Thursday, February 9, 2012

Quick Hits - February 9, 2012

The Obama Administration mandate through Obamacare that almost all employers must cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients in their employee health plans, even if those employers are religious universities, hospitals, and charities that reject these practices on religious grounds, is raising an increasing firestorm of controversy regarding the powers of the Federal Government and the religious freedoms.

Catholic and other religious organizations and institutions are pushing back hard against the decrees from the Federal Government that require them to provide these services to their employees even as a number of those services contradict their beliefs and teachings.   They cite the First Amendment of the US Constitution which prevents any law or mandate which inhibit the free exercise of religion in their defense to the Obamacare mandate that they must provide these services to their employees at no charge infringe on their religious beliefs and rights. 

The Administration, even as President Obama refuses to back down from the firestorm, and its supporters are actively trying to spin the argument away from an issue of religious freedom from government mandate towards an argument that these institutions are trying to deny a woman's right to birth control - including the right to abortions.  These efforts are as deficient as the mandate itself.

As the editorial board of The National Review notes...
Before Obamacare, a businessman had no obligation under federal law to provide health insurance covering anything he considered immoral. Whether his objection was moral or religious did not matter, and nor did whether his organization met criteria an administration in Washington, D.C., had established. Leaving these matters to individual consciences and free labor markets has worked fine, and not seriously impeded anyone’s access to needed medical services. Any “compromise” the administration offers should be measured against this standard: the standard of the pre-Obama American tradition of religious freedom, a tradition that has constitutional protection even if it lacks the administration’s sympathy.

Fundamentally, this is a huge gaffe by the Obama Administration made in the heat of a election campaign.  The decision represents another in a collection of decisions that define the contempt that this President and his Administration has towards the prime principles of the US Constitution.  It also represents their full belief that the power and reach of the Federal Government needs to be expanded further - and that there are no barriers or limitations to this power. 

In another gaffe, and an unsurprising one as well, the President has once again flipped regarding campaign finances.  Obama, who called out the members of the US Supreme Court in a State of the Union speech for their decision on Citizen United regarding campaign finance, has now decided that he will not only embrace Super PAC's, but actively promote his Super PAC and leverage it as an official arm of his campaign.  Political cartoonist Michael Ramirez notes the President's hypocrisy above...
Last year, Obama campaign alumni formed a super-PAC called Priorities USA, which is not bound by the contribution limits that restrict how much the president's campaign or the Democratic National Committee can raise from individuals. Priorities USA can raise money directly from corporations.

At the time, Obama claimed he opposed super-PACs, but former aides from his campaign and administration, such as Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton, were running Priorities USA. This week, though, Obama effectively called on his supporters to give to Priorities USA and announced that his Cabinet secretaries would headline the super-PAC's events. This was no reversal, but a frank admission of what we already knew: Obama has his own super-PAC, just as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have theirs.

Priorities USA was always an unofficial arm of the Obama campaign, and now Obama is a step closer to dropping the fiction that he is not coordinating with it -- a fiction that Republican presidential candidates have almost abandoned, too.
For those still wondering about the previous Obama flip-flop regarding campaign finance, that comes from his announcements during his 2007-8 campaign to take public funding (and the limits) if he was the nominee of the Democrat Party - but then deciding to forgo all public funding of his campaign once he became the nominee.  This opened the opportunity for the Obama campaign to flaunt, ignore, and break campaign finance laws in their drive for the hundreds of millions they sought.

The President touted this morning a $26 billion agreement with 5 major banks (Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo) to settle federal and state problems of alleged home foreclosure abuses by lenders on homeowners.  These 5 firms handle about 55% of the home loans outstanding in the US.

$20 billion of the settlement is to be used to cut the loan balances of borrowers today who are at the risk of foreclosure in addition to refinancing other homeowners who find themselves 'under water' - where their homes are worth less than the amount of their mortgage principle. 

The deal will apply to every state in the US with the exception of Oklahoma, and officials are working to include Oklahoma.

Also included in the settlement is a fund of $5 billion in cash penalties to these institutions payable to borrowers, states, and the federal government for borrowers who did lost their homes to foreclosure between September 2008 and December 2011.  Homeowners who lost their homes during this time frame will get between $1,500 and $2,000 in compensation for the practices used by these banks during the foreclosure process.

The United States Postal Service has announced that it lost an additional $3.3 billion in the last quarter of 2011.  The Postal Service is attempting to pressure Congress for additional funding in addition to the approvals to reduce staff / facilities and end Saturday mail delivery in austerity measures.  The losses are claimed to be caused by declining mail volume and the mounting costs the Service is experiencing for retirement and health benefits.  Without action, the Postal Service says that it will be out of funds by October 2012.


A federal government program last year paid $1.6 billion to cover free cell phones and monthly cellular bills of 12.5 million wireless accounts owned by low income families.  This program is intended to provide assistance for low income families by giving them cell phones and coverage.  The program has more than doubled in size since 2008 when it cost only $778 million.  In a time frame of trillion dollar deficits - why is the government giving low income families cellular phones?

Greek political leaders have announced an agreement has been reached on an austerity deal designed to meet the demands set by international creditors for Greece to receive their 2nd bailout in 21 months.  The austerity deal includes an over 3 billion Euro cut in spending, the elimination of 150,000 civil service jobs by 2015, a 22% reduction in the minimum wage, and other cuts intended to bring the Greek national budget deficit to the targets defined.

Greek labor unions have announced a 48 hour general strike starting on Friday to protest the austerity measures and the agreement. 

Even with this deal, major questions remain around the ability of Greece to achieve the austerity targets with an economy still in a deep recession, a 20% unemployment rate, and facing new national elections in April.  The hard left political parties who oppose the austerity measures are surging in the polls and if they gain power, any deal today will likely be undone quickly.

The benefits of this bailout / deal is that the EU and Greece have managed to kick the can down the road just a little longer if the Greek default in March is avoided.  However, without substantial and fundamental reforms in Greece - reforms where the Greek population see and understand how unsustainable their former model was - a third bailout will likely be needed in less than 2 years.

Syrian government forces have intensified their assault and bombardment of Homs, killing 'scores of people' overnight.  The majority of the international community remains unable or unwilling to provide assistance to the rebels in Syria or to increase pressure on the Assad regime to halt the violence against the Syrian people.

Economic sanctions are having little deterrent effects on the Syrian Government as both Russia and China continue to provide not only political cover, but still trade with the regime.  With the political cover provided by these two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the UN is once again impotent and irrelevant in the efforts to stop the carnage.  The Arab League is talking about sending in observers once again - but there is no indication that this step will be any more effective than the first time several months ago.  The Arab League is also consider recognizing the Syrian National Council, a leading rebel political organization.

The contrasts between Libya and Syria remain stark. In both countries, dictators used their military forces to brutally quash opposition groups - including the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians.  In Libya, the Arab League and Western nations undertook military operations on humanitarian grounds to support the end of the dictator's regime.  However, in Syria, the international community is afraid to engage the stronger / better connected Assad regime - just as it was in the early 1970's when Assad's father nearly levelled Homs and killed over 20,000.

The mismanaged foreign policy in the Middle East by the Obama Administration is all too apparent.  Decline is a choice, and it's clear that is the choice that has been made regarding America.

On February 1, I did a post on a 'A Story About Climate Change' which highlighted an observation made by PJ Media's 'Zombie'.  In this post, Zombie noted that he had just completed reading a book on the dire consequences of climate change we faced and summarized the solutions advocated in order to mitigate those consequences.  The punch line for the post was that the book was not about global warming but from the late 1970's about the coming ice age...and that the solutions for the coming ice age were identical to the solutions to prevent global warming.

I noted this because I also recognized not only the similarities between the 'solutions' - but also am a skeptic because of the unethical actions by far too many scientists to manipulate their data to fit their hypothesis combined with the fact that their solutions are based on a political ideology as opposed to scientific fact.

In the last decade and a half, we've seen increasingly shrill demands that the end is near because of global warming. Al Gore has become a caricature of himself in his screeching and fearmongering around massive sea level increases, disappearing polar ice caps, and disappearing Himalayan ice caps and glaciers.  Now, 'scientists' are 'stunned' to find that none of these things are really happening...
The world's greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows.
The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall.
 On This Day in History

1825 - John Quincy Adams is elected President of the United States by the US House of Representatives after no Presidential candidate received a majority of electoral votes.

1861 - The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America elects Jefferson Davis the President of the Confederate States of America.

1942 - Daylight savings 'War Time' goes into effect in the US;  The French ocean liner, Normandie, which was seized by the US Navy after the fall of France, burns and sinks at its slip in New York harbor while undergoing conversion to become a troop ship.

File:USS Lafayette 1942.jpg

1950 - US Senator Joseph McCarthy charges in a speech that the US State Department is 'riddled' with communists - citing a list of 205 communists and communist agents who are employed by the State Department.

1969 - The Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet makes its inaugural test flight

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