Saturday, February 4, 2012

Quick Hits - February 4, 2012 - UPDATED

Syrian military forces launched a major assault on the rebel held city of Homs in central Syria killing at least 260 according to reports in the UK's Telegraph.  The attack is being termed a 'bloody massacre' as the armed forces of Bashir Assad fired artillery and rocket barrages into residential neighborhoods inside of Homs.

This appears to be the deadliest attack in the 10 month uprising against the Syrian dictator.

BREAKING NEWS - Russia and China both veto the Arab League / Moroccan resolution to the United Nations Security Council that calls for Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad to step down.
The two powers' refusal to back an Arab League plan for Syria came despite the vote coming within hours of the worst single act of violence in the 11-month uprising.

Days of tortuous negotiations led to a final act of brinkmanship as Russia said it could not support a resolution backing an Arab League plan for a swift transition of power and elections. It was said to have demanded a last-minute change dropping a call, already agreed by Syria in November, for tanks and artillery to be withdrawn from the streets.

That was rejected outright by Western governments after residents of Homs reported an extraordinary bombardment overnight by mortars and heavy artillery, shattering houses and sending the injured and dying flooding to hospitals and makeshift clinics. At least 200 were killed, with some activists giving figures as high as 330.
Over 100,000 marched in Moscow in anti-Putin protests earlier today.  They continue to protest Putin's policies and what is widely seen as  rigged Russian Parliamentary elections from last fall where Putin's party did far better than most voters thought they should have.  Moscow police say a pro-Putin rally a few miles away had 'up to 90,000' attending.

Teacher's attending the anti-Putin rally said trade unions pressured them to attend the pro-Putin rally...
"Trade union representatives called us together and said at least five to 10 people had to go to the Putin rally," said Sergei Bedchuk, a 54-year-old headteacher at the opposition protest in Moscow.
US Park Police in full riot gear entered McPherson Park in Washington DC before dawn today to enforce the no camping rules and perform 'nuisance abatement' on OccupyDC protesters who have occupied the park since last fall.  Protesters complained of the 'magnitude of the response' by the police - but only a few resisted.  The US Park Service, which oversees the park, announced a week ago it would begin enforcing longtime regulations that prevent camping in federal parks.  In addition, concerns about conditions in the park were increasing as a major rat infestation has broken out in the park resulting from the Occupy encampment.

Squatters from the OccupyLondon group encamped outside St. Paul's Cathedral, and facing a court ordered eviction from that location, have taken over the central London Boy Scout headquarters - locking out the scouts and police are claiming that they are powerless to evict the squatters..
The occupation has locked children and teenagers out of their community hall where they study for badges and had planned to sleep over to highlight homelessness.
It is the most dramatic example of London's squatting crisis that has seen occupations from multi-million Hampstead houses to terrace family homes in Leytonstone, Lambeth and Ilford.
About 15 squatters, mostly men, occupied the headquarters of Camden, City and Islington Scouts in Holloway Road on Wednesday last week. But when police arrived two days later they told the owners they could not help. 
Scout leader District Commissioner John Cronin said: "They broke in through a side door and blacked out the windows with paper. It's been turned into a commune.
"I was told by the police they have a standard policy: they're saying because they cannot prove it's the group in there that broke in, they cannot do anything. They had done a reasonable amount of damage and taken out shelving and cupboards.
In a decision bound to make the hard left whinge in anger, the commander of the Military District of Washington has ordered that Private Bradley Manning is to stand trial in a general court martial on multiple charges related to Manning allegedly downloading and giving more than 700,000 classified documents and combat video's to the anti-secrecy / anti-US website Wikileaks for publication.

Manning has become a cause-celeb for the hard left who call his actions to download DoD and State Department classified materials and provide them to Wikileaks the acts of a principled 'whistleblower'.  The materials released created major problems for the US both militarily and diplomatically - and directly contributed to lost lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If convicted by the general court martial, Manning stands to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Last night witnessed another late Friday night document dump by the Obama Administration...
“Amid threats by a top House Republican to pursue contempt charges, the White House on Friday sent lawmakers more internal documents related to the $535 million loan guarantee to failed solar firm Solyndra. The White House, in providing the 313 pages of documents, again denied that approval of the loan guarantee in 2009 was influenced by politics, an allegation that Republicans have repeated for months.”
Despite the denials of the Administration, given the outgoing Bush Administration rejected the loan, and the Obama Administration fast tracked it, it is becoming clear that this was part of the President's political agenda towards 'green energy'.

Zero Hedge is not backing down on it's insistence that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is gaming the unemployment numbers in order to project far better unemployment numbers than are real in today's economy.  In this post, they explain their calculations to show that not only is the base number of the size of the US labor force understated by 5 million, that when these 5 million are included in the labor pool, the implied unemployment rate for January 2012 is 11.5%.  They also note that the gap between the reported unemployment rate (8.3%) and the implied unemployment rate (11.5%) is at a 30 year high of 3.2%.

Budgets?  We don't need no stinkin' budgets!

The Democrat controlled Senate has not brought forth a budget for more than 1,000 days and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace) is unconcerned.  He's also not going to change this record, as he says he has no plans to bring a budget to the floor of the Senate in 2012.  According to the Majority Leader, the 2012 budget was already done last summer in the debt-ceiling deal.
…But if what Reid and Schumer are saying is that they’ve followed the law and submitted a budget resolution, then they’re flat-out wrong. The Congressional Budget Act requires the president to submit a budget to Congress by Feb. 1 every year. The Senate Budget Committee is to report a budget resolution to the full Senate by April 1. The House and Senate are to reach agreement on a concurrent budget resolution by April 15. Senate Budget Democrats haven’t submitted a budget since 2009.

Here’s why it matters: The Appropriations Committee determines levels of discretionary spending. Approps don’t touch mandatory spending. But mandatory spending constitutes about 60 percent of all federal spending — and mandatory programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security drive our deficits and debt. Without the imposition of budget discipline, these programs grow on autopilot.

By never submitting a budget, enacting a few discretionary spending caps as a part of the Budget Control Act (a.k.a. the debt ceiling deal) and punting to the Super Committee that also punted on entitlement reform, Democrats avoid any difficult discussion of how to ensure the solvency of our entitlement programs. With no plan of their own on the table, they’re free to shoot down anything Republicans propose.
Whose putting party politics ahead of the best interests of the country?

Remember the kerfuffle of President Obama's 'recess appointments' of Richard Cordray as the Director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Board and 3 new members to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was in pro-forma session?  The appointments are being challenged in court as violations of the US Constitution by President Obama.
“Nearly 40 Senate Republicans say they will sign on to a court challenge of President Barack Obama’s appointments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board…
“American democracy was born out of a rejection of the monarchies of Western Europe, anchored by limited government and separation of powers,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement. “We refuse to stand by as this president arrogantly casts aside our Constitution and defies the will of the American people under the election-year guise of defending them.”
As Hot Air's Allahpundit notes, among the missing Senate Republican's, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.  Brown, elected with substantial Tea Party support, has been losing this support as he has moved closer to President Obama's policies in an effort to win re-election this fall in liberal Massachusetts.

For the last several weeks, European publications have been saying that a deal between Greece and private investors that is part of the bailout that Greece needs to avoid a March 2012 default are just 'days away'.  Among the key points of these negotiations, just how much of a 'haircut' or loss will these private investors take on their original investment, and the yield that they will get from the Greek government for the new debt obligations.  Already the 'haircut' is in the 70% range - up from the 50% originally envisioned last fall.  But now there are new challenges with Greece's bailout - challenges that have led to the cancellation of a meeting of the EU Finance Ministers...
EU meeting cancelled over opposition to a bigger Greek bailout – 15 billion Euros additional needed above the 130 billion defined last fall… When the talks were initiated in October, the combination of the EU-IMF loan and the debt haircut was supposed to cut Greece’s debt to 120 per cent of gross domestic product by 2020 from 159.1 per cent in the second half of last year.

The latest assessments suggest the debt will drop to between 123 per cent and 127 per cent, suggesting billions of euro will be required to make up the deficit.

However, the ECB is reluctant to make additional aid available by forgoing the profit it stands to make on €55 billion of Greek bonds it holds. These were acquired below face value in ECB market interventions in the last 20 months. The bank may make a big profit if they are redeemed by Greece at face value when due.
Ultimately, it seems as if a Greek default is inevitable.  The Germans don't want to contribute any more funds to the bailout than they've committed thusfar.  Neither do any of the other EU nations who have funds to contribute.  Private investors don't want to lose more, and the European Central Bank doesn't want to lose / spend anything to bail out Greece.  Inside of Greece, there is little will to really make the needed changes or face their fundamental challenges...
The December OECD report found that the main problem with Greece's state administration was not its size but the fact that it adds too little value. There is little sensible policy-making because ministerial bureaucracies do not collect or use data on which to base their policy designs. Moreover, ministries communicate badly with each other, if at all. And even within ministries most departments work in "silos" - they produce rules and regulations without much of an idea how they fit into any broader policy plans. The average Greek ministry has 440 different departments or administrative units. One in five of these do not have any staff other than the head of department and only one in ten have 20 staff or more. The central government alone is spread over 1,500 different buildings.

The OECD also found that civil servants care little if new rules and policies are implemented, monitored and enforced. The result is a state administration that is top-heavy, inflexible, obsessed with process and is basically busy having "a conversation with itself", as the OECD puts it.
Greece's problem, as well as the one's in nearly all of the nations of the EU, stem from the structural and architectural flaws of their embracement of not only the Euro-style socialism, but of conditions that this creates with too much centralized government power and a workforce within that entity that has no clue about being productive or accountable and responsible.

Rather than following in the footsteps of Europe, the US should be offering Europe a history lesson from it's own experience as to how to address the eurocrisis -
Appealing to the precedent set by the 1789 bailout, state creditors asked the federal government to bail out the states once again. After an enlightening debate, in the early 1840s Congress declined, so many states repudiated their debts.

In the aftermath of those repudiations, many states rewrote their constitutions to require year-by-year balanced budgets, something they had never done before. As noted, fiscal crises, like the one in Europe today, often produce political rearrangements—at best peaceful ones like these.
Did the federal government do the right thing in refusing to bail out the states in the early 1840s? By doing so, the federal government reset its reputation vis-a-vis the states, telling them in effect not to expect it to underwrite their profligacy. In the short run, that cost the federal government substantially in terms of its reputation with its own creditors. Federal credit abroad suffered along with state credit. But in the long run, the decision exposed state governments to continuing market discipline, making future crises and requests for federal bailouts less likely.

If the federal government had chosen to bail out the states a second time, it probably would have taken greater control over state taxes and revenues in order to prevent yet another bailout situation. Refusal to bail out the states was thus a pivot point in sustaining a federal system in the United States. It led the states to discipline themselves by rearranging their constitutions in ways designed to allow them to retain freedom and responsibility for taxing and spending within their borders.
In the National Hockey League this week, a kerfuffle broke out regarding an incident in Los Angeles' Staples Center near the end of a game between the LA Kings and the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The LA Kings scored what seemed to be the game-winning goal with .4 seconds left on the clock...but for some reason, the clock stopped running for nearly a second with 1.8 seconds left.  Without this stoppage, many think, the goal would taken place after time ran out.  Here's a discussion on the event...

On another front, Ace of Ace of Spades is asking when did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton start dressing like villains from the James Bond movie franchise?

It looks like the special dress uniform a ChiCom factory manager wears when he accepts the Hero of the Exalted Wrench award from Ho Chi Minh. Which was the idea informing Blofeld's outfits. Utilitarian, totalitarian, proletarian.

On This Day in History

1789 - George Washington is unanimously elected the first President of the United States by all 69 presidential electors

1861 - Delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana convene in Montgomery, Alabama to establish the Confederate States of America

1945 - The Yalta Conference between Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin started - the decisions at Yalta, in particular those around Poland and Eastern Europe foreshadowed the cold war.

1969 - Yassir Arafat is named the Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee.  He would lead the PLO until his death in 2004.

1974 - Heiress Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

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