Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Politics of Taking It Personal

Anger. There's a lot of it out there, these days, particularly as concerns politics and the Federal elections. One could argue that anger propelled the Tea Party movement in 2009 and 2010, leading to near-historic results in the 2010 mid-terms. One could also posit that anger was the impetus for the OWS movement and its various spin-offs. And I guess, by and large, this is nothing new. Anger has driven various social and political movements--the good and the bad--across history.

In that regard, such anger usually has a target or targets. Most tea party types--that were on board since the get-go--will tell you that the target of their anger was and is expansive government and those entrenched politicians who help it along, who use their political power as personal power, who assume they have a right to the office they hold, even though they hold it in the name of the citizens they supposedly represent. Such politicians--in the minds of tea party folks and others--have been shirking their responsibilities for a long, long time and need to be called out for this, removed from public office, regardless of the letter by their name.

Opponents of the Tea Party will sing a different song: they'll agree that anger is behind the movement, no doubt, but they will insist the target is Barack Obama, alone. According to such people, the Tea Party movement is a thinly disguised reaction to the Presidency of an African American. It conceals racism--whether overt, covert, or subconscious in nature--and is about simple hatred, nothing more. Moreover, many of these opponents will also insist that the Tea Party movement is largely a product of the Religious Right and is under the control of this group, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

When it comes to the OWS movement, the same sort of dichotomy exists: the initial founders of the movement had somewhat clear targets: big money financial firms with political connections who were--in the minds of OWS-types--essentially screwing over the common citizenry. People who thought the whole thing was largely silly--like yours truly--argue that the real targets were the "rich" period, that OWS was simply a populist-spawned class-warfare event, with no real set of policy objectives, with no real set of anything, just pointless raging against "the man," to borrow a term from the past.

There are arguments to be had here, different points of view based on how one sees current conditions and historical ones, and based on ideological assumptions. Still, everyone--I think--can recognize the role of anger in service to a cause.

It's actually another manifestation of anger that I wish to discuss, though I'm not entirely sure how to phrase my description of it. Ever disagree with someone about politics? Of course you have; pretty much everyone--who is at least minimally engaged as a citizen--has had such an argument. Ever get angry during the course of such an argument? I certainly have; political issues can be emotional issues, even personal issues so anger is hardly an unexpected thing.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yes, we have no canaries

"Canary in a coal mine" is a fairly familiar expression, made so largely because of the Police and their song of the same name, released in 1980. But it refers to a real historical practice of coal miners: bringing a caged canary into the mine as a means of warning the miners about rising toxic gases. The canaries would become sick long before such gases had effected the miners, thus giving the later time to escape the mine. The phrase is now used as a metaphor for any type of early warning system.

But it would seem that the one place where we lack such a system--even though history gives us clear evidence of a need--is the arena of government debt. Because as much as mortgage backed securities played a role in the financial crisis of 2007-2008, so to did the rise in government debt, both in real terms and as a percentage of GDP.

There remains a cadre of neo-Keynesian economists--led by Paul Krugman--who continue to insist such debt is not a problem, that sluggish economies can be revived by government spending, that--somehow--such debt can eventually be paid down, once the economies start growing.

Now to be fair, such a scenario is not wholly ridiculous. It could work, given the right set of initial conditions. And one of those conditions would be--quite obviously--a low or even non-existent amount of government debt. Unfortunately, such is not the case, in the United States or almost anywhere else. Governments have spent decades piling up debt, regardless of how their economy was or is doing. And now, with the annual cost of carrying such debt sucking up huge chunks of government revenues, there has been a turn towards so-called "austerity" measures. And surprise, surprise, no one like such measures in the least.

As I previously detailed, protests against "austerity" are growing in Spain, even as the Spanish government struggles to prevent the nation from following the path of Greece. People in France are none too happy, either. Nor are they happy in England.

But the alternative to reigning in government debt is calamitous. Because increasing government spending--as people like Krugman would have nations do--means increasing the annual cost to governments of servicing their debt. And that means destroying wealth held by the public, either via inflation (which will outpace interest rates on savings) or via increased taxes that simply deplete wealth and savings as a matter of course.

Why? Because this isn't the eighteenth or nineteenth century anymore. It's not even the twentieth. Populations in industrialized nations are aging and either growing slowly or actually shrinking. The tax base, relative to the overall population, is shrinking. There's a point of no return here. I'm not sure how to compute it, but I know it's there, the moment when government debt can never be paid down without truly severe cuts in government spending, cuts that would threaten the very existence of the government.
We all know that when it comes to debt as a percentage of gdp, Greece was and is in serious trouble. But look at this chart and see who the big dog is, when it comes to debt as a percentage of gdp. That's right, it's Japan, with a debt to gdp ratio of over 200%. So why hasn't Japan fallen down the same rabbit hole as Greece? Short answer: savings. The government and the citizenry have more than any other industrialized nation, thus allowing the the government to finance more debt, year after year. To a point.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A moment to Basque in the Spanish Sun?

Tyler Durden over at Zerohedge notes today that the outflow of deposits from Spanish banks continues. While the rate of movement has slowed--from 5% in July to 1% in August--the money is still leaving. Unemployment in Spain is near 25%, unemployment among youths in Spain is over 50%. And the forecast for the Spanish economy to contract by .5% in 2013 is now being viewed as overly optimistic by those directly involved in the Spanish economy:
...Said Jose Luis Martinez of Citigroup Madrid, "However, we see as too optimistic the macroeconomic assumption of 0.5 percent recession for the next year. We see a scenario with a deeper recession and if this were the case, further spending cuts will be needed."
Money fleeing Spanish banks, a government forced to make huge--seriously huge--spending cuts, high unemployment, and an economy going in the wrong direction: sounds like an awful good recipe for something. How about revolution?

In Navarre and the Basque Country, thousands have taken to the streets to protest budget cuts, most of them members of Basque trade unions. The Spanish government is desperately trying to work out a deal with the European Central Bank, but in order to meet the requirements of an ECB bond-buying program it would likely end up in the same boat as Greece. Either way, there is no relief in sight for the groups protesting.

In Catalonia, there is talk of all-out secession. Catalan President Artur Mas has already scheduled early elections for November, where he will seek to push through a referendum calling for more autonomy in Catalonia from the Spanish government. Given that Catalonia is the biggest economic region in Spain when it comes to output,  this is no small thing. If things keep going downhill in the region, a deal with the ECB for a bailout will be next to impossible to conclude, since the bonds that would end up in the ECB's possession would be worth even less than nothing, given that a near one-fifth of the Spanish economy would be potentially gone. Who in their right mind would buy these bonds from the ECB?

Yet, I think the problems in Navarre and Basque Country have the potential to be even worse, both for Spain and the EU at large. Because again, it is moments like these that lead to real revolution. And coupled with the events in Catalonia, the Spanish government will have a difficult time maintaining control if things get worse; each will feed off of the other, even while unrest continues in the southern parts of Spain, as well. Spain's opposition leader--socialist Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba--agrees, saying:
Spain is increasingly slipping from his [Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy] hands. There are very clear fractures in Spain, and the one I am most worried about is social fracture.
After the fall of the Soviet Empire, Balkanization became--for a while--a very common topic; many believed the world was unavoidably headed towards more localized systems of control. But by the mid-nineties, this idea fell out of favor, especially as the EU seemed to prosper. Now in Spain--and elsewhere--we see that traditional patterns of social cohesion remain, even after sustained efforts to forge broader linkages, less dependent on tradition. Economic pressure leads to societal stress and these old patterns return in force as a perceived--though ultimately irrational--solution to unsolvable problems.

We are given to suppose that the divisions in society break on economic lines, that economic class is the overriding factor. But it's moments like this where we can learn a difficult truth: people ultimately still self-identify first and foremost by perceived race, by ethnicity, by language, by culture, and by common history. They see themselves as a particular kind of people, not as members of a particular economic class. Middle class, lower class, upper class all go out the window. Despite the constant pressure from many in power to view the world through a wholly Marxist prism, the truth is that this prism is flawed, it is deeply fractured. And the fractures become apparent when attempts to define the world via contrived economic constructs, to establish some form of equality of outcome, fail miserably. As they always do, in the end.

Cheers, all.

Drooling media easily duped

The liberal media elite: they're...well...elite. Just ask them, they'll tell you. And the principle component of that "eliteness" is a superior intellect. They are all--not unlike the President--the smartest people in the room. Always.

Remember back before the 2010 elections, when the Tea Party was going strong with rally after rally? Sarah Palin addressed a crowd in mid-October, warning them that it wasn't quite time to "party like it's 1773." The year referenced the original Boston Tea Party, of course. But eager-beaver members of the media elite--like Gwen Ifill and (Daily Kos founder) Markos Moulitsas--jumped on the comment, assuming Palin had bungled it, that she meant 1776. So they mocked her supposed stupidity, her lack of knowledge.

After it was pointed out to them that Palin didn't mess up anything, that it was their own lack of knowledge--they didn't know the year of the original Tea Party--on display, they became defensive. Gwen Ifill, for instance, insisted that her very obviously mocking tweet was no such thing. Right, sure. Moulitsas claimed his tweet was sarcasm, but I think everyone got that, it's just that his sarcasm was misplaced because he was clueless about the meaning of the date. Either way, both refused to admit error. And that's the telling thing.

Fast forward to the present time and the various reactions to this article at Politico. The article--by Roger Simon--was intended to be satire. Admittedly, it's not very good satire, but there are some obvious bits that make it apparent the article was not intended to be taken at face value. Like this portion, for instance:
A word about PowerPoint. PowerPoint was released by Microsoft in 1990 as a way to euthanize cattle using a method less cruel than hitting them over the head with iron mallets. After PETA successfully argued in court that PowerPoint actually was more cruel than iron mallets, the program was adopted by corporations for slide show presentations.
Now, if you're reading what you think is a serious piece--even though the article had already made the ridiculous claim that Ryan had begun referring to Romney as "the Stench"--and you come to the above, wouldn't you reassess your assumption? PowerPoint as a way to euthanize cattle, seeing that is akin to being smacked in the head with a giant clue stick. It screams humor, or at least an attempt at humor.

Nonetheless, erstwhile members of the Fourth Estate jumped on the article as actual news and hit the ground running. There are a now a boatload of stories out there detailing all of the people who treated the story as factual, who jumped on the manufactured quotes Simon attributed to Ryan and opined about them on cable news shows or incorporated them into their own pieces. The list of names is a veritable Who's Who of the liberal media elite, from Keith Olbermann to Lawrence O'Donnell, from Ed Schultz to Paul Krugman.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Message to Obama

President Obama, in a telephone interview with The Des Moines Register, said the following today:
What I think most Iowans certainly believe is that if the majority of the American people have said, ‘This is the direction we need to go,’ and the Republicans in Congress say, ‘No, we’re going to go in the exact opposite direction,’ that’s probably not going to leave them to keep that majority too long.
Wishful thinking, sly poking, or spot-on prognostication? Factually speaking, of course, the Republicans only have a majority in the House. The Senate remains under the control of the Democrats. One would have to assume, I guess, that if Obama was really on to something here, the Democratic majority in the Senate would be poised to increase, while the Republican majority in the House would be in serious jeopardy. So let's take a look at how things stand, as of right now.

Currently, there are 241 Republicans in the House and 194 Democrats. RealClearPolitics puts 178 Republican seats and 145 Democratic seats in the "safe" zone, leaving 112 seats theoretically in play. 51 of those seats are in the "lean GOP" or "likely GOP" columns, while 48 are in the "lean Dem" or "likely Dem" columns, leaving 23 toss ups. That means to keep the current advantage and assuming the "leans" and "likely" seats fall as predicted, the GOP needs to win 12 of the toss-up seats. To keep an advantage, period, the GOP needs, well, none of the toss-up races. In fact, it could lose all of the toss-ups and 11 more seats besides and still retain control of the House.

Pardon Mr. President, but it's a pipe dream, the idea that Republicans will lose control of the House in this election cycle. In fact, it's far more likely that the Republicans will increase the size of their majority. Based on the current numbers and the election results from 2010, it seems that a majority of Americans don't agree with Obama's direction, at all. They may not agree with Romney's direction either, but the President doesn't appear to have his finger on their collective pulse in the least. Let's continue, though.

Turning to the Senate, things really aren't much different. Right now there are 47 Republican Senators and 53 Democratic (including two independents who caucus with them) Senators. RealClearPolitics lists 42 Republican and 37 Democratic seats as safe or not up for reelection in this cycle, leaving 21 seats in play, eight of which are labeled toss-ups. The "No Toss-Up" map gives the GOP a +1 seat gain. But note that of the 21 seats in play, 16 are Democratic seats. Right now, the no toss-up map is very close to being the best-case scenario for the Democrats, losing just one seat; the possibility of losing more, even losing control of the Senate, remains. Much will hinge on turnout in these toss-up States and a number of them are not key battleground states at all, meaning local and State elections could influence turn-out, something that is not easy to predict.

Despite Obama's hopeful words, the Democratic Party is currently on pins and needles, when it comes to the Senate. While Obama currently holds a clear advantage in the national polls (which may or may not be real), this doesn't translate into advantages for Senate and House Democrats at all. Many of the later are running campaigns to distance themselves from the President and his policies; the last thing they want is to see the President making a campaign stop in their district.

The point is, Obama isn't operating in the confines of reality with the above comment. There's a sharp divide with regard to "direction" in the country right now; Obama's direction is not that of a large majority--or even of a slight one--at all. And part of the reason for why it's not is the President's refusal to own his actions and the results thereof. In the same interview, he has the audacity to say the following:
When you look at why the debt exploded under my watch, it’s because somebody else ran the tab before I got into office.
On its face, the statement is logically untenable, since the "tab" has grown every year under Obama, partly because of huge expenditures that he championed. But the whole "it was Bush's fault" meme is tired and neglects to note that for half of the Bush years, there was a Democratic Senate. Indeed, for Bush's final two years, there was a Democratic Senate and House.

Regardless, Obama isn't traveling anywhere close to the direction of people who are concerned about the growing national debt and the weak economy. He can pretend he is, but few are buying it. And those people represent a sizable portion of the American public, of the voting public. A Gallup poll from the beginning of this month shows a declining confidence level among Republicans and independents, when it comes to the economy:


And note this lack of confidence by more than half of the electorate coincides with Obama's slight edge in the polls. Thus people know Obama is likely to win a second term, but that's not having a positive impact on their confidence in the economy, at all.

So again, Obama's direction is not that of the majority. His public claim that it is and therefore Republicans in Congress are in jeopardy is a foolish move, in my opinion. It doesn't make him look clever, it's not a particularly effective barb, and it's just not a defensible position. It makes him look clueless and out of touch. And that's what he is.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to look weak in one easy lesson

President Obama addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations today. He spoke at length about the recent spate of violence and protests in the Middle East, about Chris Stevens' death, and about violence in general as a roadblock to the growth of freedom and democracy.

I'd like very much to say that it was a good speech, that he made some strong points and raised some valid issues. But I can't. And why not? Because once again, the President found it necessary to comment on a nothing film in relation to the violence and protests, to once again appear with hat in hand playing the role of an appeaser. The relevant passages from his speech:
That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well -- for as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe. We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.
And later:
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.
It's just effing amazing to me (pardon my French, but I don't know how else to put it), that Obama can--with no apparent recognition of what he is doing--say the above and then the following:
And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. (Applause.) There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There's no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There's no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.
He simultaneously justifies that violence by joining in the supposed outrage and condemnation over a nothing video on YouTube. I've finally has a look at the video in question and while it's certainly stupid and offensive (and very poorly done), it's just not the worst thing ever, with regard to the "prophet of Islam" or any other sacred figure. Worse things appear on the internet and in real life every day. Every hour of every day, in fact. Yet the President keeps harping on this video as if it actually needs to be singled out. Foolishness.

Screwing up Democracy

We all tend to view the past--more often than not--through rose-colored glasses, when it comes to unhappiness with current events or with a current state of affairs. A perfect example of this is the recent bout of hang-wringing angst over the supposed rise of violent and/or divisive language in political discourse. Of course, this narrative was coming from Democrats and liberal-leaning (to put it mildly) journalists, so it was Republicans and the Right who bore the blame for this rise. It was all imaginary and/or fabricated. And as I noted in the above piece:
But what's amazing about all of this, in my opinion, is the near-infinitesimal memory of those claiming that there has even been a heretofore unprecedented increase in divisive--and violent--political rhetoric and imagery. They have no concept of American history in this regard, whatsoever.
But unfortunately, the public is gullible by and large and possesses--as a group--the same short memory that afflicts much of the Fourth Estate. Consider another issue that has gripped--and continues to grip--the Left with the same kind of angst: money in politics. In this faux-narrative there is too much of it coming in, like from wealthy people. The current flavor du jour in this regard are the Koch brothers; the money spent by people like George Soros is somehow inconsequential. But let's not get sidetracked with such obvious and typical hypocrisy from the Left. There's a bigger nut to crack here: the now-infamous Citizens United decision.

Nevermind that the decision was properly made, nevermind that the issue was one of free speech, nevermind that the law being struck down was all about protecting incumbents, the decision was--according to the Left--a seriously Bad Thing because it and it alone would open the flood gates, would allow previously unheard of  amounts of money to flow into election politics.

And yet, the records for the most money raised and most money spent by a political campaign were set prior to the decision, by none other than Barack Obama and his campaign:
President-elect Barack Obama, the first major-party nominee to reject federal funding for the general election, spent $740.6 million. That eclipsed the combined $646.7 million that Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry spent four years earlier.
Yes, you're reading that right. Obama spent more in his race than did Bush and Kerry combined. And as the above story notes--and as I have explained in detail--Obama was the first nominee to eschew public financing for the General Election since the public financing system was established. In the current race, no one is even talking about the collapse of this system--brought on by Obama--none of the liberal pundits has so much as a word to say about. Yet the Citizens Untied decision remains as a talking point.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Should the SEC be investigating the Treasury Department?

An op-ed in the Chicago Tribune yesterday called for the Treasury Department to dump its General Motors stock, especially given it's recent jump--albeit a modest one--in price. On Friday, GM stock closed at $24.80 per share, up by more than two dollars per share since mid-August, when I penned this piece calling for the Treasury to sell off it's holdings, though still below the price per share in February of this year when Mitt Romney made the same call.

When the price of GM stock--in August--sat at around $22 per share, a full divestment would have meant a total loss--for the Feds and the taxpayers--of around $15 billion dollars. In February, it would meant a loss of around $13 billion. Today? Somewhere in the middle, let's call it $14 billion. Of course, as long as the Government is holding these shares--500,000,000 of them--all losses or gains are on paper only, they are unrealized as of yet. But at the same time, the investment represents stagnant capital at best, since an earlier divestment could have been used to invest in a superior (higher potential upside) stock or stocks. Like Apple, for instance.

Year to date, GM stock is up around 22%. Not bad, but it still represents a helluva drop off from the $33 per share IPO and the subsequent rise to $40 per share in January of 2011. Apple stock--in contrast--is up over 70% for the year and far more than that, going back to the beginning of 2011. In fact, using the IPO as a start date, GM stock is down around 28% since then, while Apple stock is up a whopping 326%.

Obviously, the Treasury Department is not being run by investment gurus. But then, the Government's stake in GM wasn't about making money, it was about saving the company and saving jobs, right? That's the Administration's narrative on the matter, repeated ad nauseum. So why is it still holding the shares? This piece at Bloomberg argues that the Treasury Department is just being smart:
Treasury is right to be patient. This isn’t bureaucratic resistance -- it’s smart investment management. Dumping the shares would only flood the market with GM stock, depressing the price even more. Taxpayers, moreover, deserve a better return. They are still suffering in the backwash of the financial crisis, with more than 12 million Americans out of work and real wages that have been stagnant for years.
Hello? If GM really is back, if it can actually remain competitive, none of this matters. The stock would represent a bargain, right? And if it's a "better return" that's the issue, Treasury should have dumped to the stock a long time ago. The real reason that Treasury is holding the stock is purely political: the Administration doesn't want to be forced to explain a huge loss of taxpayer funds this close to an election.

So it waits. And hopes. And waits. And hopes.

If only there was some way to get that share price up, to make the loss seem far more palatable so it could be sold to the American people as a win...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why is Obama winning? We're a nation of sheep.

And not just average, everyday sheep, but ignorant, delusional, and smug sheep.

Fair warning: some readers of this bog may already be aware of some of this, but I need come clean. Again. First, I don't think Romney can win; I think the General Election will go Obama's way with the final tallies being very similar to 2008, and I will explain why that is in a moment.

Second, as the title makes clear, I'm about to start calling people sheep, huge numbers of people. And stupid sheep, at that, mostly because they support Obama. But the other side--the Right--is not without its own mass of sheep. And I'm constantly amazed how much political capital is blown on issues that--when it comes to the grand scheme of things and the future of the Republic--just aren't that critical in national elections, all for the sake of these sheep. I'm speaking of things like same-sex marriage and abortion. From my previous bit on these matters:
The libertarian in me says "let it go, people have a right to make choices." For no matter what anyone says, an abortion is a medical procedure and it can be justified. Is it a "good thing"? No. But it must be allowed though not encouraged. And same-sex marriages will take place in defacto form if the States do not allow them. The struggle against them is pointless and--again, in my opinion--deeply wrong-headed, since people must be allowed to seek happiness, especially when that happiness promotes social cohesion with no cost to others.
Politicians on the Right use these two issues--and others like "family values"--to inflame the passions of citizens, to stoke up the outrage oven, to garner easy votes from people not given to deeper considerations. And that's a huge mistake, in my opinion, because it represents time that could be better spent on clarifying the more important issues, the proper role and extent of the Federal Government, the activities of the Federal Reserve, the lack of clarity and consistency when it comes to laws, both in terms of language and scope, and so on and so on.

Right now, we have a Party--the Democrats--promulgating a narrative about the economy and how to "fix" it that is just a bunch of nonsense, by and large. And that needs to be pointed out, again and again and again. Right now, we have elected representatives more than willing to openly ignore laws and the Constitution, even though they have taken oaths to follow the former and uphold the latter. And right now, we have a chief executive in way over his head, who has appointed morons and fools to critical positions and who just can't accept his own limitations or lack of knowledge.

There's plenty of hay to be made by the Right, but it needs to be made in the right places and for the right reasons.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Clueless! Clueless! Clueless!

President Obama on Univision, when asked about whether or not the attack on the Libyan consulate was a terrorist attack:
We're still doing an investigation...What we do know is that the natural protests that arose over the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they could also directly harm U.S. interests.
Gah! The protests weren't "natural" at all! The YouTube video that supposedly sparked these "natural" protests was uploaded in July, not September, not even August, but July, more than two months before the protests occurred. There was no sudden coalescence of Muslim YouTube viewers throughout the Middle East on September 10th and 11th that magically morphed into near-simultaneous protests at various U.S. missions.

And the attack in Libya occurred at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, not at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. Why? Because--quite obviously--the people behind the attack knew Chris Stevens would be in Benghazi on that day, not in Tripoli. Which means--again, quite obviously--that the attack was planned in advance and Stevens was the target.

The other protests were obviously orchestrated, as well. Did the video play a role? Sure. Radical Muslim leaders used it--and likely were behind the dubbing of the video into Arabic--to trick people into joining these protests; knowingly trick them most definitely, because these leaders knew full well that the video meant nothing, that no one cared about it, that it had no influence or support in the United States, whatsoever.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Laws and the Constitution: meaningless to Dems in Congress

Everyone has heard about the fate of the so-called "Veterans Job Bill" by now. It failed to get the necessary sixty votes to overcome a budget point of order--raised by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions--and thus was returned to committee. The issue raised by Sessions was simple: he noted that the bill violated the Budget Control Act of 2011. Remember that? It was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on August 2nd, 2011. The passing of this legislation was a part of the compromise between Republican lawmakers and the President that allowed the raising of the debt ceiling.

And the Veterans Jobs Bill--S.3457--violates the terms of this legislation. Quite clearly. Look around at the news stories on the vote. They're all entitled  "Republicans kill vets jobs bill" or the like, they all mention the reactions of various Democrat Senators over this outrageous move on the part of Senate Republicans. Pundits invariably turn to talking about how the Republicans don't care about veterans and the comment sections on these stories is dominated by sheeple blathering on and on about the same, about how this was "a slap in the face to the vets," or something similarly inflammatory and obnoxious.

Most of the stories do mention the reason for Sessions' point of order objection, like this one:
Republicans said the spending authorized in the bill violated limits that Congress agreed to last year. Democrats fell two votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to waive the objection, forcing the legislation back to committee.
But what none of the stories contain are serious arguments about why Sessions was wrong, about why the bill doesn't violate the Budget Control Act. And that's because...(drumroll)...it does violate the Act. No one can make the argument that it doesn't because it so obviously does! Yet, the Democrats in the Senate still want to have a vote on it, still want to pass it!

The GAO--the Government Accountability Office--has already issued a finding on the effect of the Budget Control Act on spending by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Prepared at the behest of Democratic Senator Patty Murray back in May of this year, it says:
GAO concluded that all VA programs, including veterans’ medical care, are exempt from sequestration. Section 255(b), enacted in the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, is the more recent expression of congressional intent, and thus takes precedence over section 256(e), which was enacted as part of BBEDCA in 1985. We note, however, that administrative expenses incurred in connection with VA programs may be subject to sequestration. The execution and impact of any spending reductions will depend on the legal interpretations and actions taken by the Office of Management and Budget, which is vested with implementing the Budget Control Act.
The Democrat version of this so-called jobs bill--being championed by Senator Murray--includes the creation of a new program, the Veterans Jobs Corps. As a new program that will cost money, it is automatically subject to sequestration. But even allowing that this was somehow not the case, the program entails administrative expenses because of its nature. And this means it's a no-go, as is crystal clear in the GAO response to Murray, above.

And the buck is passed...

The DOJ's internal review is complete, the report is out, and the fall guys for Operation Fast and Furious have been chosen. Right now, it appears fall-guy-in-chief will be former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein (he resigned yesterday), followed closely by former acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Holder’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Monty Wilkinson, and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer (who is in charge of the the DOJ's Criminal Division).

Conveniently, all but Breuer are no longer working for the DOJ. But Breuer's failures--according to the 471 page report, which took 19 months to complete--are limited to issues of notification: supposedly, he failed to pass on information about Fast and Furious to Holder and others. Moreover, Breuer knows where other bodies are buried. He'll likely survive all of this with little more than a stern reprimand.

Holder is, himself, claiming total vindication, saying the following in a statement released after the report:
I have reviewed the Office of the Inspector General’s report on Operation Fast and Furious and the key conclusions are consistent with what I, and other Justice Department officials, have said for many months now:

The inappropriate strategy and tactics employed were field-driven and date back to 2006;

The leadership of the Department did not know about or authorize the use of the flawed strategy and tactics; and

The Department’s leadership did not attempt to cover up information or mislead Congress about it.
So to sum up, according to Holder, this was really the fault of the DOJ under Bush and the people in charge of the DOJ--like himself--didn't know what was going on. Right. Got it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The real elitist is in the Oval Office

Mitt Romney's 47% "gaffe" is still dominating the news, it's all most pundits and journalists want to talk about. And with good reason: it's seriously juicy red meat, easy to parlay into lengthy opinion pieces about Romney, his wealth, and his elitist nature. Forget the truth contained in what Romney said--four months ago--stoking up the outrage furnace is the name of the game in punditry land.

Meanwhile, anti-Americanism remains a problem in the Middle-East and beyond, as the Administration obstinately clings to an unsustainable narrative about the attack that left four Americans dead in Libya and about the unrest in general: "the movie did it." At the same time, the Fed has taken the nation into uncharted economic territory with QE3, a move that will likely help the stock market in the short term, but will do little for sustained growth and may even herald the return of stagflation.

And what is our supreme leader up to, these days? Why, he went on the David Letterman Show, then followed that up by clubbin' with J-Zay and Beyonce. Life is good. No doubt he'll find time to work in another round of golf in the very near future.

President Obama, Harvard man and legal scholar, who parties with the beautiful people, takes lavish vacations around the world, and plays more golf than any President since Eisenhower, he's a man of the people. But Romney, he's the elitist. Riiiiiight.

Now some may say the golf angle has been done to death, but I really don't think so. Remember the Arch-villain George W. Bush, who is--according to Obama--responsible for all that ails the nation and the world? He liked to play golf, too. He was hitting the links periodically--actually frequently--even after 9-11. But then he had an epiphany, of sorts. He decided to stop playing golf while in office in August of 2003, after hearing about casualties in Iraq while on the course.

Nothing has kept Obama from the links, not war, not the economy, not violence in the Middle East, nothing. That's commitment. Even Obama's legendary "laser-like focus" on jobs was put on the back burner when it was time to swing the sticks. And this need to golf--coupled with his lavish vacations--is a truly fascinating thing, given what the President once said about his office, when he was but a humble Senator (hat tip to Caroline May at the DC):
But essentially the bargain that any president I think strikes with the American people is, you give me this office and in turn my fears, doubts, insecurities, foibles, need for sleep, family life, vacations, leisure...is gone. I am giving myself to you, and the American people should have no patience for whatever's going through your head, because you've got a job to do. And so how I think about it is, that you don't make that decision unless you are prepared to make that sacrifice. That trade-off, that bargain.
Got it? According to Senator Obama (this was from 2006), when one assumes the office of President, things like vacations and leisure activities (golf) are gone. They don't just take a back seat, they are gone, period.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Romney's comments: insensitive or the plain truth?

The Obama Campaign--and its cadre of sycophants in the mainstream media--is all abuzz over a leaked video, wherein Mitt Romney talks about that portion of the population that pays no income taxes:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

David Corn--writing at Mother Jones--describes the remarks thusly:
During a private fundraiser earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a small group of wealthy contributors what he truly thinks of all the voters who support President Barack Obama. He dismissed these Americans as freeloaders who pay no taxes, who don't assume responsibility for their lives, and who think government should take care of them.
Admittedly, Romney's off-the-cuff remarks sound pretty harsh. Democrats and pundits are calling them insensitive, uncaring, and the like. Corn, for instance, says they show Romney's "disdain" for half of America.  But is that what they show, or do they show a profound unhappiness with the current state of the nation, a deep disappointment with what America has become, across the last 50+ years? Because the real question is, are Romney's words accurate?

Remember the kerfuffle over Obama's comments about the private sector, how it was "doing just fine"? Court panegyrists like the two Jonathans--Chait and Cohn--were falling all over themselves in trying to defend Obama's comments, even though Obama quickly walked back his claim. But even with Obama's correction in place, the witless dupes in the media continued to maintain that what Obama initially said was wholly accurate.

Monday, September 17, 2012

More foreign policy missteps from Democrats

A little earlier today--just before 2:00 est--I caught a few minutes of America Live with Megyn Kelly (by the way, nice looking outfit, Megyn!). She had on a couple of guests: Brad Blakeman, a member of the Bush administration, and Dick Harpootlian, Chairman of the Democratic Party for the State of South Carolina. They were discussing the Administration's attempt to insist the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens was all about a nothing YouTube video. Ms. Kelly noted recent reports from the Libyan government indicating that the attack was planned and executed by an al Qaeda-linked group, that it had nothing to do with the video and everything to do with 9-11 in particular and anti-Americanism in general:
[Libyan President] Megarif says that over the past few months, foreigners took advantage of the security vacuum and flowed into the country from Mali and Algeria. I ask if this attack was over an anti-Muslim film that sparked violent protests across the Muslim world. He shakes his head.

"The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous," he says. "We firmly believe that this was a precalculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate"...

Megarif claims evidence shows that some elements of Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group in eastern Benghazi, were used as tools by foreign citizens with ties to al-Qaida to attack the consulate and threaten Libya's stability.
In response to all of this, Harpootlian sought to defend the Administration's claims that the attack was merely an outgrowth of the protests, that it wasn't pre-meditated at all. In doing so, he questioned the information coming from the Libyan government, saying (starting at around 7:39):
"Of course we are hearing from Libyan intelligence, which I may suggest is a contradiction in terms."

Wow. What an idiot. Let's be clear on this: a high-ranking member of the Democratic Party, the President's Party, just went on national television and essentially called all Libyans stupid. And he smiled when he did it, he thought he was being funny.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Playing the race card in a stacked deck

Since the moment Barack Obama opted to run for the Presidency, the issue of race has been a factor. There's no way around it. Why? Because people are--as a matter of course--prejudiced. All people, myself included. That's not to say all people are bigots, let alone racists, but we are all prejudiced to some extent. It's human nature. What that means is that we all have preconceived notions or opinions--based upon our own experiences--which inform our actions, our words, our choices in all things.

But we can actively seek to minimize the influence on ourselves of such prejudices; many (hopefully most) of us do exactly that, particularly when it comes to our interactions with others. This is--in effect--what makes civil society civil. In meeting someone for the first time, for instance, we invariably make assumptions about them, based on how they look, act, and talk. Sometimes such assumptions turn out to be correct, sometimes they don't. Still, the rational person seeks to not let those assumptions automatically dictate actions and responses: in meeting a person who is lawyer, we might assume that person is greedy and deceitful, based on our previous experiences with other lawyers, but we can willfully set aside those assumptions and deal with the person based on what they actually say and what they actually do.

When it comes to race, all of this is no less true. Those who are unwilling to set aside their prejudices (and some have far more than others, because of their life experiences) are being unfair, of course. And oftentimes, these are people who we might rightly call bigots, people who hold on to their prejudices in defiance of all reason and all evidence to the contrary, who allow such prejudices to absolutely control their interactions.

But some bigots are even given to justifying their opinions with phony evidence and flawed arguments, thus allowing them to pretend reason is the basis for these prejudices, that such things are not mere opinions but subjective truths. It is from here that the myth of race springs, the idea that one race is superior to another as a matter of course, that each race has particular attributes going far beyond mere appearance. Such people are what we rightly term racists.

It is important to understand the differences here, from simple prejudice, to bigotry, to overt racism. The first is universal, as I have explained, but can be overcome by the individual (sometimes easily, sometimes not). Bigotry and racism both reflect an unwillingness to recognize one's prejudices and even--in the case of the latter--attempts to justify them. Both are damaging mindsets to have in society, though the nature of man being what it is, both will probably always be with us. And when we see either in evidence, we should--in my opinion--point it out, seek to correct it, or at least disassociate ourselves from those who practice it.

Obama--as the first black President in American history--has suffered through many attacks (not in the physical sense) from both bigots and racists. There are people who simply do not accept him because of the color of his skin, who did not and will not vote for him or show him any kind of support for that same reason. In my view, such people are a very small minority, though unfortunately a very vocal one. Such people used legitimate disagreements with the President and his polices to make themselves heard. The Tea Party movement has had to endure this reality; we've all seen the racist signs held up by those who claim to be a part of the movement. And the media--being lazy--is always more than happy to latch on to such images, thus allowing the entire movement to be painted with a large racist brush.

For Obama and his supporters, such a response--broadbrushing the entire movement--was a predictable response. Politically, it was a sound move, an effective strategy. And from there, the Left was able to move to an even larger brush: painting all opposition to Obama as somehow racist. This was predictable too, I guess, though I never imagined it would be both exploited and justified to the extent that it has. In various political discussion, I have found myself on the receiving end of an accusation of racism on more than one occasion. Because such an accusation is a powerful weapon; there is no way to prove it false and simply denying it is insufficient.

But now with Obama's first term nearly over, with a pitiful economy, a middle class steadily losing income as prices rise (hello stagflation), and a foreign policy in near-ruins, one would think criticism would have to be taken at face value, without the racist broadbrushing. Right? Nope, because it remains a powerful weapon and those who make a living out of wielding it have no intentions to give it up.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Obama's "Let's Roll" moment?

The waves of violence are spreading now, well beyond the Middle East to nations in North Africa like Tunisia, to even distant nations like Australia. Over what? According to the Administration, over a YouTube video, nothing more. Throughout the world, American lives and interests are in jeopardy. And of course, four Americans have already lost their lives in Libya, for no good reason, in defense of nothing. Is this a moment of consequence, a defining moment in U.S. relations with the rest of the world, a test of U.S. resolve? We've had such moments before. "A day that will live in infamy" and "My fellow Americans, let's roll" are phrases that will be remembered, as they in effect defined what was to come.

And now?

Granted, this wave of violence is no Pearl Harbor and no 9-11. But it is widespread, it does reach across the globe. So after some mealy-mouthed statements from Carney, what does Obama have to say, now that he's had time to prepare a strategy? The President's weekly address, "Carrying on the Work of Our Fallen Heroes" (my boldface):
This week in Libya, we lost four of our fellow Americans. Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, and Chris Stevens were all killed in an outrageous attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi.

These four Americans represented the very best of our country.

Glen and Tyrone had each served America as Navy SEALs for many years, before continuing their service providing security for our diplomats in Libya. They died as they lived their lives – defending their fellow Americans, and advancing the values that all of us hold dear.

Sean also started his service in uniform, in the Air Force. He then spent years at the State Department, on several continents, always answering his country’s call. And Ambassador Chris Stevens died a hero in two countries – here in the United States, where he inspired those of us who knew him; and in Libya, a country that he helped to save, where he ultimately laid down his life.

On Friday, I was able to tell their families how much the American people appreciated their service. Without people like them, America could not sustain the freedoms we enjoy, the security we demand, and the leadership that the entire world counts on.

As we mourn their loss, we must also send a clear and resolute message to the world: those who attack our people will find no escape from justice. We will not waver in their pursuit. And we will never allow anyone to shake the resolve of the United States of America.

This tragic attack takes place at a time of turmoil and protest in many different countries. I have made it clear that the United States has a profound respect for people of all faiths. We stand for religious freedom. And we reject the denigration of any religion – including Islam.

Yet there is never any justification for violence. There is no religion that condones the targeting of innocent men and women. There is no excuse for attacks on our Embassies and Consulates. And so long as I am Commander-in-Chief, the United States will never tolerate efforts to harm our fellow Americans.

Right now, we are doing whatever we can to protect Americans who are serving abroad. We are in contact with governments around the globe, to strengthen our cooperation, and underscore that every nation has a responsibility to help us protect our people. We have moved forward with an effort to see that justice is done for those we lost, and we will not rest until that work is done.

Most of all, we must reaffirm that we will carry on the work of our fallen heroes.

I know the images on our televisions are disturbing. But let us never forget that for every angry mob, there are millions who yearn for the freedom, and dignity, and hope that our flag represents. That is the cause of America – the ideals that took root in our founding; the opportunity that drew so many to our shores; and the awesome progress that we have promoted all across the globe.

We are Americans. We know that our spirit cannot be broken, and the foundation of our leadership cannot be shaken. That is the legacy of the four Americans we lost – men who will live on in the hearts of those they loved, and the strength of the country they served.

So with their memory to guide us, we will carry forward the work of making our country stronger, our citizens safer, and the world a better and more hopeful place. Thank you.

The first bit in bold sounds great: "no escape from justice...we will not waiver...will not allow anyone to shake [our] resolve." And yet, who is that really directed at? The people responsible for the deaths of four Americans in Libya. What is he really prepared to do, in that regard? Send in the marines? Supposedly, Libyan authorities have already made some arrests, have identified the group responsible for the attack, and are closing in on others. Does that mean we can rest now? And how much resolve did we really show, here? In the immortal words of Bob Costas, "tough talk from a guy in a rented tux."

The second bit in bold is yet another capitulation. And look at in context with the earlier bit. First "we must also send a clear and resolute message to the world," then a statement that makes the message less than clear. Imagine FDR saying "it's a day that will live in infamy but we agree that American Imperialism is the cause; but that still doesn't justify the attacks." Or GWB saying "my fellow Americans, let's roll...but let's also try to be more considerate of the religious feelings of others."

Doesn't quite work. At all. Once upon a time, an attack on an embassy--or consulate--was an act of war. The nation so attacked had no need to apologize for anything, let alone legitimate--even if ever so slightly--the reasons for such an attack. But we live in a different world now, it would seem.

My fellow Americans, let's roll...but let's be considerate about it.

Cheers, all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

It's not about a stupid movie!

Protests and attacks on American (Western) interests have spread, from Egypt and Libya to Yemen, Iran, the Sudan, Lebanon, and probably more as I type these words. Ostensibly, these protests and attacks are in response to the made-for-YouTube movie Innocence of Muslims, which supposedly slanders Islam and the prophet Mohammed. The LA Times has a nice interactive timeline of the movie and the events that follow. It begins back in July, when the first trailer of the movie was uploaded to YouTube by someone named "Sam Bacile." A version of the trailer over-dubbed in Arabic was uploaded--by who?--on September 4th. And then came September 11th, when the violence and protesting began.

As I noted previously, this is a nothing film, made by some unknown--at this point--person that should have faded from memory moments after it appeared. Yet now it is apparently at the center of a wave of violence throughout the Middle East. The media--for the most post--is busy delving into the background of the movie and the person or persons who made it. Witness this piece at the WSJ entitled "Who is Sam Bacile." It makes some fair points, noting that everyone is probably getting played here:
Sam Bacile/Bassel is not an Israeli-American, and his attempt to pass himself off as one is a potentially deadly slander. His film—if there really is any footage beyond the 14-minute clip—did not cost anything like $5 million to make. There is no cabal of Jewish donors who put up the money. Sam Bassel, or whoever used that name as a Facebook alias, speaks and writes fluent Arabic and likely has an Egyptian background. The name Abanob Basseley is, as one Egyptian friend tells me, as typically Coptic as, say, Mohammad is Muslim or Shlomo is Jewish. (St. Abonoub is a Coptic saint named after an Egyptian child martyred , uby the Romans.) The fact that the film was publicly promoted by Morris Sadek, the head of the National American Coptic Assembly, also suggests a Coptic connection to the film.
But all of this is really inconsequential, with regard to what's happening in the Middle East. The film's origin is a red herring, because this isn't really about the film, at all. It's about the ever-present anti-American sentiment that still grips the Muslim world, that lead to the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, to the first WTC bombing in 1993, to 9-11 in 2001, and many other terrorist-type attacks against the U.S. and U.S. interests.

Focusing on the movie is a waste of time with regard to understanding current events. The question that really needs to be answered is not "Why did these attacks occur?" but rather is "Why did these attacks occur now?" The answer is simple: because America appears weak and vulnerable, because--following a hardline stance against radical Islam  in the years after 9-11--we've adopted a much softer position, going so far as to support the rule of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood following the so-called Arab Spring.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Obama's Amateur Hour continues

During the GOP Convention, Condoleeza Rice took the stage and delivered a powerful speech in which foreign policy was the major theme. I talked about it previously, noting how it signaled the possibility of an end the the amateurish approach of the President to foreign policy as Rice smartly rebuilt a bride with Poland Obama had ignorantly burned:
In one simple statement, Rice exposes the amateurism of the Obama Administration, curries favor with a Nation and a people, and reaffirms the commitment--real commitment--the United States has to its true allies. A simple glance at the various stories on Rice's speech indicates how little this is understood by the typical journalist, as well. But make no mistake, it made an impact. I can hear Hillary Clinton wincing--or is she squeeing with joy--from hear.
And the end to this amateur hour of Obama's--when it comes to foreign policy--can't come quickly enough, since Obama has once again stepped in it, following the attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt, Libya, and now Yemen. Apart from the willingness of embassy officials to issue sweeping statements on their own under Obama's reign--in defiance of established protocol--we now have the incredibly stupid comments from the President wherein he essentially says that Egypt is not a U.S. ally:
I don't think we would consider them an ally. But we don't consider them an enemy. They are a new government that's trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to respond to this incident, how they respond to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel.
This is just so unbelievably stupid, it's difficult to fully process. Obama--now President for nearly four years--says he doesn't think we would consider Egypt an ally. Pardon? There's nothing to think about (I can hear Hillary Clinton wincing again in the background)! Allies of the United States are not just chosen willy-nilly by whomever is in the Oval Office; they're not subject to change on a whim. There are two groups of nations who are allies of the United State, as a matter of official policy. How the hell can Obama not know this? But I digress. Those two groups are: 1) the member-nations of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and 2) Nations designated as Major Non-NATO Allies (MNNAs) by the U.S. Government.

Charlie Crist, political hobo

The man was once the Governor of the State of Florida. For a time, he was a rising star in the Republican Party. In 2009, he decided to not run for re-election and instead seek a Senate seat (the one being vacated by Mel Martinez) in the 2010 elections. At that moment in time, Charlie Crist was a rock-solid lock for the GOP nomination in the minds of most. State Representative Marco Rubio had announced his candicacy before Crist, but he attracted little attention. Once Crist jumped in, the major players--by and large--flocked to his banner. The race for the nomination was viewed as just as exercise.

All of that changed because of two things: 1) Crist unexpectedly came out in support of Obama's Stimulus Bill, something he had once publicly opposed, and 2) powerful conservative organizations like Heritage began to actively support Rubio. Crist's huge lead in the polls quickly evaporated; he went from leading by 20+ points to a tie in the space of a few months at the end of 2009. By April, 2010 Crist trailed Rubio by over 20 points.

It was a helluva reversal, mostly made possible by Crist's complete inability to graps what was happening, both in Florida and the nation at large. Though a seasoned politico, Crist had deluded himself into thinking the public would follow his lead, would accept his choices as a matter of course. He so terribly misread the Tea Party movement that, in truth, he made himself into the poster-child of everything that movement was against: a political insider with no real loyalties, someone who would change allegiances at the drop of a a hat, all style and no substance, and an entitled mentality that saw political offices as personal property.

Despite all of this, Crist refused to let go of the belief that he still could win the election, thus he withdrew from the Republican Primary at the end of April and ran as an independent. And for a while, the polls gave Crist hope, fed his ego as he actually led the three-way race between himself, Rubio, and Democrat Kendrick Meek through much of the Summer. But most knew it was an illusion; Meek's support in those months was artificially low, owing to a lack of exposure. Those polls gave Meek in the neighborhood of  15% of the vote. Though Meek had no chance to win, hardcore Democrats would ultimately vote for him over Crist and as the months wore on, Meek's numbers improved to around 20%, all at the expense of Crist.

And though Crist had garnered many siginificant endorsements as a Republican hopeful, such support began to errode, as did Crist's warchest. Heritage led the Tea Party charge against Crist, drawing Rubio far more important and meaningful endorsements from people in the national spotlight.

If all of this weren't enough, Crist ultimately sealed his fate by announcing that if elected, he would caucus with the Democrats. Imagine that: a lifelong Republican, a man who had served under Jeb Bush, who had spoken out for the latter's brother through 9-11 and the financial crisis, was prepared to simply jump ship for supposedly greener pastures, for no other reason than to feed his own ego and desire for power. Because Crist had no real platform to speak of, no core issues he was championing, just "I'm Charlie Crist, vote for me!"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The juvenilization of Islam

Yesterday, so-called protesters attacked U.S. missions in both Libya and Egypt. In Libya at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, four Americans were killed including Ambassador Chris Stevens by rocket attacks. In  Cairo, Egypt the walls of the embassy were breached and an American flag was pulled down and burned, though there are no reported casualties.

And why? The raison d'être is a documentary film entitled The Innocence of Muslims by an Israeli-American, one Sam Bacile (who is now in hiding), which was--for some reason--dubbed into Arabic and then actively promoted by well-known jackwagon Terry Jones. The film, by all accounts, is pure propaganda, poorly made, and of little consequence. It won't be shown in theaters, no major distributor will pick it up, and--if not for yesterday's events--it would have vanished into the ether in short order.

Just before the attacks began in Cairo, the embassy released an official statement--with the heading "U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement"--which has since disappeared into the ether, itself. A part of that statement:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims--as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions...Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Needless to say, the statement has garnered a great deal of attention since the attacks, as it appears to be no less than an apology for the film and for the actions and attitudes of people like Jones. Secretary of State Clinton was quick to fill the apparent hole, offering an unequivocal "There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind." The President followed suite soon afterwards, after the Administration had officially disowned the embassy's statement:
I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives. 
I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.
Fair enough, right? Conservative pundits and politicians--along with the Romney campaign--have been making a lot of hay with the Cairo embassy's moronic initial statement (which it stood by in full, by the way, even after the attacks in Benghazi). But Clinton and Obama have made it clear that there is no excuse, no justification for the violence. Haven't they?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9-11: Looking back and looking forward

Last year, on the 10th anniversary of 9-11, I didn't really have much to say. I avoided the subject, more or less, and offered no look back to the moment, no "where was I and what was I doing" kind of article, which was basically what everyone else in both the blogosphere in general and the punditry world in particular was doing. There was also some "what-iffing" going on, pieces wondering what things would be like if 9-11 had never happened.

This year, for the 11th anniversary of 9-11, Niall Ferguson offers a look at a potential world where there was no 9-11. Ferguson correctly notes a great truth that far too many do not know or tend to forget:
Yet to conclude that 9/11 didn’t change much is to misunderstand the historical process. The world is a seriously complex place, and a small change to the web of events can have huge consequences. Our difficulty is imagining what those consequences might have been.
He notes the above in response to polling data from the time before 9-11 as compared to the current world, where--somewhat surprisingly in my opinion--roughly the same percentage of Americans (12-13%) thing the United States should be the lone superpower, the undisputed leader of the Free World, and an even lower percentage are in favor of higher defense spending (33% then, 26% now).

But 9-11 was over a decade ago. And memories are short. Many people who are adults now where not in 2001. Many people who where alive in 2001 have since died. Everyone else is eleven years older, with new concerns, new life stages and problems to deal with, and encumbered by daily concerns--by and large--that are different today, as opposed to then. Thus, the comparison says far less about how things haven't changed and more about how people are quick to fall into familiar patterns and mindsets, how even supposedly significant events fail to move them.

On the Grand Scale of historical change, 9-11 is not one of the most significant events in world history. While it may be an important event in U.S. history, I'm not sure it rises--even there--to the level of significance of other events, like the World Wars, the Civil War, the Civil Right Movement, the Great Depression, and so on. Because what's really critical are those familiar patterns and mindsets, whether or not a given event permanently changes what most take to be the norm for day to day existence.

True, we still deal with repercussions from 9-11, perhaps most notably in air travel and the new lack of convenience in the same, owing to the DHS and the TSA. Air travel is not quite what it was in the time before 9-11. Though it's only fair to note that air travel had risen to new levels of prominence in those years before the attacks. More and more people were traveling more and more frequently. Only a few decades before, air travel was a luxury for the great majority of the populace, something reserved for a special event. And today--despite the added hassle of the experience--Americans are back on the planes in full force, if not even moreso.

Still, 9-11 continues to loom large in the American psyche, but to what end? Apart from the issue being a political football and a "rah-rah" moment, what else is it today? Very little, in my opinion.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The mad math skillz of Obama and Biden, yo

Almost four years ago, a month or so before the General Election, Joe Biden demonstrated his grasp of numbers and counting with one of his most memorable gaffes ever:


Got it? The number one job facing the middle class is a three letter word: J-O-B-S. Biden's inability to count aside, one has to wonder what the number one job facing the middle class is today, after four years under Obama and Biden. Evidence suggests it's still the same thing.

Obama, for his part, has been suggesting that those missing jobs are to be had by revitalizing the manufacturing sector of the economy, even though he's spent four years enacting policies which make it harder on that sector. Still, he's using it as a "rah-rah" moment. Yesterday in Florida, he returned to it in full:

“We can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years, because we’re selling goods around the world stamped with three proud words: Made in the USA.”
Is this just Biden rubbing off on Obama? It would be nice if that's all it was. But it seems to me that--coupled with other issues, like the cost of Obamacare, the effects of the Stimulus bill, and the General Motors takeover--these comments are par for the course (great, now Obama is going to get his golf clubs). The current Administration just can't count. Math is not it's forte. But it would seem that this isn't a problem for his legions of sycophants, who are more than willing to forgive these lapses and the actual results of Obama's policies. In that regard, I have a new campaign slogan that would suit the President very well:
Obama/Biden: THREE more years!
I'm having bumper stickers and yard signs made up, right now...

Cheers, all.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Barack Obama as Thomas Hobbes? Hardly.

In his latest column, George Weigel--currently the Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center--argues that the upcoming election is, in a sense, a choice between Hobbes and Burke, Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke. Playing the part of Hobbes is--apparently--Barack Obama, while Romney stands in for Burke. Weigel sums up the choices thusly (my a) and b) notations):
For as the candidates have presented themselves to the country over the past months, and most recently at their conventions, it has become ever more clear that America will choose in 2012 between two paths into the future. Along one path, a ) there is, finally, room for only the individual and the state. Along the other path, b) the flourishing institutions of civil society empower individuals and contribute to real problem-solving. In the former, the state defines responsibilities and awards benefits (and penalties). In the latter, individuals and free, voluntary associations assume responsibility and thereby thus make their contribution to the common good.
If it's not clear, path a) is the one being offered by the current President, the one that Weigel claims to be that of Hobbes. Path b) is that of Romney, supposedly more in tune with the ideas of Burke. Weigel may have--superficially--correctly captured part of what differentiates the ideology of one from the other, with regard to Obama and Romney, but I fear he is missing a great deal of what it means to be Hobbes, to be a Hobbesian,   in his basic description of such a point of view.

To establish the assumed contrasting visions of Hobbes and Burke, Weigel focuses in on the state as conceived by each of these political theorists:
In a Hobbesian world, the only actors of consequence are the state and the individual. In a Burkean world, the institutions of civil society—family, religious congregation, voluntary association, business, trade union and so forth—“mediate” between the individual and the state, and the just state takes care to provide an appropriate legal framework in which those civil-society institutions can flourish. 
In a Hobbesian world, the state—“Leviathan,” in the title of Hobbes’s most famous and influential work—monopolizes power for the sake of protecting individuals from the vicissitudes of a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In a Burkean world, civil society provides a thick layer of mediation—protection, if you will—that cushions the interactions between individuals and life’s challenges.
The simplification of Hobbes into a proponent of an all-powerful sovereign whose actions can never be legitimately opposed by the citizenry for any reason whatsoever has become all to common in academia, but it fails to capture a number of finer parts and wrongly suggests Hobbes wanted such a situtation, come hell or high water. Part of the reason why it is so commonplace, however, is the profound influence Hobbes has had on modern political thought. So many writers who followed him--like Burke, Bentham, Locke, and Rousseau--were desperate to find fault with the basic assumptions of Hobbes, with regard to the fundamental nature of man and the corresponding basis for government and civil society that sprang from those assumptions.

But in doing so, many of these thinkers--though intelligent and notable in their own right--misread Hobbes. Some--like Locke--understood Hobbes in full in my opinion, but recognized the need to soften the truths in Hobbes' thoughts in order to achieve a more widespread acceptance of a social contract theory as the only means of establishing a legitimate government, a government that rules based on the consent of the citizenry at large.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The unemployment rate falls, but where are the cheers?

The latest jobs numbers from the BLS are in and the report opens with what should be a bang:
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 96,000 in August, and the unemployment rate edged down to 8.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in food services and drinking places, in professional and technical services, and in health care.
There ya go, another month of "job creation" for the Administration and a huge .2% drop in the unemployment rate! What's not to be happy about? While I'm sure that spinmeisters like Wasserman-Schultz  will happily add another month on to their job creation talking point--now it's 30 months of job growth under Obama!--the narrative is becoming near-impossible to maintain. Because farther down in the BLS report is this tidbit:
Both the civilian labor force (154.6 million) and the labor force participation rate (63.5 percent) declined in August. The employment-population ratio, at 58.3 percent, was little changed.
I've been harping on the declining labor force participation rate for a while now, how lowering it leads to a decrease in the reported unemployment rate. In the above piece--from back in February--I noted this explicitly:
The problem lies with the BLS's use of a participation rate, based on a questionably theorized idea of the number of people seeking employment. By lowering this rate--based on people "dropping out" of the job market--the BLS is able to report a lower unemployment rate, even if the number of unemployed people has not actually decreased.
And again, that was from back in February of 2012, at a moment when a drop in the unemployment rate--from 8.5% to 8.3%--was supposedly great news. As the NYT reported then:
The front wheels have lifted off the runway. Now, Americans are waiting to see if the economy can truly get aloft. 
With the government reporting that the unemployment rate and the number of jobless fell in January to the lowest levels since early 2009, the recovery seems finally to be reaching American workers.
The Labor Department’s latest snapshot of the job market, released on Friday, makes clear that employers have been hiring more in recent months, with 243,000 net new jobs in January. The unemployment rate now stands at 8.3 percent, down from 8.5 percent a month earlier and from 9.1 percent as recently as last August.
Get that? In the beginning of the year, the drop in the unemployment rate heralded great things, the wheels were up, a real recovery was at hand, despite a similar drop in the labor force participation rate! What does the Grey Lady say about the latest numbers? Now, it's become decidedly wishy-washy on the issue, with an article entitled "Steady Progress or More of Same:"
Even though the data shows a bit of improvement, it remains hard for the Democrats to make much out of a formula that includes fewer than 100,000 new jobs and a shrinking of the work force, along with downward revisions of previous monthly data.
The NYT almost--almost--delves into the issue of the labor force participation rate. But if it did so, it would have to abandon the idea of "a bit of improvement" altogether, and that's something it just won't do. Other sources are finally catching on. A story at Bloomberg, for instance, get's to the meat of it (my boldface):
Payrolls rose less than projected in August and the unemployment rate was unexpectedly driven down by Americans leaving the labor force, boosting the odds of additional Federal Reserve easing to spur a faltering recovery...

The jobless rate fell from 8.3 percent as 368,000 Americans left the labor force. Unemployment was forecast to hold at 8.3 percent, according to the survey median. Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 8.1 percent to 8.4 percent...

The participation rate, which indicates the share of working-age people in the labor force, fell to 63.5 percent, the lowest since September 1981, from 63.7 percent.
Reuters deals with reality in its report as well:
While the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, that was because so many Americans gave up the hunt for work. The survey of households from which the jobless rate is derived actually showed a drop in employment...

In addition, the labor force participation rate, or the percentage of Americans who either have a job or are looking for one, fell to 63.5 percent -- the lowest since September 1981.
Tyler Durden over at Zerohedge has revised his chart showing what the unemployment really looks like and the direction it has actually been trending:

(courtesy of Zerohedge.com)

And again, the number of jobs added or created is a useless metric as a stand alone. It means nothing, since those touting these numbers fail to account for simple population growth. The phony unemployment rates reported by the BLS are a product of hiding the actual consequences of such growth in the labor force participation rate, thus making it appear that 100,000 or so new jobs can be called "growth."

After a year of hearing about "created jobs" and "job growth," of listening to the media happily lap up the nonsense they were being spoon-fed by Democrats and the Administration, it would appear the worm may actually be turning. Which I guess is ultimately a good thing, as it demonstrates that there still is a learning curve in the media, however steep it may be.

Cheers, all.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The alternate universe of Chris Mathews

Years and years ago, I went to special on-location taping of Hardball with Chris Mathews at the campus of the University of Miami. This was in 2004, just prior to the first debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry. It was the glory days of 24-hour cable news and political punditry, when the pundits were less concerned with each other and their ratings and more into being dicks to their guests, regardless of political affiliation. Mathews was a pip then, but he was also one of the big boys, a Washington DC insider who had been an early entrant into the cable talking head game back in the 1990s.

Mathews has become something of a joke in my opinion. He doesn't have anything original or interesting to say anymore, but plays the part of just another partisan hack, tossing softball questions to those whom he agrees with politically and hammering those he disagrees with, usually by asking a question then cutting them off when they attempt to respond. His public man-crush on the President is simply too much to bear, from the leg-tingling to the silly pronouncement of Obama being the "last Kennedy brother."

All that said, it's sometimes interesting to see what Mathews is saying, only if to better understand the mass delusion that afflicts a good portion of progressives and liberals in this country. His latest, from the Democratic National Convention:
Look, the only people who haven't had it tough in the last four years are the rich. They've had it easy, and I think that's obvious. And now they're afraid they might get somebody in the next four years who might start winning battles.  
By the way, the best way to beat the right-wing is to beat them. If he beats them in this election, they're finished. And I think that's the point. And the moderates will come back. And Jeb Bush will come back. And the people like [Charlie Crist] will come back. The moderates will retake the party if you smash the right.
Funny stuff. If Obama is the last Kennedy brother, Mathews must be the last--and least--Marx brother (he'd be Karl Marx, of course). The first part is a hoot. The rich have had it easy for the last four years--under who, Chris? Ahh...Barack Obama--but now they might get someone who will challenge them? Who would that be, Chris? Ahh...Barack Obama.