Friday, March 30, 2012

Quick Hits - March 30, 2012

Today is Friday - and while there is considerable buzz over the $640 million dollar MegaMillions lottery draw tonight, there are other topics to run through while we wait for the lottery numbers...and another Administration Friday evening document dump on Solyndra or Fast and Furious, or...?

Today is conference day for the Supreme Court of the United States.  All 9 justices will meet in a conference room and express their positions on the cases heard this week, which includes Obamacare's constitutionality questions.  Votes will be taken and jurists will be assigned to write the opinion for their respective side (if the vote is not unanimous).  These opinions will be circulated amongst the Justices and the vote finalized - before the results and opinions are released.  All expectations is that this will take place in the June time frame.

What will the Justices decide?  Everyone's trying to read the tea leaves that the 3 days of oral arguments provided us to answer that question.  One thing is certain - liberal progressives are worried...very worried.  This worry ranges from CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin who called the government's case a 'train wreck' and a 'plane wreck' to a very worried Chris [Tingles] Matthews...

...who doesn't know anyone who thought Obamacare could be overturned.

Steven Hayward writes, IMO, an excellent analysis of the arguments and takes a detailed look at the tea leaves introducing some compelling links in his round-up and predictions towards how the SCOTUS will decide.
Keep in mind that Kennedy was the author of the majority opinion in Citizens United, the case the Left is still going bonkers over, comparing it to Dred Scott and other absurdities. One of Kennedy’s core values is individual liberty. His approach to individual rights is susceptible to numerous criticisms (such as not having a robust principle of natural rights at its core as Justice Thomas does), but it was at the center of his Citizens United opinion. And a key aspect of Kennedy’s CU opinion was the willingness to discard old precedents where he thought they were badly decided because of flawed history (citing an amicus brief by someone named Hayward—see page 55), poorly defended today, or badly matched to current circumstances.

As such, the key moment in the oral arguments may have been on the third day when Obama Solicitor General Donald Verilli argued that upholding Obamacare was essential “to secure the blessings of liberty.” The challengers’ attorney, Paul Clement, smacked that fat pitch out of the park:

Let me just finish by saying I certainly appreciate what the Solicitor General says, that when you support a policy, you think that the policy spreads the blessings of liberty. But I would respectfully suggest that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.

Drawing on the connection between Citizens United, this case, and individual rights is very influential. It adds an exclamation point to the key question that Justice Kennedy raised during the arguments about Obamacare changing the fundamental relationship between the people and government.

But then, Mr. Hayward make another link that he correctly notes is not getting much consideration...
Meanwhile, my pal Ben Zycher points out an interesting aspect not yet noted by the shocked and stunned media mavens like Jeffrey Toobin, namely, how Justices Kennedy and Roberts, both Catholics, may have been affected by the HHS mandate that Catholic institutions must provide free contraception. Says Ben:
I wonder if the Left/Obama/Kathleen Sebelius didn’t shoot themselves in the backside when they decided to apply a chainsaw to the religious liberty of the Catholic hospitals, etc. That episode, I think, brought out in sharp relief the unprecedented degree of coercion inexorably inherent in Obamacare, the eagerness with which the Left employs it, and the thoughtlessness with which the Left is willing to destroy the institutions of civil society as they pursue their political goals.
The US Constitution has as its entire base a focus on limited government.  This legislation is the anti-thesis of limited government.  I think that is the basis of how the Justices will decide this case.  I predict and hope that they do find the individual mandate unconstitutional - and given that the mandate is the core of the bill, find that the best recourse is to strike the entire bill and have the Legislative Branch try to address healthcare reform in a more rationale manner while embracing the limitations the Constitution places on the government.

Despite the President's Rose Garden appeal to Congress to 'end oil / gas industry subsidies' by US taxpayers, the Senate voted yesterday to not end the tax credits available to the oil / gas industry.

The fact that the President, and his liberal supporters, call this a subsidy is laughable and highlights their willingness to misrepresent facts to further their agenda.  What the President has repeatedly called a subsidy is actually a manufacturing tax credit that is provided in the US tax code for all manufacturers regardless of industry.  This tax credit allows manufacturers to deduct 9% of their revenues before calculating their corporate tax bills - except for the oil and gas industry which is singled out and only allowed to deduct 6% of their revenues.  The purpose of the credit is to promote domestic manufacturing.

The oil and gas industry is already being singled out for more restrictive treatment than other manufacturers, and the President wanted to take more punitive action towards them.  As for the subsidy?  There is a huge difference between a tax credit incentive and the Administration giving taxpayer funds to favored companies - which is a true subsidy.  What Solyndra got was a subsidy.  What A123 Battery got was a subsidy.  Both of those, along with dozens of other green companies got from the Administration taxpayer cash to help their business...and then failed.

I've noted repeatedly that based on the actions of the Obama Administration, the only conclusion one can make is that the President and his Administration have an anti-fossil fuel / anti-oil and gas industry agenda that they are running.  But lost in this ideological agenda is an understanding of the opportunity we have to leverage this industry to change not only our country, but to also change the world - as Victor Davis Hanson notes...
“The world was reinvented in the 1970s by soaring oil prices and massive transfers of national wealth. It could be again if the price of petroleum crashes — a real possibility given the amazing estimates about the new gas and oil reserves on the North American continent.

The Canadian tar sands, deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, horizontal drilling off the eastern and western American coastlines, fracking in once-untapped sites in North Dakota and new pipelines from Alaska and Canada could within a decade double North American gas and oil production.

Given that North America in general and the United States in particular might soon be completely autonomous in natural gas production and within a decade without much need of imported oil, life as we have known it for nearly the last half-century would change radically.”

Dr. Hanson references we are spending about $500 billion a year to import oil - which is the largest single contributor to our massive trade deficit. We are currently borrowing more than $1 trillion a year to cover our national deficit - which weakens the dollar and increases our costs of imported oil. But if we responsibly develop these resources - we can take huge strides towards addressing and solving these problems.

In North Dakota, which is in a boom because of their expanding oil and gas production, unemployment is 3.3% - and the entire statewide economy is buoyed - including the tax revenues coming into the state from the downstream effects of the production. Why aren't we doing this on a national level and in an alliance with our northern neighbor? As Dr. Hanson observes...
“The world was transformed for the worse in the 1970s, when world oil prices quadrupled. A half-century later, it could change again for the better should oil prices crash. We should do our part in ensuring that at last the tables are turned.”
The American Energy Alliance has started running this advertisement in selected states around the country to highlight the President's feckless role around soaring gasoline prices...

As usual, the President and his supporters have decided to respond vigorously...but also as usual, not by addressing the facts presented by the American Energy Alliance. Rather, the response was personal attacks on the President of the AEA by DNC Chair Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and openly lying about the group by linking it to the..... Koch brothers....[horrors]... Talk about the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Charles Krauthammer's Friday column doesn't address the judicial debate regarding Obamacare, the House's unanimous rejection of Obama's FY2013 budget, or the feckless energy policy of the Administration.  Instead, it's Obama's Flexibility Doctrine... you know - this...

Dr. Krauthammer opines -
It’s yet another accommodation to advance his cherished Russia “reset” policy.

Why? Hasn’t reset been failure enough?

Let’s do the accounting. In addition to canceling the Polish/Czech missile-defense system, Obama gave the Russians accession to the World Trade Organization, a START treaty that they need and we don’t (their weapons are obsolete and deteriorating rapidly), and a scandalously blind eye to their violations of human rights and dismantling of democracy. Obama even gave Putin a congratulatory call for winning his phony election.

In return? Russia consistently watered down or obstructed sanctions on Iran, completed Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr, provides to this day Bashar Assad with huge arms shipments used to massacre his own people (while rebuilding the Soviet-era naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus), conducted a virulently anti-American presidential campaign on behalf of Putin, pressured Eastern Europe, and threatened Georgia.

On which of “all these issues” — Syria, Iran, Eastern Europe, Georgia, human rights — is Obama ready to offer Putin yet more flexibility as soon as he gets past his last election? Where else will he show U.S. adversaries more flexibility? Yet more aid to North Korea? More weakening of tough Senate sanctions against Iran?

Which one? Unfortunately, the answer is probably all of the above. That is, after all one of the President's favorite answers when he isn't using 'I won'.

Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was on Fox News earlier today taking issue with the Administration's policy of looking at Iran 'through the wrong end of the telescope'...

Ambassador Bolton is addressing the leak of classified information by an unnamed Administration official regarding a basing deal between Israel and Azerbaijan. It lets Iran know of something that Iran might not have known about and increases the risk to both Israel and Azerbaijan from Iran. It also highlights the contempt that the Administration has for Israel - and that it holds Israel in higher contempt than it does the self-described enemy of the 'Great Satan'.

Oh, and Israel is denying that they have a basing deal with Azerbaijan.

Of course in this Administration, very little gets done without a major political calculation around how it affects / reflects on Barack Obama and his agenda. For example - What happens if you ask someone in the State Department 'What is the capital of Israel?'
The State Department isn't sure whether Jerusalem is the capital city of the state of Israel. In fact, yesterday, spokesman Victor Nuland was asked, "What is the capital of Israel?" She would not say.

"Our policy with regard to Jerusalem is that it has to be solved through negotiations," Nuland responded, without answering the straightforward question. "That's all I have to say on this issue." The whole exchange is astonishing.

But if the State Department isn't sure, it need only to turn to the Central Intelligence Agency, which lists (in its publicly available Fact Book) Jerusalem as the capital of Israel...
Political nuance and expediency has apparently replaced principles.

The House of Representatives passes Rep. Paul Ryan's FY2013 budget by a 228 - 191 vote.  Every Democrat voted against the budget - as did 10 Republicans.  Of the Republicans some voted against the bill because they felt it did not go far enough in cutting spending and deficits.  But a few, like Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, who is running for Senate his year, voted against it because Ryan's plan reforms Medicare to address it's financial death spiral.  He's afraid that fixing Medicare would be a black mark on him with senior voters in Montana...and prefers to embrace the status quo.  Speaking of the status quo - Senate Democrats again remind us that they will not bring any budget to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

MasterCard is reporting they've experienced a security breach on a massive scale - may involve more than 10 million compromised account numbers.  Visa is also reportedly affected.  Forensic reviews are underway to determine who is impacted - alerts have been sent to banks on the breach to mobilize them for review and notification of affected cardholders.

Canada has announced that they will be withdrawing the penny from circulation.  The coin costs more to manufacture than it is worth.  All cash transactions will be rounded to the nearest 5 cents to compensate.

As the Syrian Assad regime continues to ignore the cease fire provision in the UN Peace Plan they 'accepted' earlier this week, the Iranians are actively helping Syria avoid international sanctions placed on it to facilitate the shipment of Syrian oil to the People's Republic of China.

On This Day in History

1867 - US Secretary of State William Seward signs a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7.2 million.

1870 - The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution is adopted - 'The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.'

1909 - The Queensboro Bridge connection the NYC boroughs of Manhattan and Queens is completed.  It is the first double decker bridge.

1981 - President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest by John Hinckley, Jr.  Also shot and wounded is a police officer and Reagan Press Secretary James Brady. 

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