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Disappointer-In-Chief

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April 9, 2009

President Obama must feel relieved by the cartoonish attacks against him by the likes of Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Fox News character, Sean Hannity.  Bachmann’s accusations that Obama is planning “re-education camps” for young people surely brought some comic relief to the new President.  Hannity must have caused some thunderous laughter in the White House with his claim that during a speech the President gave in Strasbourg, France, we saw examples of how “Obama attacks America”.  These denigration attempts were likely received as a welcome break from criticism being voiced by commentators who are usually supportive of the Obama administration.  Take Keith Olbermann for example.  He has not been holding back on expressing outrage over the Obama administration’s claim that the Patriot Act provides sovereign immunity to the federal government in civil lawsuits brought by victims of illegal wiretapping conducted by the Bush administration.  Another example of a disillusioned Obama supporter is MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who has been fretting over the President’s plan to up the stakes for success in Afghanistan by increasing our troop commitment there and settling in to fight the good fight for as long as it takes.

Nothing has broken the spirits of Obama supporters more than his administration’s latest bank bailout scheme —  a/k/a  the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP or “pee-pip”).  Although Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner has been the guy selling this plan to Congress and the public, the “man behind the curtain” who likely hatched this scam is Larry Summers.  Summers is the economist whom Obama named director of the National Economic Council.  At the time of that appointment, many commentators expressed dismay, since Summers, as Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, supported repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act.  It is widely accepted that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act helped bring about the subprime mortgage crisis and our current economic meltdown.  On the November 25, 2008 broadcast of the program, Democracy Now, author Naomi Klein made the following remark about Obama’s appointment of Summers:  “I think this is really troubling.”  She was right.  It was recently reported by Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times that Summers earned more than $5 million last year from the hedge fund, D. E. Shaw and collected $2.7 million in speaking fees from Wall Street companies that received government bailout money.  Many economists are now voicing opinions that the Geithner-Summers Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP) is “really troubling”, as well.  Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have been vocal critics of this plan.  As James Quinn reported for London’s Telegraph:  Professor Stiglitz said that the plan is “very flawed” and “amounts to robbery of the American people.”

Obama supporter George Soros, the billionaire financier and hedge fund manager, had this to say to Saijel Kishan and Kathleen Hays of Bloomberg News about Obama’s performance so far:

“He’s done very well in every area, except in dealing with the recapitalization of the banks and the restructuring of the mortgage market,” said Soros, who has published an updated paperback version of his book “The New Paradigm for Financial Markets:  The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means” (Scribe Publications, 2009).  “Unfortunately, there’s just a little bit too much continuity with the previous administration.”

The usually Obama-friendly Huffington Post has run a number of critical pieces addressing the Geithner – Summers plan.  Sam Stein pointed out how the plan is “facing a new round of withering criticism from economists”:

These critiques have produced a Washington rarity:  the re-sparking of a debate that, in the wake of positive reviews from Wall Street, had largely subsided.  Just as Geithner seemed to be finding his political footing, the spotlight has been placed right back on his cornerstone proposal, with critics calling into question both his projections and past testimony on the matter.

Jeffrey Sachs, an Economics professor at Columbia University, wrote a follow-up article for The Huffington Post on April 8, affirming earlier criticisms leveled against the bailout proposal with the added realization that “the situation is even potentially more disastrous” than previously described:

Insiders can easily game the system created by Geithner and Summers to cost up to a trillion dollars or more to the taxpayers.

Zachary Goldfarb of The Washington Post took a closer look at Treasury Secretary Geithner’s testimony before Congress last month, to ascertain the viability of some of the proposals Geithner mentioned at that hearing:

The Obama administration’s plan for a sweeping expansion of financial regulations could have unintended consequences that increase the very hazards that these changes are meant to prevent.

Financial experts say the perception that the government will backstop certain losses will actually encourage some firms to take on even greater risks and grow perilously large.  While some financial instruments will come under tighter control, others will remain only loosely regulated, creating what some experts say are new loopholes.  Still others say the regulation could drive money into questionable investments, shadowy new markets and lightly regulated corners of the globe.

If President Obama does not change course and deviate from the Geithner-Summers plan before it’s too late, his legacy will be a ten-year recession rather than a two year recession without the PPIP.  Worse yet, the toughest criticism and the most pressure against his administration are coming from people he has considered his supporters.  At least he has the people at Fox News to provide some laughable “decoy” reports to keep his hard-core adversaries otherwise occupied.

The World Holds Its Breath

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January 19, 2009

All over the world, people are waiting with abated breath as the Obama Presidency begins.  Some thought it would never happen.  I have often wondered whether, at the last minute, the Bush-Cheney junta might decide that it does not want to give up its authority.  Would they contrive some sort of “national security emergency” as a pretext for declaring martial law and suspending the Constitution?  Such a tactic would be entirely consistent with what we have seen for the past eight years.  Surely, there must be some provision buried in the so-called “Patriot Act” allowing the Bush-Cheney regime to continue, despite the expiration of its Constitutionally-prescribed existence.  Constitutional restrictions to unlimited executive power have been ignored by the outgoing administration for the past eight years.  Why should now be any different?  My skepticism on this matter will continue until Barack Obama completes his recitation of the Presidential Oath.

In the mean time, there are those who question whether President Obama will really deliver on his promise of change.  From the liberal side of the political spectrum, plenty of opinions have been published (by reputable commentators) expressing apprehension as to what likely will happen and what actually may not happen during Obama’s tenure in the White House.

On January 18, Salon.com featured an article by David Sirota entitled:  “Obama Sells Out to Wall Street”.  Mr. Sirota expressed his concern over Obama’s accelerated push to have immediate authority to dispense the remaining $350 billion available under the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bailout:

Somehow, immediately releasing more bailout funds is being portrayed as a self-evident necessity, even though the New York Times reported this week that “the Treasury says there is no urgent need” for additional money.  Somehow, forcing average $40,000-aires to keep giving their tax dollars to Manhattan millionaires is depicted as the only “serious” course of action.  Somehow, few ask whether that money could better help the economy by being spent on healthcare or public infrastructure.  Somehow, the burden of proof is on bailout opponents who make these points, not on those who want to cut another blank check.

Discomfort about another hasty dispersal of the remaining TARP funds was shared by a few prominent Democratic Senators who, on Thursday, voted against authorizing the immediate release of the remaining $350 billion.  They included Senators Russ Feingold (Wisconsin), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Maria Cantwell (Washington).  The vote actually concerned a “resolution of disapproval” to block distribution of the TARP money, so that those voting in favor of the resolution were actually voting against releasing the funds.  Earlier last week, Obama had threatened to veto this resolution if it passed.  The resolution was defeated with 52 votes (contrasted with 42 votes in favor of it).  At this juncture, Obama is engaged in a game of “trust me”, assuring those in doubt that the next $350 billion will not be squandered in the same undocumented manner as the first $350 billion.  As Jeremy Pelofsky reported for Reuters on January 15:

To win approval, Obama and his team made extensive promises to Democrats and Republicans that the funds would be used to better address the deepening mortgage foreclosure crisis and that tighter accounting standards would be enforced.

“My pledge is to change the way this plan is implemented and keep faith with the American taxpayer by placing strict conditions on CEO pay and providing more loans to small businesses,” Obama said in a statement, adding there would be more transparency and “more sensible regulations.”

Meanwhile, there is worldwide concern about what Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can accomplish in the foreign relations and anti-terrorism arenas.  As discussed in an editorial from the January 18 Times of London:

Mr Obama’s biggest immediate challenge is in Afghanistan.  The president is hoping a troop surge, which he opposed in Iraq, will work. However, the prospect of a military solution in Afghanistan is remote and he may learn that the hard way.  In the meantime, he has to hope Iraq does not flare up again and that the Iran nuclear question remains one for diplomacy rather than military conflict.  His drive for a Middle East peace deal is not the first by a US president and nor will it be the last.

As the sun finally rises over the Obama Presidency, there are still plenty of clouds in the sky.  Does this mean we are in for more turmoil?  Some people might take this as a sign that it’s about to start raining money.

Bob Barr Gets It Going

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July 24, 2008

Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, Bob Barr, turned some heads when the July 6 Zogby Poll had him capturing 6% of the nationwide popular vote.  Given the fact that Barr has received almost no national media attention, some commentators began to take notice of this interesting candidacy.   Of particular concern is Barr’s impact on the races in those “battleground” states that draw attention in polls.  Conservative blogger, Kevin Tracy, has complained that the poll results listed on RealClearPolitics.com, do not disclose Barr’s numbers.  As for the “battleground” states, Zogby has Barr with 8% of the vote in Colorado, 7% of the vote in Ohio, 7% of the vote in McCain’s home state of Arizona, and 6% of the vote in Florida.  A July 22 Rasmussen Poll had Barr getting 5% of the vote in Georgia, in contrast with the July 8 Zogby result of 8% for Georgia.  MSNBC’s polling expert, Chuck Todd, reported that the July 23 MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll results showing Barr with only 2% have a much greater margin of error than the results for a two-way race because only a “half-sample” was used for the four-way race that included Barr and Ralph Nader.  He suspected that a full sample would likely indicate a larger number for Barr.

So far, Barr is on the ballot in 31 states.  He has a fight underway to get on the ballot in West Virginia.  In Ohio, Federal Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr. held that the Ohio state Legislature failed to revise ballot rules after they were struck down as unconstitutional in 2006 by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner (a Democrat) is seeking an expedited appeal.  Of course, the court hearing her appeal will again be the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, so a victory for Barr seems likely there, as well.

Barr has an interesting background that makes him well-suited for the Presidency at this time.  To start with, in 1966, he graduated from High School in Tehran, Iran.  In 1970 he received his Bachelor’s Degree, cum laude, from the University of Southern California.  He received a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from George Washington University in 1972.  He received his law degree from Georgetown in 1977.  During that time (1971 – 1978) Barr was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency.  Barr served in Congress as the Representative for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District from 1995 to 2003.  In Congress, he served as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, as a member of the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

Despite the lack of media attention, he is running a clever campaign.  On July 19, he made a surprise appearance at the Netroots Nation blogger conference, stealing a bit of attention from the “surprise” visit by Al Gore.  On July 22, while John McCain was visiting Manchester, New Hampshire, he drew a bit of attention away from McCain’s visit to that city by appearing there himself.  Mark Hayward of the New Hampshire Union Leader, reported on July 23 that Barr spent a good deal of time at a stop in Manchester, “explaining his disappointments with the way the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act turned out.”   Barr voted in favor of both the Patriot Act and the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  Although Barr is not yet on the ballot in New Hampshire, the Zogby Poll has him at 10 percent in that state.

As the campaign progresses, it will be interesting to observe where Barr gets his support.  MSNBC’s Chuck Todd pointed out that there is a component of “anti-Obama” voters among Barr’s supporters.  Whether this comes from racism, belief in the “secret Muslim” rumors, or a perceived lack of experience, will make for an interesting study.  It would also be interesting to ascertain whether any Obama supporters shifted their allegiance to Barr as a result of Obama’s vote in favor of the FISA “wiretap” bill.  Polls taken in the wake of that vote (July 11 Newsweek and July 13 Rasmussen) showed Obama’s support among independent voters dropping significantly.  Did they see Obama’s compromise on this issue as a lack of authenticity?

For now, Barr’s candidacy is perceived primarily as a threat to John McCain.  As Faye Fiore reported in the July 23 Los Angeles Times:

Barr is regularly compared to Ralph Nader, the Green Party spoiler who drew crucial votes from Democrat Al Gore in 2000.  Worried McCain supporters have begged Barr to drop out. The renegade responds with his famous bespectacled glare, referring to himself in the third person, as is his habit:  “The GOP has no agenda, no platform and a candidate who generates no excitement.  That’s not Bob Barr’s fault.”

When confronted about being a McCain “spoiler” during the July 6 edition of CNN Newsroom, Barr responded:

This is precisely the problem with the two-party system that we have here. They are always looking for someone to blame, other than themselves.

.  .  .  This preemptive blaming doesn’t do either party very well.   It’s an awfully weak position for the McCain campaign and the Republicans to be in months out from the election, already blaming me for their loss.

It will be interesting to watch what the pollsters can learn from Barr’s candidacy.  As Barr gets more publicity, his popularity is likely to increase.  If he can make it to 10 percent in a nationwide poll, he will be invited to participate in some of the debates.  That would be very interesting.