http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/mar/25/gas-up-1-on-obamas-watch/Gas prices have risen $1 since just after President Obama took office in January 2009 and are now closing in on the $3 mark, prompting an evaluation of the administration's energy record and calls for the White House to open more U.S. land for oil exploration.The average price per gallon across the U.S. hit $2.81 this week, according to the Energy Information Administration. That was up from $1.81 the week of Jan. 26, 2009, just after the [President's] inauguration...Gas prices have been on a roller-coaster ride over the past decade, dropping to near $1 after President George W. Bush's first year in office, crossing the $2 mark in 2005 and reaching $4 in June 2008 before Congress and Mr. Bush took action, lifting presidential and congressionally imposed moratoriums on expanding offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.Mr. Bush lifted the presidential moratorium in July that year. The congressional moratorium expired Sept. 30, and prices fell precipitously, dropping more than $1 in October."The reason that it dropped is because the U.S. sent a signal to the markets, by dropping the moratoria, that we're going to drill on our lands. Obviously, we never followed up, and thus you see the crisis gradually rising," said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the ranking Republican on the Natural Resources Committee.He said the solution is the same for both the short-term and long-term prices: Assure the markets that the U.S. will pursue domestic exploration. Daniel Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, an industry-backed think tank, said the administration also could open access to more U.S. resources, either on land or on the Outer Continental Shelf."There's been no breakthrough on any kind of expanded access in the U.S. - in fact, it's been just the opposite," he said. "[Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar has basically put on the shelf any expanded drilling. That whole 'drill, baby, drill' thing from 2008, the president lifting his moratorium, the Congress lifting the moratorium in the appropriations bill, none of that has come to fruition." [P]roduction of energy on federally leased lands, both onshore and offshore, grew 14% in 2009. The administration projects offshore oil production on the Outer Continental Shelf will grow by 20% next year. But Mr. Kish said that increase was not a result of Obama administration policies but because of [the past Republican] Congress, which in 2006 ordered that a large Gulf lease proceed. That finally happened last year.Subtracting that, Mr. Kish said, Mr. Obama offered fewer acres for lease in fiscal 2009 than any other president in the past 20 years.
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aVYxPZ56vjysMore than half of U.S. borrowers who received loan modifications on delinquent mortgages defaulted again after nine months, according to a federal report. * BIG FRIGG'N SURPRISE, HUH? (*SNORT*)About 24% of properties with a mortgage were underwater in the fourth quarter...* BIG FRIGG'N DEAL! SUCK IT UP! ALL THAT SHOULD MATTER IS ABILITY TO FULFILL THE MORTGAGE TERMS!The number of homes with mortgage payments at least 60 days late climbed 2.39 million in the fourth quarter, up 13.1% from the prior three months and 49.6% from the year earlier period, the quarterly Mortgage Metrics report said. About 4.5 million foreclosures filings are expected in 2010, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based seller of default data. A government watchdog report released today criticized the government’s main foreclosure prevention effort, the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, for “spreading out the foreclosure crisis” over several years by failing to help enough troubled borrowers. “The program will not be a long-term success if large amounts of borrowers simply re-default and end up facing foreclosure anyway,” said the report by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, prepared for a Congressional hearing today. * DUH...!!!Assistant Treasury Secretary Herb Allison defended the program..* OF COURSE HE DID... (*THROWING MY HANDS UP IN THE AIR*)Modified loans in the portfolio of banks - as opposed to loans owned by investors or government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - had the best record of avoiding re-default, the Mortgage Metrics report said. * WELL... DUH...!!!The HAMP (i.e. government] program requires lenders to follow a path of concessions to modify loans, beginning with interest rate reductions, extended loan terms and principal forebearance. * WHICH ITSELF STRIKES ME AS AMOUNTING TO AN UNCONSTITUTIONAL "TAKING." USING "THE LAW" TO VIOLATE "THE RULE OF LAW" (i.e. Contract Law) IS NOT THE AMERICAN WAY. WELCOME TO THE AGE OF OBAMA, FOLKS...
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704094104575143993972959932.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLETopOpinionCongressional leaders apparently not only made quid pro quos with congressmen who voted for ObamaCare, but also with congressional staff who crafted the legislation.A key loophole is how the bill defines "congressional staff" as "employees employed by the official office of a member of Congress, whether in the district office or in Washington." That phrase has been interpreted by the Congressional Research Service to exclude various professional staff and those working for leadership offices - the very staffers who wrote the bill.In the name of solidarity with the voting public, legislators required themselves and their office staffs to join the bill's newly created state insurance exchanges. But the loophole exempts high-level leadership and committee staffers. For example, staffers who work in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's Nevada Senate office would be required to join. Those who work under him as Senate Majority Leader would not. In their own cases at least, key staffers obviously were prepared to make sure President Obama kept his promise that those happy with their current coverage can keep it.Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who has led the charge in publicizing what he calls a double standard, says: "The message to grassroots America is that it's good enough for you, but not for us."Democrats call the loophole unintentional, but both Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and Mr. Grassley say they tried to close it last year but were stymied by Mr. Reid. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz told Politico.com: "Obviously staffers are anxious about it. The whole bill is full of loopholes, it's such a mess."And what does it say about ObamaCare that the warriors on the frontline in writing and passing it wanted no part of it?
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703775504575135824235686024.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_AboveLEFTTopPresident Obama and Congressional Democrats have been criticized for being antibusiness. But Washington is about to bestow a huge gift upon one particular type of business - the type that doesn't pay taxes.On the heels of recent changes in the law that discourage private loans to students, the new ["healthcare reform"] reconciliation bill includes a ban on private companies originating federally guaranteed loans. All such loans will now come directly from the U.S. Department of Education.* PERSONALLY... I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY "FEDERALLY GUARANTEED LOANS" ARE NECESSARY IN THE FIRST PLACE. WHEN I WENT TO COLLEGE MY PARENTS CO-SIGNED MY LOANS. WHEN MY DAUGHTER WENT TO COLLEGE MY WIFE AND I CO-SIGNED HER LOANS. WHY SHOULD THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT BE INVOLVED AT ALL...???Part of this reconciliation fairy tale is that cutting out the private-lender middlemen will save billions every year as students borrow directly from the feds. But while Democrats are eliminating a revenue stream at for-profit companies, they are simultaneously creating another one for a handful of favored nonprofit companies.Currently, for loans that the government makes directly to students, the Department of Education conducts competitive bidding and hires private companies to service the loans. But in the pending bill, several dozen nonprofit firms will be eligible to receive no-bid servicing contracts on up to 100,000 student accounts for each firm.Which nonprofit organizations will qualify? California's ALL Student Loan looks to be a big winner, thanks to language written by Representative George Miller of California. ALL Student Loan may have helped its cause by retaining the services of Vincent Reusing, a lobbyist whom the Chronicle of Higher Education has described as a "personal friend" of Mr. Miller."The person that any lender chooses to be their lobbyist is irrelevant to Chairman Miller," says Rachel Racusen, a spokesman for Mr. Miller. She adds, "Under this legislation, nonprofit lenders will be required to meet the same high-quality servicing standards as for-profit lenders, including measures of borrower satisfaction." (*SNORT*) (*RUEFUL LAUGH*) (*SMIRK*)Mr. Reusing has been very friendly to more than one left-leaning politician over the years. According to OpenSecrets.org, Mr. Reusing has contributed more than $80,000 to various Democratic campaigns, including Mr. Miller's.The nonprofit companies set to benefit from this reconciliation earmark clearly enjoy broad support in the Democratic caucus. And you thought Democrats didn't like business.(*MIRTHLESS CHUCKLE*)
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703312504575141861671228600.html. The Democrats are now the party of the state. The 20th century hybrid version of the Democratic Party, which included private-sector industrial unions and Wall Street liberals, is being abandoned by its leadership as unwanted and increasingly unnecessary.Richard Trumka, the former head of the mine workers' union who now runs the AFL-CIO, had to get an 11th hour White-House reprieve from his own party's desire to get financing for their legislation by taxing many of his largely private-sector union members' Rolls-Royce insurance plans. Time was, the party existed to protect those private unions; now it's optional. To make up for not being able to expropriate health-care cash until 2018 from the remnants of the old industrial unions, the Democrats conjured a 3.8% "Medicare tax" on higher-bracket investment income. Democrats and Mr. Obama defended the investment taxes as "fair-share" social justice. Much of Wall Street has been notable for its private philanthropy across an array of liberal and cultural causes, but now "giving back" means a pipeline hooked straight into the federal budget. Congressional staff will decide who gets what.Liberals in the private sector have to come to grips with the fact that what they do for a living is an abstraction to the people they are sending to Washington. Nobody at the top of the party is much interested in them anymore. House and Senate Democrats hammered insurance, pharma and medical-device makers with taxes and intimidation. It wasn't just politics. It was belief. With this bill, the party made the transition from market unionism to Alinskyism, from a politics tempered by the marketplace to one that milks the marketplace. * IN PLAIN ENGLISH: YES... OBAMA IS A SOCIALIST. HE'S NOT A COMMUNIST. BUT HE'S DEFINITELY MORE OF A "DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST" IN THE WESTERN EUROPEAN TRADITION THAN A BOOSTER OF TRADITIONAL AMERICAN CAPITALISM IN THEORY OR PRACTICE. YES... NANCY PELOSI IS A LEFTIST. YES... IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS THE LEFT NOW CONTROLS THE SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/25/business/economy/25social.html?hpThis year, the [Social Security] system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes...* REGULAR READERS OF BARKER'S NEWSBITES (AND OTHER EDUCATED PEOPLE) ALREADY KNOW THIS - BUT I'LL KEEP POUNDING HOME THE TRUTH. BOTTOM LINE, I'D GUARANTEE THE AVERAGE AMERICAN IS OBLIVIOUS TO THE FACT THAT SOCIAL SECURITY HAS FLIPPED UPSIDE DOWN YEARS BEFORE THIS WAS FORCAST BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO HAPPEN.Social Security’s annual report last year projected revenue would more than cover payouts until at least 2016 because economists expected a quicker, stronger recovery from the crisis. Officials foresaw an average unemployment rate of 8.2% in 2009 and 8.8% this year, though unemployment is hovering at nearly 10%.(*SMIRK*)* SO, FOLKS... HOW CONFIDENT IS EVEN THE MOST LIBERAL AMONG YOU THAT THE DEMOCRATS ROSY SCENARIOS CONCERNING OBAMACARE WILL COME TO PASS? (JUST CURIOUS...)Although Social Security is often said to have a “trust fund,” the term really serves as an accounting device, to track the pay-as-you-go program’s revenue and outlays over time. Its so-called balance is, in fact, a history of its vast cash flows: the sum of all of its revenue in the past, minus all of its outlays. The balance is currently about $2.5 trillion because after the early 1980s the program had surplus revenue, year after year. * IN ENGLISH: THERE IS NO "TRUST FUND." THE SURPLUSES OF PAST YEARS WERE LONG AGO STOL... er... SPENT BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WITH IOU'S PUT IN THE "LOCK BOX" THAT CAN ONLY BE PAID OFF BY EXCESS GOVERNMENT REVENUE - i.e. BUDGET SURPLUSES. AGAIN... TO THE MOST LIBERAL PERSON READING THIS... GIVE US YOUR BEST GUESS OF WHEN OVERALL GOVERNMENT SURPLUSES WILL RETURN. (*SMIRK*)* ONE MORE TIME, KIDS... (*DEEP BREATH*)... SOCIAL SECURITY IS A PONZI SCHEME. SOONER OR LATER THEY'LL BE THAT "LAST STRAW" THAT BREAKS THE CAMEL'S BACK.
http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local-beat/Judge-Strikes-Down-Farmers-Branch-Rental-Ordinance-89047722.htmlA federal judge has ruled that a Farmers Branch ordinance banning illegal immigrants from renting apartments is unconstitutional.* THE JUDGE'S RULING IS CLEARLY THE ACTION THAT VIOLATES THE CONSTITUTION. HE SHOULD BE IMPEACHED AND REMOVED FROM THE BENCH.U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle of Dallas ruled Wednesday that the ordinance was an attempt to enforce U.S. immigration laws, something only the federal government can do.* NONSENSE. FOLLOWING THAT LOGIC STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS COULDN'T BE PART OF "THE WAR ON DRUGS" BECAUSE ONCE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CREATES LAWS CONCERNING ILLEGAL NARCOTICS AND OTHER DRUGS THE STATES WOULD HAVE NO INDEPENDENT AUTHORITY TO DO THE SAME. ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!"Ordinance 2952 is a regulation of immigration and is preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution because the authority to regulate immigration is exclusively a federal power," she wrote.The ordinance established a licensing system for renters in Farmers Branch. Renters would be required to pay a $5 fee and obtain a residential occupancy license issued by the city's building inspector. Under the system, the building inspector would verify a renter's immigration status with federal officials if the renter did not declare him or herself a citizen or national of the United States. The city would revoke the licenses of people the federal government said were in the country illegally.* SOUNDS LIKE A FIND ORDINANCE TO ME! The city has for years been trying to enforce bans on landlords renting to illegal immigrants. Federal courts have also struck down other versions of the ordinance.* CITY GOOD. FEDERAL COURTS BAD. (*WINK*)
http://blog.heritage.org/2010/03/23/school-choice-chicago-style-arne-duncans-list-of-the-rich-and-powerful/U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, while serving as Chicago Public Schools chief, maintained a list of special requests from politically connected individuals for children to attend the city’s best schools. According to the [Chicago] Tribune. "Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. … The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun."Duncan’s role comes amid growing concerns in the District of Columbia over the fate of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a signature school choice initiative that benefits low-income families. As education secretary, Duncan has overseen the dismantling of the program, which the Obama Administration has essentially left to die [thanks to] strident opposition from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and teacher unions.[D]espite appeals from D.C. parents last August, Duncan withdrew the scholarships of 216 students who had been admitted to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Those students are attending lower-performing schools as a result.The irony, of course, is that Duncan himself attended the exclusive University of Chicago Lab Schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.One has to wonder: What does Arne Duncan have against low-income students who, for the first time in decades, have found an effective education in the District of Columbia? Shouldn’t these students have the same opportunities as the rich and powerful who appealed to him for help in Chicago?* FURTHER LOCAL CHICAGO MEDIA NEWS REPORTING CAN BE FOUND AT http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/03/duncans-staff-kept-list-of-politicians-school-requests.html and http://www.suntimes.com/news/education/2116854,cps-duncan-list-political-school-requests-032210.article
http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=528328While U.S. politicians try to keep the idea alive here, the French have announced cancellation of their version of cap-and-trade. They say it will hurt their competitiveness. When the new tax was first approved by parliament last year, President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed it as a vital weapon against global warming. But it was struck down by France's highest court just 48 hours before it was due to come into effect.The Constitutional Council said there were too many exemptions for certain industries in the tax plan, and that a minority of consumers would bear the burden. The French too, it seems, like to pick industrial winners and losers.While France embraces economic reality, the lemmings on this side of the pond are still headed for the economic and environmental cliff. "In the wake of health care's passage, we have a strong case to make that this can be the next breakthrough legislative fight," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said in a prepared statement.Kerry et al. figure that with health care reform rammed down our throats against our wishes, the time is right, before the wrath of the governed who no longer consent is felt in November, to also ram cap-and-trade down our throats.Twenty-two Democratic senators who have signed a letter calling for climate legislation within the year said Monday that White House officials can now "pour their energy and attention" into the issue.Working with Kerry is Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who told reporters Monday that he was "still committed to trying to roll out a vision of how you can price carbon and make it business-friendly. We're still going to do that."(*HEADACHE*)Nick Loris at the Heritage Foundation reports that a Center for Data Analysis study on the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill found that net job losses (after green-job creation) would approach 1.9 million in 2012 and could reach 2.5 million by 2035, with manufacturing accounting for 1.4 million of them.Loris notes that Spain spends about $8 billion a year on green energy subsidies, which Kerry and the Obama administration would call "investments." Spain's experience is that 2.2 jobs are lost for every green job created because the push for green energy siphons off resources and commitment from genuinely productive sectors of the economy. The French noticed. Will we learn from the mistakes of others?The American people have said loud and clear that they want more jobs, not more government in a command-and-control economy. ObamaCare was a bitter pill to swallow. Now, if the Democratic Congress insists on piling on carbon taxes and cap-and-trade..(*SIGH*) (*HEADACHE GETTING WORSE*)
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704094104575143470540689834.html?mod=WSJ_hps_LEFTWhatsNewsThe Labor Department said in its weekly report Thursday that initial claims for jobless benefits [totaled] 442,000 in the week ended Mar. 20. The previous week's level was revised to 456,000 from 457,000.* HMM... SO IN PLAIN ENGLISH - IF MY MATH SKILLS ARE CORRECT - OVER THE PAST TWO WEEKS EIGHT HUNDRED AND NINETY-EIGHT THOUSAND (898,000) AMERICANS FILED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT. AND THE MEDIA IS PORTRAYING THIS AS "GOOD NEWS...???" THE MEDIA IS PORTRAYING THIS AS A SIGN THE ECONOMY IS REBOUNDING...??? * HEY... IF YOUR JUGULAR VEIN GETS SLASHED AT FIRST YOU BLEED ALL OVER THE PLACE BUT AS YOU'RE DYING - FROM LOSS OF BLOOD - THE FLOW GETS WEAKER AND WEAKER UNTIL YOU DIE - RIGHT?(*SMIRK*)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/25/AR2010032502426.html?wpisrc=nl_natlalertThe Obama administration plans to overhaul how it is tackling the foreclosure crisis, in part by requiring lenders to temporarily slash or eliminate monthly mortgage payments for many borrowers who are unemployed, senior officials said Thursday. * BLATANTLY UNCONSTITUTION. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS NO SUCH AUTHORITY TO DO ANY SUCH THING. THE ONLY POSSIBLE WAY SUCH A DICTATE COULD PASS CONSTITUTIONAL MUSTER WOULD BE IF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PAID THE OWED AMOUNTS - LIVED UP TO THE ORIGINAL CONTRACT TERMS - ON BEHALF OF THE BORROWER.Banks and other lenders would have to reduce the payments to no more than 31% of a borrower's income, which would typically be the amount of unemployment insurance, for three to six months. In some cases, administration officials said, a lender could allow a borrower to skip payments altogether.* AGAIN... THIS WOULD BE BLATANTLY UNCONSTITUTIONAL; THIS WOULD BE THEFT.The new push, which the White House is scheduled to announce Friday...* WE'LL SEE.Those who are still current on their mortgages could get the chance to refinance on better terms into loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. * THIS THE GOVERNMENT HAS THE POWER TO DO. WHAT THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T HAVE THE POWER TO DO IS BREAK LAWFUL CONTRACTS BY UNILATERAL FIAT.
http://article.nationalreview.com/429256/bond-rates-and-obamacare-/michael-baroneNot many people noticed amid the Democrats’ struggle to jam their health-care bill through the House, but in recent weeks U.S. Treasury bonds have lost their status as the world’s safest investment.The numbers are pretty clear. In February, Bloomberg News reports, Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds with an interest rate lower than that on two-year Treasuries. A company run by a 79-year-old investor is a better credit risk, the markets are telling us, than the U.S. government.Warren Buffett’s firm isn’t the only one. Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Lowe’s have been borrowing money at cheaper rates than Uncle Sam.Moody’s declared last week that the Treasury is “substantially” closer to losing its AAA bond rating. It’s not only the federal government that is heading toward insolvency. State governments will have to spend more under the health-care bill — $735 million in Tennessee alone, according to Democratic governor Phil Bredesen.And state governments are already facing a huge problem called pensions. The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that state-government pensions are underfunded by $450 billion. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Andrew Biggs argues in the Wall Street Journal that the real figure is over $3 trillion.The reason: State governments set aside cash to invest in pensions, but they typically assume that their investments will rise 8 percent a year indefinitely. They haven’t been getting such high returns and are not likely to do so in the future. But they are under legal obligations, which courts won’t allow them to escape, to pay the pensions. Retirees get paid off before bondholders, which means that states are going to have to pay more interest when they borrow.* UNTIL THAT IS THEY CAN'T BORROW ANY MORE... THEY DEFAULT... AND NEITHER RETIREES NOR BONDHOLDERS GET PAID.
http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=528482The troubled Kansas City school district is closing almost half its schools. But the media can't quite figure out why. Maybe it's because the reason doesn't fit the left-wing narrative.[T]he real reason why the Kansas City system has fallen into decay: the 1985 case in which a federal district judge seized partial control of the district because he felt it was unconstitutionally segregated.In Missouri v. Jenkins, District Court Judge Russell Clark ordered the state and the system to spend almost $2 billion over the next 12 years to desegregate the schools.Clark, described by some as a man of noble intentions held hostage by an impossible situation, directed every high school and middle school, and half the elementary schools, to be magnet schools.His money stream allowed the district to go on a building binge. Among other major facilities projects, a new high school was built with an Olympic-size pool, indoor track, racquetball courts and a gymnastics center.The goal was to draw white students back into the district. It was never about improving education for the black kids already there.Part of the $2 billion was paid by the state. Another portion was paid by the district, which, according to the Claremont Institute, doubled "property taxes to pay this huge bill" and "imposed an income tax surcharge on everyone who lived or worked in the city."A Cato Institute report said Clark ordered the doubling of property tax and later required another increase of nearly 25%.Despite some early success, the decline of the system continued as student achievement kept falling. By the late 1990s, the district was spending taxpayers' money at the rate of nearly $12,000 per pupil — more, "on a cost of living adjusted basis," said a 1998 Cato Institute report, "than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country."But the spending couldn't stop the state from suspending the district's accreditation in 1999, in part due to the schools' poor academic performance. Full accreditation has yet to be reinstated.Rather than foster a smooth integration, the judge's order inflamed racial wounds that had lingered for decades.Across one nine-year period, the district went through 10 superintendents because its board, riven by racial politics, grew more acrimonious and disorderly as factions fought bitterly for the bounty of funds. As the dollars poured in, the bureaucracy swelled.It acted incompetently, inappropriately, and, in some cases, criminally. The system, literally, could not make the buses run on time in the first years that Clark was de facto superintendent."Families of all races sought other options. They moved to the suburbs, or turned to charter schools, or sought refuge in private and parochial schools," Kansas City Star columnist Barb Shelly wrote earlier this month.Not that the system wasn't in trouble before the judge's involvement. It was.But the court's meddling made matters worse. The lesson that should have been learned is that the judiciary is no place to make policy. The media, though, can't get its mind around that idea, even though it's been around since before our Republic was founded.
http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/new/blogs/bacevich/The_Cakewalk_Seven_Years_OnRemember Iraq? Most Americans are doing their darnedest to forget the invasion and occupation that began seven years ago this past week. Iraq has become our new “forgotten war.” It wrests that title from Afghanistan, which had languished for years as George W. Bush’s “forgotten war,” until rediscovered and revived by Barack Obama. Such are the ironies of history.Here, according to a just-published study completed for the Air Force by the RAND Corporation, is what we got for our trillion or so dollars. (And, yes, the meter is still running.)1). The regional balance of power has tilted in favor of Iran, “creating the impression among Arab publics that Iran–and by extension Shi’ism–was now the ‘winning’ side.”2). With a series of blunders having raised doubts about U.S. competence and capabilities, Arab nations are increasingly looking to Russia and China for patronage, protection, and support.3). Rather than advancing the cause of democracy, “the war has stalled or reversed the momentum of Arab political reform”; in countries throughout the Middle East, counterterrorism has provided a pretext to suppress movements supporting liberalism and adherence to the rule of law.4). The two million Iraqis who fled their country to escape war–according to RAND, “the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War”–threaten to destabilize neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria; Iraqi refugee camps serve as incubators for prostitution, female trafficking, and political radicalism.5). Tactics and techniques developed to fight the Americans in Iraq have found their way to groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, so that the long conflict in Iraq has enhanced insurgent capabilities across the region. Good news out of all this? The wonks at RAND couldn’t find any.* I HOPE THAT EITHER THE AUTHOR OF THIS PIECE HAS MISREPRESENTED WHAT THE RAND REPORT ACTUALLY SAYS, OR, THAT IF THIS IS AN ACCURATE SUMMATION OF RAND'S CONCLUSIONS... LET'S HOPE RAND IS WRONG.* THE ACTUAL RAND REPORT REFERRED TO HERE IS 217 PAGES LONG AND CAN BE FOUND AT http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG892.pdf
* TWO-PARTER... (Part 1 of 2)http://www.europac.net/externalframeset.asp?from=home&id=18374&type=schiffIn his latest weekly New York Times column, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman put forward arguments that were so nonsensical that the award committee should ask for its medal back. According to Krugman, our secret weapon of economic invincibility is the Fed's ability to print dollars endlessly. If China were to foolishly decide to attack us by selling our debt, the Fed could simply step in and buy the excess with newly printed greenbacks. In other words, Krugman sees no difference between funding the debt and monetizing it. For Krugman, China would gain little from such an attack, but would lose the ability to export to its best customer and suffer severe losses in the value of its dollar holdings. Krugman's worldview is reassuring - but it has absolutely nothing to do with reality.There is a huge difference between selling your debt to another and "selling" it to yourself. When China buys our debt, it uses its own savings. In order to purchase a trillion dollars of U.S. Treasuries, the Fed would have to expand our money supply by a corresponding amount. Even Krugman acknowledges that this would cause the dollar to lose value; however, he feels that a weaker dollar is good for America and bad for China.Krugman does not believe that a tanking dollar will translate into higher interest rates or higher consumer prices at home. No matter how many dollars the Fed creates, or how much value those dollars lose relative to other currencies, he is confident that as long as unemployment remains high, rates will stay low and inflation will remain under control. This is absurd.If the dollar were to nosedive, the Fed would normally look to protect the currency by raising interest rates, thereby increasing foreign demand for the currency. But with an economy currently on crutches, the Fed will ignore a weakening dollar and continue to try to boost employment with near-zero rates.But keeping the Fed Funds rate low only holds rates down for U.S. government debt. If the dollar weakens substantially, other rates offered to other borrowers will rise as investors demand greater returns to compensate for inflation. To keep rates low for homeowners, credit card borrowers, corporations, municipalities, and state governments, the Fed would be forced to buy, or guarantee, all forms of dollar-denominated debt. The Fed would become the lender of only resort.Once the Fed shows that its commitment to low rates is limitless (the value of the dollar be damned), private creditors will quit the game. Even average Americans would hit the Fed's bid. It would be a race for the exits, with no one wanting to be left holding a bag of worthless paper dollars.* TO BE CONTINUED...
* CONTINUING... (Part 2 of 2)Most economists, Krugman included, see cheap money as a panacea for all ills. And while it's true that a falling dollar, by lowering the real value of U.S. wages, would help make U.S. goods more competitive, it would also lead to skyrocketing consumer prices, rapidly rising interest rates, and a collapse in American living standards. Make no mistake: this is the end game of Krugman's "get tough on China" policy.Given exploding U.S. government deficits and the inability of U.S. citizens and corporations to repair their balance sheets, the United States faces financing needs that even China's gargantuan savings stockpile will be unable to cover.Krugman is right about one thing - China's currency peg is destabilizing the global economy and must end. But he fails utterly to understand the implications for the U.S. and China. If China were to reverse its role in the U.S. Treasury market, both economies would be destabilized in the short-term. But in the medium- and long-term, China would clearly emerge as the winner.Absent Treasury-bond purchases, the value of the Chinese currency would rise sharply, causing goods prices to tumble in China. This long-delayed increase in purchasing power for everyday Chinese will unleash pent-up demand in what is already the largest middle class in the world. Chinese factories would retool in order to produce goods for their own citizens to consume. In RMB terms, commodity prices would plunge, making it easier for China to produce all kinds of stuff, such as automobiles, while also making it cheaper for the Chinese to buy gas. Millions will trade in bikes for cars, and Chinese oil imports will swell.The opposite would occur in America, where an artificial, consumer-based economy, supported by Chinese lending, will come tumbling down. Without the ability to import cheap goods from overseas, Americans will pay more and get less. While gas and food become cheaper for the Chinese, they will simultaneously become much more expensive for Americans - so too will automobiles, consumer electronics, furniture, and just about every other product we want or need (even those few we still make ourselves).Washington's best option is to recognize that the current relationship is unsustainable and to plan, as best as possible, for a more viable future. We Americans also must be honest with ourselves and recognize that we have been living beyond our means and that our lifestyle has been largely financed by austerity in China. We must conceive of a plan that weans us from this dependence without provoking China to pull the rug out from under us before we have a firm footing. To construct a policy around Krugman's ridiculous assumption that we benefit China more than they benefit us is to invite catastrophe on an unimaginable scale.
http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/03/more-foreclosures-please/It may sound counter-intuitive, but the best thing for the nation (but not necessarily the banks) is to allow the foreclosure process to proceed unimpeded. We need more, not less foreclosures.* I STRONGLY URGE YOU TO CLICK THE LINK AND READ THE ARTICLE. We should allow the real estate market to experience a healthy price normalization process. Even though home prices have fallen dramatically, they have yet to reach their historical means relative to income or the cost of renting. This is to say nothing of the usual careening past the median towards under-valuation that typically follows a massive mis-allocation of capital.Foreclosures, wrenching thought hey may be, move over-stretched families into housing they can afford. They avoid a steady stream of all manner of excess fees. The banks squeeze whatever they can from delinquent homeowners, who end up futilely tossing $1000s of dollars down the drain.Worse, the HAMP programs have been totally ineffective in keeping families in their homes. The vast majority ultimately default anyway. More fees paid, more debt accrued, for nothing. The last thing these families need is a banking fee orgy, before they ultimate lose the house anyway.The HAMP programs have been an enormous taxpayer subsidized boondoggle for the banks, however.The boom and bust saw irresponsible and reckless behavior by lenders and home buyers alike. They overused leverage, disregarded risk, ignored history. Having the taxpayers subsidize this behavior presents a moral hazard.Worse than that, it punishes the people who behaved prudent and responsibly. Those who refused to buy a home they could not afford, chose not to over-extend themselves, and have been saving for a down payment are the net losers in this.By working so feverishly to artificially reduce foreclosures and prop up home prices, we punish the first time home buyer, the newlyweds, the savers who want to buy a house they can actually afford.The net result of all these programs and subsidies for recklessness is that we prevent home prices from normalizing. The people who are punished the most are the group that was not reckless, speculative or foolish.The mortgage mods and foreclosure abatement programs are really all about propping up insolvent banking institutions on the taxpayer dollar and at the expense of the middle class. These programs are another losing round of helping Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. It is the worst kind of trickle down economics.Herbert Spencer wrote, “The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.” We have done precisely that.
http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/03/24/steve-forbes-venezuela-hugo-chavez-media-robert-mcchesney-free-press/Think things are going from bad to worse in Venezuela as Chavez continues to crackdown on his critics? Wait till you hear about plans for "media reform" in the U.S. by Chavez supporter and Free Press founder Robert McChesney. Many of Chavez’s most ardent supporters here in the U.S. come out of the “media reform” movement, which believes that our corporate media has been thoroughly co-opted by capitalists bent on destroying the benevolent leadership of the likes of Chavez. They think that our capitalist-plagued media world is in dire need of reform.The chief proponent of this thinking – which amounts to an unprecedented government intrusion into our own country’s media -- is Professor Robert McChesney, founder of the Orwellian-named Free Press, one of the most influential organizations in the growing “media reform” movement on the far-left.Free Press’ curious stance on media reform can best be summed up by McChesney who suggests that, “Any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself."All of this could be ignored as the comical rantings of a loony leftist professor safely ensconced in the tenured halls of academia, were it not for Free Press’ astonishing -- and growing -- influence on policymaking within the current administration and Congress.As hard as it may be to believe, McChesney and his indefatigable band of media revolutionaries are being taken seriously by some policymakers in Washington. They are granted regular audiences with those overseeing our nation’s media policy at the FCC and FTC, and meeting regularly with members of Congress.Their latest plan to defacto nationalize the media calls for the federal government to bail out newspapers with $60 billion in new government subsidies. As anyone familiar with Washington knows, money does not come free: Such subsidies will virtually invite the government into the fourth estate as overseers. In full-throated defense of Mr. Chavez in 2007, McChesney laments Western media’s skewed portrayal of theVenezuelan regime.“Regrettably,” he notes, “U.S. media coverage of Venezuela…says more about the deficiencies of our own news media than it does about Venezuela. It demonstrates again…how our news media are far too willing to carry water for Washington than to ascertain and report the truth of the matter.”And according to McChesney, the truth of the matter is that everything’s fine with Chavez. In Venezuela, McChesney notes, “aggressive, unqualified political dissent is alive and well in the Venezuelan mainstream media, in a manner few other democratic nations have ever known, including our own.” “1984” author George Orwell, if he were alive, would have used such a quote in a sequel.
http://www.newsweek.com/id/235385/page/1A U.N. report released last week paints a damning portrait of the World Food Programme's operations there: an estimated 50% of food delivered by the U.N. agency is essentially being stolen - not only by the WFP's own personnel and contractors, but also Somalia's armed militias, some of whom are radical Islamists.Somalia is not the first crisis for the agency. These new allegations join a series of recent missteps there that have brought its contracting and operations under scrutiny for its role in aid missions around the world, from North Korea to the Horn of Africa.The ugliest revelations are in the report's details. Three Somali businessmen won about 80% of the agency's $200 million in transport contracts last year, in what is described as a 12-year-old "de facto cartel." One of them, Abdulqadir Nur "Enow," apparently staged a hijacking of his own trucks in order to sell the food. In another case, the report cites witnesses saying Enow's company sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of food aid in local markets, an outcome made possible by the fact that WFP depended on a local agency run by Enow's wife to verify his deliveries. Meanwhile, a second WFP trucking contractor, Abukar Omar Adaani, used his wealth to finance a rebel militia that launched an offensive in Mogadishu last year against Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government and African Union peacekeepers. Adaani also persuaded the WFP to fund a road officials said was designed to give Islamist insurgents access to an airstrip, according to the report.[T]hese aren't isolated problems. Next door, in Ethiopia (one of the largest recipients of food aid in the world), the WFP has spent millions on contracts with transport companies controlled by the country's increasingly authoritarian ruling party... In the country's eastern, Somali-speaking region, where nearly 2 million people receive food aid overseen by the WFP (along with other aid agencies) and where insurgents have long claimed the Ethiopian government uses food as a weapon, a mere 12% of food reached the people for which it was intended in 2008, according to figures from the U.S. State Department.Meanwhile, for its $1.2 billion, three-year food-relief program in Afghanistan, the WFP's trucking and shipping costs for food were two to three times above commercial rates, according to an analysis by Fox News's George Russell published last month, which noted that less than 40% of the mission's budget was actually for food. Likewise an investigation by Russell last year also found WFP's planned shipping costs to send more than a half billion dollars of food aid to North Korea were inflated—prompting the agency to admit that some of its shipping budget went to companies owned by dictator Kim Jong Il's government.[T]he U.N.'s agencies are notorious for their high administrative costs and the opacity of their spending. A 2008 Brookings paper coauthored by William Easterly, a well-known aid researcher, ranked 39 large aid donors on criteria including transparency, overhead costs, and selectivity of aid spending. The WFP, which received $4 billion in donations last year - including $1.8 billion from the United States - tied for last placethe U.N.'s agencies are notorious for their high administrative costs and the opacity of their spending. A 2008 Brookings paper coauthored by William Easterly, a well-known aid researcher, ranked 39 large aid donors on criteria including transparency, overhead costs, and selectivity of aid spending. The WFP, which received $4 billion in donations last year - including $1.8 billion from the United States - tied for last place...
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