Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Podcast Posting Delay

Yes, we did do a podcast.  I have the recording and everything.  he reason you don’t see it because right after I finished recording it, I had to take Apollo to the emergency vet hospital.

Apollo had an “inverted prepuce”, causing Paraphimosis. I’m not going to tell you what that is.  Look it up.  (Be aware though, that if you look up “Paraphimosis”, you’ll probably get a NSFW result.  Even at Wikipedia.) Apparently, even though he was neutered as a pup, when Contessa goes into heat, he has…urges.  Which led to today’s complication.

So, I’ve spent the last 3.5 hours at the vet’s.  But they got his thingy put back in, and he’s resting now.  Any by “resting”, I mean stoned to the gills on a Valium and opiate cocktail.  Here’s pics of the little stoner as of about 15 minutes ago.

Vets have the best stash.

Vets have the best stash.

Have you ever looked at your paw, man?  I mean <em>really</em> looked at your paw?

Have you ever looked at your paw, man? I mean really looked at your paw?

He’s zonked out with a cool compress between his legs, to keep the swelling down.

Anyway, I’ll try to get the podcast up tomorrow.

More recent pics of the dogs from last week below the fold, for those who are interested.

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This Is “Rich”

I‘m still amazed that many people who put their support behind Obama in the presidential election, are suddenly discovering things about him they don’t like.

Really? Now they discover Obama is a class warrior? It comes as no surprise for those of us who took the time to assess where he came from and what (little) he’d done.

Suddenly, the rich are concerned that the guy they backed may not be what they hoped he was (notice that’s the correct context in which “hope” should be used when “hope and change” is spoken):

Some of Barack Obama’s richest supporters fear they have elected a “class warrior” to the White House, who will turn America’s freewheeling capitalism into a more regulated European system

Ya think? What was your first clue – his remarks about “spreading the wealth” to Joe the Plumber or the thousands of other things he said which might imply such a tendency?

And as an aside, America’s capitalism is about as “freewheeling” as a modern waterslide is “death defying”.

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, a free enterprise think tank, said Democrats in Congress were unnerved by the president’s latest plan to raise $210 billion over 10 years from multinational corporations.

The money is needed to pay for a national debt that will double over the next five years; and triple over the next 10 years to $17.3 trillion. But the crackdown already faces fierce Democratic resistance.

“These big companies are based in New York Boston, Seattle and Silicon Valley, where Democrats dominate,” Mr Edwards said. “Obama’s tax plan is already cleaving him from his big corporate supporters,” he said.

The good news in this, of course, is that Congress has to pass the legislation that enables this, and per Edwards, they’re getting cold feet. The reason is also obvious – any “cleaving” of Obama from “big corporate sponsors” also means the rest of the Democrats suffer the same fate.

The level of taxation necessary to pay for the profligate spending now taking place will have to be massive as anyone with a 5th grade education understands. But the Dems also understand that any taxation that takes place must be other than income taxes because it is important to maintain the mirage that “95% of all Americans” are getting tax cuts. That leaves “the rich”, corporations and smoke and mirrors.

The rich have been identified ($250k or more), corporations are on the block with much higher taxation in the offing. So the investor class and the engine of the economy are under assault. The smoke and mirrors show? Wait until health care and cap and tax trade hit. 100% of Americans will be paying large sums for both.

But back to the point – the deeper we get into the Obama administration, the more we come to understand how gullible a good portion of the American public appears to be. There is a certain level of satisfaction with the buyer’s remorse being seen among many of his supporters as they see what their vote has actually bought. I sure hope they don’t shop for other important items as badly as they apparently shop for presidents.

~McQ

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“Star Trek” – My Review ***With Spoilers***

The short review is simple.  If you are really devoted to the current Star Trek canon, you won’t like it.  For everyone else, you’ll probably like this movie.  Taken on it’s own, it is a good movie, albeit with a few minor problem here and there.  And most people won’t even notice the problems.

The acting is very good.  Chris Pine’s performance as the young Jim Kirk is especially well done.  When the guy is on the screen, you just have to look at him.  And he has the character of the young Kirk down pat:  Brash, womanizing, risk-taking, and self-confident. Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy is also well played, and we even got an “I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” out of him.  Zachary Quinto expresses the conflict between emotions and logic that plagues his character with surprising subtlety.  Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is, for practically the first time in 40 years, an interesting character, with a story and a life.

The dialogue is sharper and wittier than we’re used to seeing in a Star Trek movie, and the wit pops up in unexpected places, like Capt. Pike’s first encounter with Nero, the Romulan villain of the piece:  “I’m Captain Christopher Pike, of the Federation starship Enterprise.” “Hi, Christopher, I’m Nero.”  The back-and-forth banter between the Spock and McCoy characters that was so much a part of the original series is presented well in the new movie.

The action in the film is practically non-stop, with hardly any time to catch your breath.  So, the film is tightly scripted, which makes the 2.5 hour running time seem like much less.

Based on the above, I rate the movie very highly.

I did mention some problems though, and I’d like to address them.  I can’t do that, though, without giving away some spoilers.

Do not read any more, unless you’re willing to encounter serious spoilers.

This is your last warning.

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Another Saturday Bush-era Backpeddle

Another “horrible Bush-era rule“, uh, er, kept:

The Obama administration on Friday let stand a Bush-era regulation that limits protection of the polar bear from global warming, saying that a law protecting endangered species shouldn’t be used to take on the much broader issue of climate change.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that he will not rescind the Bush rule, although Congress gave him authority to do so. The bear was declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act a little over a year ago, because global warming is harming its habitat.

So why is this interesting (and important)?

The US Environmental Protection Agency designated polar bears an endangered species last year, because their habitats were disappearing as ice-caps melted.

Environmentalists seized on the ruling, arguing that endangered species were entitled to heightened protection under US law and that the government was therefore obliged to crack down on the carbon emissions causing global warming.

The Endangered Species Act bars federal agencies from “taking actions that are likely to jeopardise the species or adversely modify its critical habitat”, and lays down civil and criminal penalties for people that kill or injure designated animals.

But?

But the Bush administration passed a rule exempting “activities outside the bear’s range, such as emission of greenhouse gases” from prohibition.

Which, apparently, the Obama administration has found to be the proper rule:

It is this rule that the Obama administration has decided to let stand.

Because, you see:

“The Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation’s carbon emissions,” Mr Salazar said.

“Instead, we need a comprehensive energy and climate strategy that curbs climate change and its impacts.”

While I’m not so sure about Sec. Salazar’s last point, I agree whole-heartedly with his first.

The usual suspects, of course, are livid – but then they spend most of their life livid.

~McQ

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Military Commissions Again In Saturday News

Last Saturday, May 2nd, we were reading about the possibility that the Obama administration might revive the military commissions that candidate Obama had so reviled.

Today, Saturday May 9th, we again see more on the subject. Could the administration be any more obvious in their attempts to “hide” this story?

The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under new rules that would offer terrorism suspects greater legal protections, government officials said.

The rules would block the use of evidence obtained from coercive interrogations, tighten the admissibility of hearsay testimony and allow detainees greater freedom to choose their attorneys, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

So apparently it really wasn’t the commissions themselves, but how they were run. Of course they were run by rules that Congress had put in place. Yeah, you can figure out the rest.

And the only change I can see is the elimination of some evidence, tightning of the rules on other evidence and the ability to choose their attorney (to a point).

Yet, in the big scheme of things, it ensures that secret testimony, exposure of which so concerned the previous administration, will remain secret. Yes, that’s a good thing.guantanamo-bay-5a

But, as the Obama administration begins to reinvent the wheel (even though it will claim that these military commissions aren’t the same as the previous military commissions – a bit like saying a Ford isn’t a Chevy. They’re still both cars) I keep remembering a very sure candidate proclaiming:

“By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure.”

The Obama administration is seeking a 90 day extension on the 120 day extension previously imposed on military commissions. They would be moved to American soil (given the ruling by SCOTUS that doesn’t mean as much as it would have previously). But by all appearances, they will be pretty much the very same thing that candidate Obama said was unacceptable and an “enormous failure”. In the end, it appears, it has just been justice delayed (another reason he was against them).

Of course the real critics of such commissions (those whose opposition wasn’t strictly political in nature) are not happy:

“This is an extraordinary development, and it’s going to tarnish the image of American justice again,” said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International.

Yeah, well he won you know Tom, and with that, he reserves the right to throw issues under the bus if necssary, especially when it becomes clear that he had no idea about the subject he was condemning. And as an aside – I suspect that the slight differences in the commissions listed above will be enough for the fevered left to roll over and accept these military commissions as “OK”.

~McQ

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About Your Illegal Yard Sale

One of the things I try to consistently feature here at QandO is the depth of intrusion of the federal government into our daily lives. Talk about “mission creep”. There’s little that we do any more that doesn’t seem to involve the government looking over our shoulder and I, frankly, don’t welcome that sort of monitoring or intrusion.

The latest? The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a 28 page pamphlet which outlines the result of a recent law (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) and its impact.

So if you’re planning on selling your kids old books (or anything else that a kid under 12 might use) and they haven’t been “tested” first, you’re liable to a $100,000 fine. Now I know you’re reading this and saying, “no way. Our government would be that intrusive”.

I guess the best way to counter that is with the CPSC’s own words:

This handbook will help sellers of used products identify types of potentially hazardous products that could harm children or others. CPSC’s laws and regulations apply to anyone who sells or distributes consumer products. This includes thrift stores, consignment stores, charities, and individuals holding yard sales and flea markets.

The next line of defense for those who support this level of intrusion, once that level of intrusion has been exposed in the government’s own words, is “well, how would they enforce it”?

It’s not a bad argument (the answer is selectively), but it misses the real point.

Obviously, it’s unlikely the CPSA goons are going to bust up your yard sale. But putting out a detailed booklet that reserves the right to do so is hardly encouraging about where the implementation of this legislation is heading.

It is about precedent. And, it’s about acceptance. When both are established, it doesn’t require much in the way of the imagination to realize that like any entity which seeks to increase its power, government will soon attempt to stretch the envelope just a little further (further precedent/acceptance).

Wash, rinse, repeat.

~McQ

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Car Czar Thuggery (Updated)

rattner

Steven Rattner, the Obama administration’s “Car Czar,” was recently accused of acting, well, rather czar-ishly by White & Case attorney Tom Lauria. Those accusations were later corroborated by others privy to the meetings. Now comes a rather disturbing (and presently unsubstantiated) account of exactly what was said1:

Confronting the head of a non-TARP fund holding Chrysler debt and unwilling to release it for any sum less than that to which it was legally entitled without compelling cause, this country’s “Car Czar” berated the manager of said fund with an outburst of prose substantially resembling this:

Who the f*** do you think you’re dealing with? We’ll have the IRS audit your fund. Every one of your employees. Your investors. Then we will have the Securities and Exchange Commission rip through your books looking for anything and everything and nothing we find to destroy you with.

Faced with these sorts of threats, in this environment, with valued employees in the crosshairs and AIG a fresh, open wound upon the market, the fund folded.

Keep in mind that the non-TARP creditors in the bankruptcy have been forced to lump their fates in with the TARP recipients (emphasis added):

As of last night’s deadline, we were part of a group of approximately 20 relatively small organizations; we represent many of the country’s teachers unions, major pension and retirement plans and school endowments who have invested through us in senior secured loans to Chrysler. Combined, these loans total about $1 billion. None of us have taken a dime in TARP money.

As much as anyone, we want to see Chrysler emerge from its current situation as a viable American company, and we are committed to doing what we can to help. Indeed, we have made significant concessions toward this end — although we have been systematically precluded from engaging in direct discussions or negotiations with the government; instead, we have been forced to communicate through an obviously conflicted intermediary: a group of banks that have received billions of TARP funds.

Rattner’s alleged threats should give everyone some pause. Is it really the case that private companies will be forced to do the President’s bidding or face the full brunt of the state’s police power? Because that’s exactly what’s being alleged. I share the concern of the reporter of Rattner’s comments in that I certainly hope the accusations are inaccurate/misstated/outrageously untrue.

It is my deepest wish at this point that there is nothing about this latest bit of Car Czar thuggery even remotely based in fact- as this would mean that this country has truly and unarguably descended into fascism.

I use this term, “fascism,” quite deliberately. I also use it well aware that many will consider it needlessly inflammatory. Be this as it may, I submit there is simply no other term that properly describes the style and tenor of government emerging both in public and behind once closed doors.

The corporatist model — i.e. where unelected government officials and industry “leaders” fashion economic policy for the benefit of the state as whole, and in complete disregard of, and often quite hostile to, individual liberty — has never died, and is used more often than you might think (e.g. in the creation of energy policy, environmental policy, financial market rules, etc.), albeit in less radical form. That does not mean that Jews or any other disfavored groups will be marched off to concentration camps (opponents of gay marriage not named “Barack” can be forgiven for thinking otherwise). But it does mean that the preconditions necessary to ease the way for totalitarian control are already present. If enough people buy the “myth” presented by those in charge, then more and more power will eventually be ceded to a central authority, who will then have the ability to steamroll any opponents to the collective will. The accusations presented above suggest that Rattner (and one has to presume Pres. Obama), believes that enough Americans have bought the myth as to allow for such bullying. If so, that is a truly disturbing thought to contemplate.

UPDATE: In an article at the WSJ essentially chiding the MSM for failing to dig into this story, Tom Blumer notes the following (my emphasis):

The New York Times, in a report by Michael J. de la Merced and Jonathan D. Glater, does note the threats and Gonzales’s ruling, and has the following at its second-last paragraph.

When the debtholders, calling themselves the Committee of Non-TARP Lenders, made their first public statement last Thursday, they said their group consisted of about 20 investment firms holding about $1 billion. According to their motion to file under seal, the group now claims about $300 million in holdings.

de la Merced and Glater were apparently not curious about the possible reasons why the amount involved, and presumably the number of holders, is significantly lower than it was just a few days ago.

Maybe it’s because the threats are real, guys.

Maybe.

________________________________
1 Edited to make SFW.

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No Credibility

Not that I’ve ever believed Nancy Pelosi ever had any to begin with, but the “EIT Briefing” scandal puts the final nail in the coffin of her credibility.

Intelligence officials released documents this evening saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefed in September 2002 about the use of harsh interrogation tactics against al-Qaeda prisoners, seemingly contradicting her repeated statements over the past 18 months that she was never told that these techniques were actually being used.

In a 10-page memo outlining an almost seven-year history of classified briefings, intelligence officials said that Pelosi and then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) were the first two members of Congress ever briefed on the interrogation tactics. Then the ranking member and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, respectively, Pelosi and Goss were briefed Sept. 4, 2002, one week before the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Now don’t forget this is the Leon Panetta led CIA making these claims, not a bunch of “Bushbots”. So when Pelosi recently claimed that she had “never, repeat never” been briefed on the techniques used, it just doesn’t square with the record.

More specifically:

The memo, issued by the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency to Capitol Hill, notes the Pelosi-Goss briefing covered “EITs including the use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah.” EIT is an acronym for enhanced interrogation technique. Zubaydah was one of the earliest valuable al-Qaeda members captured and the first to have the controversial tactic known as water boarding used against him.

Pelosi, of course, tip-toes through the controversy with statements like this:

“As this document shows, the Speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002. The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not yet been used,” said Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s spokesman.

Pelosi’s statement did not address whether she was informed that other harsh techniques were already in use during the Zubaydah interrogations.

Pelosi can issue all of the “carefully worded” statements she chooses too, but it seems pretty clear that she not only knew about EIT and their use since 2002, but said little and certainly did nothing to protest or stop their use. And because of the implied sanction that gives those techniques, she has no moral high-ground from which to condemn anyone.

~McQ

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Another Troubling Sign

What if the Treasury held a bond auction and nobody came?  After today, that’s not a rhetorical question.

Weak demand at a Treasury bond auction touched off worries in the stock market Thursday about the government’s ability to raise funds to fight the recession.

The government had to pay greater interest than expected in a sale of 30-year Treasurys. That is worrisome to traders because it could signal that it will become harder for Washington to finance its ambitious economic recovery plans. The higher interest rates also could push up costs for borrowing in areas like mortgages.

We are moving closer to what I warned about in March, after the UK had a failed auction of 15-year gilts.  Apparently, the Chinese didn’t turn out in force today.  They did however, continue talking about a new reserve currency–one that isn’t the US Dollar.  And apparently they’ve been doing more than talking about it.

As we learned last week, the Chinese–who haven’t announced anything about their gold holdings since 2003–casually dropped an announcement that they’d nearly doubled their gold holdings from 19 million to 34 million ounces.  Moreover, this gold, which had previously been kept for foreign trade in an account at the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, has now been transferred to the bank of China, as part the country’s monetary reserves.

I don’t think they’re all that keen on lending us money any more.

This is important because it indicates the extent to which gold is being rehabilitated as a monetary reserve asset, not only by the Chinese monetary authorities but by central bankers around the world. It has been clear that gold was being restored as a more important part of the world’s financial system, with rising investment demand over the past nine years. The Chinese government’s decision to say that this gold belongs in its monetary reserves emphasizes that monetary authorities also are looking at gold with greater interest than they have since the 1960s.

There’s a new reserve currency in town, and it’s yellow and shiny.  What it isn’t is green with pictures of dead presidents on it.  Maybe the Fed’s doubling of M2 the monetary base over the last eight months was a bit…intemperate.

So, the key take-aways here:

1) Higher interest rates possible as auctions fail to find bidders at lower yields.

2)  Billions and billions of dollars floating around, with no place to go but back home.  “Wouldn’t you like to wear $3,000 suits and smoke $75 cigars?  I know I would.”

But, we probably shouldn’t worry. As Glenn Reynolds says, “The country is in the best of hands.”

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