Friday, March 2, 2012

Quick Hits - March 2, 2012 - UPDATED

The Red Cross and other humanitarian aid organizations have started to arrive in parts of the devastated Syrian city of Homs.  They are uncovering evidence of more atrocities being committed by the Syrian government forces in the area.  The United Nations is reported to be 'alarmed at a grizzly set of summary executions' by the regime on civilians in the areas the troops are moving into - with at least 17 confirmed summary executions.  This number is expected to increase - and the overall death toll in the rebellion against the Assad regime is skyrocketing.

UPDATE - Syria blocks Red Cross access to Homs - In a sudden decision, the Syrian Government has decided to block the Red Cross from entering Homs. 
The Syrian authorities on Friday blocked without explanation an officially sanctioned Red Cross convoy laden with food and medical supplies from entering a devastated neighborhood in the central city of Homs, one day after the army overwhelmed the main rebel stronghold there following a brutal monthlong siege.

Elsewhere in and around Homs, government forces continue to shell civilian districts.  Reports from al-Rastan, just north of Homs, are of a mortar attack that killed at least 13 civilians, including 5 children.

France has announced that it is opening a criminal inquiry into the attacks by the Syrian government on journalists in Homs - including the attack which killed a French photo-journalist and Marie Colvin, an American working for the Sunday Times.

The 'Merkozy' European Union fiscal pact was signed by 25 member states (the UK and Czech Republic opted out) which adopts strict new rules of deficits and debts for member nations.  These new rules include European Union sanctions for those states that fail to meet the defined targets - the result of new powers the pact gives to EU bureaucrats over member nations.

Concerns continue in the Eurozone over the fiscal and social policies.  The European Central Bank earlier this week undertook another major round of lending very cheap euros to banking institutions in the Eurozone to boost their standing.  Nearly a trillion euros have been lent by the ECB - which is starting some to ask some hard questions...
The flood of cheap money from the ECB is storing up grave trouble for the future in the Eurozone - When something looks dangerous, it generally is. And few things look quite so high-wire right now as the European Central Bank’s efforts to hold the euro together by flooding the banking system with free money.

This week, the ECB injected a further 529.5 billion euros via “long-term refinancing operations”, or LTROs, bringing the tally to more than 1 trillion euros.

When Mario Draghi, the new ECB president, embarked on the programme shortly before Christmas, it was hailed as a masterstroke which had saved the eurozone from financial and economic calamity. Even the Jeremiahs of Germany’s Bundesbank, proud keepers of the sacred flame of monetary conservatism, were stunned into grudging acquiescence by the evident seriousness of the crisis. But now the doubts are beginning to set in, and with good reason.

The measures adopted are so extreme that it is no longer possible to know where they might lead, or what their eventual consequences might be. There is no precedent or road map for this kind of thing. All we do know is that they fail to provide any kind of lasting solution to the single currency’s underlying difficulties, which are still largely unrecognised and unaddressed. If Draghi’s intention was to buy time, it’s not being well used.

The Obama Administration isn't the only political entity seeking to expand its reach and power.  The United Nations also has grand aspirations towards expanding their power - proposing global regulations of water and food to ensure 'fairness'.

However, given the United Nations irrelevance and inability to enforce their existing regulations and rules among member nations - should we really be worried?  Given the feckless nature of the nimrods in the Obama Administration towards a willingness to cede sovereignty to the UN in the name of achieving 'fairness' - I'm more worried about our own government enforcing the UN's demands on their behalf.

In the first major national parliamentary elections since the disputed June 2009 elections which prompted several months of protests, Iranians are taking to the polls today to elect a new parliament.  As Lawhawk notes on his blog, A Blog for All, the mainstream media is trying to place this in a political context...
It is unlikely to change Iran's course over major policies — including its controversial nuclear program — regardless of who wins, but it may shape the political landscape for a successor to Ahmadinejad in 2013.
Lawhawk sees what the mainstream media doesn't want to see or chooses to ignore...
Iran's mullahs get to pick and choose who runs for office, and they do so with the blessing of the Supreme Leader. If the mullahs don't like the candidate - they don't even get on the ballot.

Opposition leaders, including Mirhussein Mousavi, are under house arrest. Mousavi had run against Ahmadinejad in the disputed elections and lost. Massive protests erupted across Iran and it was violently suppressed, leaving the opposition groups under arrest and the watchful gaze of the Iranian security forces loyal to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei.
Taken as a whole, the elections really don't indicate who runs the country or whether the Iranian regime is shifting policies since the power is dictated from the same person - Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Even opposition groups in Iran recognize this - that the statements coming from Khamenei about voting in the election as a poke in the eye of the West (US) is just propaganda to prop up candidates that have been selected to run by the same cabal that has run the country since the 1979 revolution. It's not change - it's rearranging deck chairs.

As Lawhawk notes elsewhere, this is nothing but an example of kabuki theater - directed in two directions. One is towards the chattering nimrods of western media who are supposed to think that Iran isn't a theocracy under the rule of the 'mad mullahs' led by Khamenei. The other is towards those inside Iran who are seeing once again that not only is the real power held in the hands of Khamenei, but the feckless West is powerless and lack the will to come to the assistance of the Iranian people (just as they are regarding the Syrian state). Khamenei can also use all of this, the rhetoric against the 'Greater' and 'Lesser' Satans to distract his people from their own economic challenges and growing dissatisfaction with the theocratic dictatorship they live in.

Rick Santorum is furious with the Michigan GOP.  After taking to the airwaves yesterday touting his 3 point loss to Mitt Romney as a 'moral victory' on Tuesday's primary in Michigan, specifically citing that both candidates evenly split the 30 delegates to the GOP National Convention, the candidate is furious over the Michigan GOP new decision to award both 'at large' delegates to Mitt Romney - reducing Santorum's delegate take to 14.  Santorum is calling the decision by the Michigan GOP to give both 'at large' delegates to the popular vote winner a 'dirty trick' by the Romney campaign.

In yesterday's post on assessing the state of the GOP Presidential primary race just prior to Super Tuesday, I referenced that I believed Mitt Romney would be closing the ground quickly on Rick Santorum in the key state contest of Ohio. 

Two current polls are showing that Mitt Romney has made major gains in the Ohio primary contest against Rick Santorum.  A Quinnipiac University poll shows that Romney has pulled into the margin of error on their most recent poll.  Santorum still holds the lead with 35% support, Romney is in second with 31% support, followed by Newt Gingrich (17%) and Ron Paul (12%).

A Rasmussen poll from Ohio has Santorum at 33%, Romney at 31%, Gingrich at 17%, and Paul at 12%.  This same poll, 2 weeks ago, showed an 18 point Santorum lead over Mitt Romney.

In both of these polls, about a third of the electorate say they could change their minds by Tuesday. 

Both of these polls confirm the movement that I believed was underway in the race - with a clear change of momentum to Mitt Romney which bodes well for the candidate on Super Tuesday.  Ohio will still be a close fight - just as Michigan was - but Santorum is not going to be able to get the assistance of a 10% crossover vote intended to add turmoil to the GOP primary process.

Yesterday's QH referenced a report highlighted by Andrew C. McCarthy that noted an Arabic language newspaper, al-Arabiya, stating that the Obama Administration was floating a 'prisoner swap' with Egypt's interim government that could have included the convicted terrorist mastermind 'The Blind Sheikh'.  It turns out that the report from al-Arabiya was incorrect. 

Rather than do the 'prisoner swap', the Obama Administration paid the Egyptian government $5 million, $300,000 per American, to buy the freedom of US rights workers held / being charged in Egypt.

In Pennsylvania, 5 coal-fueled electricity power plants are being forced to close due to Obama Administration regulations which are targeting coal plants.  Concerns are being raised over the effects of the loss of over 3,140 megawatts of power that these plants generated - both in terms of replacing the power and the higher costs to the consumers. 

One of the valid criticisms towards the Obama Administration is their contempt towards laws that they don't like. 

One such law seems to be the legal obligation on the President to present to Congress legislative reform to address major fiscal challenges with the Medicare entitlement program when Medicare trustees releases a warning that the program faces insolvency.  President Obama has ignored three previous legal requirements to propose legislative reforms in answer to insolvency warnings by Medicare trustees in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  If he fails to do so again by March 6th, this will mark the fourth consecutive year that he has ignored the law.
In reality, the president’s decision to do nothing to reform Medicare is a default decision to destroy Medicare — or, rather, to allow it to destroy itself. At least one Democrat — that would be Sen. Ron Wyden — has realized this and has partnered with Ryan to promote a premium support plan alongside traditional Medicare. The Ryan-Wyden plan is a less palatable compromise than Ryan’s original plan, but it’s better than nothing. Predictably, Wyden took heat for his willingness to team with Ryan.

Still, Ryan’s not giving up on the issue; he convinced all the GOP contenders to stand by his plan (even Newt Gingrich reversed his controversial comment that the Ryan plan is “right-wing social engineering”) and he’s slowly building a bipartisan coalition to promote it, too. A handful of Democrats have anonymously admitted they like it — but are afraid to openly support it until after the election.

Those of us who know that entitlement programs are the key drivers of our debt have a responsibility to spread the facts — and to back up politicians who stick their necks out for bold solutions. They’ve got to know we support them — and the president needs to learn we see through him. We won’t believe he cares about seniors or the social safety net until he proves that he cares about seniors and the social safety net — by putting forward a plan to save Medicare.
Another common theme is how the mainstream media reaches to try to define the meme when the facts don't fit the message they are trying to promote....yes, promote, not report.

Multiple media elements, including CBS News and Politico, responded to Republican Senator Olympia Snowe's sudden decision to retire from the Senate, and her initial statement about dissatisfaction with the polarization taking place in Congress as a criticism directed towards the GOP 'obstructionism' in Congress.  This plays in with and supports the false meme from the White House of the 'Republican do-nothing Congress'.  However, as is often the case, the facts do not fit the meme of the mainstream media.

Snowe's dissatisfaction with gridlock and polarization in the Senate is not directed at the GOP side of the aisle, but in Snowe's own words, directed at the Democratic side of the aisle...
The Senate of today routinely jettisons regular order, as evidenced by the body’s failure to pass a budget for more than 1,000 days; serially legislates by political brinkmanship, as demonstrated by the debt-ceiling debacle of August that should have been addressed the previous January; and habitually eschews full debate and an open amendment process in favor of competing, up-or-down, take-it-or-leave-it proposals. We witnessed this again in December with votes on two separate proposals for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
Snowe continues...
As Ronald Brownstein recently observed in National Journal, Congress is becoming more like a parliamentary system — where everyone simply votes with their party and those in charge employ every possible tactic to block the other side.
Which party has held the majority leadership position in the Senate - and done so since January 2007?

The Senate Majority Leader is Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.  Under Harry Reid's leadership, the Senate has failed to pass a budget for over 1,000 days.  Under Harry Reid's leadership not only were debt ceiling resolution bills ignored, but over 30 bills for job creation and regulatory reform intending to increase economic growth remain ignored.  Under Harry Reid, the majority Democrats have used every tactic possible, including reconciliation in the passage of Obamacare, to block the GOP side from action or adding amendments.  That is the 'do-nothing' Congress that Olympia Snowe is leaving.

In another example of the mainstream media doing whatever they can to cover for Obama, his Administration, and the progressives in Congress, Daniel Gross, an economics editor at Yahoo! Finance makes the following audacious assertion...
..the U.S. economy is better situated to handle higher gas prices than it was last year, four years ago, or ten years ago. The upshot: higher gas prices are going to hurt, and will be painful for many. But they won't torpedo the economy.

For a host of reasons, the world's largest consumer of gasoline is much less likely to be the victim of high gas prices than it was a few years ago. Here's why.

First, compared with 2007 and 2008, corporate and personal balance sheets are in much better shape, and hence better able to absorb rising costs.

WTF? I mean WTF? The US economy is better situated today to handle higher gas prices than before?

Real unemployment in the 11.1% - and if we include those underemployed it's north of 15.6%. Real inflation is 8%. The labor participation rates are at levels not seen in four decades or more. Record numbers of people are listed as 'long term' unemployed. Record numbers of people are on government assistance like food stamps - while gasoline prices are setting records for this time of the year.

Then comes this information, released on the same day that Gross spins his yarn...
And some more bad news for the economy, as the driver of 70% of US GDP, the US consumer, continues to retrench. Today's personal spending and income data showed several things: that in January Personal Incomes did not keep pace with the rate of growth, rising 0.3% compared to 0.5% in December, and less than the 0.5% expected. Spending also missed expectations of a 0.4% rise, instead picking up just 0.2%, from 0.0% in December.
The record level of gas prices we will experience this summer will do major damage to the national economy - and bring on a real risk that GDP growth in 2012 will be at or below the 2011 annual level of 1.7% GDP growth.  Most personal balance sheets aren't better - an effect of the continued unemployment / underemployment crisis that we face.  Despite, SecEnergy Chu's efforts yesterday to walk back his comments that the focus of the Administration is towards lessening dependence on fossil fuels as opposed to reducing high prices, the policies of the Administration remain unchanged.  High prices for energy are desired by this Administration in order to invoke 'fundamental change' in the behavior and use of energy in this country.

Wrapping up today, I want to make a few additional observations regarding the shocking passing of conservative activist, journalist, blogger, and warrior Andrew Breitbart.

Chris Muir, the artist / cartoonist behind Day By Day, a political cartoon that is one of my required daily reads - drew a superb memorial to Andrew Breitbart...

Patrick Frey, Patterico, a LA based blogger who is another daily read of mine, shares some of his personal memories of Andrew Breitbart - and speaks from the heart...
He didn’t care which Republican candidate got elected. He just cared about the truth. He had a severe case of ADD, in my amateur opinion, and when he got stories wrong it was because he wasn’t being careful. Not because he was dishonest. The man didn’t have a dishonest bone in his body. He was totally honest, all the time. Whatever he thought, he would tell you. 

I read today that he was a homophobe. When he threw a party for gay Republicans at CPAC. I read today he was a racist. When he fought for poor black farmers screwed in the Pigford settlement, and was inspired to enter public life by the indignities heaped on Clarence Thomas. 

What crap people will spew when they don’t know someone.
Patrick is so right about this - and in a more recent post, he notes some of the vile crap being spewed by too many at Breitbart.  Andrew Breitbart would take this stuff and retweet it to the world to highlight and shine a bright light on their hatred. 

Patrick then lists the quote of the year - and it's one that all conservative bloggers, activists, and commentators need to embrace as it speaks volumes about the man and the change he ignited...

"Conservatives used to take it, and we're not taking it anymore."  

Andrew Breitbart - 1969-2012

On This Day in History

1776 - The Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, begins their seige of Boston.

1807 - US Congress votes to abolish the African slave trade

1836 - Texas declares its independence from Mexico

1917 - President Wilson signs the Jones-Shafroth Act - making Puerto Rico a US Territory, grants Puerto Ricans statutory citizenship, creates a Bill of Rights for the Territory, and declares English the official language of Puerto Rico.

1917 - The Russian Revolution begins as Czar Nicholas II abdicates his throne

1943 - The Battle of the Bismarck Sea starts - a 2 day Allied bombing campaign against a 16 ship Japanese convoy attempting to reinforce Japanese positions in New Guinea.  During the battle 8 Japanese troop transports, 4 destroyers, and 102 aircraft were destroyed marking a decisive defeat for the Japanese.

1969 - The heaviest fighting in a 7 month series of border engagements between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China took place on the Ussuri River north of Vladivostok - marking the split that was developing between the two major communist powers.

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