Friday Digest

Digest

Apr. 11, 2008

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS

News from the Swamp: Free trade with Colombia

On the Hill: President George W. Bush has asked Congress to approve a free-trade pact between the United States and Colombia within 90 days, but election-year politics might kill the deal. Throwing a bone to unions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) changed House rules requiring the 90-day timeframe, leaving the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement in limbo. In yet another example of liberal dishonesty, Democrats have collectively decided that they don’t support free trade when the White House is up for grabs. Despite the fact that the proposed trade agreement is a modest one with a country that accounts for less than one percent of total U.S. trade, the Democrat Party is kowtowing to the AFL-CIO, whose 10 million members will help decide the next occupant of the West Wing.

The Democrat presidential candidates have demonstrated that they are especially adept at double-dealing: Hillary Clinton has suddenly changed her position and now opposes free trade, even though the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified on her husband’s watch. In fact, Hillary has gone so far as forcing her campaign strategist to resign when it was revealed that he was lobbying in favor of the Colombian trade agreement. And while Barack Obama supposedly supports free trade, he opposes NAFTA, which makes about as much sense as being “post-racial” while having a pastor like Jeremiah Wright. What’s more, a member of the Obama campaign reportedly told the Canadian government not to worry—Obama wasn’t serious about his criticism of NAFTA.

Failure to pass the Colombian trade pact will not only frustrate one of the few U.S. allies in South America, it will also have a chilling effect on prospective pacts with South Korea and the European Union. But to Democrats, demagoguery is more appealing than good policy.

New & notable legislation

The Senate this week debated a public-lands bill, which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had opened up for amendments. However, when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) offered an amendment to allow firearms in national parks, Reid had a sudden change of heart. The reason is obvious: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both oppose the Second Amendment and Reid—a gun owner himself—is trying to protect the two presidential candidates from another on-the-record vote against guns. Reid is also ignoring the fact that last year, 51 senators wrote a bipartisan letter to the Department of the Interior in favor of lifting the ban on firearms in parks.

The Senate passed the Foreclosure Prevention Act by a vote of 84-12. The bill will dole out taxpayer dollars for pre-foreclosure “counseling” to endangered home-loan borrowers (to the tune of $180 billion), money grants to communities to buy abandoned houses (tab: $4 billion), a $7,000 tax credit for the purchaser of a foreclosed property and a $6-billion tax break for the home-building industry.

The House passed the Safety of Seniors Act this week, a truly critical piece of legislation aimed at reducing the number of elderly people who fall down. The Falls Free Coalition (FFC), a collection of nonprofit groups that back the bill, says the bill calls for “education strategies to raise awareness about elder falls, encourage research to identify at-risk populations, and support demonstration projects aimed at preventing falls among older Americans.” We suppose this bit of silliness is due to the cost to Medicare for these accidents. The FFC estimates that Medicare picks up most of the annual $19-billion tab for medical care for seniors who have fallen. They predict that tab will grow to $44 billion by 2020. The Senate passed its version of the bill in August.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) introduced legislation that would bar the use of federal funds for any project or program named after a sitting Member of Congress.

Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) introduced the “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Act,” which would allow taxpayers to contribute voluntarily above and beyond their tax liability by adding a line on the 1040 form to that effect. “It’s a great injustice that citizens wishing to fulfill their dream of paying more taxes cannot simply check a box on their 1040 form to make a donation,” he said.

Federal employees on a shopping spree

The Government Accountability Office reported this week that federal employees have splurged on the “company credit card” to the tune of $14 billion from 2005 to 2006. Furthermore, 41 percent of those purchases—whether legitimate or questionable—did not follow proper procedures of authorization or third-party signature. The Associated Press reported that the purchases included “Internet dating, tailor-made suits, lingerie [and] lavish dinners,” among other things. One Agriculture Department employee embezzled more than $642,000 by writing convenience checks to her live-in boyfriend. Adding to the purchasing problems was the loss of items: “Out of a sample of purchases totaling $2.7 million,” the AP wrote, “the government could not account for hundreds of laptop computers, iPods and digital cameras worth more than $1.8 million.” Some 300,000 federal employees use these purchase cards payable by taxpayers—remember that when paying taxes next week.

Campaign watch: Drafting Rice?

The Beltway buzz this week surrounding John McCain’s campaign is the question of whether the senator will choose Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. GOP strategist Dan Senor said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Rice “has been actively campaigning” to snag the bottom half of the GOP ticket. As evidence, he pointed to Rice’s appearance at Grover Norquist’s weekly meeting of Washington’s conservative leaders, saying it was “the first time a secretary of state has visited the Wednesday meeting.” He added that John McCain would do well to choose someone “who people instantly say, the second they see that announcement, ‘I get it. That person could be president tomorrow’.” For her part, Rice offered the predictable “not interested” response.

From the Left: Clinton’s top strategist booted

Longtime Clintonista Mark Penn was ousted from Hillary’s foundering presidential campaign this week because of his work in helping the government of Colombia to win congressional approval of a free-trade agreement—the same one Clinton opposes. Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, which owns Penn’s polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, was hired by Colombia last year to win support for a bilateral trade agreement that Democrats roundly despise, like pretty much all trade agreements. Penn, the chief executive of lobbying for Burson-Marsteller, called his work on the trade deal “an error in judgment.” Many Clinton campaign insiders have been trying to push Penn out for months, citing conflict-of-interest issues with his lobbying work. His firm has represented sub-prime disaster Countrywide Financial and the controversial security firm Blackwater, both favorite targets of Clinton in the Senate and on the campaign trail.

Penn’s public departure is just the sort of trouble Clinton can’t afford as she tries to seal up Pennsylvania in the 22 April primary. Union voters who are wary of trade agreements that could potentially cost them jobs have expressed disgust at this episode. Barack Obama has been gathering union endorsements left and right, and the Penn incident will likely continue the swing in his direction. Clinton simply cannot afford to lose Pennsylvania and still be seriously considered as a candidate, but lose she might. Could the end be near? Stay tuned.

The Clinton money machine

Bill and Hillary Clinton finally released their tax forms for the period of 2000-2007 this week, and there were some interesting bits of information to be found. The couple reported an income during that period in excess of $100 million, mostly from speeches, book deals and consulting. Ten percent of that money went to charity. No, scratch that. The Clintons donated $10,256,741 to the Clinton Family Foundation, of which Bill is president, Hillary is secretary/treasurer and Chelsea is director. On top of that, only $2.5 million has been disbursed, with numerous foundation donations made to organizations in towns where Hillary made campaign appearances. What a shocker. In another stunning giveback, the Clinton Birthplace Foundation received $80,000. The Foundation CEO, Gloria Clinton, apparently earned every penny of her $252,000 salary to manage this cash register, er, charitable institution.

This week’s ‘Alpha Jackass’ award

“You know, I got tickled the other day. A lot of the way this whole campaign has been covered has amused me. But there was a lot of fulminating because Hillary, one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated—and immediately apologized for it—what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995 [sic]. Did y’all see all that? Oh, they blew it up.”—Bill Clinton on Hillary’s midmorning speech about landing under “sniper fire” in Bosnia in 1996

Judicial Benchmarks: CA Supreme ruling on guns

The California Supreme Court ruled this week on San Francisco’s voter-approved ban of handguns. The ban never took effect because the National Rifle Association (NRA) sued the city the day after it passed. The Court upheld rulings by lower courts that the ban violated California’s state law regarding the regulation of firearms, though it did not address the Second Amendment as does the DC case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. “Law-abiding citizens are part of the solution, not part of the problem of violent crime,” said Chuck Michel, lawyer for the plaintiffs in the NRA suit. “The authority of local cities to over-regulate firearms is very limited.” By the Second Amendment, we might add.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Warfront with Jihadistan: Petraeus reports

General David Petraeus, top U.S. military commander in Iraq, met with both houses of Congress this week along with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, presenting their assessments of the military and political status in Iraq. While both men were professional in their remarks, as would be expected, the same cannot be said for the grandstanding of preening Demo peahens of Congress, which, sadly, was also expected. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Petraeus said he would recommend a 45-day moratorium on troop withdrawals following the removal in July of the last unit sent as part of President Bush’s troop surge, a strategic move that succeeded in significantly reducing violence and allowing the Iraqi army to secure large areas the country. “Security in Iraq is better than it was when Ambassador Crocker and I reported to you last September,” Petraeus noted, “and it is significantly better than it was 15 months ago when Iraq was on the brink of civil war and the decision was made to deploy additional forces to Iraq.” Fearing an Iraqi backslide and stating the obvious, the General also said, “It clearly is in our national interests to help Iraq prevent the resurgence of al-Qa’ida in the heart of the Arab world.”

Naturally, the general’s testimony was met with derision from the Democrats, who whined that the plan didn’t move fast enough to bring troops home (i.e., surrender). Committee Chairman Carl “I Support the Troops” Levin (D-MI) opened the hearing by saying the recent fighting has cast new doubts on the effectiveness of the surge (that’s the spirit!). The MSM, rather than reporting what the general actually said, was more interested in fawning over the next Commander in Chief, as Senators McCain, Obama, and Clinton all asked questions of the general. Our best military intelligence analysts are still trying to decipher Senator Obama’s message to al-Qa’ida: “Should we be successful in Mosul, should you continue, General, with the effective operations that you’ve been engaged in, assuming that in that narrow military effort we are successful, do we anticipate that there ever comes a time where al-Qa’ida in Iraq could not reconstitute itself?”

Profiles of valor: USA Sgt. Marshall

U.S. Army Sergeant Benjamin Marshall was on a house-clearing mission in Tharthar, Iraq, in July 2006 when he and two fellow soldiers came under enemy fire. The two men on point were Staff Sergeant Christopher Schroeder and Sergeant William Wills. Schroeder was hit with two AK-47 rounds in the surprise attack and along with Wills he took cover in a room of the farmhouse. Marshall and the Iraqi interpreter managed to get out of the house unseen, but Marshall knew his comrades were in trouble without his help. He took up a position in a ramshackle chicken coop nearby in order to direct fire at the al-Qa’ida fighters. His counterattack spared Wills and Schroeder, though Marshall didn’t know for sure as he could only hear gunfire and jihadis chanting. Soon, a Humvee with backup arrived. Marshall shouted an alert to them of the situation, but that gave away his position and he immediately started taking fire. The diversion was just what Marshall hoped for, however, and with the Humvee’s help, he was able to get close to the house and evacuate Wills and Schroeder. In July 2007, Marshall was awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor.

Iranian nuclear centrifuges

International sanctions against Iran seem to be working just as well as they did against pre-war Iraq. On Tuesday, Iran announced the installation of 6,000 additional centrifuges for uranium enrichment despite the UN’s demand that the program be halted. (No word yet on whether the UN’s demand has been escalated to an order.) Iran already has 3,000 centrifuges. Western “experts” downplayed the announcement by saying that it might just be political posturing by Iran, but when it comes to a terrorist sponsor with nuclear weapons, who wants to take that chance? Apparently the French foreign minister, who at first tried to threaten Iran by calling their enrichment program “dangerous,” then backed down when he said that a fourth round of sanctions might be necessary.

Ironically, it was nuclear pioneer Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Iran rejected any possibility for compromise in Tuesday’s announcement, saying that Tehran refused “to play according to the plans of big powers.” Judging by the UN’s reaction so far, we don’t think the crazies in Tehran really have anything to worry about. In any case, Iran will keep pretending that it is sorely vexed by sanctions, both existing and prospective. It isn’t hard to picture Br’er Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad wailing, “Do anything you want, but please, oh please, not more sanctions!”

Our suggestion is to send ex-president Jimmy Carter to Iran for further negotiations. After all, he has some experience dealing with the Iranians, and he will already be in the neighborhood cavorting with Hamas terrorists in Damascus.

BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Income Redistribution: Tax and spend

As Income Redistribution Day (April 15th in common parlance) rolls around again, the government continues reporting more negative economic news. Besides the mortgage mess, the economy shed 80,000 jobs in March, for the third month in a row. The pain has been felt most directly in areas affected by the housing downturn, but it has spread to nearly all sectors of the economy.

Democrats in Congress have been quick to suggest their favorite (read: only) solution: more government involvement. Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are all promoting additional “stimulus” packages, as well as the extension of unemployment benefits. John McCain, to his credit, has avoided the temptation to demagogue and has argued for a focus on job creation by lowering taxes and reducing regulation. His rhetoric, at least, is correct. The best thing the federal government can do is to stay out of the way, enabling free entrepreneurs and investors to drive the creation of jobs and wealth.

The problem with the proposed stimulus packages is that all of that money has to come from somewhere—from corporations, investors and small businesses—precisely those we depend upon for the creation of new jobs. Naturally, those same Democrats who favor more government aid also oppose the renewal of Bush’s 2001 tax cuts. But if an injection of money into the private sector serves to stimulate the economy (a la the Democrats’ beloved stimulus packages), then surely the removal of that very same money must depress the economy. We would be far better off if the feds would just leave the economy alone. Unfortunately, the tax increases we will see next year as a result of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts promise to be a far greater catastrophe for the economy than the recent mortgage brouhaha.

Obama’s capital gains plan

In a recent interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Barack Obama disclosed another facet of his economic plan for America. Not surprisingly, it involved higher taxes. Even less surprising, it involved higher taxes on capital gains. In a statement stunning for its denial (or ignorance) of economic reality, Obama claimed that raising the capital gains tax rate as much as 66 percent would not cause any “distortions” in the market.

If Sen. Obama paid more attention to economics and history than to the rantings of his racist and anti-American pastor, he would know how ill-considered his plan is. Every time the capital gains tax rate has increased in the last 40 years, the investment market has suffered. When the capital gains rate has been lowered, investment has increased and tax revenues have increased. Even Bill Clinton understood this when he signed legislation in 1997 lowering the capital gains tax rate from 28 percent to 20 percent. Moreover, as is true of most tax increases, the middle class gets hurt the most. Many of the people who pay capital gains taxes are small-business owners, small investors or retirees. According to the IRS, 79 percent of those who paid such taxes had incomes under $100,000; 47 percent had incomes less than $50,000.

Obama is apparently undeterred. His goal is not a robust and free economy that rewards work, risk, and ingenuity; it is instead a socialist redistribution of money from those who make it to those who do not.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be rich

On Tuesday, Maryland became the first state to implement a “millionaire tax,” and New York may follow shortly. Faced with a $1-billion shortfall, the Maryland General Assembly decided that the state’s 6,000 millionaires should foot the bill. Governor Martin O’Malley justified the new 6.25-percent bracket for the wealthy, saying, “[T]hey are willing and they are able to pay their fair share.” It isn’t clear to us what’s fair about forcing successful people to pay higher taxes, but then Governor O’Malley is a Democrat.

Meanwhile, New York is formulating a similar plan whereby people who earn over $1 million per year will pay an extra ¾ of one percent in state income tax for the next five years. The $5 billion in extra revenue would go toward upgrading New York’s mass-transit system. In effect, the very people who are least likely to use mass transit will be paying for it, and the fact that 35,000 of the 75,000 affected taxpayers don’t even live in New York makes the Democrat-proposed tax seem all the more absurd. But to hear the New York media tell it, commuters are “thrilled with the idea,” with one Manhattan resident saying, “It’s a good thing—they should pay their fair share.” We think we’re finally starting to get it: In New York and Maryland, “they,” roughly translated, means “people who have more money than I do,” and “fair” actually means “not fair.” That Yankee dialect sure is confusing!

Mass. trouble with healthcare

Exacerbating a short supply of primary-care physicians, the Law of Unintended Consequences has struck Massachusetts’ new experiment in universal government healthcare. Due to bureaucrats’ shortsightedness, overwhelmed primary-care physicians, many of whom are getting too much of what they asked for, have responded by dramatically increasing wait times or by refusing to see the new patients. Like each raindrop that doesn’t believe it is responsible for the flood, Massachusetts’ opening the spigots on a primary-care system that lacked the capacity to absorb the new clientele failed to help consumers. The number of new primary-care physicians has fallen by 50 percent in the last decade due to declining Medicare reimbursements that perversely force them to lose money on each new patient with government coverage. As the case seems to be with government interference in the healthcare system, “access” guaranteed by politicians only seems to be access to a waiting list.

As we approach the dawn of the next decade, the high cost of medical school and accelerating retirements among primary-care physicians will place greater strain on a system already being pushed beyond its capacities. Aging baby boomers are placing correspondingly greater demands for primary care and may prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back unless the government lets market forces correct the imbalance.

CULTURE

Around the nation: Freeing prisoners is cheaper

Legislators in several states, including California, Michigan and Rhode Island, are proposing the early release of thousands of prisoners in order to save money. Citing a rise in prison populations due to the tougher sentencing laws passed in the 1990s, lawmakers are trying to tighten state purse strings in a tough economy. Proposals range from early release for “good behavior” to rerouting drug offenders to rehabilitation programs, allowing them to circumvent prison altogether. In Rhode Island, all but those serving life sentences would be eligible—even violent criminals.

Opponents point out that these measures fly in the face of the government’s obligation to the public. “Economics cannot be the engine that drives the train of public safety,” said Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. “Government has no greater responsibility than the protection of its citizens.”

No one can argue that it is costly to run state prisons. California currently pays $46,104 per year per inmate—more than the nation’s per capita income. Of course, there are alternatives to early release, one being to cut the amenities in state prisons, such as state-of-the-art workout equipment, cable TV and libraries rivaling those of universities. Another way to cut costs would be to execute murderers languishing for years on death row. Those opposed to the death penalty often argue that it is more costly to execute a prisoner than to support him in prison. Those who support the death penalty can argue that it doesn’t have to be.

Frontiers of Junk Science: Taxing drivers

Last week, we related the bravery of the Los Angeles city council as it debated a temporary ban on homicide. This week, the council fearlessly tackled global warming. A bill currently before the California state legislature would enable Los Angeles County transit officials to increase the current tax on drivers. This bill is mixing up two separate issues, the first being the legitimate issue of traffic congestion, the second the contrived hysteria known as “global warming.” Liberals who have been harping on the downturn in the economy as a major threat should understand that people need every cent of their money. How, pray tell, is taxing people for driving to work going to help the economy? Despite the gibbering of “open-minded” liberals, there is no scientific consensus on the issue of the perceived threat of “global warming,” so taxes designed to reduce global warming are absurd. The biggest threat that this proposed legislation poses is that it is based on the premise that government expansion and regulation is the solution to every problem. We suggest the council stick to meaningless resolutions.

’Non Compos Mentis’: Absolut Reconquista ad

A recent advertisement by Swedish vodka maker Absolut has left the company shaken after causing quite a stir. The Mexican ad depicts a map of North America with pre-1848 borders. The southwestern U.S. (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California and portions of other states) is shown as part of Mexico, beneath the slogan “In an Absolut World,” part of the company’s advertising portfolio illustrating “ideal” scenarios. After calls from U.S. citizens for a boycott, the vodka maker offered a limp-wristed faux apology: “In no way was it meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues.” It concluded by saying, “This is a genuine and sincere apology.” El contrero, Absolut. When you have to say an apology is “genuine and sincere,” it’s pretty much guaranteed that the opposite is true.

New York Times Pollaganda

“Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll,” The New York Times breathlessly reported this week. In addition to blaming “the continued unpopularity of President Bush,” the paper of record goes on to conjecture, “Although the public mood has been darkening since the early days of the war in Iraq, it has taken a new turn for the worse in the last few months, as the economy has seemed to slip into recession. There is now nearly a national consensus that the country faces significant problems.” Indeed! We’re fairly surprised that 100 percent of respondents didn’t go for the “off on the wrong track” answer in one way or another. While the article gleefully highlights the “wrong-track” majority, how does the poll determine which track people think is the right one? (Why, the leftist track, of course.) Simply put, liberals want more socialism, conservatives want more freedom and neither side is completely satisfied.

Furthermore, the media are almost solely to blame for the “darkening public mood” regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom. As for the economy, as any economist understands, a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. As yet, not even one quarter has been reported. In short, we’re left to conclude, once again, that The Times, ever the model of journalistic integrity, created the story it wanted for the headline it craved. We in our humble shop call that pollaganda.

And last…

WHO says climate change leads to psychiatric illness. That’s not a question, but a reference to the World Health Organization. In one sense, WHO has it all wrong. The variables are too great—flooding, droughts and natural disasters are not necessarily caused by “global warming.” After all, we doubt the flood in Noah’s day was caused by too many SUVs. On the other hand, WHO might have a point. When considering the mental state of liberals who buy into the global-warming hoax, it brings new perspective. For example, ABC’s Dave Demerjian couldn’t control his temper when writing about the effect on the climate caused by the Olympic torch. “If people are looking for another reason to be p***ed at China,” he wrote, “how about this: By the time this pyro parade is over, it will have produced about 11 million pounds of carbon emissions.” That somehow passed the editors for an online “news” story. Demerjian then goes on to mock the Olympic committee for not having a plan to make the torch relay “carbon neutral.” The final proof, of course, is Mr. Global Doom himself, Al Gore. Gore’s self-delusion is that he can travel the world in a jet spewing hot air along the way, return to his massive mansion with its small-city-size power bill, and then assuage his conscience by purchasing “carbon credits” from his own company. Now that’s psychiatric illness!

Veritas vos Liberabit—Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus, et Fidelis! Mark Alexander, Publisher, for The Patriot’s editors and staff. (Please pray for our Patriot Armed Forces standing in harm’s way around the world, and for their families—especially families of those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, who granted their lives in defense of American liberty.)

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