Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quick Hits - February 26, 2012

Violence continues for a sixth consecutive day in Afghanistan, as Afghani citizens continue to riot over the destruction of Taliban desecrated Qurans.  Afghani authorities apparently know the identity of the police officer who executed 2 American military advisors in the Afghanistan Interior Ministry yesterday - and are actively searching for that officer.  The Afghani Defense Minister has apologized to the United States for the murder of the 2 advisors.  As a result of the killing, NATO advisors are being withdrawn from working in Afghani ministry facilities.

Seven US soldiers today were injured in a grenade attack, and one protester killed during a demonstration against the US forces in Kunduz province.  Afghani President Karzai is calling for calm, while Taliban forces and propaganda continue to fire up the rhetoric against all foreigners in Afghanistan. 

All of this continues to put increased pressure on the US and other NATO nations regarding their mission in Afghanistan.  The US currently has announced the end of combat operations in 2014, while France and several other NATO nations plan to end their involvement in 2013.  The fear is that with the departure of the NATO combat forces, the Taliban will regain control of the country and reestablish an Islamic government that will operate in the same despicable manner as it did throughout most of the 1990's - including hosting jihadist terrorist organizations.

In Syria, as the people take to the polls to vote on a new constitutional referendum that could keep al-Assad in power through 2018, violence resumed as government forces resumed bombarding Homs.  31 civilians and military personnel were reported killed in the last day.  Since the opposition movement to the Assad dictatorship started about 11 months ago, nearly 8,500 have been killed.

Europe continues to work to address the challenges related to the sovereign debt crisis impacting Greece, and the threat of possible defaults by Spain and Italy.  Even though European Union Finance Ministers approved a a second €130bn bailout of Greece, the International Monetary Fund remains hesitant to participate without the EU contributing more billions to build up the 'firewall' to help provide assistance to other 'at risk' EU members. 

In a first, Germany's interior minister called on Greece to leave the Eurozone and the Euro...
Becoming the first member of Germany’s cabinet to openly call for a Greek exit, Hans-Peter Friedrich told Der Spiegel magazine that Greece’s chances of restoring its financial health would be greater outside the euro.

“I’m not saying that Greece should be thrown out but rather to create incentives that it can’t say ‘no’ to,” he added.

His comments came as eurozone leaders faced calls to increase their own efforts before any more money is made available from the IMF. Fresh from agreeing a second €130bn (£110bn) bail-out for Greece, there were hopes that this weekend’s gathering of G20 finance ministers in Mexico City would achieve a deal on how to ramp up the IMF’s own European war chest by as much as $600bn (£378bn).

UK Treasury officials made it clear that any new deal with the IMF was now likely to be delayed until meetings in April. Eurozone leaders have been negotiating with the US, China and Japan to contribute more to the IMF to build a “financial firewall” that would shield the likes of the Spanish and Italian economies from any intensification of the region’s crisis this year.

In another move likely to not win any popularity contests for Germany with the Greeks, comes a report that Germany intends to send to Greece tax officers who would volunteer to assist with tax collection efforts...
According to Germany’s Finance Ministry, “the [German] federal government wants to lend a helping hand. More than 160 volunteers of the German financial authorities are ready. Volunteers must have good knowledge of English, while there are several who speak Greek, too.”
Speaking of taxes, this gives a perfect segue to our tax dodger Secretary of the Treasury who believes that the 'privilege of being an American' is why the rich need to pay higher taxes...

"That’s the kind of balance you need," said Geithner. "Why is that the case? Because if you don't try to generate more revenues through tax reform, if you don't ask, you know, the most fortunate Americans to bear a slightly larger burden of the privilege of being an American, then you have to -- the only way to achieve fiscal sustainability is through unacceptably deep cuts in benefits for middle class seniors, or unacceptably deep cuts in national security."

The thing is, Mr. Secretary, the Administration you work for is already making those unacceptably deep cuts in national security - and ignoring not only the direction of the entitlements as a growing burden on our budget, but also the concept of making spending cuts at all. But more about this later.

SecTreas Geithner also apparently has some trouble with basic math...
One of the more unintentionally amusing ones comes to us from Tim Geithner himself, writing at the Wall Street Journal. In this detailed, fact-driven piece, Geithner points out how terribly unfair it is for U.S. energy companies to get away with paying such low taxes while raking in massive profits and living large on government subsidies.
“The effective tax rate on the energy industry in the United States today is much, much lower than the average. It’s lower because the tax code provides a substantial amount of subsidies to those private companies. We propose, for lots of reasons, mostly because we think it’s fair and more efficient, to dial some of those back.”
Forbes has been tracking which companies are paying how much in taxes for some time now. Guess who actually pays the most?

America’s three biggest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips , all endure income tax burdens of more than 40%–higher than the statutory U.S. rate of 35%. Exxon, with a 45% rate, tallied $21.6 billion in worldwide income taxes for 2010.

What did some companies in other industries pay?
Wal-Mart – $7.1 billion (at a rate of 32.4%) in income taxes
Hewlett-Packard – a 21% rate
Google – a 20% tax rate for 2010
General Electric – $1.05 billion taxes on income of $14.2 billion, a tax rate of 7.4%.

Now tell me again how the energy companies are the ones getting off cheaply and requiring the attention of the tax man? We shouldn’t be too hard on Mr. Geithner, though. Math is hard.

Fudging the truth a little to make a point is one thing – but to openly and blatantly lie to such a level reflects incredibly poorly on the official / Administration which has to resort to such tactics to communicate with the citizens and justify their actions. One has to wonder if they have such contempt for the truth, doesn’t that mean they hold the voter in similar contempt?
 Unfortunately, this level of lying and contempt is far too commonplace in the Obama Administration - and begins right here -

Fast and Furious, the Budget process, Dodd / Frank, Solyndra and the other examples of crony capitalism, not to mention Obamacare... all involve huge lies and holding the American Constitution and American people in utter contempt.
Medical costs for enrollees in the health-care law’s high-risk insurance pools are expected to more than double initial predictions, the Obama administration said Thursday in a report on the new program.

The health-care law set aside $5 billion for a Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, meant to provide health insurance to those who had been declined coverage by private carriers. Since its launch last summer, nearly 50,000 Americans have enrolled in the program.
Those who have enrolled in the program are projected to have significantly higher medical costs than the government initially expected. Each participant is expected to average $28,994 in medical costs in 2012, according to the report, more than double what government-contracted actuaries predicted in November 2010. Then, the analysts expected that the program would cost $13,026 per enrollee.

The costs also are significantly higher than those of similar high-risk pools that many states have operated for decades. States spent an average of $12,471 on enrollees in 2008, according to the National Association of State Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans.

Fundamentally, what is the difference between what the Administration is doing and a contractor quoting you that the job will cost X - a seriously low ball price designed to win the business, and then halfway into the job, you find that you will need to pay 2X or 3X in order to get the job finished?

But this Administration is going to campaign on the fact that it needs another 4 years in office to finish the job it started in January 2009.  I don't doubt that - one can't kill the US in just 4 years, but the meme will be that America is back - and 4 more years will firmly set America on it's new course....
In 2009, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. Our biggest banks and auto companies were on the brink of pulling down the whole economy. But we righted the ship. We did not tip into a Great Depression. And over the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs, the most since 2005 and more manufacturing jobs than since the 1990s. We still have a long way to go but we have restored hope and possibility to the economy.

Cherry picking the meme – and then lying to make the data fit the meme - Calculating from the end of the recession, the net job creation from those 31 months is only 1.407 million, a wan 45,390 net jobs a month, far below the pace needed to keep up with population growth. Calculating for the entirety of his presidency, we’re actually in the hole 937,000 jobs. Obama tried to cherry-pick the worst month in order to claim the most credit he could possible for job growth, and managed to get both the month and the math wrong anyway.

Geithner must have done the math...and another four years of Obama will lock the US firmly on the path of being the world's largest 'Greece'.

Where's the responsible 'Fourth Estate' - The Press - when it comes to raising questions about the direction of the country?  Here's a few examples from '15 Questions the Mainstream Media would ask Obama if he were a Republican' ...
2) In 2010 you said Solyndra, a company that donated heavily to your political campaign, was “leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.” Today, Solyndra is bankrupt and the taxpayers lost over $500 million on loans that your administration knew might never be paid off when you made them. How do you respond to citizens who say this is evidence of corruption in your administration?

3) Unions invested a lot of time and money in helping to get you elected. In return, unions gained majority control of Chrysler, the taxpayers lost $14 billion dollars on General Motors, and General Motors received a special $45 billion dollar tax break. What do you say to people who view this as corruption on a scale never before seen in American history?

6) Occupy Wall Street has been protesting against Wall Street and the richest 1 percent in America. You are in the top 1 percent of income earners in America and you have collected more cash from Wall Street than any other President in history. So, aren’t you exactly the sort of politician that Occupy Wall Street wants to get rid of?...

9) You made bipartisanship one of the central themes of your campaign in 2008. Yet, you’ve worked to push bills through Congress with almost no Republican support, spent much less time negotiating with Congress than George Bush did, and you’ve said things like, “But, I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.” Why did you decide to break your campaign promise to pursue bipartisanship?

10) America lost its AAA credit rating for the first time under your watch. What do you think you should have done differently to have prevented that historic failure?

Every one of these questions is a legitimate question - and questions that the media should be asking if they were ethical and professional.

Well, I can't use ethical or professional as I segue to this next report...

The Los Angeles Times, down from over 900,000 subscribers in 2005 to about 575,000 today, has decided to put the majority of their content behind a paywall on the internet in hopes of increasing revenues. Readers will now only be allowed to read 15 articles per month for free before needing to subscribe. The paywall takes effect on March 5th.

At least a paywall is easier to implement than producing a better quality product that people would want to subscribe to.  Why is it so difficult for publishers to associate the decline in their revenues with the decline in the quality of their product as opposed to blaming everything else?

Did you catch this report from the UK's Telegraph?  During a debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the world's most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, admitted, "I can't be sure God does not exist"....

On This Day in History

1815 - Napoleon escapes from his exile on Elba - and begins his 2nd conquest of France.  This would culminate with his defeat at Waterloo - and subsequent surrender to the British.

1919 - Grand Canyon National Park is established

1929 - Grand Teton National Park is established

1968 - Allied troops who recaptured the South Vietnamese city of Hue discovered the first mass graves in the city where communist troops buried some 2800 - 5700 civilians who were executed for sympathizing with the South Vietnamese government during the time the communists held the city.

1993 - A truck bomb detonated in the garage beneath the World Trade Center in New York City, killing 6, injuring 1,000, and forcing the evacuation of the World Trade Center towers.  The structures suffered more than $500 million in damage, but the bomb did not cause one tower to topple onto the other tower as envisioned by Muslim terrorist mastermind Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.  Yousef was also involved in the Muslim terrorist plan to bomb 15 American airliners over both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans over a 2 day timeframe.  19 Muslim terrorists would succeed in destroying the World Trade Center towers as well as damaging the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 in an attack that would kill nearly 3,000.

1995 - Barings PLC collapsed after a securities dealer lost more than $1.4 billion gambling on Tokyo stock prices.  The company was Britain's oldest investment banking firm.

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