July 25, 2010

Name That Party: Bell, California Edition

namethatparty-1This is almost too obvious.

Many readers may already be familiar with recent exposure of the treasury plunderers disguised as public officials serving up hefty salaries to themselves while allegedly serving their constituents in the LA suburb of Bell, California.

Here’s some of the latest from the Associated Press, carried at the Los Angeles Times, which broke the original story, for those who need a quick catch-up. Almost as night follows day, the news doesn’t answer a question many readers here and elsewhere will naturally have:

Several hundred angry residents from a modest blue-collar Los Angeles suburb marched Sunday to call for the resignation of the mayor and some City Council members in a protest sparked by the sky-high salaries of three recently departed administrators.

The residents of the city of Bell marched to Oscar’s Korner Market and Carniceria, owned by Mayor Oscar Hernandez, then to his home, demanding that he reduce his own six-figure compensation or quit.

They then did the same with some members of the City Council, with many marchers wearing T-shirts that read “My city is more corrupt than your city.”

… The protest was organized by Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, a group founded after the Times reported that Bell’s city manager, police chief and assistant city manager were all being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, with city manager Robert Rizzo collecting a check of $787,637. All three resigned on Friday.

One in six residents of the city of 40,000 southeast of Los Angeles lives in poverty.

… The newspaper also revealed that the mayor and three of the council’s four other members make about $100,000 a year, most of it in salaries for sitting on boards and commissions. Only Councilman Lorenzo Velez makes a modest salary of about $8,000 a year.

Nowhere in the Associated Press report is there any identification of the political party affiliation of anyone involved. The cop-out may be their party isn’t identified when such elected officials are on the ballot. That’s a pretty thin defense, given that such a concerted level of excess is involved, as this earlier LA Times report shows:

Bell Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo earns nearly twice the ($400,000) salary of President Obama, Police Chief Randy Adams about 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia more than the chief executive for Los Angeles County.

Mayor Hernandez and the city’s council have been okay with all of this, and on Friday morning they were quite upset at all the attention:

Defiant Bell mayor defends city manager’s high salary, hours after official resigns

A defiant Bell City Council defended the hefty compensation awarded to City Manager Robert Rizzo and two other officials just hours after the three agreed to resign amid a public outcry.

In the city’s first formal statement on the salary issue, Bell released a letter from Mayor Oscar Hernandez in which he praised Rizzo’s service to the city and said his nearly $800,000 annual salary was justified.

“Unlike the skewed view of the facts, the Los Angeles Times presented to advance the paper’s own agenda, a look at the big picture of city compensation shows that salaries of the City Manager and other top city staff have been in line with similar positions over the period of their tenure,” Hernandez said in the letter.

Okay, let’s get to the party part.

Wikipedia tells us that “In the state legislature Bell is located in the 30th Senate District, represented by Democrat Ronald S. Calderon, and in the 50th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Hector De La Torre. Federally, Bell is located in California’s 34th congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D +23[32] and is represented by Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard.”

Hernandez and two Bell City Council members were listed as endorsers of Democrat Luiz Marquez in his bid to succeed the aforementioned De La Torre in the 50th Assembly District. Marquez finished third in a field of four candidates in the District’s June Democratic primary.

That’s enough of a start to suggest that the Associated Press and others (here, here, here, here, here and here, to name just a few) who have reported on the scandal — none of whom I have found to have identified the party of the perps — should be at least a little curious as to what political party could be involved with such a pervasive culture of greed. Given the info learned thus far, the odds that this corruption is a straight-ticket Democratic enterprise would appear to be pretty high.

In the group just listed, the Reuters and Bloomberg reports helpfully remind us that current California Attorney General and fall gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, who “plans to look beyond Bell” (per Reuters) and reportedly said that “These outrageous salaries in Bell are shocking and beyond belief” (per Bloomberg), is a Democrat. Why, you might even think that because Brown is a Democrat, the Bell officials involved must be Republicans. Thanks, guys. (/sarc)

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

‘Two Years’?

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:07 pm

Here’s an annoying but perhaps revealing sentence from Barack Obama’s Holland, Michigan interview with Chuck Todd on July 15:

The good news is that, despite no cooperation from the other side, we have, over the last two years, stopped an economic freefall, stabilized the financial sector.

Two years?

Shoot, on July 15, Obama’s term in office didn’t even round up to two years.

Did Obama inadvertently reveal that he, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid embarked on a coordinated strategy to take down the economy two years ago? Back-dating the president’s self-professed timing by just a month would place the beginning of such an effort smack dab at what has long since been shown to be the point at which the economy really began to head south, i.e., the beginning of the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) economy.

If so, doesn’t this mean they deliberately took the economy down in the name of achieving monopoly power over the presidency and Congress?

Just askin’.

Say it ain’t so, B-H-O.

Multiplying Foolishness

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 5:52 pm

A NewsBusters reader tipped me to a comment by Democratic Congressman Mike Ross (AR-04):

“Extending unemployment benefits is the right thing to do and helps spur economic growth. In fact, a recent study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that every dollar invested in unemployment benefits produces an economic return of $1.90. These investments put money in the hands of Arkansans who need it the most, who then put this money back in to our local economies.”

Then of course there’s this infamous series of statements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month about the alleged benefits of continually extending unemployment benefits (with appropriate responses from Captain Ed at Hot Air in parens):

  • “This is one of the biggest stimuluses to our economy” (No, it’s a net drain on the economy, although for understandable purposes. It reroutes capital from production to non-production. We are paying people who aren’t working by using capital that could otherwise go to creating jobs.)
  • “It injects demand into the economy” (Not at the rate in which the capital gets destroyed. Remember, the money for this program gets confiscated from producers and passed through the government bureaucracy to non-producers.)
  • “It creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative” (No, it doesn’t. In fact, it depresses job creation, which is part of the policy tradeoff. If this was right, we’d be at zero unemployment by now.)

Perhaps a shot of unemployment benefits juice can kick-start the economy a bit. But when it’s repeated time and time again — no way. The points made by Morrissey drive CBO’s multiplier down close to 1.0, if not below it.

This calls for Rick Santelli’s riposte towards the end of his “Rant Heard ‘Round the World” in February of last year (last 25 seconds or so):

… if the multiplier that all of these Washington economists are selling us is over one, that we never have to worry about the economy again. The government should spend a trillion dollars an hour because we’ll get $1.5 trillion back.

Not per hour, but they basically have spent a trillion or two, and we haven’t seen anything resembling a favorable return, let alone a multiplier above 1.0.

Look, if you want to make arguments based on compassion, I’ll at least listen. But there has to be a limit, and it should have been paid for with cuts in some other area. Because if you’re going to justify extending unemployment benefits because they “help” the economy, we might as well all stop working and start collecting, because that’s the only place the “logic” illogically leads.

Modern Echoes of FDR’s Ugly Reality

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:22 am

I went searching for reviews of Amity Shlaes’ 2007 book “The Forgotten Man” for her take on the government-induced uncertainty of the Depression Era 1930s. I had to leave references to the book on the cutting-room floor when I wrote my latest Pajamas Media column (“It’s the Uncertainty, Stupid”).

I got what I was looking for and so much more at a Mises.org review by C.J. Maloney.

Maloney’s September 2009 review went much further in making Shlaes’ academic points, as he imparted an important insight and relentlessly built on it.

Anyone watching what has happened during 2009 and 2010 without ideological blinders will see eerie and frightening parallels:

As one of the book’s central themes, Amity Shlaes condemns them (the FDR administration) for introducing “regime uncertainty” into the economy, thereby exacerbating the Great Depression. Keep in mind that “regime uncertainty” is but a euphemism for “utter lawlessness.”

This “regime uncertainty” was a direct result of the ideological underpinnings of FDR and his Brain Trust.

… In one of the book’s most devastating chapters (“The Junket”) Mrs. Shlaes gives a brief intellectual history of those men and their ideas. Suffice to say that during the 1920s and 1930s, the chatterers at Ivy League cocktail parties — and around FDR’s dinner table — were decidedly smitten with Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.

One of the men Schlaes profiles is Rex Tugwell, a future prominent member of FDR’s Brain Trust. While in Stalin’s Russia, Tugwell looked about with open admiration. “I knew from then on how determined dictators come to manage a people” (p. 73). His admiration for raw power was par for the course among FDR and his cronies. Roosevelt himself declared during his 1936 campaign, “we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power” (p. 299).

Throughout the book, Shlaes demonstrates that FDR considered the law not as something to be respected and adhered to, but as something to be cynically manipulated or ignored at leisure. In his hands, the law became a weapon to be used against his enemies and other, arbitrarily chosen targets. During his first year of rule alone, “10,000 pages of law had been created” (p. 202), and an army of bureaucrats and police had been raised to enforce them.

America in the Great Depression became a land covered by innumerable laws while sliding into the lawlessness of the NRA (National Recovery Administration). The NRA was FDR’s favorite legislative pet. In it, he put his admiration of Mussolini’s fascist model into action. Mrs. Shlaes pointedly notes that FDR’s economic interventions were “often inspired by socialist or fascist models abroad” (p. 6).

By 1940, America had learned about FDR & Friends that “unpredictability was the only thing you could be sure of” (p. 374). While FDR would repeatedly announce that “we are bringing order out of chaos” (p. 208), Mrs. Shlaes shows unequivocally that his blasé attitude towards the rule of law was doing quite the opposite. How could the economy recover when FDR’s own attorney general went into a court of law and sneered at “the supposed sanctity and inviolability of contractual obligations” (p. 233)?

Team Obama is savvy enough not to sneer. Otherwise, what’s the difference?

Lest I overdo it on excerpting, I’ll stop at this point, and say “read the whole thing.”

When you do, you’ll find that one of the only things that saved the country from the worst of FDR’s lawless, statist excesses was the judicial branch (another, not cited by Maloney, was the “Tea Party” of 1937-1938). Does anyone believe that the courts as currently constituted can save us now?

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RELATED: Van Helsing at Moonbattery (“BHO the Next FDR? We’d Better Hope Not”) says that Team Obama doesn’t really want a recovery —

Maybe FDR and the Ivy League geniuses in his cabinet were not malevolent, but merely clueless fools. However, having put us through one Great Depression, Democrats cannot use cluelessness as an excuse for imposing another. They know what they’re doing, and we know why they’re doing it.

The argument becomes more convincing with each passing day of the same-old, same-old.

Latest Pajamas Media Column (‘It’s the Uncertainty, Stupid’) Is Up

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:28 am

ObamaFunnyMoneyIt’s here.

It will go up here at BizzyBlog on Tuesday morning (link won’t work until then) after the blackout expires.

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Post-column Update: I suspect that I’m going to get some grief for one segment of the column, so I’ll head it off here.

Here’s the segment:

Getting back to Ben Bernanke, it’s important to remember that the Fed chairman has extensively studied the Great Depression and understands its monetary lessons. He agrees with the late Milton Friedman that serious Fed policy blunders added to its depth, telling the Nobel laureate in 2002: “You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

But there’s only so much Ben and the Fed can do. In Congressional testimony, Bernanke essentially admitted that he has done virtually all he can:

[E}ven as the Federal Reserve continues prudent planning for the ultimate withdrawal of extraordinary monetary policy accommodation, we also recognize that the economic outlook remains unusually uncertain.

That, friends, is a de facto admission of impotence.

Here’s a similar though more diplomatic interpretation from another source:

“There is an implicit message from various Fed speakers that monetary policy is less useful now than most times,” said Tom Gallagher, senior managing director at International Strategy & Investment Group in Washington.

That’s especially true, because it’s hard to see how monetary policy could be get much easier than it is already.

Further Corroboration: “Monetary Policy Cannot Solve Current Economic Weakness”

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Post-column Update 2: Something I came across today relating to a point I mentioned on Thursday (last item at link) also ties into the first update –

The Fed chief reiterated three central bank options for further steps, including giving more information on the Fed’s commitment to low interest rates, reducing the rate paid on banks’ reserves held at the Fed and buying more securities.

Option 1, while useful, doesn’t actually change interest rates.

As to Option 2, the Fed discount rate and the Fed funds rate are 0.75% and 0.25%, respectively.

The specific rate mentioned in the excerpt, the interest rate on reserves held, “is set at the lowest federal funds rate during the reserve maintenance period of an institution, less 75 basis points. As of October 23, 2008, the Fed has lowered the spread to a mere 35 basis points.” The Fed’s explanation is here. The rate paid at the latest auction appears to have been 1.96%.

There’s not a lot of maneuvering room available when rates are already so low.

If by “securities” Ben means “stocks,” I find Option 3 very problematic. He has tacitly admitted that the Fed is already buying “securities.” If by that he only means “government securities, that’s nothing new, as it is part of its “open market operations.” But a radio report I heard on Wednesday and noted on Thursday used the word “stocks.” The Fed should not be buying “stocks,” as I fail to see how this has anything remotely to do with “monetary policy.” But for now, I’m leaning towards concluding that this was an interpretive error by the reporter involved.

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Post-column Update 3: Ben thinks that taxes should be cut in 2011.

He didn’t use those words, of course, but since everyone is currently assuming a specific rate structure for 2011 that is higher than 2010, that’s what this statement amounts to:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dropped a major bombshell on Democrats seeking massive new revenues to narrow the deficit, announcing Thursday that he favors preserving the Bush administration tax cuts to help a faltering U.S. economy.

“In the short term I would believe that we ought to maintain a reasonable degree of fiscal support, stimulus for the economy,” Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee. “There are many ways to do that. This is one way.”

As noted in the column, the “other way” — alleged stimulus via government spending — has once again, as was the case with FDR in the 1930s and Japan in the 1990s, failed to create a sufficiently robust “recovery” to allow for significant job growth.

Positivity: Archbishop Fulton Sheen returns to silver screen in new documentary

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:01 am

From Denver:

Jul 24, 2010 / 08:02 pm

A documentary on the life of Archbishop Fulton Sheen is being shown in pre-release screenings across the country, as part of an effort to raise awareness of the late archbishop, whose cause for sainthood is currently underway.

The hour-long documentary, entitled, “Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Servant of All,” offers both entertainment and a powerful message of evangelization as it follows the life of the famous archbishop (1895-1979). The video includes the testimonies of dozens of individuals who were touched by the life of the archbishop. It also shows footage from his popular television program, “Life is Worth Living.”

Gaining a reputation as both a scholar and a man of God from a young age, Archbishop Sheen committed to praying a daily Holy Hour before the Eucharist after he was ordained a priest in 1919. It was a practice that he maintained for the remaining 60 years of his life, and it was to this daily Holy Hour that he attributed his success in spreading the Gospel.

By age 30, Archbishop Sheen was a well-recognized Catholic scholar, with degrees from multiple universities in America and Europe. He taught at Catholic University of America, where students would flood his classroom, even sitting on radiators to hear his lectures.

Gaining recognition as a speaker, the archbishop traveled the globe, drawing crowds of up to 10,000 with his charismatic personality and powerful message. “You felt that one of the Apostles was right there in front of you speaking,” said one listener.

In 1930, Archbishop Sheen was asked to take part in a weekly radio broadcast called “The Catholic Hour.” His popularity soared, and shortly after being appointed Auxiliary Bishop of New York in 1951, he began his “Life is Worth Living” television program.

Soon, 30 million Americans were tuning in weekly to see Archbishop Sheen, who presented his message with a charming combination of humor and wit. He was awarded an Emmy after his first season on the air, becoming the only religious broadcaster ever to do so.

… The cause for Archbishop Sheen’s beatification and canonization was opened in 2002. The archbishop currently holds the title of Servant of God, while the Church continues to examine his life and works, including the 66 books he wrote during his life.

Go here for the full story.