Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quick Hits - February 29, 2012 - Leap Day

Ah, Leap Day...the 29th of Feb...

Photo AFP
After several weeks of artillery and rocket bombardment, Syrian ground forces are attacking into Homs, targeting the Baba Amr district - a key rebel-held area.  Trapped within the Baba Amr district are 100,000 residents and 3 western journalists.  Homs, a city of nearly 1 million total residents, has become a major focal point in the oppositions fight against the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad.  An assault of this type could result in a major increase in casualties - which now are between 8,000 and 8,500 killed since the opposition to Assad took to the streets in March 2011.

Major western nations and international organizations like the Arab League and United Nations have been unable or unwilling to provide direct assistance for the Syrian rebels.  Syrian allies, and arms suppliers, Russia and China are providing political cover for the regime in the United Nations.  Unlike the case with Libya, the Arab League, US, UK, and France are unwilling to invest military forces or military supplies against Syria.  Assad is careful to not use his air force for many of the attacks - which was one reason the West gave for their Libyan intervention - as Qaddafi made extensive use of his air force to pummel rebel territory.

But there are likely other reasons for the Obama Administration's refusal to take hard action against Syria.  The Obama Administration has demonstrated a strong unwillingness to engage countries that appear willing / able to inflict real damage on the US.  Openly supporting Syria will likely draw Iran and their shared proxy, the terrorist organization Hezbollah, closer to an armed conflict.

This is all part of Obama's feckless foreign policy.
During their brutally suppressed protests in 2009, Iranian freedom fighters sent the White House an urgent memo calling for help. Under Obama, America ignored it.

'So now, at this pivotal point in time, it is up to the countries of the free world to make up their mind," Iranian opposition leaders told the Obama administration in an eight-page memo in 2009. "Will they continue on the track of wishful thinking and push every decision to the future until it is too late, or will they reward the brave people of Iran and simultaneously advance the Western interests and world peace."

President Obama made his choice, and like so often before it was to vote "present."

The memo, written by leaders of Iran's Green Party after the summer 2009 anti-government demonstrations, was obtained by the Washington Examiner. 
The document confirms GOP candidate Rick Santorum's charge that the U.S. squandered an opportunity to undermine the government established by the Ayatollah Khomeini three decades ago.
Basically, the Obama Administration foreign policy seems focused on antagonizing, alienating, and abandoning our friends, while toadying up and appeasing our enemies.  It's clear that the Administration has a preference to being liked as opposed to being respected - and doesn't even seem to believe their inability to really be liked by much of the world as a problem.  We're still paying the high price for the fecklessness of the Carter Administration's foreign policy - but this Administration is starting to make Carter's Administration appear cogent.

What is the definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing again and again while expecting different results...

Just as we did in 1994 when the US cut a deal with North Korea to get that despotic regime to stop its efforts towards nuclear weapon development in exchange for food and fuel assistance - which the broke pretty much from the start of the deal - the US State Department announced today a new agreement with the DPRK where that country promises to suspend nuclear weapons tests, all uranium enrichment, and to permit international nuclear inspectors inside its major facilities in exchange for American food aid.

The Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, is reporting that the US government has plans to charge Wikileaks founder and chief punk, Julian Assange, for his role in the release of US government materials stolen by Private Bradley Manning, a US Army soldier facing a general court martial for his theft of classified information and providing that information to Assange.
UNITED STATES prosecutors have drawn up secret charges against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, according to a confidential email obtained from the private US intelligence company Stratfor.

In an internal email to Stratfor analysts on January 26 last year, the vice-president of intelligence, Fred Burton, responded to a media report concerning US investigations targeting WikiLeaks with the comment: ''We have a sealed indictment on Assange.''

Strafor is the private intelligence organization that was attacked and hacked by Anonymous late last year. During the hack attack, millions of emails were stolen as well as private information, including credit card information, for current and past subscribers of Stratfor's services. The emails are now being published by Wikileaks - and include a mix of real / fraudulent emails intended to embarrass Stratfor. The private information was also published resulting in credit card fraud being committed against many current and former subscribers.

The release of the classified information obtained via Manning is believed to have resulted in the deaths of agents / informants in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan who were providing direct assistance to the US.

Mitt Romney won both of the GOP Presidential Primary challenges last night - regaining his status as the frontrunner as we enter the last 6 days prior to the Super Tuesday primary contests.  Romney scored a decisive victory in Arizona, where he was expected to do well, and a 3 point win (41% to 38%) over Rick Santorum in Michigan. 

Rick Santorum, and many elements of the mainstream media, are calling the Michigan results a 'moral victory' for SantorumSantorum in the last several weeks held a double digit (10-12%) lead over Romney in a number of polls after his 'Hat Trick' win which he ultimately lost. 

In addition, major Democrat / Union efforts to drive a crossover vote for Santorum to keep the GOP race in turmoil failed to push Santorum over the top.  With only about 10% of the Michigan vote coming from Democrats, and Santorum getting just over half of these, Santorum only got a 4%-6% boost in his final numbers.  Factoring this into the results, and Romney's win increases to 7%-9% - a more substantive victory.

None of the major challengers went after Romney in Arizona.  Ron Paul put a strong effort in Michigan, but finished a distant 3rd place with only 12% of the vote.  Newt Gingrich, who focused his efforts next week's Super Tuesday's southern contests in Tennessee and Georgia, finished with only 7% of the vote in Michigan.

GOP hopes to gain the majority in the Senate this November took a hit when Republican Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe, made a surprise decision to retire and not seek re-election.  This takes a seat that was seen as a hold for the GOP and moves it towards a Democrat gain.  Snowe had been raising funds and campaigning for re-election until her sudden reversal of direction.
In her retirement announcement, Snowe blamed the partisan toxic atmosphere in the Senate for her decision to step down after three terms.

“I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions,” said Snowe, who just turned 65.

Snowe added: “As I enter a new chapter, I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern, and I believe there are unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate.”

Many in the GOP viewed Senator Snowe as a RINO - A Republican In Name Only. She cast the deciding vote in committee to move Obamacare forward even though she did vote with the GOP to oppose its passage on the floor. She supported a number of initiatives that ran contrary to the center right positions of the GOP - including apparently the contraceptive mandate pushed by President Obama against religious organizations.

During House hearings on the Obama Administration contraception mandate, liberal Democrats fumed when the committee heard testimony from 6 religious leaders representing a mix of faiths - who were all male.  They wanted the 'womans' side told.  That charade took place yesterday.

Hot Air's Tina Korbe takes a clue by four to the pretentious twit brought forward to 'testify'...Georgetown Law student and 'Reproductive Rights Activist' Sandra Fluke.  Fluke testified to the sympathetic progressive lawmakers that the Administration's contraception mandate should stand because she and her peers were going broke spending $3.000 over their 3 year tenure at Georgetown Law School for birth control because it's not currently covered under Catholic run Georgetown University's student insurance program...
“Forty percent of the female students at Georgetown Law reported to us that they struggled financially as a result of this policy (Georgetown student insurance not covering contraception),” Fluke reported.

It costs a female student $3,000 to have protected sex over the course of her three-year stint in law school, according to her calculations.

“Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school,” Fluke told the hearing.
The stupid is strong in this nimrod...In her commentary on Hot Air, Tina Korbe notes that others have started poking holes in the 'argument' Fluke is making in her push for the mandate...
Craig Bannister at did the math — and discovered that these co-eds, assuming they’re using the cheapest possible contraception, must be having unprotected sex about three times a day every day to incur that kind of expense. What Fluke is arguing, then, is that her fellow law students have a right to consequence-free sex whenever, wherever. Why, exactly, especially if it costs other people something? When I can’t pay for something, I do without it. Fortunately, in the case of contraception, women can make lifestyle choices that render it unnecessary.

At one point, Fluke mentions a friend who felt “embarrassed and powerless” when she learned her insurance didn’t cover contraception. Can you imagine how proud and empowered that same friend would be if she learned she has the ability to resist her own sexual urges? We can only assume she doesn’t know that because Fluke and she both labor under the illusion that contraception is a medical necessity.
What's best, however, is Korbe's final parting clue by four...
Ms. Fluke, I resent that you think women are incapable of controlling themselves, of sacrificing temporary pleasure for the sake of long-term success. You make us sound like animals, slaves to our instincts and able to be used, but we’re better than that. We’re persons, equal to men in dignity and love.
Ace, from Ace of Spades, is a little less 'polite' in his fisking of Fluke's 'testimony' noting that Fluke overstates the costs of her lifestyle choice - that at Walmart and Target, a month's supply of the pill is just $9 - or the cost of 2 beers in Georgetown before levelling his clue by four..
No offense, but birth control is not a "health" issue. Pregnancy is not a disease. It's a lifestyle choice, and one I support. But not with taxpayer dollars and not with forced mandates squashing people's choices.
It was all just theater...

More theater was taking place elsewhere on Capital Hill as testimony took place yesterday on the high gasoline prices and the Obama Administration's policies towards oil production and gasoline prices.

In the testimony of Secretary of Energy Dr. Stephen Chu it became apparent that the goal of the Administration is to keep gasoline prices high...
With the national average of gas prices hitting $3.65 a gallon, nearing $6 in some parts of the country, and poised to head even higher, America’s families are wondering when the bleeding at the pump will stop. But for Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu, those steep prices aren’t even a concern. In fact, he says his goal is not to get the price of gasoline to go down.

Chu delivered those stunning remarks in testimony before Congress yesterday. When Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) asked Chu whether it’s his “overall goal to get our price” of gasoline lower, Chu said, “No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy.”

As shocking as his remarks are, they shouldn’t come as a surprise. Chu has a long record of advocating for higher gas prices. In 2008, he stated, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” Last March, he reiterated his point in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, noting that his focus is to ease the pain felt by his energy policies by forcing automakers to make more fuel-efficient automobiles. “What I’m doing since I became Secretary of Energy has been quite clear. What I have been doing is developing methods to take the pain out of high gas prices.”

Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, was also on the Hill testifying about the domestic oil production that is overseen by his Agency - and ran the standard Obama Administration meme that domestic oil production is up under the Administration (thanks to the Administration's policies).

I want to say that, despite the Administration’s arguments that are laid out, that you all are all guns blaring and green lights for drilling, the facts that I checked, and if you disagree tell me, only 21 permits for offshore drilling have been issued by this date. In 2010 there were 32 permits. I just left the annual conference of LOGA, which is Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, Mr. Secretary, yesterday. They are beside themselves with not being able to get their permits processed and to answer you, Mr. Franken, let me just say Exxon and Shell may be making record profits but according to a study recently done by the Greater New Orleans, Inc., 41% of our oil and gas independent operators and service companies, I’m not talking about Exxon and Shell that have operations all over the world, I’m talking about companies in the Gulf Coast, in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Let me tell you what the studies show about their profits: 41% of them are not making a profit at all, 70% have lost significant cash reserves, 46 have moved operations away from the Gulf, and 82% of business owners have lost personal savings as a result of this slow down.

It's clear that the Administration's only concern regarding gas prices are the possible effect on Obama's re-election effort. Their solutions are to continue reducing the production of domestic fossil fuels and drive conservation / economy to further reduce the need for fossil fuels as part of their global warming agenda.

Speaking of global warming - and the politically / ideologically driven 'solutions', MIT Professor Richard Lindzen, one of the world's greatest atmospheric physicists, addressed the UK House of Commons on global warming (which was unreported here in the US)...
Stated briefly, I will simply try to clarify what the debate over climate change is really about. It most certainly is not about whether climate is changing: it always is. It is not about whether CO2 is increasing: it clearly is. It is not about whether the increase in CO2, by itself, will lead to some warming: it should. The debate is simply over the matter of how much warming the increase in CO2 can lead to, and the connection of such warming to the innumerable claimed catastrophes. The evidence is that the increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming, and that the connection of this minimal warming (or even significant warming) to the purported catastrophes is also minimal. The arguments on which the catastrophic claims are made are extremely weak – and commonly acknowledged as such. They are sometimes overtly dishonest.

... Given the above, the notion that alarming warming is ‘settled science’ should be offensive to any sentient individual, though to be sure, the above is hardly emphasized by the IPCC.

... one can see no warming since 1997. As Phil Jones acknowledged, there has been no statistically significant warming in 15 years. However, there are uncertainties in the above data, and small adjustments can result in negligible warming or cooling over this period. In the polarized public discourse, this leads each side to claim the other side is lying. However, Jones’ statement remains correct.

... Perhaps we should stop accepting the term, ‘skeptic.’ Skepticism implies doubts about a plausible proposition. Current global warming alarm hardly represents a plausible proposition. Twenty years of repetition and escalation of claims does not make it more plausible. Quite the contrary, the failure to improve the case over 20 years makes the case even less plausible as does the evidence from climategate and other instances of overt cheating.
There is more empirical evidence that the policies of the Obama Administration towards energy is entirely misplaced - particularly when we look at which states in the US are performing well economically and which states are not because the winners and losers are very apparent...
But California is rich in energy resources too. It's actually the third-largest oil producing state in the country, though it's about to be surpassed by North Dakota. Whereas North Dakota has encouraged energy companies to ramp up production using new techniques, oil production in California has been a downward decline amidst environmental restrictions and new energy mandates. In 2001 the state produced 689,000 barrels a day, but today that's down to 534,000 a day and continuing to shrink even though there are untapped sources in the state ripe for extraction with new technologies, including a whole swath of reserves in the Monterey shale that reaches from the Central Coast down to Los Angeles.

Of course, in California, public policy is often about regulations and taxes. And so even as production declines in the Golden State, tax activists are pushing a ballot initiative to raise taxes on oil producers in California. The new severance tax, if passed, would raise the total effective tax rate on oil produced in the state about 40 percent higher than oil taxes in any other producing state, according to Wayne Lusvardi at CalWatchdog.

Some states haven't even gotten started on the energy boom despite the potential. New York has a moratorium on natural gas fracking, which has stalled any significant drilling in the giant Marcellus shale. Two other states, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, by contrast, have already added some 57,000 jobs thanks to new exploration of Marcellus in their territory. A Manhattan Institute study estimated New York could add 15,000 to 18,000 jobs in Western New York alone from expanded natural gas exploration, and another 75,000 jobs if drilling were expanded to the Utica shale and southeastern New York.
The Commerce Department has issued a scheduled revision of the 4th Quarter 2011 Gross Domestic Product - increasing it from an increase of 2.8% on an annualized basis to 3.0%.  All is not rosy with the number though despite the bleats from the mainstream media that this number combined with the fraudulent 8.3% unemployment rate constitutes a 'real recovery'.

Most of the growth in GDP, which for the entire year was 1.7%, came from inventory expansion.  This combined with other red flags pointed towards a demand dip - which is reflected in the worst durable goods report in three years that was released yesterday

Any recovery we are seeing is despite the Obama Administration - not because of it.

Did you know that the Obama Administration gave General Motors (aka Government Motors) a secret bailout of $18 billion courtesy of the American taxpayer?
In a 2011 working paper, J. Mark Ramseyer of Harvard and Eric Rasmusen of Indiana University argue that by manipulating corporate tax rules by fiat, "Treasury gave the firm (and its owners, including the UAW) $18 billion more in assets." Thus a Democratic Administration gave "a massive tax benefit to one of the party's biggest supporters." The other problem is that the move put Ford and GM's other competitors at a disadvantage, as bailouts always do.

Mr. Obama crowed yesterday about GM's "highest profits in its 100-year history." We'd be interested to hear how its effective tax rate compares with Warren Buffett's secretary's.
On This Day in History

1288 - Scotland establishes this day as one when a woman could propose marriage to a man.  In the event that he refused the proposal, he was required to pay a find.

1940 - Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African-American to win an Oscar - winning Best Supporting Actress honors for her role in 'Gone with the Wind'.

2004 - 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' wins 11 Oscars - tying 'Ben-Hur' (1960) and 'Titanic' (1997) for the most Oscars won by a single film.

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