Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In New Zealand, There's Nothing to Hide

The Great Recesssion has dealt a real body blow to airlines worldwide. But those madcap Kiwis down under sure do have a way to catch your attention during their version of the usual, humdrum pre-flight safety video. Watch carefully now. (Hint: check out the uniforms):

Still stumped? The airline staff (apparently volunteers for the video) are wearing only body paint. If you still don't believe me, watch the fadeaway at the very end of the video.

Who says New Zealanders don't have more fun?

MSM Dumbs Down Some More

Luther and I have railed here again and again at the obtuseness and cluelessness of the media in all fields. Either it's wilful politicization (as in carrying water for Obama 24/7). Or it's simple stupidity in pursuit of a good scare headline.

The following quip is excerpted, via TheStreet.com, from its pay-only site, Real Money:

Bloomberg: "White Sugar Drops in London on U.S. Consumer Confidence Slump."

So much nonsense compressed into such a small space! What, is someone sitting in a London bakery going to forgo a biscuit because of a backward-looking survey in the U.S.? Are Belgian beet-growers going to squeeze more sugar out of their crop because of boo-hooing in Baltimore?

This is typical of the kind of scare headline we see in financials these days, breathless negativity with no backup, a stupid story-line based on nothing whatsoever of substance but meant to sustain a negative mood of fear and loathing.
I miss the old days when raw sugar futures traded in the pits of New York. No stop was safe; put it in, and they were going to get it. But at least they manipulated the market the old-fashioned way, good and honest, and didn't enlist the support of wire-service reporters.
As for the writer's conclusion? We could not have done better:
Hey, there's a non-government organization we can start: Instead of Doctors Without Borders, we could start "Reporters Without Clues." Nominations are being accepted.

Russian Solution to Somalian Pirates: Would Ayn Rand Approve?

A Russian luxury yacht company is offering pirate-hunting cruises off the coast of Somalia...passengers can try their hand at repelling raiders with the help of a squad of former troops...(Not available online, NY Post, Weird but True, 6/25/2009)

This, you have to admit, is an unusual approach to the piracy problem. With state actors evidently unable to stop pirates, except in highly publicized executions and raids, a big Russian yacht with some ex-Red Army guys to train passengers in how to use AK-47s, might be watched closely by shipping companies. shipping company owners might then seriously consider arming crews of their ships instead of expecting the much-reduced Navies of the world to pick up the tab.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Honduras's Deposed President: A White House Favorite?

Hugo Chávez's coalition-building efforts suffered a setback yesterday when the Honduran military sent its president packing for abusing the nation's constitution...It seems that President Mel Zelaya miscalculated when he tried to emulate the success of his good friend Hugo in reshaping the Honduran Constitution to his liking...But Honduras is not out of the Venezuelan woods yet. Yesterday the Central American country was being pressured to restore the authoritarian Mr. Zelaya by the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Hugo himself. The Organization of American States, having ignored Mr. Zelaya's abuses, also wants him back in power. It will be a miracle if Honduran patriots can hold their ground...The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do....Honduras Defends Its Democracy, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, The Wall Street Journal, 6/29/2009

Read this article instead of paying serious attention to the cries from the White House, Secretary of State Clinton, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez about democracy betrayed. President Zelaya refused to heed a Constitutional restriction on changing Honduras's supreme law, which allows only a constituent assembly to carry out this task. Instead, like a familiar in Washington, he simply decreed that his own way of doing it was correct. The military, under instructions of Honduras's Supreme Court, removed him from office, as they were supposed to do to protect constitutional government.

Lies about a coup d'etat, whether from the State Department or Fidel Castro, really shouldn't be listened to. Nor should lies about any president's right to overturn established law on his own be listened to.

Don't be fooled.


New Haven Firefighters: What's the Real Lesson of the Court's Decision?

In a major reverse-discrimination case, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that white New Haven, Conn., firefighters were discriminated against when the city threw out a promotion test because not enough minorities did well on it...The 5-4 ruling overturns an appeals court decision by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.... High Court Rules For Connecticut White Firefighters, Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 6/29/09

As a decision on a specific case where the Court of Appeals decision had blared a terrible message -- your ethnic background matters more than your competence, the ruling by the Supreme Court was a good reversal of a specific wrong, but did not, as Justice Scalia noted in his supporting vote, address the fundamental, Constitutional issue of equal protection under the law.

But an unspoken question was a lot louder to the writer. Why, in a developed country, and in a city where almost two thirds of the citizens are African-American or other minorities, did the public school system in New Haven fail to deliver graduates capable of studying for and passing the test administered to prospective firefighters?

The writer knows a few educators. On the issue of why minorities fail, or do poorly, in public schools these instructors fall into two categories: those who blame the students and their families; and those who criticize the schools. Those who blame students and families are invariably on the political left. Parents, they say, suffering under economic privation, are unable to provide the benefits of middle class living to their children and, thus, the children don't have the background required. The argument is utterly fatuous, and it's suggestive to note that the same rate of failure, especially for boys, occurs in some school districts in Westchester County. A peculiar similarity emerges. Both the poor district schools and the rich district schools operate under a pedagogy that is alien to most children and to boys in particular.

It would be worth studying the pedagogy used as basis to educate the minority applicants to the New Haven fire department. When you teach students that their life's objectives are to get along and feel good, you're not producing graduates, but smiley-faced workers for Mickey D's.


Money Pot: Latest Update

Now we're all caught up. So what has the Wonk been doing since his last blog hiatus?

Overview: The economy is, in fact, still not quite recovering, but it has flattened and will stop declining shortly. Housing, which in the end is not really national but local, has, surprise, already begun to rebound in the states that led the housing crash: California, Nevada, Arizona, and a little tiny bit in Florida. The rotation will eventually take in all areas, including New York City (which was actually about the last to decline and which is still declining) but maybe never parts of the Rust Belt, a territory whose economy has nearly been obliterated courtesy of the lazy auto industry and public employees' unions who demand wage increases from unemployed taxpayers.

Since the market is a leading indicator, we enjoyed a nice move up, circa mid-March until about 2 weeks ago when the rally stalled. My guess is for sideways motion to somewhat down, particularly when bad second quarter numbers start showing up in July. But then we'll have some fun again this fall as the market plays a lengthy game of catch up.

Using no particular genius except common sense, I gritted my teeth and stayed about 75% invested in stocks during the horrendous days of late February and early March when I realized that the media--wrong as always--was consistently telling us we were all going to die. The media hysteria rose to such a pitch and to such great unanimity that I decided my favorite leading indicator had bottomed. The press had completely freaked out--which is always a buy signal. So I loaded up the rest of my nearly flatlined portfolio and got a hell of a ride for about the next 10 weeks.

My portfolio has now regained about 70% of its considerable losses during that brief period of time, and I've diversified somewhat into bonds, paring back several positions.

Short answer--I'm somewhat out of the woods now, but need to get that 30% back as soon as I can before I stop hawkeyeing my computer.

More later including a few observations on where the bargains might be today.

The Great Recession of 2007-2010

As promised in the previous post, here's a brief synopsis of our Recessionary adventures thus far.

To recap--many individuals lost their shirts last fall and again this spring when they first failed to pay attention to their investments (mostly in mutual funds via 401(k)s) and then refused to look at the carnage afterwards, as if it were going to go away.

My fiscal disaster was a bit different. Having been laid off by my employer last summer (oddly enough, by mutual agreement more or less), I first got my various retirement funds transferred into my own accounts so I could move the funds around into high-yielding investments whose interest and/or dividends promised to give me enough income to undertake a completely freelance writing career while improving my rental home portfolio.

Well, that plan went in the tank when pretty much everything that I or anyone else owned in the way of stocks and bonds went the way of the dodo in two phases. This is nothing I haven't been through before as a former stockbroker myself in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In fact, I distinctly remember the great Hunt Brothers silver crash which took silver from roughly $55 an ounce down to about $10 or less in what seemed like the twinkling of an eye. Paul Volcker's Fed jawboned Federal authorities who simply raised the margin requirements on silver from 10% to 50%. And the brothers who--similar to speculator Curtis Jadwyn in Frank Norris' excellent and mostly forgotten novel "The Pit" had almost cornered the market on silver--were forced to liquidate on margin call but found no buyers at $55. More like $10. Wipe out. (BTW, it mystifies me why some flavor of this wasn't put into force when speculators drove oil up to an unsustainable $147 a barrel last spring.)

Anyhow, back in March 1980, people went nuts, came in off the street to look at our tape (the old Dean Witter Reynolds, no PCs back then) and babble in terror. I myself stared blankly at my console (a green CRT) watching the plunging numbers as the market squealed in terror. I figured I'd be out on the street corner the next day selling apples. I remember breaking into a cold sweat. You had to be there.

Well, it was mainly the Hunt Brothers who got wiped out, actually. The market not only stabilized. It quietly and almost imperceptively began to morph into what eventually became the great Reagan Bull Market as interest rates peaked in the stratosphere and began to decline. Meanwhile, as Reagan's tax cuts took hold business got juiced as well.

Our current financial megadisaster, however, is different from the silver crash, different even from the brief, terrifying 1987 crash, and different from the short, savage "dot bomb" that first hit in the spring of 1999 (during Clinton, not Bush whom revisionist economists prefer to blame for it). The current meltdown--which I first regarded as "Great Depression II" but have now decided to call "The Great Recession of 2007-2010"--is turning out to be far more systemic than 1999 because it actually involved savaging most Americans who worked for a living. It hit their phantom nest eggs (their homes, which plummeted disastrously in value) as well as their own retirement portfolios. Many will never recover because they don't understand what happened or how to fix their portfolios, courtesy largely of a public education system that teaches people about multiculturalism but ignores the simple mechanics of wealth building.

The reason for the current debacle, the massive housing bubble, was in fact a house of cards that actually began to be built in the early 1970s by Democrats in Congress who slowly turned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into a free money pot for unqualified homebuyers who eventually sought the American dream on no money down, no documented income, and interest-only payments. The more unqualified people who were given mortgages they couldn't afford, the more pressure built on house prices. And the higher the prices, the more individuals and lenders panicked either to buy housing at any price or to loan money for them without even the most rudimentary kind of financial vetting.

This was, in short, a Ponzi scheme that only accelerated in the Clinton era. Unfortunately, it blew up on Bush's watch, even though he tried to get some sensible legislation through Congress to throttle this runaway train during his second term. It went down to defeat. The American people were next.

The Great Recession was and is the result, in the end, of the greatest credit binge in history, led by a left-leaning Congress that never really had a clue as to what was in store. And to their discredit, even the Repubs who led Congress from roughly 1994 through 2006 climbed on the train rather than putting the brakes on gently before it was too late.

That's where we are now. Lending standards have now tightened to where it's tough to get credit anymore unless you have a pristine record AND a job--a rare combo these days. And, ominously, Congress is scheming to impose ruinously inflationary and business busting nonsense like nationalized healthcare and cap-and-trade (read Luther in this blog). But I'll rant about some of this later. Our next installment is a brief update on how I personally began to climb out of the current economic mess. You can do it, too.

Wonker's Great Recession Update

Since I've been on one of my customary lengthy hiatuses lately (correct plural of that?), I haven't had a chance to give our millions of readers an update on my slow crawl out of last fall's financial disaster--a disaster I have shared, alas, with an awful lot of my fellow citizens. Particularly aging Boomers who've found their 401(k)s rather handily eviscerated by speculators and so-called market pros.

I'm happy to report better news today and will relay it in the next two posts. First a recap of The Great Recession at this point in time. Next, an update on my improving portfolio. Later today or this week, a little unsolicited advice to our investing fans who must keep in mind that while I was once an actual stockbroker, I'm no longer licensed. So take everything I say with a grain of salt. Or how did Mark Twain say it in "Huckleberry Finn?" Anyone finding a moral in this book will be shot. Or something like that.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cap and Trade: Dollars and Nonsense

Although PETA's poster girl (below) is more pleasant to look at, let's turn to a graphic that gets back to cap-and-trade, the impending socialist disaster that Luther's been writing eloquently about. Via today's Power Line, we've obtained a map which shows you just how much cap-and-trade will cost taxpayers in each state. Red colors the losers, while green, appropriately, indicates the winners which are, not surprisingly, the states that can never tax you enough.

In typical fashion, we see the true meaning here behind cap-and-trade. The right and left coast state politicians have already taxed their own citizens into oblivion. They now want to extract lots of income from flyover country since they can never have enough money to spend on "our" behalf.

Fellow citizens, you wanted "change." Well, you've got it, and "change" is about all you'll have left in your pockets when your agents of "change" are done. How about waking up and defeating this travesty income redistribution plan in the Senate?

Meanwhile, to critics, yeah, this map is put out by an organization with an axe to grind. Just like everything you put out. In this case, our guys are providing a welcome antidote to your baseless propaganda. Their companies will go out of business and along with them will go tens of thousands of jobs, most of 'em in flyover country. The "jobs" you allege that green technologies will create are largely conjectural. We thought those voters whose jobs will be lost in the meantime would like to know about this "inconvenient truth."

(BTW, click on the image for a larger map.)

The PETA Party Resumes

Back again after a long hiatus, and a huge hat tip to Luther for keeping the truth in the forefront on the key issues of our day.

Taking a break from the developing cap-and-trade disaster for the moment, let's briefly focus, lest we forget, on the malign idiotarians over at PETA, who've now found a new poster girl in Che Guevara's granddaughter.

Check out the clever placement of the carrots in this photo. I wonder if they cried out in terror as they were rudely rooted out of their sleeping places below ground. Shall we call for prosecution against vegetable terrorism here?

Meanwhile, I can preach about the Marxism of front organizations like PETA until the cows come home, so to speak. But leave it to the PETA freaks themselves to prove my point with their new poster girl. Gotta love it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cap & Trade: What Democrats Expect From You

From The American Thinker, 6/26/09

Call your representative! Email your representative! See below.

The House vote on this bill, HR2454, is tonight. Stop it!

Looting and plundering is against any law. Apparently the Democrats and the White House think differently. Show them that you care about their robbery of your, and your children's, future!


The Cap-And-And-Tax Scam Vote is Today: Email Your Congresspeople Now

HR 2454, the "climate change" bill, which will cost each family thousands in increased gas, oil, and electric prices, steal millions of jobs, and hobble the United States economy, is up for a vote today. The Democrats are going to try to jam this down our throats, against our will. In personal conduct, this is called rape. Don't lie back; you won't enjoy it. Email your Congressman. List below:

Link to Congressional email list.

Fight back. The looters are in charge and the wallet they want, and the future they want, belongs to you.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Medical Care: How about a Real Debate?

Some form of restraint in our choice of medical procedures is going to be necessary. The debate we should be having is over whether restraint in our use of medical services should be initiated by government officials or left to consumers. The Democrats want to avoid that debate. Instead, they make it sound as if they can make excess health-care spending disappear by magic. But even if we were to stipulate for the sake of argument that all of the supposed savings from preventive care, electronic medical records, and eliminating the waste and greed supposedly inflicted by insurance companies and doctors will actually materialize, the excessive use of medical procedures would still be the main problem with our health-care system...Both government rationing and consumer cost-sharing seem unpleasant. The debate between the two approaches would not be one-sided. But until Democrats are willing to stand up toe-to-toe and have that debate, we will not see any move toward cost-effective health-care reform....The Non-Debate over Non-Reform, Arnold Kling, National Review, 6/24/2009

With ABC's White House infomercial tonight, their news division's most craven programming choice in a long time, it' s useful to look at what serious critics of socialized medicine are saying.

Arnold Kling used to write for Tech Central Station, a remarkable site founded by James Glass. Glass departed for other pastures. Tech Central Station is struggling. And, Arnold Kling is appearing on National Review. What he has to offer in this article is the proverbial elephant in the living room.

Yes, it's all about demand. We want to be cured of all that ails us. That's fine. That's what medicine aims at. Unfortunately, we also want to be cured of all that upsets us – being overweight; aging; body parts too big or too small. A lot of private insurance covers that and it is fabulously expensive. We also, however, want to challenge mortality. And, that is not the job of medicine. What does that mean?

Challenging mortality does not mean living forever. It means putting it off until the maximum possible number of years, months, weeks, and yes, even hours, have passed. In practical, accounting terms, it means that we'll spend almost ninety percent of health care money on the last year or two of our lives.

William F. Buckley, Jr.'s son Christopher, with whom he had many and profound disagreements, is a gifted satirist. A few years back he wrote a book called Boomsday. In it, a young radical's cause was not socialized medicine, but a dramatic reform of how entitlements are given to the old and paid for by the young. In the course of working with a public relations firm, she convinces a Senator to introduce legislation with a truly startling objective: those 65 and older, if they agree to commit suicide, will be able to pass on their estates without taxes. The bill is introduced, not with the hopes that it will actually pass, but to start a serious national discussion about the pending disaster in Social Security and Medicare. Naturally, this being a Chris Buckley story, the bill becomes the principal issue in a Presidential campaign. In the course of increasingly frantic efforts in Congress to pass some form of the bill, lobbyists pour down on Capitol Hill. By the time the bill approaches actual passage, with the sitting President an eager supporter, the age of Boomer suicide has been moved upwards to 85, making the bill not so much contemptuous of human life and Western values as utterly meaningless. That's politics. By its very nature, it can't address this issue. Why?

None of us wants to die. In a post-religious society – like it or not, that describes an emerging majority – the here and now is all there is. Nobody wants to give the bright now up for a black, insensate eternity; nobody wants to take it away from anyone else. And, so we routinely expect insurance and Medicare to pick up the million dollar cost of extending an old woman's life for six months. And we do this a million times. Not in France.

The writer is not advocating here, only discussing, something you are unlikely to hear on the ABC infomercial tonight.

In France, they have a remarkably successful single payer system, with a high quality of care delivered at costs somewhat less than in the United States. Doctors are not government employees. However, no procedure can be done for a fee greater than that set by the single insurance company (the French government). Efficiency and greater income come about by doctors performing more procedures at a fixed cost, not by charging more money based on their reputation or on their public relations. Sounds great, so why not here?

The French system depends to a remarkable degree on a form of cost control that Americans won't even discuss. Here's how it works.

If you need coronary bypass surgery (or major cancer therapy) or any of a number of other major operations or treatments, and you're over 65, you can't get them in France. The working assumption, as cold as dry ice, is that if you're retired and no longer producing goods and services, you have to depend on luck, genetics, and medical tourism, mostly to the United States, if you want to get past a major illness. Do they enforce it?

With a cruelty that is horrifying – remember 2005? In that year of Muslim youth setting fire to thousands of cars across France, the summer was an especially hot one. At its height, in July 2005, reports began to trickle out about a ghastly tragedy. Tens of thousands of aged French citizens in nursing homes were dying of effects from the heat. Why? The state-owned nursing homes did not have air conditioning. By the end of the heat wave, between fifty and one hundred thousand old folks in France had died. During this time, despite appeals from the press, the children of these old people, many of whom had fought in the Resistance, did not leave their vacation spas on the Mediterranean, neither to rescue their parents and grandparents nor to even claim the bodies of the dead. As an indication of a society that has decided that if you're old, you're useless and expendable, these abandoned old people, left to die, were a sickening paradigm. But far more die in France lacking procedures we consider routine for the old in the United States.

In the United States, the almost vertical growth rate of Medicare and Medicaid expenses, which will bankrupt the next generation or three, and have already bankrupted New York State and California, are a clear indication that we don't accept the French notion of what it means to be old and retired. There's nothing wrong with that moral assessment. After all, it still means something to us that the person we'd be abandoning with such a radical accounting practice would be our own mothers, fathers, and grandparents and, ultimately, ourselves as we reach that age. We don't accept that because it is fundamentally, and brutally, callous. However, the discussion is not complete, because we can't afford to continue this way.

Why wasn't this such a common problem in the past? It's very simple. In the past, as people aged, most were prepared by the practices and beliefs of faith, and by common sense and ordinary observation, to acknowledge that as one aged, nature's way and God's way of telling us it was time for the next generation was for us to become feeble, grow sick, and die. We were going to a better place, according to our faith. Even if we didn't believe, we knew that that unvarying process would break us down, and that our best hopes lay in the generation coming up. In both terms of faith, and those of materialism, that was a profoundly healthy understanding of aging, illness and death. After all, even with today's remarkable technologies, in chemistry, prosthetics, machines, and surgery, the end will come. The old folks were right after all. But we don't believe that. We act as if the expenditure of yet another hundred thousand, or another million, will put off that day.

That's the way people who refuse both faith and evidence act. But there's a difference between hope and hallucination. Ask any drug user. If Grandma is 89 and suffering from the dozens of systemic breakdowns that happen to anyone that age, a million dollars that might have kept a dozen children from an early death, or from stunted, abbreviated lives might provide Grandma with sixty days of semi-conscious life. But, we won't decide.

That's why the choice falls on two forms of rationing: price; and government edict. With the latter, everyone has to stand in line and money doesn't matter. As in France, the government can issue a decree that certain, expensive procedures or medications won't be given to certain classes of people. With the former, the major effect is that the inheritance of one generation is given to only one segment of the economy. Both are inherently material means of rationing. Both avoid the most serious ethical choices. Both are a product of our hallucinations about immortality, or at least outliving everybody else.

Is it better to preserve a dozen young lives, or to give a few extra months to the old?

Is it best to preserve individual choices on what is worth doing and what is not, or to let government set every standard?

Are we so foolish as to assume we can attain a practical immortality, or are we willing to accept a judgment of both nature and God that we have only a limited time before we must let the next generation come into its time and place?

If Americans won't make those choices, insurance companies and the United States government will make them for us.


Monday, June 22, 2009

IG Gerald Walpin Firing, Further

The inspector-general system in the federal government is vastly overrated and has an undeserved reputation for nonpartisan, objective investigations. In fact, many current and former government employees have been abused by...ideological witch hunts, conducted by glory-hunting IGs trying to make a name for themselves in the Washington political and media world...But two years ago, then-Senator Obama co-sponsored the Inspector General Reform Act...enacted last year as the Improving Government Accountability Act. Part of the purpose of that law...was to make sure that IGs operate with “sufficient independence to do their jobs well,” without fear of political repercussions. Thus, the law requires the president to communicate “in writing the reasons for any” removal or transfer of an IG. The Senate report says this provision is intended to “ensure that Inspectors General are not removed for political reasons.”...At first there was no explanation for Walpin’s firing; Obama simply said he “no longer” had “the fullest confidence” in Walpin. After the initial uproar, the White House started claiming the IG had been “disoriented” and “confused” at a May 20 meeting, something an eyewitness directly refutes....What is Obama Trying to Cover Up?, Hans A. von Spakovsky & Todd Gaziano, National Review, 6/22/2009

As those who remember more than the past year should recall, cover-ups take on a life of their own. An executive shuts one person up with dismissal; then another person gets transferred out because he or she saw something; then a quick, vague report is transmitted to the press to explain both actions; then the press asks some questions and an increasingly elaborate fiction is developed to rationalize the first report of the firings. Before long, a web of deceit has been built.

It takes a lot of energy to do that. Even the executive's friends and allies may begin to wonder about their colleague's integrity, about his real commitment to goals and objectives, about his judgment. The executive may begin to work them over as well until one of two things happen.

The best choice is for the executive to come clean, accept responsibility, and bear the consequences.

The usual choice is for the lies to continue until no one listens anymore and the executive's authority lies in tatters. That was the answer for Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Both of their Presidencies ended in disaster.


IG Gerald Walpin Firing: A different kind of counterfeiting

President Obama's excuses for firing AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin look weaker every day. The FBI has opened an investigation into a Sacramento program formerly run by a close ally of President Obama's, giving credence to the IG's work...The president fired Mr. Walpin June 11 after Mr. Walpin filed two reports critical of Obama friends. The highest-profile of the two reports focused on misuse of funds at Sacramento's St. Hope Academy, then run by former NBA star Kevin Johnson before Mr. Johnson was elected Sacramento's mayor in November. Mr. Johnson was a frequent stump speaker for Mr. Obama during last year's campaign and has claimed in TV interviews to be particularly good friends with first lady Michelle Obama....Editorial, Washington Times, 6/22/2009

The “transparent” administration may be learning the various meanings and usages of irony. It's all about heritage. In Chicago ward politics, the standard for a century has been a favor given, a favor returned. This is fine, one supposes, for an alderman. What can it hurt? However, when the White House intervenes in another federal officer's investigation of a personal friend of the President's, we've stepped a long way back in time, from transparency to obstruction of justice. And it's getting worse.

On the very same day that the president fired Mr. Walpin, St. Hope's executive director, Rick Maya, left his job at St. Hope. He did not go quietly. His resignation letter charged Mr. Johnson and several St. Hope board members with numerous ethical violations. Most explosively, he charged that a board member improperly deleted e-mails of Mr. Johnson's that already were under a federal subpoena...Suddenly, the problems at St. Hope begin to look as severe as Mr. Walpin had charged rather than being minor infractions...(Editorial....cont'd)

The last thing the country needs is an administration so small-minded that it will flout its constitutional oaths and magisterial obligations on behalf of political supporters.


Who Owns American Federal Debt Overseas?

In $billions

China_Mainland 763.5
Japan 685.9
Carib_Bnkng_Ctrs 204.7
Oil_Exporters 189.5
United_Kingdom 152.8
Russia 137.0
Brazil 126.0
Luxembourg 97.5
Hong_Kong 80.9
Taiwan 78.3
Switzerland 64.2
Germany 54.6
Ireland 49.7
Singapore 39.7
India 38.5
Korea 35.4
Mexico 35.4
France 30.6
Thailand 28.5
Norway 27.5
Turkey 27.2
Israel 19.1
Egypt 18.5
Netherlands 16.5
Italy 16.2
Belgium 15.8
Chile 15.1
Canada 13.1
Sweden 12.7
Philippines 12.0
Malaysia 11.6
Colombia 11.4
All_Other 153.5

Grand_Total 3262.6

Department of the Treasury/Federal Reserve Board
June 15, 2009

Whoa! Long list. And lots of money -- about 20% of GDP in fact. There's been approximately a 20% increase in foreign-held dollar debt in the past thirteen months, about $650 billion according to the Treasury. And, despite all of the rhetoric from China, Beijing authorities have purchased almost 40% of that additional dollar-denominated debt. Some countries have changed their minds, however.

The English share of this debt has declined by almost 50% in the last year. So has Canada's. Japanese purchases over that time lagged behind the average increase, and last month their purchases declined 80%.

This is why the talk of another currency, or super currency, is very loud in Asia. If anyone in Washington is listening, they must not be in office.


$134.5 Billion Bond Smuggling: Malicious Hoax or Comedy of Errors?

Probably it's both. According to a number of sources, including the Guardia Finanza in Italy, the issue date of the 500 billion dollar bearer bonds was 1934. And on the Kennedy bonds (1 billion) there was an engraving of the space shuttle.

There were no such bonds issued in 1934.

The last Kennedy bearer bond was issued in 1969, 14 years before the shuttle flew.

They were, however, very high quality forgeries, as the investigating officers attested to in a number of reports. That's a pretty expensive hoax, prohibitively expensive for most counterfeiters in fact. The denominations are a clue as to what type of organization would attempt such a hoax. Such large bonds would have to pass muster with the issuing authorities. No bank would take that responsibility. Not even a porto banco would have passed on these. It must have been a nation that was responsible. A good guess would be North Korea or Iran.

Both nations have done large-scale counterfeiting before, and quite well. It's not surprising that superlative work would be done on the counterfeiting if it were done in either place, but that might also explain the errors in detail. It is unlikely that even the North Korean or Iranian governments know the issuing dates of such bonds; the engraving artist probably added the shuttle because of the association of JFK with NASA. And that's the other way to catch counterfeiting.

If the counterfeiters use the right paper, marks, deliberate impurities, inserted threads of a specific color, but miss a small, but critical, detail, then you have a comedy of errors made from a malicious hoax. All the experts had to do in Washington was to look up the issuing dates and the artwork.

However, until the writer sees very good photographs of these pieces of paper, he'll withhold judgment. In the interim, laughter is the best response. If they'd gotten the date and the artwork right, however, this might have been the most explosive financial story in a decade. And, there's trouble still. Someone has plates of a quality nearly high enough to fool police authorities whose expertise is chasing down precisely this kind of counterfeiting. Now, they know what their mistakes were. Was that why the two couriers were so obvious, so they'd be caught to test the fakes?


Friday, June 19, 2009

$134.5 Billion Italy: Stranger Still, Financial Times' Misleading Headline

Mafia blamed for $134bn fake Treasury bills
By FT reporters
Published: June 18 2009 19:52 | Last updated: June 18 2009 19:52
One summer afternoon, two “Japanese” men in their 50s on a slow train from Italy to Switzerland said they had nothing to declare at the frontier point of Chiasso.
But in a false bottom of one of their suitcases, Italian customs officers and ministry of finance police discovered a staggering $134bn (€97bn, £82bn) in US Treasury bills....Mafia blamed for $134bn fake Treasury bills, FT Reporters, 6/18/2009

Okay, same story, with an interpretation of the alleged crime expressed in the headline. The Mafia did it! But wait...

Italian prosecutors revealed last month that they had cracked a $1bn bond scam run by the Sicilian Mafia, with the alleged aid of corrupt officials in Venezuela’s central bank. Twenty people were arrested in four countries...The fake bonds were to have been used as collateral to open credit lines with banks, Reuters news agency reported. The Venezuelan central bank denied the accusations...(Mafia Blamed..., FT, 6/18/2009, cont'd)

It's a totally different story! A totally different crime! Was the Financial Times, one of the better sources on the Web, simply stumbling, or were they trying to communicate something else? As Wonker would say, yowser!

Please return to your regularly scheduled pablum from CNN.


SIGTARP Neil Barofsky Muzzling: The Missing Link in Ponte Chiasso Story ($134.5 billion)?

The Obama administration’s disputes with government watchdogs do not end with fired Inspector General Gerald Walpin. Behind the scenes, the Treasury Department is embroiled in a disagreement with Neil Barofsky, the watchdog for the $700 billion government bailout Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP...The dispute was revealed in a letter that Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent on Wednesday to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, first reported by the Los Angeles Times’ Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten...As part of his duties performing audits and keeping tracking TARP dollars, Barofsky asked the Treasury Department for some documents about a financial institution receiving tens of billions in taxpayer bailout dollars. The Treasury Department refused to hand them over, “on a specious claim of attorney-client privilege,” Grassley wrote. “It is my further understanding that this disagreement then escalated into broader questions about whether SIGTARP is subject to your direct supervision and direction, which may have been referred outside Treasury for an independent legal opinion.”...Treasury Department Challenges Independence of TARP Inspector General, Jake Taper, Matt Jaffe, ABC News, 6/18/2009

A rule of thumb in Chicago's old gangland “society” was that the whistle-blower got taken to a garage and given a "valentine." But, just to be fair, at first they told him to shut up. Maybe next they crippled him by blowing off a kneecap. The valentine was saved for last.

Sorry, the writer fell into an old bent for conspiracy. Disregard this post. Pretend it never happened. Watch CNN for a while. All will be better.


Japanese Dumping $134.5 Billion in Bearer Bonds Using Smugglers in Italy? What?

Two Japanese men are detained in Italy after allegedly attempting to take $134 billion worth of U.S. bonds over the border into Switzerland. Details are maddeningly sketchy, so naturally the global rumor mill is kicking into high gear...Are these would-be smugglers agents of Kim Jong Il stashing North Korea’s cash in a Swiss vault? Bagmen for Nigerian Internet scammers? Was the money meant for terrorists looking to buy nuclear warheads? Is Japan dumping its dollars secretly? Are the bonds real or counterfeit?...The implications of the securities being legitimate would be bigger than investors may realize. At a minimum, it would suggest that the U.S. risks losing control over its monetary supply on a massive scale....Suitcase with $134 Billion Puts Dollar on Edge, William Pesek, Bloomberg News, 6/17/2009

Readers are excused for not having heard of this astonishing story. The American MSM are not covering it. In the East, questions from the Asia Times netted a reassuring remark about trust in American bonds, and the simultaneous, if not related, resignation of the Prime Minister's brother as Internior Minister.

“We have complete trust in the fact that the U.S. views its strong-dollar policy as fundamental,” Yosano, 70, said in an interview in Tokyo on June 10 before attending a Group of Eight meeting of finance ministers starting today in Italy. “So our trust in U.S. Treasuries is absolutely unshakable.” ...The Saga of the Bearer Bonds, Market Ticker (denniger.net), 6/18/2009

Der Spiegel published a straighforward account of the arrest in Ponte Chiasso in northern Italy.

It is the largest smuggling scandal in history - or a brilliant forgery: Italian officials have listed on the Swiss border arrested two men who bonds with a nominal value of 134 billion U.S. dollars were having. The authenticity is verified, Italy hopes to have a huge cash injection.
Chiasso - On the border from Italy to Switzerland, the customs officials feel always on smugglers - but such a finding is the Italian financial police have not arrived at in a suitcase, presumably from the two Japan-born men carried with them, the official U.S. government bond papers with a nominal value of 134 billion U.S. dollars were discovered. This is from a press release issued by the Italian Guardia di Finanza out. The sum corresponds to almost 100 billion euros.
The two men were already on 3 June Italy by train to Switzerland on the road. A check at the border at Chiasso financial police discovered the papers under a false bottom in the suitcase. Both over 50-year-old men had the documents are not specified in the customs. According to the Financial Police will be at the 249 papers to U.S. government bonds with a nominal value of 500 million U.S. dollars each and ten so-called Kennedy-bonds to a billion dollars per act.
However, there is the case for many puzzling: The Japanese Embassy in Rome confirmed the arrest while the two men. The Bloomberg news agency reports, however, that has not yet clarified whether they are Japanese citizens. A spokesman of the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said the agency, the Consulate in Milan is currently examining the currently available Berichte.Sind the debt problems of the Italian State solved?
There is also, what a coup the Italian customs officials succeeded: Either they cover the largest smuggling scandal in the history - or an exceptionally large fake. The Italian customs checks, according to their own information yet as to whether the documents are authentic.
This is so far, that the papers appear to be the first authentic and had a normal bank documentation was it. The online service, International Business News reports, however, that at least some of the documents were probably forged. Kennedy Bonds with a nominal value of one billion dollars it had in that form never existed, it says. Imagine the papers - or at least a part of it - as genuine out the men threaten penalties. In Europe it is forbidden to amounts in excess of 10,000 euros from a country run without the customs indicated. Should the two men will be punished, this would Italy an unexpected windfall involved. The state could be 40 percent of the total seized forfeited - a large part of the Italian debt problems would be solved. However, it is entirely unclear whether the government is actually in Rome on an unexpected financial injection can be happy. Nevertheless circulate in newspaper reports on how the money was. This could reduce the government deficit or reconstruction in the earthquake zone in the Abruzzi to be financed. (Translated from Der Spiegel, June 12, 2009. Article is not available in English online.)

Asia News ran some very serious stories on this on three occasions.

The story of US$ 134.5 billion in US government bonds seized by Italy’s financial police at Ponte Chiasso on the Italian-Swiss border...initially made it to the front page of many Italian papers, but not of the international press. Since yesterday though, some reports have published by English-language news agencies. And some commentators are starting to link the story to reports in US press dating back to 30 March...On that date the US Treasury Department announced that it had about US$ 134.5 billion left in...the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)...At the same time, Japan’s Kyodo news agency has reported that the resignation of Japan’s Interior Minister Kunio Hatoyama might also be related to the Ponte Chiasso affair...There are many reasons to connect the Ponte Chiasso incident to the minister’s resignation...the men carrying the bonds had a Japanese passport....they were not arrested. Under Italian law anyone in possession of counterfeit cash or bonds worth more than a few tens of thousands of euros must be arrested...the value of the seized counterfeit bonds is equal to 1 per cent of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Thirdly...two well-dressed Japanese men carrying a briefcase travelling in a local train usually used by Italian manual labourers who commute to Switzerland for work had as much chance to go unobserved as two European businessmen travelling in the Congo....Seizure of US Government Bonds, Asia News, 6/12/2009

Hunt for “$134.5 billion Italy” on the Web and you'll get hundreds of sites that have looked at this story. A key point about this story is that, despite the assurances of the US government about the bonds being faked, they are “bearer bonds,” non-registered, negotiable instruments of a size (500 million US, and 1 billion US) that are only exchanged nation-to-nation. They were also last issued in the early 1970s. The seizure included bank documents describing in detail the acquisition and verifying these bonds. The Italian police who seized them had some doubts about the largest denomination (Kennedy $1 billion) but couldn't tell the difference between known genuine $500 billion bearer bonds and the ones they seized in Ponte Chiasso.

There are two major competing interpretations of what to this writer is one of the strangest financial stories of the last decade.

1)The Japanese, or someone else in the Far East, are unloading American debt. The amount represents 25% of Japan's current holdings of U.S. debt.

2)And not to be outdone, the conspiracy types, which are legion on Left and Right wing blogs, note the corresponding values: $134.5 billion in bonds; $134.5 billion in remaining TARP funds. Was the U.S. administration, or officials in Treasury or the Fed, parking a big pile of money overseas as a contingency in case things went to hell in the U.S.?

The writer for Asia News discounts the latter. This is not surprising. Such a transfer by anybody, or by any organization with attachments to the White House, the Fed or the Treasury Department would bring down a national government – our national government. He notes with more seriousness the terrifying danger of destabilizing world dollar-based credit markets by either vast amounts of counterfeit bearer bonds or by the Japanese (or a client) dumping a pile of U.S. debt.

It is not clear how statements by US Treasury spokesman Meyerhardt and Italian financial police can be reconciled. For the former the bonds “are clearly fakes”; for the latter, speaking at the start of this whole affair, some bonds were indistinguishable from the real ones when it comes to quality and detail...Italy’s Guardia di Finanza has a reputation for being a highly specialised and expert financial police agency. How could it be so easily duped! And if the bonds are “clearly fakes” why did it take US authorities two weeks to find out...Another discrepancy is the fact that, along with the securities, original and recent bank documents were seized as proof of their authenticity...If what Meyerhardt says is true, some major financial institutions have been deceived by the securities carried by the two Asian men. This would be a bombshell and raise serious questions as to how many bank assets are actually made up of securities that for Meyerhardt are “clearly fakes.”...If counterfeit securities of such high quality are in circulation the world’s monetary system, let alone that of the United States, is in danger. International trade and exchanges could come to a halt...Whether it is counterfeit money or money laundering, what happened is potentially more dangerous for the stability of the international system than the results of Iran’s elections...If the bonds are real it means someone with a lot of cash no longer trusts the US dollar as a reserve currency...the international press and main TV networks, with some exceptions, have ignored the whole affair. These days this is actually the real news.Mystery Surrounding $134.5 “fake” Billion Seized in Ponte Chiasso Remains, Asia News, 6/18/2009

The refusal to cover, or total ignorance of, this story by America's MSM is not really surprising. Iran's rioting is easier, and a lot cheaper to carry. And there's always Secretary of State Clinton's elbow.

But the Wall Street Journal hasn't looked at it, nor has Investor's Business Daily, two pretty sober sources. What the hell is going on?


Governor Palin: Wrong Kind of Feminist Outcome?

Something about Sarah Palin arouses a particularly strong reaction. Liberals attack her children, say grotesquely sexist things about her, embrace wacky conspiracy theories about her [1] faking a pregnancy, and insult every woman in America when they suggest [2] she can’t be a good mother and a politician, too...why does this lady produce such a big hubbub?... Sarah Palin represents a totally different style of woman: the conservative feminist. She’s had a successful career, raised a big family, and has done it all without aborting an “inconvenient” child or carping about men keeping her down. The idea that Sarah Palin could become the new role model for feminism terrifies liberals, and it inspires them to ramp up the artillery barrage of malignity that they typically launch at conservative women ...Why They Hate Sarah Palin, John Hawkins, American Thinker, 6/18/2009

John Hawkins of American Thinker hits the proverbial nail with this piece, which you should examine at the link. Governor Palin and Michael Steel should get together and talk about a common problem. They're both defined by federal bureaucrats as members of protected classes (women and black men) and both are being widely rejected by MSM and by Democrats and their bottom-feeding commentators (or creep “comics” like David Letterman) because they've not accepted the Left's answer to their problems, i.e., to bow to the membership committee of the Democratic National Committee and cry racism and sexism on every corner.

It's about as difficult a challenge to be a conservative woman or black man in national politics today as it is for a black man to find a research position at an Ivy League physics lab. In a discussion of race and gender, this is becoming a far more relevant line of attack than chatting up Congressional committee members and lawyers about the revival of American apartheid. The practitioners of apartheid these days are on the Left.


MSM Inspector Generals Cover-up: Lies, Lies, and More Lies

If a Republican president had fired three inspectors general working on sensitive investigations, the media firestorm would drown out every other story. But that's exactly what The One has done, and only a home town newspaper (well-versed in the ways of Chicago politics), the Chicago Tribune, seems to notice...The three fired IGs are: Gerald Walpin, who blew the whistle on the Mayor of Sacramento, whose organization paid back hundreds of thousands of dollars for misuse of federal community organizing funds, but faced no penalty...Neil Barofsky, tasked with watching over the financial stimulus spending...is embroiled in a dispute with the Obama administration that delayed one recent inquiry and sparked questions about his ability to freely investigate...Judith Gwynne...the International Trade Commission told its acting inspector general, who is not subject to White House authority, that her contract would not be renewed....Not Just Walpin: Three IG's Fired, Thomas Lifson, American Thinker, 6/28/2009

Read all of Lifson's story. The transparent administration looks more naked every day.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

China Stimulus: “Buy Chinese”. It’s about time

China has imposed a requirement for its stimulus projects to use domestically made goods -- a move that could strain ties with trading partners after Beijing criticized Washington's "Buy American" stimulus provisions...Projects must obtain official permission to use imported goods, said an order issued by China's main planning agency and eight other government bodies....Beijing Orders Buy China for Stimulus Projects, Joe McDonald, Yahoo Finance, 6/17/2009

It's a move that was recommended by a serious financial writer in Asia Times six months ago. China's model for the past twenty years has been the mercantile approach of maximizing exports and foreign exchange holdings. They are not doing themselves any good by holding onto trillions of dollars, however good they must feel about all the stuff they sell to Americans. It's a funny thing about having a lot of money. Really rich countries, like rich people, don't hold onto it for a simple reason. If you have a pile and do nothing, somebody, a thief in the night, the government, or inflation, will come and take it away from you. Investing in their own people might be the best thing China has done in half a century.

The converse of that in the United States would be for a dramatic decrease in government spending, heavy private investment, reining in of consumer expectations, and a dramatic reform of tax systems at the federal, state and local level. Putting the house in order, though, is not what the current administration has in mind. Their expected partner in crime, however, appears to be making another choice.


David Letterman/Tex Antoine: What's the Difference?

In a just world, David Letterman would now be in the unemployment line, with lots of time to think about his comments. But as an icon of the liberal media, Mr. Letterman doesn't have to worry about being held to same standard as other public figures. In that universe, it's perfectly appropriate to make rape jokes--as long as the targets are the daughters of prominent Republicans. After all, didn't Playboy recently publish a writer's "rape list" of conservative women? That list made it through the magazine's editorial process, and was only pulled after a public outcry...Way back when, WABC made the right decision when they fired Tex Antoine for his disgusting remarks [suggesting a child rape victim should lie back and enjoy it]. But four decades later, a major publication and a television network find it impossibly difficult to apologize for the same type of feckless comments, and punish the offenders. By today's gutter standards of the MSM, Mr. Antoine wasn't a crude misogynist--just a "performer" who was ahead of his time....Somewhere, Tex Antoine is Rolling In His Grave, FormerSpook, 6/17/2009,

The anonymous, former intelligence officer who writes Former Spook recalls a story now more than thirty years back, when a local weatherman in New York suggested that, if a rape victim couldn't fight back, she should lie back and enjoy it. He was responding to a terrible story about a 5-year-old victim of sexual assault. He was fired a few days later and did not work again in television. Probably, any mother or father in New York stood up and cheered ABC for throwing the man off the air. It was the kind of joke you'd hear in a bar, and not from a light drinker – callous, brutal, and unthinkable from a broadcaster. The writer saw this event. Antoine was, it must be said, extremely drunk. It was New Year's Eve. The director of that late news should have dragged Antoine off the set as soon as the weatherman appeared in that condition.

David Letterman was not drunk. The joke was written for him, and approved before the broadcast. It was a deliberate, crude piece of vitriol, an absolutely cheap joke playing on an almost assuredly liberal audience's prejudices about Governor Palin and her children. As such, it was as good a reflection of ABC's prejudices regarding political life, not only on a comedy late night show, but in its news broadcasts, one of which, next Wednesday, will be a one-hour infomercial, staged in the White House, a “debate” about medical care “reform” where ABC has barred anyone with viewpoints opposing those of the White House. It's all of a piece for a network that has decided, from the top down, that craven surrender to government policymakers is a good way to survive the decline in profitability of the ABC television network. One dirty joke deserves another.


Obama’s Indifference to Iran: Maybe a Real Policy?

Declare yourself and your nation on the side of hope and change where it is more than a slogan and better than a rationalization for ever-bigger government. Stop measuring the success of your diplomacy with Iran by the degree to which the grinning, hate-filled stooge of a clerical junta will “temper” his rhetoric about the pressing need to destroy Israel and slow his ineluctable pursuit of nuclear weapons...Instead, choose a higher standard. Look to history. Look to the aspirations of the students risking their lives and livelihoods to protest a sham election...Obama's Choice is Not to Choose on Iran, Jonah Goldberg, National Review, 6/17/2009

While the writer is unalterably opposed to the socialist agenda of the current administration, one has to step back and pay closer attention to Iran than those oln the right berating White House policy regarding the recent sham election. What Goldberg and others chanting for the President to support Iranian students have ignored is that there is no substantive difference in the anti-Semitic rage and promise to annihilate Israel with atom bombs between the current President of Iran and the counter-claimant to the office, Hossein Moussavi.

Hossein Moussavi is as much a creature of the mullahs as Ahmadinejad is. In fact, as a former Prime Minister, he had far more power than the Iranian Presidency, which has the prestige of titular head of state, but very little executive authority. That power resides with the mullahs, who were just as happy with Moussavi as they are today with Admadinejad. There is no reason to speak out for either side in this “election,” as it was, in essence, between factions of almost identically dangerous politics.

So, it is possible that even a Chief Executive holding otherwise reprehensible political views can act with real wisdom in foreign affairs. Taking no sides is about the only smart choice with Iran. No side in contention there is worth the trouble. To parody an old joke in science, it's mullahs all the way down.


Monday, June 15, 2009

North Korea's Idea of Reasonable Debate

North Korea's communist regime has warned of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula while vowing to step up its atomic bomb-making program in defiance of new U.N. sanctions...The North's defiance presents a growing diplomatic headache for President Barack Obama as he prepares for talks Tuesday with his South Korean counterpart on the North's missile and nuclear programs...N Korea Warns of Nuclear War Amid Rising Tensions, Hyung-Jin Kim, MyWay.com, June 14, 2009

We certainly have come a long ways since “reasonable debate” has been restored in our “negotiations” with North Korea. Almost every day, the North Korean government threatens atomic attack on the south, war on the sea, war against America.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton used a lot of words.

"North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver those weapons through missiles is not going to be accepted by the neighbors as well as the greater international community," Clinton said Saturday at a news conference in Canada...(N. Korea..., MyWay.com, cont'd)

Wow, feel the fear.

If the President returns from Seoul talking of “peace in our time” start fixing Grandpa's fallout shelter.


Foreign “Speculators” Not Buying T-bills as Usual?

Foreign demand for long-term U.S. financial assets fell in April as both China and Japan trimmed their holdings of Treasury securities...Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner traveled to Beijing earlier this month to assure the Chinese government that the Obama administration is determined to get control of an exploding U.S. budget deficit, which is projected to hit a record $1.84 trillion this year....Foreign Demand for US Assets Falls in April, Martin Crutsinger, Yahoo Finance, 6/15/2009

Notice a contradiction? As the Treasury Secretary reassures the Chinese that the current administration is struggling to reduce the deficit, the deficit is being vastly increased by promised socialized medicine legislation and development of American energy resources is being profoundly suppressed by administrative fiat and Congressional action. Let's see. You're an investor. The customer you're considering is saying one thing and doing another. What next?

This small investor would look for another company.


Gitmo Bermuda Resettlement: Not Everyone Lies Back and Enjoys It

A high-level transatlantic row has broken out over the Obama administration's failure to consult Britain over the transfer of four Guantánamo Bay inmates to Bermuda...David Miliband has telephoned Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, to express the government's disappointment at the deal...British officials were informed the four Chinese Uighurs were heading to the United Kingdom's oldest dependency only as they boarded their plane for Bermuda on Wednesday night....Millibank Calls Clinton to Voice Anger Over Guantanamo Inmates Transfer to Bermuda, The Telegraph, 6/15/2009

Apparently, little niceties of change in American diplomacy only apply in Cairo. This was an extraordinarily arrogant act, but entirely in keeping with the current administration's disregard for law and diplomacy. England isn't just the hapless Harold Brown, who is unlikely to remain at No. 10 Downing much longer. England has been our ally for more than a century.


GM Bondholders: American Savers and Investors, Not “Speculators”

When people think of "bondholders," they imagine tycoons. J.P. Morgan. Warren Buffett. Even the fictional Gordon Gekko of "Wall Street" fame...In fact, tens of thousands of the bondholders of General Motors Corp. are not rich at all — and never were, even before the value of their bonds collapsed in the months leading up to the giant automaker's bankruptcy filing..Most of the company's $27 billion in private debt is held by investment firms. But many of those firms are actually managing the money of individual investors. And fully 20 percent of the bonds are owned personally by roughly 100,000 mom-and-pop investors across the country, according to Main Street Bondholders, a group organized to lobby on their behalf....GM's Deal Erased Many Average Americans' Savings, William Ehart, Washington Times, 6/15/2009
The reason so many dictatorships fail is because the center of power ignores the overall consequences of what are usually described as actions on behalf of the good. Without the bother of consulting with all the involved parties, a lot of time is saved, of course. The appearance of boldness and decisiveness is impressive. Ask any Venezuelan. But, ignoring consequences, as if the impact of an act on this group of ten, or that group of ten thousand, were just personal matters for the affected, has a price. In not very many years, most of the eyes gazing upon the great one at the podium are not looking out for the next great thing, but for the great man's fall.

Go to the link and then follow the one to portraits of investors in GM.


Gerald Walpin: Tried to Guard More than the Watergate Hotel

Congress ought to open an investigation, New York Times editorialists should be in a state of apoplexy, and MSNBC hosts ought to be frothing at the mouth. Without appropriate documentation or good reason, President Obama has fired a federal investigator who was on the case against a political ally of the president's. Mr. Obama's move has the stench of scandal...Walpin-Gate, Editors, Washington Times, 6/15/2009

Mark Levin routinely calls the President “Milhaus.” Read this Washington Times editorial and other stories about the Gerald Walpin firing, and you'll understand why. It may surprise the White House, but the Presidency is generally held to be an institution not only bound by, but protective of, the law.


The State as the Only Arbiter of Truth and Life?

In a closely reasoned article for The Chronicle of Higher Education (August 9, 2007), Gadi Taub cogently argued that the European valorization of “institutions that transcend the nation-state” is, in essence, “a liberal assault on nationalism [that] is beginning to look like an assault on the principle of [consensual] government,” since such institutions “exercise great influence, even jurisdiction, over people and peoples who have little or no democratic control over them.” Presided over by a commanding administrative-technocratic deity, which is to say, an alpha class of “experts,” bureaucrats, technocrats and policy-makers who embody what they have determined to be the Collective Will, this new dispensation rides roughshod over the autonomous will of nations and the rights of the individual citizen. In Europe, the elect are no longer elected...As a result, the idea and practice of what we might call 'post-liberalism,' extending the mantle of a presumably benign protectiveness over its constituents, threatens to become a new kind of tyranny...The TransNational Mantle, David Solway, Front Page Magazine, 6/15/2009

Solway's article is one you should read in its entirety at the link. This writer has, for years, suggested that the ultimate form of liberalism is like the medeaval church, a totally oppressed life, where politics is restricted to the maze of the high church bureaucracy, and where unelected lords dictate how and where individuals may live and work. In a more modern version of the 21st century, the technological superstate, which embraces all nations in the vision of the Left, also tells you how long you can live, how many children you can have, and what opinions are permissible.

The medeaval church at least proceeded under the notion that it was fulfilling the will of God. Today's neo-medeavalism operates under a radically different idea, that there is no word of God, that there is only the ruling of a remote bureaucracy, executed by its figurehead, whether a police officer, a governor, or a president. Other human beings, in other words, basing their assumption on the acquisition of paper credentials and very little else, take it upon themselves to act as if they were Creation itself.

In such an order, of course, comprising human beings, expediency of the ruling elite is all that matters. Between human beings there is no provable absolute in politics, culture or anything else.

But, in a transnational superstate, personal opinions are an offense. A person and his or her ideas exist at the whim of a bureaucrat. We've been down this road before.

Fight back.


Democrat Revenge: Bankrupting everything except welfare programs?

If we continue with all other government programs in operation today and raise the taxes to pay for Medicare, plus Medicaid—the health program for low-income folks—the Congressional Budget Office estimates a middle-income family by the middle of this century will have to pay two-thirds of its total income in federal taxes....Tax Tsunami, Taif Trussell, Front Page Magazine, 6/15/2009

This disturbing article on Front Page Magazine should be read in its entirety. Policy from Washington's one-party government no longer reflects, not even remotely, reality. What one has to do, though, is to follow the money. It all trails back to what is becoming a transparent plot to immobilize a free economy, to ban all risk, to penalize all success and its accompanying profit, and to reduce the United States to a pathetic, over-sized Sweden. We will not be able to afford to defend our borders or anything else except transfer diminishing income to dependents of the Federal Government.

In Poland, the final response in the 1980s was a general strike, a refusal to produce goods and services by working people who got nothing but the Party's congratulations and diluted government services. In the USSR, the economy shifted to where the only reliable supply of the wide diversity of goods in the West was the black market. This was is what a command economy creates. The cost in Poland and the USSR was bankruptcy and, ultimately, social and political revolution.

As the core of the world's economy, what will happen as we continue to follow the same path? And why aren't they asking these questions in Congress, where men and women are supposed to represent the people of the United States?


Friday, June 12, 2009

Nationalizing Primary, Middle and High School

Candidate Obama's language about reforming public education was more emphatic and detailed than his discussion of health care. And, making a case for nationalizing public education will attract broader support than the three previous venues (banking, autos, and health care)...President Obama will proclaim public education K-12 as too crucial to the future of the nation to be left in the hands of volunteer citizen committees, also known as School Boards and Independent School Districts. And, the distribution of school financing is, Obama will say, too dependent on the varying affluence levels among the states, and within their divergent communities. All of America's youth are entitled to an equal opportunity to receive a world class education. Anything less is unfair. Equal opportunity demands equal funding. It doesn't take a crystal ball to see this coming...Nationalizing Public Education Comes After Health Care, Lee Cary, American Thinker, 6/11/2009

This thoughtful article on American Thinker by Lee Cary is very engaging, well-reasoned and thoughtful. However, one could ask this question. What difference will it make if the Feds control education?

Fact is, they already do. If a school system receives a nickel in tax money from the Feds, Washington can come in and dictate your curriculum, working conditions, classroom size. They already do this. And it's clear from their main ally in this effort, the National Education Association, and its member teachers (most public school teachers in the U.S.), the “national curriculum” is not mathematics, science, a foreign language, writing and reading, but getting along or, as John Dewey, the originator of this curriculum of good feelings in the early 20th century, might have put it, being prepared to be comradely, docile workers-to-be for the industrial state.

However, as to the reason for making this official, the widely divergent tax base for funding public education through property, or school, taxes, has merit that Cary might examine more carefully. The whole point of public education was to create a system where the accident of birth wasn't the primary reason why you did, or did not, get a useful education. Why should someone in rural Appalachia, where the average valuation of a house is ten thousand dollars, suffer the consequences when going to a poorly staffed public school? Conversely, why should local school districts and their friends among town boards and mayors have the power to bankrupt homeowners to pay for public schools? There's no fairness in either situation.

Indeed, this is the heart of the tax problem in the United States. The federal load is fairly light by comparison to most advanced industrial countries. But, at the local level, taxation is ruining whole areas of the country. Ask people who used to live in western New York, or people who fled Westchester County or California after living there for most of their adult lives. A uniform, national tax system, with equal distribution based on head counts in school districts, is the only fair system in a democracy.

Where things would get hairy, of course, is that the Federal government would also use this to impose a curriculum that reflected the current biases and interests of the ruling party in Washington. One has only to consider Federal support of an ad hoc national curriculum over the past fifty years, and the consequences in graduates blissfully ignorant of subjects that were standard, not advanced, in 1950, such as history, mathematics, language, written skills, reading and interpretation (and a broad reading list), and science.

If the White House were as impetuous as Napoleon, who established a national curriculum in French public education, maybe they'd require something like a real education. That would be something to look forward to, not to fear. But, the writer doubts, based on the evidence, that either party in Washington would risk offending constituent parents worried that their children might fail if actually challenged to learn something.


To An Emperor, History is What He Says It Is?

In the recent Cairo speech...almost every one of his references was either misleading or incomplete. He suggested that today’s Middle East tension was fed by the legacy of European colonialism and the Cold War that had reduced nations to proxies...But the great colonizers of the Middle East were the Ottoman Muslims, who for centuries ruled with an iron fist. The 20th-century movements of Baathism, Pan-Arabism, and Nasserism...did far more damage over the last half-century to the Middle East than did the legacy of European colonialism...Obama also claimed that “Islam . . . carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” While medieval Islamic culture was impressive and ensured the survival of a few classical texts — often through the agency of Arabic-speaking Christians — it had little to do with the European rediscovery of classical Greek and Latin values. Europeans, Chinese, and Hindus, not Muslims, invented most of the breakthroughs Obama credited to Islamic innovation...Much of the Renaissance, in fact, was more predicated on the centuries-long flight of Greek-speaking Byzantine scholars from Constantinople to Western Europe to escape the aggression of Islamic Turks...Our Historically Challenged President, Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, 6/11/2009

While the writer shares Hanson's exasperations with the transparent political correctness of the current President's historical observations about Islam, the President did not set this precedent. One only has to recall Ronald Reagan's memory of participating in air raids over Germany (he never served in the military), or Jimmy Carter's remarkable adventures with a killer rabbit, or Hubert Humphrey's membership in every ethnic group in the United States. Twisting the facts to suit a political audience is, sad to say, almost a requirement for being a political leader. Crowds like to have their prejudices confirmed. Politicians who come right out with the truth, when its discussion might outrage a crowd, generally lose elections. A solution that's common for voters who prefer to think about candidates rather than respond to them emotionally is to assume that virtually every statement by a politician is gauged for effect. The politician probably doesn't believe a word of it, or knows that it's false, or falsely construed to suit a particular group. You can only assess politicians by what they do – same as the rest of us. The really scary part about about the current White House is that the master of the house apparently believes that words can break bones and change the world. The widely reported and proud posturing about affecting elections in Lebanon and Iran by an obviously sanitized political speech would be hilarious if it had come from, say, the poet laureate. From the Presidency, they suggest an office-holder who spends a lot of time practicing before a mirror.


Thought Crimes or Thoughtless Pandering?

The recent passage of House Resolution H.R. 1913 has brought America one step closer to implementing a pointless new hate crimes laws that will threaten free speech without making a single American safer...In the House, H.R.1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 has already passed, and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate, as S.909, "The Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Prevention Act." Matthew Shepard was the young, gay Wyoming man brutally beaten to death by two thugs...held up as an example of homophobic hate crimes... both killers (one of whom was bisexual) have stated Matthew Shepard was not targeted because he was homosexual, but was killed for drug money...Hate Crimes Against Freedom, Matt Gurney, Front Page Magazine, 6/11/2009

You can always depend upon politicians to invent more crimes. The reasoning behind hate crimes laws is on about the same intellectual level as the children's game of “dare you, double dare you.” In other words, it's about words. And the words, in the case of hate crimes, are all about one word: victim. So, instead of “dare you...”, it's “my victim is a worse victim than yours.” As such, it's not much more than constituency pandering. After all, in a case of premeditated murder, a jury is likely to put a guilty perpetrator away for life regardless of his gender preferences and antipathies. Mostly, this is the politics of hysteria. It does nothing to prevent crime and, in a perverse way, may actually encourage criminals to mask intent even more than they do now.

When shrieking determines political action, it shouldn't surprise anyone that, more and more, Congress is more like the monkey house at the zoo than a place for political discourse.


Holocaust Museum Shooter: Racist Socialist

Leftists have decided to exploit Von Brunn’s madness to engender fear of rampant conservative terrorism. They overlook one point: the shooter was not a conservative...Von Brunn hardly fits the stereotype of a Religious Right, GOP precinct captain. He denounced the Christian faith as a dastardly Jewish conspiracy, a “HOAX” invented by the Apostle Paul to “DESTROY ROMAN CULTURE” from within...Like others on the racist fringe, the shooter proclaimed clearly: “SOCIALISM, represents the future of the West.”...Holocaust Museum Shooter: Christian-Hating Socialist, Ben Johnson, Front Page Magazine, 6/11/09

What makes a contemporary socialist anxious and prone to shrieking is to note that Hitler's program was essentially identical to that of the Bolsheviks. Major industries either had control subverted, or were taken over, by the state. True, the Bolsheviks didn't target Jews for mass murder, just twenty million Russians described as “petit bourgeois,” which happened to include the genocidal slaughter of a substantial part of rural/agricultural society. In this writer's view, socialism is by nature a hypernationalist, racist conspiracy. Take your pick of Socialist parties.

Fabians (prototype of modern Labor Party): Their founders, the Webbs, George Bernard Shaw, and other notables, advocated birth control as a means of controlling darkskinned and other people they deemed worthless or hazardous to Britain.

Bolsheviks: Mass murder was their modus vivendi in their program of total control in the defunct USSR.

American feminist and socialist hero Margaret Sanger advocated birth control to make sure what she described as low breed Eastern Europeans and other immigrants didn't propagate.

Chinese socialists openly advocated a racial, nationalist vision that included the murder of nearly fifty million in such catastrophic campaigns as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Pol Pot's friends in Kampuchea (Cambodia, what you like – it is, as Auden said, one sin offering) killed several million of their countrymen to create a socialist paradise.

In short, Von Brunn is a familiar socialist actor: racist, demagogic, murderous.

Don't be fooled.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back to the 70s: Global Cooling in Canada?

The multiple frosts that have blanketed Western Canada in the last week are the most widespread in the top canola-growing province of Saskatchewan in at least five years, the Canola Council of Canada said on Tuesday....Canada Frosts the Most Widespread in Recent Memory, Rod Nickel, Reuters.com, 6/10/2009

Could this be the reason for the “buy American” phrase in the Stimulus, to punish Canada for having cold weather as we approach summer, and this to defy all the official truths about global warming? If so, New Yorkers had better watch out. This year, at June 10, New York has yet to have more than one or two days above 80 degrees -- one of the coolest springs in a generation. The first week in June temperatures dipped into the 40s. Can punishment of New York be far behind?

Nobody would notice, most likely. With New York's Senate chamber currently locked by the Democrats, who just lost control of the legislative body in a so-far bloodless coup, more punishment wouldn't make Page Six in the Post. Besides, there's so much hot air coming out of the State House in Albany that they probably think Al Gore underestimated.


Media No Longer Inquisitive? Or Hanson Tongue-in-Cheek?

I am afraid I no longer believe…That we have an inquisitive American media as we once knew it. Now comes a more insidious, brave new self-imposed censorship of the Orwellian mode. It is not just the perennial embarrassment Chris Matthews describing his Obama ecstasy on camera, or even Newsweek’s Evan Thomas comparing his President to God, or even CNN execs being exposed trashing the US abroad at Davos, or whitewashing Saddam, but rather a more incremental new groupspeak in which basic words and ideas—from terrorism to war itself—have been reformulated according to political dictates...I No Longer Quite Believe..., Victor Davis Hanson, Pajamas Media, 6/10/2009

Of course Victor Davis Hanson's article, which you should read in its entirety at Pajamas Media, presents nothing in the way of news. The pontificating bias of MSM on behalf of their favorite White House resident and their favorite political agendas, which is entirely supported by media's upper management, else the talking heads on these networks would not have jobs, has bloomed like crabgrass in the past few years.

It's a case of perfectly matched, though fundamentally opposed, agendas. Upper management in MSM wants a break from the Feds (FCC) to help them with the new and irritating competition on the Internet and talk radio. The news divisions aren't selling ads. Katie Couric's audience has declined to five million, a quarter of CBS's share twenty years ago. Fox News is bigger than the audience of CNN and MSNBC combined. The revival of a Fairness Doctrine, or some other severe constraint, means “fairly likely to help the networks return a profit.” Subsidy of the newspaper business, or an outright bailout, would of course entail undying editorial appreciation of the White House and its consorts in Congress.

As for the commentators, one supposes the fatuous boobs among them have been sponsored in their strange manners on the air, and in print, to this end by their bosses. Self-professed radicals very rarely proceed without the backing of big money.

Hanson's point, however, is that the conversion of what had tried to be rational and objective observation, whether in the sciences or in the media, into a political vehicle has totally compromised the advantages that such rational and objective observation and discourse offered the United States, Britain, and Europe. We have, as Russian President Vladmir Putin has noted with snaky irony, become much as the USSR used to be, with our news sources, and research discourse, sublimated to what the Soviet Reds used to call "the supremacy of politics." The writer leaves the reader to look at the history of the USSR as to the effects this can have.

If the KGB had done as much damage, it would have been considered an act of war.


Boycott Chrysler and GM?

I will argue that the unprecedented action by the current administration in manipulating the bankruptcies of Chrysler and GM, and in effect nationalizing the companies, is egregiously unethical by...major ethical perspectives. For this reason, I believe that this action makes it morally imperative for Americans to boycott these socialized companies...Rather than let the free market and the legal system...handle the reorganization of the failing auto makers in the normal way, the...administration spent tens of billions in taxpayers' dollars to take control of the companies and force the outcome it wanted. Obama, who received millions in contributions from the United Auto Workers Union, has forced a settlement that will give UAW far more equity in the companies when they come out of bankruptcy than it was due compared to the secured debt holders....The Ethical Case for Boycotting Chrysler and GM, Gary Jason, American Thinker, 6/10/2009

Gary Jason's argument is an important one, and you ought to go to the link and read the entire piece. The market itself may boycott Chrysler and GM as essentially political manufacturing companies, not auto companies. Already, courts have ruled against plaintiffs bringing torts suits against Chrysler and will probably do the same for GM. This means if you buy a defective Chevy or Dodge, the government's ownership will preclude the Lemon Law (see post below on this). And, to be honest, it's hard for this writer to imagine buying anything designed by a U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, or a team of their staff.

And, this is just the beginning. From all obvious signs in their first five months in office, this administration will further emulate Hugo Chavez, going around the market with impossible demands on the surviving private auto companies, and with subsidies so vast that they'll make the complaints from Boeing about Airbus (or the E.U. about Intel) seem rather tame. They will not take umbrage at this accusation. Why? Because it's perfectly clear that this is the very heart and soul of this administration's perception of property, capitalism, and the law.


Supremes to Indiana Public Pensioners/Chrsyler “Secured” Bondholders: Take a Hike

The SCOTUS decided not to hear the claim of misapplication of bankruptcy law from the Indiana Fund bondholders in the Chrysler restructuring...At least four of the nine judges had to have seen cause to hear the case for it to move to the full Court, and four could not be found...So the Chrysler-Fiat deal will proceed and the secured bondholders will get their 29 cents on the dollar, while the UAW gets more....The Supremes Speak, Hear, and See No Evil in Chrysler Deal

Lesson to one and all investors in American corporate bonds: If you want to take a chance on becoming a “secured” bondholder in an American corporation, first assure that there are no politically favored unions involved, and then take note of today's Supreme Court Decision that the law doesn't obtain in what are described by the current administration as an economic emergency.

Lesson to the current administration: Looking at this resolution of what were supposed to be contractually bound, legal rights of investors, buyers of U.S. T-bills and other U.S.=”secured” bonds, such as the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the French, the Germans, the Brazilians and – oh-oh – oil producing countries like, say, Canada, might decide that a yuan-backed bond makes a lot more fiduciary sense. Maybe policy shouldn't be based on that book Hugo Chavez gave you.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Lebanon Elections: Another Unexamined Good Idea from GW Bush?

In one of the year's most important elections, the Lebanese people voted Sunday and Iran's mullahs lost. The celebrations in Beirut were spontaneous, as were the sighs of relief in Washington, most Arab and European capitals and Jerusalem...The result is a victory for moderation in the Middle East and a check on Tehran's regional ambitions. The Western-friendly "March 14" coalition increased its majority by one, winning 71 of 128 seats. Hezbollah -- the terrorist "Party of God" created in 1983 and since underwritten and armed by Tehran -- and its allies lost a seat to keep 57....this election marks a step forward since the 2005 Cedar Revolution ended the Syrian occupation...a vindication of America's policy of democracy promotion...even if George W. Bush also happened to think it was a good idea....Cedar Evolution, Editors, Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2009

It's a funny thing when you base your campaign promises on negatives, on “I won't do this” and “I won't do that”, using eight years of a wartime administration as a contrast to rhetorical posturing about change. An important fact is ignored.

The United States, like any great power, has enormous inertia. As an ocean liner can't turn like a sports car, a great nation's actions evolve over long stretches of time. It's too big to be sporty. Administrations come and go. Occasionally, the bureaucrats notice the passage of distinctive personalities. More rarely, they respond. The previous administration's initiatives, it often turns out, are continuations of initiatives that were started years, or even decades, beforehand, many times by no elected official. Elections, in this context, are not about defining new worlds, but about defining who the leadership will be for often old ideas, campaigns, and promises. Administrations which ignore this, even if they work up the most fabulous storm of presumed dangers and threats, do so at the peril of historical anonymity.

This is because large powers are not driven by one person's, or one group's, ideas. In the case of the U.S., tens of thousands of people are involved in the long- and short-term planning of policy and its execution. Millions more have significant responsibilities. In a rare instance, a panic may make them all turn at the will of one loud voice. But, this rarely happens, especially with panics contrived out of whole cloth, even with the connivance of the press, as is surely the case with the current administration. Those who try to make their vision real at the expense of the national interest, national health, and national security usually find themselves more likely to be guests on Oprah than arbiters of the future.


EU: The People Are Not Going Obama's Way

The paradox of the European Parliament is that as its power has grown, the public's interest in its activities has declined. Each election has brought lower voter turnout than the one before. Even more brutal than this year's turnout: Many of parliament's new members don't believe that the body in which they sit should be allowed to exist...Take the colorful Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islamic-immigrant party shot up to second place in the Netherlands with 17% of the vote after the Christian Democrats, who won 19.9%. He ran on a manifesto that included a pledge to abolish the European Parliament. In the United Kingdom, the two biggest parties were the Conservative Party (committed to abolishing the Lisbon Treaty) and the Independence Party (committed to getting Britain out of the EU). The British National Party picked up two seats with its pledge to "end the blood-sucking scam" of the EU...In Austria, the xenophobic Freedom Party got 13% of the vote with a call to remove the EU from Austria's affairs. A party set up to protest against the abuses of the European Parliament managed to pick up 17.9% of the vote. Anti-European populists also picked up significant support in Hungary, Denmark, Slovakia and Finland....Europe's Self-Hating Parliamentarians, Mark Leonard, Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2009

You know how it goes. An arbitrary, bureaucratic decision is made, with the claim that the people can't be trusted, that only the good matters. Indeed, the more haughty and remote these anti-democratic elites become, the more fervent the democratic opposition becomes. Elites never acknowledge the obvious, that politics is, by and large, local. If our neighborhood is being burned by a band of radicals who've moved here from another country, who gives a damn about high and mighty notions of fairness, equal treatment, and justice? The ashes belong to us. And we have, as a human right, the urge to restore, secure, and save the places we live, and the people we care about. Elites never get this point. That's why the monarchies disappeared, and that's why bureaucratic dictatorships, like the one in Brussels, or the one forming in Washington, don't represent a plausible future, but a delusion upheld by a contempt for ordinary events and ordinary citizens.