Friday Digest

Digest

Apr. 15, 2011

The Foundation

“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” –Thomas Jefferson

Government & Politics

The Titanic Budget

Since Democrats took over Congress in 2007, the annual federal budget deficit has quadrupled. Democrats continue to talk about fiscal austerity, but if left to them, these gargantuan deficits would continue for years to come. In February 2010, Barack Obama made a farce of creating a bipartisan debt commission and tasking it to make recommendations for reining in federal spending. The commission did so in December … and he promptly ignored them, introducing a 2012 budget that included none of its recommendations and continues to drive spending through the roof.

Then came Wednesday’s speech at George Washington University, a presidential do-over in response to his $3.73 trillion FY 2012 budget having been laughed out of town two months earlier. In the speech, Obama suddenly remembered his commission and promised budget cuts. In doing so, he read this laugh line from his teleprompter: “We have to live within our means.” This from the guy who continues to propose that we borrow 40 cents for every dollar spent.

Right from the start, Obama sounded as if he were on the campaign trail rather than making a serious policy speech. He invited Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, to take a front-row seat for the event, then promptly savaged Ryan’s proposal to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion in 10 years. “Those are both worthy goals for us to achieve,” Obama offered, “but the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history.” Actually, it would derail Obama’s agenda to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” to match his socialist preferences.

Obama’s speech then devolved into a class warfare screed. “Worst of all,” he said, “this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy.” He asked sarcastically, “That’s who needs to pay less taxes?”

First of all, it’s not Obama’s money. Second, the “rich” already pay most of the taxes – the top 1 percent pay 40 percent of income taxes, and the top 10 percent pay 70 percent. Third, these top-bracket taxpayers are also the nation’s job-creating business owners, the ones who thereby fuel our investment in education, clean energy and the like.

In Obama’s America, however, “we would not be a great country without” entitlements that redistribute wealth from one small subgroup to a much larger subgroup. Leftists have always found it easy to be compassionate with other people’s money, pat themselves on the back for it, and then recoil in horror if anyone suggests it’s not really compassion.

Just in time for Income Redistribution Day, Obama proposed raising taxes by $1 trillion on the top two brackets over the next 12 years – and not just directly raising rates, but eliminating deductions, too. “I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me,” he said. “They want to give back to the country that’s done so much for them. Washington just hasn’t asked them to.” As far as we know, Uncle Sam is always willing to take an extra check if one’s conscience is so burdened.

The bottom line is that Obama isn’t serious about addressing the deficit – unless “serious” is defined as seriously increasing it. As long as his plan for confronting our crushing fiscal issues is simply raising taxes to pay for more spending, the nation will continue sinking, just as the Titanic did 99 years ago.

Quote of the Week

“The immediate political goal was to inoculate the White House from criticism that it is not serious about the fiscal crisis, after ignoring its own deficit commission last year and tossing off a $3.73 trillion budget in February that increased spending amid a record deficit of $1.65 trillion. Mr. Obama was chased to George Washington University [Wednesday] because Mr. Ryan and the Republicans outflanked him on fiscal discipline and are now setting the national political agenda. Mr. Obama did not deign to propose an alternative to rival Mr. Ryan’s plan, even as he categorically rejected all its reform ideas, repeatedly vilifying them as essentially un-American. ‘Their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America,’ he said, supposedly pitting ‘children with autism or Down’s syndrome’ against ‘every millionaire and billionaire in our society.’ The President was not attempting to join the debate Mr. Ryan has started, but to close it off just as it begins and banish House GOP ideas to political Siberia. Mr. Obama then packaged his poison in the rhetoric of bipartisanship – which ‘starts,’ he said, ‘by being honest about what’s causing our deficit.’ The speech he chose to deliver was dishonest even by modern political standards.” –The Wall Street Journal

This Week’s ‘Braying Jackass’ Award

“Under [Republicans’] vision, we can’t invest in roads and bridges and broadband and high-speed rail. I mean, we would be a nation of potholes, and our airports would be worse than places that we thought – that we used to call the Third World.” –Barack Obama in another budget speech Thursday

News From the Swamp: Spending Deal Details

Details of last Friday’s midnight deal on the 2011 budget began trickling out this week, and we’re shocked – shocked – to report that it wasn’t exactly as advertised. The deal purported nearly $40 billion in cuts. Republicans had promised $100 billion during the 2010 campaign, and reduced that to $61 billion for negotiations. That number, too, shrank as accounting gimmicks kicked in. As the Associated Press reports, “The details of the agreement reached late Friday night just ahead of a deadline for a partial government shutdown reveal a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially ‘score’ as cuts to pay for spending elsewhere, but often have little to no actual impact on the deficit.”

First, the $40 billion deal included $12 billion in cuts from previous continuing resolutions, bringing the total to just $28 billion. Another $6.2 billion was merely unspent census money. Some $10 billion came from appropriations accounts used for earmarks that Republicans had already agreed to ban. More than 50 federal programs were cut, but the grand total for that was a pathetic $1 billion in savings. Four of Obama’s “czars” were also cut, but the catch is that all four had already either resigned or moved to other job titles.

The cuts were thus minuscule to begin with; before long, they became virtually non-existent. The Congressional Budget Office released its analysis and it’s not pretty – the grand total in actual cuts is just $352 million. The government burns through that in about two hours. According to The Washington Post:

The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis shows that the compromise does cut nearly $38 billion in what’s called “budget authority.” That means that, in all, government agencies would have that much less permission to spend federal money.

But that is not the same as stopping spending right now.

Instead, it appears much of that budget authority would not have been used until later years – if ever. The CBO analysis looked only at spending that would take place in fiscal 2011.

The new analysis didn’t stop the bill from passing. In fact, it probably ensured its passage. The House passed it 260-167 Thursday, though 59 Republicans voted against it, and it breezed through the Senate 81-19. “[W]e’re cutting $38.5 billion of money that has already been authorized and appropriated,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “and anybody that doesn’t believe this money wouldn’t be spent if we don’t act is kidding themselves.” That’s true, but going from $100 billion to $352 million leaves a rather bad taste in our mouths.

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Hope ‘n’ Change: White House Visitor Logs Omit Many

From the most transparent administration in history comes this new revelation: The visitor logs at the White House “are missing the names of thousands of … visitors to the White House, including lobbyists, government employees, campaign donors, policy experts and friends of the first family,” Politico reports. “The White House website proudly boasts of making available ‘over 1,000,000 records of everyone who’s come through the doors of the White House’ via a searchable database. Yet … the logs routinely omit or cloud key details about the identity of visitors, whom they met with and the nature of their visits. The logs even include the names of people who never showed up.”

Recently we noted that the administration accepted an award for transparency from advocates of open government … in secret. Now we’re wondering if those visitors are in the logs.

Around the Nation: Throwing Coldwater on the Tea Party

The Common Sense Patriots of Branch County, Michigan, are fighting a battle for free speech in Four Corners Park in the city of Coldwater. Normally a home to Memorial Day and Fourth of July celebrations, the park became off limits to any kind of public messaging after The Patriots notified the city that they wanted to put up a banner announcing a Tea Party gathering on July 31. City Manager Jeffrey Budd refused, and The Patriots claim in their lawsuit that it was because he wanted to avoid controversy.

The Patriots fought the rejection, and Budd changed his mind. Later, at his recommendation, the city council banned signs in the park. Budd cited the “administrative headaches” and the “natural beauty of the park” as justifiable reasons for the ban. The Patriots have taken the city to court before other things get banned in Four Corners Park, like maybe the American flag.

National Security

Kinetic Military Action Front With Jihadistan: Road Map to Nowhere

The “good news” is that Libya now has a road map for peace between its embattled leader, Moammar Gadhafi, and Libyan rebels who want to oust him. The bad news is that it’s actually little more than a wish-list for Gadhafi, hastily crafted by shills from certain delegates of the African Union (AU) who are beholden to him. Among other peace-loving nations, they represent Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Uganda.

For those unfamiliar with the AU, it’s a loosely knit confederation of 53 African nations that almost never speaks with one voice. Worse, in the words of Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey, it “[has] yet to meet a murderous, psychopathic despot that [it] couldn’t somehow support.” Apparently, murderous-psychopathic-despot Gadhafi is proving no exception to this general rule. Of course, since all of the delegates cited above have a well-grounded reputation for respecting basic human rights, we’re at a loss to understand why rebel leaders wouldn’t rush to approve the plan, nonetheless.

After all, it calls merely for ending NATO air support, the only thing protecting the rebels from almost certain annihilation by Gadhafi’s army. The plan also conveniently leaves Gadhafi in power and effectively marginalizes the rebels. Other than that, we see no good reason why the rebels wouldn’t like the road-kill – er, -map.

Finally, we should reiterate our caveat that we’re not by any means convinced the “cure” will be better than the “disease,” should the rebels prevail. That is to say, with known al-Qa'ida elements backing the rebels, why should we believe that their answer for governing Libya will be any better than that of the murderous Gadhafi’s? For our part, any “road map” that includes Gadhafi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the AU or al-Qa'ida is a road to nowhere.

Fukushima Grows More Like Chernobyl

While time and the usual tumult of world events have pushed Japan from the front pages, its recovery from the March earthquake and tsunami continues. On Wednesday, the government downgraded its economic forecast, saying that reduced production and consumer spending would limit growth. Reports from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant are not good, either. Due to the high radiation levels released from the plant, Japanese officials boosted the disaster’s severity rating from 5 to 7 on the International Nuclear Event scale, the same level reached at Chernobyl in April 1986.

Even as they upgraded the disaster’s severity, officials stressed that the current disaster isn’t anywhere near Chernobyl’s, with Hidehiko Nishiyama, spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, saying that the total amount of radiation released is about a tenth that of Chernobyl. He also pointed out that while there were 29 deaths from high radiation exposure at Chernobyl, there were no deaths at Fukushima, at least not yet. Nishiyama also noted that the Chernobyl reactor itself exploded and caused a graphite fire that burned for days, spreading a radioactive cloud around the world, whereas the Fukushima reactor pressure and containment vessels were still largely intact, allowing the worst of the radioactive contamination to be contained locally. Still, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), warned that since radioactive materials are still being released, the Fukushima contamination could eventually exceed that of Chernobyl.

Efforts to stabilize Fukushima continue to be hampered by setbacks. On Monday, a 7.1 magnitude aftershock centered in Fukushima shut down for about an hour the power supply and the makeshift cooling systems at the plant, and on Tuesday TEPCO reported a small fire in a battery unit outside reactor No. 4. Both events serve as a reminder of how precarious the situation is. The Japanese still face months to bring Fukushima’s reactors under full control, and years, possibly decades, to clean up the plant itself and the surrounding area.

Immigration Front: Ninth Circuit Deals Blow to AZ Immigration Law

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the block of Arizona’s immigration law this week. They ruled that U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, a Clinton appointee, acted correctly in blocking parts of the law pertaining to immigration status inquiries by police in the performance of other duties. The Obama administration filed suit against the law last year in federal court claiming that it overstepped powers assigned to the Executive.

In signing the legislation, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer argued that the federal government was not exercising its power, and the proof came in a porous southern border and high crime rates among illegal immigrants. Many states were eager to follow Brewer’s example, but the lawsuit and budget constraints have given them pause. Brewer has promised to take the case to the Supreme Court. First, however, she will have to appeal before the full Ninth Circuit, which is both the most liberal in the nation and, not coincidentally, the most frequently overturned.

Meanwhile, Georgia passed a similar law on Thursday. The legislation provides authority for law enforcement to check immigration status of criminal suspects, and requires businesses to confirm that new hires are legally eligible to work. It’s uncertain whether Republican Gov. Nathan Deal will sign the bill.

Business & Economy

Income Redistribution: Tax Freedom Day

Stop reading this and add up all the paychecks you received from January 1 through April 12 of this year. Now, write a check for that amount to the government. In essence, you have done just that, for as the Tax Foundation recently announced, April 12 was this year’s Tax Freedom day, meaning “Americans will work well over three months of the year, from January 1 to April 12, before earning enough money to pay this year’s tax obligations at the federal, state and local levels.” According to the Cato Institute’s Dan Mitchell, this is the good news. “The bad news is that Tax Freedom Day only measures the direct and immediate impact of taxation. It doesn’t measure the overall burden of government.” If the federal government were to collect enough taxes this year to fund all its spending, Tax Freedom Day wouldn’t come until May 23.

Yet, despite Americans’ working 102 days for the government, Big Brother’s wanton spending addiction alone accounts for why Uncle Sam still won’t collect enough in taxes to close this year’s projected $1.48 trillion federal budget deficit (the latest addition to our $14.2 trillion national debt). Take heart, though. With this year’s tax filing deadline extended to April 18, if you still owe the government money, you have three more days than usual before you have to hand it in.

A Black Eye for Government Motors

General Motors surely spent plenty of money to focus-group the name of its newest compact car. Dubbed the Chevy Cruze, it replaced a poor-selling Cobalt model, and the hopes were that it would take on a growing field of popular imported cars of similar design and size. We’re certain GM’s idea of cruising, though, didn’t involve driving without the steering wheel. Yet that’s what happened to one unfortunate Cruze owner who suddenly found himself holding a detached and useless steering wheel as he motored down the road.

GM blamed an assembly error where the wrong steering wheel was originally installed on the car, then replaced with the correct one – but the second one wasn’t properly secured. Even though GM saw this as an isolated incident, 2,100 Cruzes have been recalled to dealerships for a steering wheel inspection. Luckily for the Cruze’s driver, the car cruzed off the road safely, but sloppy assembly and inspection practices by union workers may yet, to borrow one of CEO Barack Obama’s favorite phrases, drive the Chevy Cruze (and Government Motors) into the ditch.

Walmart’s Left Turn Has the Company Reeling

Progressives love to spout lofty “ideals” about what people should think, how they should live, and what they should purchase, but what happens when these ideals are actually put into action? For the most part, they crash and burn spectacularly. Walmart has learned this lesson the hard way – with a direct hit to its pocketbook. After experiencing sales declines for seven straight quarters, the retail giant is launching “It’s Back,” a return to the simple, inexpensive products that attracted its customers in the first place.

The cause of Walmart’s nosedive is no mystery; it can be traced back to 2006, when the retail giant hired Leslie Dach, certified leftist and former senior aid to “green” gas bag Al Gore. As the new head of public relations, Dach immediately set to work trying to “educate” the average Joe on environmentally safe products, organic foods and, of course, politics. Not only did he push his agendas on the store shelves, he also pushed universal health care and other leftist causes in the company’s boardrooms. The company has had to realize its own “inconvenient truth”: Walmart shoppers are not as easily manipulated as Dach and his cohorts had thought, and many of them have chosen to spend their money elsewhere rather than have “progressivism” rammed down their throats.

Former Walmart executive Jimmy Wright, borrowing from Ronald Reagan’s famous quote about why the Gipper had switched political parties, said it best: “The basic Walmart customer didn’t leave Walmart. What happened is that Walmart left the customer.”

Culture & Policy

Climate Change This Week: Mother Earth Has Rights, Too

Just in time for “International Mother Earth Day,” the South American nation of Bolivia is set to introduce a treaty to the United Nations reflective of its own recently passed law which gives human rights to “Mother Earth.” Pablo Salon, Bolivia’s representative to the UN, stated that it’s a question of “balance” in calling for a legal framework to protect the rights of Mother Earth – rights such as life, water, clean air, freedom from pollution, and to repair livelihoods affected by human activity.

Socialist Bolivian President Evo Morales (who was named a “World Hero of Mother Earth” in 2009) spearheaded the effort in his own nation, which in January adopted the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth. Among other things, it established a Ministry of Mother Earth and appointed an ombudsman to hear the “voice” of the planet as spoken through interested advocates. In 2008 Morales came to the UN touting Bolivia’s plan to “save the planet,” with one goal being “to end capitalism.”

Obviously this UN treaty, if passed, would make life more difficult for companies wishing to exploit (in the capitalist sense of the word) natural resources worldwide. Several mining companies operating in Bolivia are expecting more scrutiny as the new laws take hold. So far, though, only a handful of countries, including neighboring Ecuador, have expressed their support for the UN treaty.

Readers may recall that in 2005 the UN predicted 50 million global warming refugees by 2010, so its track record of falling for environmentalist, anti-capitalist hype isn’t all that good. Don’t be surprised if some version of this treaty isn’t foisted upon Mother Earth sometime soon.

Meanwhile, pot growers may be contributing to global warming. A recent study by Evan Mills of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the green of marijuana isn’t so green after all. In fact, growing pot indoors leaves a large carbon footprint. This is, like, whoa, bad news, man.

Village Academic Curriculum: The Chicago Lunch Code

In February, it was reported that Michelle Obama’s showplace for her campaign for healthy kids’ meals, the Chicago Public Schools, is having difficulty selling the First Lady’s baloney to kids. When more healthful meal options were introduced, sales of school lunches dropped by 5 percent from the prior year. There were many accounts of students throwing away their lunches, while others opted for “cookies and slushies” from the canteen or simply waited until they got home to eat. The vast majority of students viewed the new food options as, er, “undesirable.”

One school, however, found a solution – ban alternative sources of food entirely. At Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria. Understandably, this has students in revolt. In typical nanny-state thinking, the principal says it’s her intention to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

This decision has economic ramifications. Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.

Antitrust laws were enacted to increase consumer choice. In the world of antitrust, when a person with monopoly power in one market, say a school or a public school system, makes a consumer buy something in another market that the consumer doesn’t want or need in order to get the good or service it wants, it’s called a “tie-in.” In Chicago, if you want a public education, in some schools you now have to take the meals provided by the district’s caterer, whether or not you want them. This reduces Chicago public school meals to a form of Hobson’s Choice – “you can have a free meal from us, or nothing at all.”

And Last…

Vice President Joe Biden listened in to his boss’s budget speech Wednesday with open ears. Too bad his eyes were closed. As ABC’s blog The Note reports, “Biden, at one point, could be seen apparently nodding off – or at least deep in thought. The bug was catching, too. The woman in glasses directly behind Biden appears to close her eyes too.”

We didn’t consider the president’s hyper-partisan speech to be a snoozer, but perhaps that’s because we’re not his right-hand yes-man. The president will most certainly be displeased to learn that his vice campaigner was off sawing logs, but not to worry: If the vice presidential gig doesn’t work out in 2012, Joe could always apply for a job as an air-traffic controller.

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