Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quick Hits - June 19, 2012

BREAKING NEWS -  In another leak of classified information, the Washington Post is reporting that the United States and Israel jointly developed the very sophisticated 'Flame' virus to obtain cyber-information on Iran's nuclear weapon development and to slow down that development. The information was provided to the Washington Post via unnamed 'Western officials with knowledge of the effort'.

At 5pm Eastern, Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to meet with Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) to discuss the resolution of the stand-off regarding the Attorney General's refusal to provide Congress with the documents it has requested via subpoena regarding the DoJ involvement with the Fast and Furious gun running operation which supplied weapons from the US to the leading Mexican drug cartels.  The standoff has reached the point where Representative Issa's investigative committee is prepared to vote on Contempt of Congress charges against the Attorney General.  AG Holder has requested this meeting in an effort to delay or halt any contempt vote.

Powerline last week had this video posted which is an excellent summary of Fast and Furious...

Significant questions remain around if the Attorney General will really begin to cooperate with Congressional investigators around who was responsible for authorizing Fast and Furious.  The Department of Justice has been actively attempting to cover this information up and in doing so has lied to Congress about key facts.  Is this just another DoJ stalling tactic to delay Congressional investigation?  Or does Attorney General Holder intend to invoke 'executive privilege' around withholding the desired materials from Congress as he has hinted in the past.  If he does make the executive privilege argument, does he draw the White House into the kerfuffle and admit that officials of the White House had full knowledge of the program - a position the WH has long denied?

This scandal, and cover-up will continue to play out not only throughout the summer, but also throughout the Presidential campaign.  Unlike during the Iran Contra affair in the Reagan Presidency, the Obama Administration continues to gain benefit from a strongly supportive mainstream media.  I believe that this cover-up and scandal is worse than that of Iran Contra where members of the Reagan Administration sold weapons to Iran and used the proceeds from these sales to fund activities of the anti-Communist Contra's in Nicaragua.  Here the Obama Administration developed a program to provide weapons to the Mexican drug cartels for the purpose of creating a justification / rationale for implementing draconian gun control measures in the United States.  As opposed to the desire to oppose Nicaragua's communists from taking over the country, the Administrations goal was to get a progressive political win.

As the President continues to struggle in his reelection bid, a number of major mainstream media elements are continuing to dishonestly and unethically work to promote the President.  These range from the sudden appearance of a number of stories in the MSM attempting to minimize the failures of Barack Obama's policies and direct the focus not from these failures of policy and agenda, but to create the meme, just as was attempted in the 1980 efforts to get Jimmy Carter elected, that the job of President is 'just too big for one man'.  

As if we didn't need more comparisons between the failed Presidency of Jimmy Carter and the failed Presidency of Barack Obama.

MSNBC continues to set the pathfinding trail of ignoring any semblance of journalistic integrity and ethics with their feckless efforts to promote Barack Obama.  The network spent much of the weekend presenting the vapid case that the only reason Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro interrupted President Obama's illegal immigration immunity decision was because the President is black - and any opposition to the policies of the Administration is due solely to the opposition's racism.
On Sunday's Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC, as host Harris-Perry led a discussion of what the presidential candidates will need to do to appeal to white voters, panel member and CNBC contributor Keith Boykin asserted that Republicans have "carefully caricatured" the Democratic Party as the "party of black people," and suggested that Americans have been duped into believing that most federal tax dollars are spent to benefit black Americans. Boykin:

The Republican Party has not only caracatured the Democratic Party as the black party, but they've also described government as about black people. So when people think about government, they think about the caricature that Ronald Reagan constructed, the Cadillac-driving welfare queen.
He added:
And they don't realize that two-thirds of the federal budget goes to Medicare and Social Security and national defense and interest on the debt. The amount of money we spend on welfare programs is infinitesimally small for the budget, and the majority of it doesn't even go to black people. But they don't understand that.
Michael Tomasky of Newsweek soon argued that, while white voters are "voting against their own economic interests" in voting for Republicans, white voters instead "perceive their interests as being in a country with guns and without a black President."
If you recall the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin shooting, NBC deliberately edited the 9/11 call by George Zimmerman to the police to make it appear that George Zimmerman was a racist.  More deceptive editing was done by the increasingly biased and dishonest Andrea Mitchell of NBC / MSNBC.  Newsbusters.org highlights her attempt to 'have lightning strike twice'....
This is a brazen attempt by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell to create a modern “supermarket scanner” moment for Mitt Romney where one clearly does not exist. This “gaffe” is a complete fabrication deliberately perpetrated by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports. Her attempt to right this wrong by playing a few more seconds of video today is a slap in the face. Romney was making a valid point about the efficiency of private sector innovation. He was not amazed that he could order a sandwich with a touchscreen. His message is clear as day to anyone who watches the full video of his stump speech, and should sicken anyone who compares it to Mitchell’s sensational hatchet job.

This isn’t journalism. This is make believe. Barack Obama has been damaged by his careless comment that "the private sector is doing fine" – exposing how out of touch he is with reality – and his friends in the liberal media are busy dicing up video clips to pin the "out of touch" label on his Republican rival. Several media outlets picked up on Mitchell’s "report" – including CNN and Politico – and now have to eat crow as her deception has come to light.

This is another outrageous example of how NBC will do anything to help Obama in 2012, no matter how unethical, irresponsible, and dishonest it is.

In more 'bad news' for the Obama Administration, the Supreme Court of the United States has issued another ruling that takes down and demolishes another Administration legal claim...
In Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., a 5-4 majority clarified that white-collar sales reps for drug companies don't qualify for overtime. Two employees for SmithKline Beecham made such a claim, and the Obama Labor Department jumped in with an amicus brief in this and similar cases. A favorable ruling would have freed the plaintiffs bar to bring class actions on behalf of 90,000 drug reps for billions in back pay.

The High Court ruled that the claim wasn't required under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which was enacted to protect workers from "substandard wages and oppressive working hours" and explicitly exempted "outside salesmen." The plaintiffs argued they aren't in sales because they merely "promote" drugs to physicians. But the Court noted that federal laws bar drug companies from selling certain products directly to consumers; they must be prescribed by physicians.

By persuading doctors to write prescriptions, the drug reps are making sales. They are trained in sales, make more than $70,000 a year, receive incentive pay based on sales volume, and work mostly out of the office. These are "hardly the kind of employees" that the 1938 law was "intended to protect," wrote Justice Samuel Alito.
The majority was also not amused by the Labor Department's attempt at regulation-by-amicus brief. Justice Alito wrote that Labor had not once—in 70 years of the drug-rep pay system—filed an enforcement action of this kind. Instead of going through a formal rule-making, the agency joined lawyers to force what Justice Alito called an "unfair surprise" on the industry.

The lawsuit was part of the Administration's campaign to bring more workers under wage-and-hour laws, the better to unionize and provide trial-bar jackpots. Courts have mostly taken a dim view of these legal runarounds, and the Supremes deserve credit for upholding long-settled labor law.

In California, the allies and friends of President Obama took a beating in a recent court case.
There's a law in California that requires school districts to take student progress into account when they evaluate teachers. The statute goes back 40 years; language specifically prescribing the use of statewide tests was added to it in 1999.

Until a court ruling last week, this idea of judging teachers by measurable results was pretty much a dead letter. Union opposition saw to that.

But a group of parents and students filed suit to force the Los Angeles city schools to follow the law. School Superintendent John Deasy, though nominally a defendant, was on their side. This was all about pushing the teachers' union into the 21st Century.

On June 12, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled for the plaintiffs. He noted that the current system of review gave 99.3% of the district's teachers the highest possible rating in the 2009-10 academic year, when only 45% of students performed at grade level in reading and 56% did so in math. In a bit of judicial understatement, he said this process "provides little meaningful evaluation."

The reaction of United Teachers Los Angeles to Chalfant's decision was a teachable moment about union attitudes. A statement from UTLA President Warren Fletcher praised Chalfant for declining to rule on the question of whether a new evaluation system had to be worked out in collective bargaining. In other words, the union still holds out the hope that results-based assessment of teacher performance can be stymied at the negotiating table.

Ramifications of the President's Friday decision to grant selected illegal immigrants not only immunity from possible deportation, but also work permits to legally get employment in the United States continue to become apparent.

One major ramification is the President's decision to bypass Congress and grant this via executive fiat - which launches major constitutional questions. Former US Attorney Andrew McCarthy makes that case in his PJ Media column, 'A Nation of Paper, Not of Men'...
The Constitution and congressional statutes are written on parchment. That is the only relevance of “paper” in this equation — as the “hard copy” of our social contract and of the laws enacted pursuant to it. Under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, is endowed with such a power: “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” Congress exercises this power by passing laws. Under the Constitution, which Obama took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend, and under the laws it is his duty to execute faithfully, illegal aliens — no matter how sympathetic their plight, no matter how blameless they may be for the illegality of their status — are not citizens of the United States. They are not Americans. Period. It is not “paper” that separates them from our body politic, it is the law, of which Obama is supposed to be servant, not master — as I argued in this September 2011 essay for The New Criterion: “The Ruler of Law — On ‘Justice’ in the Age of Obama.”

The president says the young illegal aliens he has in mind are “Americans” except on paper. But who is Obama to say what an American is? By his own self-heralding, he is here to transform the United States. His mantra is “change.” He has stacked his Justice Department and the rest of the Executive Branch sprawl with progressive operatives whose obsession is to transmogrify America culturally, economically, and politically — to alter our very nature. When Obama talks about someone being “an American” or something being one of “our values,” he is not talking about the America that is; he is invoking the authoritarian, collectivist, redistributionist, post-sovereign, transnational America of his design.

But beyond the imperial nature of Obama's action, the details of his program, as they are being examined, demonstrate just how bad for the country this shameless political pandering act is.
If it were a good bill, it could be described accurately.

The fact that it must be described inaccurately by its champion means it's a bad bill. Or, at the very least, an inferior bill to the one he describes in speeches.

1) The decree doesn’t just apply to illegal immigrants who were “brought to this country by their parents.” It also would give work permits to those who snuck across the border by themselves as teenagers. “Through no fault of their own” is a talking point for DREAM proselytizers, not an actual legal requirement. 2) The same goes for the phrase “and know only this country as home.” That’s a highly imaginative riff on the decree’s actual requirement, which is for 5 years “continuous residence.”
And 5 years continuous residence includes five half-year trips back home.

And if you're doing that, hey, you're welcome to do so. I'd prefer illegal immigrants at least spending some time in their legal country of residence.

But if they're doing that, obviously the US is not the only country they know as home.

The details of this program, which will extend to far more than the 800,000 people the Administration estimates, are as bad as the process used by the President to enact it.

Pakistan's top court has declared the country's prime minister "disqualified" from office after a contempt conviction in April.

The ruling Tuesday appears to mean Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani will be dismissed from office or have to step down, which is likely to trigger significant political upheaval.

Spanish borrowing costs continue to skyrocket in the short term debt auction that took place earlier today.  Interest rates for 12 month bills shot up to 5.07% from 2.98% at the last auction on May 14.  The rate on the 18 month bill jumped from 3.3% to 5.10%.  The rate on the benchmark 10 year bonds remained over the critical 7% threshold at 7.16%.
Spain can survive the current high interest rates for weeks, analysts say, but not in the longer term. If it becomes clear that the borrowing rates will not come back down, Spain will likely have to ask for a European bailout – which would come at lower interest rates than those offered by bond markets. The problem here is that Spain’s €1.1-trillion economy is the euro zone’s fourth-biggest and larger than those of bailed-out Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined.

In Greece, there are reports that a coalition government will be formed by Wednesday. This government will comprise of the pro-austerity New Democrat Party, Pasok, and the small Democrat Left party. The coalition would have ~179 seats in the Greek Parliament. Syriza, the far left anti-bailout party that finished second in balloting on Sunday has announced that it will refuse to join any coalition government that intends to implement the terms of Greece's 2nd bailout.

But as the Wall Street Journal reports, forming a coalition government is not addressing their core challenges.
After weeks of political uncertainty brought about by two national elections in the past two months, Greece is once again lagging behind its budget targets, further undermining its creditors' confidence in the country's ability to repair its finances and economy and survive inside the euro.

Winning more time to balance the budget will be "a very difficult process because the creditors don't trust Greece and we are again off track in fiscal targets," said a Greek official who is expected to be part of the new government's economic team.

Inspectors from the IMF, EU Commission and European Central Bank, known collectively as the troika, are expected to visit Athens quickly after Parliament approves a new coalition government.

The troika has demanded that Greece identify some €11.5 billion of new public-spending cuts to cover expected budget shortfalls in 2013 and 2014.

With tax collection having faltered during Greece's past two months of political paralysis, the troika may well ask for an additional €2 billion of spending cuts to reduce this year's budget deficit, Greek officials fear.

The adoption of the new cuts is a precondition for the release of Greece's next portion of aid, without which the government could run out of cash to pay pensions and public-sector wages as early as mid-July.

The Heritage Foundation's 'Morning Bell' for today notes that it's not only Greece that is implementing the Grecian formula for economic decline...
The President and his team have been blaming “European headwinds” for some of the U.S. economy’s woes. But the truth is that the policies pursued by Washington and Athens are frighteningly similar—and the outcomes are not good for either country. Both countries are in need of comprehensive fiscal reforms, yet their leaders have avoided the tough decisions in favor of bailouts and political posturing…

…The authors of the Index point to “decades of overspending, a lack of structural reform progress, and endemic corruption,” noting that Greece’s “lack of competitiveness and fading business confidence are serious impediments to economic revival. Adjustments in market conditions have been stifled or delayed by public unions.”

Sound familiar?

… The U.S. corporate tax rate is higher than Greece’s. The Index of Economic Freedom pegged America’s overall tax burden at 24 percent of total domestic income, while Greece’s overall tax burden was 30 percent of GDP. Government spending inAmerica—42 percent of GDP—approaches Greece’s government spending level, which exceeds 50 percent of its GDP.

Both countries have structural economic deficiencies—like tax rates and labor regulations—that are causing deeply rooted problems. And both countries have tried to solve their fiscal problems through bailouts, to no avail...

On the tech side - Microsoft unveils a Windows 8 tablet that is closer to a laptop than the iPad. Is it an iPad killer?

It will all come down to the yet unannounced pricing of the new tablet.
The company, which is still the market leader in computer operating systems, is counting on customers returning to the familiarity of Microsoft despite Apple's continuing 'cool' factor. Surface (left) comes with a number of features which make it more similar to a laptop than a tablet - most notably, a built-in keyboard which could help the device appeal more to business customers.

This Day in History

1864 - The most successful Confederate commerce raider of the Civil War, CSS Alabama, is sunk after a spectacular battle with the USS Kearsage in international waters just off the French port of Cherbourg. During its 2 year raiding mission the Alabama sank or captured 68 Union merchant ships.

1867 - Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian, installed as Emperor of Mexico by French Emperor Napoleon III in 1864, is executed on orders of Benito Juarez, the President of the Mexican Republic.

1944 - The US scores a decisive victory over the Japanese at the Battle of the Philippine Sea - the key aspect, the 'Marianas Turkey Shoot' where US carrier based fighters decimated the Japanese carrier aircraft with only minimal losses. In the initial carrier vs carrier conflict, the Japanese launched 430 planes to attack the US carriers. Intercepted by US fighters, over 300 aircraft were shot down against only 29 US losses. The US return strike sank 2 Japanese carriers. A follow-up strike sank a third carrier and destroyed another 65 aircraft. Overall, the Japanese lost 480 aircraft and most of the trained crews - 75% losses. Japanese carrier aviation would never recover from the massive losses in this battle.

1953 - Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted of conspiring to pass US atomic weapon secrets to the Soviet Union, are executed at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.

1973 - The Case-Church Amendment passes Congress which prohibits further US military activity in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia after August 15, 1973.

2000 - The Supreme Court of the US rules that a group prayer led by students at public school football games violated the 1st Amendment's principle that called for the separation of church and state.

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