Sunday, February 28, 2010

What transparency looks like to the White House

An unbelievable report today from the Heritage Foundation:
Things that are transparent: Saran Wrap, glass, water. Things that aren’t transparent: brick walls, mountains, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Or so it would seem, if you take a look at the CEQ’s response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the Chamber asked for the release of documents relating to agency records on global warming.

As the Chamber notes, “CEQ had identified 87 documents totaling 759 pages that were responsive to our request. HOWEVER, they could not release most of the documents because they ‘originated’ with another agency.”

So what did CEQ produce? An entirely blacked-out, redacted, Sharpie-markered e-mail, pictured above. (You can also take a look at a PDF of the document, courtesy of the Chamber.)

The Chamber says the response to their FOIA is astonishing, given President Barack Obama’s call for transparency beginning with day one in office:

On his very first full day in office, President Obama sent a memorandum to his executive agencies extolling the virtues of transparency and open government and directing them to facilitate public access to information. To further that directive, Obama issued a second memorandum encouraging agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure” when responding to public requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):

“The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. …In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public. All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.”
Get the full impact of this executive arrogance by looking at the redacted documents here

Friday, February 26, 2010

Where in the world

My blogging may be a little sparse in the next few days, as I will be traveling with my husband to the far reaches of our beautiful country (HAWAII!!).  I will try to post if important, relevant topics so warrant.  Meanwhile, let me direct you to,, and the Corner at National Review to keep you up do date and motivated.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Iran and Syria mock Secretary of State Clinton; Obama yawns

In a recent post, I wrote about the diplomatic stiff-arm response the Obama administration had received from Syria after it lifted travel restrictions and nominated an ambassador to the country for the first time since 2005.  It is actually much worse than I thought.  The Guardian (UK) paints a picture of utter contempt and mockery for the United States, and more specifically, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
Iran and Syria put on show of unity in alliance Clinton finds 'troubling'Ahmadinejad and Assad accuse the Americans of trying to dominate Middle East

The presidents of Syria and Iran put on show of unity Link to this video Iran and Syria put on a show of defiant unity today, scorning US efforts to break up their alliance and warning Israel not to risk attacking either of them.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, flew to Damascus for talks with Bashar al-Assad days after the US appointed an ambassador to Syria after a five-year gap – a move seen by some as the start of a diplomatic thaw.

"The Americans want to dominate the region but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that," Ahmadinejad said during a press conference with Assad.

"We tell them that instead of interfering in the region's affairs to pack their things and leave. If the Zionist entity wants to repeats its past errors, its death will be inevitable."

Assad made clear that Syria would not distance itself from Iran, its ally since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. "We hope that others don't give us lessons about our region and our history," he said. "We are the ones who decide ... and we know our interests. We thank them for their advice. I find it strange how they talk about Middle East stability and at the same time talk about dividing two countries."

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said yesterday that the US was troubled by Syria's relationship with Iran and characterised the appointment of an ambassador as a "slight opening". Ties between Washington and Damascus were downgraded after the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, in 2005 was blamed on Syria.

Al-Jazeera reported that Ahmadinejad also met Khaled Mash'al, the Damascus-based leader of the Palestinian movement Hamas, and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad, both of which are supported by Tehran. Links between Hamas and Iran have been highlighted by the killing of the Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, by an alleged Israeli hit squad in Dubai.

Two years ago the military leader of Lebanon's Hizbullah, Imad Mughniyeh, was assassinated in Damascus in an attack that was also blamed on Israel's secret service, the Mossad. It was not clear whether Ahmadinejad was also meeting Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbullah leader.

Syria and Iran announced they were cancelling visa restrictions between their countries. "We must have understood Clinton wrong because of bad translation or our limited understanding, so we signed the agreement to cancel the visas," Assad said. (emphasis mine)
I don't think this is what President Obama envisioned when he made his inaugural address in January of 2009:
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West--know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
The U.S. has extended its hand to Syria and received the equivalent of a middle finger in response.  Call me old fashioned, but I don't think any U.S. President worth his salt would allow his Secretary of State, a former First Lady and U.S. Senator to be mocked in this way without a strong response.  It's time to roll up the welcome mat to Syria, recall the new ambassador before he gets to Damascus, reinstate the travel advisory and impose a gasoline embargo on Iran.

To delay, is to concede nuclear nation status to a regime devoted to the destruction of Israel and the United States of America.

Millionaires leave Montgomery County (MD) causing budget woes

The Washington Examiner reports that wealthy taxpayers are leaving affluent Montgomery County, Maryland in droves:
Montgomery County officials are wondering where all the millionaires have gone, as the shrinking pool of wealthy taxpayers is wreaking havoc on the county's finances.

County officials recently pegged the budget deficit for the next fiscal year at $761.5 million. Much of the gap is caused by a drop in income tax revenue, and much of that drop is tied to a small number of wealthy county residents who lost money in a poor economy, died or fled the state's new millionaire tax.

Montgomery lost $4.6 billion in taxable income from tax years 2007 to 2008. More than 82 percent of that drop comes from taxpayers with incomes of $1 million or more, county records show. During that period, the number of income tax returns above $1 million fell from 3,172 to 2,321, a 27 percent decrease.

A weak economy that ate away at capital gains and slowed the growth of small businesses can account for much of the drop. But there's been a fierce debate since the state raised taxes for millionaires to 6.25 percent from 5.5 percent in 2008 whether millionaires are fleeing en masse for states with lower tax burdens.

County data show that 216 millionaires who filed taxes for 2007 did not file with the state for 2008.

In the previous four years, the number of millionaires who didn't file taxes the previous year averaged 119. Chief Administrative Officer Tim Firestine called last year's increase "significant" and said there's strong evidence to suggest that the millionaire tax is hurting the county.

County Executive Ike Leggett said some wealthy county residents who own houses in other states told him that they would establish residency in other states to avoid the millionaire tax.

"You don't want to give them that temptation," Leggett said, referencing whether the state should renew the tax. It is set to expire at the end of this year, but the General Assembly is considering an extension.
The tax is set to expire at the end of this year unless it is extended by the state General Assembly.  Maryland's governor Martin O'Malley was a strong backer of the new tax, but a spokesman for his office said he does not support its extension and always intended the tax to be temporary.  It will be interesting to see if the Democrat contolled legislature has gotten the message.

In my experience, temporary tax is usually an oxymoron.

Is Tehran deliberately inviting an air strike?

The New York Times is reporting another puzzle in the Iranian nuclear saga:
When Iran was caught last September building a secret, underground nuclear enrichment plant at a military base near the city of Qum, the country’s leaders insisted they had no other choice. With its nuclear facilities under constant threat of attack, they said, only a fool would leave them out in the open.

So imagine the surprise of international inspectors almost two weeks ago when they watched as Iran moved nearly its entire stockpile of low-enriched nuclear fuel to an above-ground plant. It was as if, one official noted, a bulls-eye had been painted on it.

Why take such a huge risk?

That mystery is the subject of fervent debate in the White House and the C.I.A., and among European, Israeli and Arab officials trying to decode Iran’s intentions. The theories run from the bizarre to the mundane: Under one, Iran is actually taunting the Israelis to strike first. Under another, it is simply escalating the confrontation with the West to win further concessions in negotiations that have dragged on four months. The simplest explanation is that Iran has run short of suitable storage containers for radioactive fuel, so it had to move everything.
Julian Borger at The Guardian (UK) has more:
They were many striking elements in the new International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran, not least its blunt language on the "possible military dimensions" of the Iranian programme. But the strangest part of it was this:

On 14 February 2010, Iran, in the presence of Agency inspectors, moved approximately 1950 kg of low enriched UF6 from FEP to the PFEP feed station. The Agency inspectors sealed the cylinder containing the material to the feed station.
That means that Iran took 94% of its entire stock of low enriched uranium (LEU) from the huge underground tunnels and chambers of its Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz and brought it to the surface, to its Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (see satellite picture above), which is currently producing 20% enriched uranium, and which is clearly visible from the air.

This stunning move is both provocative and risky. It is provocative because it signals an intention to enrich its LEU from its current level of purity of 3.5% U-235 up to 20%, which is most of the way, in engineering terms, to making weapons-grade material. [Arms Control Wonk has a good explanation of why in the world of uranium enrichment, 20 is closer to 90 than it is to 3.5]

Even if Iran had the technology to turn the 20% uranium into fuel rods for its medical research reactor in Tehran, it does not need two tonnes of LEU. According to ISIS, that much LEU would render about 200kg of 20% uranium. The Tehran Research Reactor needs no more than 18.4 kg annually.

The move is risky because it involves shifting Iran's crown jewels, its 2-tonne LEU stockpile, from subterranean safety where it was invisible to Israeli air force targeteers, to a clearly defined location that might as well have a bullseye painted on the roof.

Why would a regime that is normally so paranoid about its LEU leave itself so vulnerable? One possible explanation, being mused on by British government analysts, is that the regime is deliberately inviting an Israeli air strike with the aim of creating a crisis, and using that crisis to crush dissent even more brutally than it is doing currently.

It is a terrifying idea, but not the only possible explanation. It may be, as David Albright at ISIS suggests, that the Natanz technicians were in a hurry to fulfil President Ahmadinejad's orders to enrich to 20%, and it was quicker to drive the whole cask of enriched uranium hexafluoride up the ramp to the pilot plant, than try to decant it into small containers.

A third possibility is that Iran is playing poker, bringing out its trump in an attempt to get the international community to fold, and agree to supply Iran with fuel rods to the TRR without Iran having to export its LEU in advance as it initially agreed to do in Geneva last October. Tehran may believe that the danger of an Israeli air strike is minimal because the repercussions in the Gulf would be so devastating.

All three versions are all quite plausible, and they are all extremely dangerous. Israel may not be considering a strike imminently and appears content for the time being to explore how far sanctions will go, but that position may not last. The Israelis may consider 2010 a brief window of opportunity, following the exposure of the secret enrichment plant near Qom, and before Iran gets very far with the ten new ones it says it wants to build.
This report was issued on February 18, but Iran's curious relocation of its low-enriched uranium stores has received little coverage in the MSM.  You can read the IAEA Iran report here (pdf).

New GOP superstar: Paul Ryan

I must agree with Matthew Continetti at the Weekly Standard, who says Paul Ryan was the main event at Thursday's health care summit:
Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, just launched a full-bore assault on the faulty assumptions behind the claim that the Obama health care plan will reduce the deficit. Obama didn't even bother questioning Ryan's presentation. He changed the subject to Medicare Advantage. The expression on the president's face as Ryan made his case was absolutely priceless. Simply put, he looked like someone who realizes he's met his match.
Here's the video:

Learn more about Paul Ryan's Roadmap for America's future here.

Democrats sneak attack on the CIA fails

While the nation was focused on the health care summit yesterday, the Democrats in the House of Representatives tried to launch a secret attack on our nation's intelligence officers.  John Hinderaker at Power Line explains:
While our attention was elsewhere, the Democratic Party launched a disgraceful sneak attack against our intelligence professionals. The Democrats attempted to subject anyone who interrogates a terrorist in a less than gentle manner--for example, by "exploiting the phobias of the individual," which refers to the notorious caterpillar in the cell--to 15 years' imprisonment. As usual, Andy McCarthy blows the whistle on the Democrats' perfidy:

[T]his shows how politicized law-enforcement has become under the Obama Democrats. They could have criminalized waterboarding at any time since Jan. 20, 2009. But they waited until now. Why? Because if they had tried to do it before now, it would have been a tacit admission that waterboarding was not illegal when the Bush CIA was using it. That would have harmed the politicized witch-hunt against John Yoo and Jay Bybee, a key component of which was the assumption that waterboarding and the other tactics they authorizied were illegal. Only now, when that witch-hunt has collapsed, have the Democrats moved to criminalize these tactics. It is transparently partisan.
The good news is that the Democrats' effort failed, perhaps because McCarthy blew the whistle. Congressman Peter Hoekstra says:

That Democrats would try to bury this provision deep in the bill, late at night, when they thought everyone's attention would be focused on the health care summit is a testament to the shameful nature of what they were attempting.

Republicans brought this to the attention of the American people, who were rightly outraged that Democrats would try to target those we ask to serve in harm's way and with a unified push we were successful in getting them to pull the bill.
The bill was inserted by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).  If you watched the health care summit, you may remember that Slaughter was the one who told the story about a woman who had to wear her dead sister's teeth.  From Politico:
House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter attached the provision to the bill Wednesday over the objections of other House leaders, sources said Thursday night. Democrats tried to use a unanimous consent agreement to remove the amendment, Democratic sources said, but Republicans refused to agree and leaders had to pull the bill moments before its scheduled vote. The bill would have failed if the amendment had been included, sources said.
From Fox News:
One intelligence source described the debate as bizarre.

"You've really got to wonder what's going on here. The CIA no longer has a detention and interrogation program. That ended in January 2009 by executive order. It's over, so the need for this proposal is your classic head-scratcher," the source said.
The Rules Committee voted late Thursday to remove the amendment, and the bill will be voted on sometime Friday.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tom Coburn and Paul Ryan rock the Blair House

I became a big fan of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn in October of 2005 when he went nose-to-nose with his senior Republican colleague Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens over the Ketchikan "bridge to nowhere."  Dr. Coburn had been in the Senate less than a year and Ted Stevens had been in the Senate since 1968.  After hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi and Louisiana gulf coasts in 2005, Coburn offered an amendment to the senate appropriations bill to move $453 million from two Alaskan bridge projects to fund the reconstruction of bridges destroyed by the storm.  Ted Stevens actually threatened to quit the Senate if the amendment passed.  It did not.  But Coburn definitely got my attention as a fearless patriot.

Today at the President's health care summit, Coburn did not disappoint.  Here's a sample of his no nonsense remarks:
The first thing I would do is put out a caution to us, because what I see the Congress doing -- and what I saw this last year -- is us actually performing bad medicine. And that is that we get stuck in the idea of treating the symptom rather than treating the disease. And whether you go to Harvard or whether you go to Thomson Reuters, there are some facts we know about health care in America. And the facts we know is one out of every three dollars that gets spent doesn't help anybody get well and doesn't prevent anybody from getting sick.

The second thing we know is, from the Congressional Research Service, that most of the mal drivers today in health care come from government rules and regulations. The government now directs over 60 percent of the health care in this country. And if throwing money at it and creating new government programs could solve it, we wouldn't be sitting here today because we've done all that, it hasn't worked.

So what I thought we ought to do is maybe talk about why does it cost so much? Because the thing that keeps people from getting access to care in our country is cost. You mentioned Malia and Sasha. The fact is, is with young kids going to the ER, whether they have meningitis or asthma, they're going to get treated in this country. But they may get labeled with a preexisting illness after that, and that's another thing I'd be happy to talk about at a later time. But the fact is, is we know how to treat acute asthma. What we don't do a good job of is preventing children from getting acute asthma. We don't do the good job of prevention.

So when you break down the cost, what we know is 33 percent of the cost in health care shouldn't be there. And how do we go about doing that, and what are the components of that cost? And when you look at, when it's studied, and if you look at what Malcolm Sparrow from Harvard says -- he says 20 percent of the cost of federal government health care is fraud. That's his number.

If you look at Thomson Reuters -- when they look at all of this, they say at least 15 percent of government-run health care is fraud. Well, when you look at the total amount of health care that's government-run, you're talking $150 billion a year. So tomorrow, if we got together and fixed fraud, we could cut health care 7.5 percent tomorrow for people in this country. So what we ought to do is do the Willie Sutton thing; we ought to go for where the money is.

What's the other area? What we do know -- and I'm guilty of this; Dr. Barrasso is guilty of it; Dr. Boustany is guilty of it -- is a large portion of the tests we order every day aren't for patients, they're for doctors. And the reason they're there is because we are risk-averse to the tort system and extortion system that's out there today in health care. And there are a lot of ways to fix that, but I just went through last night -- if you add up what Thomson Reuters, which looked at all the studies that have been done and combined them in -- they say between $625 billion and $850 billion a year of health care dollars are wasted.

So it seems to me if cost is the number one thing that's keeping people from getting care, then the efforts of us as we go after cost ought to be to go to those areas where the cost is wasted. And there's a philosophical difference in how we do that. One wants more government-centered approach to that; I would personally prefer a more patient-centered, market-oriented approach to that. But nevertheless, there's where we can come together, just on those two areas, where we could cut costs 15 percent tomorrow. And that's for everybody in the country.
Representative Paul Ryan's remarks were even more devastating to the Democrats:
Mr. President, you said health care reform is budget reform. You're right. We agree with that. Medicare, right now, has a $38 trillion unfunded liability. That's $38 trillion in empty promises to my parents' generation, our generation, our kids' generation. Medicaid's growing at 21 percent each year. It's suffocating states' budgets. It's adding trillions in obligations that we have no means to pay for it.

Now, you're right to frame the debate on cost and health inflation. And in September, when you spoke to us in the well of the House, you basically said -- and I totally agree with this -- I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits either now or in the future.

Since the Congressional Budget Office can't score your bill, because it doesn't have sufficient detail, but it tracks very similar to the Senate bill, I want to unpack the Senate score a little bit.

And if you take a look at the CBO analysis, analysis from your chief actuary, I think it's very revealing. This bill does not control costs. This bill does not reduce deficits. Instead, this bill adds a new health care entitlement at a time when we have no idea how to pay for the entitlements we already have.

Now, let me go through why I say that. The majority leader said the bill scores as reducing the deficit $131 billion over the next 10 years. First, a little bit about CBO. I work with them every single day -- very good people, great professionals. They do their jobs well. But their job is to score what is placed in front of them. And what has been placed in front of them is a bill that is full of gimmicks and smoke-and-mirrors. Now, what do I mean when I say that?

Well, first off, the bill has 10 years of tax increases, about half a trillion dollars, with 10 years of Medicare cuts, about half a trillion dollars, to pay for six years of spending.

Now, what's the true 10-year cost of this bill in 10 years? That's $2.3 trillion.
If, as Politico reported this morning, the President's objective for today's summit was to alter the political atmospherics by portraying the Republicans as heartless obstructionists devoid of real health care reform ideas, then in my view, today was an abject failure.

Oh, and for what it's worth, the Democrats had the microphone today more than twice as long as the Republicans.

Syria and Iran defy Obama and Clinton

Last week, President Obama nominated the first U.S.ambassador to Syria in five years.  A few days later the administration lifted the Syria travel advisory.  These benevolent overtures were intended to draw Syria closer to the U.S. and to pull them away from the influence of Iran.  Once again, the President's open handed outreach has resulted in a foreign policy embarassment:
U.S. President Barack Obama's bid to isolate Iran through warmer relations with Syria was thrown into disarray Thursday when the two countries vowed to strengthen their ties.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Damascus to reaffirm his country's support for Iran's nuclear enrichment activities, and declare their shared hatred for Israel.

The joint appearance came just a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a U.S. Senate subcommittee the United States had recently urged Syria to "begin to move away" from Iran.

"I am surprised how they can talk about stability and peace in the Middle East and call on two countries to distance themselves from one another," Assad said of the United States in a televised news conference with Ahmadinejad.

"We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history."

Ahmadinejad called on the United States to "pack up and leave the region," and said "nothing can come between" Syria and Iran. He also used the occasion to rearticulate former predictions of Israel's demise, saying the country was "on the path to disappearing."

"If the Zionist entity wants to repeat its past errors, its death will be inevitable," he said.
One Democrat member of the Congress is not impressed:
A Jewish Democratic U.S. congressman slammed President Obama for reappointing an ambassador to Syria.

New York Rep. Eliot Engel called Obama's appointment last week of Robert Ford a "mistake."

"Unless Syria has agreed to something I am not privy to behind the scenes -- making themselves helpful, ready to take some steps away from Iran, ready to cooperate in the region for peace and stability -- then there is some rationale for the move," Engel told The Jerusalem Post this week. "But short of that, I don’t see any rationale in it at this time."
It seems like placing the cart before the horse to place an ambassador in Damascus and lift a travel advisory while Syria is still on the U.S. State Department's list of State sponsors of terrorism.

Charlie Crist leaving the GOP?

Jack Funari at the Sun Sentinel (FL) is reporting that Florida governor and Senate candidate Charlie Crist is going to leave the Republican party (H/T HotAir):
Two highly placed and independent sources, speaking strictly on background, tell me that Gov. Charlie Crist is preparing to leave the Republican Party and run as an independent in the race for the U.S. Senate.

With Crist trailing Marco Rubio by 18 points in the latest polls, the Crist campaign has been in panic mode, launching attack after attack on the conservative Rubio.

Yesterday, the attacks reached a crescendo with the Crist campaign, and/or his disgraced Republican Party of Florida thug bootlickers, leaking Rubio's credit card expenses from his time as speaker of the Florida House.

According to published reports, the former RPOF chair, the bovine bully-boy buffoon Jim Greer, spent more in a month than Rubio did in his entire two years as state House speaker. If all the Crist campaign has on Rubio is $53.49 at Winn-Dixie in Miami for ``food” and a couple of plane tickets for his wife, then it's game, set and match, as far as the Republican primary for Senate is concerned.

From what's been made public, Rubio's credit card expenses make him the most frugal of the Republican leaders with RPOF credit cards.

The attacks are not having the desired effect on the conservative Republican base because Crist, and the people who enable and support him, have lost all credibility with the majority of activists and Republican primary voters throughout the state.

Another well-placed source tells me the reason several Crist campaign staffers left recently is because, being committed Republicans, they refused to take part in an independent Senate run by Crist. That’s not confirmed by an independent second source, but it does ring true.
If true, this will put John McCain in a tough spot.  He told The Hill today that he would be glad to try to help Crist get elected to the Senate. If he stands by his words and endorses Crist instead of Rubio, he will alienate more conservatives than he already has.

Health care summit: Dems admit it's a sham

Mike Allen at Politico reveals the real purpose behind today's health care summit:
After a brief period of consultation following the White House health reform summit, congressional Democrats plan to begin making the case next week for a massive, Democrats-only health care plan, party strategists told POLITICO.

A Democratic official said the six-hour summit was expected to “give a face to gridlock, in the form of House and Senate Republicans.”

Democrats plan to begin rhetorical, and perhaps legislative, steps toward the Democrats-only, or reconciliation, process early next week, the strategists said.

After the summit, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid planned to take the temperature of their caucuses.

“The point [of the summit] is to alter the political atmospherics, and it will take a day or two to sense if it succeeded,” the official said.
This was clear from the very beginning.  In opening remarks for the Republicans, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) asked the president and the Democrats to renounce the use of the Senate budget reconciliation rule to pass health care reform.  Of course, that did not happen.

It is interesting to watch the Democrats trying so hard to appear collegial for the cameras. Some are better than others.  Harry Reid is awful at it.  He practically called Alexander a liar in his opening remarks, stating that the senator was entitled to his own opinion, but he was not entitled to his own facts.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Flashback 2005: Obama and Dems call reconciliation an arrogant power grab

On Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs made it clear that the President and the Democratic congress would use the senate rules maneuver called budget reconciliation to enact health care reform if necessary:
During the White House briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs described reconciliation as a not-uncommon maneuver, and he even walked the press corps through a little legislative history of times when the Senate used reconciliation rules to pass a priority of President George W. Bush.

“Reconciliation, as you know, is a legislative vehicle that has been used on a number of occasions over the past many years,” Gibbs said. “In 2001, the $1.35 trillion tax cut that went through the Senate went through the very same way. The tax cuts in 2003, $350 billion, went through in a similar way.

“I don't think the president wants to get ahead of Thursday's meeting," Gibbs said. "I think we believe there can and should be a constructive discussion. I do think the president believes there ought to be an up-or-down vote on health care.”
In 2005, when the Republicans were in control of the White House and the Congress, then Senator Obama and other prominent Democrats were highly critical of the same tactic and referred to it as the "nuclear option."  The Drudge Report supplies this interesting historical montage to refresh our memories:

That was then.  This is now.

Democratic Senator and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Robert Byrd, is one of the original authors of the reconciliation rule and strongly objects to its use to enact health care reform.  From Fox News:
As Robert Byrd, (D-W.V.), one of the original authors of the reconciliation rule, explained, “Reconciliation was intended to adjust revenue and spending levels in order to reduce was not designed to…restructure the entire health care system.” He warns that using reconciliation for health care would “violate the intent and spirit of the budget process, and do serious injury to the Constitutional role of the Senate.” In fact, in 1985, the Senate adopted the “Byrd rule,” which prohibits the use of reconciliation for any “extraneous issue” that does not directly change revenues or expenditures. Clearly, large portions of the health care bill, ranging from mandates to insurance regulation to establishing “exchanges,” do not meet that requirement.

With Republicans threatening to challenge any provision that violates the Byrd Rule, Democrats have been contemplating a variety of ways around it, including having Vice President Joe Biden, in his role as president of the Senate, overrule the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian. But no vice president has overruled a parliamentarian since Nelson Rockefeller in 1976, and doing so now, in defense of a bill opposed by 58 percent of voters, risks a significant backlash.

House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor said today that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn't have the votes to pass a major health care bill because the American people do not want it.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wishing a speedy recovery to Dick Cheney

Today it was reported that former Vice President Dick Cheney had suffered a minor heart attack.  Let me add my wishes for his speedy recovery, and express my heartfelt support with some Chenykus from Jim Treacher at the Daily Caller:

Yeah, I shot that guy
And I had some heart attacks
And I kept you safe

I’m bald and morose
I don’t look good in swim trunks
Eight years, no attacks

Dear Los Angeles:
We stopped an assault on you
“Hey, thanks” will suffice

Look out, terrorists!
Obama’s secret weapon:
Approval ratings

Every time I sneer
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed faints
Try that one, Barack

When you attacked me
I disclosed my location:
All up in your face

Redefine “torture”
To mean anything you want:
Waterboarding worked

Hello, Jon Stewart
You cried on September 12th
But haven’t since: Why?
Remember, lefties
I’m not running for office
Your polls make me laugh
This isn’t a smirk
You’re just not worth the regard
Of my entire face

I wish you a speedy recovery, Mr. Vice President.

Bush administration lawyers vindicated in Holder witchhunt

On Friday, the senior ethicist in the Obama/Holder Justice Department concluded that Bush administration lawyers did not commit professional misconduct in their advisement to the President in the chaotic days after 9/11.  From the Wall Street Journal:
So after five years of investigation, partisan accusations and unethical media leaks, the Justice Department's senior ethicist has concluded that Bush Administration lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee committed no professional misconduct. The issue now is whether the protégés of Attorney General Eric Holder who led this exercise at Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) should themselves be in the dock.

That's our reading of the analysis by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, a career official who reviewed both the Bush-era legal memos on interrogating terror suspects and their review by the lawyers at OPR. Remarkably, his report is far more scathing about OPR than it is about Messrs. Yoo and Bybee, who he says made legal errors but did so in good faith, out of honest legal analysis, and in the ethical service of their clients in the executive branch at a time of war.

Mr. Margolis's review overrules both a draft OPR report whose contents were leaked to the media last year and a final OPR report that was released along with the Margolis review late Friday. Those OPR reports recommended disciplinary action and potential disbarment for Messrs. Bybee and Yoo for their advice while working in the Office of Legal Counsel in the frantic months after September 11. The leaks were themselves an unethical attempt to smear the reputations of the lawyers while they were under a gag order and unable to reply.
Read the whole article if you want a complete picture of the incompetence of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (and specifically its head, Mary Patrice Brown).

In a somewhat ironic opinion, Mr. Yoo explains in the Wall Street Journal why his fight to clear his name was really a fight for President Obama:
Why bother fighting off an administration hell-bent on finding scapegoats for its policy disagreements with the last president? I could have easily decided to hide out, as others have. Instead, I wrote numerous articles (several published in this newspaper) and three books explaining and defending presidential control of national security policy. I gave dozens of speeches and media appearances, where I confronted critics of the administration's terrorism policies. And, most importantly, I was lucky to receive the outstanding legal counsel of Miguel Estrada, one of the nation's finest defense attorneys, to attack head-on and without reservation, each and every one of OPR's mistakes, misdeeds and acts of malfeasance.

I did not do this to win any popularity contests, least of all those held in the faculty lounge. I did it to help our president—President Obama, not Bush. Mr. Obama is fighting three wars simultaneously in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against al Qaeda. He will call upon the men and women serving under his command to make choices as hard as the ones we faced. They cannot meet those challenges with clear minds if they believe that a bevy of prosecutors, congressional committees and media critics await them when they return from the battlefield.
Who will serve our President and our Nation in the future with uncensored, considered legal advice; unafraid devotion to mission; and unwavering bravery in defense of our country with the ever-looming threat of personal legal prosecution?

I applaud Deputy A.G. David Margolis for what may have been a career-ending act of patriotism.

FCC: taking title to the Internet part II

In an earlier post about the FCC's plans to regulate internet service providers, I got carried away (like Flo in the Progressive commercials) and let my frustrations about the explosive growth of power of the regulatory agencies of the executive branch of our federal government carry me off message.  The message is government regulation of internet service is a bad idea.

From Business Week (H/T Simon Owens at
AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. told U.S. officials to reject calls to move oversight of Internet service into the same “burdensome” regulatory category as telephones.

“Far-reaching and destructive consequences” would follow if the Federal Communications Commission treats Internet service as it has treated telephone service, which is more heavily regulated, the companies said in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Also signing the letter were Qwest Communications International Inc. and trade associations for the cable and phone industries.

The FCC is considering moving high-speed Internet service, or broadband, from a lightly regulated category, “reversing almost 10 years of deregulation,” Andrew Lipman, a Washington- based attorney for Bingham McCutchen LLP, said in an interview today. “That’s a fairly significant U-turn.”

Reclassification could be a way to solidify agency authority, which in January was questioned by judges hearing Comcast Corp.’s challenge to an FCC ruling, Lipman said.
Randolph J. May has written an insightful opinion piece at CBS News comparing the FCC plan to Nancy Pelosi's "public option:"
The "public option" for health care - which the American public came to see as symptomatic of government overreach -- certainly helped sink the most grandiose visions of ObamaCare. It's possible that proposals for a "public option" of sorts for new Internet regulation could sink the Federal Communications Commission's efforts to adopt new broadband policies.

To be sure, the two public options, one for health care and one for Internet regulation, are dissimilar. After all, they arise in two very different contexts. But they have this in common: both are grounded in an almost unshakeable faith that government should play a central role in regulating certain services provided by the private sector.

With respect to communications policy, this misplaced faith in the superiority of government control over marketplace competition causes some to advance proposals that will be viewed by many as radical overreaching. And, as with health care reform, the very act of overreaching may well sidetrack adoption of more moderate proposals.

Here's what I mean by the Internet public option - and why it should be rejected.

Recently, organizations like Public Knowledge and Free Press have begun to mount a fierce campaign to have the FCC reverse a decision first made in 2002, which it has since reaffirmed several times, not to regulate Internet providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. The FCC determined that Title II regulation was inconsistent with its view that "broadband services should exist in a minimal regulatory environment that promotes investment and innovation in a competitive market."

Although the burdensome requirements that accompany Title II regulation are manifold, two key elements are at its core. The FCC is required to regulate the rates of common carriers to ensure they are "reasonable" and to enforce a non-discrimination prohibition. These core elements are the hallmark of traditional public utility regulation; hence what I call the public option. (emphasis added)
In a similar effort to insure "reasonable" and "non-discriminatory" mortgages, the government created the housing bubble that led to the current recession.  What could possibly go wrong if the government takes over the internet?

It should come as no surprise that Public Knowledge and Free Press are left-wing advocacy groups funded by the Open Society Institute (aka George Soros) and other liberal groups.

FCC: Taking title to the internet

From The American Spectator:
In the fight over the Obama Administration and Federal Communications Commission's attempts to regulate the Internet via a policy known as "net neutrality," a court case involving a cable company and an online company that enables Internet content sharing is forcing the Obama Administration to look for new ways to gain control of Internet networks.

Last month a federal court raised doubts about whether the FCC had jurisdiction over Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as the company in question, Comcast, and AT&T and Verizon, when the FCC made a 2008 ruling that Comcast had illegally blocked the Internet content-sharing application BitTorrent. The court's questioning of the FCC authority now has many -- including senior FCC staff -- believing that the federal court will side with Comcast and rule that the agency has only "ancillary jurisdiction" over broadband services.

But already, the FCC is strategizing on how it can gain regulatory control of the Internet and the broadband networks that connect to it, if the courts rule against them. According to FCC sources, the agency is considering "reclassifying" broadband Internet services under rules that were once used for rotary phone service. To do this, the FCC would categorize broadband networks under Title II, or common carriage rules. Broadband networks have thus far been regulated under Title I, a section for "enhanced communications services."

"You have one set of rules, Title II, that were used for rotary phones, before there was a lot of competition in the communications space, like wireless and the like, and then you have Title I, which has rules more in line with the high-tech world," says an attorney who until recently worked at the FCC. "Common sense says, keep broadband and the Internet under rules for the modern world, not the rules that applied to a technology that was obsolete two decades ago. This just shows how desperate these people are to regulate the networks."
So, essentially, if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rules that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate ISP's, then the FCC will just unilaterally reclassify internet service as Type II rotary phone service so it can regulate them?  What happened to the balance of powers and the three branches of government?  Isn't the executive branch supposed to execute the law?

Taken as a whole, the egregious overreaching of the unaccountable regulatory agencies of the Obama administration is frightening.  The Congress can't pass cap and trade legislation, so the Environmental Protection Agency will circumvent the legislative process by declaring that carbon dioxide is a toxic substance, and can therefore be regulated under the Clean Air Act.  And don't forget, the Food and Drug Administration has declared that raw oysters are also toxic, so no more oysters on the half shell, unless they have been "pasteurized."  And as Mark Steyn observed in a recent column, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has forced many resorts to shutdown their hazardous hot tubs:
In Canada, Karen Selick told readers of The Ottawa Citizen about her winter vacation in Arizona last month: "The resort suite I rented via the Internet promised a private patio with hot tub," she wrote. "Upon arrival, I found the door to my patio bolted shut. 'Entry prohibited by federal law,' read the sign. Hotel management explained that the drains in all the resort's hot tubs had recently been found not to comply with new safety regulations. Compliance costs would be astronomical. Dozens of hot tubs would instead be cemented over permanently." In the meantime, her suite had an attractive view of the federally-prohibited patio.
I often ponder what our Founding Fathers would think of this madness.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Heartbreak: Scott Brown will vote for Reid's job bill

The Scott Brown honeymoon is over.  Ed Morrissey at Hot Air reports:
No crying. We knew this day would come.

“I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside, and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families,” Brown said in a statement issued by his office. “This Senate jobs bill is not perfect. I wish the tax cuts were deeper and broader, but I will vote for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work.

“I was disappointed with the continuation of politics-as-usual in the drafting of this bill, as it was crafted behind closed doors, without transparency and accountability. I hope for improvements in that process going forward. All of us, Republicans and Democrats, have to work together to get our economy back on track. I hope my vote today is a strong step toward restoring bipartisanship in Washington.”
Well, look. Obviously he needs to signal the left-leaning indies back home who voted for him that he’ll break their way sometimes. Even armed with a huge war chest for 2012, he ain’t getting reelected as a party-line Republican. In which case, two reasons why this might not be a bad time to throw a vote to the Dems. One: The bill might not pass, even with Brown’s vote. Because of Frank Lautenberg’s illness, Reid only has 59 at the moment with the roll coming up later tonight. If Brown can prove his “bipartisanship” on a bill that’s going down in flames anyway, sweet. Two: Even if it does pass, Reid already had to pare the bill all the way down from $85 billion to just $15 billion to keep the heat from fiscal conservatives off of his caucus ahead of November. What’s left won’t do much to create jobs, but then, that’s not really the point; the point is to give Dems some sort of cosmetic measure to point to in the run-up to the midterms so that they can say, “See, we’re trying to create jobs!” Brown’s strategy, essentially, is to use that logic against them by throwing them a vote he can use to try to keep the seat red in two years.
I hope Ed is right.  Nevertheless, this is disappointing.

Update:  The bill passed the Senate with 5 GOP votes.  From the New York Times:
Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the newly elected Republican, was the first to join Democrats in backing the measure. He was then joined by Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, George Voinovich of Ohio and Christopher Bond of Missouri, who voted after it became obvious Democrats would prevail. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the sole Democrat to oppose beginning debate on the measure.

Iran to airlines: Don't call it the Arabian Gulf!

Facing sanctions from east and west in response to its nuclear program, Iran has decided to draw a line in the....runway:
Airlines not referring to the waterway between Iran and the Arabian peninsula as the Persian Gulf will be banned from Iranian airspace, the transport minister told local media Monday.

The warning was directed specifically toward the airlines of neighboring Gulf Arab countries who have a history of referring to the body of water as the "Arabian Gulf."

"The airlines of the southern Persian gulf countries flying to Iran must use 'Persian Gulf' on their flight monitors," Hamid Behbahani told the IRAN daily.

Airlines ignoring the warning would be banned from Iranian airspace, while repeat offenders would have their planes grounded in Iran and "the companies' flight permits to Iran canceled."

The report said Iran expelled a Greek flight attendant from the private Iranian airline, Kish Air, for using "Arabian Gulf" on a monitor over the weekend.
Iran is facing sanctions on its Revolutionary Guard Corp., a possible embargo on gasoline, and the possibility of a devastating military strike from Israel.  It's good to know that their priorities are clear.


Empty on funding, ACORN shutters across country

Some good news for a change.  Politico reports that the national organization formerly known as ACORN is dissolving:
The embattled liberal group ACORN is in the process of dissolving its national structure, with state and local-chapters splitting off from the underfunded, controversial national group, an official close to the group confirmed.

"ACORN has dissolved as a national structure of state organizations," said a senior official close to the group, who declined to be identified by name because of the fierce conservative attacks on the group that began when a conservative filmmaker caught some staffers of its tax advisory arms on tape appearing to offer advice on incorporating a prostitution business.

The videos proved a rallying point for conservatives who had long accused the group of fomenting voting fraud. Though the videos did not produce criminal charges, they appear to have been fatal to the national organization.

"Consistent with what the internal recommendations have been, each of the states are developing plans for reconstitution independence and self-sufficiency," said the official, citing ACORN's "diminished resources, damage to the brand, unprecedented attacks."
The "unprecedented attacks" is a reference to the undercover sting operations conducted by independent filmmakers James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles which exposed ACORN employees' willingness to assist a pimp in setting up a brothel exploiting underage illegal girls.  Andrew Breitbart published the undercover videos on his website Big Government.

City Hall News has more here.

Big Government has the following quote from Representative Steve King (R-IA), a member of the House Judiciary Committee on the ACORN developments:
“This is not surprising news. ACORN must change its name in order to try and run ahead of the accountability that is catching up with this corrupt organization.

“Even though the one party controlled federal government is using its resources to protect ACORN, entrepreneurial new media investigators and state attorneys general are tightening the noose. Dissolving its national brand does not change ACORN’s faces nor ACORN’s crimes. This organization specializes in subterfuge, but ACORN cannot outrun the wheels of justice that are catching up with this corrupt criminal enterprise.”
Thank you, James O'Keefe, Hannah Giles and Andrew Breitbart.  You are true patriots.  Keep up the good work.

CBO will not provide cost estimates for President's health care bill

As promised the White House released its new "compromise" health care reform bill this morning.  Ellen Shaffer at The Huffington Post calls it a modest policy proposal:
Based on the Senate bill, it improves affordability provisions by offering greater support to low and middle income individuals and families for premiums and lowering liability for out of pocket expenses. (Premiums would be capped at 9.5% of adjusted gross income.) To pay for the improvements, it increases employer contributions from $750 to $2,000 a year per worker, cuts Medicare Advantage, and includes investment income in the Medicare tax.

It would cover 31 million of the 45 million uninsured.

The "special deal" for Nebraska's Medicaid program is eliminated, replaced by greater federal assistance to all states for the first four years of the program, from 2014 to 2018.

The excise tax on health plans begins on plans that cost $27,500 a year per family.

It adopts a proposal by Sens. Feinstein and Rockefeller to establish a national authority to control insurance premiums. But it also includes the Ssnate bill provision championed by Olympia Snowe to let insurance companies do business across state lines.

While the President supports a public option and included it in his original proposal, he did not add it on to this bill.

The senate provisions restricting coverage for abortions are unchanged.
The Republican leadership is, predictably, not impressed.  From Fox News:
"It's disappointing that Democrats in Washington either aren't listening, or are completely ignoring what Americans across the country have been saying," U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a written statement.

"House Republicans welcome any good faith effort to start over on health care reform but the bill President Obama unveiled today is just more of the same government-run insurance, mandates and taxes the American people have overwhelmingly rejected," added Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.
The director of the Congressional Budget Office says the CBO will not be providing cost estimates to the President's proposal:
This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it—a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.
With all due respect to Ms. Shaffer at HuffPo, I do not consider any bill which gives the federal government the power to set prices in the private sector modest.

It will be interesting to see if all those Congressional Democrats who vowed not to vote for any health care bill unless and until the CBO declared it deficit neutral will keep their word.

You can download the President's proposal here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

White House will release new and improved bipartisan health care bill today

At 10:00 on Monday morning, the White House will release the latest and greatest Democratic health care bill online in advance of the bipartisan health care summit scheduled for Thursday.  From the New York Times:
President Obama will propose on Monday giving the federal government new power to block excessive rate increases by health insurance companies, as he rolls out comprehensive legislation to revamp the nation’s health care system, White House officials said Sunday.

With the Senate Set to Vote on Jobs Bill, Governors Say They Still Need Assistance (February 22, 2010) The president’s legislation aims to bridge differences between the bills adopted by the House and Senate late last year, and to frame his debate with Republicans over health policy at a televised “summit” meeting on Thursday.

By focusing on the effort to tighten regulation of insurance costs, a new element not included in either the House or Senate bills, Mr. Obama is seizing on outrage over recent premium increases of up to 39 percent announced by Anthem Blue Cross of California and moving to portray the Democrats’ health overhaul as a way to protect Americans from profiteering insurers.

Congressional Republicans have long denounced the Democrats’ legislation as a “government takeover” of health care. And while they will likely resist any expansion of federal authority over existing state regulators, they will face a tough balancing act at the meeting with the president to avoid appearing as if they are willing to allow steep premium hikes like those by Anthem.
President Obama and the Democratic Congress continue to display, what can most charitably be described as a complete ignorance of free markets and capitalism, and most cynically as a profound contempt for American business and the free enterprise system that made this country great.

Who, in his right mind, would start, or for that matter, continue running a health insurance business in an environment where unelected government bureaucrats have the power to dictate what products and services the business must offer, where and when it will be able to sell those products and services, and, oh yeah, how much it will be allowed to charge for them?

No one.  And that is the ugly truth behind any plan originating from the "social justice", big government, redistribution of wealth, nanny-state Democrats.  They want the nation's insurers to fail, so that the federal government can become the single national payer for health care for all.

The White House will not get support for this "new" plan from any Republicans, and will certainly try to pass it through the budget reconciliation process, requiring only 50 votes in the Senate (VP Joe Biden, waiting in the wings to break a tie).  I believe the American people will see through this thinly-veiled attempt to portray the Republicans as obstructionists, devoid of real ideas for health care reform, while hijacking the legislative process in a scorched earth campaign.

I hope and pray a few Democrats who have not had their brains sucked out by their own liberal lobotomizing leadership, can withstand the strong-arm tactics of the White House, and vote no for the people they are elected to represent who do not want this health care bill.

Democrats next target: 401(K) savings

Business Insurance reports that the Labor and Treasury departments are seeking comments about converting private retirement plans into government-backed annuities:
The Department of Labor and the Treasury Department have put out a request for information on the use of annuities in defined-contribution plans.

Both agencies are reviewing the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as well as the plan qualification rules in the Internal Revenue Code, on using annuities in retirement plans. The agencies filed a request for information, which was published in the Feb. 2 issue of the Federal Register.

Specifically, the Labor Department and Treasury want to know the advantages and disadvantages of receiving retirement benefits in the form of incremental payments. They also seek an explanation for why most retirees, when faced with a choice of a lifetime income option or a lump-sum distribution, choose the lump-sum option.

The agencies also want to know what information 401(k) participants need in order to make informed choices on whether they should choose a lifetime income option, and how that information should be provided.

The request comes just as interest in the use of such investments in 401(k) plans is rising in Washington.

A fact sheet released last week by President Barack Obama’s Middle Class Task Force said the administration would promote “the availability of annuities and other forms of guaranteed lifetime income, which transform savings into guaranteed future income, reducing the risks that retirees will outlive their savings.”
Newt Gingrich and Peter Ferrara explain what this "information request" really means in Investors' Business Daily:
In plain English, the idea is for the government to take your retirement savings in return for a promise to pay you some monthly benefit in your retirement years.

They will tell you that you are "investing" your money in U.S. Treasury bonds. But they will use your money immediately to pay for their unprecedented trillion-dollar budget deficits, leaving nothing to back up their political promises, just as they have raided the Social Security trust funds.

This "conversion" may start out as an optional choice, though you are already free to buy Treasury bonds whenever you want. But as Karl Denninger of the Market Ticker Web site reports: "'Choices' have a funny way of turning into mandates, and this looks to me like a raw admission that Treasury knows it will not be able to sell its debt in the open market — so they will effectively tax you by forcing your 'retirement' money to buy them."
Think of it as a mandatory reverse mortgage on your retirement savings.  John Hinderaker at Powerline doesn't think the government will actually be able to pull this one off, not because it's an illegal confiscation of private property, but because the lawyers won't put up with it:

Will it happen? Clearly the Obama administration, inspired by Argentina, is exploring the option. Today, we have the first administration in American history that aspires to be a banana republic. But can they get away with confiscating millions of Americans' savings? I doubt it. Because first on the list of those who have accumulated wealth in reliance on the laws governing private savings accounts are lawyers. Most people don't realize it, but even lawyers of modest ability typically have, after three or four decades of diligent savings, seven-figure retirement accounts. (This is one reason why influential Democrats don't care whether Social Security goes bust. They wouldn't dream of depending on it.) Lawyers are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party; public employee unions are more important in some ways, but they are junior partners in the Dems' coalition.

If the Obama administration were to announce an intent to confiscate Americans' retirement savings, the howls that would arise from lawyers (and others, too, of course) would be deafening. I don't think the administration could get away with it. Which doesn't mean they won't try, as the current efforts by the Departments of the Treasury and Labor indicate.
Hinderaker has a good point about the lawyers, but Democrats have demonstrated time and time again that they are willing to craft extra-legal sweeheart deals that favor the special interests of their base.  The Unions negotiated an exemption to the tax on cadillac health care plans.  Ben Nelson negotiated special Medicaid funding for his state of Nebraska.  Mary Landrieu received $300 million in special Medicaid funding for the state of Louisiana. Why should the lawyer lobby be any different?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Biloxi lighthouse shines again!

From the Sun Herald (MS) (Photo William Colgin/Sun Herald):
As it did for 162 years, the Biloxi Lighthouse shines again over the city.

The expected two or three dozen people to observe the relighting swelled to a crowd of 200 to 300 Friday night at dusk. With the sun setting pink into the Mississippi Sound and a sliver of a moon overhead, Mayor A.J. Holloway led the countdown and the light blinked on.

“Isn’t that beautiful?” said Judy Petterson, who attended the ceremony with her husband, Dave. They live nearby on Suter Place and said the lighthouse becomes part of your life when you live in Biloxi.

Speakers at the ceremony called it “Biloxi’s most beloved landmark” and “a radiant sign of renewal.”

The Rev. Roger Morin, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, prayed it would be a beacon of hope for residents and a symbol of welcome to visitors.

“Come back tomorrow and you can climb it,” said Bill Raymond, Biloxi’s historical administrator.

Free tours of the lighthouse today will allow visitors to go inside and see the watermarks from Katrina and other hurricanes, and climb the 55 steps and eight-rung ladder to the light room.

The $400,000 restoration was funded by FEMA and insurance money after Katrina damaged the lighthouse. The brick lining was repaired, the light rewired and the lighthouse repainted inside and out.

“It’s been through many transformations and restorations,” said Leigh Jaunsen with Dale & Associates, the Biloxi firm that oversaw restoration. The cast-iron panels were an innovation in lighthouse engineering in the 1800s, she said. They were fabricated at a factory in Baltimore, shipped to Biloxi and assembled. The panels were designed so they could be disassembled if the lighthouse was threatened by beach erosion.

“The Biloxi Lighthouse has remained in its original location,” she said, and is the only one remaining of 10 lighthouses that marked the Mississippi Coast.
As a child growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the 1970's, I often heard the legend that the lighthouse was painted black as a sign of mourning when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  I was always a little skeptical of the story since Confederate President Jefferson Davis's retirement home, Beauvoir was practically across the street.  Turns out (even though my childhood perception of the timeline wasn't exactly right) it's not true.  The lighthouse was painted with black coal tar  in 1867 to prevent rust.  What is true and quite cool, is that the lighthouse was the responsibility of three strong southern women for 74 of the lighthouse's 91 years of "manned" service.  From the City of Biloxi:
The most important contributions over this period were made by three remarkable women who maintained the light for 74 of the Light’s 91 years of manned service:  Mary Reynolds; Marie Younghans; and, her daughter Mirandah Younghans. Marie Younghans became Lighthouse Keeper in 1867 following the death of her husband, and her fifty-two year career was one of the longest tenures in the history of the U.S. Lighthouse Service; she might have served longer, but she was forced to retire at age 77.
I am proud and happy that the Biloxi lighthouse shines again!

Andrew Breitbart to Times reporter: "You are a despicable human being"

Liberal media, meet your worst nightmare:  Andrew Breitbart.
The editorial panel is attending this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., and it didn’t take long for a media-induced controversy to break out. We expected the mainstream media couldn’t cover a gathering of 10,000 conservatives for an entire weekend without playing the race card at least once, but The New York Times‘ Kate Zernike charged Young America’s Foundation Spokesman and CPAC panelist Jason Mattera with “using racial stereotypes” by lunchtime of Day 1.

We’ve included the video of his speech below, as well as relevant excerpts from Zernike’s New York Times piece. Let us know if you think it was appropriate for her to describe Mr. Mattera using some of the most caustic vocabulary in American life.

We’ll be offering our commentary in the days to come.

Bonus question: Identify with time stamps where Mattera uses the “Chris Rock voice.”

Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Big Journalism, Big Government and Big Hollywood took great offense at Ms. Zernike's characterization of Mattera, and used his acceptance speech for an award from Accuracy in Media to take his shot, calling Zernike a "despicable human being."  I'm having some difficulty embedding this video, but here is a partial transcript:
Kate Zernike of the New York Times, are you in the room? Are you in the room? You’re despicable. You’re a despicable human being. You’re the New York Times. What is your headline here? You came to CPAC to get your prey and here’s your prey, Jason Mattera from HotAir and also from Young America’s Foundation. This is the headline: CPAC Speaker Bashes Obama, comma, in Racial Tones.

How can conservatives win the youth vote that overwhelmingly went for Barack Obama in 2008? At the Conservative Political Action Conference, apparently, some are betting on using racial stereotypes.
It goes into a story that does not express that he used a racial stereotype. It is just built upon a bed of lies. It says that he went into a Chris Rock voice. She’s the one that correlated his voice to Chris Rock. He happens to be from Brooklyn. He’s using HIS voice.
You can watch Breitbart's speech here.  It's definitely worth the time to watch the whole thing.

Here is what Zernike wrote in the New York Times:
How can conservatives win the youth vote that overwhelmingly went for Barack Obama in 2008? At the Conservative Political Action Conference, apparently, some are betting on using racial stereotypes.

In a panel appealing to conservatives under 30, Jason Mattera, author of a forthcoming book called “Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation,” likened the gathering to “our Woodstock.”

“Except that unlike the last gathering, our women are beautiful, we speak in complete sentences and our notion of freedom doesn’t consist of snorting cocaine,” he said, “which is certainly one thing that separates us from Barack Obama.”

After the laughing died down, he added, “Actually, on the cocaine front, I do believe many people in America viewed Barack as they do drugs: it was a substance to experiment with.”

Dramatic pause for more laughter, and then, “But like most narcotics, the hangover afterward has them thinking, What the hell did I just do?”

Mr. Mattera, also a television correspondent for the Web site HotAir, said that Mr. Obama had created the “right opportunity to capture what is perceived as the left’s stronghold on the youth vote.”

Even Obama Girl, he exclaimed, “said her crush has faded!”

He then mocked what he described, with a Chris Rock voice, as “diversity,” including, he said, college classes on “cyber feminism” and “what it means to be a feminist new black man.”
If Mattera sounded like he was imitating Chris Rock (which I really did not hear at all), there's a logical explanation.  They are both from Brooklyn.  Zernike and the New York Times owe Mr. Mattera an apology and a complete retraction of this baseless hit piece.

White House offered Rep. Sestak high-ranking job not to run against Arlen Specter

In Barack Obama's first campaign for the Illinois state senate back in 1996, he played hardball and used the election rules to invalidate the voting petitions of his three Democratic challengers.  CNN reported during the presidential campaign in 2008:
The move denied each of them, including incumbent Alice Palmer, a longtime Chicago activist, a place on the ballot. It cleared the way for Obama to run unopposed on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Democrat district.

"That was Chicago politics," said John Kass, a veteran Chicago Tribune columnist. "Knock out your opposition, challenge their petitions, destroy your enemy, right? It is how Barack Obama destroyed his enemies back in 1996 that conflicts with his message today. He may have gotten his start registering thousands of voters. But in that first race, he made sure voters had just one choice."
Well it appears that clearing the Democratic playing field of challengers to benefit his chosen candidate is still the modus operandi du jour at the White House.  From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) said yesterday that the White House offered him a federal job in an effort to dissuade him from challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in the state's Democratic primary.

The disclosure came during an afternoon taping of Larry Kane: Voice of Reason, a Sunday news-analysis show on the Comcast Network. Sestak would not elaborate on the circumstances and seemed chagrined after blurting out "yes" to veteran news anchor Kane's direct question.

"Was it secretary of the Navy?" Kane asked.

"No comment," Sestak said.

"Was it [the job] high-ranking?" Kane asked. Sestak said yes, but added that he would "never leave" the Senate race for a deal.

A White House spokesman this morning strongly denied an offer had been made to Sestak. Before the spokesman issued the denial, a senior Pennsylvania Democrat said Sestak's account was met with anger by White House officials yesterday.

After yesterday's taping, Sestak said he recalled the White House offer coming in July, as he was preparing to formally announce his Senate candidacy in August. He declined to identify who spoke to him or the job under discussion. Sestak also would not say whether the person who approached him worked for the administration or was an intermediary for the offer.

"I'm not going to say who or how and what was offered," Sestak said in an interview. "I don't feel it's appropriate to go beyond what I said," because the conversation was confidential.
The White House issued an immediate and adamant denial of Sestak's account, but the Congressman stood by his story:
In the face of a White House denial, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak stuck to his story yesterday that the Obama administration offered him a "high-ranking" government post if he would not run against U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary.

A White House official "vociferously" denied his account yesterday as Sestak insisted on national television that he had told the truth, but declined for a second day to divulge details.

"I was asked a direct question . . . and I answered it honestly," Sestak said in a Fox News interview. "There's nothing more to go into."
 Jon Ward at the Daily Caller believes this recent disclosure is further evidence of the waning effectiveness of the Obama political machine:
The big takeaway for most from Sestak’s admission Thursday – he said the White House offered him a high-profile government appointment to move him out of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary – was that it amplified ongoing questions about the potency of the Obama political operation.

“They’ve been very active but the reality is that they’ve been ineffective,” said a Republican political operative, who pointed out that the White House was also unable to persuade Lisa Madigan and Roy Cooper, the attorneys general in Illinois and North Carolina, to enter their respective Senate races.

Doubts about the White House political operation often center on two men: White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and Patrick Gaspard, director of political affairs. There are whispers about both being on the outs, though Emanuel is all but certain to stay on until after the State of the Union address next January. Gaspard’s future is less clear.

Perhaps nowhere has the White House had more trouble than in New York, where Gaspard has been unable to utilize his connections in the state to get former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford Jr. to stand down from a possible challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and where earlier in the year Gaspard by most accounts mishandled an attempt to persuade Gov. David Paterson to drop the idea of running for reelection.
It was bad enough for Obama that Sestak rejected the quid pro quo.  But to blab it to the Larry Kane Show and stand by the story after an administration denial illustrate that the President has truly lost control of his party.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thwap! Andy McCarthy defends Courting Disaster author Theissen

John Hinderaker follows Andy McCarthy v. Mike Potemra at the Corner:
Marc Thiessen, author of Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack, has been denounced by any number of ill-informed liberals. But when Mike Potemra went after Thiessen at The Corner--plainly without having read Marc's book--Andy McCarthy swung into action. There is a certain aesthetic pleasure in reading a refutation this powerful, thorough and relentless. If you're ever under attack, you should hope that Andy McCarthy has your back.
Here's a sample of Potemra's insipid, lazy excuse for analysis:
The question has been raised, Was it appropriate for a Catholic TV network to provide a platform for a torture advocate? In my view, the answer is yes. Marc Thiessen, who appeared on Raymond Arroyo’s TV show The World Over, defends the practices of the past decade because he believes that these practices are necessary to defend innocent lives. Not having followed his work in detail, I have no reason to believe that he is acting in bad faith. He was a government official with some knowledge of the issue. His conscience tells him that there is a moral necessity to disregard the Catholic Catechism in this particular case — and, as Newman reminded us, conscience has sacred claims. Furthermore, if the polls are to be trusted, he speaks not only for the majority of Americans but for the majority of American Catholics. His is, therefore, a view that it would be unwise to omit from the discussion. The fault was not in giving Marc a platform; the fault, if any, was in not having a guest who defended the official teaching, and thus perhaps leaving a misimpression of what the official teaching is.
And here is a sample of McCarthy's response:
And as too often happens in discussions of "torture," your concerns about morality are entirely one-sided. Officers of the executive branch have a solemn obligation to protect the American people. It is their highest responsibility. They are not good Samaritans. If there is a serious threat of a mass-murder attack, they are obligated to take all reasonable steps to stop it — and what is reasonable depends on the circumstances and the exigency. It is immoral to assume that obligation and then fail to carry it out. Unlike your angry fellow parishioners, these officials don't get to be detached Monday morning quarterbacks. You condemn them for acting, but they will be just as vigorously condemned for failing to act if a preventable catastrophe happens.

What exactly did the CIA do that you think was "torture"?
Hinderaker at Powerline concludes succinctly:
Andy is, by the way, the subject of a reasonably fair profile in the New York Times. The article includes this quote:

In June 1998, the office secretly indicted Osama bin Laden. Three months later, Al Qaeda blew up the two embassies.

"I mean, we could go into the grand jury and indict him three times a week," Mr. McCarthy said. "But to do anything about it, you needed the Marines. You didn't need us."