Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Peace Prize? You’ve Got To Be Kidding

I can only hope this is Obamamania cresting – the man has accomplished nothing in the 9 months he’s been in office and he’s given a Nobel Peace Prize for a fantasy project?  If you think his narcissism is dangerous now, just wait.  At first I thought this was an Onion headline, but nope, NYT:

The Nobel Committee announced in Oslo that it has awarded the annual peace prize to Barack Obama, just nine months into his presidency, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Ye gods. And you wonder why the Peace Prize is no longer considered anything but a political prize.

I wonder what the over-under is for the number of times he mentions himself in the acceptance speech?


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Israel: What Peace Deal?

After it appeared there might be a possibility the US might broker a “final accord” following the meeting in New York, Israel is pouring cold water on the idea:

Israel’s powerful foreign minister declared Thursday that there is no chance of reaching a final accord with the Palestinians any time soon, casting a pall over the U.S. Mideast envoy’s latest effort to get peace talks moving again.

Peacemaking policy in Israel is decided by the prime minister’s office, and not the foreign ministry. But Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman carries significant weight in Israeli decision-making, and his is a sentiment common among confidants of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Or, said another way, Lieberman is only saying what Netanyahu is thinking. With all the happy talk coming out of the Obama administration after the President managed to get Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the same room in New York, you’d have thought peace talks and happy days were just around the corner.

Not so says Lieberman:

Lieberman told Israel Radio on Thursday that anyone who thinks the two sides can soon reach a deal ending their decades-old conflict “doesn’t understand the situation and is spreading delusions.”

What the two sides should do, he said, was to come up with a long-term interim arrangement that would ensure prosperity, security and stability, and leave the tough issues “to a much later stage.”

This approach runs counter to U.S. efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal quickly. Obama has declared that establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is a vital U.S. interest. Also, Israel would not find a Palestinian partner for putting off a resolution to the conflict indefinitely.

Lieberman’s view does not bode well for U.S. attempts to restart negotiations.

The non-negotiable point for both sides is settlements on the West Bank. Abbas won’t go to the negotiating table without them and Netanyahu refuses to freeze such settlements permanently. Without a resolution on that, there are no negotiations, and such a resolution seems improbable at the moment.


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So What Did The G20 Decide? To Explore Taxing The World

Apparently they decided to explore a global tax:

Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal deserves a journalism prize for taking the time to read the recent communiqué issued by the G-20 countries meeting in Pittsburgh. He found they had assigned the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the job of studying how to implement a global tax on America and the rest of the world.

“The IMF assignment from the G-20 has been widely overlooked,” Davis noted. His article ran under the headline, “IMF Mulls Global Bank Tax.”

The “Leader’s Statement” endorsed by President Obama and released at the event declares on page 10 that “We task the IMF to prepare a report for our next meeting with regard to the range of options countries have adopted or are considering as to how the financial sector could make a fair and substantial contribution toward paying for any burdens associated with government interventions to repair the banking system.”

The term “fair and substantial contribution” is code for a global tax. Other misleading terms for global taxes include “innovative sources of finance” and “Solidarity Levies.”

Those that believe in the concept of “one world government” have been wanting global taxes for decades. The money would give them a completely different type of power – a revenue stream vs. having to rely on donor money. Note the “source” of the tax revenue – the “financial sector” or those “evil, rich Wall Street types.” Too easy:

While the global tax would affect the savings of ordinary Americans and be passed on to consumers, it is being packaged by the international left and its progressive allies in the U.S. as an assault on Wall Street and the big banks.

If you’re shaking your head and trying to push this off as some anti-left fantasy, try this:

Meanwhile, President Obama used his recent speech to the United Nations to declare, “We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals.” He left unsaid what this means. It has been calculated that this will cost the U.S. $845 billion to meet U.N. demands for a certain percentage of Gross National Product to go for official foreign aid to the rest of the world. Compliance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was incorporated into the Global Poverty Act that Obama had introduced as a U.S. senator but which never passed.

A global tax of the kind envisioned in the G-20 document could help provide the revenue to fulfill Obama’s promise to comply with the MDGs.

Yes, he did introduce such an act, and no, thankfully, it didn’t pass. But we’re in an entirely different situation now than in 2007 aren’t we?  In addition to all the other economy killers, our betters are “exploring” another scheme to loot almost a trillion dollars from the American taxpayer (and others around the world).

The most popular proposal is called the “Tobin Tax”:

One proposal, popular at the United Nations for decades and long-advocated by Fidel Castro, is the Tobin Tax, named after Yale University economist James Tobin. Such a tax, which could affect stocks, mutual funds, and pensions, could generate hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Indeed, Steven Solomon, a former staff reporter at Forbes, says in his book, The Confidence Game, that such a proposal “might net some $13 trillion a year…” because it is based on taking a percentage of money from the trillions of dollars exchanged daily in global financial markets.

And we can’t have that much money flying around not being taxed appropriately, can we? Not when it can fulfill a long held dream for some.  Make no mistake – this is not about an equitable global tax, not that I’d support that either, but this is a redistribution of the wealth scheme, plain and simple:

What is driving the global taxation agenda is a Marxist view that the U.S. is exploiting the people and natural resources of the world. According to this perspective, international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and even the U.N. must be restructured and provided with new financial resources to supervise and manage the redistribution of the world’s wealth. The United States, being the leading capitalist state, has to pay the largest price.

Their attitude was expressed at a non-governmental organization forum in Monterrey, Mexico, associated with the U.N.’s International Conference on Financing for Development, that Christopher Columbus “invaded, destroyed and pillaged” the hemisphere and that a global tax was necessary to pay for the damage.

In his 2001 speech to the U.N. World Conference on Racism, Castro advocated the Tobin Tax specifically in order to generate U.S. financial reparations to the rest of the world. He declared, “May the tax suggested by Nobel Prize Laureate James Tobin be imposed in a reasonable and effective way on the current speculative operations accounting for trillions of US dollars every 24 hours, then the United Nations, which cannot go on depending on meager, inadequate, and belated donations and charities, will have one trillion US dollars annually to save and develop the world.”

Because all this prosperity destruction is our fault.

Keep an eye out for this scheme as it develops. This has been a “progressive” dream for quite some time. They now have the man and the Congress to make it come true.


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Grant For Firefighters Goes To … ACORN?

Apparently the funds were intended to be used for the improvement of fire safety in low-income and poor households (e.g. adding smoke detectors). But somehow or another ACORN managed to beat other grant applicants for the funds, by a rather wide margin:

Nearly $1 million in Homeland Security funding typically earmarked for fire departments has been awarded to ACORN, despite a clear signal from Congress that it intends to cut off federal funding to the embattled group …

It was one of only three such grants issued to the state and made up almost 80 percent of the firefighting money earmarked for Louisiana, prompting one of the U.S. senators fr-m the state to demand that the funds be taken back.

That Senator, who cited the O’Keefe-Giles prostitution sting as a reason for revoking the grant, was David Vitter. Predictably, thanks to Vitter’s problems with fidelity, his involvement evoked this response:

When asked how the money would be spent, ACORN spokesman Brian Kettenring issued a statement criticizing the senator, who confessed in the past to having used an escort service.

“Senator Vitter knows a lot more about prostitution rings than anyone here does, so we’ll defer to him on any matters pertaining to the videos attacking ACORN,” the statement read. It did not explain how the group plans to spend the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

Had to see that one coming, didn’t you, Senator?

Nevertheless, how ACORN was able to secure a grant making up 80% of Louisiana’s firefighting money from the federal government is an awfully curious question. Considering that Congress has been systematically defunding the organization over the past several weeks, and that ACORN has no firefighting expertise to speak of, one wonders how other more deserving applicants were overlooked.

One such group might have been the St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 3, which applied for a $120,000 grant to purchase smoke alarms for low-income families after a January fire killed four children in a home that had no working detectors.

“We wanted to buy smoke detectors to spread to homes all over the community to prevent that fr0m happening again,” Chief Charles Flynn said in an interview Tuesday.

“I have no problem with not getting a grant, I’ve lost grants before,” said Chief Flynn, one of the fire officials who complained to Mr. Vitter in a letter.

“My issue is ACORN in New Orleans. Their mission statement says nothing about fire safety or fire prevention. It bothered me that ACORN got $1 million and there are so many smaller and bigger departments that have a need for that money.”

The Monroe Fire Department was the only squad in Louisiana to receive a grant and will be awarded $192,000. The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office will receive $62,000.

ACORN received $997,402, slightly less than the maximum allowable grant of $1 million. A total of $35 million was available for the grants project to fire districts across the country this year.

This story just screams corruption with a capital “C”. I’m sure Congress will get right on that. [/sarcasm]

[HT: Hot Air HL]

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CBO Says Baucus Bill Won’t Add To Debt – But It Will Leave 16 Million Uninsured

The Washington Post’s “Capitol Briefing” breathlessly announces:

A health-care reform bill drafted by the Senate Finance Committee would expand health coverage to nearly 30 million Americans who currently lack insurance and would meet President Obama’s goal of reducing the federal budget deficit by 2019, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

The bill would cost $829 billion over the next decade, but would more than offset that cost by slicing hundreds of billions from government health programs such as Medicare and by imposing a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost insurance policies starting in 2013.

All told, the package would slice $81 billion from projected budget deficits over the next 10 years, the CBO said, and continue to reduce deficits well into the future.

That, of course means:

And the CBO report lends a huge political boost to the Finance Committee’s work: distinguishing it as the only one of five bills drafted by various congressional committees that meets every important test established by President Obama and key Democratic leaders.

— It would cost less than $900 billion over the next decade;

— It would vastly expand coverage; and

— It would keep Obama’s pledge that health reform will not increase budget deficits by “one dime” now or in the future.

Whooo hooo! Happy days are here again!

A couple of things to remember: In 1967, official estimates said Medicare would cost $12 billion in 1990. The actual price was $110 billion. And it and Medicaid now have about 50 trillion in unfunded future obligations. Secondly, the reason it doesn’t add to the deficit is it cuts Medicare and will force businesses to either pay an excise tax or drastically cut benefits for those who have what the elite have determined are “Cadillac” plans. Of course what that means is if you like your plan, you can keep it, but your no longer going to like your plan (because it could cost you up to 40% plus more to maintain that plan).

And then there’s this: I thought the whole stated purpose of this “reform” was to ensure the uninsured were insured. Yet the CBO report says:

By 2019, CBO and JCT estimate, the number of nonelderly people who are uninsured would be reduced by about 29 million, leaving about 25 million nonelderly residents uninsured (about one-third of whom would be unauthorized immigrants).

So 16 million US citizens remain uninsured. But fear not – CBO has figured that into the equation as a revenue raiser:

… penalty payments by uninsured individuals, which would amount to $4 billion;

Not to mention you could be spending a year in jail as well.

And those unfair “Cadillac plans” will add to that revenue stream as well (except, apparently, if it is a union plan):

….penalty payments by employers whose workers received subsidies via the exchanges, which would total $23 billion;

And here’s what to be really careful of when assessing this boondoggle that still leaves people uninsured (but does provide yet another law to put people in jail):

The proposed co-ops had very little effect on the estimates of total enrollment in the exchanges or federal costs because, as they are described in the specifications, they seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country or to noticeably affect federal subsidy payments. As a result, CBO estimates that of the $6 billion in federal funds that would be made available, about $3 billion would be spent over the 2010–2019 period.

As the CBO once said on its initial scoring, this bill would have to run, unchanged, for 10 years for it to unfold, cost wise, as they’re saying it will unfold. That means co-ops, not the public option.

If the public option is included, all the savings supposedly found in this bill go out the window and costs skyrocket. And Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid say that the final bill will have a public option.


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Jobless Rate Key To 2010 Results?

Neil King thinks the unemployment rate will be on of the keys to outcomes in 2010.

“Unemployment is the leading economic indicator when it comes to politics,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “Anytime unemployment hits double digits, it’s hard to see the party in control having a good election year.”

Economists generally predict that the number of people out of work will continue to inch up next year, even if the economy begins to rebound. Most see the jobless rate peaking at around 10.5% in the summer. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said Sunday that his own hunch was that the economy would turn around over coming months, but that unemployment would “penetrate the 10% barrier and stay there for a while before we start down.”

As Dale has noted, if we were calculating unemployment as we did in 1974, we’d be in the 17% area. That means a lot of voters are hurting and the one place they can voice their displeasure is at the ballot box. Additionally, by 2010 the “we inherited this” gig will have been up for some time. Democrats in Congress have been in charge for almost 4 years now. Politically that means this is their economy. The last time unemployment was over 10% during a midterm, the Republicans lost 26 seats in the House.

Then there’s the stimulus which was touted to be the answer to unemployment. The current administration promised that passing it would keep unemployment down in the area of 8%. But after its passage it didn’t even slow the growth of unemployment, a fact Republicans are sure to point out in the coming year.

As it turns out, Democrats may be happy to just lose 26 seats. Republicans are targeting 54 vulnerable Democrats, 49 of which come from districts John McCain carried in 2008.

Add in Afghanistan, health care, cap-and-trade and the huge expansion of government and the fact that Congress is deeply unpopular, losses in the 40s might not be as out of the question as one might think (think of an energized Republican base and a dispirited Democratic base with independents leaning to the GOP side).


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Afghan “Straw man”?

President Obama claims to be dispensing with “straw men” arguments concerning A’stan:

President Obama told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general.

Meeting with leaders from both parties at the White House, Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” as White House officials later described his remarks.

The problem is, that leaves some version of the status quo as a viable alternative, and, as every expert to include the Commanding General there has told us, the status quo isn’t working.

This is what I was talking about when I said he’s just as likely to dither for months making a decision and then make a decision in which he appears to be doing something while not even getting anywhere near to fully resourcing McChrystal’s request. Or said another way, he’ll send more troops, but only enough troops to keep A’stan from getting worse than it is now, but not enough to do the mission McChrystal has outlined.

That’s what he appears to be setting up here. Reading between the line, the implication is that he’s not going to give McChrystal all he wants and he’s building the case by attempting to introduce something less than what most see as the only two viable courses of action – fish or cut bait. All in or fold.

This is what I’ve been afraid of since his election. There’s little will, on his part or that of his party, to do what is necessary in Afghanistan. All the rhetoric about it being the “necessary war” was just that – rhetoric to beat his opponent and their party over the head with.

If that’s the case – then get our troops the hell out of there and deal with the long-term effects of doing that. The effects will be profound. But reinforcing failure, and that’s what I’m hearing here, is just not an option.

Calling the narrowing the choices to the two most viable options “straw man arguments” doesn’t make it so. Certainly Obama has the final say – but the only viable choices remain the only viable choices whether he likes that or not. Doing anything in between is a recipe for continuing failure and will be seen as trading blood for time – political time – because he doesn’t want to make the hard decisions required due to the political implications (I’ve been saying he’ll delay any profound decision, like pulling out, until his reelection is safely in the bag).

The one thing that’s different about the job of President is that when it comes to foreign affairs and the job of Commander in Chief, the people expect the President to put aside all political considerations except what is best for the US.  His job is to act in the best interest of the country. We haven’t seen that yet in President Obama’s foreign policy and, unfortunately, I hold little hope as I watch the Afghanistan discussion unfold that politics will be divorced from the upcoming decision on our strategy there.


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For Informational Purposes Only

I am not an investment advisor.  I’m not a guru.  I’m not qualified to give you any investment advice at all.  I’m just looking around and seeing things, and telling you what I see.  And, in this case, I’ll even tell you what I’m doing.

I do so, however, with the strong warning that you should not, under any circumstances, use me for an example, or follow my example.  What I do may not be suitable for you at all.  I just want to make that clear.

First let me recap some data points I’ve made in several previous posts:

The Fed has more than doubled the monetary base over the past year. The amount of money that is just sitting there in the economy is incomprehensible.  But, it’s not making any trouble for us in inflationary terms, because it is just sitting there.  It’s what will happen when it does stop just sitting there that is worrisome.

The Federal Budget has spiraled out of control, with the TARP, stimulus, and recession bringing additional massive amounts of debt to bear, and future deficits signifigantly larger than any in recent memory–on top of which, there is now talk of “Stimulus II”.

Despite the happy talk about the economy’s recovery, the fact is that it is still in decline–just a slower rate of decline.  If a recovery doesn’t occur soon, we will run into another leg down in the economy, as households and businesses draw down their cash reserves, hit their credit limits, and slash their spending.  The longer the recession continues, the more people and business that will be forced into bankruptcies, the more foreclosures will rise, etc.  We call things like this “black swan” events.

On the other hand, even if there is a recovery, the Fed will be faced with the task of trying to wring the extra money back out of the economy.  If they are unsuccessful, inflation will rise.  If they are successful, they may spark another recession through tightening, much as they did to cause the second leg of the back-to-back recessions in 1981-1982. A second leg of a recession will undoubtedly result in greater debt and more money funneled into the economy as the government re-imposes monetary and fiscal stimulus again to re-inflate economic activity.  This will both deepen the debt and increase the money supply, making the next round of interest rate tightenings more difficult, unless the economy comes back strongly.

Social Security is now estimated to begin having a negative cash flow in 2019.  In other words, Social Security expenditures will exceed the payroll tax receipts.  We have, until now, been running surpluses in Social Security receipts, but, of course, the government spent that money in the general fund.  There is, therefore, no pot of money saved to make up for the deficit in receipts in 2016.  Benefits will be cut.  Taxes will be increased.  Economic growth will be affected.

I discount the Robert Fisk story that Bruce linked to earlier today as implausible.  As Fabius Maximus points out:

1. Some of these nations have no reason to risk destabilizing the USA.  Esp the Saudi Princes.

2. Some of these nations have no reason to risk destabilizing the global financial system. Esp.  Japan.

3. Many of these nation have leaders who are some combination of cautious, slow, reactive, and incrementalists.

4. Something of this scale would be almost impossible to keep secret 2 days after the first discussions.

5. If multiple Hong Kong banking sources knew it, their fingerprints would be all over the US dollar – as they shorted it to the max.

Having said that, while I believe this particular story is implausible,  it is obvious that a number of countries, China and Russia chief among them, are urging that the dollar be replaced as the world’s reserve currency, or, at the very least, allow some other currency or basket of currencies to be used in addition to the dollar.  If this happens, billions of dollars will be repatriated to the US, drastically lowering the dollar’s foriegn exchange value.  China is already denominating regional trade deals in yuan, and the use of gold has been on the rise as an instrument for international settlements in Asia and Europe.

There are many more data points, but it would be both tedious and depressing to continue.

The bottom line is that the trends outlined above will, in all probability, necessitate dealing with our foreign creditors.  Such dealings may require us to reschedule our debt payments, which will devastate the bond market, make future borrowing far more difficult, and end the notion that treasury notes are “risk-free” investments. If so, we will have become a financial banana republic in which future investment will be given the gimlet eye.  We may also be required to those foreign debts off in some currency or basket of currencies other than dollars, in order to prevent the government from inflating the debt away.

These trends will also probably require devaluing the US dollar by a substantial amount, so that our imports become expensive, while our exports become cheap.  This will allow us to earn the money to pay off our foreign debts, although it will, of course, result in a lower standard of living in the USA.

This the inevitable result of allowing the government–and the voters–to loot the system for 70 years.

So here is what I have done–and this is purely for informational purposes.  I do not recommend it for you, and I urge you to consider that I may be entirely wrong.

Several months ago, I completely pulled all of my investments out of equities, and into some select bond funds with a mix of government and private bonds.  As of today, I have ceased placing any more money in to either equities or bonds.

For the forseeable future, I will be buying gold bullion.  Not gold stocks.  Not Krugerrands.  Not gold depository accounts.  I mean direct bullion purchases of gold bars or rounds.  My personal preference is for APMEX or Pamp Suisse 10g bars, or Scotia Bank 1/4 oz. rounds, since they have the lowest premiums over the spot price, and are small enough to conveniently convert at local jewelry stores, pawn shops, or gold dealers at need.

Trying to convert a 1kg bar on short notice would be…inconvenient.  Even 1oz. Krugerrands might be hard to convert as the value of each single coin is now over $1000.

I have no interest in paying a premium for “collectible” coins.  I have no interest in purchasing a depository account, where my gold holdings have to be reported to the government. In fact, prior to this month, I had no real interest in gold either.  Indeed, if you bought gold at any time from 1979 to 2001, by march of 2001, you would have lost money–perhaps quite a lot of money, depending on when you bought it.   However, in the current circumstances, let’s just say that my interest is now…heightened substantially.

Whether your interest should be heightened…well, I couldn’t say.

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Quote Of The Day

It’s actually from last week, but too good of a comment not to highlight, even tardily [Via Synova]:

Americans believe that the normal state of things is not-violence…

Do you suppose that’s true? That that’s why we have such absurdities as people climbing in zoo cages to cuddle the animals? It would explain a lot of things.

It would explain, for instance, why the writer of that article is able to regurgitate a century and a half of Socialist propaganda and get commenters calling it “insightful”. Two centuries of modern capitalism have resulted in such ease, such comfort, such near-total safety and security, that Americans (at least, some Americans) don’t just take it for granted but consider it the normal state of affairs, so much so that they are ready and willing to smash the structures that created it, in the confident “knowledge” that the safety and prosperity will remain because they are “normal”.

Ric’s observation stemmed from a Firedoglake post (linked above) in which capitalism is noted as the source of violence. I think Ric pretty much nailed why such thinking is so absurd. Also see Synova’s thoughts on the matter, which are also quite good.

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At Least They’re Still Singing His Praises In Maryland

In elementary school.


Longfellow Elementary School in Howard Country, Maryland to be specific.

President Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,

President Obama–He says Yes we can!
President Obama–We say Yes we can!
President Obama–I say Yes I can!
President Obama–He says Yes we can!

Barack Obama–Oh yes he rates,
The first Black President in the United States!
He’s smart and he’s–so so good!
He’ll lead this country as he should!

He wants us all to work together,
To make this country even better!
Prez’ Obama says–“Yes We Can!”
Make the US better–hand in hand!

President Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,

Since this was featured on a blog in an email, my first stop was They’ve never heard of it. Doesn’t mean its true, but it certainly wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if it was.  The Assistant Principle to whom the email allegedly is from does exist at that school. And the email is dated Sep. 29th of this year. So with enough due diligence to say “it’s plausible”, I’ll also say it is totally inappropriate – especially for first graders. And you’d think, after the blowup recently concerning the video of small school children singing a similar song, they’d know that by now.  And you have to assume the three ‘R’s have been mastered if they have time for nonsense like this.

The irony is Longfellow is probably rolling over in his grave as he surveys the “poetry” of the lyrics.


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