Thursday, October 31, 2013
It's Halloween. So what better topic than Barack Obama. A new October 22-28 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows his approval ratings at an all-time low - 42% generally approve of the President's job performance, while 51% disapprove. That's a loss of 5% from early October. And for the first time in the Obama poll history, Obama's personal approval ratings are lower than his disapproval ratings. The poll showed that 41% approve of him on a personal level and 45% disapprove."Personally and politically, the public's assessment is two thumbs down," Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart told NBC. Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff conducted the survey. The pollsters told NBC that no single issue is responsible for the declines. Rather, a combination of the NSA spying scandal, questions over his "red line" comment on attacking Syria, the government shutdown, and problems with the Obamacare website rollout all played a role. The poll also showed that Obamacare itself also slipping in approval along with the Republican Party and Congress as a whole - 37% now view the healthcare law as a good idea, with 47% opposing it. The previous poll showed 38% in favor and 43% against. The White House and congressional Democrats had been touting the law's growing popularity as critics blasted the troubled rollout. But in a separate question, 40% say they are now less confident about Obamacare after learning more about it. Only 9% are more confident. Exactly 50% said there has been no change in their thinking. ~~~~~ Barack Obama used computer-based campaign techniques and his agreeable public image to literally talk his way into the White House in 2008. And, since most US Presidents are re-elected, Obama was, too, in 2012. But, as President Obama was campaigning in the late summer and fall of 2012, several affairs very negztive for Obama and his White House were circling the Washington political scene. The first was the Benghazi attack, in which the US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three of his staff were assassinated in a terrorist attack that Obama and his partisans tried to sell to America as a march against an anti-Moslem film that was suddenly taken over by terrorists. America is still waiting for Obama and his then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to comply with various requests of Congress to tell it what really happened in Benghazi on the night of September 11, 2012, and why repeated calls for bolstered security were ignored by Clinton, and also why Obama went to bed in the White House, leaving underlings to save his Ambassador without his sending in CIA or nearby Special Operations security operatives or even calling the Libyan president to ask for assistance. Obama's spin tactics held off the public until after the election, but Benghazi is an open sore that he has never healed or patched over. Next came the IRS affair, when it surfaced after the 2012 presidential election that conservative political groups were harassed by the IRS and prevented from working for Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate. This illegal use of the IRS was the political dirty trick tactic that may well have cost Romney the election and pushed Obama to a questionable victory. Then came the current NSA spying scandal, in which Obama - rather than keeping his campaign promises to have an open presidency and not to engage in what he called "unacceptable" Bush tactics as part of the war on terror, a term he banished from the White House vocabulary - actually expanded the eavesdropping and phone tapping to new heights. These very negative elements, combined with Obamacare, which we have often discussed, have served to reduce Barack Obama to a President isolated from the majority of Americans, who also feel strongly that he has severely damaged America's reputation in the world, especially in the Middle East, where many accuse him of favoring the Moslem Brotherhood over America's traditional allies - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is not a comforting picture and Obama has another 1180 days in office. What greater damage he may do to America is the question helping to drive his job performance ratings lower and lower. As David Gergen, former advisor to Clinton and both Bushes and currently head of the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy, said last night on CNN -- Barack Obama knows how to get elected. He does not know how to govern. His White House is full of amateurs who cannot manage a presidency and Obama himself is aloof and not engaged on a daily basis. ~~~~~ An extremely dangerous disaster.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
David Axelrod was perhaps the senior advisor closest to President Obama during his first term. He had total access and last-word political decision-making power. Monday Axelrod told MSNBC that only a “vast majority” of Americans can keep their health insurance plan if they like it. This is the first admission from a top administration official that President Obama’s relentlessly-repeated solemn promise to the American people that “If you like your insurance plan, you will keep it,” was and is not true. Axelrod was really admitting that Obama’s promise was phony and was attempting to spin his way out of it in the presence of GOP Senator Tom Coburn, a vocal opponent of Obamacare : AXELROD: Most people are going to keep their plan, Senator, and you know that. The head of Blue Cross in Florida was on television yesterday and said there’s a small number of people being transferred to plans that have a higher quality. Most of them will be subsidized and end up paying less for those plans. SENATOR COBURN: And double the deductibles. AXELROD: The majority of people in this country - the vast majority - are keeping their plan.” ~~~~~ Obamacare news coverage has often been biased and inaccurate in favor of Obama and his Obamacare, but the cascading stories of middle class, and even poor, Americans losing the health insurance they were happy with and were promised they could keep, is finally forcing mainstream media and Obama spokespeople to be more accurate. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who were perfectly happy with their health plans, and took Obama at his word, have already been blindsided by cancellation notices. Soon, according to the Congressional Budget Office, millions more Americans will receive cancellation notices. Basically, millions are and will be herded into government-approved, one-size-fits-all plans that are more expensive, have higher deductibles, and might not allow them to keep their doctor (another Obama fast-and-slick with the facts). Although some might enjoy cheaper plans due to taxpayer-funded subsidies, the misinformation Obama, Axelrod and the media are spreading about these “higher quality” plans - if you were happy with your health care plan, you keep it - chances are great that despite what the White House and some media are saying, you are not getting a “higher quality plan.” You are being forced to buy a more expensive plan that includes all kinds of services a huge swath of Americans don’t want or need: vision and dental (which are affordable in the free market), maternity and newborn care, contraception, and coverage for drugs, alcohol, and mental health problems. ~~~~~ For some time and while taking almost universal abuse from Obama, Democrats, his own GOP, Americans and the media, Senator Ted Cruz stood alone in calling for the repeal of Obamacare. Now, Cruz has an ally. Senator Ron Johnson told Newsmax that he's prepared to sue the "lawless" Obama administration over its decision to grant members of Congress and their staff special treatment under Obamacare. The Wisconsin Republican also warns that the real concern, beyond the dysfunctional Obamacare website, is the damage Obamacare will do the country's healthcare system and personal freedoms. Johnson, a successful businessman elected to the Senate in 2010, is a member of the Budget, Foreign Relations Commerce, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees. Monday, Johnson told Newsmax TV, when asked if he believes the White House claim that it can fix the problems plaguing the Obamacare website, said : "I have no idea. They've only had 3½ years. Maybe another month would be the charm. Eventually the website will get fixed. It certainly should be. There are more than 5,000 websites currently on the Internet that handled more traffic than the Obamacare site in its first few weeks. So this is an entirely doable process to have a functioning website. It's just that the federal government is not particularly effective or efficient in doing just about anything. The real harm of Obamacare once it becomes fully implemented is the damage it'll cause to our healthcare system, to our federal budget, to our personal freedoms. So they may fix the website, but there's no way they can fix the harm if Obamacare actually takes permanent root. The president now has arbitrarily delayed the individual-mandate deadline to March after previously delaying the employer mandate by a year, yet the law grants him no authority to change dates like this. I'm highly concerned. Across the board, in so many instances, this is pretty much a lawless administration - the unconstitutional recess appointments he made to the National Labor Relations Board and to the Consumer Financial Bureau - this President seems to have no restraint in terms of the Constitution or laws that even he enacts. So I'm highly concerned about that. It's one of the reasons that I really do intend to pursue a lawsuit to overturn another unlawful ruling that grants members of Congress and their staff special treatment under Obamacare. The president had no legal authority to initiate that ruling. I'm hoping that a senator, like myself, as well as members of my staff have the legal standing to go to court to overturn that, let's face it, lawless ruling." Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, is proposing what many Republicans have been pushing for - a one-year delay of the individual mandate. At least 10 Democrats have signed on to her proposal. Asked if he believes the White House will be forced to delay the individual mandate by a year, Johnson responded : "It would totally depend on exactly how quickly they can get that website up and functioning. Americans were promised by President Obama repeatedly that if you like your health plan, you will keep it period. That is basically showing to be a broken promise for over a million Americans who already got those notices. So it's going to totally depend on when they get that website up and running as to whether an individual-mandate delay will basically be necessary because it simply is not going to be fair to hold Americans accountable to a penalty, or I guess it's a tax, if they can't even access or purchase healthcare through the exchanges." Johnson asserts that Obama ought to make a decision on whether or not Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will lose her job. "What I'm finding pretty frightening is when you start reading reports about how there was absolutely no central manager of this entire process. It shows the lack of experience President Obama has in terms of being an executive, being able to manage anything. With something this significant, basically a government takeover of one-sixth of our economy, somebody had to be in charge. And it doesn't look like anybody was in charge, which is why this rollout has been such a disaster. But it's also why the entire Obamacare health law will be a disaster, because the two major promises [Obama] made for the healthcare law was, first and foremost, if you like your healthcare plan, you'll be able to keep it, and also that the cost of a family plan would actually decline by $2,500 dollars. Neither of those promises has been kept. So one of two things happened: He was simply not being honest with the American public, or he in a frightening manner did not understand what was in his healthcare law or simply didn't understand the consequences of it. Either way, it's pretty disconcerting from a standpoint of the president of the United States." ~~~~~ Dear readers, as the alarm cries multiply, it is time for President Obama to step up to a microphone, stop lying and hiding from Obamacare by touting immigration reform, and tell the American people the only thing that matters -- Obama should call on Congress to repeal Obamacare and begin again, this time with competent professional advice, to decide how to provide coverage for Americans who do not have health care insurance. The rest of America is doing just fine, Mr. Obama. Just get off their backs.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Late last week several media sources reported that First Lady Michelle Obama's Princeton classmate is a senior executive at CGI Federal, the company that built Obamacare website. The facts : Townes-Whitley, Princeton class of ’85, is senior vice president at CGI Federal, which earned the NO-BID contract to build the $678 million Obamacare enrollment website. CGI Federal is the US arm of a Canadian company. Townes-Whitley and her Princeton classmate Michelle Obama are both members of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni. Townes-Whitley is a former policy analyst with the General Accounting Office and served in the Peace Corps in Gabon, West Africa. George Schindler, the president for the US and Canada of the Canadian-based CGI Group, CGI Federal’s parent company, became an Obama 2012 campaign donor after CGI was granted the Obamacare website contract. The Washington Examiner reported in early October that the Department of Health and Human Services reviewed only CGI’s bid for the Obamacare account. CGI was one of 16 companies qualified under the Bush administration to provide certain technical services in contracts up to $1 billion to the federal government, and that technicality was used by HHS to justify the award. A CGI senior vice president testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that four companies submitted bids, but would not name those companies or explain why only CGI’s bid was considered. Construction of the disastrous website was overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of Health and Human Services, whose director testified before Congress on Tuesday, apologizing for the faulty website. CGI has not yet made any statement for the record or otherwise. ~~~~~ Those were the facts as we knew them over the weekend. But today, further disclosures surfaced concerning Townes-Whitley's visits to the White House several times for both personal and professional reasons. She visited the White House complex four times earlier this year to meet with administration officials in her role as vice president for CGI Federal, which secured the $678 million NO-BID contract to build the Obamacare exchange web portal. Townes-Whitley and her husband, John Whitley, who works as an engineer for CBS News, also attended a White House Christmas gathering together in 2010, posing for photos with the President and First Lady. White House visitors log records show that three of the afternoon meetings, held in the Old Executive Office Building, were scheduled in advance, and one, on Friday, April 26, was not. Three of the meetings were held on Friday and one on Saturday. The records show Townes-Whitley was alone in her visits. The first meeting was held on January 18, when she met with Danny Werfel, a principal deputy commissioner on the Affordable Care Act, who was named acting director of the IRS in May. White House records for that day show Townes-Whitley arrived at the White House at 1:31 p.m. and left at 3:23 p.m. She visited again on April 26, arriving at 3:43 p.m. and leaving at 4:27 p.m., meeting with Jonathan McBride, who was at the time special assistant to the President and deputy director of the presidential personnel office. McBride was promoted in July to director of the presidential personnel office. Townes-Whitley met again with McBride on June 1, a Saturday, for about five hours, leaving the White House at around 7 p.m. On Friday, June 28, Townes-Whitley met with John McNaught, an economics staff assistant. The White House logs do not indicate the reason for the visits. Townes-Whitley joined CGI in May 2010, less than two months after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. She serves as the head of the Civilian Agency Programs Business Unit for CGI Federal, according to a biography published on the CGI website. The unit serves 22 federal civilian agencies in the US and 34 other countries. A CGI executive testified before an angry congressional committee last week about the website's significant technical problems, which have caused registration delays for consumers seeking health insurance from federal exchanges. The White House has promised that the site will be fully functional by the end of November, but Congress members want a pause in the registration deadline until repairs are complete. Prior to her work at CGI, Toni Townes-Whitley worked at Unisys Corp. as a vice president for the global public sector, system integration, and consulting. She also is a former Peace Corps volunteer in central Africa, serving for three years from 1986 to 1989. According to Federal Election Commission records, Toni Townes-Whitley gave $500 in 2011 and 2012 to Obama's re-election campaign, and another $1,000 to the Obama Victory Fund. A story published by the Daily Caller on Monday said that while at Princeton, Michelle Obama and Townes-Whitley were both active in two Princeton University groups - the Organization of Black Unity and the Third World Center. They both now belong to the Association of Black Princeton Alumni. Michelle Obama served on the governing board of the Third World Center and was active in the Organization of Black Unity, according to a 2008 Boston Globe article. "Although [Michelle] Obama had friends who were both black and white, her social world revolved around several of the black organizations on campus, as it did for many other black students," the Globe reported. "Obama was a member of the Organization of Black Unity, a primary resource for black students on campus, which arranged speakers and programs." ~~~~~ Despite documented CGI problems with other projects, the company has been awarded numerous government contracts from other federal departments. In April, CGI Federal received a five-year contract worth $11 billion from the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard for Technical Acquisition and Business Support Services (TABSS), according to Washington Executive magazine. CGI Federal is also assisting the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the distributing of $1.7 billion relief aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, the Daily Caller reported. In 2012, the company won contracts worth $15 million with the Environmental Protection Agency and a $900 million contract with the US Agency for International Development to design and operate its IT security operations. ~~~~~ Dear readers, no-bid contracts were condemned by President Obama in 2009 as "wasteful" and "inefficient." He suggested limiting them to small contracts of less than $250,000. But, Michelle Obama's friend received a no-bid contract for $600 million. So far, there have been no revelations firmly establishing impropriety, but the entire affair has the odor of crony-capitalism, as Obama used to call deals between banks and the US Treasury. IF there were quid-pro-quo's involved through which Barack Obama received political contributions and favors, either past or future, in return for telling Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to make the CGI award - that would be a federal campaign law violation, and it could be a criminal in nature. And that would be an inpeachable offense. Stay tuned.
Monday, October 28, 2013
It is one thing for China to complain about American National Security Agency eavesdropping techniques. The world expects China to criticize the United States. But when Europe complains, it is a cry from America's oldest and most loyal diplomatic, military and trading partner - a relationship that predates by a century America's modern ties with Israel and Japan. And because of NSA massive monitoring of European data transmission and phone calls of European leaders, the US will need to respond with urgency and humility if it wants to keep its access to an important tool used to track terrorist money flows. On Monday, German officials cited last week's non-binding resolution by the European Parliament to suspend a post-9/11 agreement allowing the Americans access to bank transfer data to track the flow of terrorist money. German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said she believes the Americans are using the information to gather economic intelligence apart from terrorism and that the deal, popularly known as the SWIFT agreement, should be suspended. That would represent a sharp rebuke to the United States from some of its closest partners. The German Minister said it is not enough for Europe to express indignation, but to suspend the SWIFT program would require approval by a substantial majority of the 28 European Union countries. The agreement allows access to the flow of funds transferred through the private, Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which handles the movement of money between banks worldwide. Merkel said Friday that she was open to the idea of suspending the SWIFT agreement, saying she "needed to look at this again more closely" and weigh "what we will lose for the security of our citizens and what we don't." And today, while Europe was weighing a response to allegations that the Americans spied on their closest European allies, including tapping the cellphone of Chancellor Merkel, a Spanish newspaper reported that the NSA monitored more than 60 million phone calls in that country during the period from December 2012 to January 2013. The EU noted, however, that negotiations for the new US-EU trade agreement will go forward because the deal will aid both Europe and America, providing a united trading block against competition from China and other emerging markets. But Europe will insist that the trade agreement include stronger rules for protecting data as a result of the NSA allegations. Data protection and personal privacy laws in Europe are generally stronger than in the United States. But Europe wants to be careful not to damage relations with its major ally. Even Spain, despite the new revelations, does not want to endanger the US military presence in Spain at two bases. The US is boosting its presence there as part of a missile defense system, and Spanish and American officials have stressed that this will give Spain an economic boost as it struggles with unemployment of 26% following years of recession. ~~~~~ Until this past weekend, the NSA issue had not hurt President Barack Obama politically in America because Republicans have blamed Edward Snowden rather than the White House. But, US Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this weekend : "First of all, the reports I hear is that President Obama did not know about much of these activities of the NSA, to me is alarming....The level of detachment of this president from just the day-to-day management of things that he should fully be aware of is actually frightening." Johnson added, "One of the first priorities of government is our national defense - keeping Americans safe. The best way for us to do that is to have a robust intelligence-gathering process, and obviously, the disclosures by Edward Snowden are really doing great damage to our ability to do that....But there needs to be limits in terms of what America really does. I would say that tapping the personal phones of world leaders is not a good idea, but the president should be aware of what is or isn't happening under his watch, and that to me is almost more alarming....Because we're the world superpower, we really do provide an awful lot of security for other countries around the world and we need intelligence-gathering capability....There are certain things we need to be considering within our intelligence community, with oversight from Congress...I'm not saying all the details of these debates should be held in public, though, because it needs to be, in many respects, very covert if it's going to be effective." Asked for his assessment of how the Obama administration is handling anti-terror efforts, Johnson answered : "President Obama's foreign policy is a long way from being effective, let's put it that way. I'm trying to be kind....What Americans should really understand is President Obama as a senator utterly opposed just about everything that President Bush did from the standpoint of programs to maintain our national security. But now that he's president of the United States, now that he has actually seen the presidential daily briefings, now that he's actually being made aware of the very real and very significant threats against America, he's pretty well embraced everything that President Bush did. That really ought to tell Americans something....I just wish we had a president that was more engaged, not so detached, and actually had some kind of a strategy for meeting the world as opposed to just withdrawing from the world." Johnson also asserted that we need to "very concerned" about the possible repercussions stemming from disclosures about US spying on foreign leaders. "I'm the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe, and we hear it all the time....Part of the real problem is this president does not have good relations with members of Congress, he does not have good solid relations with different world leaders. We have a total lack of effective leadership coming out of the White House and that should concern every American....The world's a very dangerous place. America faces many challenges. We need an effective leader in the White House and we are not getting that type of leadership out of President Obama." ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is difficult to add anything to Senator Johnson's damning critique of Barack Obama's dismal presidential performance. America is being brought to its knees by a President who is totally incompetent. What Obama should do is resign, but his self-love apparently far outweighs his love for America. It is now in the hands of Congress, specifically the House, to investigate and find reasons to raise articles of impeachment against President Obama and then use that as leverage with Democrat Party leaders to force Barack Obama out of the presidency while there is still something of the real America left to salvage.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
It's Saturday and the news media is "weekend quiet." So, let's consider something that has troubled me about political analysts for a long time. They love to refer to political parties as "brands." According to Wikipedia, a brand is the "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's product distinct from those of other sellers." Initially, branding was adopted to differentiate one person's cattle from another's by means of a distinctive symbol burned into the animal's skin with a hot iron stamp. The word 'brand' was only later used in business, marketing, and advertising. A modern example of a brand is Coca Cola® which belongs to the Coca-Cola Company. In financial accounting, these identifiable, valuable brands are defined as an intangible asset - and they are often the most valuable asset on a corporation's balance sheet. Brand owners manage their brands carefully to create shareholder value, and brand valuation gives a money value to a brand and allows marketing managers to prioritize the relative values of a portfolio of brands. It was meant to make identifying and differentiating a product easier, while also providing the benefit of letting the name be used to sell associated second rate products. Over time, brands came to embrace a performance or benefit promise for the product, certainly, but eventually also for the company behind the brand. Today, brand plays a much bigger role. Brands have been co-opted as powerful symbols in larger debates about economics, social issues, and politics. ~~~~~ Wikipedia also defines a political party as "a political organization that typically seeks to influence, or entirely control, government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns and educational outreach or protest actions. Parties often espouse an ideology or vision, expressed in a party program, bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests." Political parties also use colors and symbols to quickly identify them to voters, especially during election periods. But, the goal of political parties is not to sell commercially distributed products or to create financial value that can then be traded and sold for gain. ~~~~~ Most political scholars think that in his "Politics," Aristotle wrote the still-definitive text on political activities. In it, he explains that for states to be well-governed, all citizens must be engaged and the middle class must be in charge and larger than either the rich or poor classes. For Arstotle, republics are the best form of society, but that they deteriorate into democracies, which in turn degenerate into despotic states. So, when Aristotle discusses the characteristics of a well-governed state, he is referring to a republic : "What the statesman is most anxious to produce is a certain moral character in his fellow citizens, namely a disposition to virtue and the performance of virtuous actions." And two thousand years later, President Eisenhower echoed Atistotle when he said that if "a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power." ~~~~~ For me, dear readers, "brands" are not aimed at producing good character or virtue; they are aimed at selling something for a profit. Political parties are aimed at producing virtuous citizens who advance political causes that are moral. It is only when a political party degenerates into non-virtuous actions for the sake of seizing or holding onto power for its benefits - prominent social position, personal enrichment, and the capacity to force events that keep them in power - that a political party would become a "brand," selling itself in order to accumulate power and money. It is certainly easy to find examples of this today in American politics. But, to label even badly flawed political parties as "brands" only serves to justify their selfishly non-virtuous actions. America does not need this and it would be a public service for EVERYONE to stop using the word "brand" when discussing politics.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Depending on your position concerning Russian President Vladimir Putin's political governance tactics, you will be either celebrating or lamenting today, because it marks ten years since former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested by masked special forces who stormed his plane while he was boarding it in Siberia. The Khodorkovsky case has become a key turning point in Russia's recent history. Khodorkovsky's conviction is widely seen as politically motivated, meant by Putin to serve as a warning to other Russians who might have thought about challenging his power. Khodorkovsky's arrest and the subsequent dismantling of his Yukos oil company sent a chilling signal to others and allowed Putin to consolidate his power and tighten state control over the nation's energy sector. Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, was arrested October 25, 2003. He was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to eight years in prison. In 2010, he received a second prison term for stealing from his own Yukos oil company - the sentence interpreted by many as an instrument to keep him in jail until Putin won a third presidential term. Khodorkovsky is set to be released in August 2014, and his partner Platon Lebedev, who was arrested a few months earlier than Khodorkovsky, should be freed in May 2014. But their supporters fear that Russian investigators could be preparing yet another set of charges to keep them in prison. In May, a top liberal economist fled Russia, saying he wanted to escape pressure from a new probe focusing on an independent report that was critical of the 2010 verdict - investigators claimed that its authors had a conflict of interest because they had previously received money from Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky's son, Pavel, said his father tries not to focus on the prospect of being released : "He is not going to think about any possibility of his release and is not going to try and worry himself too much about what's coming next because, as you can understand, for a person who has spent 10 years in jail, it's nerve-racking to try and always look forward to any particular date because that date has been changed in the past." At the time of his arrest, Khodorkovsky was estimated to have a fortune of around $15 billion. During Putin's first term as president, Khodorkovsky challenged his power by funding opposition parties and also perhaps harboring personal political ambitions. His actions defied an unwritten pact between Putin and top Russian tycoons, called oligarchs, under which the government refrained from reviewing privatization deals that made them enormously rich in the years after the Soviet collapse on condition that they didn't meddle in politics. Khodorkovsky knew he was being watched in the months preceding his arrest, but it still was a shock to many, including himself, that he was arrested and tried. Yukos, Khodorkovsky's company, Russia's biggest oil company at the time and a great favorite with portfolio investors, was sold off in pieces, with its most lucrative assets ending up in the hands of state-owned Rosneft. Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, described his arrest as a family tragedy that also has "broken lives of many people who worked in the company." An important goal of his arrest or at least one of the most important goals: to break him, to make him do what they wanted him to do," Klyuvgant told the AP. "But they failed. ... His spirit is not broken." ~~~~~ But, in fairness, we should note, dear readers, that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Khodorkovsky's trial was not politically motivated, but that Russian court procedures violated his rights. The Strasbourg-based court, which considered Khodorkovsky's case together with that of his business partner Platon Lebedev, has ruled that the tax fraud accusations against them had a "healthy core," and "corresponded to a common- sense understanding of tax evasion." On July 25, the court released its findings, ruling said that Russia unfairly charged Khodorkovsky huge tax arrears, but that "even if there were an element of improper motivation behind their prosecution, it did not grant immunity from answering the accusations against them. Nor did it make the prosecution illegitimate 'from start to finish,' as alleged by the applicants." Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were accused of employing illegal tax-avoidance schemes, such as transferring profits to shell companies in low-tax areas and paying their own salaries as consulting fees. Most if not all large companies in Russia used similar methods at the time. A book entitled "Why Khodorkovsky Went to Jail : Tax Schemes That Are Not Worth Imitating" became a bestseller soon after the verdict. A major cleanup of corporate tax practices followed throughout Russia. Khodorkovsky has been characterized by many as an enemy of the Putin regime rather than a tax evader. ~~~~~ Dear ezaders, it's easy to see why Khodorkovsky was singled out for a show trial. And, the European Court of Human Rights seems to have completely overlooked the selectiveness of Putin's justice that made the case political. Consider another oligarch, Boris Beresovsky, who fell out with Putin and fled to a self-imposed exile in the UK rather than participate in his in-absentia trial in Moscow - Beresovsky was found hanged mysteriously several years ago in his home in southern England. And there was also Akexander Litvinenko, a KGB officer who also fled to the UK after being twice acquitted of charges that basically related to helping Beresovsky. Litvinenko was mysteriously poisoned with a radioactive isotope and died a terrible death in London. Although Russia tried to extradite both men, the UK always refused. And in an indirect slap at the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, Amnesty International has declared Khodorkovsky a prisoner of conscience, and has called for his immediate release. And, the US State Department issued a statement reiterating its concern about "selective prosecution, politically motivated investigation, and lack of respect for due process rights" in the case of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. ~~~~~ You decide whether Mikhail Khodorkovsky deserves to have been in prison for the last ten years - for me, the answer is a resounding "No."
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Dear readers, today let's look at two unfolding stories that at first glance may seem unrelated. ~~~~~ First, comments coming out of Israel continue to express dismay at the tactics President Obama is employing in his effort to "engage" Iran. It appears that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's advice is being ignored by Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who are pressing ahead to get any deal with Iran that relates to its uranium enrichment program. Netanyahu is particularly worried that Obama will not negotiate a tough agreement with Iran, one that would assure a skeptical world, and Israel, that Iran is not continuing its military nuclear bomb program while tricking Obama and the UN into agreeing to a deal favorable to Iran. Netanyahu says a meaningful agreement with Iran can be made only if Iran is kept under the pressure of current sanctions until it halts all enrichment of uranium, a key step in producing a nuclear weapon; removes its stockpile of enriched uranium from the country; and closes suspicious enrichment facilities and shutters a facility that could produce plutonium, another potential gateway to nuclear arms. Despite Netanyahu's warnings, there are growing signs that any international deal with Iran will fall short of this. While the details of last week's Geneva negotiations are being kept secret, it is being reported that Iran has asked for at least some sanctions to be lifted while negotiations are ongoing. Whether as a counter-proposal or being offered independently, Obama is said to be preparing to unfreeze Iranian assets in US banks during negotiations to give Iran relief from the still-operative sanctions. The Yediot Ahronot daily said "officials in the prime minister's inner circle harbor a deep concern ... that the American president is going to be prepared to ease sanctions on Iran even before the talks have been completed." Yoel Guzansky, an Iran expert at the institute and a former national security aide in the prime minister's office, said Israel is pressing a maximalist view in hopes of getting as many concessions out of Iran as possible. "It appears that the Americans are interested in a scaled approach," he said. "Israel is very concerned about this and it has good reason to. It's afraid the deal will become a slippery slope," he said. However, Guzansky said Israel has little choice but to rely on the US. If there is a deal, it will all but rule out the possibility of unilateral Israeli military action, he said."Israel really only has one option," he said. "The chance it will act alone after the Americans make a deal is miniscule." ~~~~~ The second story involves Christians in Egypt, who say they are "unprotected" and "easy targets" as the country remains in conflict in moving toward democracy after the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi. Senator Bob Corker has joined with fellow Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Roy Blunt to ask President Obama to provide security to Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. "They are basically unprotected. They are viewed to be part of the overthrow, if you will, of Morsi. So, you know, they are easy targets," Corker, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, told Fox News on Wednesday."They're going to be moving forward, hopefully, toward a democracy. And, as that is occurring, we just want to make sure Christians and other minorities are protected," Corker said."What we are seeing is the security apparatus there is not protecting them. There are investigations that need to occur," Corker said. "As we move through with our relationship with Egypt, we need to make sure protecting minorities, protecting Coptic Christians there, and in other countries where similar kinds of situations are occurring, is a part of our foreign policy," he added. There are an estimated 8 to 9 million Copts, a Christian denomination that originated more than 1,500 years ago in the port city of Alexandria, living in Egypt. In the past four days there have been attacks against 38 churches, 58 Coptic-owned houses, and 85 businesses, according to Fox News. The problems are not limited to Egypt, and reports of violence extend elsewhere in the region, Corker noted. "We've had issues of Christians being violated in Iraq. Obviously, in Syria," Corker said. "It's a trend that's taking place throughout the region. It's something that the three of us have been focused on. And, we want the State Department to be focused on it more fully," he said. ~~~~~ Dear readers, these stories are related. They are two examples of the haphazard Obama approach to foreign affairs. They also reflect Obama's negligent attitude toward countries and groups in the Middle East that are America's natural friends and allies. Whether Barack Obama is deliberately undercutting Israel's position in the region is unclear, but even the appearance of that is dangerous for both Israel and America, because together they provide the only proponents of reason in the Middle East - but estranged and distrustful of each other, they can be parried one against the other and finally ignored by the proponents of madness who are already "smelling blood" in their pursuit of jihad that would engulf every country from Turkey to Yemen and Pakistan. As for making every effort to protect Middle East Christians - why would anyone even need to ask an American President to do this. Perhaps if President Obama went to church regularly, he would have realized what Christian unity and brotherhood are all about.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
So, dear readers, the Republican Party has no leader or plan. But one group, the tea party, is trying to imprint its fiscally conservative position on the GOP. While many tea partiers are also social conservatives about gay marriage and abortion, it is their drive to balance tbe federal budget and cap and reduce the national debt that is their rallying cry. It is rather surprising that fiscal conservatism should separate the tea party from other Republicans because the GOP has always supported fiscal conservatism and has never abandoned its balanced budget/ reduced national debt / low tax policies. ~~~~~ Look at what senior GOP figures are now saying. Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said in a recent interview that the lack of a leader or a strategy is a recipe for a GOP disaster in 2016, "unless somebody with a lot of big sticks takes charge...and I don't see anybody stepping up." And former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas believes the Republicans "lost their fight" and "surrendered" to President Barack Obama during the government shutdown. "I don't know where the Republicans lost their will to fight … You've got to just stand your ground to fight. No retreat, no surrender,". Former Alaska governor and GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin, an influential voice with the tea party rank-and-file, wrote last weekend that "disloyal Republicans are enabling President Barack Obama to march the country toward socialism while denouncing Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and tea party-aligned House members who have been trying to defund Obamacare." Palin thinks that establishment GOP politicians "balked, waved the white flag, and joined the lapdog media in trashing the good guys who fought for us." She challenged the Republican establishment to unite behind conservative grassroots efforts to block Obamacare before it is too late. And former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told Newsmax TV : "They [the GOP] surrendered before they even got started. I was very proud of the House passing that continuing resolution with defunding Obamacare on it. But if you're going to fight this fight, you've got to fight it to win and that's frankly what Obama did." DeLay blames the shutdown squarely on the President. He's the one that shutdown the government because he wouldn't pass a bill or agree to sign a bill that keeps the government open and negotiate with the Republicans," DeLay said. "He said early on, months ago, that he was not going to negotiate, that he was going to hold his ground, and he didn't care if the government shut down or not, he was going to get his way. He held firm and he wins. That ought to be the lesson here that people understand." DeLay charged Republican lawmakers with not holding out longer. Similarly, former VP Dick Cheney doesn’t consider himself a tea partier, he told CNN : "I’m not a card-carrying member - I don’t think there is a card - but I have respect for what the people are doing....These are Americans. They're loyal, they're patriotic, they're taxpayers. And they're fed up with what they see happening in Washington. I think it's a normal, healthy reaction, and the fact that the party is having to adjust to it is positive." ~~~~~ The common thread is fiscal responsibility. Obamacare is simply the vehicle Republicans of every persuasion are using to attack out-of-control Democrat tax-and-spend programs, with the inderlying theme that these programs are inevitably leading America toward European-style socialism. And even in the unlikely event that the website problems with Obamacare are fixed, others have already arisen, and the GOP can continue to tie Obamacare to fiscal issues - rising premium costs, weak job growth and broader economic worries. Kansas Representative Tim Huelskamp believes Republicans may have "lost the battle but we're going to win the war." The common thread of fiscal conservatism could provide Republicans with an agreed strategy for the coming budget/debt ceiling negotiations that will include broader budget issues like spending levels, deficit reduction and entitlement reforms - all matters over which Democrats and Republicans have long been at odds. The White House says the President is entering the next phase of the debate with an unyielding strategy like that he used in the just-ended crisis. Obama is betting that the anger Americans aimed at Republicans in recent weeks will persuade them to shift course : "Based on the reaction from the American people, I'm pretty sure they're not going to run this play again," the President said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected the possibility that Democrats might agree to cuts to entitlement programs in exchange for relief from automatic spending cuts. In exchange for entitlement cuts, Reid said, Republicans would have to agree to higher taxes - setting up a familiar ideological clash between the two parties now charged with reaching consensus on a budget. But, Republicans will face intense pressure in their districts not to raise taxes, while Democrats will press Obama not to chip away at the nation's safety net. ~~~~~ If the GOP can agree on a budget and debt ceiling negotiating position that includes reducing funding for Obamacare but that does not make it the non-negotiable item, and if it can build a list of items - tax and entitlement reform principles, tax cuts to match any debt ceiling increase, a balanced budget - then the GOP can succeed because those core GOP principles are strongly supported by a majority of Americans. President Obama's and Senator Reid's principles are supported by only a minority of Americans. So, the GOP must outline a fiscal plan and sell it to an America that is waiting to vote for it. And then stand firm together. The Democrats and Barack Obama will blink first.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Dear readers, I can sympathize with you if you are all at sea over what's going on in the Republican Party and how the outcome will affect the future of America. Depending on who's talking into the TV camera, we can hear - that the House GOP majority was abandoned by the GOP Senate minority, that the entire GOP rolled over and played dead instead of standing and fighting during the shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, or that those who chose to stand and fight President Obama and Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were on a fool's errand doomed to fail. Most Republicans, Democrats and the supposedly objective media blame the tea party, for good or bad, for standing and fighting and thereby damaging the GOP "brand" forever. Of course, the same thing was said in 1964 after the Goldwater presidential debacle, but 16 years later, Republican Ronald Reagan was elected President by a landslide. So, what is going on today in the GOP? First, everyone agrees that the Republican Party is leaderless. This is really not surprising for a party that just lost two presidential elections. Consider the Democrats from 2000 to 2008. Leaderless, except on those few occasions when Bill Clinton tried to offer advice in his public speeches. But what is puzzling about this GOP "leaderless-ness" is that it seems to include the Republican National Committee and its chairman Reince Preibus, who could at least try to forge a consensus by offering GOP congressional leaders opportunities for private discussions that would keep the most unpleasant name-calling incidents out of the public eye. At best, Preibus should abandon his often-stated position that he will not meddle in GOP "tactics" - one of the most naive comments I have ever heard an RNC chairman utter - preferring to let the GOP congressional delegation be responsible for tactics. Wrong, Mr. Preibus. In the absence of a consensus party leader, you are it. You should insist on helping House Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority leader McConnell make order and keep all Republican members of Congress on the same page of the GOP hymnbook. You are, after all, the sole national GOP figure who has a continuing non-personal-election-related presence in all 50 states. And, the Republican Governors Conference that represents 2/3 of all American states should use its chairman and bully pulpit to hammer home the GOP position on major national issues - even if this requires governors eyeing the 2016 White House to get in line with a broader non-personal message. Which brings us to the second problem facing the Republican Party. It has no agreed message, no plan. In the 2012 presidential election campaign, the Republican Party used the tactic of attacking Barack Obama's programs without really saying what the GOP would do instead. That should have been a red flag to Party pro's. A party without a plan cannot succeed because it has nothing for voters to identify with. Worse, it allows the Democrat Party to proclaim that their negative take on the GOP is accurate. But, instead of developing the general outline of a plan to lead the GOP toward 2016, individual national Republican figures just keep attacking Obama. The two exceptions are the John McCain-Lindsey Graham effort to present a united front on military and foreign affairs issues, which has resulted in a much more cohesive Republican "plan" to confront Obama on these issues. The other exception is Paul Ryan's decade-long budget plan, which has found traction with most Republicans. The GOP must agree on a "Plan." Without one in place soon, the party will be playing catch-up to a Democrat Party that really has no plan either...but that does have a President, and however much Americans may disagree with and fear Obama's plan, it keeps his Democrat troops in line and marching to his tune. ~~~~~ Tomorrow, dear readers, we'll look at the tea party and its role in either creating or making it impossible to create a GOP Plan.
Monday, October 21, 2013
While Americans have buried their heads like ostriches in their domestic fiscal and political problems, President Obama has continued to plunge the United States even deeper in the Arab distrust, and often hatred, of America that is largely Obama's doing. Friday, Saudi Arabia refused to accept its seat on the UN Security Council. It was an unprecedented and startling move aimed at protesting the Security Council's failure to resolve the Syrian civil war. The Saudi Kingdom is, in effect, protesting Washington's handling of some of the region's crises, particularly in Egypt and Syria. It also comes as ties between the US and Iran, the Saudi's regional foe, appear to be improving. The Saudi refusal to take its Security Council seat follows on from September's refusal of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to address the General Assembly meeting. Days later, the Kingdom's unease with Washington surfaced when President Obama spoke to Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani in a groundbreaking telephone call. Saudi Arabia was given one of the rotating seats on the 15-member Council in a vote by rhe General Assembly. The Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting the seat, saying the UN Security Council had failed in multiple cases in the Middle East. Particularly, it said the UN failure to act has enabled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime to perpetrate the killings of its people, including the use of chemical weapons, calling it genocide : "Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill its people and burn them with chemical weapons in front of the entire world and without any deterrent or punishment is clear proof and evidence of the UN Security Council's inability to perform its duties and shoulder its responsibilities," the ministry said in the statement carried by the official Saudi news agency. The Saudi refusal statement also made reference to Israel, saying the Council has not been able to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the past six decades. Expressions of support from Saudi Arabia's Gulf Arab friends contained no overt criticism of US policy, but echoed the Kingdom's complaints about the Security Council's failure to end the war in Syria and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Arab League, Kuwait, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar expressed support for the Saudi action. Not only has the Obama lead-from-behind Middle East policy, if it can even be called a policy, already alienated Egypt, whose army leadership says it does not need American aid, which has been replaced by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in order to fill the gap caused by Obama's ill-thought decision to halt military aid to Egypt. This has also caused ordinary Egyptians to demonstrate against Obama, saying he is aligned with the Moslem Brotherhood and against their effort to establish a democracy. Most recently, Saudi Arabia's leaders were furious when the United States pulled back from possible military action against the Syrian regime in exchange for the Russian plan to dismantle Syria's chemical arsenal. Editorials in Arabic newspapers over the past several weeks have reflected the Gulf's concerns. In an opinion piece published in the Al-Hayat daily Arabic newspaper, columnist George Samaan wrote that if the Gulf states feel Washington is turning its back on them by improving ties with Iran, the Arab states could always look east to other countries. The Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily wrote that rather than Obama striking the Syrian regime, he struck US allies by calling Iran's president and pushing Gulf states to pursue their own defense policies, without even so much as consulting with Saudi Arabia, a long time US ally, before engaging with Iran. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has said that the Saudis felt "the rug had been pulled out from under them" and saw it as American "betrayal." AND, as always follows an Obama strategic error in the Middle East, the country most exposed to negative results is Israel, which is reliant on American support for its very survival. With Egypt and now Saudi Arabia angry with Obama, Israel is more than ever without regional allies. Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu is particularly worried that Obama will not hold out for a tough agreement with Iran, whom Israel suspects of continuing its military nuclear bomb program while fooling Obama and the UN into agreeing to a deal favorable to Iran. Netanyahu says pressure must be maintained until Iran halts all enrichment of uranium, a key step in producing a nuclear weapon; removes its stockpile of enriched uranium from the country; and closes suspicious enrichment facilities and shutters a facility that could produce plutonium, another potential gateway to nuclear arms. Despite Netanyahu's warnings, there are growing signs that any international deal with Iran will fall short of this. The plan rumored to be in the works was reported by the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz on Sunday to include the following, but would stop short of lifting sanctions, while nonetheless providing Iran some relief : Iran is ready to halt all enrichment of 20%, limit lower-level enrichment of 5% and scale back the number of centrifuges it is operating for enrichment; Iran expresses willingness to reduce the operations of its most controversial nuclear facilities, and perhaps open them to unannounced inspections. But according to Israeli sources, the Obama White House is already discussing releasing billions of dollars of Iranian deposits in US banks in order to give Iran "breathing room." Netanyahu's office declined comment on the report, though it confirmed the US has kept it updated on the nuclear talks. Conflict between Israel and Obama appears to be inevitable. While Israeli officials are intrigued by the Iranian offer, it said "officials in the prime minister's inner circle harbor a deep concern ... that the American president is going to be prepared to ease sanctions on Iran even before the talks have been completed." ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is hard to imagine an American President destroying US Middle East leadership. It is equally hard to imagine an American President destroying the American economy and plunging it into a non-repayable debt position. But today, we are seeing Barack Obama do both. How will America and the world cope until 2016? That is a difficult question to answer.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
We've looked at the Obamacare aspect of the US budget and debt ceiling crisis. Today, let's review the actual national debt and annual federal budget situations. ~~~~~ First, the national debt. America began the year 2013 with a net public debt that has more than doubled since the year BEFORE Barack Obama took office. This explosion in the public borrowing is completely unprecedented in the history of the United States, outside of the two major global wars fought in the 20th century. But the incredible movement from $11 trillion to $17 trillion in the national debt doesn't really tell the full story. Various other government agencies and private companies taken over by the government under Obama have obligations of nearly another $5 trillion. The US Treasury has already booked complete losses on $140 billion worth of these obligations that are off the federal balance sheet. When you add these other federal obligations that exist today, you come up with a total debt figure that's much more than $20 trillion. Far more than half of these debts were assumed under President Obama. We don't know what the full burden of these new and existing debts will be in total over time because the Federal Reserve's power to manipulate interest rates, in order to lower the interest to be paid on these obligations, is unlimited. We also don't know how much of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's bad debts will eventually be covered by the US Treasury. But we know they have an unlimited line of credit, making it a safe bet that we haven't seen the last of these charges. Finally, we have no idea what the eventual costs of the Federal Reserve's ongoing expansion of the monetary base will be over the long term - because the Bernanke quantitative easing program is currently adding $85 billion per month to US treasury debt and is estimated to have added a total of $3 trillion so far. But here again, one thing's certain - these debts will carry a burden. Today, America has more government debt than any country in the history of the world. America has more debt than all the countries in the European Union combined. This was one of the large arguments of the just-ended House vs Senate+White House fight over the budget (the partial shutdown) and raising the national debt ceiling, which now stands at 74% of GDP and will rise to the universally-recognized unsustainable100% of GDP in 2038 unless brought under control. The Republican / tea party demand to lower the national debt is not merely politics. It is imperative that America bring its debt down. ~~~~~ Now that we know what's in the national debt part of the coming negotiations, let's look at the budget situation. In addition to approving legislation to fund the government until January 15 and to prevent a possible debt default on February 7, the recently agreed House-Senate-White House deal has set up broader budget negotiations between the GOP-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate. One goal of those talks is to ease the automatic spending cuts - called sequestration - that were achieved by the GOP in the 2011 debt ceiling negotiation with President Obama, but despised by the Democrat Party. These automatic cuts began in March and could deepen in January, when about $20 billion in further cuts are set for the Pentagon. The sequestration - despite Obama's refusal to admit it, preferring to say that the econony has expanded under his watch - along with the eliminated Bush tax cuts, are largely responsible for the lower $900 billion 2013 budget deficit, down from an estimated $1.2 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that federal revenues (mostly taxes) equal 19.5% of GDP today, compared to an average of 17.5% over the past four decades. The 2013 budget included 2013 revenues of $2.9 trillion (17.8% of GDP) and spending of $3.8 trillion (23.3% of GDP). The 2013 deficit was $900 billion (5.5% GDP), down from the 2012 deficit of $1.3 trillion (8.5% GDP). Over the 2013-2022 period, the sequestration essentially freezes defense and non-defense discretionary spending in dollar terms, so that these categories shrink relative to a growing economy, from 8.7% of GDP to 5.9% of GDP. This will mean at least a slower growth, if not a reduction, in the total national debt.Mandatory spending (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other safety net programs), not touched by the sequestration, remain approximately 14% of GDP. Net interest on the national debt doubles from 1.5% to 3.3% of GDP. Revenues (taxes) rise steadily during the period, to 20.1% of GDP. ~~~~~ In last week's deal, the GOP managed to save the 2013-2019 sequestration, although fiscal cuts should have cut another $19 billion, taking the 2014 budget deficit down to $967. For now, the 2013 budget sequestration remains and the budget deficit is at $986 billion. But this is a lot better than the $1.058 trillion budget the Senate Democrats wanted. It is also estimated that the sequestration will reduce the national debt and save $170 billion in the period to 2019. As Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, the shutdown and fight over the debt ceiling were worth it because of saving the sequestration. However, the CBO estimates that total federal outlays will continue to increase even with the sequester by an average of $238.6 billion per year during the next decade because of off-budget increases. The sequestration cuts are split evenly (by dollar amounts, not by percentages) between the defense and non-defense budgets. Some major programs like Social Security, Medicaid, federal pensions and veteran's benefits are exempt. By a special provision in the sequestration law, Medicare spending will be reduced by a fixed 2% per year. Federal pay rates are also unaffected but the sequestration did result in involuntary unpaid time off, also known as furloughs. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the GOP defends the sequestration against the Democrat Senate and the White House - both of which want to scrap it and increase spending. Republican Paul Ryan's House Budget Committee budget plan for 2014-2022 that keeps the sequestration and eliminates the Obamacare budget will freeze or reduce the budget deficit and hold the national debt to $20.3 trillion. The Democrat plan continues to generate $600 billion budget deficits and raises the national debt to $24.4 trillion. America should stop attacking the GOP for its cobservative spending position and support it. This is really not a partisan political party issue. It is a matter of survival for America.
Friday, October 18, 2013
With the debt deal behind them, congressional Republicans now are focused on the budget and debt ceiling negotiations looming for November and December (tomorrow's blog) - and the GOP is also taking aim at Obamacare, especially the disastrous rollout of Obamacare and are turning up the pressure on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign over the fiasco. GOP leaders Representatives Darrell Issa, chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, and Fred Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Commission, and Senator Lamar Alexander, ranking member of the HELP Committee, have sent oversight letters to HHS and have vowed to investigate. GOP complaints include deadlines having been repeatedly missed, and non-secure databases that store sensitive medical and financial information. And, despite these major flaws, the GOP says that those who tried but could not enroll using the non-functional exchanges will be hit with a penalty tax for being uninsured. The bottom line question is : if the government is incompetent to manage the health care website, how can they possibly manage the health care system Obama and the Democrats have foisted on America? The White House is thus far standing by Sebelius, who apparently has no intention of resigning, according to The New York Times. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said : "The secretary does have the full confidence of the president." But for how long? Because so far, Sebelius has not fixed the website. A study by market research company Millward Brown Digital showed that traffic on the website has plummeted since October 1 and that few people have successfully enrolled. The number of visitors to healthcare.gov dropped from 9.5 million in the first week to 4.1 million in the second week, according to the firm. While 196,000 people began to enroll in the first week, only 36,000 finished the process. In the second week, 368,000 began enrollment and just 47,000 completed it. But the Washington Post reports that visits to the website dropped 88% in the first two weeks, that roughly 36,000 consumers successfully signed-up for a government-backed insurance plan after enrolling, and 99.6% of all visitors to the site did not enroll. Administration officials say the figures reported by the Post are inaccurate, but the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the site, still refuses to release official enrollment figures. Questions are also mounting about the contractors, Virginia-based CGI Federal, who received hundreds of millions of dollars, significantly above the projected cost, to build the failed website. Reuters has reported that US officials warned that the technology behind Obamacare might not be ready for launch and the administration is paying a contractor tens of millions of dollars more than it had planned to fix the problems. Government documents shows that the contract to build the federal website tripled in potential total value to nearly $292 million as new money was assigned to the work beginning in April this year, according to Reuters, while federal and state officials were warning the administration that the technology behind the Obamacare exchanges was flawed. Robert Laszewski, a health care consultant who works for insurers, told Politico that the administration was aware of the problems well ahead of time, pointing to an oversight report by the Government Accountability Office in June that pointed to missed deadlines and timetable issues. "The GAO was being politically correct…it didn't come out and say this thing is going to crash and burn, but if you go back and read it, it's pretty obvious," he said. Obama's former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on MSNBC on Monday that the debut had been "excruciatingly embarrassing for the White House and for the Department of Health and Human Services." After the problems are fixed, he added, "I hope they fire some people." But putting the finger pointing aside, there remains the question of what is next for the exchanges. "Can they put the genie back in the bottle on this one? I don't think they can," GOP Representative Michael Burgess, vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, told Politico."I think the problems are too pervasive and too widespread. I think it may need going back to square one and rewriting the code." ~~~~~ But, dear readers, bad as the website fiasco is, with time and money -and most importantly, the willingness of the Obama White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to follow the advice of IT experts - it can be fixed. What cannot be fixed is the cost of Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that Obamacare in its first decade Will cost double what the President promised. When President Obama was selling his health care legislation to Congress, he declared that “the plan I’m proposing will cost around $900 billion over 10 years.” But with the law’s major provisions set to kick in next year, a new analysis by the CBO projects that the law will cost double that, or $1.8 trillion. Trillion with a T. As many critics of the health care law pointed out at the time, Obama's number was deceptive because it estimated spending from 2010 through 2019 even though the program’s major spending provisions weren’t scheduled to go into effect until 2014. Effectively, the original estimate measured the cost of six years of Obamacare instead of 10. The CBO’s trillion dollar projection accounts for fiscal years 2014-2023, the first full decade of Obamacare. But that’s not all. The CBO now expects the Medicaid expansion to cover an additional 13 million people by 2023 (up 1 million from its February estimate) and the new government-run insurance exchanges to cover 24 million (1 million fewer than previously projected). And the CBO estimates that under Obamacare, 7 million fewer people in the United States will have employment-based insurance by 2023. The Heritage Foundation has made an even bleaker estimate - Obamacare will collect $800 billion in new taxes between 2013 and 2023. Many of these taxes will be paid by large and small businesses, thus reducing the funds they have available to expand and create jobs. All of this in order to provide insurance for what is now estimated to be between 10 and 20 million people not now insured. And keep in mind that 7 million Americans who had health insurance before will no longer have it. Why? Because the cost for a family of four will increase by $650 to $1,000 per year. And if that family has an income above $88,000 per year, it will receive no subsidy. In addition, if that family looks for a less expensive insurance plan that it can afford, it will find that its choice of doctors and hospitals will be greatly reduced - because insurance companies are trying to provide the less expensive coverage to those who will be completely shut out otherwise. ~~~~~ So, the next time you hear Senator Ted Cruz say that Obamacare must be repealed, don't fall into the trap of believing Barack "If-you-like-your-plan-and-doctor-you-can-keep-them-for-no-extra-cost" Obama. Ted Cruz and the GOP are right. Obamacare is a catastrophe for Americans and it must be repealed.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Dear readers, we have been subjected to a barrage of the media and President Obama and Democrat Party leaders like Harry Reid calling tea party Congress members extremists, terrorists, Taliban and wildly conservative right-wingers. Why? Because these tea party Republicans have dared to disagree with the Democrat tax-and-spend agenda and with Obamacare as it is currently enacted into law. Let's examine the reality of tea party Congress members. (1). There are 80 tea party House members. Each one was elected in a congressional voting District with an average population of 717,360 Americans. So the tea party Republican House members represent 56,867,910 Americans, or 18% of the 313,900,000 American population. (2). The Senators who voted against the budget deal represent approximately 66,000,000 Americans, using the US Census Bureau total population for states where both Senators voted against the deal and 1/2 the population for states where one Senator voted against the budget deal.* This is 21% of the American population. ~~~~~ So, 39%, or 122,867,910 Americans, sent one or more tea party representatives to Congress with a clearly-stated set of goals -- reduce spending, lower the national debt, no tax increases, update the US tax code, and oppose Obamacare. In fact, the tea party members of Congress is the only group in Congress that has actually created, run on and been elected with a set of defined legislative goals. They are not a Taliban right-wing minority. They are, in fact, larger that the 33% of Americans who are registered Republicans, although the two groups overlap significantly. So, rather than engaging in vicious name-calling, the President and his Democrat Party congressional leaders should be trying to do business with the tea party, which is not going to be tossed out - because they come from rather safe Republican-majority congressional districts. And, we can guess that in the Democrat-majority districts there are Democrat and Independent voters who agree with most of the tea party agenda. Don't think that the battle is over or that Barack Obama and Harry Reid have won. What must happen now is that GOP Senators and House members have to find a real leader and a unified position on all the key issues waiting to be settled in the coming negotiations. Tomorrow we will look at the issues. >>>>>>> (*The following is a list of Senators who voted against the budget deal on Wednesday : Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Sen. David Vitter, R-La. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.).
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Dear Senator Cruz, I am a lifelong Republican. I served under your hero, Ronald Reagan, in Washington. I have never voted for a Democrat because I firmly believe that any Republican is better than any Democrat. Why? Because the GOP has always - from the days of our founder, Abraham Lincoln - represented fiscally responsible government and a genuine concern and caring attitude toward those in need but without ensnaring them in government entitlements programs that turn them and their children into an underclass of government-owned zombies at a cost that has brought America to its fiscal knees. The Republican Party has again and again led America toward the City on the Hill. And I realize that you are also trying to do this, too. But, Senator Cruz, you cannot help but realize that by continuing your impossible-to-win anti-Obamacare crusade, as honorable a goal as that is, you are risking the short-term viability of our Republican Party. How do you intend to overturn Obamacare if, because of you, the 2014 congressional elections create a House with a Democratic majority and a Senate that is still Democrat? What new disastrous laws and continuing explosion of the national budget deficit and debt will we see if President Obama has a supermajority - Presidency, House, Senate - in 2014-2016? Are you really working in the mistaken notion that your philosophical demands can help the GOP? You are wrong. Your filibuster made your phisophical point. It is long since time to release the inexperienced tea party House members who are naively following your inexperienced Senate leadership. It is likely that you have already dealt a temporary death blow to the Grand Old Party. And we Republicans have long memories. They reach back to 1860. Do not come to us in 2015 asking to be our presidential candidate. The answer will be 'No.' We would rather lose one presidential election than be led by a selfish politician whose personal goals are more important to him than the Republican Party we all love. Think about what you have done to the GOP. Yours sincerely, A Real Republican. "Politics is the art of the possible." ___Otto von Bismarck.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
The Basic Problem in the Budget/Debt Ceiling Crisis - America Spends Too Much and Obama Leads the Shopping Spree
When the world is watching the American budget and financing crisis play out in the full view of everyone, there are the beginnings of grumblings in the international community about the stability and value of the United States world financial and economic leadership. For example, China today said that there should be an alternative - "a de-Americanized world." But, if we believe the financial media and worldwide financial businesses, the world's financial markets are set to fall into disarray and lose about 40% of their value. Now, those are two diametrically opposed positions. China wants to replace the US with "X", while the rest of the world is poised on the brink of financial collapse. Perhaps the only worrisome beginnings of a shift in the international financial system - and it has almost nothing to do with the current American budget and debt crisis - relates to the position of the US Dollar as the world's reserve currency. The US Fedderal Reserve has been inflating the Dollar massively, reducing its purchasing power in relation to commodities, causing many of the world’s great trading nations to use other currencies occasionally for bilateral deals. It has been rumored, for example, that DuPont settles many of its international accounts in Chinese yuan and European euros. In spite of this, the dollar retains its reserve currency status because other currencies have been inflated, too. For example, Japan has inflated the yen to a greater extent than the Dollar in an attempt to revive its stagnant economy by cheapening its currency. So the monetary destruction disease is not limited to the US alone. The Dollar will be very susceptible to losing its reserve currency position only when the first major trading country stops inflating its currency. There is evidence that China understands what is at stake; it has increased its gold holdings and has instituted controls to prevent gold from leaving China. Should the world’s second largest economy and one of the world’s greatest trading nations tie its currency to gold, demand for the yuan would increase and demand for the Dollar would decrease. In practical terms this means that the world’s great trading nations would reduce their holdings of Dollars, and the one-half of all issued Dollars held overseas would flow back into the US economy, causing prices to increase. President Obama’s imminent appointment of career bureaucrat Janet Yellen as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is evidence that the US policy of continuing to cheapen the Dollar via Quantitative Easing will continue. Her appointment increases the likelihood that demand for Dollars will decline even further raising the likelihood of much higher prices in America as trading nations holding other currencies as reserves for trade settlement increases. Perhaps this key pressure from a sovereign country like China will wake up the Federal Reserve to the consequences of its actions and force it to end its Quantitative Easing policy. But, that will have to await the new US President elected in 2016 because Obama will not do it. But if China wants to replace the US, with the reserve currency and as world leader, it will have to step up to several important decisions it has to date been unwilling to take. (1). In fiscal year 2011, the US government allocated the following amounts for aid: Total economic assistance : $31.7 billion, of which, USAID assistance: $14.1 billion. France, Germany, the UK and Japan combined gave $41 billion in economic assistance in 2011. China's foreign economic aid is fundamentally different. It is not in the form of grants but given as technical cooperation agreements and private-government direct investment in Africa, South America and Asia. China establishes lines of credit backed by the recipient country's natural resources or undertakes projects to develop natural resources and takes back a percentage of the output. So Chinese "aid" is really in large part a way of ensuring its future raw materials and food needs. (2). The US gives $8 billion each year to the UN operating budget, including the peacebuilding budget. The US payment represents 23% of the UN total budget, far outstripping any other country, including China. (3). IMF Member Quota in Special Drawing Rights, which equate to the financial aid available from each member to be used by the IMF : USA 42,122.4 SDR (18% of total contributions); Japan 15,628.5 SDR (6.6%); Germany 14,565.5 SDR (6%); France 10,738.5 SDR (4.5%); UK 10,738.5 SDR (4.5%); China 9,525.9 SDR (4%). ~~~~~ Dear readers, as the iconic American humorist and writer, Mark Twain, said when he read his own obituary in a newspaper : "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." America needs to get its government working again -- stop devaluing its Dollar, gradually pay down its national debt instead of always increasing it, create a balanced budget every year, and send home those Congress members and Presidents who oppose these clearly necessary actions. Obamacare is not the basic problem - it is the symptom of a Democrat congressional majority and President who have taxed-and-spent America to the brink of disaster. They are the basic problem. Send them home. Mr. Obama - do the honorable thing. Resign.
Monday, October 14, 2013
A crowd of veterans and their supporters converged on the World War II Memorial on the National Mall Sunday, pushing through barriers to protest the Memorial being closed under the government shutdown. Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas were among those present, along with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Cruz said President Barack Obama is using veterans as pawns in the shutdown. Echoing the famous Reagan challenge to Gorbachev, the crowd shouted, "Tear down these walls." Protesters also shouted, "You work for us'" and sang "God bless America" and other patriotic songs as they entered the Memorial plaza, which has become a political symbol in the bitter fight between Democrats and Republicans over how yo resolve the shutdown and debt ceiling crises. Earlier rallies focused on allowing access for WWII veterans visiting from across the country with the Honor Flight Network, but Sunday's rally was political. A simultaneous protest by thousands of truckers joined with a rally by a group called the Million Vet March at the World War II Memorial. Participants cut the links between metal barriers at the National Park Service site and pushed them aside. A protester said he was there because people fought and died for the freedom to visit public spaces and to protest. "Our constitutional rights are being taken away,...People made the ultimate sacrifice, and they should be open to the public, open to everyone to come down here and see this." Some of the trucker protesters carried the tubular metal Memorial barricades more than a mile to the White House and stacked them up outside the gates, confronting police in riot gear. Some protesters carried signs reading “Impeach Obama.” Police moved the protesters back to set up barricades between the crowd and the White House gate. Some demonstrators chanted “shame on you” at the officers. Others chanted “You work for us.” Many of the frustrated protesters blame President Barack Obama for the closure of the Memorial. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the United States Congress and the President will almost surely settle their differences and paste together at least a temporary solution to end the government shutdown and the debt ceiling problem. But, that is not the real trouble facing America. The real trouble is that the leftist Democrat Washington leadership and the national media are completely disconnected from the Real America outside Washington. The Real America is disgusted with Washington insider politicians who put party election victory and making the other party look bad far above the important interests of the country. A good example of that was President Obama's gratuitous slam at Republicans spoken today at the same time that those Republicans and his Democrat Senate Majority Leader were honestly trying to save the US from debt default. Obama said : "If we don't start making some real progress both in the House and the Senate, and if Republicans aren't willing to set aside some of their partisan concerns in order to do what's right for the country, we stand a good chance of defaulting." Gratuitous. Partisan. Undignified for a President whose party leaders are finally facing reality. Reality -- is that the GOP represents the views of the majority of Americans, who want : A balanced budget. A cap and reduction of federal spending splurge that has exploded the national debt from $10 trillion to $17 trillion under Obama. An end to Obama's effort to force socialized medicine on America. A Constitution that is honored with more than lip service. The voices of protest are getting louder. The anti-Obama committees and marches are increasing. It is time for the Democrat Party to abandon its support for Obama's leftist-socialist agenda and join the citizens of America in silencing him and unwinding his socialist program. The budget and the debt ceiling are the right place to begin the Democrat Party's long march back into the hearts of the Real America.
Friday, October 11, 2013
President Barack Obama warned last week that Social Security benefits might not go out "ontime" if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling. Cooler heads in Washington disagreed with the President, saying that seniors and disabled Americans receiving disability payments through Social Security should not be worried about their benefits if the US government runs out of borrowing capacity later this month. Is there an answer to this question? The answer is that Social Security recipients should worry ONLY if the Obama administration insists on making Social Security a pawn in the debt ceiling battle, which would be a political ploy unworthy of an American President. Social Security is a stand-alone program with its own dedicated revenue stream that works as follows : workers and employers pay a combined 12.4% of employees' payroll. It was designed to be a "pay as you go" program, with taxes on today's workers funding current payouts to already retired and disabled workers and their dependents. Social Security funds can't be used for anything except Social Security benefits. Social Security currently has a surplus of $2.7 trillion. This year it is on track to take in $38.8 billion more in revenue than it will pay out, according to the forecast of the program's trustees. These funds sit in the Social Security Trust Fund (SSTF). While SSTF funds can be used only for Social Security, the fund operates in a way that could leave it vulnerable in the event of a government default. Every dollar of Social Security payroll tax revenue received by the US Treasury is used to fund general non-Social Security operations. The Treasury then issues special interest-bearing Treasury bonds to the SSTF matching the amount of payroll taxes it has received and spent. So, to fund benefit payments every month, the Social Security Administration redeems bonds from the SSTF with the shortest maturity, receiving principal plus interest. The government finances Social Security redemptions by issuing new general-issue Treasury bonds. This funding system is the basic objection of critiques of Social Security - that it's a Ponzi scheme that has no real assets. This is not true. The reality is that the SSTF actually is one of the largest creditors of the US Treasury - right up there with China and Japan, which together hold $2.4 trillion in Treasury debt. The system was designed this way to ensure that Social Security would be invested only in the world's safest instrument: paper issued by the US Treasury. The special-issue Treasury notes are backed by the full faith and credit of the US government, and the system works well when the Treasury has the power to issue debt to fund Social Security's bond redemptions. Even if the government hits the debt ceiling, there's a viable option for keeping Social Security benefits flowing without affecting the federal debt situation. The Social Security trustees could exercise their right to cash in as many Social Security bonds as they need to make benefit payments for the foreseeable future. Every dollar of principal (but not interest) that the federal government pays back to Social Security would reduce the government's total indebtedness, making room for the Treasury to borrow more from the general public to fund Social Security redemptions. The total amount of federal debt would not change, and the redemptions wouldn't reduce funds available for other government operations. BUT, Social Security's managing trustee is the US Treasury Secretary, now Jacob Lew, so he actually has conflicting obligations - to serve the President and to protect the rights of Social Security beneficiaries. The same conflict of interest exists for the three other top government officials who serve as trustees - the secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Labor Department and the commissioner of the Social Security Administration. ~~~~~ Dear readers, frightening seniors and disabled people might seem to be a good political tactic, considering the huge stakes in the debt ceiling battle. But that doesn't make it right. Last year, 56.7 million retired and disabled workers, spouses or children received Social Security retirement or disability benefits. Many depend on the benefits to buy food and pay for rent and utilities. One-third of today's seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income according to the National Academy of Social Insurance. Two-thirds count on it for more than half their income. Nancy Altman, co-director of the Strengthen Social Security advocacy coalition and an expert on Social Security law and history, argues that Lew and Obama have a duty to keep Social Security out of the fight : "Social Security is different from paying a military contractor, or food inspectors," Altman says. "Those things are paid from the general fund, where there's a deficit. Social Security is a real pension program backed by very substantial assets, and the President has an obligation to act as a fiduciary and protect that." While it is beginning to look like the President and Congress will find a way to avert a default, at least temporarily, if the negotiations fail, all Social Security recipients should begin to contact the President, their Congressperson and Senator, as well as Treasury Secretary Lew, to demand that Social Security be treated as intended and kept out of Washington political battles.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Urgent efforts to prevent a dangerous US national default seemed poised to succeed today, but Demicrat Senate Leader Harry Reid has tossed cold water on what was to be a deal agreed by President Obama and House Speaker Boehner. House Republicans softened their long-standing demands and the White House appeared agreeable to a compromise. But Senate Democrats appear to have told Senate Leader Reid to declare the proposed deal unacceptable. Reid, standing outside the White House after he and fellow Democrats met with President Barack Obama, called the plan a "non-starter." The Republican have proposed plan to leave the 10-day partial government shutdown in place while raising the nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit and triggering negotiations between the GOP and Obama over spending cuts and other issues. Heartened by a hint of progress, Wall Street, after days of decline, saw the Dow Jones industrial average soar 323 points on hopes that the divided government was taking steps to avoid a default. Reid's dismissive comments at the White House came at the end of the trading day. However, Republicans, wanting to avoid a bond default and roiling world financial markets, said they might look to Reid to add what would make the proposal acceptable to the Senate Democrat majority. Mentioned were an agreement to pay Social Security and veterans benefits as well as salaries to active duty military troops during the second half of this month. Boehner said failure to raise the debt limit by October 17 "could put timely payment of all of these at risk....I would hope the president would look at this as an opportunity and a good faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what he's demanded, in order to have these conversations begin." Boehner spoke earlier in the day, after informing his rank and file that he would introduce a House motion to raise the debt ceiling until 22 November. Tea party Republicans said it could be a way to ease the debt ceiling problem while maintaining the government shutdown so they could resume their own campaign to deny operating funds for the national health care overhaul known as "Obamacare." At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the President would "likely sign" a short-term extension in the debt ceiling, and did not rule out his doing so even if it left the shutdown intact. Moderate Republicans were not very pleased, saying the shutdown should end, but there was little if any unhappiness among House conservatives. In addition, GOP Senator Ted Cruz, the conservative Texan who has played a prominent role in this fall's budget struggles, raised no objections. Cruz said that he understands the plan is being driven by House conservatives who are quite reasonably saying, "Listen, let's focus on Obamacare, on winning the fight on Obamacare...and let's push the debt ceiling a little further down the road so that it doesn't distract us from the fight we are in the middle of right now." For his part, Reid has proposed no-strings-attached legislation to raise the debt limit by $1.1 trillion, enough to prevent a recurrence of the current standoff until after the 2014 elections, something that would give Democrat candidates an edge in campaign rhetoric. Senator Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate Minority Leader, said that Reid's Democratic measure "just won't fly....The American people can be persuaded to raise the debt ceiling, but they're not in any mood to simply hand over a blank check." The call for negotiations on long-term deficit cuts would mark a return to basics for the House Republican majority, which since the 2010 election has initiated a series of demands to cut spending, culminating in a 2011 agreement with Obama that automatically cut more than $2 trillion over a decade. Because no actual agreement was possible, the cuts, called "across-the-board sequesters", were implemented, cutting every executive branch department equally. This has made Republicans uneasy because of the impact on the Pentagon, and Democrats are unsatisfied because of reductions in domestic programs. But the GOP House that controls spending has insisted that the budget come under control closer to balancing inputs ans layouts, and also demands that the national debt be reduced. It was $10.6 trillion when Obama took office and has grown to $16.7 trillion in the years since. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, we now see President Obama having his own Democrat Senate majority balk at his effort to strike a deal to get a temporary debt ceiling. President Obama has often accused Speaker Boehner of being held hostage by the House GOP tea party. It seems that it is now Obama who is being held hostage by the left wing of the Senate Democrat majority. What goes around usually comes around in Washington politics. As I post this, there is no news on what Obama and Boehner have been able to agree on. But Boehner and his House GOP leadership are now meeting and plan to continue through the night. One of them told CNN's Dana Bash that the meeting with the President went well. And, surely Harry Reid is not the white-knuckle kind of Majority Leader who will want to be blamed for a US government default. He will find a way to agree to whatever the President and the Speaker can cobble together.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Yesterday, dear readers, we talked about the American national debt and raising its limit - "ceiling" - so that the US can continue to borrow the 40% of it annual budget that is not covered by taxes collected and other miscellaneous income. Despite what President Obama would have us believe, the annual budget deficit and the national debt are inextricably linked. The lowest post World War II national debt as a percentage of Gross National Product (GDP) was posted by President Nixon at 35%, with President Clinton close behind at 36%. But in the early 21st century, debt relative to GDP rose again due in part to the Bush tax cuts and increased military spending caused by two wars in the Middle East and a new entitlement Medicare D program. Under President Bush, the gross public debt increased from $5.7 trillion in January 2001 to $10.7 trillion by December 2008, but federal spending under President George W. Bush remained at around 40% of GDP during his two terms in office. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and related significant revenue declines and spending increases for economic support and Entitlements, under President Barack Obama, public debt increased to 63% of GDP by 2010, mainly due to decreased tax revenue, and the stimulus and tax cuts enacted by President Barack Obama. By By February 2012, public debt had increased to $15.5 trillion. Today, in 2013, it stands at $16.7 trilion. Let's consider the budget breakdown estimate for 1214 compared to 2000 actual figures : Welfare - 12% vs 10%; Defense - 22% vs. 20%; Pensions - 24%. vs. 25%; Health Care - 26%. vs. 20%; Other, including national debt interest payments - 17% vs 16%. If we analye these figures, it is clear that "Entitlements," i.e., payments promised to citizens, such as Social Security, health care for elderly and poor, and welfare were 55% of the US budget on 2000, and they are 61% for 2014. When we consider that the total budget was $1.8 trillion in 2000, will be $3.8 trillion in 2014, and will be $4.5 trillion in 2018, we can see that Entititlments are estimated to increase in actual numbers from $0.9 trillion today to $2.5 trillion in 2018. Despite the public concern about rising Welfare costs, Welfare costs are projected, from 2013 to 2018, to remain stable in actual numbers at about $0.40 trillion. We may be skeptical about the stability of Welfare costs, but for now let's assume the estimates are accurate. ~~~~~ So, when we hear Republicans say that any budget approval and any debt ceiling increase must include Entitlements reform, we must understand that they are talking about Social Security and Health Care costs that will represent 56% of the federal budget, but in actual numbers will increase from $0.9 trillion to $2.5 trillion. That is an increased Entitlement outlay of $1.6 trillion -- the size of the entire 2000 federal budget. These payments will be largely responsoble for doubling the annual national debt interest payment, which will increase, from 2013 to 2018, from $0.23 trillion to $0.45 trillion. The Republicans are not playing politics. They are trying to bring exploding Entitlements costs under control so that future generations of Americans will benefit from them and be able to afford them. AND, Why is the GOP so focused on revising or eliminating Obamacare? Because the cost estimated to be $0.9 trillion in 2010 is now estimated to be somewhere between $2.5 trillion and $3.5 trillion. Factor that into the above Health Care estimates and you can begin to appreciate the problem the Republicans are trying to make the Democrats face and resolve.