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Friday, April 30, 2010

LOOKING FOR RESULTS

     Tim Kaine, the Chairman of the Democrat National Committee has announced that the Democrats will enter this Fall's elections as the "results party" and spend $50 million to spread the message and energize the party faithful. Getting "results" is generally a good thing. Getting results that actually work well, are financially sound and represent the will of the people is even better.

     The biggest "result" the Democrats will have to run on is of course the recently passed health care overhaul. They say that once the features of the bill are known that a solid majority of voters will approve. They are still waiting. The November, 2010 elections are creeping over the horizon and an April 15, 2010 poll shows that only 39% of respondents favor the health care bill, while 50% oppose. That doesn't sound like the kind of result a party would want to run on.

     Kaine didn't mention other "results" in his announcement but a short review might be revealing. The Obama "stimulus bill" qualifies. A January, 2010 poll shows 56% of respondents opposed and 42% in support. More recent economic data and political activism regarding the federal deficit and accumulated debt would not indicate a reversal of opinion has occurred.

     Some Democrat "results" are still pending: improvement in the unemployment numbers; closing Guantanamo; progress in Afghanistan; well maybe they should stay away from those issues.
The next major legislative enterprise is apparently going to be, if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn't flip flop again, the so called Climate Bill. This is the morphed version of the Cap and Trade Bill that the Democrats passed in the House earlier but which couldn't attract much support in the Senate because of the predicted across the board increases in energy costs and in most things that are produced or transported by it. The new "kinder, gentler" bill has dropped the onerous "cap and trade" label in favor of the Climate Change Bill. If it qualifies as a "result", it will be because it is a bi-partisan bill, sponsored by Senators Kerry (D-MA), Graham (R-SC), and Lieberman (I-CT). Senator Graham hopes to generate support by explaining that it will include a mandatory, declining limit on carbon emissions in the electric-power industry while giving utilities the right to buy and sell carbon allowances. Cap and trade?

     According to the Wall Street Journal, "The lawmakers say their approach will win support because, unlike the House measure, it isn’t an economy wide cap. To neutralize opposition, the measure wouldn’t cover manufacturers for years and may exempt the oil industry. The bill would boost nuclear energy, clean coal, and offshore oil and gas drilling, and might block the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases". The wacko environmental wing of the Democrat Party won't like any of that but the merits of the bill will be hotly debated in the Senate and again in the House. At this stage however, neither the bills supporter nor detractors see much chance of it passing and thus becoming a "result".

     Maybe the Democrats should give "Hope and Change" another shot as an election slogan, but go light on the “change”.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

IT'S A MAD MAD WORLD

“It’s a Mad Mad World.”


MSNBC has declared that illegal immigrants under AZ law are now criminals. Shocking!
But "illegal" immigrants who have violated federal law and are subject to arrest and deportation are already criminals, aren't they?

Gordon Brown the British PM who is leading the Labour Party's quest for continued control of parliament in the upcoming elections, had a face to face with a disgruntled woman while on a campaign tour. Afterwards, while in his car, he was somehow recorded saying that she was a "bigoted woman". Horrors! The UK press is now predicting an election catastrophe for the Labour Party. Is this another "macacca moment"? Are British elections decided on such flimsy politically incorrect events? Labour was probably not going to win a majority in Parliament anyway so we will never know.

Harry:  The ever silver tongued Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, frustrated by the refusal of Senate Republicans to allow the financial reform bill to go to the Senate floor without some modifications opined that the Republicans were "anti-senate and anti-American". This, just hours before a unanimous vote cleared the way for the bill to go to the floor for debate. So far no retraction by Harry.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, before a Senate committee said the "border is as secure as it's ever been." She also said it wasn't "fair" to ask her if it was secure. Isn’t she really the Secretary of Homeland . . . .oh well. While governor of Arizona, Napolitano declared a "state of emergency" because of border violence.

"I Left My Heart":   The People's Republic of San Francisco in it‘s latest left wing hissy fit is so outraged that the state of Arizona doesn't subscribe to their "Sanctuary City" program for accepting illegal immigrants and giving them city identification cards, and instead has passed a strong law  intended to curtail illegal immigration across the Mexico-Arizona border, is putting together a program of "economic sanctions" against Arizona. Economic warfare between a city and a separate state over laws only applicable in that state? Maybe the city of San Francisco should be put in charge of sanctions against Iran since Obama can't seem to get it done.

Friday, April 23, 2010

THE PALIN-BIDEN PRIZE

The Palin/Biden Prize will be given periodically to editorialists, columnists, commentators, and bloggers who produce articles which are especially factually or intellectually challenged; lack coherence; reflect an obvious ideological purpose; upon sober reflection by the author, are likely to cause a queasy feeling of embarrassment and the desire for retraction; or are just plain dumb.


This week’s prize goes to syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette for his April 19, 2010 column about the state of Arizona's response to illegal immigration. Navarrette starts by reminiscing about his early days in Arizona when the people of Arizona were actually nice. My how things have changed in the last 20 years. Back then people were listening to Milli Vanilli and gas was a buck and a quarter a gallon. That's all gone but what's worse is that the nice people of Arizona aren't nice anymore. "Nativists are becoming mainstream." he laments. Well maybe, but change hasn't come to Arizona all at once and Navarette can't seem to figure out why. Maybe the first indications that the "old days" were gone was when Cinco de Mayo celebrations started became bigger events than the Fourth of July; or when Arizonans called their kids school to talk to their teacher and were told to "press one for English."


Navarrette qualifies for this prize by, among other things, focusing on the plight of illegal immigrants and leaving out the entire context of the Arizona situation. Let's fill in the blanks.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, . . . funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the number of illegal immigrants in Arizona has more than quadrupled since 1996 -- from 115,000 then to about 500,000 now. By comparison, the number of illegal immigrants in the United States roughly doubled, jumping from about 5 million in 1996 to about 11 million today. According to Stateline.org. "Tensions have built for years over the influx of undocumented workers to this desert state, now the busiest illegal gateway on the Mexican border.” Federal border officials arrested nearly 50,000 people trying to enter the state between last October and July."

In August, Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) , now the Obama Administration's Secretary of Homeland Security, declared a state of emergency.

However, the immediate cause of Navarrette's angst is the passage of legislation in Arizona that reacts to these events and the social and legal consequences which have followed.

Last November the state adopted a ballot initiative, Proposition 200, that barred social services to illegal immigrants. "The measure, which passed with 55.6 percent of the vote, . . . also makes it a crime for public employees to fail to report undocumented immigrants seeking benefits, and requires proof of citizenship to register to vote." (Stateline.org). But the "changed" and no longer "nice" Arizonans weren't finished. Another Arizona law "recently passed and just signed by the governor requires all state law enforcement officers to; "when there is a reasonable suspicion, require individuals to identify their immigration status and to arrest illegals. It also makes it illegal to transport illegal aliens and to hire day laborers off the street. It would make not having immigration documents a new state misdemeanor."

Of course the temptation to make resistance to illegal immigration a racial issue is too much to resist by open border advocates like Navarrette who concludes; "That means if you are brown-skinned and leave home without a wallet, you are in trouble." He ignores the fact that of the legal requirement that law officers must have a "reasonable suspicion" that someone is an illegal imigrant. But common sense also intervenes. Since there are half a million illegal immigrants and several million citizens of Hispanic descent in Arizona, it is ridiculous to claim that simply having "brown skin" and being on the streets of Arizona means that "you are in trouble."

The passage of these bills was bi-partisan and reflected even the support of many Hispanic residents. Prop 200 exit polls showed that 47 percent of Hispanics who voted supported the measure. But Navarrette deliberately avoids these facts and besides playing the "race card", falls back on the demagoguery of party politics by identifying the "nativists" responsible for the anti-illegal immigrant sentiment: "GOP legislators are making Hispanics anxious with race-baiting measures to end affirmative action." " It will also lead to racial profiling. The bill was the result of pandering to racists ".

Navarrette's solution to the influx of illegal immigrants is a laugher; no strenuous border enforcement; no clamping down on large commercial employers who encourage the portion of immigrants who are not engaged in criminal activities. It's a class problem and the citizens of Arizona are at fault.

"If the legislators who voted for this law were serious about trying to curb illegal immigration , they would cut off the job magnet. Instead of focusing on companies they should start locking up soccer moms for hiring undocumented house keepers or Paradise Valley lawyers for outsourcing their yard work".

OK soccer moms, get out your vacuum cleaners; and you rich lawyers, turn in your golf clubs and buy a lawnmower. The end to illegal immigration is in your hands.

Of course, Navarrette, like most of the liberal immigration advocates, bases his position on the much repeated assertion that the "undocumented" immigrants are just poor, hardworking, honest individuals who want to make a better life for their families, and thus should be excused from the inconvenience of legal processing for entry into the U.S.

This characterization is partially, if not mostly, true, but it is the enormous volume of these “hard workers” and the large numbers of immigrants who do not fit this benign description that demand a solution, which the federal government lacks the will to provide.

"Jim Dickson, who runs a hospital five miles from the Mexican border, says emergency room care for illegal immigrants has risen from $30,000 to more than $350,000 in only four years. "We're in a war down here to preserve the health system," Dickson told Stateline.org.

Law enforcement officials and lawmakers also contend that crime follows illegal immigrants across the border. The state prison system spent $77 million last year detaining more than 4,000 illegal immigrants for crimes committed in Arizona. Violence along the border has increased dramatically. The recent murder of rancher Robert Krentz has highlighted the problem and focused the anger of proponents of legislative remedies. How Navarrette could ignore this crime is hard to understand.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says that in 2009, federal officials seized 1.2 million pounds of a certain leafy substance brought across the Arizona border by “hard working” Mexican “pharmaceutical representatives“. He also points out that 17% of illegal immigrants arrested at the border already have criminal records in the U.S. He supports the legislation and has called for the use of National Guard troops to patrol the border.

Congratulations Mr. Navarrette on your well deserved award.

Monday, April 19, 2010

GATES AND THE IRAN CONUNDRUM

The recent release of the three month old secret memo written by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about the Obama Administration's failure to develop a strategy i.e. contingency plans, to deal with Iran's progress towards eventual development of nuclear weapons has generated more heat than light on the issue. However, it does bring back into focus the diplomatic stalemate surrounding the Iranian efforts.


Originally embarrassing to Administration officials who denied Gate's assertion, the issue has been somewhat diiminished politically because Gates, a loyal team player, has provided some cover by subsequently saying that in the memo he just wanted to "contribute to an orderly and timely decision making process" and that it “was not a wake-up call.”

For several years Iran has denied any military purpose for it's nuclear program but international intelligence efforts, Iran's lack of full cooperation with IAEA inspectors and their continued expansion of nuclear facilities has created a consensus among the U.S., EU and Israeli leaders that Iran's nuclear program is indeed intended to create the capability for developing nuclear weapons. On April 18, 2010 Iran announced the construction of a third enrichment facility.

In February, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which is the UN's nuclear proliferation watchdog , reported that Iran was actively pursuing nuclear weapons capability.

Whether the Gate's memo is correct or not, and it probably is, the policy choices for the Obama Administration are both limited and unappealing for different reasons.

1. Continued reliance on a diplomatic solution.

This strategy is preferred by the political Left both here and abroad and among several conflict avoiding prominent officials at international organizations. These individuals seem blind to two important facts. Diplomacy is a process not a goal. Diplomacy i.e. the negotiating process must have an end game i.e. what will be the consequences if the process fails? These consequences, provide an incentive for the compromises necessary for success. So far, all diplomatic efforts have failed because of Iranian stonewalling i.e. IAEA inspections; acceptance of some concessions and then retraction i.e. nuclear fuel swaps to ensure enrichment at levels only suitable for energy production; and then simple refusing to participate.

2. Economic sanctions: Very limited sanctions (almost to the point of being symbolic) have been applied by the U.S. and some European nations. Attempts at passing strong sanctions in the UN Security Council which would give them the force of international law have been stymied by the objections and probable veto of both Russia and China. Russia is currently sounding as if they would consider stronger sanctions but probably not anything on the level of significant coercion. China remains intransigent. The current conventional wisdom seems to be that the most effective sanction would involve an embargo on the import of refined petroleum to Iran, which produces very little domestically. President Netanyahu of Israel also wants a ban on Iran's export of crude petroleum, their major source of international exchange. The downside of these proposals even if they could be enacted are several.

A. A ban on oil exports from Iran would throw the international oil markets into chaos. Iran is OPEC's second largest producer. Oil prices would rise dramatically, whether justified by the law of supply and demand or not as speculators controlled the market. A dramatic increase in the price of oil while the world's economies struggle to climb out of the economic recession would be a major setback.

B. Even such a serious blow to the Iranian economy would probably not be effective in terms of modifying it's nuclear agenda. The history of economic sanctions has shown that they are rendered inefficient because of non-complying suppliers of embargoed goods. The incentive for these suppliers goes up as the price of the goods, now in short supply, goes up. Non-compliance by both major players (China) and minor players based on the prospect of future political and economic benefits also remains in play.

C. Economic sanctions often provide an unpopular government with a domestic political advantage by its ability to demonize the external powers for causing the domestic hardships, thus allowing them to rally political support in a "us against them" posture.

Of course, these difficulties do not mean that more punitive economic sanctions will not be sought. The Obama Administration shows no signs of giving up the effort even if it means a sanctions policy "of the willing" as opposed to universal, UN approved sanctions. Such a policy, even if believed by the government to be ineffective has certain unstated advantages. It might be seen to appeal to domestic (U.S.) groups to avoid the charge of inaction. It might be seen as political appeasement of hard line foreign governments and populations (Israel) for the same type of political advantage.

3. The third option is military engagement to destroy or seriously delay Iran's nuclear development capability. Given the significant problems with this option, its main advantage may be simply "keeping it on the table" publicly. This could serve as the possible end point consequences necessary for successful diplomatic negotiations.

The actual use of air power by manned attract aircraft and cruise missiles, is highly problematic.

A. They might not be effective against hidden or hardened Iranian nuclear facilities.

B. They would almost certainly cause a Iranian military response: missile attacks against U.S. troops and facilities in neighboring Iraq; the closing of the oil commerce important Straits of Hormuz with the disruption of world oil markets.

There is also the possibility of a unilateral Israeli military effort if all other options fail. This seems highly improbable without U.S. knowledge and cooperation. Any Israeli air strike would have to over fly Iraq. The U.S. controls Iraqi airspace so an Israel over flight would be physically impossible without U.S. knowledge and politically impossible without U.S. cooperation. Even without U.S. participation, the U.S. would be blamed and the aforementioned Iranian responses plus missile attacks on Israel might be forthcoming. Unfortunately, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen has taken away the use of the military option for diplomatic purposes by his recent statements which essentially remove it as a possibility.

Predictions: Punitive UN sanctions will not be approved or applied but lesser sanctions probably will be. The Iranian government will continue to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons.  When Iran becomes a nuclear capable power, the U.S. response, in cooperation with the major nations of the European Union will be one of a policy of deterrence, which will require a credible nuclear policy on the part of the U.S. in spite of President Obama’s naiive stated desire to create a nuclear free world.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

SHORT NOTES

FT. HOOD



The case of the Ft. Hood murderer seems to have gone into legal limbo. It was last November that Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 soldiers and wounded more than 30 others. Hasan has recovered from his own gun shot wounds sufficiently to be transferred from a military hospital to a county jail in Texas. How long should it take for a military court martial to be convened? Meanwhile the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has been seeking Defense Dept. documents relating to information the Army had on Hasan and how it was handled prior to the shootings. Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has blasted the Pentagon for "stonewalling" the issue. Strangely, SecDef Gates has said the Pentagon would continue holding off sharing information with the Committee that "could make it harder" for prosecutors to convict Hasan. This seems bizarre. Hasan was shot down in the act of murder at the scene which was witnessed by hundreds of others. "Hard to prosecute"? Of course, his lawyer will demand a psychiatric evaluation of this psychiatrist in an attempt to prove that he was temporarily insane and thus not legally responsible. But this is a nonsensical defense any military court will reject out of hand. This court martial should move on.





LIBERAL JUDGES



If Obama’s recent nomination of Goodwin Liu for the 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Ct. is any indication of his likely picks to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Ct., a major battle is in the offing. Liu is a professor at the law school of the ultra liberal Berkely campus of the University of California. The 9th Circuit already is easily the most liberal of the Federal Appeals Courts and the most overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Liu has never been a judge and his comments in opposition to the nomination of Supreme Ct. Justice Alito were described by committee member Senator John Kyle (R-AZ ) as “vicious and emotionally and racially charged”. Liu said: “Alito’s vision was an America where police may shoot and kill and unarmed boy...where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance...where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep...where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent...analysis showing discrimination.”

“Liu said he used “unnecessarily colorful language’”. The Judiciary Committee should show some common sense and toss this “unnecessarily colorful nominee”.



FINANCIAL REFORM



Senate Republicans have gained a new ally in the debate over Senator Chris Dodd’s financial reform bill, whether they want him or not. President Obama has threatened to veto Dodd’s bill unless the provision for a 50 billion dollar bail out fund is deleted. This has been the Republicans main objection to the bill. Now they are in a quandary. If their opposition was part of the political game plan to oppose all Democrat legislation that strategy might not fit the bill if amended as Obama wants. Opposing reform/regulation of “Wall Street” would not be politically popular given public anger over the financial sector melt down of 2008-09. The bill still isn’t flawless without the “bail out “ provision but the lesser issues can be corrected by amendment. The increased complexity( exotic derivatives) and instant (electronic) movements of the markets make increased regulation a common sense and politically popular necessity. Republicans should climb on board and help pass the bill.

Immigration Reform: Is it Next?

With the health care battle over (except in the courts), the next public policy emphasis on the part of the Obama Administration seems to be job creation but the ever present immigration issue is looming in the background. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) want to sponsor a "comprehensive" bipartisan immigration reform bill. The use of the adjective "comprehensive", is usually employed by advocates of a liberal immigration policy including an "amnesty" for the millions of current illegal residents. This is to distinguish the proposed policy from a more simple "enforcement" policy. However well intentioned, the prospects for Schumer-Graham effort are not good.


The current congressional political environment remains caustic and conservative members are energized by political polls showing general support for the Democrats at all time lows. Speaker of the House Pelosi had said she won't schedule an immigration bill until the Senate actually passes one which would be the basis for a House bill. In other words she “passing the buck”. But the other familiar contentious issues remain the main obstacles.

1. The legal status for currently residing illegal's remains the biggest problem. Solutions range from registration, fines and going to the back of the line for permanent residence status and eventual citizenship to an immediate amnesty and procedures for citizenship application. No one knows the actual number of resident illegal's and estimates range from 10 to 14 million.

2. The level of enforcement at the borders is the subject of much debate. The recent murder of an Arizona rancher on his border property by an illegal who was tracked back to Mexico has prompted calls for the deployment of the National Guard. Arrest and detention and deportation policies are controversial. The recently constructed 600 miles of border fence itself was controversial.

In terms of politics, the issue is complicated by the rapidly growing Hispanic population who are voting citizens and their current political orientation. It is significant that the 23 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are all Democrats. In the 2008 election Hispanics voted for Obama 67% to 31% for McCain. Hispanics supported Democrats for Congress 68% to 29% for Republicans. During the Bush Administration Republicans initiated an outreach to Hispanic voters with some success but these gains were all lost in 2008. Republicans who wish to, can read the demographic projections that will make a renewed outreach imperative in order to keep their party competitive in the future. This makes harsh opposition to "comprehensive" immigration reform a self defeating strategy. Some kind of support for dealing with the existing illegal residents will be necessary while maintaining traditional Republican advocacy for tough border control measures.

The recession has shown that a loss of job availability reduces the incentive for illegal immigration and indeed the Pew Hispanic Center cites data that indicates that illegal immigration from Mexico from 2008-09 was down 25% from previous levels. The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the illegal immigrant population has actually decreased by @ 1.7 million for the period 2007-08 as unsuccessful job seeking immigrants returned home. If true, these statistics give strong support for the proposal for a national "identity/work" card; a kind of tamper proof Social Security card which combined with strong penalties for hiring workers without them, would significantly reduce the immigration problem. Of course, the American Civil Liberties Union, ever eager to protect our privacy rights, no matter how fanciful and whether we want them to or not, has already voiced its opposition and threatened legal action. However, the biggest legislative issue however remains the Republican balancing act that will be required. This and the Democrats reluctance to take on another highly controversial issue in the run up to the 2010 elections might simply keep the issue off the agenda for now.  However, it's an issue that won't go away and will have to be addressed before the 2012 elections.

Obama and Israel: The Limits of "Change"

On April 15 and April 16, two separate full page ads appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The 4-15 ad was entitled "An Open Letter to President Obama".It was from the President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder. The thrust of the letter was described as thus: "We are concerned about the dramatic deterioration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Israel."  The 4-16 ad was from Elie Wiesel, international Jewish icon, Nobel Prize winner and holocaust survivor. It's main thought was; "Jerusalem must remain the world's Jewish spiritual capital . . ."

The impetus for these concerns is of course the failed mission of Vice President Biden to Israel to deliver the Administration's message that in the interest of restarting indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel should suspend further settlement construction in disputed territories. As Biden was delivering his message, the Israeli govt. announced the planned construction of over one thousand additional housing units in Jerusalem. The Obama Administration, through several voices including Sec.State Clinton declared the episode and insult and a major set back for the peace process. Additional, negative commentary followed from other Administration officials and of course the issue was inflated and over analyzed by the press. The Israeli government apologized for the timing of the announcement but not the policy and the settlement construction will continue.
Additionally, the President, said to be frustrated by the intransigence of the Netanyahu govt. is said to be considering offering his own detailed "peace plan" after which he would apply intense "pressure" on Israel to consider. So do these events represent a "sea change" in the long and supportive relationship between the U.S. and Israel? Elie Weisel and Ronald S. Lauder obviously see storm clouds on the horizon.

To assess the situation the obvious question needs to be asked: Is the Obama Administration's reaction to these events a matter of overreaction and inexperience, or is it a calculated move? Assuming it is the latter because of the experience of old Middle East hands like George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, if they were consulted, the question then becomes: What does the Administration hope to gain by pursuing an increasing adversarial relationship with Israel? The only possible answer is that it is part of Obama's outreach to the Muslim world through an attempt to portray a more "balanced" U.S. position in the sixty two year old confrontation. But one definition of diplomacy is the "art of the doable" and the creation of such a diplomatic departure fails this test. Most Muslims don't live in the Middle East so the diplomatic target would more realistically be the Arab states and Iran. But diplomatic nuances, unless followed by concrete policies are unlikely to change the attitudes of the passive civilian populations in these states and will have no effect whatsoever on the agenda of the militants whose focus is on Israel and not the United States. The immediate result is simply the continuation of a precipitous decline of the Obama Administration's support among the population of Israel.

However, in realistic terms there can be no policy/support crisis between the U.S.
and Israel. Obama can only apply diplomatic pressure i.e. contact with Israeli officials and public statements. The fundamental leverage the U.S. has with Israel is the approximately 2.94 billion dollars in annual financial and military aid which was formalized as part of the 1978 Camp David Accords which produced the Israeli/Egyptian Peace Treaty and provided Egypt with an annual aid package also, approximating 1.3 billion dollars annually. Obama has been unsuccessful in implementing meaningful economic sanctions against the rogue state of Iran over the far more serious issue of nuclear weapons development. Would/could, the President seriously contemplate reducing this support  to Israel in what would effectively be economic sanctions against America's only democratic Middle Eastern ally?  Long standing domestic political implications are of course a significant barrier to such a major change in policy. The American Jewish population, although small is organized in support of the state of Israel and is geographically concentrated in key electoral states i.e. CA, NY, FL, IL. American Jews have been consistent in their support of the Democrat party, both in terms of financial support and voting behavior (historically voting for Democrat presidential candidates by a margin of @82%.

There is no question that unqualified support for Israel's Palestinian policies has eroded in recent years. This is most evident amongst the American Left where the Obama Administration and its core political support resides, and it reflects a similar tendency in Europe. However, the domestic political realities in the U.S. have not changed significantly and Obama has demonstrated a reality based political pragmatism which will make the current issues a non-crisis.

Elie Wiesel and Ronald S. Lauder can relax.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Supreme Court Nomination Carnival/Dog Fight

     The most recent Supreme Court nomination hearings i.e. Soto-Mayor, had a relapse into quasi-civility which will probably go the way of the Dodo Bird given the hyper partisanship that exists in the wake of the health care debate. No matter who Obama's latest nominee is, the rhetoric will probably be hot as the usual single issue groups descend on the hearings; members of Congress succumb to the urges of political posturing; bloggers and the cable tv commentariat crank up their doomsday scenarios "if" or "if not" the nominee is confirmed.  We can expect orchestrated hysteria from gun rights and gun control advocates; immigration supporters and opponents and of course the ever hysterical abortion "choice" and "life" groups for whom no other issue is important in Supreme Court nomination battles.  The hyper politicization of the Supreme Court nomination process is a sad legacy of the Robert Bork debacle and its second act, the Clarence Thomas soap opera.  Expectations on the Left are high given the occupation of the White House by a self described "liberal" so any hint of moderation on the part of the nominee will cause much distress in that group.  A clearly identifiable "liberal" nominee on the other hand will bring out the far Right "Chicken Littles" who will be predicting an end to the world as we know it.  So let the games begin.

Palin: Style Over Substance

Sarah Palin was in Boston on 4/14 leading the Tea Partiers in another pep rally just one mile from the site of the original event in 1773 and like the original, it was more about protest than ideas.  Palin is making a new living simply attacking President Obama.  Here it was the usual list of sins: the stimulus; health care; student loans; and the proposed financial regulatory reform. But of course her emphasis was on her usual applause lines, "We need to cut taxes!"  and "We need to drill baby drill, not stall baby stall; you betcha!"
     If Palin is seriously contemplating a future presidential candidacy, at some point she is going to have to offer a more in depth analysis and some actual proposals.  Her sarcasm and chronic cutieisms, might excite the hard core Obama haters but they won't attract the independent voters who are necessary for electoral success on the national level.  Her "drill" chant is somewhat outdated now that Obama has announced new federal leases for off shore drilling but her "cut taxes" demand needs to be discussed in the context of the current and near future federal deficit/debt situation.  Coincidentally, also on 4/14 Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake was explaining the problem and its urgency. Unless a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases (tax hikes) are passed, Bernake sees the federal deficit at 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is currently over 14 trillion dollars. But by the end of 2020 he warns the deficit will be 9% of GDP and the federal debt, the accumulated annual deficits, will equal 100% of GDP.  This debt, which must be refinanced periodically through the issuance of govt. bonds will generate an interest obligation of $one trillion dollars annually.  This is unsustainable, and will cause hyper inflation as faith in the dollar declines and bond holders require extremely high interest rates to take the risks involved.  This is a Greece like scenario on a monumental scale.
     Do Palin and the other tax hawks who want to "cut taxes" really believe that the Congress is going to make the massive spending cuts necessary to deal with the deficit/debt?  Roughly 3/4 of the federal budget is politically untouchable because it involves entitlement programs (Social Security; MediCare etc.) and defense spending.  That doesn't leave much for cutting and certainly not enough to deal with the huge numbers Chairman Bernake has described.  Ironically, the tax hawks are also the deficit hawks so they will have some tough choices to make if they want to compete for political power in 2010 and 2012.  Unfortunately, tax hikes are almost inevitable since massive spending cuts are essentially politically impossible and the deficit/debt problem won't wait. Tax hikes will probably come in the form of new taxes rather than increases in tax rates.  The newest tax subject for discussion is some form of Value Added Tax (VAT) a form of federal sales tax which is common in the European Union.  This will be a hot topic, but probably not until after the 2012 presidential election. 

April 15, 2010

It's federal tax filing day for everybody but 48% of filers will pay no taxes. Also, the top 40% of income earners will pay 86% of all federal income taxes.  With current enormous federal deficits morphing into catestrophic federal deficits in the coming years, it is time for a major overhaul of the Federal Tax Code.  A flat tax with few deductions would be a good place to start.