Monthly Archives: September 2011
For the first time, says Gallup, a slight majority of Americans polled put the blame for the shape of the economy on President Obama:
Gallup found a substantially wider gap in public perceptions of how much responsibility Bush and Obama each bore for the economy when it first asked the question in July 2009, the sixth month of Obama’s presidency. That narrowed by March 2010, caused mainly by a jump in the percentage blaming Obama a great deal or moderate amount, and has since changed relatively little. However, the results from a new Sept. 15-18 USA Today/Gallup poll are the first showing a majority of Americans, 53%, assigning significant blame to Obama. Forty-seven percent still say he is "not much" (27%) or "not at all" (20%) to blame.
Independents blame both presidents about equally: 60% blame Obama a great deal or a moderate amount, and 67% say this about Bush. In 2009, the figures were 37% and 81%, respectively.
Obama has been given ownership, whether he wants it or not.
Here’s the key problem for Barack Obama: George Bush isn’t running for president.
How about setting up an operation that allows illegal guns to be “walked” into another sovereign nation – a friendly nation — and see them tied to hundreds of murders. If you were that friendly nation, and had to find out about this violation of your sovereignty via the news media, would you be happy?
Of course not. And neither is Mexico. The entire “Gunwalker” fiasco was done without consulting Mexico a single time. Marisela Morales, Mexico’s Attorney General, is understandably unhappy about that.
Marisela Morales, Mexico’s attorney general and a longtime favorite of American law enforcement agents in Mexico, told The Times that she first learned about Fast and Furious from news reports. And to this day, she said, U.S. officials have not briefed her on the operation gone awry, nor have they apologized.
"At no time did we know or were we made aware that there might have been arms trafficking permitted," Morales, Mexico’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, said in a recent interview. "In no way would we have allowed it, because it is an attack on the safety of Mexicans."
Morales said she did not want to draw conclusions before the outcome of U.S. investigations, but that deliberately letting weapons "walk" into Mexico — with the intention of tracing the guns to drug cartels — would represent a "betrayal" of a country enduring a drug war that has killed more than 40,000 people. U.S. agents lost track of hundreds of weapons under the program.
How could they apologize, Ms. Morales – according to them, none of the top guys knew this was even going on (/sarc).
But the point is clear – this is either the most inept operation ever conceived and executed, or there’s some other ulterior motive to be assigned. Or perhaps both. Things like this unwillingness to notify Mexico or bring them in on the operation tend to have one consider that there might have been an alternate agenda, even if one isn’t inclined to be very open to conspiracy theories.
Anyway, back to Mexico:
Atty. Gen. Morales said it was not until January that the Mexican government was told of the existence of an undercover program that turned out to be Fast and Furious. At the time, Morales said, Mexico was not provided details.
U.S. officials gave their Mexican counterparts access to information involving a group of 20 suspects arrested in Arizona. These arrests would lead to the only indictment to emerge from Fast and Furious.
"It was then that we learned of that case, of the arms trafficking," Morales told The Times. "They haven’t admitted to us that there might have been permitted trafficking. Until now, they continue denying it to us."
Mexico is the beneficiary of the Obama open hand approach to foreign policy – a slap in the face. And that famous transparency is evident as well.
Shoe on the other foot time. How do you suppose we would react if Mexico did the same sort of thing to us? Any inkling of what would be going on now if they were letting guns walk into the US and then finding them at murder scenes?
Yeah, no arrogance to be found here.
In June, Canino, the ATF attache, was finally allowed to say something to Atty. Gen. Morales about the weapons used by Mario Gonzalez’s captors, thought to be members of the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
"I wanted her to find out from me, because she is an ally of the U.S. government," he testified.
Canino later told congressional investigators that Morales was shocked.
"Hijole!" he recalled her saying, an expression that roughly means, "Oh no!"
Canino testified that Fast and Furious guns showed up at nearly 200 crime scenes.
Mexican Congressman Humberto Benitez Trevino, who heads the justice committee in the Chamber of Deputies, said the number of people killed or wounded by the weapons had probably doubled to 300 since March, when he said confidential information held by Mexican security authorities put the figure at 150. The higher number, he said, was his own estimate.
A former attorney general, Benitez labeled the operation a "failure," but said it did not spell a collapse of the two nations’ shared fight against organized crime groups.
"It was a bad business that got out of hand," he said in an interview.
Many Mexican politicians responded angrily when the existence of the program became known in March, with several saying it amounted to a breach of Mexican sovereignty. But much of that anger has subsided, possibly in the interest of not aggravating the bilateral relationship. For Mexico, the U.S. gun problem goes far beyond the Fast and Furious program. Of weapons used in crimes and traced, more than 75% come from the U.S.
"Yes, it was bad and wrong, and you have to ask yourself, what were they thinking?" a senior official in Calderon’s administration said, referring to Fast and Furious. "But, given the river of weapons that flows into Mexico from the U.S., do a few more make a big difference?"
Still, Mexican leaders are under pressure to answer questions from their citizens, with very little to go on.
"The evidence is over there [north of the border]," Morales said. "I can’t put a pistol to their heads and say, ‘Now give it to me or else.’ I can’t."
You have to love the pistol analogy, given the circumstances, don’t you?
The official reason for not notifying Mexico that the US had decided to violate its sovereignty with this operation was ostensibly fear of corruption and that the details of the operation would be leaked to the drug cartels. OK, understood, but still it doesn’t excuse what we wouldn’t tolerate if the tables were turned. You either have a cooperative working relationship with law enforcement officials in Mexico (including all the attendant risks that entails) or you don’t. You can’t selectively choose when and when not to share information if you expect to maintain a reciprocal and meaningful relationship.
This operation has obviously done more than put guns at the scene of 200 Mexican crime scenes. It has damaged relations with a close and friendly neighboring state.
Today’s economic statistical releases:
The market was shocked into stupefaction at an Existing Home Sales release that was stronger than expected. Sales rose by 7.7% to an annual rate of 5.03 million. On a year-over-year basis, sales were up 18.6 %.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that purchase applications fell –4.7%, while re-fi apps rose by 2.2%, resulting in a composite index up by 0.6%.
The “Misery Index” was invented by economist Arthur Koon, an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960′s. It’s a fairly simple formula really. Inflation plus the unemployment rate equals the misery index. Of course since it was first published, we’ve changed the way we compute unemployment so when you see that number today, you have to remember it is lower because of that change.
But still, relatively speaking, it is a good indicator of our economic condition. Today, the misery index stands at 12.87. For the past 4 presidents, the index has ranged from a low of 6.05 under Bill Clinton to the high you see today. Interestingly one term president George H.W. Bush had high index numbers during his presidency (low 10.9, high 11.10). And we know how that turned out.
Barack Obama’s numbers are the highest of the 4.
I noticed that some pundits are trying to compare Obama’s approval ratings at this point in his presidency to those of Ronald Reagan. The misery index gives you an idea of why that won’t fly.
Obama’s index numbers started at 8.92 in 2009. Reagan had an index of 17.97 his first year in office. But the second year numbers tell the tale. In his second year (1982) the index dropped by 2 plus points to 15.87. And the third year numbers are actually a tick lower than Obama’s at 12.82. But notice the trend. It’s down. Markedly down.
Obama’s is going the other way – from 8.92 to 12.87. So while you can certainly say they had similar numbers, what you can’t draw from those numbers is the probability of similar results when election time rolls around. One was trending markedly down and the other is doing the same on the up side. The only thing that has saved Obama from a much higher misery index is the fact that inflation has been successfully dampened by the Fed to this point. If that ever breaks loose, we may see an Carter era Misery Index.
Here’s another comparison that isn’t favorable for the incumbent. The new poverty index numbers are in and they’re not good. A sample:
Americans below the poverty line in 2010: 46.2 million
Official U.S. poverty rate in 2007, before the recession: 12.5 percent
Poverty rate in 2009: 14.3 percent
Poverty rate in 2010: 15.1 percent
Another index trending upward that isn’t good news for an incumbent.
So when you see the left trying to put a brave face on the numbers and making comparisons, all you need to remember to understand they’re simply whistling past the graveyard is that at the same point in each presidency, Reagan’s numbers were getting a lot better while Obama’s continue to get a lot worse. If you’re going to make a comparison to a recent President, Jimmy Carter or even George H.W. Bush are better comparisons – not Ronald Reagan.
And the key to remember about Bush and Carter is this salient description – “one term president”.
President Obama has claimed that the “rich” aren’t paying “their fair share” and he likes to use Warren Buffet’s claim that Buffet pays less in income taxes than his secretary to infer that Buffet’s situation is the norm among our wealthier citizens.
Well it isn’t. And, in fact, any number of news organizations have pointed that out today.
President Barack Obama makes it sound as if there are millionaires all over America paying taxes at lower rates than their secretaries. . . . The data tell a different story. On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more taxes than the middle class or the poor, according to private and government data. They pay at a higher rate, and as a group, they contribute a much larger share of the overall taxes collected by the federal government.
Treasury Secretary Geithner yesterday declined to answer a key question about the president’s proposed ‘Buffett Rule’: How many millionaires and billionaires pay lower tax rates than middle-income families? The answer appears to be this: not many. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has crunched the numbers and found that Warren Buffett and his secretary are the exception to the rule. For the most part, the wealthy pay a significantly higher percentage of their income in taxes than middle-income workers.
There’s one small problem: The entire Buffett Rule premise is false . . . . [N]early all millionaires still paid a rate that is more than twice the 8.9% average rate paid by those earning between $50,000 and $100,000, and more than three times the 7.2% average rate paid by those earning less than $50,000. The larger point is that the claim that CEOs are routinely paying lower tax rates than their secretaries is Omaha hokum.
And the WSJ calls it what it really is:
We rehearse all of this because it shows that the real point of Mr. Obama’s Buffett Rule and his latest deficit proposal isn’t tax justice or good tax policy. It is all about re-election politics.
[W]ith some 14 months until Election Day 2012, Obama’s speech yesterday essentially marked the end of the governing season and the beginning of the campaign. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer admitted as much to the New York Times. ‘The popular narrative is that we sought compromise in a quixotic quest for independent votes. We sought out compromise because a failure to get funding of the government last spring and then an extension of the debt ceiling in August would have been very bad for the economy and for the country.’ Pfeiffer added, ‘We were in a position of legislative compromise by necessity. That phase is behind us.
If there is any transparency at all to this administration, it is this – their every move is obvious and it is clear this is being pushed out there for political reasons, not reasons having to do with what is best for the country.
More developments in the fiasco that is known as Operation Fast and Furious.
There appears to have been a third “Gunwalker” weapon at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry which hasn’t been in evidence, suggesting it has been withheld. Audio recordings reveal the mention of a third gun that until now has been unknown. The conversation is between ATF Agent Hope MacAllister and Glendale, AZ gun shop owner Andre Howard:
Agent: Well there was two.
Dealer: There’s three weapons.
Agent: There’s three weapons.
Dealer: I know that.
Agent: And yes, there’s serial numbers for all three.
Dealer: That’s correct.
Agent: Two of them came from this store.
Dealer: I understand that.
Agent: There’s an SKS that I don’t think came from…. Dallas or Texas or something like that.
Dealer: I know. talking about the AK’s
Agent: The two AK’s came from this store.
Dealer: I know that.
Dealer: I did the Goddamned trace
Agent: Third weapon is the SKS has nothing to do with it.
Dealer: That didn’t come from me.
Agent: No and there is that’s my knowledge. and I spoke to someone who would know those are the only ones they have. So this is the agent who’s working the case, all I can go by is what she told me.
The tapes are several months old (mid March, 2011):
Law enforcement sources and others close to the Congressional investigation say the Justice Department’s Inspector General obtained the audio tapes several months ago as part of its investigation into Fast and Furious.
Then, the sources say for some reason the Inspector General passed the tapes along to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona: a subject in the investigation. It’s unclear why the Inspector General, who is supposed to investigate independently, would turn over evidence to an entity that is itself under investigation.
A spokesman from the Office of the Inspector General today said, "The OIG officially provided the United States Attorney’s Office with a copy of the recordings in question so that the USAO could consider them in connection with the government’s disclosure obligations in the pending criminal prosecutions of the gun traffickers. Prior to receiving the tapes, the OIG made clear that we would have to provide a copy of the recordings to the United States Attorney’s Office because they would need to review them to satisfy any legal disclosure obligations."
Uh, yeah. And why has it taken this long for copies to be provided elsewhere?
Court records have previously only mentioned two weapons: Romanian WASR "AK-47 type" assault rifles. Both were allegedly sold to suspects who were under ATF’s watch as part of Fast and Furious.
Per the agent in the transcript, the third weapon (SKS) came from “Dallas or Texas or something like that” and they had serial numbers for all three.
Why are we just finding out about the third weapon at the scene?
Today’s economic statistical releases:
ICSC-Goldman reports that retail sales fell by –1.2% for the latest week, though the year-on-year rate is on trend at 3.4%. Meanwhile Redbook’s same-store year-on-year sales came in at the low end of the trend at 4.1%.
Housing starts fell -5.0% in August to a lower-than-expected annualized pace of 0.571 million. But, building permits increased by 3.2%, signaling a bit more health in the future. Overall, housing still remains a drag on the larger economy.
Funny how the left constantly tries to redefine words or terms in order to justify their actions. Current tax rates are referred too as “tax cuts” when they refer to the “rich” but no other class of taxpayer. The fact that the “rich”, as defined by Obama and company, pay the lion’s share of taxes now while the bottom 50% of “taxpayers” pay a combined 2.75% of all taxes is ignored.
And now, with renewed attacks on the “rich”, it’s “not class warfare. It’s math.” Now, I guess, we’re redefining “math” as well. Notice what isn’t being talked about which usually enters any public discussion by the left? Fairness.
In fact, changing the tax rates on the “rich” is a leftist wet dream, because somehow they’re of the opinion that what the “rich” have earned really fell from the sky and they were just lucky enough that it fell in their backyard. So “fairness” is redistribution, by their redefinition of course.
Yes, it is “only math” if you believe in a very pernicious premise – that government has first claim on everything you earn. That you don’t “deserve” to keep what you make.
J.E. Dyer wrote a great post at Hot Air on the subject. I recommend it. What the “it’s math” crowd want you to ignore is this:
If any of us doesn’t deserve to keep everything he has earned, then that man is a slave. Alternatively, he is less than human; he has no moral standing, and no unalienable rights inhere in him. He is like a farm animal.
Of course we all deserve to keep our own money. If it is ill-gotten – stolen, swindled – then it’s the crime that deprives us of it, not any inherent function of the armed authorities to prowl the land in search of “undeserved” bank balances.
The question of what we “deserve” boils down to which came first, the individual human with rights, or the state. America was founded on the principle that the individual human with rights comes first. Any idea that violates that principle is counter to our founding idea. It is not possible to reconcile with our founding principle the idea of collective schemes in which we make some modification to “what we deserve.” We either deserve to keep all our own earnings – money – wealth – goods – or we do not have unalienable rights.
In this case, it is the “rich” who are being used as the farm animals.
Here’s the truth about taxes paid. The “rich” or top 1% pay 38.02% of all income taxes collected. So over 1/3 of all taxes are paid by 1%. Expand that a little and the top 5% pay 58.7% – well over half of all income taxes collected. The top 10% pay 69.94%
So 10% of all income earners are paying 70% of all taxes.
Entry into those hallowed ranks? Well to be in the top 10%, your adjusted gross income need merely be $113,000. “Rich”, right?
Of course not, in fact, most who understand what it requires to live realize that $113,000 is working class. The top 5%’s income threshold is $159,000. And the top 1% is $380,000.
So what Mr. “It’s not class warfare” is recommending is raising taxes on those who already pay 38% of all taxes. And obviously, in the convoluted world of the left, that’s fair.
The president criticized Republicans for insisting no taxes can be raised, and said it would not be possible to improve the nation’s fiscal standing without new taxes on the wealthy.
He rejected criticism that his proposals amount to class warfare, saying that after a decade of unchecked spending, every American has to pitch in and pay their fair share. Otherwise, Obama said, the U.S. will try to cut programs for the middle-class and the poor while protecting tax cuts for the wealthy.
You have to love the so-called reasoning. “After a decade of unchecked spending, every American has to pitch in and pay their fair share”. The government spent it, but it is up to those government supposedly serves to pay it off – try that on your boss sometime. The entire pitch here is to claim a single class of people haven’t paid their “fair share” (fair share being redefined as over 38% of the total for one and only one class) of what the government has spent without consulting them or anyone else.
And 1% paying 38% of the load is fair? How is “every American” pitching in when he’s only talking about raising taxes on a single class … the 38% class? And how isn’t that class warfare?
Raising taxes on the top 1% has become Obama’s panacea for everything. You almost want to say “go ahead” and let the truth finally sink in. The top 1% cannot cover the profligacy of the government in any way, shape or form, even if the tax rate were to be raised to 100%. As taxes go up, the ‘rich’ find ways to protect their wealth. It’s again Econ 101 stuff. And, of course, they have every right to do so. It’s their money, not the government’s.
Yeah, it’s not “class warfare. It’s math”.
But only as the left has redefined each concept.
I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, but events overcame the ability to do so until now (Okay, I forgot about it).
What you’ll see with this particular provision is just stupid law. Granted, the entire law in which this provision is found is, in my opinion, stupid, but this takes the cake. But it also appears to be a politically motivated provision designed to make Health Savings Accounts (HSA) unattractive. I can’t see any other reason for it. George Scoville has written extensively on it. Here’s what he’s found:
Starting Jan. 1, 2011, you will no longer be able to use your Health Savings Account (HSA) to pay for over the counter (OTC) medications at a pharmacy, supermarket or other retail store without a prescription.
Examples of OTC items that will require a prescription for HSA debit card purchases as of Jan. 1, 2011:
- Acid controllers
- Acne medicine
- Aids for indigestion
- Allergy and sinus medicine
- Anti-diarrhea medicine
- Baby rash ointment
- Cold and flu medicine
- Eye drops
- Feminine anti-fungal or anti-itch products
- Hemorrhoid treatment
- Laxatives or stool softeners
- Lice treatments
- Motion sickness medicines
- Nasal sprays or drops
- Ointments for cuts, burns or rashes
- Pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- Sleep aids
- Stomach remedies
Yes, that’s right, suddenly many things that Americans buy without thinking twice about are made prescription items if you want to use your HSA to pay for them. And those would all be legitimate items for purchase with an HSA account. So ObamaCare introduces a hassle factor. What a great way to get people to drop their HSA for something easier and more hassle free – like mandated insurance, no?
But as usual, the law of unintended consequences drops by to say “hello” (the hassle factor is intended, this, probably not although you’d be hard pressed to figure out why they didn’t think of it):
Doctors at East Louisville Pediatrics PSC in Kentucky say they’re writing as many as 50 prescriptions a day for drugs such as Bayer AG’s aspirin and Pfizer Inc.’s Advil that don’t need a physician’s nod to be purchased off pharmacy shelves.
The trend, triggered by the 2010 health-care law, affects more than 20 million Americans with flexible spending or health savings accounts that let them use pretax dollars for medical needs. A U.S. rule that took effect Jan. 1 taxes purchases of over-the-counter drugs except for insulin unless the patient has a prescription, generating $5 billion through 2019, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
Doctors, pharmacists, insurers and drug companies say while it may generate money to help expand coverage for the uninsured, the measure is driving up medical costs and creating unnecessary work. They want it repealed, expecting demand to surge at year’s end, when people have to use up balances in the accounts.
“It’s a complete waste of time,” said Conrad Flick, one of five physicians at Family Medical Associates of Raleigh in North Carolina, in a telephone interview. In many cases, he said, he’ll talk with patients by phone to determine why they want the drug before he feels comfortable writing the prescription. “So I’m spending an extra half-hour or hour of my day doing things that I don’t get paid for,” he said.
Administrative costs from the new provision are growing, said Diane Myers, administrator for the East Louisville practice that has eight doctors and two nurse practitioners who write prescriptions. “I bet we’re spending a minimum of 10 hours a week on these things,”she said.
10 hours a week that could be spent doing important things or, in this case, having a life. 10 hours a week lost writing prescriptions for aspirin, for heaven sake.
This is an “improvement”? This saves money? This is a provision that helps bend the cost curve down?
In an alternate universe maybe.
Your government at work.
Today’s economic statistical releases..well, "release", actually…is the Housing Market Index, which fell one point to 14. It’s been stuck around this level since the Home Buyer Tax Credit expired last June. Even the decline in mortgage rates over the last year hasn’t helped at all. This is also an index where the break-even point is 50, i.e, anything above that is an expansion, while below it is contraction. So, 14 is…bad.
Of course, part of the problem is that, not matter how low mortgage rates are, that doesn’t really help if the bank is demanding to see $200k in cash as security before they give you a $200k loan. Being unable to get a loan, unless you’re so credit-worthy that you don’t need a loan kind of defeats the purpose of mortgage lending. Foreclosures are still high, so banks are still scared to loan money.
Welcome to the world of bad debt overhang.
Note to progressives: Taxing The Rich™ won’t solve this problem. In case you were wondering.