September 8, 2011

Is It a Scandal Yet? (IBD on Gunwalker)

Filed under: 2nd Amendment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:01 pm

Another “Squeaky-Clean,” Scandal-Free update from Investor’s Business Daily (internal link added by me):

A White House ‘Gunrunner’?

Operation Gunwalker, the rogue ATF operation to arm Mexico’s cartels, extends now to three White House officials. A bell goes off with the one named Dan Restrepo.

Late last Friday, CBS News and the Los Angeles Times almost buried the news that Restrepo, the National Security Council’s top man for Latin America, and two other officials, were in on ATF memos from the Gunwalker operation called “Fast and Furious.”

That blows apart White House claims that it had no idea the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was encouraging frontmen for Mexico’s cartels to buy weapons from U.S. gun dealers — to “trace” them afterward.

… Restrepo is a political operative whose interests are more domestic than Latin American.

… Now Restrepo tries to pin Mexico’s drug war not on Hugo Chavez’s trafficker allies, but on gun dealers from the U.S.

There’s little doubt that’s his line, because blaming U.S. gun dealers and calling for a U.S. assault weapon ban were his ideas from his days spent at the Center for American Progress, an Obama-linked think tank.

The U.S. “will work to inhibit the flow of weapons … across our border,” Restrepo told Mexican media.

Blogger Mike Vanderboegh thinks that if Restrepo wasn’t the author of Gunwalker he’d know who is and should be called to tell Congress. Either he’s kept Obama in the dark about Gunwalker, or Obama should be impeached.

Yeah, it’s a scandal.

I would not be surprised if one-way foreign travel is in Mr. Restrepo’s future.

Perfect Issue 2 Rebuttal: Mike Bell, Rhode Island, and the Blade

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:25 pm

After an incredibly deceptive weekend ad claiming that Issue 2′s passage will jeopardize public fire safety, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who was a firefighter, delivers a reasoned rebuttal:

Or would we prefer to have the Buckeye State become another Rhode Island (“Rhode Island Pension System Collapsing”)?

Even the Toledo Blade has been dragged kicking and screaming into a whining admission that keeping SB5 in effect beats the “No’s” winning in November on Issue 2 — as long as public-sector unions’ attitudes remain where they are (bold is mine):

For all its noxious features, Senate Bill 5 — Issue 2 on the November ballot — is winning support from Ohio voters who reject the idea that they should pay higher taxes or take cuts in government services so that public employees can maintain pay, benefits, and job security that they don’t get.

It’s a reasonable argument, but it continues to elude public employee unions that disdain necessary modernization of the 28-year-old state law that defines the collective-bargaining rights of government workers. …

The most recent example of union denial of economic reality comes courtesy of Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which represents about 850 non-uniformed City of Toledo workers. This week, local members soundly rejected an independent fact finder’s report in their contract dispute with the city, then marched outside One Government Center to protest their ill treatment.

… Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said Wednesday he will urge City Council to adopt legislation that would carry out the fact-finder’s proposals. He argues plausibly that the only alternative to reasonable concessions by Local 7 members is a package of mass employee layoffs and drastic service cuts.

But that’s the problem. When backed against the wall, as they are now in Toledo, the unions have a track record of being willing to accept layoffs and possible compromises in city services they might entail to anything resembling meaningful concessions for those who survive the cuts.

This runs directly counter to the “safety first” ad Issue 2 “No” supporters ran over Labor Day weekend. It’s all about “our pocketbooks first.” I wish it weren’t so, and it doesn’t have to be so, but it is.

As long as the Blade’s referenced denial of economic reality exists, voting “Yes” on Issue 2 and making SB5 the law of the state is the only financially viable choice. The. Only. One.

A (Not So) Bold Prediction (Robert Roll Column)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Rob Roll @ 3:05 pm

Robert Roll, a sophomore majoring in Finance at Ohio Northern University, wrote this column. I welcome him back from his hiatus. — Tom

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Making predictions is a finicky business. When a person’s predictions turn out right they will say, “I told you” until the end of time. But when that same person’s prediction crashes and burns, they will “conveniently” forget that they ever made it. I have a feeling that the prediction I am about to make will not be forgotten. My prediction is this: President Barack Obama will not be reelected.

I realize that we are still 14 months away from the 2012 election. I realize that a lot could change in that time. I realize that the Republicans are nowhere near choosing a nominee. Even after taking all of those things into account, I am still confident in my prediction. For starters, let us take a look at some recent polling data.

According to Gallup, the most respected polling firm in the country, only 39 percent of Americans approve of the job President Obama is doing. Over half of the country, 53 percent, disapproves of this job performance. How can the President be reelected when only 39 percent of the country thinks he is doing a good job? The bad polling data for Obama does not stop there; it gets worse when Obama is matched up head-to-head with some of the frontrunners for the GOP nomination, namely, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Gallup has Obama up four points in a general election contest against Romney. While some would say that this poll is a good sign for Obama because he is winning against one of the establishment GOP candidates, I would disagree. Think about it. Obama is in the President; everyone knows him. Romney, on the other hand, is not as known by the general public. Therefore, those who are undecided are more likely to break for Romney, once they learn more about him, than they are for Obama.

There are more polls that spell difficulty for the President. The other GOP frontrunner is Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry is polling six points behind of Obama right now. Perry only entered the race three weeks ago and, unlike Romney, did not go through the nationwide primary contest in 2008, so he is not well known outside of Texas. The same logic that says Romney will gain the polls, works for Perry, except that it is magnified because Perry is even more unknown than Romney. Before I continue, let me throw one more poll at you. Rasmussen Reports came out with a poll that Obama losing to “a Republican” by eight points. This is possibly the worst poll of them all for Obama. Parties, if nothing else, serve as a label for what the candidate stands for. Therefore, by a score of 40 percent to 48 percent, the American people prefer what the Republican Party stands for than what Obama stands for. All the GOP needs is a candidate who can clearly articulate what they stand for, which I am confident will happen.

While polling data can be helpful, it is by no means the end-all-be-all of elections. The people have to vote and the people usually vote with their wallets. Every day that the unemployment rate stays at an unacceptable nine percent, is one more day the Obama should be looking for a location for his presidential library. Obama’s own White House says unemployment will stay at that level through 2012. Obama can only get away with blaming others for so long. It is a travesty that we have not recovered from what was, supposedly, the worst recession since the Great Depression. In all of the post-World War II, the more severe the contraction was, the sharper the comeback, with the exception of this recession. If the President actually did something that helped the economy, or even did nothing, we would be back to normal economic times. But this President has promoted policies that only served to delay and retard the recovery. But instead of taking a mea culpa he blames our troubles on everything but himself, including George W. Bush, the earthquake in Japan, the uprisings in the Middle East and even ATMs.

By election time, American people will realize that, after four years, Obama owns the economy. In fact, the polling data suggests that they are already realizing it. It is for this reason that I am confident that, 14 months from now, Barack Obama will join his fellow citizens in the unemployment line.

Seth Morgan Guest Column: ‘Addressing the Higher Education Bubble’

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:59 pm

Introduction: Seth Morgan, CPA is a former State Representative from Dayton, Ohio and served as the Ranking Member of the Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee. He also serves as the State Policy Director for Americans for Prosperity (AFP) – OH, a grassroots organization that encourages citizens to support restraining state and federal government growth and return to its constitutional rights.

Seth Morgan completed a four year degree in 2 ½ years from Park College earning a Bachelor of Science in Management / Accounting while working full time. He went on to take and pass the Certified Public Accountant exam and earn a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Dayton – while working full time.

This item originally appeared at the AFP Ohio blog.

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Addressing the Higher Education Bubble

Instability in the financial markets, declining real estate markets, and the Washington political elite are contributing to the uncertainty of our times. However, another “bubble” looms on the horizon and over the heads of Ohio families.

Our higher education system across this country is generally failing to produce the expected return on family and student investment. Prices continue to climb – in some cases out of hand – while what you get in return for your investment – job placement metrics are not acceptable. We are paying more and getting less.

A result of this phenomenon has been the explosion of “for-profit” and independent career colleges, technical schools, and universities. These schools are answering a growing cry of the market for student output and financial return on investment… or “more bang for the buck.” These schools are seeking to fill a market need.

In Ohio and throughout the nation, you will find schools such as ITT Technical Institute, Kaplan Career Institute, Cleveland Institute of Electronics, Miami Jacobs, and DeVry University – Ohio just to name a few. As with any industry and the public college market, some are better than others. But the American consumer ethic has always been an educated consumer practicing “buyer beware.”

It is no wonder, just as in primary and secondary education, some would rather manipulate markets artificially to benefit political allies. Through their actions, they exasperate problems by putting schools in the crosshairs of excessive regulation and ridiculous rhetoric.

Bureaucratic state and federal agencies, public unions, and some of the elite among traditional higher education faculty contribute to the growing frenzy as they recognize the growth in career college enrollment has almost doubled in recent years. According to the Imagine American Foundation and U.S. Department of Education IPEDS Enrollment Surveys, among annual enrollment in all Title IV-eligible institutions annual enrollment in career colleges was 7% in 2004 -2005 and 12% in 2008 – 2009. What once was a largely captive market for the “elite” is now slipping away as Americans become more focused on return on investment and not just the traditional path of education.

Once again, just as in the primary and secondary markets, the career colleges’ enrollment represent a disproportionate share of those who are from less successful socioeconomic groups and those who are older, first generation college students, and financially independent. These groups are largely underserved by traditional four-year universities, making the role of career colleges all that important, especially in Ohio.

These groups and even more traditional students are seeking out answers to what is increasingly being recognized as too little value for the cost incurred through the traditional route of education. Statistics suggest that students who obtain their education through these “non-traditional,” less expensive sources are basically equally satisfied to that of their public and traditional private counterparts.

But alas, what could the market know that our elitist friends do not? Once again, President Obama’s administration and some here in Ohio, including State Representative Clayton Luckie, have taken aim at this market solution we know is curbing the cost of higher education.

These people can’t seem to face that American ingenuity and free markets have solved much tougher challenges than the growing cost of higher education – and given the opportunity, will do so again. Or do they have ulterior motives?

Things are never as complicated as they seem – they only become complicated when those who benefit from outdated systems can’t adapt. It gets worse when we give power to political elites who believe they know better than you, the consumer.

I say to the political elite – those who always seem to think they know better while they can’t handle their own budgets – get your hands off competition and choice in education!

Lucid Links (090811, Afternoon)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 12:52 pm

From the Wall Street Journal today, a graphic list accompanying an op-ed by Michael J. Boskin, “a professor of economics at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, (who) chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush”:

The Obama Presidency by the Numbers
The president constantly reminds us that he was dealt a difficult hand. But the evidence is overwhelming that he played it poorly.

ObamaAdminRecordsWSJ090811

This barely scratches the surface.

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At the LA Times (HT Heritage Morning Bell): “Bulk of high-speed rail costs could fall to state”

… costs could swell to $65 billion or more, by some estimates.

Thanks again to John Kasich for rejecting $400 million in “free” high-speed rail/slow choo-choo money from the Feds.

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Squeaky Clean, Scandal-Free Update — The FBI, as “part of a joint operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Energy and the Office of Inspector General,” is executing a search warrant at bankrupt solar panel/solar cell manufacturer Solyndra.

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Squeaky Clean, Scandal-Free Update IIABC News (HT to Hot Air via an emailer) reports that the Energy Department’s $535 million loan had an interest rate of 1.025%. That’s a “risk-free” current rate normally associated with government bonds (which themselves aren’t exactly risk-free any more). According to ABC, it’s about one-third to one-quarter of the rates seen on other energy deals.

Additionally, ABC says, private investors, with government acquiescence, engaged in a preemptive maneuver which, while apparently legal in this case, resembles the illegal moves ripping off creditors who should have been standing in the front of further up in the line during the Chrysler and General Motors bankruptcies:

Solyndra’s most prolific financial backer is George Kaiser, an Oklahoma oil billionaire who was a bundler of campaign donations for Obama’s 2008 race. Kaiser’s Argonaut Ventures and its affiliates have been the single largest shareholder of Solyndra, according to SEC filings and other records.

(private) investors including Argonaut — which led a $75 million round of financing for Solyndra earlier this year — will stand in line before the federal government and other creditors.

Though it’s not clear from the article, “before the federal government” could extend beyond the money lent to include any unpaid unemployment taxes and conceivably employee withholdings, both of which are commonly present in such situations.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air is absolutely correct when he writes that “right now it looks very much like Obama used taxpayer money to try to bail out a key campaign donor and left us all holding the bag.”

Update, 3:30 p.m.: Squeaky Clean, Scandal-Free Update III, at the Daily Caller (HT PJ Tatler) —

Solyndra officials made numerous trips to the White House, logs show

Not only does the now-bankrupt solar energy firm Solyndra have a cozy financial relationship with the Obama administration, company representatives also made numerous visits to the White House to meet with administration officials, The Daily Caller has learned.

According to White House visitor logs, between March 12, 2009, and April 14, 2011, Solyndra officials and investors made no fewer than 20 trips to the West Wing. In the week before the administration awarded Solyndra with the first-ever alternative energy loan guarantee on March 20, four separate visits were logged.

George Kaiser, who has in the past been labeled a major Solyndra investor as well as a Obama donor, made three visits to the White House on March 12, 2009, and one on March 13. Kaiser has denied any direct involvement in the Solyndra deal and through a statement from his foundation said he “did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loan.”

But the countless meetings at the White House seem hardly coincidental. Kaiser, in fact, is responsible for 16 of the 20 meetings that showed up on the White House logs.

Nothing to see here. Move along. This isn’t the $535 million you’re looking for. (/sarc)

Initial Unemployment Claims: 414K SA, Up From Upwardly Revised 412K; 346K NSA

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:58 am

Still well above 400K after all these weeks, and rising — From the Department of Labor:

SEASONALLY ADJUSTED DATA

In the week ending September 3, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 414,000, an increase of 2,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 412,000. The 4-week moving average was 414,750, an increase of 3,750 from the previous week’s revised average of 411,000.

UNADJUSTED DATA

The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 346,065 in the week ending September 3, an increase of 9,355 from the previous week. There were 381,863 initial claims in the comparable week in 2010.

The NSA number is only about 9% lower year-over-year. Previous weeks have usually been down year-over-year by 12% or so.

That’s 20 weeks in a row with a 4-week moving average of over 400K, with a definite recent upward trend:

UnempClaims4wkAvg090311

The trend would be even more pronounced if the claims by Verizon workers in late August were taken out. At least through September 3 the picture will almost definitely get more grim next week when assuming this week’s number gets upwardly revised, as has been the case in 25 of the past 26 weeks.

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UPDATE: Business Insider’s email had an expectation of 408K.

Bloomberg and Reuters said that expectations were for 405K. Both reports had the “U-word” (“unexpectedly) in the first sentence.

UPDATE 2: Zero Hedge is quite glum — “Overall, another weekly data set that confirms that next month’s NFP number will most certainly not be positive… or zero.”

Positivity: Man doesn’t see himself as hero after jeep rescue

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

From Atlanta:

Sept. 2, 2011

A man who leaped into an out-of-control Jeep as it weaved down a busy west Georgia parkway doesn’t consider himself a hero after saving the driver, who had suffered a seizure.

“I don’t really consider it being a hero, I just consider it being at the right place at the right time,” Michael Perry told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday.

The driver of the Jeep, Christopher Sanders, said he just blacked out suddenly behind the wheel.

He credits Perry with saving him from being crushed by oncoming cars as his vehicle weaved and slowed on a 65-mph thoroughfare in Columbus, a city on the state line with Alabama. Cars were whizzing past during their evening commute about 7:20 p.m. on a Thursday a week ago.

Perry said it took mere seconds to park his truck and dive into the Jeep Cherokee, which he estimates was traveling around 15 mph when he took hold of the steering wheel. He said both of his legs were hanging from the vehicle as he guided the drifting Jeep to a stop against a guardrail.

Perry said he didn’t hesitate when he saw what was happening.

“I just wanted to get him to safety and then make sure he didn’t die on me,” he said.

The 26-year-old mechanic said he always tries to aid stranded motorists if he can. In fact, he said he was on his way to help a friend who had run out of gas when he came upon the Jeep slowing and weaving ahead of him.

Both men are residents of the Columbus suburb of Phenix City, just over the state line in Alabama. Now Perry said he’s looking forward to visiting with Sanders, 27. Their families talk of holding a reunion barbecue.

Sanders said he’s grateful for his good Samaritan. He said he began suffering periodic seizures about 10 years ago, but never experienced one while driving and the latest episode was unusually severe.

“It’s a blessing that he was actually there and did what he did,” Sanders said. “The situation could have gone dozens of different ways, but it went the best possible way.” …

Go here for the rest of the story.