Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Political Digest May 11, 2010

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with every—or any—opinion in the posted article. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with them. I have to say all this to give some of my critics the benefit of the doubt, assuming they are thick, rather than deliberately taking things the wrong way.

Stocks respond to European bailout plan with runaway rally
Excerpt: Stocks are staging a runaway rally in the opening minutes of trading, as Wall Street responds to the European bailout plan with heady euphoria. If you've been wondering, "What does the Greece/European debt problem mean to me?" well, now you know.

Bob’s take: Happy days are back! Sticking a finger in the collapsing dyke of European Socialism. This does not “rescue Greece.” It keeps Greece afloat a while longer, as the water rises. Meanwhile the other PIGS are sinking. (PIGS is the unfortunates but accurate acronym for Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, the eurozone countries closest to a collapse.) A few years ago, I fondly thought that the inevitable European collapse, as the entitlement bills they couldn’t pay came due, might be a warning to us to mean our ways and survive. But we see since 2008 how tightly the world’s economy is tied together. A good chunk of that Greece rescue money is now owed by your grandkids. That is, Greek politicians bought votes with your grandkids money. And with the current administration hurrying us to catch up with Europe, I do not see how a collapse can be avoided. I’m beginning to think that despite my age and health problems I may live to see it. Forget stocks—buy canned food and ammo.)

The welfare state's death spiral
Excerpt: What we're seeing in Greece is the death spiral of the welfare state. This isn't Greece's problem alone, and that's why its crisis has rattled global stock markets and threatens economic recovery. Virtually every advanced nation, including the United States, faces the same prospect. Aging populations have been promised huge health and retirement benefits, which countries haven't fully covered with taxes. The reckoning has arrived in Greece, but it awaits most wealthy societies. Americans dislike the term "welfare state" and substitute the bland word "entitlements." Vocabulary doesn't alter the reality. Countries cannot overspend and overborrow forever. By delaying hard decisions about spending and taxes, governments maneuver themselves into a cul-de-sac. To be sure, Greece's plight is usually described as a European crisis -- especially for the euro, the common money used by 16 countries -- and this is true. But only to a point. Euro coins and notes were introduced in 2002. The currency clearly hasn't lived up to its promises. It was supposed to lubricate faster economic growth by eliminating the cost and confusion of constantly converting between national currencies. More important, it would promote political unity. With a common currency, people would feel "European." Their identities as Germans, Italians and Spaniards would gradually blend into a continental identity. None of this has happened. Economic growth in the countries using the currency averaged 2.1 percent annually from 1992 to 2001 and 1.7 percent from 2002 to 2008. Multiple currencies were never a big obstacle to growth; high taxes, pervasive regulations and generous subsidies were. As for political unity, the euro is now dividing Europeans. The Greeks are rioting. The countries making $145 billion in loans to Greece -- particularly Germany -- resent the costs of the rescue. A single currency could no more subsume national identities than drinking Coke could make people American. If other euro countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy) suffer Greece's fate -- lose market confidence and can't borrow at plausible rates -- there would be a wider crisis. (Scary. Maybe I was too optimistic in this essay: The Coming Collapse of the American Republic

Athens or Washington, It's the Size of Government
Excerpt: "The President of Greece warned last night that his country stood on the brink of the abyss after three people were killed when an anti-government mob set fire to the Athens bank where they worked." -- The Times Online That "anti-government mob," it must be understood, consisted of civil servants, tens of thousands of whom took to the streets to protest austerity measures. Greece is in the midst of a general strike. Airports are closed. Trains are not running. Classrooms are empty. Trash is piling up. The Wall Street Journal reports that "Angry youths rampaged through the center of Athens, torching several businesses and vehicles and smashing shop windows. Protesters and police clashed in front of parliament and fought running street battles around the city." The Greek crisis, like a fraying rope on a footbridge, is also sending shudders throughout the Eurozone. This is more than a financial crisis. This is a national meltdown. And while facile comparisons to the U.S. must be avoided, there are nonetheless lessons for us --particularly in light of the direction the Democratic Party wants to travel..... One in three Greeks works for the government. Government employees enjoy higher wages, more munificent benefits, and earlier retirements than private sector employees. Civil servants can retire after 35 years of service at 80 percent of their highest salary and enjoy lavish health plans, vacations, and other perks. Because they are so numerous, and because Greece is highly centralized, public sector unions hardly have to negotiate. They simply vote in their preferred bosses. Some civil servants receive bonuses for using computers, others for arriving at work on time. Forestry workers get a bonus for outdoor work. All civil servants receive 14 yearly checks for 12 months' work. And it's impossible to fire them -- even for the grossest incompetence. Public sector unions are growing in the U.S. More than 50 percent of all union members are now public employees who have negotiated sweet deals with local, state, and federal governments. As economic historian John Steele Gordon points out, "Federal workers now earn, in wages and benefits, about twice what their private-sector equivalents get paid. State workers often have Cadillac health plans and retirement benefits far above the private sector average: 80 percent of public-sector workers have pension benefits, only 50 percent in the private sector. Many can retire at age 50." While private employers were shedding jobs during the recession, state and local governments hired 110,000 new workers. Obama's new spending will result in a 14.5 percent increase in the number of federal employees in just two years. And he has looked after union interests with particular zeal, whether at General Motors and Chrysler, or by funneling one-third of stimulus spending to state and local governments, or by repealing the rule that required unions to disclose their spending. And in a corrupt feedback loop that may not be so very different after all from the Greek practice, public employee unions give generously to Democratic candidates, both in cash contributions and by manning phone banks, getting out the vote, and so on. It's no coincidence that the states with the most powerful public sector unions -- New Jersey, California, and New York -- are facing the most severe budget crises. Greece is in flames, but if you look around, you can smell the smoke here as well.

Metra boss Phil Pagano's suicide a repeating pageant for Illinois
The Chicago sewer from which Obama arose spotless and pure. Excerpt: When politicos play musical chairs in Illinois, what happens after the music stops and there's no safe place to sit? There have been four dead in recent years, unrelated cases of suicide, different except for the acts of the common pageant: The corruption investigators call. The music ends abruptly. Two were done in by guns, one on a beach, the other under a bridge. A third was by pills in a construction trailer. The fourth came Friday morning during rush hour, announced by that body under that white sheet on the Metra tracks in McHenry County. The flesh once belonged to Phil Pagano. For the past 20 years, Pagano was the respected boss of Metra, the commuter rail agency that, unlike the Chicago Transit Authority, actually keeps the trains running on time. Over the past week or so, Pagano was under siege, facing investigations both federal and local, suspected of finagling a bonus of more than $50,000 by finessing vacation time, among other things

A Recovery Only Washington Could Love
If it’s good enough for Greece….Excerpt: Today the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics released its monthly jobs report showing that the nation’s unemployment rose to 9.9% in April despite the addition of 290,000 jobs, 66,000 of which were temporary Census 2010 jobs. The rise in unemployment was driven by the entrance of 195,000 previously discouraged Americans reentering the workforce. In total, the U.S. economy has now lost a net of 2.6 million jobs since President Barack Obama signed his $862 billion stimulus plan. We are 7.6 million jobs short of the 137.8 million he promised the American economy would support by 2010. It is encouraging to see the American economy beginning to recover, but these numbers again indicate that the Obama administration’s heavy government hand has retarded and deformed what otherwise would have been a more robust recovery. The White House may tout Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports showing their $862 billion stimulus created jobs, but the CBO has also admitted their computer simulation didn’t take any actual new real world data into account. To the contrary, an independent study of real world stimulus facts found: 1) no statistical correlation between unemployment and how the $862 billion was spent; 2) that Democratic districts received one-and-a-half times as many awards as Republican ones; and 3) an average cost of $286,000 was awarded per job created. $286,000 per job created. And what kind of jobs were created? According to Gallup the federal government is hiring at a significantly faster pace than the private sector. And data from BLS confirms that governments are increasing public sector pay at far faster rates than the private sector. None of this should be a surprise. President Obama specifically designed his stimulus to preserve government union jobs.

Elena Kagan never let lack of experience hold her back
Why should lack of experience hold her back? It didn’t hold back Obama. Excerpt: Again, the lack of specific experience did not hold her back. She had never argued an appeal before she got the job. She has now argued six cases before the Supreme Court and has been the government's chief strategist in legal appeals both at the high court and around the country. Even though the solicitor general is often called "the 10th justice," she would be the first to join the court since Thurgood Marshall in 1967. It would be especially sweet for Kagan, who clerked for the civil rights icon in 1987-88 and has referred to him as "the most important lawyer, I think, of the 20th century." He nicknamed her "Shorty." (Marshall was a “heightist,” demeaning her for being vertically-challenged? Shameful!) …. She did say that she did not believe there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and that she was not "morally opposed" to capital punishment. She agreed with GOP senators that the country was at war, and she said she did not believe detainees being held in Afghanistan had the right to due process, as the court has ruled for those at Guantanamo Bay.... Kagan called the military's ban on gays "a moral injustice of the first order," adding, "The importance of the military to our society -- and the extraordinary service that members of the military provide to all the rest of us -- makes this discrimination more, not less, repugnant." (This always makes me nuts. The military did not have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. That policy was given to the military in a directive from their Commander in Chief, Bill Clinton, in 1993. Was Clinton barred from campus?)

People are very bad at assessing risk. After 9/211, you could see folks outside every office building, saying they’d never fly again, while puffing on cigarettes. Smoking kills about 400,000 Americans a year, far more than terrorism. Excerpt: Have you ever noticed that there is a huge mismatch between the skills, talents, abilities and sheer numbers of the professional scaremongers among us and the topics we most need to be alarmed about? That is, the scariest threats to human health and safety receive almost no attention from those who are most adept at frightening ordinary citizens, while threats that are trivial and maybe even nonexistent are the subject of an inordinate amount of ballyhoo. What brings all this to mind is a President’s Cancer Panel report that reads like it was plagiarized from the junk science screeds published by anti-chemical activist groups. (It’s all the more surprising because the two-member panel was appointed by George W. Bush!)

Obama Space
Excerpt: Since the 1960s, American manned space flight has been the exclusive territory of NASA. And nothing has flown (with a single, shining exception) that has not been government-funded, designed, controlled, and operated. Over the last three decades, the shuttle has morphed from a vehicle intended to fly fifty times a year to three to five times a year. Our bright guys and gals in the astronaut corps are relegated to flying in circles and have been doing so for over twenty years. There was an effort to move to private contributions, but the NASA bureaucracy and Congress, which has always viewed NASA as a jobs program for aerospace engineers, has successfully blocked it for the 25 years following the Challenger accident. We free-marketers know that the free market can make improvements, cut costs, and make innovations based on the actions of the competitive marketplace. Manned space flight as conducted by NASA over the last fifty years had none of this. As a result, we have a 35-year-old design (shuttle) that flies very little and is increasingly accident-prone. In the 35 years from the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903 to 1938, we went from the Wright Flier to the B-17. Why hasn't there been similar progress in manned space flight? The answer is that it has been a government monopoly for fifty years. The Obama space budget aims to break that monopoly. What the proposed budget does is move NASA from an owner-operator of manned spaceflight to essentially a tour company. They plan missions, coordinate equipment and provisions, and most importantly, purchase tickets from commercial vendors for their future missions. This is an incredibly Big Deal. It is also a fundamental game-changer. (I'm not sure whether or not I agree with this author. He has some good points. Free-market solutions should always be preferred. But. As a life-long reader of science fiction, I've been playing with these concepts in my mind for over 50 years. I won't waste time explaining why, but you may take as a given that whoever "owns" the Moon is master of the Earth. Does anyone really think--in spite of treaties--there would be no militarization of space if there was no "free world" presence there to insure it? Which, in turn means there must be an official government presence there. Or else we can learn Russian or Chinese--and quickly. Ron P.)

Doctors Shortage Will Spell Delays
Excerpt: When health care reform begins to take effect in Connecticut, it will undoubtedly mean insurance for tens of thousands of people who have lacked coverage. But that doesn’t mean they will be able to find a doctor to see them. The Connecticut State Medical Society is warning of a major shortage of primary care physicians in the state that, if not addressed soon, will lead to longer waiting periods for patients or a lack of access to doctors for the newly insured. According to a survey by the medical society, which polled 498 doctors, 28 percent of internists and 26 percent of family physicians said they already are not accepting new patients. Additionally, new patients have to wait an average of 18 days for a routine office visit, while existing patients have to wait 16 days to see a pediatrician or 15 days for an internist. (Not as well known, but we are also facing shortages in specialists. For example, declining reimbursement under Medicare means the number of young doctors specializing in hip and knee replacement are fewer than the number planning to retire, though demand is expected to double or triple by 2030.)

High-Tax, High-Spend Model Still Does Not Work
Excerpt: State government finances are in a bad way, and for an examination of why that is the case, see the latest edition of “Rich States, Poor States,” released this week by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The basic story, as anyone following state fiscal issues will surely know, is that too many states went on spending binges in the early part of the decade when revenue was rolling in, but didn’t leave enough in reserve to handle the collapse in revenues caused by the 2008-2009 recession. The ALEC volume is, as past editions have been, chock full of great information. For instance: Did you know that if states had just kept their spending growth the same as population growth plus inflation between 2002 and 2007, they could have maintained all their services and still provided a $500 billion tax cut? Why did states leave nothing in reserve? Political pressure, especially from government employee unions is a big part of the story. State legislatures, for instance, have lavishly enhanced pension benefits, but state employees should have little confidence that the states will ultimately make good on those promises. Only 9 percent of state pension plans have enough assets to be considered safe according to government standards. Many state legislatures, unwilling to take on the well-organized lobbies for government spending, have resorted to raising taxes on the rich. But that will only exacerbate the boom-and-bust budget cycles, as Maryland’s experience demonstrates:

Tea Parties and Racism
Excerpt: First, today's Left sees racism as a mental condition independent of behavior. Perhaps this reflects the sharp decline of overt discrimination. One may volunteer daily to help AIDS-infected African-Americans, but this is no defense. Thinking bad thoughts about the AIDS patients receiving your assistance settles the matter. Two, racism is often indiscernible to the alleged racist. The parallel is unknowingly carrying a lethal genetic defect discernible only under an electronic microscope. The defense "I am not now, nor have I ever been a racist" counts for nothing. Predictably, socially conscious scientists have developed medical-like tests and electronic devises to uncover this hidden, usually denied inclination.

Julius Caesar of the Internet
Excerpt: A federal appeals court ruled last month that the Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority to regulate the Internet. No worries, mate. This week the Obama Administration chose to "reclassify" the Internet so it can regulate the Web anyway. This crowd is nothing if not legally creative. For the past decade, broadband has been classified as an "information service" and thus more lightly regulated than traditional telephone services. This has led to an explosion of new investment and Web innovation, but it hasn't sat well with Democrats who want more control over the telecom business, as well as with some Web companies (Google) that want more leverage over Internet service providers like Time Warner or Verizon.

Who Bombed Times Square? Must be the Swedish Grandmother
Excerpt: There has been one high-profile violent incident perpetrated by a right-winger since Obama took office: the May 31, 2009 shooting of abortionist George Tiller. There have been a bevy of high-profile violent incidents by registered Democrats or liberals: the suicide airplane attack by Joseph Stack of Austin, Texas, against the IRS; the liberal who bit off the finger of an ObamaCare opponent in Thousand Oaks, Calif.; the murderous rampage by Obama-lover Amy Bishop at the University of Alabama; the beating of black man Kenneth Gladney by Service Employee International Union thugs in St. Louis; the Earth Liberation Front's destruction of KRKO-AM's radio towers in Seattle. None of these incidents by non-Muslim Americans were designed to create mass casualties among random Americans or members of the American military. All of the radical Muslim attacks were. Using rudimentary reasoning skills, it wouldn't take long to hit on the hypothesis that perhaps the Times Square attempted bombing was linked to a radical Muslim. But we live in a country where rudimentary reasoning skills have been banned if they offend politically correct sensibilities. So our politicians suggest that tea partiers were behind the attempted bombing (that suggestion, not coincidentally, fits with President Obama's attempts to label his domestic political opponents terrorists). They suggest that it could have been anybody -- anybody! -- behind the propane, gas and gunpowder. Meanwhile, they don't place radical Muslim terrorists on no-fly lists. Only when the proof is indisputable do they finally confirm what everybody with half a brain suspected all along -- and then they hope to get lucky.

Faisal Shahzad, Subprime Terrorist?
Excerpt: Is it so unreasonable to foresee that one day one of these guys will buy the wrong lamp oil and a defective wick and drop the Camp Osama book of matches in a puddle as he’s trying to light the bomb, and yet, this time, amazingly, it actually goes off? Not really. Last year, not one but two “terrorism task forces” discovered that U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan was in regular e-mail contact with the American-born, Yemeni-based cleric Ayman al-Awlaki but concluded that this was consistent with the major’s “research interests,” so there was nothing to worry about. A few months later, Major Hasan gunned down dozens of his comrades while standing on a table shouting “Allahu Akbar!” That was also consistent with his “research interests,” by the way. A policy of relying on stupid jihadists to screw it up every time will inevitably allow one or two to wiggle through. Hopefully not on a nuclear scale.... As for the idea that America has become fanatically “Islamophobic” since 9/11, au contraire: Were America even mildly “Islamophobic,” it would have curtailed Muslim immigration, or at least subjected immigrants from Pakistan, Yemen, and a handful of other hotbeds to an additional level of screening. Instead, Muslim immigration to the West has accelerated in the last nine years, and, as the case of Faisal Shahzad demonstrates, being investigated by terrorism task forces is no obstacle to breezing through your U.S. citizenship application. An “Islamophobic” America might have pondered whether the more extreme elements of self-segregation were compatible with participation in a pluralist society: Instead, President Obama makes fawning speeches boasting that he supports the rights of women to be “covered” — rather than the rights of the ever lengthening numbers of European and North American Muslim women beaten, brutalized, and murdered for not wanting to be covered. America is so un-Islamophobic that at Ground Zero they’re building a 13-story mosque — on the site of an old Burlington Coat Factory damaged by airplane debris that Tuesday morning.

Of flags and Cinco de Mayo
Excerpt: The sight of the American flag in America—even on Cinco de Mayo—should not be a source of offense to Americans of Mexican descent, but pride, providing of course that one sees him or herself as an American first. And here is the point that this young woman, the school administrators and a handful of sympathizers seem forever not to grasp. Americans do not want to be an extension of Mexico! Indeed many of us have had a peek south of the border and do not like what we see. The political culture and the values that support it hold little interest for those proud of our flag and “the republic for which it stands.”

Decorated Marine announces run for Congress
Excerpt: A decorated Marine veteran who was famously photographed smoking a cigar after the fall of Baghdad announced Tuesday that he is running for Congress in California’s most southern district. Nick Popaditch, 42, said he will seek the Republican nomination to unseat Democrat Bob Filner on a campaign that promotes limited government, a strong national defense and secure borders. Known as “Gunny Pop,” Popaditch was awarded the Silver Star for combat actions in Fallujah, where he was blinded in one eye by a rocket-propelled grenade to the head. That April 2004 attack came nearly a year after an Associated Press photographer captured a smiling Popaditch smoking a cigar, with the just-fallen statue of Saddam Hussein in the background. The photograph landed on newspaper front pages, garnering Popaditch worldwide attention.

Four Reporters Ejected from Gitmo Hearing after Revealing Name of Protected Witness
Remember WWII, when the free press was on the side of freedom? Me neither. Excerpt: The real travesty here is not that the press disclosed the identity of a protected witness. It is that their delicate sensibilities were offended more by non-physical, non-threatening interrogation techniques than the torture-worthy murder of an American soldier.

We need real leadership to put American interests first
Excerpt: There were some big losers in the national guessing game over the identity of the failed Times Square bomber this week. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the booby prize for picking "someone who doesn't like the health care bill or something." That was before Pakistani-born, 2009-naturalized Faisal Shahzad was apprehended Sunday night trying to flee to Dubai. Even after that point, Democratic strategist Bob Beckel was holding out for "a right-wing militia man," while an array of mainstream media commentators, tracked by Newsbusters.com, seized on jihad-alternate theories as the trigger. One favorite: foreclosure rage. It seems, as the AP noted, Shahzad ran out on his home mortgage when he abandoned "the path to respectability." Of course, that was when he also chose the path to jihad, not that the media would go there. Instead, the early narrative dwelled on the "suburban" family man who had lost his home -- a two-story, grayish brown Colonial, we gratuitously learned. "One would have to imagine that that brought a lot of pressure and a lot of heartache on that family," said CNN's Jim Acosta.

In Britain, a cautionary tale for U.S. parties
Excerpt: For American Republicans there may be a lesson here, that seeking the approval of what David Brooks calls "the educated class" reduces your appeal to what is, in America at least, a larger number of ordinary middle-class people who are worried about government spending and increasingly skeptical of global warming alarmism. These are not people Washington insiders run across very much, but they cast lots of votes. Another lesson that I draw from reporting and crunching the election returns is that, in a time of disenchantment with politicians, the old political rules may not apply. Britons cast only one vote, for their local member of Parliament, and so have generally voted for the party rather than the person. You usually saw uniform swings in party preference across the nation. Not so this time. Conservatives lost many target seats they were sure of winning, based on past performance, and won some where they thought they had no chance. MPs with strong constituency ties and records of independence survived in seats where the old rules said they had no chance. Lesson: Just when political insiders think they have things figured out, the voters may have other ideas. You better not take them for granted

One man's database helps uncover cases of falsified valor
Excerpt: It certainly looked real. It had the right font, right seal. It was even signed by the secretary of the Navy. But Doug Sterner, self-appointed guardian of the nation's military decorations, immediately suspected that there was something fishy about the Marine's citation for the Navy Cross, one of the military's most prestigious awards. First of all, it said that the president "takes pride" in presenting the prize. "Pride," Sterner knew, is typically used only when the recipient is dead. This Marine was very much alive, which meant the citation should have said the president "takes pleasure." Then Sterner noticed that the citation was supposedly signed in 1968 by Navy Secretary Paul H. Nitze. But Nitze was secretary only until 1967. Sterner, who lives in Alexandria, knew that in his obsessive quest to compile a database of recipients of the military's top decorations, he had found yet another phony. This time, the man he outed was Richard Thibodeau, who for years had proudly spun tales of heroism and even had his awards hung in a veterans museum. (Say, did I tell you how I won the National Defense Medal? Vets will get he joke.)

Photos from the war in Vietnam
Not sure if I already included these. Some famous, lots new to me

1 comment:

  1. National Defense Medal ... heh. Yep, got it for (wait for it) being on active duty during a period of armed conflict. It looks all shiny there, next to my Good Conduct Medal. (That's the one you get for never being caught doing anything naughty.)