Fox News not called on again to ask a question to Obama

A transcript of the press conference from April 29th is here. The lamest, softball question was clearly from the New York Times. CBS TV and Radio got one question each. CNN got one question. Black Entertainment Television got one question. Chuck Todd (NBC), who is a strong liberal and frequently openly shows his bias, got one question. Fox News had zero questions.

Obama: Jeff Zelleny (New York Times).

Question: Thank you, Mr. President.

During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?

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Texas Academics push for ending gun free zones on public college campuses

Interesting challenge to federal gun laws in Montana, Texas, and Utah

Something that is destined to go to the Supreme Court. The only huge problem is that this is in the 9th circuit and the delays there are legendary so who knows how long it will take before the Supreme Court gets it and how Obama will have reshaped the court by then. Montana has just enacted this law.

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana is trying to trigger a battle over gun control — and perhaps make a larger point about what many folks in this ruggedly independent state regard as a meddlesome federal government.
In a bill passed by the Legislature earlier this month, the state is asserting that guns manufactured in Montana and sold in Montana to people who intend to keep their weapons in Montana are exempt from federal gun registration, background check and dealer-licensing rules because no state lines are crossed.
That notion is all but certain to be tested in court.
The immediate effect of the law could be limited, since Montana is home to just a few specialty gun makers, known for high-end hunting rifles and replicas of Old West weapons, and because their out-of-state sales would automatically trigger federal control.
Still, much bigger prey lies in Montana's sights: a legal showdown over how far the federal government's regulatory authority extends.
"It's a gun bill, but it's another way of demonstrating the sovereignty of the state of Montana," said Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who signed the bill.
Carrie DiPirro, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, had no comment on the legislation. But the federal government has generally argued that it has authority under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution to regulate guns because they can so easily be transported across state lines. . . . .

Texas is working towards passing such a law.

A bill by state Rep. Leo Berman exempting Texas-made firearms, gun accessories and ammunition sold within the state from federal regulation and law -- including registration -- was heard in a House committee on Monday.

The bill also provides for the Texas Attorney General's office to defend Texans who run afoul of the federal government because of this law.

Berman, a Tyler Republican who has pushed several "states' rights" measures this legislative session, said his bill would affect more than 300 manufacturers in the state.

"Under the 9th and 10th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, states have responsibility for regulating intrastate commerce," Berman said. "The federal government has no role." . . . . .

Utah is also considering a similar law:

Some Utah legislators are eyeing a bill aimed at preventing the federal government from regulating guns in the state.
Montana's Legislature recently passed a bill that Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed into law that would exempt guns made in the state and kept within its borders from federal regulations, including registration, background checks and dealer-licensing.
It's an idea that's appealing to some of Utah's conservative legislators, who say President Barack Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress are strongly anti-gun and are trying to overstep their bounds and infringing on states' rights.
"I think [Montana's law] preempts somewhat what the federal government is trying to do right now in gun registration," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman. "This is something Utah should look into. We should look into several different avenues to reassert state rights."
Wimmer says he or one of his colleagues may run a similar bill in next year's legislative session, and it's an idea that has traction among many legislators who are fiercely pro-gun rights and pro-states' rights.

UPDATE: Time magazine has caught up on this story.

"It is part of the populist state-sovereignty movement, the sense there is so much power in Washington," says Stephen P. Halbrook, a Virginia attorney who has argued several important Second Amendment cases before the Supreme Court, including, most recently, a successful case overturning the Washington, D.C., gun ban. Halbrook says the Montana initiative had been simmering long before President Obama's election, which led to reports of a run on gun and ammunition across the country because of fear of new federal curtailment or taxation of gun ownership. "It is a grass-roots thing," Halbrook says, "not an NRA [National Rifle Association] initiative." The NRA, however, has expressed its support for the measure.

It is likely the Montana law will end up before the Supreme Court, Halbrook says, following the same track as the landmark Printz v. United States case, which he argued successfully before the court. That case was filed in Helena, Mont., challenging the constitutionality of requiring local enforcement officers to perform background checks required by the federal Brady Act, regulating handgun sales. The district court found the requirement unconstitutional but was overturned by the more liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The lower court decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1997, four years after the Brady Act passed. The ruling was, in effect, moot because a federal background database supplanted local background checks by the time the court ruled, but it left in place an important precedent on the limits of federal law — an issue that the new Montana law raises again.

Gun-regulation supporters say the Montana law is unconstitutional, citing long-standing court decisions going back to the Depression era based on the application of the so-called commerce clause regulating interstate commerce, the Wickard v. Filburn case, according to Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The courts have ruled that even if a farmer grows his wheat locally, sells it locally and someone buys it locally, the entire transaction process is still governed by interstate commerce because of the concept that his actions affect the entire marketplace — including, most importantly, the ability of a farmer in a neighboring state to sell his wheat across state lines. . . . .

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Excellent piece on the lenders who stood up against the government stealing their money

Great piece by Rick Newman. Please read the entire piece here.

Hooray for Chrysler’s Rogue Creditors
May 01, 2009 10:46 AM ET | Rick Newman | Permanent Link | Print
One rap against President Obama is that he never gets mad. The Chrysler bankruptcy may have proven otherwise.

When Obama singled out “investment firms and hedge funds” that wouldn’t agree to restructure Chrysler’s debt on the government’s terms, his scorn was palpable. “I don’t stand with them,” he said pointedly. “I don't stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices.”

[See why Chrysler still might not survive.]

The president was referring to a group of financial firms that hold a big chunk of Chrysler’s $6.9 billion in debt. Some of Chrysler’s creditors agreed to take 33 cents on the dollar and let Chrsyler off the hook. But other creditors said no to that deal, gambling that they’d get more from a bankruptcy judge. They may be right: Fitch Ratings estimates that bondholders could get 50 to 70 percent of their money back if Chrysler liquidates, and a bit less if Chrysler emerges as a going concern. In either case, that’s a better outcome for creditors than the 33 percent return they would have gotten under the government’s offer.

On $1 billion in debt, the difference between a 33 percent and a 50 percent redemption is $170 million. On the whole $6.9 billion in debt, the difference would be almost $2 billion. Sure, some of that accrues to rich investors who can probably afford the haircut, but much of the money is invested on behalf of pension funds, mutual funds, and the retirement accounts of ordinary Americans. Should they really accept a deeper loss because the government asked them to? . . . .



Vote on whether concealed handguns should be allowed on college campuses?

A pro-con debate over concealed carry on college campuses in Missouri is here.

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"FOX's Brilliant Business Move: Ignore Obama"

The Business Insider has this:

It seems Fox made the smart move by deciding not to air president Obama's 100th-day press conference. The network beat every other broadcaster, all of which were carrying the president's speech, in the ratings. Fox's new episode of Lie To Me drew 7.9 million viewers. Fox also got millions in advertising revenue by running a normal TV program instead of Obama's commercial-free address. In second place for the 8 p.m. hour was NBC's airing of Obama's speech, which pulled in 6.7 million viewers. Are people finally getting bored with Obama's frequent speeches? . . .

The question is why Fox was the only network not to cover this (of course, Fox News covered it).

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If the media corrected the original impression that they created about the number of deaths from this Swine flu, it wouldn't be an issue

This is getting too little attention.

WHO also reported the number of confirmed swine flu cases rose to 257 worldwide Thursday, with cases in Mexico rising to 97 from 26, with seven deaths. The WHO confirmed tally from the United States now stands at 109, with one death.

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Upcoming appearance on Coast-to-Coast AM on Sunday night/Monday morning

Coast-to-Coast's upcoming shows are noted here.

Hosted by George Noory

John R. Lott

Sunday May 3, 2009

Senior research scientist, John Lott will discuss 'Freedomnomics,' his simple formula that can unlock and explain puzzling and curious policy issues, politically incorrect topics, and subjects you have wondered about. Hosted by George Noory.

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Bondholders present plan to win GM control and save taxpayers $10 billion

It is good to see both the GM and Chrysler bond holders fighting back. Let us hope that they still have a chance in the courts against the government and the unions.

General Motors Corp. bondholders on Thursday presented a counteroffer to the automaker's debt swap that would relieve creditors of their $27 billion of debt in return for a majority stake in the company.

The move also aims to ease concerns over the U.S. government nationalizing the Detroit giant and comes as the Obama administration announced that rival Chrysler, which saw its negotiations with bondholders collapse, will file for bankruptcy. See full story.

The ad hoc committee of GM (GM: 1.92, +0.11, +6.1%) bondholders said their plan would see them get 58% of the new company in return for debt forgiveness while saving U.S. taxpayers $10 billion in cash. The union health-care fund, based on the $20 billion in benefits owed, would own 41%.

Existing stockholders would receive 1% of the new GM under the plan. . . . .

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Obama administration outs those who advised the government on interrogation techniques

This sounds like a politically based security breach to me.

According to current and former government officials, the CIA's secret waterboarding program was designed and assured to be safe by two well-paid psychologists now working out of an unmarked office building in Spokane, Washington.

Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, former military officers, together founded Mitchell Jessen and Associates. . . .

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"Shorter Sentences Sought for Crack"

From the WSJ:

The Obama administration said it favors shorter jail sentences for crimes involving crack cocaine, a stance likely to spark a debate with law-enforcement officials who have opposed easing the penalties.

Under current law, a person caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine gets the mandatory minimum sentence of five years, while it takes only five grams of crack cocaine to trigger the same sentence. Critics of the law have long maintained that it unfairly targets African-American communities, where crack is more prevalent. . . .



How some of the media is giving a positive spin to the 6.1 percent drop in GDP

From Newsbusters:

The Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa, who became infamous last year for her stories of "vanishing jobs" that weren't, sounded hopeful early this morning before the release by Uncle Sam's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of its first-quarter report on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth:

Economy's free-fall probably eased in 1Q
The recession's grip on the country may be letting up a bit.

The government is set to release a report Wednesday expected to show the economy shrank at a pace of 5 percent in the first three months of this year. If Wall Street analysts' forecasts' are correct, the figure — while still extremely weak — would be viewed as a hopeful sign that the worst of the recession — in terms of lost economic activity — may be past. . . . .

The WSJ has this title: "Hopeful Signs Seen in GDP's Fall."


Interest rate cap temporarily delayed

Some temporary good news about the delay.

WASHINGTON — The House Rules Committee decided Wednesday to not allow a floor vote on a proposal that would have capped interest rates on consumer credit cards at 18 percent.

Seventeen amendments scheduled for votes Thursday would insert additional consumer protections into the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009, which was approved last week by the House Financial Services Committee.

The consumer-oriented bill, authored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan, passed the House last year but was never considered by the Senate.

The new bill requires card issuers to provide a 45-day advance notice of interest rate increase; requires statements to be mailed at least 25 days before payment is due; and prohibits so-called double cycle billing, in which interest charges are added to the second month of a bill for balances paid the previous month.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, who had authored the rate cap proposal, issued a statement Wednesday indicating he was "very disappointed'' at the Rules Committee's decision. The committee is chaired by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport.

Hinchey "spent much of his day aggressively making the case to leadership about why putting a reasonable cap on credit card interest rates would help relieve an unfair burden placed on so many Americans,'' spokesman Jeff Lieberson said in an email. "This is an issue on which he intends to remain very focused. He will look to bring similar legislation forward that is aimed at finding real ways to help people battle credit card industry abuse.''

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"Bicycle helmet laws could do more harm than good"

The New Scientist magazine has this piece:

Helmet laws like those in effect in Australia levy a substantial cost on healthcare systems because savings from fewer head injuries pale in comparison to the costs incurred by decreases in cycling, a mathematical model concludes.

Piet de Jong, a mathematician at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, estimates that bicycle helmet laws would cost the US $4.8 billion per year, Netherlands $1.9 billion, and the U.K $0.4 billion.

However, one critic contends that de Jong's methods overestimate the health benefits of cycling, as well as the drop in cyclists caused by helmet laws.

"There's a lot of uncertainty around it," de Jong admits. "I try to reconcile all these various numbers or proportions that impinge on the question of whether helmet laws are very useful." . . . .



The problem with Arlen Specter

Senator Specter's explanation for becoming a Democrat is embarrissing -- it is for self preservation, not principle. Just so that he can win election, not to achieve a policy goal.

I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.

This is also pretty funny.

Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right.

Does anyone believe that the party has moved further to the right since Ronald Reagan?

Specter apparently also switched without a promise that he would get any chairmanship of any committees. Given that his switch likely gives the Democrats a filibuster proof Senate, one would think that he had gotten a better deal.


Those unreliable hurricane forecasts

The WSJ has this:

Some forecasters update their predictions once the season has begun. And those forecasts do well. But none of the major forecasts that come out before June has improved significantly on a simple prediction scheme that calls for the same number of named storms and hurricanes as the average of the five prior years. And some do much worse.

Forecasters often are open about their failings. Philip Klotzbach, who works on the Colorado State University forecast, and others post analyses of their accuracy, which is more than, say, political pundits do. And they say it's good scientific practice to publish their work in progress.

But why publish press releases and even, in some cases, hold press conferences? "Part of the reason we even do our press conference and release our data is, well, everyone else is," Mr. Watson says. He adds that research funders generally encourage the publicizing of the fruits of their grant money: "From a funding and research standpoint, you've almost got to release it," Mr. Watson says. "It's part of that game." . . . .

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A lot of gun control on the agenda for New York

From the Albany Times Union:

ALBANY — For years, they were the state Legislature's evergreens: measures repeatedly passed by the Democrat-controlled Assembly, only to be blocked in the Republican-dominated Senate. But with both chambers now controlled by Democrats, several perennials are sprouting in both houses.
The budget cycle that ended earlier this month brought about Rockefeller drug law reform, an income tax hike for the rich and an expansion of the bottle law. While gay marriage remains a question mark, lawmakers are now poised to take up another evergreen: gun control.

The annual battle over the issue kicks off today, when the Assembly — as it has done for several years — is expected to pass several measures that would tighten restrictions on gun ownership.

With a 68-seat margin in the Assembly (109 to 41), Democrats should have no problem passing initiatives to "microstamp" firearms in order to create an identifying print on fired cartridges. Also up for debate are tighter restrictions on gun retailers and a move to require people to renew handgun permits every five years.

Once those bills pass in the Assembly, gun control advocates will set their sights on the Senate and the Democrats' newly minted two-seat majority (32 to 30). . . . . .


The Nationalization of the US auto industry

Government ownership implies much less efficiency. It implies political decisions in running the company. Cutting out profitable larger cars to please the environmentalists should help Ford, but on the other hand I predict very large subsidies for a while to come. The WSJ has this:

Under the plan, GM is asking the Treasury Department for an additional $11.6 billion in loans, on top of the $15.4 billion it has already received. It envisions giving the government at least half ownership of the company as payment for half of the loans.

At the same time, GM said it would use stock instead of cash to pay off half the $20.4 billion it owes a United Auto Workers fund to cover retiree health care. That stock would leave the union owning about 39% of GM.

The upshot would be the transformation of a troubled American icon, leaving it in the hands of the government and its main union. The situation, fraught with complications and potential conflicts, comes on top of the U.S. government taking stakes in banks and insurer American International Group Inc.

Also Monday, the UAW and Chrysler LLC disclosed that the union would own 55% of that restructured car maker, while Fiat SpA would get 35% and the U.S. and lenders would own the rest. . . . . .

The Obama administration has shafted creditors to the benefit of unions.

The two parties that turned the Big Three into a perennially limping freak of unwritten industrial policy now will take formal ownership of their handiwork. The United Auto Workers (UAW) would own 39% of GM. The federal government would own 50%. The creditors will be shafted with just 10%. (In the Chrysler plan being discussed, labor would own 55%, making it effectively a subsidiary of the UAW.) . . . .

Lately some have doted, with wonderment and admiration, on the Obama administration's apparent willingness to drive a hard bargain with the UAW as it tries to impose a stage-managed replica of bankruptcy on GM and Chrysler. Please.

In a real bankruptcy, which is the natural fate of companies unable to meet their obligations, Chrysler and GM would be run (or liquidated) for the benefit of their creditors, not their workers. But, here, "pattern bargaining" will remain the law of the Detroit jungle. The UAW will continue to use its unnaturally augmented clout to extract uncompetitive pay and benefits (it can do no other given its internal incentives). As it has for 40 years, Washington will pitch in with one improvisation after another, disguised as energy policy, trade policy, health-care policy or environmental policy, to stop the rivets from popping off. Politics, especially Democratic electoral politics, will play a more dominant role than ever. . . . .

Look who agreed to losing this money.

The tentative debt-swap agreement by large lenders including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. followed the auto maker's landmark accord that would give the United Auto Workers union control of 55 percent of the company.

Now Citi needs more money

WASHINGTON -- Citigroup Inc. may need to raise as much as $10 billion in new capital, according to people familiar with the matter, as the government continues negotiations with banks over the results of its so-called stress tests.

The bank, like many others, is negotiating with the Federal Reserve and may need less if regulators accept the bank's arguments about its financial health, these people said. In a best-case scenario, Citigroup could wind up having a roughly $500 million cushion above what the government is requiring. . . . .

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"Swine flu hysteria"

From a piece that I wrote for the Washington Times:

As the swine-flu death toll rose to 152 in Mexico Tuesday, the world was stricken with terror. News shows considered a worldwide epidemic with millions of predicted deaths. The Associated Press referred to Mexico as "the epicenter of the outbreak" - making it sound as if a nuclear bomb had gone off. Tuesday's Washington Post warned, "Outbreak threatens global recovery." The Drudge Report's banner headline cried out: "COUGH FEAR!"

Some perspective is needed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the seasonal flu infects 28 million to 56 million Americans each year. Of these, 100,000 are hospitalized and about 36,000 die. This averages out to almost 150 deaths a day during the eight months of a normal flu season.

Watching the melodramatic news, no one would know that there have been swine-flu outbreaks with similar strains in the past. . . .

See also this from Fox News.

After reading those pieces see what the Democrats are doing with this "crisis."

With the swine flu officially out of the pen in the United States, Democrats and their allies have taken to heart Rahm Emanuel’s maxim that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

The first 48 hours of the health emergency saw everyone from the president to the left-wing blogosphere finding opportunity at hand – with Republicans spending most of their time trying to inoculate themselves from blame.

President Obama used the outbreak as an Oprah-style teachable moment, drawing a connection between the flu scare and the need to fund scientific research.

The commander in chief noted during a speech at the National Academy of Sciences that “if there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it’s today,” and he underscored the idea that “our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community.”

Up on the Hill, flu-fighters pumped out press releases of the don’t-just-stand-there-do-something variety. . . .

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"Feds Knew that the NYC Flyover would cause panic"

This is a pretty amazing finding from CBS in NYC:

Federal officials knew that sending two fighter jets and Air Force One to buzz ground zero and Lady Liberty might set off nightmarish fears of a 9/11 replay, but they still ordered the photo-op kept secret from the public.

In a memo obtained by CBS 2 HD the Federal Aviation Administration's James Johnston said the agency was aware of "the possibility of public concern regarding DOD (Department of Defense) aircraft flying at low altitudes" in an around New York City. But they demanded total secrecy from the NYPD, the Secret Service, the FBI and even the mayor's office and threatened federal sanctions if the secret got out. . . . .

Bloomberg has this:

publicity-photo shoot with one of the planes that serves as Air Force One that cost taxpayers $328,835 and caused a furor in New York City. . . . . That includes $300,658 for the larger plane, which flew a three-hour mission, and about $28,178 for the F-16 jets, which flew 1.8 hours each, Stein said in an e-mailed statement. The total includes fuel used in flight, fuel used to power ground equipment used to prepare the aircraft, and ground maintenance, Stein said.


Arlen Specter Switching Parties, Toomey's run caused him to run in Democratic Primary

Specter realized that he couldn't win the Republican primary and has apparently switched to being a Democrat. The Democrats promised him that they will do what they can to clear the primary field for him.

The LA Times has this:

Reporting from Washington -- When a Senate Republican left his party in 2001, elevating the Democrats to majority status, one member of the GOP was especially vocal about his displeasure: Arlen Specter.

Specter said then- Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords' decision to become an independent was disruptive to the functioning of Congress. He proposed a rule forbidding party switches that had the effect of vaulting the minority to majority status in the middle of a congressional session.

"If somebody wants to change parties, they can do that," Specter said at the time. "But that kind of instability is not good for governance of the country and the Senate."

Now it is Specter switching parties, proclaiming himself a Democrat. While the move won't throw one party out of power, it could potentially hand the Democrats a 60-vote majority and deprive the GOP of the ability to block legislation through a filibuster.

Eight years ago, Jeffords' decision cost Specter his chairmanship of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Specter said at the time that he wanted the rule change to prevent a party switch that could decisively swing the balance of power in the Senate overnight, disrupting U.S. domestic and foreign policy. . . . .



Obama's approval rating relative to other presidents

The Washington Times has this:

President Obama's media cheerleaders are hailing how loved he is. But at the 100-day mark of his presidency, Mr. Obama is the second-least-popular president in 40 years.

According to Gallup's April survey, Americans have a lower approval of Mr. Obama at this point than all but one president since Gallup began tracking this in 1969. The only new president less popular was Bill Clinton, who got off to a notoriously bad start after trying to force homosexuals on the military and a federal raid in Waco, Texas, that killed 86. Mr. Obama's current approval rating of 56 percent is only one tick higher than the 55-percent approval Mr. Clinton had during those crises.

As the attached chart shows, five presidents rated higher than Mr. Obama after 100 days in office. Ronald Reagan topped the charts in April 1981 with 67 percent approval. Following the Gipper, in order of popularity, were: Jimmy Carter with 63 percent in 1977; George W. Bush with 62 percent in 2001; Richard Nixon with 61 percent in 1969; and George H.W. Bush with 58 percent in 1989. . . . .

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New Op-ed up at Fox News: "Uh Oh…Team Obama Claims Americans Use TOO MUCH Health Care"

The new op-ed at Fox News starts this way:

“If you got health insurance, then you can keep it . . . and we won’t do anything about that,” at least that was what President Obama promised during the campaign last year. Well, add that to a very long list of broken campaign promises, including: cutting government spending, reducing the deficit, and “no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase.”

Just as bad, on Friday it was revealed that Obama and the Democrats have no problem pushing through Senate votes on these radical health care changes that strip away normal procedural protections for those who oppose such changes.

Last Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Larry Summers, Obama’s chief economic adviser, let the cat out of the bag on health care. In explaining why universal health care wasn’t going to increase the deficit, Summers said that people are just getting too much unnecessary care. Summers claimed: “whether it’s tonsillectomies or hysterectomies . . . procedures are done three times as frequently [in some parts of the country than others] and there’s no benefit in terms of the health of the population. And by doing the right kind of cost-effectiveness, by making the right kinds of investments and protection, some experts that we — estimate that we could take as much as $700 billion a year out of our health care system.”

This sure seems like rationing. . . .

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The trouble with using teleprompters all the time

This mix up with the teleprompter is slightly embarrassing for the president.

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Rescuing the newspapers

Senate hearings are scheduled on what to do to help the newspapers. I would like to see how they can maintain their claims of objectivity. Also, even if rules go through that they can no longer editorialize, I don't see how that effects their ability to slant the news or the op-eds that they pick to run.

Troubled by the possible shuttering of his hometown paper, Sen. John Kerry reached out to the Boston Globe on Tuesday, then called for Senate hearings to address the woes of the nation's print media.

"To the Boston Globe family," the Massachusetts Democrat wrote to employees of the 132-year-old publication, which faces closure unless it can come up with $20 million in union concessions to parent company the New York Times by May 1. The Globe is losing $1 million a week.

"America's newspapers are struggling to survive, and while there will be serious consequences in terms of the lives and financial security of the employees involved, including hundreds at the Globe, there will also be serious consequences for our democracy where diversity of opinion and strong debate are paramount," Mr. Kerry said. . . .

From the AP:

Washington State Legislature Approves Tax Break -- for Newspapers

Published: April 27, 2009 2:30 AM ET
SEATTLE The Washington Legislature has approved a measure to give the state's struggling newspaper industry a temporary break on the state's main business tax.

The Senate passed the bill on a 46-2 vote Sunday. It passed the House last month and now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Under the proposed measure, the business and occupation tax on newspapers would be cut by 40 percent through 2015. . . .


Soaking the rich in England

I believe that with Obama's comments about uncapping the Social Security tax we will be above the UK rate in states such as California and New York. Andrew Lloyd Webber has this piece in the UK Daily Mail.

The opinion polls have uttered. The country loves the new 50 per cent top rate of income tax. Soak the rich. Smash the bankers. So Government spin doctors are in second heaven. The Conservatives' silence redefines a tomb. And I suppose there'd be quite a turnout for the public flogging of Sir Fred the Shred.

But before you book your tickets, hold hard. And before you lynch me as a rich b*****d flying a kite for my own cause, let me beg you to believe that I am not.

I believe that this new top rate of tax could be the final nail in the coffin of Britain plc.

I am 61 years old. I have lived and worked in Britain all my life. Not even in the dark days of penal Labour taxation in the Seventies did I have any intention of leaving the country of my birth. . . .

Here's the truth. The proposed top rate of income tax is not 50 per cent. It is 50 per cent plus 1.5 per cent national insurance paid by employees plus 13.3 per cent paid by employers. That's not 50 per cent. Two years from now, Britain will have the highest tax rate on earned income of any developed country.

I write this article because I fear the inevitable exodus of the talent that can dig us out of the hole we find ourselves in. It is inevitable, given that other countries are bidding for entrepreneurs. The Government must modify its proposals.

I give you this example. I have altered the details of the family I write about for obvious reasons. But the essentials are true.

Last Thursday I met with a thirtysomething guy. I absolutely depend on him in a highly technical area of theatrical production. For legal reasons he has to employ himself through his own company. Under the new tax regime, he will have to pay 13.3 per cent to employ himself before he pays himself anything. And then he will have to pay 51.5 per cent on what's left.

This is a guy at the cutting edge of his profession who works all over the world. He is in demand in every major territory where entertainment is produced. He has a young wife and two children. Last Thursday he told me that he and his wife had decided that the UK was no longer where they wanted to live.

His wife thinks the State education system is inadequate. And she fears that a bankrupt Britain will increasingly be a worse place in which to live as the horror of our present financial mess hits us all in the solar plexus.

He says that he is young enough to set up shop somewhere else. The new tax rates were the final straw. . . .

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Pollution reduces carbon dioxide levels?

I have no idea if this is accurate or not, but it is amusing. Science News has this:

The world’s vegetation soaked up carbon dioxide more efficiently under the polluted skies of recent decades than it would have under a pristine atmosphere, a new analysis in the April 23 Nature suggests. The trend hints that relying on forests and other vegetation to sequester carbon may not be effective if skies continue to clear, researchers say.

Major volcanic eruptions throw large quantities of aerosols, such as small bits of fractured rock and droplets of sulfuric acid, high into the atmosphere. Those particles scatter incoming solar radiation, preventing some of it from reaching Earth’s surface and thereby cooling climate temporarily (SN: 11/5/05, p. 294).

That scattering also, however, boosts how much carbon vegetation takes in, says Lina M. Mercado, an ecosystem modeler at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford, England. Although aerosols, including many types of air pollution, decrease the overall amount of light falling onto a tree, the particles diffuse the radiation that reaches the ground so that it actually illuminates more leaves. In that case, leaves below the tree’s outer canopy are less likely to be shaded. . . . .

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Multiple Victim Public Shootings in Moscow

Apparently, the police showed up at this crime scene fairly quickly, but ten people were still shot.

Moscow policeman opens fire in public, kills 3
By DAVID NOWAK, Associated Press – Mon Apr 27, 3:09 am ET
MOSCOW – A Moscow district police chief opened fire on the street and in a supermarket early Monday, killing three people and wounding seven others — four of them critically, Russian investigators said.
Police Maj. Denis Yevsyukov, who heads a southern Moscow police department, opened fire just after midnight and was detained after killing a driver, a supermarket cashier and customer, federal investigators said in a statement. . . .
Yevsyukov shot the driver of the car with a gun that Russian news agencies reported was unlicensed. Yevsyukov then entered a supermarket and killed a cashier and customer before shooting at least seven others, authorities said.
Details of those killed were unavailable, but Russian news agency Interfax reported that four people were hospitalized with head injuries and they were aged between 19 and 23.
Russian television network NTV reported that supermarket employees activated a silent alarm to alert police as the shooting progressed. Yevsyukov shot and missed at an officer who managed to disarm and detain him, NTV said.
"He killed the cashier, we know for sure, and then there were more shots, three shots inside the store," a young, unnamed female witness told NTV. "Then a shop assistant came running up to us and asked: 'What are you doing here? There is a killer here and you should run away,'" the witness said.


Government playing favorites on which banks continue operating and which don't?

The WSJ has this:

National City got the cold shoulder. The government threw billions of dollars at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. so it would buy the 163-year-old bank.

AmTrust, however, got a second chance. In late February, regulators agreed to a turnaround plan proposed by AmTrust, according to people familiar with the matter, even though its capital was much thinner than its Cleveland rival's was last fall.

The starkly different fates of the neighboring banks show how the U.S. government's approach to dealing with the industry's worst crisis in a generation has shifted. The decision to allow only one of the two banks to survive has fueled criticism that regulators are picking winners and losers, without disclosing their criteria for making the calls. That, in turn, has shaken the confidence of bankers and private investors trying to decide whether to wade into the troubled sector. . . . .



More on government coercion to force banks into the financial troubles that some have been experiencing

All this is very disturbing. Barrons has this take on what happened:

According to Mr. Cuomo's dour narrative, the product of four hours of interrogation of Mr. Lewis, the merger with Merrill was proposed in September after two days of due diligence (sounds more like due negligence to us). It gained approval of shareholders of both companies on Dec. 5. Barely a week later comes the revelation: Merrill's losses were spiraling ever higher, causing an increasingly frantic Mr. Lewis to weigh calling the marriage off.

He reckoned he could legally do so thanks to MAC (material adverse event), recognizing that $7 billion more in losses than had been projected when the merger was agreed to was a very big MAC, indeed. He diffidently informed the powers-that-were of his plan to nix the nuptials and was summarily summoned to powwow with them in Washington that very evening. And it was there that Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson put the screws to him to not break the deal lest he trigger a systemic calamity.

On Dec. 21, Mr. Lewis, still of a mind to ditch the merger, communicated his determination to Mr. Paulson, who bluntly warned that he would give the boot to Mr. Lewis and his board unless the acquisition went through. To that bald threat, Mr. Lewis' retort was a resounding purr: "That makes it simple. Let's de-escalate." . . . .

The WSJ has a nice piece summarizing things here.

Martin Weiss has this note:

Last December, with its stock hovering around $15 per share, Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis made a startling discovery: Merrill Lynch — the giant his bank was in the process of acquiring — was in far worse shape than he had dreamed.

This week, thanks to documents released by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, we discovered new details on what appears to be the real reasonLewis finalized the merger despite Merrill's obvious troubles.

According to Lewis, he had told former Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke that he wanted to back out of the merger with Merrill. Whether he had the legal ability to do so or not is a separate issue. What matters is that, according to Lewis, Paulson and Bernanke tacitly threatened to fire him and his entire board of directors if they backed out.

Now Lewis has testified that Paulson made it quite clear he was NOT to disclose to his shareholders how troubled Merrill was for fear that they would demand the merger be canceled.

Bottom line: When faced with the choice of saving his own job or saving his shareholders, Lewis decided to keep his mouth shut, go ahead with the merger and save his job.

He had a gun pointed to his head, the classic case of a shotgun merger; and the rest is history...

In January, Bank of America reported a $2.4 billion fourth-quarter loss and Merrill disclosed a $15 billion loss.

Also in January, Washington gave Bank of America $20 billion of your money to offset losses it suffered because of its shotgun marriage with Merrill.

And as of Friday's close, the decision made by Paulson, Bernanke and Lewis has cost shareholders as much as 43 percent of their money in just over four months, even AFTER a vigorous rally. . . .

Thanks to Jack Anderson for the Weiss link.

The Financial Times has this.

UPDATE: And the losses keep coming.

Bank of America Corp. (BAC) (BAC) and Citigroup Inc. (C) (C), which have each received $45 billion in government bailout funds, have been told by regulators that "stress test" results show they may need to raise additional capital, The Wall Street Journal said Tuesday.

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What might happen if the Democrats use Reconciliation to Pass their Health Care Bill

From Roll Call:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was a member of the 2005 bipartisan “Gang of 14” that negotiated a deal on President George W. Bush’s stalled judicial nominees, said he would be willing to tap into the Senate’s parliamentary arsenal to block the majority from pursuing its agenda.

Similarly, National Republican Senatorial Committee John Cornyn (Texas) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) predicted that the GOP Conference would respond to Democrats’ use of reconciliation on health care with tough action.

Hatch, a key negotiator on health care reform, early in his Senate career successfully filibustered a union-backed labor bill even though Democrats controlled the chamber. He acknowledged he wouldn’t be able to stop the Democrats from using reconciliation to pass heath care this year, but strongly cautioned Democrats against using it. Reconciliation, if included in a final budget resolution, would allow Democrats to advance health care — or other major policy proposals — on a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 required under regular order.

“There would be a lot of things done” in retaliation, Hatch said. “I know what to do; I’ve been there.” . . . .

Former Senator John Sununu has this piece in the WSJ.

Late last week President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders agreed to use "budget reconciliation" if necessary to jam a massive health-care bill through Congress. . . . .

It's a radical departure from congressional precedent, in which budget rules have been designed and used to reduce deficits, not expand the size of government. And it promises bitter divisiveness under an administration that has made repeated promises to reach across the partisan divide.

Reconciliation was established in 1974 as a procedure to make modest adjustments to mandatory spending such as farm programs, student loans and Medicare that were already well established in law. Over the past 35 years, it has been used only 22 times -- and three of those bills were vetoed. There are good reasons it has been used so rarely. . . . .

The power of a reconciliation bill is this: Senate rules allow only 20 hours of debate and then passage with a simple majority of 51 votes. This represents a lightning strike in the normal deliberative time-frame of the Senate. The historic precedent of open debate, and the requirement of 60 votes to close debate, are completely short-circuited.

Budget reconciliation was never intended to push through dramatic and expansive new programs. It was created as a way to help a reluctant Congress curb spending, reduce deficits, and cut the debt. Moreover, changes made under reconciliation expire after five or 10 years, depending on the budget. This is clearly not the appropriate process for implementing significant new policies.


Comparing Obama's poll numbers at 100 days to those of other presidents

Here is an interesting article at the History News Network:

Gallup reports that 56% of the public believes that Obama is doing an excellent/good job. Gallup reported 62% approved of George W. Bush's job performance after the first 100 days. MSM tells us how popular Barack Obama is but the numbers tell a different story especially when used comparatively. Comparing the Gallup poll taken following the first 100 day of George W. Bush and Barack Obama is rather informative especially given the highly contentious nature of the 2000 election.

Here are the numbers for other presidents:

April approval ratings in first year in office
Bush now 62%
Clinton, 1993 55
Bush, 1989 58
Reagan, 1981 67
Carter, 1977 63
Nixon, 1969 61
Sampling error: +/-3% pts

See also how USA Today reports the Gallup poll here and how other polls compare here.

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