Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick Hits - March 26 & 27, 2012

Unable to get the QH done for yesterday, so today we'll have a double post...

As I write this, two of the three days of oral arguments regarding Obamacare have been completed.  Yesterday, the primary question being addressed was if it was premature for the SCOTUS to consider the constitutionality of the individual mandate because the mandate has not taken effect yet (it goes into effect in 2014) and no person has been forced by the government to pay a penalty for their failure to acquire health insurance.

The SCOTUS appeared skeptical that the argument around the 1876 Anti-Injunction Act made any decision premature during their questioning of the attorney's.  One of the biggest issues around the Anti-Injunction Act is that it prevents judicial action being taken towards taxes before the tax is collected.   This opens an interesting double standard around the government's case - because the Justice Department is going to argue that one of the reasons the individual mandate is constitutional comes from the power of the Congress to levy taxes.
But in urging that the justices should not postpone a decision until the mandate takes effect, sometime after 2014, the administration has had to argue that the mandate is not a tax.

Justice Samuel Alito raised the issue as Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. argued Monday that the fine is a not a tax.

“Tomorrow you’re going to be back, and you’re going to be arguing that the penalty is a tax,” Alito said.
The National Review noted the following on Monday's arguments...
With the exception of Justice Breyer, and possibly Justice Sotomayor, the justices all were skeptical that the AIA is jurisdictional. And if the AIA is not jurisdictional, the government can waive it, as it has here, or the Court can find exceptions to the rule, which would be likely in this case.

The justices also didn’t seem impressed by the administration’s contortionist act, attempting to brand the individual mandate’s penalty as not a tax today, but a tax tomorrow. Justice Breyer even caught Solicitor General Verrilli in a slip of tongue, calling it a tax, triggering laughter.

The general consensus is leading towards the fact that the SCOTUS will likely not to punt on ruling on the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

One of the best sources of information and analysis for the happenings around the Supreme Court is the blog, SCOTUSblog.  Based on their information from today's argument, it does not appear as if the government had a very good day.
Based on the questions posed to Paul Clement, the lead attorney for the state challengers to the individual mandate, it appears that the mandate is in trouble. It is not clear whether it will be struck down, but the questions that the conservative Justices posed to Clement were not nearly as pressing as the ones they asked to Solicitor General Verrilli....

Perhaps the most interesting point to emerge so far is that Justice Kennedy’s questions suggest that he believes that the mandate has profound implications for individual liberty: he asked multiple times whether the mandate fundamentally changes the relationship between the government and individuals, so that it must surpass a special burden.

The expectation going into the SCOTUS taking up the case was that the 4 progressive justices (Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor, Kagan) would be standing to support the constitutionality of the individual mandate while the 4 conservative justices (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito) would likely be leaning towards ruling the mandate unconstitutional. Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote, was seen as the critical swing vote for this decision. SCOTUSblog notes this in their argument recap that he will be the deciding vote...
If Justice Anthony M. Kennedy can locate a limiting principle in the federal government’s defense of the new individual health insurance mandate, or can think of one on his own, the mandate may well survive. If he does, he may take Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., along with him. But if he does not, the mandate is gone. That is where Tuesday’s argument wound up — with Kennedy, after first displaying a very deep skepticism, leaving the impression that he might yet be the mandate’s savior.

If the vote had been taken after Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., stepped back from the lectern after the first 56 minutes, and the audience stood up for a mid-argument stretch, the chances were that the most significant feature of the Affordable Care Act would have perished in Kennedy’s concern that it just might alter the fundamental relationship between the American people and their government. But after two arguments by lawyers for the challengers — forceful and creative though they were — at least doubt had set in. and expecting the demise of the mandate seemed decidedly premature.
I think (and hope) that Kennedy's concern that the individual mandate 'just might alter the fundamental relationship between the American people and their government' is the position that ultimately wins out in his deliberations.  If not, then America will be fundamentally changed - and not for the better.

In a meeting with outgoing Russian President Medvedev, President Barack Obama committed yet another major gaffe with an open microphone - and this was far worse the denigrating contempt he showed the Israeli Prime Minister in a conversation with the President of France.

In a discussion that was addressing the US missile defense system deployment in Eastern Europe and the Russian strong objections to the the system, during a brief break, the President is caught on an open mic, whispering to the Russian President that he is looking for the Russian President to 'give me space' on missile defense, noting - 'This is my last election...' and 'After my election, I have flexibility'.

Russia, despite the President's previous efforts towards 'resetting the relationship', is not a friend of the United States. Russia opposes us on all fronts. They will sell arms and military materials to anyone willing to pay them - and are openly supporting some of the most anti-American / anti-West regimes like Iran and Syria. They are sending not only arms, but also troops to assist the Syrian dictator brutally put down groups trying to oust Assad. They are providing key and critical services and materials to assist the Iranian nuclear program...which would not exist in the present form without the Russian aid.

The comments also telegraph to a large extent how Obama views this November's election and how he intends to rule if he wins a second term. Without the need to run for another election, we can be certain that he will demonstrate even more contempt and arrogance towards the Constitution and American people in order to enact his hard progressive left agenda. To him, the ends will justifies the means - so he will continue to ignore Congress and direct the government as he as using executive orders and the regulatory powers of the executive branch. That arrogance and contempt should frighten every American.

Today, President Obama is trying to defend his statements captured on the open microphone by saying that they were nothing more than just another version of his public statements - but as noted....
“If O was just stating the ‘obvious’ when he asked Russia for space until Flexibility Day, why did he need to whisper it??” tweeted Ari Fleischer, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush.

A former chapter president for the NAACP has stepped forward to accuse Jesse Jackson and Al Sharton of 'exploiting' the Trayvon Martin tragedy to 'racially divide the country'...
“His family should be outraged at the fact that they’re using this child as the bait to inflame racial passions,” Rev. C.L. Bryant said in a Monday interview with The Daily Caller.

The conservative black pastor who was once the chapter president of the Garland, Texas NAACP called Jackson and Sharpton “race hustlers” and said they are “acting as though they are buzzards circling the carcass of this young boy.”

Victor Davis Hanson writes in his latest PJ Media column that we need to 'Beware the Mob' - and addresses the following regarding Trayvon Martin and President Obama's comments about the case..
The Trayvon Martin tragedy is not over. We do not know all the facts; bad judgment, racism, and ill-intent may well have led to manslaughter or even second-degree murder or, then again, in theory, self-defense, but to speculate about any such charges without evidence is to become mob-like. My own view is that carrying a weapon requires greater forbearance, but I was not there and still have no idea what transpired. As I write this, the account will be out-of-date by tomorrow’s disclosures. What we are left with are no rules of national anguish: When ten African-Americans are murdered by other African-Americans in a single weekend, is it news or not news? When the occasional African-American murders a white person, as in a recent car-jacking, is it a sign of something the nation must note? When an Hispanic shoots an African-American, is it news to the degree he has a European name, but had he been Jorge Martinez with an Anglo mother, it would not have been news?

The role of a president is to rein in the mob, not to unleash it. The latter is what community organizers do; the former is what makes statesmen. Yet on issue after issue — anti-terrorism, global warming, government ethics, and racial relations — a frenzied mob, egged on by the media and demagogues like Barack Obama, have almost stormed the jail, only to dissipate when met by either evidence, or the knowledge that the incarcerated was one of their own — as if they had never screamed and threatened in the first place.
Unfortunately, the media and certain elements continue to press the meme that was started regarding the death of Trayvon Martin - pretty much identical to the rush to judgement done regarding the Duke lacrosse case. As in that case, new information is coming out that is starting to confirm elements of George Zimmerman's statement to the police. Martin's family calls the comments about the investigation into their son's behavior - including possible linkages to burglaries - as efforts to smear their son's reputation as opposed to pushing for justice. But isn't the search for the facts about what really happened integral to justice?

Of course if there was also some consistency in the search for justice, we would also be seeing outrage within the African-American community and steps being taken by that community to stop the level of violence being done on the members of that community by other African-Americans...or how about joining in wanting to investigate why leaders in our government decided to provide weaponry to drug cartels which resulted in hundreds of innocent deaths?

With the Obama Administration being unable to get Cap and Trade legislation through Congress during their 2009/10 supermajorities, the Administration has taken to implementing major aspects of Cap and Trade / Global Warming agenda via the regulatory powers of the Executive Branch.  Today, the Environmental Protection Agency is issuing new rules that are specifically attacking coal fired power plants across the country.  The new rules reduce by half the allowable CO2 emissions from all power plants - which will primarily impact coal plants.

These regulations are basically outlawing the construction of any new coal fueled electrical power plants in the US - despite our abundances of coal.  Older plants are going to be forced to close, taking their capacity off the grid.  Other plants will be forced to spend billions in order to accommodate the new regulations.  Of course, this also means that for the consumer, their electricity rates will soar with estimates in the 19% - 25% range.

This isn't new.  After all the President noted during the 2008 campaign that he sees no problem with skyrocketing electricity rates because of the need regarding climate change...

But what about the fact that 'climate change' is less about climate and far more about a political ideological agenda? From today's Wall Street Journal...
The lack of any statistically significant warming for over a decade has made it more difficult for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its supporters to demonize the atmospheric gas CO2 which is released when fossil fuels are burned. The burning of fossil fuels has been one reason for an increase of CO2 levels in the atmosphere to around 395 ppm (or parts per million), up from preindustrial levels of about 280 ppm.

CO2 is not a pollutant. Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today. Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels, and because warming and other supposedly harmful effects of CO2 have been greatly exaggerated. Nations with affordable energy from fossil fuels are more prosperous and healthy than those without.

The direct warming due to doubling CO2 levels in the atmosphere can be calculated to cause a warming of about one degree Celsius. The IPCC computer models predict a much larger warming, three degrees Celsius or even more, because they assume changes in water vapor or clouds that supposedly amplify the direct warming from CO2. Many lines of observational evidence suggest that this "positive feedback" also has been greatly exaggerated.
House Democrats and the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have released their 2013 budget to stand in contrast with the budget released last week by the House Republicans and Representative Paul Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee.
In this budget, they embrace the same fiscal irresponsibility as President Obama did in his proposed FY2013 budget - adding $6 trillion of deficit spending over the next decade, only $400 billion less than the President proposed doing.  The CPC budget also provides tens of billions of additional 'stimulus' spending towards job growth that we saw in the failed 2009 stimulus bill and completely ignores any Medicare or other entitlement reforms.

The latter is also particularly irresponsible as the growth of these entitlements are some of the biggest contributions to our growing fiscal challenges and ignoring them cements us to the road of fiscal disaster.

Also embraced is the 'Buffet Rule' as a major step to reduce deficits - even though the rule will only add about $30 billion in new revenues to address deficits of more than $1 trillion.  In fact, most of the savings being touted in this budget come from the ending of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq - savings of monies that weren't going to be spent anyhow.

But left unsaid in The Hill's article about the House Democrat's budget was this budget also proposes a 40% income tax hike on not only the wealthy - but also on the middle class to try to lessen the gap between revenues and spending.
The “Budget for All” contains just about every sort of tax increase imaginable. It would, of course, allow the top-end Bush tax cuts to expire, as well as create five new tax brackets — 45%, 46%, 47%, 48%, and 49% — for “millionaires and billionaires.” In addition, House liberals would break new ground by slapping a European-style wealth tax of 0.5% on fortunes of $10 million or more. The plan also contains a bank tax and a financial transaction tax.

But it’s not just the wealthy and bankers who would get pinched. These Democrats would also raise income taxes on the broad middle. The CPC plan would “allow the 28% and 25% brackets to sunset once the economy is on solid footing, in 2017 and 2019, respectively.” That means higher taxes on families making over $70,000 a year — a big, fat, middle-class tax hike. And some of those families would also be paying more for energy thanks to the carbon tax that’s also in the CPC plan.

Amazing, these progressive Democrats don’t think all those tax hikes will hurt economic growth. Not one bit. Why? First, it’s now the liberal economic consensus that tax rates below 70-80% don’t hurt growth. Second, even if those tax hikes unexpectedly did trim growth a smidgen, they would be more than offset by a new $2 trillion stimulus plan full of such supposedly pro-growth measures as clean energy tax credits, advanced manufacturing tax credits, and a “Child Care Corps.”

Governor Moonbeam in California has earned a new nickname - Governor 13.3%.  In a deal with California's leading public sector unions, the Governor has agreed to combine his tax increase proposition proposed for November's election with those advocated by the public sector unions into a new proposition that proposes a 7 year increase on sales and incomes taxes that will bring the top income tax rate to 13.3% and raise $9 billion in additional revenues to help bridge the annual > $15 billion deficits the state is experiencing - and will experience for the next 3-4 years...
Mr. Brown expects about $9 billion in added revenue, up from $7 billion in his first package. But the state Legislative Analyst's Office has already told Mr. Brown that he's hallucinating to think he can get that much money from a corner of the taxpayer base.

The top 1% in California pay between one third and half of all state income tax revenues, depending on the condition of the economy. California already has the fourth highest income tax in the nation, behind Hawaii and Oregon at 11% and New York City at nearly 13%. The national average for the top income tax rate is under 6%. Nine states have no income tax.

So for the privilege of living in California, a millionaire would pay close to $125,000 a year more in income tax than someone in Nevada, Texas or Florida. A Californian earning $10 million would pay an extra $1 million or more than if she moved to a state without an income tax, or nearly $500,000 than an average tax state.

Even Mr. Brown, in one of his saner moments earlier this year, said that relying on millionaires to pay the bills causes "more volatility" in revenue collections, which has meant "a more or less constant state" of deficits. He was right. Capital gains collections collapsed to $734 million in 2009-10 from $1.6 billion in the boom years. So why would Mr. Brown make that problem worse?

One of the last states to have a tax rate as high as California is proposing was Delaware in the 1970s. Its rate hit 19.8%. Then-Governor Pete du Pont cut the rate to 10.3% in 1979 and later to 5.95%, and after five years the state's revenues had nearly doubled and its credit rating went from the worst to one of the best.

None of these facts matter to Mr. Brown or his allies because the tax increase is simply about the political power to deliver money to the interests that live off government.

Tax and spend...

Speaking of irresponsible spending, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Las Vegas, has significant links to a company that is proposing to build a high speed rail link that will 'almost' connect Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The proposal is for a park and ride facility to be built near Interstate 15 (which links LA and LV) about 100 miles from Los Angeles and a high speed rail line connect that facility with Las Vegas. This company is apparently on the verge of getting a $4.9 billion dollar government loan to begin construction - all so people can go faster from LA to a city that a few years ago saw President Obama telling us not to waste our money in.

Sounds like another Solyndra...

On the GOP Presidential nomination fight, Rick Santorum has a 'Newt-tirade' at New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny over the reporters alleged misrepresentations of the words of the GOP candidate.  The kerfuffle stems from the candidates description in a stump speech of opponent Mitt Romney 'as the worst possible Republican in the country to run against the President on healthcare' and stating Romneycare was the 'blueprint' for Obamacare.  When the NYT reporter asked Santorum if 'you think Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country?', Santorum went off on the reporter for misrepresenting his speech.

As much as there are elements of the mainstream media that do need to be berated - this looked more like a case of the pressure of the race and desperation getting to the candidate.

Rick Santorum needs 74% of the remaining GOP delegates to be awarded in order to defeat the current frontrunner, Mitt Romney, and win the GOP nomination.  This is an exceptionally tall order - particularly with the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric being directed at Mitt Romney by Santorum.  Just as Newt's desperation did more to drive away voters than bring them to his side, I believe Santorum is going down the same path.

Ironically, Rick Santorum says, 'Of course', I would serve as Mitt Romney's VP...

Another sign that Newt Gingrich is toast - the last of his embedded newspaper reporters have been withdrawn from covering his campaign.

This Day in History - March 26

1941 - Italian naval commandos attacked a British fleet in Suda Bay, Crete using 'Chariots' - manned torpedoes.  Commandos 'rode' the torpedoes to a position to attack the enemy ships, detach the torpedo from the transport which carried the commando, and use the transport to return to a waiting ship / submarine as the torpedo would hit it's target.  In this attack, the first of its kind, the cruiser HMS York was damaged so severely that she needed to be beached.

1953 - American medical researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announces that he has successfully tested a vaccine against the virus that causes polio.

1979 - Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign a peace agreement ending three decades of hostilities between the two countries and establishing diplomatic and commercial ties.

This Day in History - March 27

1794 - US Congress authorizes the construction of 6 frigates - the first ships for a standing US Navy,  While the US Navy was established during the Revolutionary War, after the war, a standing navy was considered to be a luxury....with the maritime forces being represented by the US Revenue Cutter Service (the forerunner to the US Coast Guard).  The first 3 of these ships were on active duty in 1797 - USS United States, USS Constellation, and USS Constitution.

1865 - President Abraham Lincoln meets with General Grant and General Sherman at City Point, Virginia to plan the final stages of the Civil War - including Lincoln's request that any surrender terms offered to the Confederacy must preserve the Union aims of emancipation and a pledge of equality for the freed slaves.

1945 - Germans launch their last operational V2 missiles against civilian targets in Britain and Belgium from their last launching base which was located in the Netherlands.  The attacks killed 135 in Britain and another 60 in Belgium.  Allied forces soon afterwards would overrun the base in the Netherlands.

1958 - USSR First Secretary Nikita Khrushschev is named the Soviet Premier - replacing Nicolay Bulganin and becoming the first leader since Stalin to simultaneously hold both offices.

1977 - A Pan Am 747 and a KLM 747 collided on the runway at an airport on the Canary Island of Tenerife killing 582 passengers and crew members.  Only a few in the front 6 rows of the Pan Am jumbo jet survived it was struck while on the runway by the KLM jumbo jet as it attempted to take-off.

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