Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Current Events - January 22, 2014

Political Cartoons by Glenn McCoy

Wall Street adviser: Actual unemployment is 37.2%, 'misery index' worst in 40 years

By Paul Bedard
Don't believe the happy talk coming out of the White House, Federal Reserve and Treasury Department when it comes to the real unemployment rate and the true “Misery Index.” Because, according to an influential Wall Street advisor, the figures are a fraud.
In a memo to clients provided to Secrets, David John Marotta calculates the actual unemployment rate of those not working at a sky-high 37.2 percent, not the 6.7 percent advertised by the Fed, and the Misery Index at over 14, not the 8 claimed by the government.
...“The unemployment rate only describes people who are currently working or looking for work,” he said. That leaves out a ton more.
“Unemployment in its truest definition, meaning the portion of people who do not have any job, is 37.2 percent. This number obviously includes some people who are not or never plan to seek employment. But it does describe how many people are not able to, do not want to or cannot find a way to work. Policies that remove the barriers to employment, thus decreasing this number, are obviously beneficial,” he and colleague Megan Russell in their new investors note from their offices in Charlottesville, Va.

PK'S NOTE: Another Obama Administration scandal not being covered:

Bombshell sworn allegation against Tim Geithner

By Thomas Lifson
If anyone thinks "Bridgegate" is an example of political bullying and abuse of power, then the sworn (under penalty of perjury) allegation of a corporate heavy hitter against Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner is off the charts. Bloomberg Businessweek reports:
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told McGraw Hill Financial Inc. Chairman Harold W. McGraw III in 2011 that Standard & Poor's downgrade of the U.S. debt would be met by a response, S&P said.
S&P filed a declaration by McGraw yesterday in federal court in Santa Ana, California, as part of a request to force the U.S. to hand over potential evidence that the company says will support its claim that the government filed a fraud lawsuit against it last year in retaliation for its downgrade of the U.S. debt two years earlier.
In his court statement, McGraw, 65, said Geithner called him on Aug. 8, 2011, after S&P was the only credit ratings company to downgrade the U.S. debt. Geithner, McGraw said, told him that S&P would be held accountable for the downgrade. Government officials have said the downgrade was based on an error by S&P.
"S&P's conduct would be looked at very carefully," Geithner told McGraw according to the filing. "Such behavior would not occur, he said, without a response from the government."

And a very serious "response" from the federal government followed:

The Justice Department last year accused S&P of lying about its ratings being free of conflicts of interest and may seek as much as $5 billion in civil penalties for losses to federally insured financial institutions that relied on the company's investment-grade ratings for mortgage-backed securities and collateralized-debt obligations, or CDOs. The government alleged in its Feb. 4, 2013, complaint that S&P knowingly downplayed the risk on securities before the credit crisis to win business from investment banks seeking the highest possible ratings to help them sell the instruments.
Keep in mind that the S&P downgrade of US debt was perceived as harmful to the re-election campaign of President Obama, then underway. If the Secretary of the Treasury actually did what the sworn statement alleges, that would be a very serious abuse of power. Keep in mind that the IRS, which has targeted political enemies of the president, is also overseen by the Secretary of the Treasury.

Harold W. McGraw is the very opposite of a flake, he is the head of a large financial services firm whose reputation for integrity and sobriety is essential to its success.  But his allegations have been denied:

Natalie Earnest, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, referred questions about S&P's filing to the Justice Department.
There's absolutely "no connection" between the downgrade and the lawsuit, Ellen Canale, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, said today in a phone interview.
 "The allegation that former Secretary Geithner threatened or took any action to prompt retaliatory government action against S&P is false," Jenni LeCompte, a spokeswoman for Geithner, said in an e-mailed statement.

It is very important to get to the bottom of this. The documents demanded by S&P should be handed over, if only to restore public confidence in an agency that should be above reproach. Coimpared to coning off a couple of lanes of traffic on a bridge, these allegations go to the heart of the integrity of the heart of the federal government.

The President Inhales

He ought to change federal drug law rather than refuse to enforce it.

To the delight of dorm rooms everywhere, President Obama has all but endorsed marijuana legalization. "We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing," he told the New Yorker magazine. Let's try to see through this political haze.
Mr. Obama also muses to an admiring David Remnick that while pot is "a bad habit and a vice" and not something he would encourage his daughters to try, "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol." He called the Colorado and Washington legalization experiments "important for society," while offering no comment on the federal Controlled Substances Act that he has an obligation to enforce equally across the country.
Marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under that 1970 law, meaning that it has a high risk of abuse. "No more dangerous than alcohol" is still dangerous, given the destructiveness of alcohol-related disease and social ills like drunk driving. There's an industry related to mitigating alcohol problems, after all.
We tolerate drinking because most adults use alcohol responsibly, and by all means let's have a debate about cannabis given how much of the country has already legalized it under the false flag of "medical" marijuana. But an honest debate would not whitewash pot's risks. 
A growing body of medical research shows that the psychoactive substance in marijuana may cause permanent cognitive damage when used by adolescents, such as impaired memory and learning. The drug can trigger psychotic episodes, especially among vulnerable late adolescents, and the price decreases and social normalization of recreational use will increase the number of underage potheads.
"Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," Mr. Obama added. Actually, almost nobody gets locked up for pot. Americans collectively smoke for three billion days a year and use has increased 38% since 2007, according to a Rand Corp. analysis of federal health survey data, yet there were merely about 750,000 marijuana-related "arrests" in the U.S. in 2012. In the official FBI statistics that can mean anything from a ticket or summons to a full booking.
Very few people are incarcerated for simple possession, which makes up about 88% of arrests. There are currently about 40,000 state and federal prisoners serving time for marijuana-related convictions, and most have violent criminal histories. Most judges must be persuaded that someone is a true danger to society to sentence prison for mere drug use.
Mr. Obama is also kidding himself if he thinks drug legalization will be a boon to the poor. His own history of drug use is well known, but most users aren't the privileged students of the Punahou School. Like all human vices, the misery of addiction is always worse for those who lack the resources and family support of the affluent.
Mr. Obama is now the President, not a stoned teenager riffing with his Choom Gang, and he might have set a better example. Parents trying to teach their kids to make better choices than getting high are at a disadvantage when the person in charge of upholding the law says breaking the law is no big deal.
If the President believes that marijuana prohibition is an injustice, he has an obligation to propose his own legislative reforms, instead of unilaterally suspending the enforcement of federal drug laws that don't fit his political agenda. Why not start with the State of the Union address? Whatever Mr. Obama's personal views on marijuana, his picking and choosing from the U.S. code is far more corrosive to the rule of law and trust in government.

Obama Executive Order to ‘Cut Red Tape’ Has Added $10.2 Billion in Costs to Economy

1.5 billion more hours of paperwork in 3 years

By Elizabeth Harrington
An executive order issued by President Barack Obama that was designed to “cut red tape” has added $10.2 billion in regulatory costs to the economy, according to a new report.
Tuesday was the third anniversary of Executive Order 13563, prompting the American Action Forum to examine the effects of the order. It was intended to reduce “redundant, inconsistent, or overlapping” regulations.
...The “deregulatory measures” resulting from the executive order actually add over $10 billion in costs to the economy. For example, a final rule imposing energy standards for transformers carries a $5.22 billion cost to comply and 58,320 hours of paperwork.
Taken with the proposed regulations under the executive order, the total burden to the economy would reach $13.7 billion.
....The order has added 1.5 billion hours of paperwork to comply with its regulations. “As for the aggregate level of red tape, in fiscal year 2010, the federal government imposed 8.8 billion hours of paperwork,” the report said. “Today, that figure is 10.3 billion hours, a 17 percent increase, despite this ‘unprecedented reform.’”
“It would take more than 750,000 employees working full-time to complete the new annual paperwork added since 2010,” Batkins said.
Regulations under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) take 653 million hours of paperwork to comply, a 26 percent increase since the executive order was issued.

Former Energy Secretary Joins Board of Stimulus Recipient

After getting $4 mil in DOE grant money, Amprius hires Steven Chu

By Lachlan Markay
Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu will join the board of a company that got millions of dollars from the Department of Energy during Chu’s tenure and is backed by some of the nation’s most politically connected investors.
Lithium ion battery manufacturer Amprius announced Chu’s move on Monday. His “ideas and experience will help Amprius accelerate the development of even higher-energy batteries,” the company said in a statement.
Chu has already helped the company accelerate that development through more than $4 million in DOE grant money paid to the company since 2011.
The company was awarded a $4,998,336 grant that year to “develop next generation, high-energy lithium ion cells leveraging silicon anodes, doubling the capacity of state of the art vehicle batteries.”

AARP: One More Big Brother?

By Patty Ellis
...AARP has consistently managed to package itself as a critically needed, beneficent organization "just trying to help the old folks get by." They persistently claim to have no political agenda even in the face of obvious financial and editorial support for Obama in both presidential elections. They have come under fire time after time from conservative groups incensed by AARP's left-leaning rhetoric and agenda. Still, AARP feigns innocence.
This from a Wall Street Journal article updated September, 2012... "Thanks to just-released emails, we now know that AARP worked through 2009-10 as an extension of a Democratic White House, toiling daily to pass a health bill that slashes $716 billion from Medicare, strips seniors of choice, and sets the stage for rationing. We know that despite AARP's awareness that its seniors overwhelmingly opposed the bill, the "nonpartisan membership organization" chose to serve the president's agenda".
....So this month's magazine arrives -- and on the cover is Maria Shriver. Forget that she is Democrat Royalty and chief torch bearer for the spurious Kennedy clan. But is it mere coincidence she is being so honored by the AARP just as her latest "Shriver Report" arrives hot off the presses?
Entitled "A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink", (Holy Cow!) this report was cosponsored by left-wing Center for American Progress (a George Soros baby) and cowritten by mental heavyweights Beyonce, Jada Pinkett Smith, LeBron James, and Eva Longoria. Lest we dare conclude this simply another bouquet of Hollywood absurdity concerning the pending doom of American women, Hilary Clinton joins in with a 'non-partisan' regurgitation of her own "war on women" baloney. By the way, the Shriver Report has garnered Obama's solemn endorsement. Something must be done! Maybe he'll give another speech.
As I halfheartedly open the magazine, I see, "What I Know", by Arsenio Hall. One segment is entitled "It Takes A Village", a reprise of Hillary's contention that the "village" is as responsible for the rearing and nurturing of a child as the birth parents who might find themselves too busy or otherwise preoccupied to bother.
Next, a glowing article on Jane Pauley, noted NBC personality. NBC is the most leftist-leaning of the three major networks and for Ms. Pauley to have been in their employ most of her career speaks volumes as to her political leanings. I couldn't care less what Jane Pauley believes or doesn't believe, but are you noticing a pattern here?
The multi-paged main article on Ms. Shriver is downright sodden in adoration and worship. Cutesy family photos abound but the shot of her sitting atop her desk is, well... bizarre. Hard to imagine Sarah Palin getting away with such a pose.
Page 64 offers the profound insights of Marlo Thomas. Her byline reads "Actress, Author and Activist." Not as overtly left-leaning as her husband of 33 years, Phil Donahue, she has been closely associated with the Democratic Party and Feminists groups throughout her career.
The final blow roars in as AARP nitwits deliver unto us their role models for growing older. Of the 7 persons they chose to set up as the ideal elder, only one is a known Republican, Bob Barker. I wince to mention they have chosen for their first example of prime aging Mr. Brad Pitt. I know. However, his photo does draw you into the article so where's the harm? No, the real story here is in the actual lineup of stellar agers they suggest we emulate.
First is Keith Richards, a bastion of conservative and moral values if ever there was one. The sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll lifestyle of this man is witnessed in every crevice of his face. How he has survived this long is a miracle.
Next in the line-up is Cokie Roberts. Her mother was the first woman to preside over a Democratic convention and Cokie has obviously been trying to catch up ever since. One of the most ferociously liberal commentators and interviewers on television, her loyalties to the liberal agenda have always been obvious.
However, the paragon of good living the AARP opts to sally forth next takes the cake indeed. It's the one, the only, Angela Davis. The same Angela Davis whose various biographies describe her as political activist, Communist, author, and philosopher. She first drew attention as a counterculture activist and radical extremist in the 1960s. Later, she became a leader in the Communist Party USA -- even ran for vice-president on their ticket in the 80s. She had close ties with the Black Panther Party and Black Power politics and was on the FBI's Most Wanted list after fleeing an arrest. But never mind all that silly stuff. Just a big misunderstanding, I'm sure. Let's not forget that John and Yoko immortalized her in their song, "Angela." How bad could she be?
The remaining pages entice with the usual how to get healthy, how to look healthy or, at least, pretend to be healthy. There's loads of enticing info on life insurance, miracle foods, practical shoes, accessible bathtubs and, of course, tantalizing advertisements for things most seniors can no longer afford.
What there is not is one single representative thought, article or voice for conservatism.
So, I ask you, AARP... are you honestly unable to find even one conservative role model to highlight, one known right-winger to interview, one successful Republican to extol? Are you so arrogant as to not notice the millions of us vehemently opposed to Obama and his socialist agenda? You exploit your mighty voice with blatant bias. You are a wolf in sheep's clothing -- and I, one small voice, find your magazine, your political involvements, and your behind-the-scenes deals despicable. I may not have a choice about growing older but I sure as hell have a choice about who claims to speak for me!

Property Taxes Pave the Road to Serfdom

 By Michael Bargo Jr.
Under the feudal system of the middle ages, a serf was an agricultural laborer who was bound to work on his lord's estate. The lord owned the land, and the laborer had no choice but to live on the lord's property and hand a significant amount of the fruits of his/her labor over to the lord.
A similar, but more subtle, system exists today in counties throughout the United States. Homeowners and owners of farmland are bound to pay property taxes to the County Assessor. And if they don't pay the property taxes, the assessor has the legal right -- which they essentially gave themselves -- to take the property away. The names of the local officials may not be on the deed to your house, but since they have the legal authority to seize it from you, the result is the same.
This seemed reasonable as long as the property taxes were reasonable. But as Americans have had their wages and benefits reduced, the public sector workers, whether they are unionized or not, continue to enjoy the privilege of raising property and other taxes so that their benefits, salaries, and pensions are not reduced. Teachers' unions, SEIU workers, and AFSCME workers make all or much of their income through property tax assessments. And interestingly, all give most of their money to the Democratic Party, who, since they run most urban areas of the U.S. and receive this money, are then largely responsible for the high property taxes forced upon middle class Americans.
The taxpayers, who are the voters and theoretically run the government, are left paying for the privileged few who have managed to work themselves -- or a members of a family -- into positions of political power. And incredibly, this issue of the political control of property taxes is kept hidden from voters: they are just sent an annual bill.
There has been a conscious, nationwide effort to avoid the issue of property tax increases. Federal measures of the cost of living do not include property taxes. Measures of consumer spending do not mention how consumers spend more every year on property taxes. And while everyone knows, and can look up, the national and state income tax rates, the rate they are taxed on their home is not easily found. And even if the rate seems to be fixed, at any time a local auditor can say they have to pay years of back taxes, simply by stating that there was a "mistake" in the assessment of the home's value.
Property taxes are an open doorway to administrative corruption, since the assessors, auditors, and tax appeal boards answer to no one. In reality these assessments are a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but they are allowed to go on. At some point their constitutionality should be challenged. The homeowner has no option but to pay the new tax or move away, and potentially lose all the equity in their home.
Politicians do not want the property taxes challenged in regular court. After all, most jurors would let their neighbors off of their property tax burden. Cities stubbornly, and arrogantly, refuse to write property taxes off the books when homes are abandoned. For example, in Detroit someone can buy a house for ten dollars, but they still have to pay the back property taxes. The local pols want their money.
...And property taxes are not trivial. In 2010 the median real estate tax in the U.S. was $2,043 per year. But the term "median" means that half of the taxes are higher.
Working Americans are fortunate that home values have dropped. This enables them to be able to afford both a mortgage and the home's property taxes. But the long-term trend doesn't look good for working Americans. If property taxes continue to rise, and the incomes of Americans continue to fall, home values will have to fall as well. Supply and demand works both ways; as people earn less they can afford to pay less for homes.

...What is sorely needed is a national dialogue on the issue of property taxes, and the fact that taxpayers, who foot the bill, must have some say, not a tax board that is entitled to give themselves pay raises through coercion. This is clearly a violation of every Democratic concept of taxation and self-governance. American property taxpayers -- and renters pay property taxes as well through their rent -- must take back their local governments. A political mechanism must be found to restrain the outrageous behavior of local tax appeal boards.

PK'S NOTE: As Glenn Beck said recently, “You are not a fan of mine, you have no friendship here if you hate people because they’re gay.” What I object to is the activism of the LGBT community and intolerance to religious beliefs. There are other businesses they can go to. 

Oregon: Christian Businesses Must Follow Demands of Gay Customers

By Todd Starnes
The owners of a Christian bakery who refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines after they were found guilty of violating the couple’s civil rights.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries said they found “substantial evidence” that Sweet Cakes by Melissa discriminated against the lesbian couple and violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, a law that protects the rights of the LGBT community.
Last year, the bakery’s owners refused to make a wedding cake for Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, of Portland, citing their Christian beliefs. The couple then filed a complaint with the state.
“The investigation concludes that the bakery is not a religious institution under the law and that the business’ policy of refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes represents unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation,” said Charlie Burr, a spokesman for the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
The backlash against Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of the bakery, was severe. Gay rights groups launched protests and pickets outside the family’s store. They threatened wedding vendors who did business with the bakery. And, Klein told me, the family’s children were the targets of death threats.
The family eventually had to close their retail shop and now operate the bakery out of their home. ....The Kleins warned that what happened to them could happen to other Christian business owners. And it already has.
In December a Colorado baker was ordered by a judge to either serve gay weddings or face fines. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was told to “cease and desist from discriminating” against gay couples. Phillips is a Christian.
New Mexico’s Surpeme Court ruled in August that two Christian photographers who declined to photograph a same-sex union violated the state’s Human Rights Act. One justice said photographers Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin were “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.”
And the Washington attorney general filed a lawsuit against a florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex couple’s wedding. Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts filed a countersuit, telling the Christian Broadcasting Network she “had to take a stand” in defense of her faith in Christ.
Perkins told me that in many cases gay couples are targeting businesses owned by Christians.
“Individuals are being persecuted and prosecuted using the leverage of the government through these homosexual activists,” he said. “Government has become a weapon that homosexual activists are using against Christian business owners.”


Michelle Obama: Big Fan of 'Politically Savvy' Jane Fonda

Multi-Millionaire Brian Williams Lectures Viewers on Income Inequality

Wendy Davis, Whose Rival Is Paraplegic, Issues Statement Saying Opponents Haven't 'Walked a Day in My Shoes'

Khamenei’s Business Empire Gains from Iran Sanctions Relief

By Steve Stecklow and Babak Dehghanpisheh
 One of the chief beneficiaries of this week’s easing of Iranian sanctions is the country’s ruler – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei controls a massive business empire known as Setad that has invested in Iran’s petrochemical industry, which is now permitted to resume exports. Under a six-month deal between Iran and world powers, Tehran has promised to scale back its nuclear development program in exchange for the suspension of certain economic sanctions, including curbs on the export of petrochemicals.
On Monday, the day the suspension of the restrictions took effect, the U.S. Treasury Department published a list of 14 Iranian petrochemical companies that previously had been sanctioned but are now permitted to do business abroad. The list includes three firms that the department said last year are controlled by Setad – Ghaed Bassir Petrochemical Products Co, Marjan Petrochemical Co and Sadaf Petrochemical Assaluyeh Co.

British Paper: U.S. Is Secretly Funding Syria Rebels Fighting Al-Qaeda

By Sharona Schwartz
As diplomats from around the world gathered for the Syria peace conference known as Geneva II, a British newspaper reported that the U.S. is secretly backing rebels fighting against Al-Qaeda linked militants in the embattled country.
The Daily Telegraph – quoting unnamed diplomats and rebels – reported Tuesday night that the U.S. government, in coordination with Persian Gulf countries, is now providing “friendly” rebels with millions of dollars in cash as well as non-lethal aid for their fight against jihadi militants who aim to turn Syria into a sharia state.
The Telegraph reported:
As Western leaders publicly push the Syrian regime and the opposition to the Geneva II peace conference that begins Wednesday Washington has also been quietly supporting moves by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to give weapons and cash to rebel groups to fight al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) [also known as ISIL] in Syria.
One source said the US was itself handing out millions of dollars to rebel groups best equipped to take on the extremists while another confirmed America was providing non-lethal aid.
The British paper characterized this development as “a new phase in the conflict” in which international backers are “working directly with rebel commanders to target al-Qaeda cells.”

These Words from Obama Are Frightening -- and Revealing

By Steven Bucci
It’s less than comforting to hear the President make light of terrorist threats.
In a recent interview with The New Yorker, President Obama referred to today’s al-Qaeda fighters as the “jayvee” team.
“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” he said.
This shows that the Administration’s wishful thinking about al-Qaeda isn’t over. Obama and his fellow officials seem to think if you say something enough times, it will become true.
Before Benghazi, they claimed al-Qaeda was defeated and on the run. Four dead Americans later, this was proven false.
Then the President said we “cannot stay at war forever.” Again, a nice sentiment, but in the real world, war doesn’t end until both sides stop fighting.
Al-Qaeda is different today than it was on 9/11; that is true. But the new, decentralized version is not to be taken as lightly as Obama seems to. We are still at war—only now with an enemy that is harder to pin down. And the enemy has determination, numbers, resources, and capabilities that we have to worry about. In fact, CNN reported earlier this month that “al Qaeda appears to control more territory in the Arab world than it has done at any time in its history.”
President Obama needs to drop the cute (and misplaced) metaphors and recognize these serious threats for what they are.
There have been at least 60 Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against the U.S. homeland since 9/11. Fifty-three of these were thwarted long before the public was ever in danger, due in large part to the concerted efforts of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence.
We must stay serious about fighting terrorism and equip our dedicated military, intelligence, and law enforcement organizations to do their jobs. The safety of American lives and American interests depends on it.

Barack Hussein Soebarkah?


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