Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Things to think about on a beautiful Sunday

So, after jamming the health care reform legislation through Congress, Democrats begin to turn a wary eye toward November and the mid-term elections.

A good portion of them have deluded themselves into thinking Bill Clinton was right – that after they passed the legislation all the furor would subside and Americans would accept the new legislation – even embrace it.   The term “Judas goat” comes to mind.  And I think for those who bought into that nonsense, they realize they’ve certainly been led into the electoral slaughter pen. The Obama post law-signing sales tour has been anything but successful in changing the public’s perception of the law.  And it certainly hasn’t cooled the anger about its passage.

Some Democrats are giving up to “spend more time with their families” as has Bart Stupak.  They see the writing on the wall and don’t like what they’re reading.  Others are gearing up for a fight that many experts are sure they’ll lose.   Of course there are those on the left who’re sure the tide will turn.  James Carvelle recently said the GOP “peaked too soon”.  I don’t think so.

However, what are the Democrats going to do to reverse this trend that sees them losing big in November.  Well, the word was they were going to do energy next.   And that energy would contain a utility tax being called “cap-and trade lite”.  Frankly I don’t see them trying to introduce any new tax before November unless they’re just a lot less intelligent than they should be.

But they have to do something to take the public’s mind of HCR and do something positive for their chances in November.  I was thinking about that when this headline caught my attention – “Hispanic loyalty to Democrats wanes” with the sub – “Inaction on immigration reform has key voting bloc less enthused about election.” Ah ha! Why is this potentially the issue that will be most important to Dems prior to November – because of the nature of the election.

“The number of Latinos who say they are enthusiastic about midterm elections is the lowest we’ve ever seen,” said Barreto, whose firm polls extensively among Hispanics. In 2006, 77 percent of Hispanics were excited about voting. In a recent poll, however, just 49 percent were excited.

As Barreto noted, midterm elections usually feature lower turnout, which means victory hinges on energizing the party’s core supporters rather than persuading swing voters.

So Barreto is asserting that Hispanics are inclined to vote Democratic and unlike the 2006 mid-terms, have much less interest in voting in this mid-term because, well, see the headline.

Conclusion – look for a flurry of activity addressing “comprehensive immigration reform” in an attempt to energize the hispanic vote prior to November and, I’d guess, try to lure some independents back as well. Whether they get anything done or not is probably not as important right now, in the short time span involved, than appearing to make the effort. Whether that will be enough to save them remains to be seen.

But if it doesn’t – then what? What would a lame duck Democratic majority Congress attempt from November to January. My guess, and that’s all it is, with nothing to lose, they’d go for broke and try to ram as much of their agenda through as possible. And that means they’ll be working on a comprehensive energy bill, to include cap-and-tax, and possibly a VAT tax, and be prepared to introduce them the day following the mid-terms. Success might not be easy, but if Nancy Pelosi knows she’s losing her speakership and Harry Reid finds himself out of a job – anything is possible.

~McQ

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Homes for our troops

I’m in DC finishing up the Milblog conference – which was very good by the way.  Blackfive won a Milbloggie and I got to meet a heck of a lot of good people.  One was John S. Gonsalves.  He’s president and founder of Homes for our troops (www.homesforourtroops.org).  He builds homes for our military members who’ve been severely disabled by war injuries.   They’re hi-tech (voice command activation, automatically opening doors, etc – when needed) that allow the injured solder to  have a much more normal life in a house built to specification that fit the requirements of his or her new needs.  He builds them all over the country and is always looking for volunteers in construction, plumbing, electricians, etc.  If you’re so inclined, get a hold of John and volunteer your services.  Hit his website and contact him or if you prefer, drop me a line and I’ll give you his contact info.  If you’re not much of a carpenter or electrician, but want to help, they are always in need of donations.   Last night, John’s organization was given a $3,500 at the Milblog Conference dinner.  Seriously, I’m very impressed with what they do and he and his organization fill a crying need.

~McQ

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Possible SCOTUS picks

Daniel Foster at NRO lays out what most people feel are the most probable picks by President Obama for the upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court:

Merrick Garland -  a former federal prosecutor and current D.C. Circuit appeals judge. A Clinton appointee, Garland is well-liked by Democrats and even some Republicans in the Senate.

Elena Kagan – The first-female Solicitor General and probably first-runner-up for the Sotomayor seat, Kagan has a record of the kind of cagey jurisprudence that is ideal for a tough confirmation battle. She is well-respected by just about everybody on both sides, but lacks the paper trail that would reveal just how far to the left she’d sit.

Diane Wood – Another Clinton appointee, considered the heaviest liberal counterweight to the conservative Chicago Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dominated by Richard A. Posner. Wood was a colleague of President Obama at the University of Chicago Law School.

Pamela Karlan – A professor at Stanford Law School, Karlan is a longshot once was described by the New York Times as a “snarky. . . Antonin Scalia for the left.” Karlan is openly gay, and an outspoken liberal.

As Foster says, Pamela Karlan is probably the least likely of the 4 listed to be nominated, but still a possibility.  Since it is a liberal seat that’s being filled, the current balance won’t change.  From what I’ve read, the least liberal of the bunch is Garland, and, as Foster implies, is the one with the most reasonable chance of confirmation of the four.  If he’s the nominee, I’d imagine that the GOP won’t put up that much of a fight.  If, however, any of the other three should be nominated, expect a fight.  Also expect the usual charges of sexism to be thrown out there during that fight.

~McQ

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The Internet: Still Not Getting It

It’s been an interesting week for me, because I’ve run into three situations that illustrate to me that, even though the Internet has been around since 1995, and has been hugely important to business–and politics, of course–since 2000, it’s clear that many people are still unclear about it.  Ive been a web developer since ’96, and have been the Managing Principal of WebmasterDeveloper.Com since 2003.  There was a time when I just assumed that no one knew anything about the Internet, and that sort of attitude among customers was defensible. In 2010, however, those days should be long gone.

But that attitude is still out there, and I’ve been hit over the head with it repeatedly this week.

Client 1:

This client created an affiliate marketing web site, aimed at a group of customers to which they have direct access through their other lines of business.  They spent months crafting the web site to provide the best affiliate programs they can think of.  After going live with their web site a few weeks ago, they’ve had 1 sale, and about 40 affiliate click-throughs.  They were shocked that their direct marketing of the site to existing customers has had such a dismal response.  In the course of conversation with the client, I asked, “Did you ever do any surveys of your customers to see what kind of offers would have value to them?  The answer:  No.  We didn’t want to spend a bunch of startup capital doing that.

They’ve spent thousands of dollars building a web site without any knowledge about what their customers want.  They’ve never talked to their customers; never gotten any idea of what their customers need, and how to fulfill that need.  They’ve spent every penny on building a web site to fulfill a need they haven’t even defined with their customers.  And now, since the customers aren’t responding, they’re concerned that there may be some sort of technical problem.

Client 2:

“I haven’t been getting any orders from my web site.  Apparently, the web host shut my site down for non-payment, but I don’t remember getting any notifications that there was a problem with my credit card. Anyway, can you see what I owe, so I can pay them, and you guys can download my site and transfer it to another web host?”  As it happens, the web host not only sent out email notifications, but made phone calls to try and collect payment, with no response.  In May of 2009.  Of course, their web site files are loooong gone.

So, the client clearly hasn’t even looked at his own web site for at least 10 months.

Client 3:

This client is completely changing their web site to become the single point of contact with their customer base.  Their customers will have to pay an annual fee just to see the products they sell, then use the web site to submit initial bids for salvage auctions.  I informed the client via email that we needed content from them.  I received an angry phone call from the client, who screamed at me, “I just want to concentrate on my business, which is [widget salvage]!  I don’t want to spend all my time doing web design!  That’s what I pay you for!”

In other words, the client wants to make the web site his sole source of initial interaction with his customers, but he is uninterested in writing any content for it.  His web site will be the primary public access that customers have to his company, but working on the web site is a distraction from his real business.

And the real kicker is, on the day we finished the initial programming, he drops the bombshell that the site’s design–which he approved on January 27–is completely unacceptable, and he wants to completely redesign the site.  This is akin to approving the blueprints for a home construction project, then kiting in on the day the contractor finishes laying the last bits of carpet and exclaiming, “I wanted four bedrooms, not three!”


All of these clients, despite their differing details, have one glaring thing in common:  It’s the assumption that once something goes out onto the Internet, it works because pixies sprinkle magical fairy dust on it.  Tinkerbell waves her wand, sparkly bits fly through the air, and money just comes rolling in to your bank account.

In the real world, the Internet operates on the same principles any brick and mortar business does.  You still have to perform due diligence.  You still need to market to your customers.  You still need to go into the office–even if it’s a virtual one.

Nothing magical happens simply because people can access your business online, rather than jumping in the car and driving to it.

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Democrats: How do we game CBO so VAT doesn’t look so bad?

Mary Katherine Ham reports that the CBO is being hit with a lot of questions about the Value Added Tax (VAT) by Congress.  Taking Paul Volker at his word, they’re obviously in the beginning stages of trying to make the VAT “not as toxic an idea” as it has been in the past. As the title implies, the masters at gaming the CBO are probably already hard at work.

Said CBO chief, Douglass Elmendorf:

“Many people in Congress are interested in it,” he said of the VAT, a national sales tax that adds between 10 and 20 percent to purchases in European countries where it’s been implemented. “We’ve had conversations with a number of members and their staffs.”

You don’t say?!  I know, dear reader, you’re as shocked as I am, aren’t you?

A couple of points – this is going to be constantly misrepresented as a “national sales tax”.  It’s not a national sales tax.  VAT is a tax levied against every step in the production process rendering any retail good 10 to 20% higher than it would have been without the tax.  No one is going to add 10 or 20% at the register – instead everything you purchase will have that additional cost of taxation already added to its final purchase price.  It’s a nicely hidden tax (thus very attractive for the looters in DC) that saves you being reminded of it at the register everytime you buy something.  You’ll just see your overall purchasing power erodeded by whatever the VAT percentage is.

Oh, and that will be in addition to the income tax.   You didn’t think the IRS was going away, did you?  Finally, it certainly isn’t a progressive tax as it will lower the purchasing power of the poor much more than that of the rich.  And we all know what that means – somewhere there’s going to be a subsidy or a kick-back to consumers  of certain levels of income.  And yes, you’ll pay for that as well. Trust me, this will only end up being fully levied on the despised “rich”, as usual in t.

Revenue, folks, revenue – the beast is hungry and insatiable.  And it has a very serious problem looming the future.  It wants no part of lean and mean.  Instead, it wants to be fat, happy and expanding – and VAT would do that.  And you, dear wage earner, are the means to its dreams.

~McQ

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Two can play this game

Benjamin Netanyahu has decided that he’s been treated like trailer trash long enough:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a planned trip to Washington next week to take part in President Barack Obama’s 47-country nuclear security summit conference.

The ostensible reason for the very public cancellation?

He made the decision after learning that Egypt and Turkey intended to raise the issue of Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal at the conference, a senior government official said on Friday.

Israel is believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East but has never confirmed or denied that it possesses atomic weapons. It has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

That’s the official reason – and there may be a grain of truth to it.  It’s Obama’s summit. But given the treatment Obama has given Israel lately, I’m sure Netanyahu has no illusions about his previously staunch US ally stepping in and stopping any such attempted hijacking of the summit by Egypt and Turkey.  Of course, Israel wouldn’t be the only nation there which hasn’t signed the NPT (India and Pakistan).

Probably more importantly though, the summit and nuclear non-proliferation are a pet project of Obama’s.  Israel is choosing to display its displeasure with Obama and the way it has been treated recently (see visa story below as well) by visibly and publicly downgrading their level of participation to Deputy Prime Minister level.  Or at least that’s the way I see it.

In hardball, both sides get a chance on the mound.

~McQ

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Biting the hand that feeds it?

It is getting to be fun now.  Tea Parties to the right of us, union parties to the left …

The SEIU (Service Employees International Union), often seen at Tea Party rallies trying to introduce a little violence, has decided that NC would be a good state to test out their promise to Blue Dogs that they’d go after them if they didn’t support the agenda the SEIU Democrats wanted.

Wow, Blue Dogs and Dem lap dogs going after each other. You have to like it.

The SEIU says it will do so via a third party – North Carolina First – which, of course, bypasses the whole primary gig.  That means those Blue Dogs they’ve targeted (Dem. Reps Heath Shuler, Mike McIntyre, and Larry Kissell) will face the SEIU candidates in the general elections in traditionally red districts, thereby reliably splitting whatever blue vote there might be and ensuring a GOP victory.

Of course, that’s if the Tea Party (TP) isn’t running a candidate of its own in the general election (although indications are TP candidates are more likely to challenge in the GOP primary vs. a general election).

The SEIU is teaming up with State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) to try and stand the party up and field candidates for the fall election.  Anyone who wants those  3 seats to go to the GOP is most likely wishing the SEIU and SEANC a lot of luck in doing just that.

Greg Sargent thinks this is a “a serious experiment in reshaping the landscape of Democratic politics, and it bears watching” implying could be a template for similar attempts in other states.  I sure hope so.  And if so, coupled with the TP, it would be an attempt on both sides of the political spectrum to move the primary party in that part of the spectrum more to the left or right respectively.  You have to wonder how independents would react to success in such attempts and then which way they’d tend to go to lend their support.

~McQ

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Still trying to find that “reset” button for Israel

Well, it’s good to see the Obama administration is taking steps to warm up the relationship with Israel after the recent molehill they managed to turn into a mountain.  Joshua Pundit reports:

NRG/Maariv (Hebrew link only, sorry) reported today that the Israeli government was stunned when every nuclear technician at Israel’s Dimona reactor who had submitted visa requests to visit the United States for ongoing university education in Physics, Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering had their visa applications summarily rejected, specifically because of their association with the Dimona reactor.

This is a new policy decision of the Obama administration. Up until now, it was routine for Israeli nuclear scientists and technicians to receive such visas and to study at US universities.

Israeli security officials have confirmed that these technicians are being denied visas solely because of their employment at the Dimona reactor.

Not only are employees at Dimonas taboo, but reportedly the US has an unofficial embargo on selling anything to be used at the site.

Professor Zeev Alfasi, the head of Nuclear Engineering at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev stated that “the United States doesn’t sell anything nuclear-related to the Dimona reactor, and that means absolutely nothing. Radiation detectors, for example have to be purchased now in France because the USA refuses to sell these to Israel.”

This is how you treat allies when relations are a bit rocky.  And apparently, this is how you “edge” the world closer to abandoning nuclear weapons.

I’m sure this will be studied in foreign policy schools for years to come as the way diplomacy among allies is conducted.  And I’m very sure that Israel will respond to this fine treatment with a renewed desire to settle the Palestinian problem once and for all.

[/sarc]

~McQ

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Anyone else getting mixed signals?

I’m sorry if I misunderstood, but for whatever reason, I was under the impression that this present administration was the administration of law and order which placed the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike in the forefront of any considerations it made.  No more of this “supreme executive” touting the law and  infringing on the rights of good Americans. Why, the administration even made a point of demanding Miranda rights be given insurgents and terrorists snagged on the battlefield.  It made a big deal (from which it has since backed away) about trying terror suspects in civilian courts to show the world we could handle those misfits in our court system.

So how did this suddenly morph into an administration which throws due process down the toilet and orders the assassination of a US citizen – even odious ones with ties to terrorism?

Look, to use one of Obama’s favorite rhetorical flourishes,  let me be clear – bad guys are not people I normally defend.  And I’m no fan of US citizens who’re engaged in activities I’d deem hostile to the citizenry of this country at large.  But that doesn’t mean you can arbitrarily throw “due process” under the bus because it is expedient to do so.  That is unless you also have no problem having that process thrown under the bus if you are deemed some sort of a threat (to be defined as needed later).  I mean this is mafia territory.  You just call Vinny and put a hit out on the guy.  Due process?  The supreme executive don’t need no due process.  Hit him.

Glenn Greenwald, not someone I’m normally in agreement right, fulfills the law of stopped clocks – they’re right twice daily.  He’s absolutely correct in his outrage at the Obama administration:

George Bush’s decision merely to eavesdrop on American citizens without oversight, or to detain without due process Americans such as Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, provoked years of vehement, vocal and intense complaints from Democrats and progressives.  All of that was disparaged as Bush claiming the powers of a King, a vicious attack on the Constitution, a violation of Our Values, the trampling on the Rule of Law.  Yet here you have Barack Obama not merely eavesdropping on or detaining Americans without oversight, but ordering them killed with no oversight and no due process of any kind.

We at this blog were quite clear about how we felt about Jose Padilla and his unconstitutional handling.  Yes, it’s harder than just being a nice nazi and ignoring the Constitutional provisions provided by our nation’s founding legal document.  But it’s harder for good reason – and this decision to assassinate a US citizen points to the very core of the reason.  Without due process as guaranteed by the Constitution, this is how those in power could act arbitrarily.  No longer the rule of law – it becomes the arbitrary rule of men.  And there’s nothing to say that US citizens such a regime couldn’t find “enemies” of the state to be marked for assassination  domestically as well.

Again, I have absolutely no love for this cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki.  Is he an enemy of the state?  That’s what due process is designed to determine.  What we do know is he’s a US citizen born in New Mexico.  Issue an arrest warrant.  Demand Yemen arrest and extradite him.  Drag his jihadist butt into court and try him on the charges.  Present evidence.  Let him face his accusers and try to refute the charges.  And if found guilty, punish him to the full extent of the law.  In this case, I absolutely agree that criminal court is the proper venue for this sort of trial.

But who the hell is Barack Obama to arbitrarily and unilaterally waive Constitutional due process (oh, that’s right, he’s a Constitutional law professor, isn’t he?) and order the assassination of a US citizen?  And as an aside – where are all the liberal voices who spent every waking hour worrying about George Bush’s eavesdropping and loudly denouncing it, forever and ever, amen?  Why are they, for the most part, silent on the subject of assassinating a US citizen?

~McQ

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