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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Perspective 1-31-09

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What do “pork,” “bailout,” “malfeasance,” and “Barney Frank” have in common?

A piece in the Boston Herald has a good handle on the TARP bailout program:

"Ah, the dirty little secret is out. That $700 billion TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bill was in part simply a variation on congressional pork -- except this time the recipients were banks with friends in high places. One of those powerful friends was Rep. Barney Frank (D-[MA]), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. And one of the recipients of a $12 million infusion of federal cash was the troubled OneUnited Bank in Boston -- a bank that had already been accused of 'unsafe and unsound banking practices.' Its CEO, Kevin Cohee had also been criticized by regulators for 'excessive' pay that included a Porsche. Frank admits he included language in the TARP legislation specifically designed to bail out OneUnited. He also acknowledges contacting officials at the Treasury Department about the bank's bailout application. 'I believe it would have been a very big mistake to put the only black bank (in Massachusetts) out of business,' Frank said. Besides, he insists, 'It was a case of the federal government causing the problem.' Causing the bad loans OneUnited made? Or would that go back to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Frank so staunchly defended earlier on? Frank has never failed to amaze us with his ability to defend the indefensible and to staunchly uphold the double standard. It's his special talent."

There’s a lot of truth in those words. Such as, for instance, that the TARP is not much more than typical Congressional pork served up by friends in high places.

Another nugget of truth is that Barney Frank has misused his position for the benefit of friends, and that he is as guilty as anyone for the mortgage bank mess that plagues the nation.

Rep. Frank’s assertion that failing to pump $12 mil into the OneUnited Bank would “put the only black bank out of business” is, of course, absurd. Not giving the bank money might let it go out of business; it would not put it out of business.

The piece mistakenly downplays the federal government’s role in the banking problem, however, because the government’s fingerprints are all over this crisis, from the enactment of the Community Reinvestment Act in the late 70s, to the actions of the Clinton Administration to encourage even more lending to unqualified borrowers in the early 90s, to the relaxing of the regulations that allowed commercial and mortgage banks to merge functions in 1998, to the Fannie and Freddie debacle, and Mr. Frank’s badgering of Bush administration regulators who tried to alert his committee to the looming danger a year or so back.

Mr. Frank is a public dis-servant and should be removed from office.

More evidence of the pork barrel nature of the so-called stimulus legislation is visible in the House Democrats’ trillion dollar spending bill, which could open billions of taxpayer dollars to left-wing groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) which, according to House Republican Leader John Boehner’s Web site, “ has been accused of perpetrating voter registration fraud numerous times in the last several elections; is reportedly under federal investigation; and played a key role in the irresponsible schemes that caused a financial meltdown that has cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars since last fall.”

The stimulus packages are improperly designed and mis-targeted, thus will provide little real stimulus to the economy, even if they had no pork in them.

The Democrat leadership in both houses of the Congress apparently believes the economic crisis is nothing more than another opportunity to take money from the American taxpayer, and give it to their favored constituencies.

In our government such misbehavior is called “politics as usual,” but in the private sector it would be called by another name: “fraud.”

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

President Obama signs Order: the War on Terror is Over

President Barack Obama wasted no time keeping a couple of his politically popular, but controversial campaign promises, among which was issuing a directive last Thursday to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba by this time next year.

Thus, for Americans the war on terror is over.

No less an authority than The Washington Post said so, in a headline published in Friday’s edition declaring “Bush's 'War' On Terror Comes to a Sudden End.” The story which followed said “President Obama yesterday eliminated the most controversial tools employed by his predecessor against terrorism suspects. With the stroke of his pen, he effectively declared an end to the ’war on terror,’ as President George W. Bush had defined it.”

The Post has a talent for understatement: President Bush did a lot more than create a definition of the war on terror, and Americans will do well to remember all that he did.

Who would have thought on September 12, 2001, the day after 19 radical Muslim murderers hijacked and crashed four airliners, killing nearly 3,000 Americans, that more than seven years later the United States would not have had another terrorist attack on its soil?

For a time the country united behind President Bush and his efforts to protect the American people. But we Americans have become soft over the last few decades; we don’t understand hardship and we have short memories. Whereas after the Japanese attacked the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, killing more than 2,000 military personnel, that memory and the pain that accompanied it lingered for decades. When the U.S. retaliated against the Japanese, the country was united behind that action.

For many Americans the pain from 9-11 lasted only as long as it took Mr. Bush’s political enemies to find causes around which to rally, like the Iraq war and efforts to thwart terrorist activities.

Almost as suddenly as that pain developed after the planes crashed and the buildings collapsed, it vanished in a puff of political smoke. Mr. Bush’s efforts have protected Americans, but they also provided a level of comfort and security, leading to complacency about further threats.

Complacency bred contempt, and some Americans replaced worrying about terrorist attacks with hysteria over the government's intercepting international phone calls trying to disrupt international terrorist activities. And soon thereafter they began to fret about whether U.S. personnel at Guatanamo Bay were making sure the murderers captured on the battlefield got first-class treatment and plenty of beauty sleep. It sometimes appeared they were more concerned about protecting the rights of suspected foreign terrorists than protecting the nation.

Mr. Obama’s stated policy is sharply at odds with the Bush administration’s approach, to the great pleasure of Mr. Bush’s liberal critics, to whom President Obama is beholden for his nomination and subsequent election.

On the subject of the war on terror, Mr. Obama said, "We intend to win this fight. We're going to win it on our terms." Our new President also said he didn't want to have to make a false choice between successfully waging war against terrorist organizations and maintaining U.S. human rights ideals in the process.

"This is following through not just on a commitment I made during the campaign but an understanding that dates back to our Founding Fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct — not just when it's easy but also when it's hard," the President said.

But before the President’s signature on the order to close Guantanamo Bay was dry, we learned that a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was released a while back has become a high ranking al-Qaeda operative in Yemen.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, alias Abu Sayyaf, is named as the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen, according to an Internet report released by that group. The New York Times reports that an American counter terrorism official confirmed his identity. The Times quoted the official as saying, "They're one and the same guy.”

Al-Shihri was released from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia in 2007 after denying involvement with terrorists or terror activities, and was put through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with al-Qaeda in Yemen. Al-Shihri is a suspect in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Sana, Yemen that killed 16 people last September. Obviously, releasing these people to certain countries is not an acceptable solution.

The tactics employed by the Bush administration produced results in identifying terrorist and planned terrorist attacks. But in the case of Mr. Shihri, even those effective techniques are not always successful. Could the reaction to the outcry against aggressive interrogation techniques have been a factor?

This begs the question: If the methods employed by the Bush administration and so loudly and roundly criticized by Mr. Bush’s political enemies failed to reveal Mr. Shihri’s true character, what are the chances that the “not Bush” policies endorsed by the Obama administration would have produced a more satisfactory result? And what does that say about future anti-terror efforts? Will intelligence officials be better equipped to discover and thwart terrorist activities under Mr. Obama?

That President Bush protected us from deadly enemies may not seem like much of an accomplishment in today’s soft culture, particularly to those who criticize the methods Mr. Bush allowed. But his accomplishment may be more fully appreciated if President Obama waters down those effective tactics in order to curry favor at home and abroad.

Lofty principles are a worthy goal for Mr. Obama and the United States. But if his softer approach toward terrorists leads to or allows another terrorist attack here at home, Mr. Obama’s Presidency will drown in the blood of dead and injured Americans.

Is any principle worth that sacrifice?

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Cross-posted at Faultline USA
and American Sentinel

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Minister and Rappers Tarnish the Inauguration

You might expect that the inauguration of a new president would be a solemn and dignified event. You would be wrong.

It may not be the first time that inappropriate behavior intruded on a stately and serious event, but it will certainly be remembered as the inauguration with most overtly inappropriate behavior, perhaps ever.

I don’t mean this to be a slam at the new president, for while he is responsible for some of the shameful behavior, he is not responsible for all of it.

The first of the inappropriateness came at the end of the formal ceremony when a minister named Joseph Lowery spoke. Mr. Lowery appeared to be a dignified, elderly gentleman of the cloth, and the expectation was that he would be a dramatic improvement over Barack and Michelle Obama’s minister of 20 years, the odious Jeremiah Wright. He was an improvement – how could he not be? – but a deeply flawed one.

While most of Mr. Lowery’s prayer was acceptable, if somewhat political, which on this particular day was not unusual, Mr. Lowery did not know when he should have stopped. As he ended the prayer he said this:

“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.”

Racist? You bet. Appropriate? No way.

But the cake was taken by two rappers, one well known, Jay-Z, and one unknown, Young Jeezy. After their performance, it is evident that they rely not on talent, but on sensationalism for their notoriety.

These two clowns sullied the name of Barack Obama, a man you would expect they would want to celebrate in a positive way, and confirmed what we have known for a long time: Rap is a morally and intellectually bankrupt indulgence that is most often profane and dirty, and unfit for consumption by decent people.

It is “music” only in the most basic and un-artistic way, based primarily on primative rhythms, and lacking melody and harmonic elements.

It comes closer to being “poetry,” which I say with apologies to real poets everywhere.

Saying that rappers have “talent” indicates only that some of them are better than others at creating monotonous, gutter rhymes. Even mud-slinging, murder, rape and child molestation have their “pros,” after all.

The disgusting performance is being by hailed the MTV crowd as if their racist and profanity-laced message is something to be
celebrated. It isn’t.

Here is one description of the “performance”: “Rappers Young Jeezy and Jay-Z crazily cursing their heads off and screaming ‘Nigga’ this and ‘Nigga’ that as a crowd goes wild to Jeezy’s national anthem: ‘My President Is Black.’”

With apologies in advance, here is a sample – I was about to say a “taste,” except that the word “taste” is totally out of place here – of the original lyrics of “My President”:

Yeah Be The Realest Shit I Never Wrote
I Aint Write This Shit By The Way Nigga
Some Real Shit Right Here Nigga
This Will Be The Realest Shit You Ever Quote

That’s real poetry, isn’t it? That takes real talent, doesn’t it?

If the attitude represented by this display is going to be a feature of having elected the first black President of the United States, many of us will wish for an impeachment.

Soon.

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Cross-posted at Faultline USA

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Food Odyssey

Winter drove us out of our comfy home last Saturday, and we headed south for a week in Orlando, Florida. It is a chance to visit friends and relatives, and to go to Epcot without having to please little children.

We spent the night in Santee, SC, and ended up at Capt. Kirk’s.


It turned out to be a decent restaurant. I had Shrimp and Scallops Imperial, which was shrimp and scallops on linguine with a good Alfredo sauce, and Diane had Fried Shrimp and Dinner Grits (not exactly Shrimp and Grits, but close).

On the way out of town on Sunday we stopped at Smokey Joe’s Bar B Cue, where we both had a pork sandwich with our choice of sauces, both very good. Diane had the Baked Beans, which were terrific, and I had Sweet Potato Fries with a dipping sauce that was out of this world.

We arrived in Orlando about 4 p.m. and took the easy way out and ate pizza and watched the Steelers walk all over the Ravens at a poolside bar. Decent. Not special.

For lunch on Monday we hit a TGI Friday’s, which was decent, and for dinner we went to a Bahama Breeze, of which there are a few around here. Diane had Jamaican Grilled Chicken, Green Beans and Mashed Sweet Potatoes, and I had Tilapia sautéed in a spicy Havana Sauce and Tropical Rice. Both very tasty. Good Mojitos, too.

Monday, lunch in, but went to Jack’s Place for dinner, which was a little pricey, but quite good. Diane had Beef Shortribs with Mushroom Risotto, which she loved, and I had Jack’s Key Largo, which included a filet and a crabcake, with Asparagus. The deserts were spectacular: a Berry Martini with blueberries, strawberries and raspberries with a Grand Marnier Cream, and a Mango/Guava Cheesecake. Yummy!

Wednesday is Epcot day, and we’ll eat there both at lunch and dinner.

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January 20, 2009, the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States

Today, January 20, 2009, the United States of America will transfer power as it has 43 times before, as Barack H. Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. This time the event carries special significance: for the first time in our history, a black man will become President.

Since he’s a newcomer to the national stage, Mr. Obama doesn’t have a long or detailed record. We really don’t know what he will do as President; all we have to go on is what he said since the campaign began, during which time we have seen three different incarnations of Barack Obama: Barack I, the hard left liberal candidate for the Democratic nomination; Barack II, a more moderate liberal Democrat nominee seeking the presidency; and Barack III, the President-Elect, setting up his administration before taking office.

Along the way to winning the election, Mr. Obama demonstrated some truly special talents. He gives stirring speeches, ranking along side great orators like John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and even, some say, Abraham Lincoln.

He ran a good campaign, something his more experienced opponent, John McCain, did not do.

He attracted a lot of attention and support with appeals to “hope” and “change.” Yes, they are empty words, and completely predictable. You can’t win an election against a party that currently is in office by pledging to maintain the status quo. But the rhetoric was nonetheless effective.

Mr. Obama seemed to know that he was going to win, because he frequently used props like those a real president has and did things that a real president does. Like, for example, sporting the Great Seal of Obama that looked far too much like the Presidential Seal; flying in a plane called “O Force One”; moving his nomination acceptance speech out of a not-nearly-large-enough convention center to a football stadium with the capacity to hold many tens of thousands, and adorning it with Grecian columns for special effect; taking a presidential world tour, as if he was actually the president; and creating the fairy tale Office of the President-Elect. Such audacious behavior might be viewed as the height of arrogance, or as merely creative. You decide.

But what the world looks like to a presidential candidate trying to dislodge the party that occupies the White House is very different than what it looks like to a real president, and since winning the election Mr. Obama has begun learning the difference between being a candidate and being the President. The latter is a lot harder than it looks from the outside, where criticizing the incumbent’s every word and deed is routine, but which may lead one to underestimate just how tough a job being President of the United States really is.

President-Elect Obama’s efforts to fill his administration show clearly that reality has begun to set in. Some of his appointments garner approval from political supporters and opponents alike, but some appointments draw criticism from his own party and the admirers for whom he could do no wrong only weeks and months before. Some of the appointees have things in their past that shock our sensibilities, like Timothy Geithner who failed to make thousands of dollars in tax payments, while others have a strong ideological bent, like Carol Browner’s acknowledged socialist ideology; and still others seem very sensible, like the hold-over choice of Robert Gates at Defense.

Administrative appointments aside, Mr. Obama inherits many serious situations with which he must deal. Of course everything will be blamed on President Bush; that’s the way politics works. Those who see the world as it really is, however, realize that Mr. Bush is not solely responsible for all the bad things going on today, such as the economic crisis, and that he is primarily responsible for some good things, like the highly effective efforts to thwart terrorist attacks here at home.

Mr. Obama is about to find out what happens when the rubber meets the road. He has created extremely high expectations for himself with PR devices like comparisons to Abraham Lincoln, such as the train ride into D.C., the stunts which have convinced many that he really is The One.

He will get the honeymoon all new presidents get, which normally lasts a few months, during which time he will be getting his feet under him, trying to figure it all out. And since the mainstream media is in love with him, his honeymoon may last longer than usual. But if he isn’t able to turn things around in six months to a year, the recession, the Iraq war, Guantanamo Bay and all the other problems become his.

Now we will watch Barack IV, who takes the hot seat today. For the good of the country we must wish him well and support him when he makes good decisions and produces good results. To the extent that he succeeds, America will prosper.

And as good Americans we must oppose him when we believe he is wrong. But we must avoid heaping the sort of deranged, idiotic criticism on Barack Obama that George W. Bush’s enemies heaped on him.

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Cross-Posted at Faultline USA

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

The unemployment rate and job loss number is only part of the story

News stories reporting on unemployment focus on the numbers without putting the data into perspective, leaving people with insufficient information with which to evaluate what those numbers really mean.

These stories tell us that 524,000 jobs were lost in December, that the rate is 7.2 percent and that it hasn’t been that high since 1993. This information is presented in a manner that signifies a serious unemployment situation, and while the unemployment rate is inching up, it isn't all that high in historical terms. At the end of 1982 the rate was almost 11 percent, and as high as 7.8% in 1992. For 34 consecutive months, from August of 1981 until May of 1984, unemployment was higher than it is today, and for 10 consecutive months it was above 10 percent.

The unemployment rate is about proportion, comparing the number of people out of work with those who have a job. Even with the rate at 7.2 percent, 92.8 percent of those in the job market have a job. In school, 92.8 percent is a very respectable B+.

Some reporters make things seem more important than they really are. For example, Bizjournals.com, the Web site of American City Business Journals, Inc., reported on the unemployment rate moving up a mere four-tenths of a percentage point from 6.8 to 7.2 by trumpeting "December’s layoffs shot the rate" up. Think about that: If you make $10 an hour and your boss gives you a raise of four-tenths of a percent to $10.04 an hour, will you believe that he or she “shot” your hourly wage up?

An increase of four-tenths of one percent in the unemployment rate is not a crisis and neither is an unemployment level of 7.2 percent. Relevant? Yes. A crisis? No.

Some additional information would provide perspective and help people understand what the numbers mean. New jobs are constantly being created as entrepreneurs start new companies and existing firms hire new workers, and jobs are being created even in the worst economic periods. Conversely, even in the best economic times businesses contract and shut down, costing people their jobs. For proper context, all of this should be explained.

The monthly unemployment number that everyone focuses on is not the number of people who have lost their jobs; it is the difference between the number of jobs lost and the number of jobs created. That’s just common sense to some people, but many others don’t know that. The rate goes down if more jobs are created than are lost, and it goes up if there more jobs are lost than are created. But news reports rarely address this relevant aspect of unemployment data.

James Sherk, Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation, being privy to information that average Americans are deprived of, has a different view of what unemployment numbers mean and how the country ought to react to them. He explains that the primary reason unemployment is rising is because employers are creating fewer new jobs, not because the number of layoffs, or job separations is rising.

We might expect that job separations would have increased sharply in 2008, but he provides data showing that from January of 2007 through October of 2008 the job separation rate actually dropped. But so did the new hires rate, and new hires fell more than job separations, raising unemployment. We cannot know this by merely digesting media reports of unemployment figures.

Mr. Sherk suggests that “to reduce unemployment Congress needs to encourage firms to innovate, invest, and take risks and remove policies that discourage them from doing so.”

President-elect Obama has proposed eliminating the capital gains tax on start-up companies, and that would certainly help by encouraging venture capital investment in new businesses. But Mr. Sherk further recommends that Congress turn thumbs down on the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would remove secret ballot protection on votes by employees on whether or not to approve union representation.

“Allowing unions to pressure millions of Americans into joining would further reduce job creation — the driving force behind unemployment,” he said. “Academic research shows that employment growth slows dramatically once unions organize a company.”

“Passing EFCA would increase unemployment,” Mr. Sherk concludes, and we must hope the Congress pays attention.

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Cross Posted at Faultline USA

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Okay, Whose Team Did Not Play in a
Post-Season Game This Year?

Some of us remember the days when only a few college football teams made it to a post-season bowl game like the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sun Bowl or Sugar Bowl. As with so many things in our society, college football has seen dramatic change, and as is also true with so many things, these changes are not necessarily good ones.

The Rose Bowl was the first and only major college bowl game in 1930, but by 1940 the number of major college bowl games had grown to five. By 1950, three more games had been created, and those eight remained as the only ones for several years. By 1970 the number had increased to 11 games, and fifteen by 1980. Bowl inflation has continued through the years until today there are more than three times as many as in 1980, fully 34 post-season games including the BCS National Championship game. Count them: thirty-four, among which we find such exotic constructs as the Poinsettia Bowl, the Insight Bowl, the Papajohns.com Bowl, the Music City Bowl, and the Humanitarian Bowl.

Up until around the 1950s, games were played solely on New Years Day, with few exceptions. This season, bowl games are played over the span of 19 days, from December 20 to January 8. It is a lot more than all but the most rabid football fans can keep up with.

The old bowl games had their problems, of course, omitting many good teams from the opportunity to play in the post-season because of the nature of the particular bowl game. For example, some bowl games were allied in part or completely with specific conferences, leaving teams in non-aligned conferences without the possibility of earning a berth, despite how good they were. And that is a good argument for changing things to include the best teams, regardless of the conference in which they play. But is the current system an improvement; does it make any sense at all?

Not from the perspective of lining up games between the strongest teams in the country, because as the number of bowl games has increased, the number of games a team needs to win to be invited to a bowl game has decreased. These days, six wins is enough to get you to the post-season, and this year two teams with a 6-6 record, losing as many games as they won, made it to a bowl game, Kentucky in the Liberty Bowl and Florida Atlantic in the Motor City Bowl. In an 11-game or 12-game season, that doesn’t say very much about some of the teams that get bowl bids. Which is not to say that two teams with a 6-6 record might not play an exciting game.

In 2008, there were only 119 full members of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, and 68 of them were selected to play in post-season games; more than half the FBS teams – 57 percent – played in the post-season.

Some proponents will argue that the increased number of games has brought exposure and revenue to a greater number of schools, and they see this as a positive development. The operative phrase is “increased revenue” throughout college football, or at least those 68 teams who win six games during the year and get a bowl bid.

College football is more about money than about athletic competition, and that is a shame.

Maybe a championship playoff system would improve things. Certainly, a lot of people seem to think so.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Horrible Economic News vs Reality

There are many predictions of gloom and doom, these days. I see the situation as less dire than many people do.

The increased number of failing businesses that we have seen, and that have people spooked, is a by-product of the financial crisis, where businesses that were in trouble have been pushed over the brink they were headed for, anyway; they just got there sooner. And when all of that gets compressed into a shorter-than-normal time frame, things do appear to be falling apart.

Left alone, the marketplace rids itself of weak businesses routinely. Our marketplace has been anything but "left alone," however, and some of the tinkering with market components has allowed weak businesses to survive beyond their normal life. All that tinkering was a substantial cause of the mortgage meltdown, and also contributed to the Big Three crisis.

But getting the weak players out of the game, despite the pain it inflicts temporarily, is a good thing that will eventually make the remaining players stronger. We may see more failures of border-line businesses, but stable companies should not be significantly weakened by the general slowdown.

But what must not be lost in this discussion is that even in these troubled times some companies in most segments of the economy are doing well. Even in the auto industry the transplant foreign car makers are doing okay, and among the Big Three, Ford stands out from the others.

We hear all the bad news about unemployment, but unemployment is still less than seven percent, and that isn't especially high. Officially, full employment is when 94 to 96 percent of the people wanting a job have a job, and we are not far off that statistic right now. Even when you consider that some people get discouraged and quit looking for work and are thus not counted in the ranks of the unemployed, unemployment is not at crisis levels, or even close to that, at this point. Further, the unemployment number reported is “net jobs lost.” That doesn’t mean that no new jobs are being created, only that there are more jobs lost than created. So, there are isolate areas of business success nestled among the bad news.

And, even in the worst of times somebody’s going to make money, so there is an advantage to those people to scaring people. For example, one guy used the opportunity to give away a book telling people how to survive the depression of 2009 in order to increase the subscriptions to his magazine.

And don’t forget that the media has its own selfish reasons for reporting horrible news.

The role of politics in all of this can’t be ignored, either. An Observations prediction: Economic news will improve beginning on January 21.

The stock market usually predicts the broader economic condition six to nine months down the road. The market seems to have stabilized, which doesn’t rule out another decline, but most of those in the know believe that the market has bottomed, or is near the bottom, and that indicates that the economy will stabilize over the next several months.

The message to take away from this is: don’t freak out. Be prudent. Handle your money sensibly. Things will improve.

Cross-posted on Faultline USA

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

As Term Ends, Bush Becomes the Scapegoat for Everything

It is difficult to know just where to start in discussing the column in last Friday’s local newspaper by Bonnie Erbe titled “How can Obama fix so much that went wrong?”

Undoubtedly, that’s all some readers need to know, because so many people uncritically accept all criticisms of George W. Bush. She cites an article in the current edition of "Vanity Fair'' magazine, which she said “tries to explain how so much could have gone wrong in so few years. In less than eight years, the Bush White House managed to accomplish the following:” “[From the Vanity Fair article] The threat of 9/11 ignored. The threat of Iraq hyped and manipulated. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Hurricane Katrina. The shredding of civil liberties. The rise of Iran. Global warming. Economic disaster. How did one two-term presidency go so wrong?"

To this list Ms. Erbe added “a monstrously useless expenditure of human life and taxpayers' limited resources (to wit, the war in Iraq, implied in the Vanity Fair quote but not spelled out) and the decimation of America's financial watchdog system designed to prevent the kind of economic mess we're now experiencing.”

But before getting into the goo and muck contained in Ms. Erbe’s rant, it needs to be said that there is ample room for legitimate criticism of Mr. Bush’s presidency. He did a lousy job on illegal immigration; he abandoned the conservative ideals of fiscal responsibility and of small government, to name just two areas deserving criticism.

But by blindly dittoing Vanity Fair’s list, Ms. Erbe shows herself to be either a victim of Bush Derangement Syndrome, or a lazy journalist. Lazy journalism is in vogue, these days; she has lots of company.

She doesn’t actually say so, but one gets the idea that both she and Vanity Fair actually believe that Mr. Bush caused Hurricane Katrina, although neither says so. Ms. Erbe, in fact, said nothing of substance; she just alleged a lot of things. What she likely meant is that Mr. Bush was responsible for the poor response to the storm, despite the plain fact that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, both Democrats, sat on their hands instead of taking action to help their constituents, and that many of those constituents sat on their hands waiting for the government to come and save them from themselves.

Then, there’s “the threat of Iraq hyped and manipulated. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.” The revision of history, whether through willful intent and intellectual dishonesty or out of laziness and ignorance, is rampant these days. Knowledgeable people remember that not only the Bush administration, but also the Clinton administration (Remember Madeline Albright?), Tony Blair and the British Parliament, the United Nations, and several European nations, believed that Saddam Hussein harbored WMD (he used them against his own Kurdish civilians), and was at least friendly with the goals of al Qaeda. Others have offered evidence that some WMD were found in Iraq, and still other offer evidence of a massive transfer of WMD to Syria and other places prior to the US attack.

And like so many people, she apparently believes that terrorists are boy scouts, and are either criminals subject to our laws and entitled to our court protections, or soldiers protected by the Geneva Conventions. They are neither.

How about the shredding of civil liberties? She apparently gives no credit to Mr. Bush for having successfully defended America from further terrorist attacks, while other nations like England, Spain and France have been attacked. But have any of you readers had your bank account seized (aside from punitive tax rates, of course)? Has your property been seized? Do you have police watching your every move? Has your ability to move about the country or visit another country been impeded?

Yet, Ms. Erbe makes the following statement: “If America was so spellbound by what I always viewed as the GOP's gross manipulation of the terror issue, I would go so far as to say we need to revisit how we elect our presidents [never mind the Constitution]. Something in our system is going seriously wrong. 9/11 was a horrible event. Still, Americans should have been able to see through Republicans' fear-driven '04 campaign to recognize the danger was more imagined than real.”

Ms. Erbe conveniently ignores the dirty hands of Congressional and other Democrats in the recent financial crisis, and blames that, too, on Mr. Bush, even though the seeds were sown by the Carter administration, watered and fertilized by the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration attempted a few times to alert a compliant and complicit Democrat-controlled Congress to the coming problems. Instead of acting on the warnings, Democrat committee chairs and members like Barney Frank, Maxine Waters and Christopher Dodd, humiliated and shouted down the regulators, and Ms. Waters even praised Franklin Raines.

Were it not for Barack Obama being elected Messiah, Ms. Erbe seems to think John Kerry could have filled those shoes. Of Mr. Kerry she says: “In fact, if he had won in '04, chances are we would have been out of Iraq by now, and much of the mortgage and housing crisis that rocked Wall Street and the global economy would not have taken place.”

Towards the end she says this: “Clearly, President-elect Obama is a much better choice [than Mr. Bush]. As it has been said by some, the grownups are back in town.”

It is really difficult to take pap like this seriously. What is sad is that lots of people do take it seriously.

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