Archive for October, 2009

Nyah-Nyah, You Can’t Make Me

So argues the Obama administration over gay rights:

States that allow gay marriage cannot force the federal government to provide benefits to those couples, the Obama administration argued yesterday in court papers in a lawsuit by the State of Massachusetts. The Justice Department is at odds with Massachusetts – the first state to allow gay marriage – over a 1996 federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Massachusetts sued in July, saying that law is discriminatory and deprives gay couples in the state of some federal spousal benefits. The Obama administration agrees the Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory and wants it repealed, BUT says it has an obligation to defend laws enacted by Congress while they are on the books and can be reasonably defended.

I call BS. The laws also demand free and unfettered access to polling stations, but Eric Holder declined to prosecute the brothers from the New Black Panther Party who blocked entrances and menaced voters because… well, because he said so.

Now that I think about it, Obama has already spoken out against gay marriage, hasn’t he? So why should he support giving benefits to Adam and Steve now? Why should he repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which he opposes, just because he’s the commander in chief of the armed forces, and can do so with the stroke of a pen? Maybe he needs months of meetings and strategy sessions before he can make up his mind.

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The Obama Economy

May I rant for a moment?

One of the most destructive things about the way we have raised this generation of young people is that we have taught them to disrespect capitalism and business as well as plain vanilla democracy. Half of the parents I know are actually gaga over Hugo Chavez. They love Chavez because he “speaks truth to power”, meaning that even though he is screwing his own people, and in bed with Iran, he hates the US so he can’t be all bad! We voted for Obama in droves.

Obama came into office and immediately put the business world on notice. He took over companies, fired the CEO of GM, and famously said: I am the only thing between you and the mob with pitchforks. He talked down the economy. He talked down the stock market, (allowing some sharp people to make a bundle).

It seemed to me that the very people who loved him the most, the young people, would be the ones that suffered the most. Afterall, everybody can’t work for a non-profit. Somebody has to work at a company and make enough money to give it to the tax man or to the non-profit, right?

But the idealism trumped common sense This is a very liberal columnist, Bob Herbert of the NY Times, noticing that young people can’t find work.

That period right after college graduation is when young people tend to think they can set the world on fire. Careers are starting, and relationships in the broader world are forming. It’s exciting, and optimism is off the charts.

So the gloomy outlook that this economy is offering so many of America’s brightest young people is not just disconcerting, it’s a cultural shift, a harbinger. “Attention,” as the wife of a fictional salesman once said, “must be paid.”

Maggie Mertens graduated in May from Smith College, where she was an editor of the student newspaper. She applied for “tons” of jobs and internships, probably 50 or more. “I was totally unemployed all summer,” she said. She eventually landed an internship at NPR in Washington, which she described as “awesome,” but it is unpaid.

“I was lucky enough,” she said, “to connect up with a family that let me live with them for free in exchange for watching their baby a few times a week.” But there was still no money coming in. So in addition to the 40-hour-a-week internship and the baby-sitting chores, Ms. Mertens is doing part-time seasonal work at a Whole Foods store.

Welcome to the new world of employment in America as we approach the second decade of the 21st century.

I know many young people in Ms. Mertens position. I also know a smattering of them that are working much, much harder than a couple of years ago because companies are holding back on hiring and the lucky few with jobs are making do.

On top of that, many people are refusing to spend money because they are concerned about loss of a job.

Here’s a typical story:

Josh Riman graduated from Syracuse University in 2006. “I had a job at a great advertising agency,” he said, “but was laid off in 2007. I found a job the next day, amazingly enough, and worked at this next advertising shop for about a year and a half. Then, on my birthday, the place went bankrupt. We all lost our jobs.”

Since then, Mr. Riman has been doing freelance and “pro bono” work. He has been unable to find anything even reasonably secure.

And this is the columnist’s conclusion:

These recent graduates have done everything society told them to do. They’ve worked hard, kept their noses clean and gotten a good education (in many cases from the nation’s best schools). They are ready and anxious to work. If we’re having trouble finding employment for even these kids, then we’re doing something profoundly wrong.

You’re getting warmer, Mr. Herbert… What is missing from your analysis? They have done everything we told them to do, it is true. We never told them that capitalism isn’t evil, and that runaway socialism, in its most extreme form, actually leads to very serious problems. For all our verbiage about nuance, we never gave them any nuance in their thinking about the economy and about how human beings relate to one another on a big scale. They cheered, as I’ll bet you did, when Obama made his pitchfork remark last spring. The result of that mentality is that businesses are afraid to grow. They are making do. They don’t need to hire at this time.
- Aggie

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A Barack Obama Mess

Remember John Kerry blaming Bush for the lack of swine flu vaccinations?

With thanks to the folks at Opinion Journal for bringing this to our attention:

Kerry Ad Says Flu Vaccine Shortage Is Typical of Bush’s Policy Blunders

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2004; Page A06

Sen. John F. Kerry jumped on the flu-vaccine shortage yesterday with a new television ad blaming the situation on President Bush.

In what may be the first presidential campaign commercial dealing with the flu, the Democratic nominee is trying to portray the vaccine squeeze as typical of the president’s mishandling of health care. Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said that Kerry had opposed a legislative remedy and that his “incredible hypocrisy just demonstrates again his willingness to say whatever will benefit him politically.”

In the ad, a narrator says: “Three years ago, medical experts warned George Bush that a dangerous shortage loomed. Instead of fixing the problem, production of the vaccine was sent to a factory overseas — the vaccines were contaminated. Now Bush wants Canada to help, even though his own policies make it illegal for us to import medicine from Canada.

“Seniors and children wait. Not enough vaccines for pregnant women. A George Bush mess.”

We were promised 120 million doses of swine flu vaccine by October. It is almost November. I believe that they have delivered about 28 million doses. These are the idiots who will be running our health care system.

- Aggie

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May-December Marriage

More like January-December:

The Saudi daily ‘Okaz reported on August 25, 2009 that the father of a 10-year-old girl had removed her from her aunt’s home, where she had been hiding for 10 days, and brought her back to her husband, who, according to the girl’s relatives, is 80 years old. In an ‘Okaz interview, the husband stated that he was not yet 80, accused the girl’s aunt of interfering in his private life, and claimed that according to the shari’a his marriage is legal as long as the girl’s father consents to it. He explained that the girl’s father had first offered him his older daughter, but when the latter refused, the father had suggested the younger one, and he had agreed, since when girl was shown to him, he couldn’t see anything to prevent their getting married.

But don’t worry. The Saudi Human Rights Commission (you read right) is on the case, claiming ” such marriages were detrimental to the minor’s emotional and physical health, and harmful to society. Al-’Abdallah further stated that underage marriage violated the rights of the child as set out in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory, and which defines anyone under 18 as a minor.”

Huh.

Well, if the Saudis want to join the modern world and recognize the rights of the child (and, dare we dream, the rights of women, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, et al), I have only two words in response: howdy Saudi.

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Most Ethical Congress Evah!

Oops! Who let the greedy, slimy, shady cat out of the bag?

House ethics investigators have been scrutinizing the activities of more than 30 lawmakers and several aides in inquiries about issues including defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling, according to a confidential House ethics committee report prepared in July.

– Ethics committee staff members have interviewed House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) about one element of the complex investigation of his personal finances, as well as the lawmaker’s top aide and his son.

– The Justice Department has told the ethics panel to suspend a probe of Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), whose personal finances federal investigators began reviewing in early 2006 after complaints from a conservative group that he was not fully revealing his real estate holdings. There has been no public action on that inquiry for several years. But the department’s request in early July to the committee suggests that the case continues to draw the attention of federal investigators, who often ask that the House and Senate ethics panels refrain from taking action against members whom the department is already investigating.

– The committee on June 9 authorized issuance of subpoenas to the Justice Department, the National Security Agency and the FBI for “certain intercepted communications” regarding Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.). As was reported earlier this year, Harman was heard in a 2005 conversation agreeing to an Israeli operative’s request to try to obtain leniency for two pro-Israel lobbyists in exchange for the agent’s help in lobbying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to name her chairman of the intelligence committee. The department, a former U.S. official said, declined to respond to the subpoena. [Okay, so they're not all corrupt. Ed.]

Because of the secretive nature of the ethics committee, it was difficult to assess the current status of the investigations cited in the July document. The panel said Thursday, however, that it is ending a probe of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) after finding no ethical violations, and that it is investigating the financial connections of two California Democrats.

The committee did not detail the two newly disclosed investigations. However, according to the July document, Rep. Maxine Waters, a high-ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, came under scrutiny because of activities involving OneUnited Bank of Massachusetts, in which her husband owns at least $250,000 in stock.

Waters arranged a September 2008 meeting at the Treasury Department where OneUnited executives asked for government money. In December, Treasury selected OneUnited as an early participant in the bank bailout program, injecting $12.1 million.

The other, Rep. Laura Richardson, may have failed to mention property, income and liabilities on financial disclosure forms.

Of all the bad luck! How did so many Democrats get nabbed?

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Socialism, Communism, Starvation

This is a terrifying article about starvation in North Korea

They clung to their “socialism” as they called it as somewhere between 600,000 and 2.5 million died.

I got to thinking about the famine in Russia in which an estimated 20 million people starved to death. You may or may not have heard about it; Walter Duranty of the NY Times won a Pulitzer for his coverage of Russia at the time. Unfortunately, he wrote that it was a paradise, without a care in the world.

I am not a fear-monger and don’t see the US heading towards a catastrophe of that scale. No way. But I see an educational system which does not wish to convey to students the fact that collectivism almost never works anywhere. They don’t receive the wisdom that millions of human beings have learned the hard way. I wish we did a better job teaching history.

- Aggie

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On the Count of Three, Say “Rictus!”

It is altogether fitting and proper that a president pay his respects to soldiers who died under his ultimate command.

But did he need to bring hair and makeup with him?

President Barack Obama made a midnight dash to this air base Wednesday to honor the return of fallen soldiers, absorbing the ultimate cost of war as the United States endures its deadliest month of the Afghanistan campaign.

On a clear fall night, Obama flew by Marine One helicopter to Dover Air Force Base to greet the flag-draped cases of 18 Americans killed in action this week.

After landing, the president, wearing a dark topcoat, got into a motorcade to a base chapel, where he met privately with families of the fallen Americans. He had arrived on the base at 12:34 a.m. Thursday and was expected to be back at the White House before dawn.

What, and a mechanic just happened to snap a picture on his cell phone?

President Bush took grief for posing among the troops in Iraq with a roasted turkey on Thanksgiving. Many even claimed it was plastic. Well, I won’t stoop to their level. I believe the coffins and their contents are all too real.

But it was a stunt. I would have felt otherwise had the press not been informed, had the photographer not had the perfect angle and lighting. But this is so posed, it might as well have been Photoshopped. Only this time, the plastic turkey is wearing a blue tie.

This is how a president should appear at such a solemn occasion.


Lincoln, center without hat, at Gettysburg.

PS: Don’t tell me this wasn’t staged. Don’t even try:

Originally, the New York Times reported on President Barack Obama’s visit to Dover AFB and the arrival of fallen serviceman by explaining that the White House wanted Obama to be seen as concerned and aware of the sacrifices made in America’s war policies:

A small contingent of reporters and photographers accompanied Mr. Obama to Dover, where he arrived at 12:34 a.m. aboard Marine One. He returned to the South Lawn of the White House at 4:45 a.m.
< …>
The images and the sentiment of the president’s five-hour trip to Delaware were intended by the White House to convey to the nation that Mr. Obama was not making his Afghanistan decision lightly or in haste.

Following that link now, the second paragraph quoted is nowhere to be seen. The Jeff Zeleny report contains no editorial announcement of changes after its publication, and no indication of any retraction. Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette and Nice Deb both noticed the change, however, and Greyhawk also noticed that the NYT didn’t quite redact that paragraph from everywhere on its servers. The story now reads like this:

The trip was a symbolic one for Mr. Obama, given the gravity of his coming announcement of a new strategy for Afghanistan.

The image of the commander in chief standing on a darkened tarmac, offering a salute to one of the soldiers, highlighted the poignancy of a decision he is facing.

So who changed the story, and why? The original Zeleny report with that paragraph gave credence to the accusation that Obama made the Dover trip for a photo op, picked up by bloggers to criticize the White House. Its mysterious disappearance post-publication indicates that someone was unhappy with that kind of criticism and removed the paragraph to curtail it — and didn’t do a very good job of it, either.

Just the other day, I declined to use Afghanistan against Obama dishonestly the way Iraq was used against Bush, saying “I won’t use coffins of American servicemen as some kind of prop to stage my little plays.”

Little did I know that they were taking notes, because that’s exactly what they did.

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Massachusetts Economy Worse Than National Average

The recession here deepens

Why should readers care? Because our governor is running our state the way that Obama is running the nation. They are personal friends. Patrick’s campaign slogan was “Together We Can”, Obama’s was “Yes We Can”. Both campaigns were run by David Axelrod.

….

It is the fourth time in the past year that Patrick has been forced to make emergency cuts because tax revenues came in lower than expected. Tax receipts for the first quarter of this fiscal year missed projections by $212 million.

State revenues have yet to stabilize, and fiscal watchdogs warn that more cuts are probable, perhaps even later this fiscal year.

If the environment is hostile to business (high taxes, angry attitude toward employers, difficult relationships with unions), businesses might choose to go elsewhere. If the citizens notice that their neighbors are not working, they might feel constrained about spending, just in case. Massachusetts is a model for the nation. The rest of the country is about to adopt our health care reform, along with our general approach to business and taxation. Judging on what I have observed around me, I expect more surprise tax revenue shortfalls.

- Aggie

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Military Expresses Concerns About Obama

Does he have the character to see it through?

Somebody deserves a Ya Think™ Award, but I can’t decide who.

Today, President Obama will lead another meeting to debate strategy in Afghanistan. He will presumably discuss the questions that have divided his advisers: How many troops to commit? How to define plausible goals? Should troops be deployed broadly or just in the cities and towns?

For the past few days I have tried to do what journalists are supposed to do.

I’ve called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. I called retired officers, analysts who have written books about counterinsurgency warfare, people who have spent years in Afghanistan. I tried to get them to talk about the strategic choices facing the president. To my surprise, I found them largely uninterested.

Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level.

They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination.

These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.

Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence.

But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

Somebody really does deserve an award here. This is a guy who is concerned about the price of arugula. Who never met a cool trend that he didn’t dig. Who promised to make the oceans recede, but turned up the temperature in the White House because he prefers to keep it hot. Trends change rapidly; they are the opposite of a strong, consistent approach. And, going more deeply, the President started life with a seemingly healthy dad who couldn’t be bothered and a mom who had wide-ranging interests that led her to re-marry in Indonesia and eventually give young Barry to his grandparents to raise. He has had at least two first names and two last names. Why should consistency be a strong point?

Their second concern is political. They do not know if President Obama regards Afghanistan as a distraction from the matters he really cares about: health care, energy and education. Some of them suspect that Obama talked himself into supporting the Afghan effort so he could sound hawkish during the campaign. They suspect he is making a show of commitment now so he can let the matter drop at a politically opportune moment down the road.

Finally, they do not understand the president’s fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all.

See my comment above. There is no reason to expect rock-like stability from a person that was elected to provide both Change and Cool. He is hip. Hipsters cannot be pinned down by a bunch of boring guys in military outfits. And if you want to be loved, sending Americans to fight a war in a place that most of them cannot find on a map is not going to achieve this.

I’m going to issue the coveted Ya Think™ Award to David Brooks. Good for him for noticing the problem and calling around to military experts. Second to last word to Brooks:

So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment.

And here is the last word. Brooks says that if Obama cannot find the core conviction necessary to win, we should leave Afghanistan now. I say that if we do that, we should openly announce to all other nations of the world that we cannot be trusted to finish what we start. Do not seek our help. We do not wish to be world leaders. We are not the United States they thought we knew. We voted to be the United States they thought they knew until we voted against it.

- Aggie

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Ding-Dong, the Recession’s Dead! [UPDATED]

Which old recession?

Bush’s recession (“which I inherited”)!

The U.S. economy grew at a 3.5% annual rate in the third quarter, ending a string of declines over four quarters that resulted in the most severe slide since the Great Depression. But some economists raised doubts about how long such strong growth can last.

The increase in GDP, reported by the government Thursday morning, was slightly better than expectations. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast 3.2% growth in gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity. The economy shrank at a 0.7% rate in the second quarter.

The positive GDP report is one more sign that the economy has likely pulled out of the deep recession that started in December 2007.

The reading by itself doesn’t mark an end to the recession; the economy actually grew in the second quarter of 2008. (The National Bureau of Economic Research, which officially dates the beginning and end of recessions, is not expected to declare that the current recession has ended until sometime in 2010.)

That’s rather uncharitable toward President Obama. I thought a recession was a definable term—it was declared after two consecutive terms of “negative” economic growth (aka shrinkage, though the term has other connotations). Wouldn’t a quarter of growth—better than expected growth—automatically define the end of the recession?

I think so.

Because I want the next recession to belong to Obama all by hisself.

This, ahem, “recovery” reminds me of what I heard an engineer say about a particular airline design (747?): if you throw it hard enough, anything will fly.

Cash for Clunkers, credit for first-time home buyers (as young as four!)—these programs did indeed inject much needed fuel into the economic engine.

But they forgot to fill the tank. They did nothing to restore the free market, they merely replaced it.

And left it worse off then before:

The Obama administration on Thursday lashed out at a prominent critic of its Cash for Clunkers program, arguing that the popular trade-in initiative helped give the auto industry and the economy a much needed boost in the past few months.

On Wednesday, Edmunds.com released a study that argued Cash for Clunkers did not have a great impact on the auto industry. The report said that 690,000 new vehicles were sold under the program last summer, but that only 125,000 of them would not have been sold without the Clunkers rebates.

As a result, the report said, the administration’s economic claims for the program “have been rendered quite weak.”

The Edmunds report also said that taxpayers shelled out an average of $24,000 per car sold as a result of the program.

But the White House fired back, saying Thursday’s Commerce Department report that showed auto sales contributed 1.7 percentage points to the economy’s 3.5% growth rate in the third quarter is proof that Cash for Clunkers had a meaningful impact on both auto sales and the broad economy.

My point exactly. Which is why they’re so pissed someone’s questioning the value of the program.

And why this news—which never changes, so it’s hardly news—is more telling:

The number of Americans filing for initial unemployment insurance were little changed last week, the government said Thursday, with a total figure that missed analysts’ expectations.

There were 530,000 initial job claims filed in the week ended Oct. 24, down 1,000 from an unrevised 531,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said in a weekly report.

The government said 5,797,000 people filed continuing claims in the week ended Oct. 17, the most recent data available. The number was down 148,000 from the preceding week’s revised 5,945,000 claims, and marked the second time since late March that continuing claims fell below 6 million.

But the slide may signal that more filers are dropping off those rolls into extended benefits.

Continuing claims reflect people filing each week after their initial claim until the end of their standard benefits, which usually last 26 weeks. The figures do not include those who have moved to state or federal extensions, or people whose benefits have expired.

One could go on and on. I just hope Obama enjoys economic news while it lasts. The rest of us are still waiting for some.

UPDATE

And as for that other claim:

The Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus bill directly saved or created about 650,000 jobs as of the end of last month, administration officials announced this morning.

Factoring jobs indirectly created from the stimulus — not reflected in these numbers — an administration official says in a statement that “because these reports show that less than half of the spending through that date created or saved about 650,000 jobs, they confirm government and private forecaster’s estimates that overall Recovery Act spending has created and saved at least 1 million jobs.

The “majority of funds” came from state governments because Porkulus distributed the money in block grants to the states. What did the states do with that money? They did save jobs, but primarily bureaucratic jobs. States used the money to temporarily paper over budget gaps which would have forced the layoffs of state employees, which should have been a necessary step in slimming down state-level spending.

The administration will claim that it saved the jobs of teachers, police officers, and firefighters with the data submitted by the states. Indeed, we have already seen this in New Hampshire, which listed almost all of its “saved or created” jobs from their education system.

No one was going to have a mass layoff of police officers and teachers in New Hampshire or anywhere else. The jobs really at risk were administrative jobs within state government, primarily union jobs (in large part represented by Obama’s ally, the SEIU), as states had to confront an economic reality of lower revenue and rising spending.

They’ve created nothing. And the bacon they saved won’t stay good for long.

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Evening Funnies

Terrific sports clip

I wish I could embed it but I can’t. You’ll have to go to the link. Really excellent.

And I thought that this was good too:

halloween-democrat.jpg

- Aggie

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Hillary Clinton

hpmedium.jpg

Maybe I am just being a grouch but this annoys me. This is the front page of the NYTimes website, currently. On the one hand, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But on the other hand, what about being able to express our usual standard of dress, etc. When we welcome foreign leaders into the White House, we do not impose a dress code. Why is it ok to demand that our Secretary of State cover her head like that?

Again, I might just be grumpy, but this is off-putting.

- Aggie

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