursday made it easier for entities to influence elections for Congress and the White House by stripping away rules that limited their ability to fund campaign advertisements.

Corporations, unions and wealthy individuals have sought to influence elections for decades by funding their own independent campaigns for or against candidates.
In the 2004 election, outside groups spent more than $550 million on their own campaigns, more than double what they spent in the 2000 campaign. Most of these independent efforts were bankrolled by labor unions and wealthy Democrats and were designed to help Democrats at the polls.
WSJ's Ashby Jones speaks to Kelsey Hubbard on the News Hub about the Supreme Court's decision today striking down limits on corporate political spending.

The two largest independent groups in 2004—America Coming Together and the Media Fund—spent a total of $136 million in an effort to elect Democrats. The Service Employees International Union spent $48 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

During the 2008 election cycle, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses, led all other independent groups by spending $36.4 million, mainly to help elect Republicans to the Senate, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, which tracks spending by outside groups.

The second-largest organization was the labor union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which spent $30.7 million. The Service Employees International Union spent $27 million.

I Wish We Did Have An Earthquake Weapon. That Would Be Awesome.

Fox News: Hugo Chavez Mouthpiece Says U.S. Hit Haiti With 'Earthquake Weapon'

The United States apparently possesses an "earthquake weapon" that set off the catastrophic quake in Haiti and killed 200,000 innocents. Don't believe it's true? Just ask Hugo Chavez.

Citing an alleged report from Russia's Northern Fleet, the Venezuelan strongman's state mouthpiece ViVe TV shot out a press release saying the 7.0 magnitude Haiti quake was caused by a U.S. test of an experimental shockwave system that can also create "weather anomalies to cause floods, droughts and hurricanes."

Now, why would he say something crazy like that? Maybe to distract attention from things like this:

BBC: Power cuts in Venezuela lead to traffic gloom

"This is a problem which dates back over the past 20 years of government - 11 of which have been under President Chavez," he says.

"When he first came to office, I was part of a group of experts from the public utility companies which put together two proposals for his new government: maintenance of existing infrastructure and investment in new electricity generation and transmission.

"It would appear that those proposals were ignored."

At midnight in Venezuela, the national anthem is played on state television. For many, it is now the moment when the televisions fall silent and the lights go off, the start of their four-hour energy rationing programme.

In September, Venezuelans go to the polls in legislative elections. The issue of electricity is expected to play a significant role in the vote, epecially as the blackouts come on top of other problems in basic infrastructure, such as water rationing, and a recent currency devaluation.

"Common sense tells you that there may well be a punishment vote against Chavez and the United Socialist Party," says Dr Varnagy. "But you must remember that for many President Chavez is like a messiah and they will excuse this situation and continue to vote for him."

Meanwhile, the country continues to function as best as it can in the dark.

Socialism is failing again. How many failures does it take to prove that socialism does not work? The people of Venezuela are learning a very important lesson.

21 January 2010

Fourteen Percent Libertarian: Stick To Your Guns, Or Infiltrate?

Excerpt from Volokh Conspiracy: The Libertarian Vote

David Kirby and David Boaz have published a new Cato Institute study estimating the size of the “libertarian vote.” They conclude that about 14% of American voters are libertarian in the sense of broadly opposing government regulation in both the economic and social realms.

Kirby and Boaz point out that libertarian voters generally lack a strong sense of identification with either party, and therefore are often a swing vote in elections. Obviously, very few of these voters identify with the tiny Libertarian Party either. It is true, of course, that most of them voters may not think of themselves as “libertarian” and many of them probably don’t even know the word. They are like the proverbial man who has been speaking prose all his life without knowing it. Several decades of studies going back to Converse’s classic work also show that most voters don’t have a good understanding of the meaning of “liberal” and “conservative” either.

Finally, I should reiterate my earlier view that the Libertarian Party is not a good vehicle for mobilizing the libertarian vote (see here and here), as proven by its dismal failures over more than 35 years. Rather, libertarians should work to increase their influence over the two major parties by mobilizing their constituency more effectively. With its substantial libertarian component, the Tea Party movement is an interesting start. But much more remains to be done.

I find it interesting to note that the post above ends with an admonition for libertarian voters to infiltrate the two major parties. But as d.eris at Poli-Tea is fond of pointing out, this infiltration strategy is a dead end, and is not effective. For example, Against Infiltration: Fool me once, shame on you. I won't get fooled again.

As to the larger question as to why the Libertarian party is not more effective -- well, that discussion can be found at the many sites devoted to just that question. There are several reasons that quickly come to mind. Some have to do with the internal workings of the libertarian party itself. To be more successful, they have to broaden their message. But that creates an internal conflict, as many libertarians get involved in the Libertarian Party out of a desire to not compromise their beliefs, making a broadening of the message problematic.

My only thought is that they should concentrate on a few Congressional districts instead of running for president. The counter-argument is that the presidential campaign generates publicity, new members and donations.

All I know is, "infiltration" won't work.

Health Care Reform Dead

Looks like the Democrats could use a President with a little, you know, experience. I tried to warn you, but did you listen? Noooo.

msnbc: Dems reject quick fix on health care passage
Some say Mass. loss signals that public wants more moderate reforms

Though reeling from a seismic political loss, House Democrats rejected the quickest fix to their health care dilemma Thursday and signaled that any agreement on President Barack Obama's signature issue will come slowly, if at all.

Democrats weighed a handful of difficult options as they continued to absorb Republican Scott Brown's election to the Massachusetts Senate seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy. Several said Obama must forcefully help them find a way to avoid the humiliation of enacting no bill, and they urged him to do so quickly, to put the painful process behind them.

House leaders said they could not pass a Senate-approved bill, standing by itself, because of objections from liberals and moderates alike. Such a move could have settled the matter, because it would not have required further Senate action.