ABC: "First President in US History to Have Voted to Filibuster a Supreme Court Nominee Now Hopes for Clean Process"

From Jake Tapper at ABC News:

President Obama's expressed hope today in his weekly address "that we can avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship that has bogged down this (Supreme Court nomination) process, and Congress, in the past" runs against another historical first for the 44th president: his unique role in history as the first US President to have ever voted to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee.

So while there is little indication Republicans intend to filibuster President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the GOP will likely invoke the President's unique history whenever he calls their tactics into question.

In January 2006, then-Sen. Obama joined 24 colleagues in a futile effort led by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of now-Justice Samuel Alito.

On January 29, 2006, Mr. Obama told George Stephanopulos on "This Week" that he would "be supporting the filibuster because I think Judge Alito, in fact, is somebody who is contrary to core American values, not just liberal values, you know. When you look at his decisions in particular during times of war, we need a court that is independent and is going to provide some check on the executive branch, and he has not shown himself willing to do that repeatedly." . . . .

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Following up on Justice Department dropping voter intimidation case

From CNN:

"We want to thank President Obama and his administration for dropping charges against us that were vindictively brought by the Bush administration," Malik Shabaaz told CNN. "We don't condone any type of illegal activity at polling stations."

Note that the statement about the case being "vindictively brought by the Bush administration" indicates that they didn't view what was done as wrong.

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Government to take over Disability Insurance?

The Senate committee will start putting this together next Tuesday. The WSJ has this.

Sen. Edward Kennedy plans a new disability-insurance program that would automatically enroll all American workers as part of the sweeping health-care bill he is preparing to introduce, aides said Friday.

Premiums would automatically be charged, and in many cases deducted from workers' paychecks, unless they choose to opt out of the disability program. The idea is to give all workers a basic level of protection in case they become disabled. But it could draw complaints from people who see it as a de facto tax, given that few workers are expected to opt out.

On average, premiums could not exceed $65 per month, according to a Senate aide who described the provision in detail.

Participants would be entitled to a cash benefit of at least $50 a day if they become so disabled they cannot participate in at least two or three activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing or using the toilet. The money could be used for expenses to support staying in one's home.

If all American workers participated, one estimate found that the program would collect $320 billion in its first year, the Senate aide said. The money would be put into its own separate fund, not available to other government spending.

Overall, Mr. Kennedy's legislation aims to fix the nation's health-care system by creating a new public health-insurance plan, requiring individuals to buy health-insurance coverage and employers to help provide it and creating new exchanges that would allow Americans to comparison shop for health insurance, according to a committee briefing paper reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which Sen. Kennedy chairs, plan to meet behind closed doors starting Tuesday to discuss exactly what will be in the measure, according to a Senate aide. The committee is expected to hold public hearings on the legislation as early as the following week. . . . .

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Judge Sonia Sotomayor on Guns

So much for Obama's claim that he supports the Second Amendment as an individual right. Those interested can see the decision that Sotomayor signed on to this past January on the Second Amendment case entitled Maloney v. Cuomo. One discussion caught my eye.

For example, New York’s Attorney General, Louis J. Lefkowitz, asserted that nunchakus “ha[ve] apparently been widely used by muggers and street gangs and ha[ve] been the cause of many serious injuries.” Mem. from Attorney Gen. Louis J. Lefkowitz to the Governor (Apr. 8, 1974). And the sponsor of the bill, Richard Ross, stated that “[w]ith a minimum amount of practice, [the nunchaku] may be effectively used as a garrote, bludgeon, thrusting or striking device. The [nunchaku] is designed primarily as a weapon and has no purpose other than to maim or, in some instances, kill.

The term "nunchaku" could be replaced with the term "gun" and one would get the normal debate associated with banning guns. Particularly the point that the weapon "has no purpose other than to maim or, in some instances, kill."

From the WSJ:

The gun owners' opposition stems from two rulings in which Judge Sotomayor took part while on the federal appellate bench. The January 2009 Maloney v. Cuomo decision involved a challenge from a New York resident arrested for possessing nunchakus, a martial arts weapon made of two thick sticks joined at the ends by a short length of chain or cord. The defendant said the state's ban on nunchakus violated his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

A three-judge panel including Judge Sotomayor rejected the claim in an unsigned opinion. The court cited earlier rulings, including an 1886 Supreme Court decision, in holding that "the Second Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government seeks to impose on this right," not to state legislative efforts.

Another unsigned 2004 decision, U.S. v. Sanchez-Villar, rejected a defendant's claim that a New York gun law "offends" the Second Amendment. Judge Sotomayor's panel cited a 1984 Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling "stating that the right to possess a gun is clearly not a fundamental right."

In a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case, the justices ruled 5-4 that individuals have the right under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms. That opinion struck down a 1976 Washington, D.C., law that effectively banned handguns. But because the decision applied only to the capital district, a federal enclave that isn't part of a state, it left open the Second Amendment's application to state weapons regulations.

The rulings in Judge Sotomayor's cases show the administration's true thinking on gun rights, said Mr. Pratt of the Gun Owners organization. "I think the cat has now come screaming out of the bag," he said. . . .

The piece in the WSJ seemed reasonable until I got to this point here:

Administration officials have talked little of gun control since President Barack Obama took office, even when pressed on the matter following a slew of multiple murders around the nation. In fact, earlier this month Mr. Obama signed a bill that included an amendment relaxing decades-long restrictions on carrying firearms onto federal park lands.

Obama didn't want to sign this provision regarding parks, but he wanted the crazy credit card regulations. This reporter also possibly hasn't been following the discussion of guns in Mexico.

Fox News has this:

The chief concern is her position in the 2009 Maloney v. Cuomo case, in which the court examined a claim by a New York attorney that a New York law that prohibited possession of nunchucks violated his Second Amendment rights. The Appeals Court affirmed the lower court's decision that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states.

The ruling explained that it was "settled law" that the Second Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government might seek on individual gun rights.

Despite last year's landmark Supreme Court ruling in the District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, the Maloney ruling determined that case "does not invalidate this longstanding principle" that states are not covered by the Second Amendment. (Another appeals court since the Heller case reached the opposite conclusion.) . . . .

Sotomayor's 2009 decision on guns is here.

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"Craig T. Nelson: I'm going to quit paying my taxes to protest government unaccountability"

This is pretty funny, though it has a serious message.

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No relationship between the Chrysler dealers who lost their dealerships and them being Republicans

My son Maxim put together this information. It is pretty clear to me that there is no relationship here and that conservatives would do well to stay away from this claim.


50 dealerships were picked at random from the list of 789 closing dealerships, and another 50 from the list of 2392 dealerships that are to remain open. I used a random number generator to determine which dealerships were selected.

The two groups of dealerships happen to be spread through the country similarly. In our sample of 50 closing dealerships, 60% came from states that Obama won. In the sample of 50 open dealerships, 62% came from states Obama won. The average amount Obama won by in these states was also very similar for both groups (closing dealerships were in states where Obama got an average of 51.36% of the vote, whereas open dealerships were in ones where he got 49.84% of the vote.)

Data on contributions are from Opensecrets.org and are for the 2008 election cycle.


Among closing dealerships, 6 out of 50 donors (12%) donated to Republicans. 4 out of 50 donated to Democrats (8%)

Among open dealerships, 7 out of 50 (14%) donated to Republicans. 5 out of 50 donated to Democrats (10%)

The average size of donations was nearly identical for both parties, in both samples.

While there is no evidence of a systematic political bias, that does not rule out the possibility that there were a few politically motivated decisions regarding the biggest donors, as some are suggesting might be the case.

Our data do indicate one major factor in determining whether a dealership was closed or not: The size of the dealership, measured by the number of product lines carried (the 4 lines are Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Dodge Truck.) The average store that will be closed in our sample carries just 2.5 of those product lines, whereas the average store that will stay open carries 3.64.

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Obama: Economy Is 'Back From the Brink'

From Fox News:

"It's safe to say we have stepped back from the brink, that there is some calm that didn't exist before," Obama told donors and celebrities at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. He said the stimulus bill that Congress passed three months ago is starting to improve the economy. . . .

See the various links that I have regarding the "stimulus." Obama exaggerated how bad things were and now he and the press are exaggerating how good things are.

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"Study finds half of men arrested test positive for drugs"

From USA Today:

Half of the men arrested in 10 U.S. cities test positive for some type of illegal drug, a federal study found.
Not only do the findings show "a clear link between drugs and crime," they also highlight the need to provide drug treatment, says Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which will make the data public Thursday.

Assessing offenders for drug and mental health problems and providing treatment is "important if you want to stop recidivism and recycling people through the system," says Kerlikowske, who supports drug courts that offer court-ordered drug treatment.

"There's an opportunity when someone is arrested to divert them to treatment if they need it," says Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance Network, a group that supports legalizing marijuana and treating drug use as a public health issue. "But people shouldn't have to get arrested to get treatment."

In 2008 researchers interviewed and obtained urine samples from 3,924 men arrested in 10 metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, Ore., Sacramento and Washington, D.C. . . . .

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Obama hurting the housing market

From the Washington Times:

Housing prices are in free fall. No bottom is in sight as President Obama's policies continue to undermine the market.

The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index posted a 19.1 percent drop for the first quarter of 2009 compared to last year. The rate of decline is getting worse. The first quarter of this year showed the biggest quarterly decline in the index's 21-year history. Government meddling will drive down prices even further.

Last week, President Obama signed into law the Helping Families Save their Homes Act of 2009. Now mortgage collectors can break existing contracts with companies that lent money for mortgages. This new law grants "mortgage servicers," often banks, legal immunity from lawsuits for breaching these existing contracts. This comes on top of regulations in March that tell lenders they must pay mortgage servicers a fixed amount for renegotiating the amount each borrower has to repay. These renegotiations involve forgiving borrowers for some of the debt that they owe. Mortgage servicers will get paid simply on the basis of doing another renegotiation, whether or not it is done in the interests of the lenders. . . .

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"Protecting Black Panthers: The Obama administration ignores voter intimidation"

I wrote this editorial here:

Imagine if Ku Klux Klan members had stood menacingly in military uniforms, with nightsticks, in front of a polling place. Add to it that they had hurled racial threats and insults at voters who tried to enter.

Now suppose that the government, backed by a nationally televised video of the event, had won a court case against the Klansmen except for the perfunctory filing of a single, simple document - but that an incoming Republican administration had moved to voluntarily dismiss the already-won case.

Surely that would have been front-page news, with a number of firings at the Justice Department.

The flip side of this scenario is occurring right now. The culprits weren't Klansmen; they belonged to the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. One of the defendants, Jerry Jackson, is an elected member of Philadelphia's 14th Ward Democratic Committee and was a credentialed poll watcher for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party when the violations occurred. Rather conveniently, the Obama administration has asked that the cases against Mr. Jackson, two other defendants and the party be dropped.

The Voting Rights Act is very clear. It prohibits any "attempt to intimidate, threaten or coerce" any voter or those aiding voters. . . .

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Mortgage Delinquencies, Foreclosures at record

From Bloomberg:

Mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures rose to records in the first quarter and home-loan rates jumped to the highest since March this week as the government’s effort to fix the housing slump lost momentum.

The U.S. delinquency rate jumped to a seasonally adjusted 9.12 percent from 7.88 percent, the biggest-ever increase, and the share of loans entering foreclosure rose to 1.37 percent, the Mortgage Bankers Association said today. Both figures are the highest in records going back to 1972. Fixed rates rose to 4.91 percent, Freddie Mac said, and an increase in bond yields earlier this week shows rates may continue rising.

The three-year housing decline is proving resistant to efforts by the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration to keep homeowners current on mortgages by allowing them to refinance or sell to buyers enticed by affordable terms. Prime fixed-rate home loans to the most creditworthy borrowers accounted for the biggest share of new foreclosures at 29 percent, MBA said, a sign job losses are hurting homeowners. . . . .

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10 Interesting facts about today's Pirates

e-justice Blog has compiled a lot of interesting facts about pirates.

1) Weapons used. Many modern pirates have heavy-duty firepower, including automatic weapons, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. Pirates are also often equipped with cell phones and other tech gadgets to keep in contact with organizers who feed them information about ships and their locations. Many pirates’ weapons are specialized to their geographic location, with the most dangerous usually being in the South China Sea and Somalia.
2) Geographic occurrences. With the recent news about the pirate capture off Somalia, it may appear to some that modern pirates are isolated to this geographic area. While the political upheaval in Somalia does provide an ideal, lawless hideout for pirates, the fact is pirates are often found in many places around the globe. Some areas most frequented by pirates include the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the waters of Indonesia and Singapore.
3) Financial loss. The estimated annual loss due to piracy worldwide is about $13 to $16 billion. Unfortunately, most carriers decide not to report piracy incidents due to the financial burden. When an incident of piracy is reported, ship owners experience insurance rates that can increase by as much as 30% as well as the daily loss incurred during an investigation that can often run about $1000 a day.
4) Ties to government and organized crime. Many modern pirates have ties to the government and organized crime, such as the pirates in Somalia and the Far East, with some pirates in the South China Sea reportedly working under the protection of the Chinese government. Other pirates take advantage of a lack of government involvement, such as the pirates near Brazil, where there is no Coast Guard or its equivalent. . . . .

Thanks to Kelly Sonora for sending me this link.


"Welcome to Zimbabwe" -- Government regulation out of control

My son, Maxim, has this piece at Fox News:

On Wednesday, President Obama signed the "Helping Families Save their Homes Act of 2009," giving banks and other servicers legal immunity from lawsuits alleging that they broke contracts with securities owners like Frey.

For his part, Frey sees that as an unconstitutional abrogation of his contractual rights.

"The U.S. government is now putting a bounty on renegotiating loans and providing [servicers] safe harbor protection from lawsuits -- basically, telling servicers to ignore their contracts.

"If you can't tell me that's disturbing," he said, "welcome to Zimbabwe."


Increasing interest rates

The steepest yield curve on record is quite an accomplishment. It basically means that those with their money at risk think that inflation will be increasing.

The stock market is watching the bond market, wary a spike in interest rates will derail a fragile economic recovery and snuff the market's rally.

Stocks tumbled Wednesday, but the real drama was in Treasurys and mortgages.

A selling spree in Treasurys pushed rates higher, taking the yield curve to its steepest on record as spreads between the 2-year and 10-year widened by over a dozen basis points on Wednesday alone.

The 10-year saw its yield move above 3.70 percent, after trading at 3.55 percent the previous day. The selling wave hit bonds shortly after 1 p.m., even after the auction of $35 billion in 5-year notes was well received. . . . .

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"Drop Forecast for Factory Production"

From WSJ:

U.S. manufacturing output is expected to decline 12% this year, a much sharper pullback than the 8% predicted just three months ago and a sign of how the downturn is hitting factories particularly hard, according to a new report. . . . .

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More on Sotomayor: She implies that political and personal biases color her opinions

From the Hill newspaper:

Senate Republicans investigating Sonia Sotomayor’s record are zeroing in on a speech she delivered in 2001 in which she stated her hope that a “wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences,” including appreciation for Latin-American cuisine, “would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

They are also taking a close look at the Supreme Court nominee's skepticism, expressed in the same speech, about whether it is possible for judges to “transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices.”

Sotomayor delivered the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture in 2001 at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. The Berkeley La Raza Law Journal published the lecture the following year.

Conservative critics have latched onto the speech as evidence that Sotomayor is an “activist judge,” who will rule on the basis of her personal beliefs instead of facts and law.

“Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see,” Sotomayor said. “My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.”

Sotomayor also claimed: “For me, a very special part of my being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir — rice, beans and pork — that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events.”

This has prompted some Republicans to muse privately about whether Sotomayor is suggesting that distinctive Puerto Rican cuisine such as patitas de cerdo con garbanzo — pigs’ tongue and ears — would somehow, in some small way influence her verdicts from the bench.

Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, a conservative-leaning advocacy group, said he wasn’t certain whether Sotomayor had claimed her palate would color her view of legal facts but he said that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee clearly touts her subjective approach to the law.

“It’s pretty disturbing,” said Levey. “It’s one thing to say that occasionally a judge will despite his or her best efforts to be impartial ... allow occasional biases to cloud impartiality.

"But it’s almost like she’s proud that her biases and personal experiences will cloud her impartiality.” . . . .

John Fund notes for the WSJ's Political Diary that:

While they probably cannot block her confirmation, Republicans can give valuable exposure to their point of view that judges like Ms. Sotomayor, who see the bench as a way to impose their ideological beliefs on the law, are why we have such a highly politicized judicial climate in America today.

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IRS tax revenue plummets

From USA Today:

Federal tax revenue plunged $138 billion, or 34%, in April vs. a year ago — the biggest April drop since 1981, a study released Tuesday by the American Institute for Economic Research says.
When the economy slumps, so does tax revenue, and this recession has been no different, says Kerry Lynch, senior fellow at the AIER and author of the study. "It illustrates how severe the recession has been."

For example, 6 million people lost jobs in the 12 months ended in April — and that means far fewer dollars from income taxes. Income tax revenue dropped 44% from a year ago.

"These are staggering numbers," Lynch says. . . .


One of every seven prisoners released from Guantanamo return to terrorism

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Seventy-four, or one out of every seven, terrorism suspects formerly held at the U.S. detention site at Guantanamo Bay are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorism, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Of more than 530 detainees transferred from the U.S. base in Cuba, 27 are confirmed and 47 suspected of "reengaging in terrorist activity," according to a written Pentagon summary.

The total of 74 has more than doubled since May 2007, when the Pentagon said about 30 had gone back to terrorist activity, and increased slightly since January, when the figure stood at 61. . . . . .


The push for a national sales tax

I would like an Obama supporter to explain to me how this wouldn't break his campaign promise.

With budget deficits soaring and President Obama pushing a trillion-dollar-plus expansion of health coverage, some Washington policymakers are taking a fresh look at a money-making idea long considered politically taboo: a national sales tax.

Common around the world, including in Europe, such a tax -- called a value-added tax, or VAT -- has not been seriously considered in the United States. But advocates say few other options can generate the kind of money the nation will need to avert fiscal calamity.

At a White House conference earlier this year on the government's budget problems, a roomful of tax experts pleaded with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to consider a VAT. A recent flurry of books and papers on the subject is attracting genuine, if furtive, interest in Congress. And last month, after wrestling with the White House over the massive deficits projected under Obama's policies, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee declared that a VAT should be part of the debate.

"There is a growing awareness of the need for fundamental tax reform," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said in an interview. "I think a VAT and a high-end income tax have got to be on the table." . . . .

A White House official said a VAT is "unlikely to be in the mix" as a means to pay for health-care reform. "While we do not want to rule any credible idea in or out as we discuss the way forward with Congress, the VAT tax, in particular, is popular with academics but highly controversial with policymakers," said Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for White House Budget Director Peter Orszag.

Still, Orszag has hired a prominent VAT advocate to advise him on health care: Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and author of the 2008 book "Health Care, Guaranteed." Meanwhile, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker, chairman of a task force Obama assigned to study the tax system, has expressed at least tentative support for a VAT. . . . . .

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The government will soon own 70 percent of GM

Whatever the reason for the government initially getting ownership, it should immediately sell it. The WSJ has this:

General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers have agreed to a new restructuring plan that would give the union a significantly smaller stake in the company than previously envisioned, and leave the U.S. government owning as much as 70% of the car maker. . . . .

Under the new UAW terms, the union's health-care trust would own 17.5% of a reorganized GM, in exchange for retiree health-care concessions. An earlier revamping worked out by the Treasury Department and GM would have given the union 39% and the government 50%.

The union -- concerned about the GMs prospects -- sought the lower stake in exchange for preferred shares that provide annual income as well as a $2.5 billion note from GM, said people familiar with the situation. . . . .


Housing prices continue to fall, no bottom in sight

Home Prices Continue Downward March

U.S. home prices continued their multiyear tumble in March, according to the S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes, as the downdraft shows no near-term signs of abating.

Meanwhile, U.S. consumer confidence improved sharply in May, especially in expectations for the economy six months from now, a report released Tuesday said.

For the first quarter, the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index posted a 19.1% drop from a year earlier, the biggest quarterly decline for the reading's 21-year history. S&P Case-Shiller releases 10-city and 20-city indexes every month, but also releases a broader national index every quarter.

Separately, the monthly numbers showed 15 of 20 major metropolitan areas posted price declines of more than 10% from a year earlier, with the Sun Belt continuing to be hit hardest. Nationally, home prices are at levels similar to the fourth quarter of 2002.

David M. Blitzer, chairman of S&P's index committee, noted that March was only the second time since October 2007 that both the 10- and 20-city index didn't report record annual price declines. . . . . .

The monthly data for the index is available here. See also this piece in the Financial Times.

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Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court Nomination, some useful links

On Sonia Sotomayor's judicial temperament and her ability to influence others.
More Sotomayor by Jeffrey Rosen, Rosen responds to his critics.

From the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary on Sonia Sotomayor:
Sotomayor can be tough on lawyers, according to those interviewed. "She is a terror on the bench." "She is very outspoken." "She can be difficult." "She is temperamental and excitable. She seems angry." "She is overly aggressive--not very judicial. She does not have a very good temperament." "She abuses lawyers." "She really lacks judicial temperament. She behaves in an out of control manner. She makes inappropriate outbursts." "She is nasty to lawyers. She doesn't understand their role in the system--as adversaries who have to argue one side or the other. She will attack lawyers for making an argument she does not like."

On Sonia Sotomayor's being a below average quality circuit court judge (at best average quality). Data against Obama's claim that Sotomayor is “a rigorous intellect, a mastery of the law.”
Judge Sonia Sotomayor: What the Data Show

Richard Epstein discusses Sotomayor here:

Here is one straw in the wind that does not bode well for a Sotomayor appointment. Justice Stevens of the current court came in for a fair share of criticism (all justified in my view) for his expansive reading in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) of the "public use language." Of course, the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment is as complex as it is short: "Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." But he was surely done one better in the Summary Order in Didden v. Village of Port Chester issued by the Second Circuit in 2006. Judge Sotomayor was on the panel that issued the unsigned opinion--one that makes Justice Stevens look like a paradigmatic defender of strong property rights.

I have written about Didden in Forbes. The case involved about as naked an abuse of government power as could be imagined. Bart Didden came up with an idea to build a pharmacy on land he owned in a redevelopment district in Port Chester over which the town of Port Chester had given Greg Wasser control. Wasser told Didden that he would approve the project only if Didden paid him $800,000 or gave him a partnership interest. The "or else" was that the land would be promptly condemned by the village, and Wasser would put up a pharmacy himself. Just that came to pass. But the Second Circuit panel on which Sotomayor sat did not raise an eyebrow. Its entire analysis reads as follows: "We agree with the district court that [Wasser's] voluntary attempt to resolve appellants' demands was neither an unconstitutional exaction in the form of extortion nor an equal protection violation."

Maybe I am missing something, but American business should shudder in its boots if Judge Sotomayor takes this attitude to the Supreme Court. Justice Stevens wrote that the public deliberations over a comprehensive land use plan is what saved the condemnation of Ms. Kelo's home from constitutional attack. Just that element was missing in the Village of Port Chester fiasco. Indeed, the threats that Wasser made look all too much like the "or else" diplomacy of the Obama administration in business matters. . . .

Ken Blackwell on Sotomayer's views on guns.

President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a declaration of war against America’s gun owners and the Second Amendment to our Constitution. If gun owners mobilize and unite, it’s possible (though unlikely) to stop this radical nominee. . . .

Obama talked about Sotomayor's "recognition of the limits of the judicial role. The understanding that the judge's job is to interpret, not to make law." Yet, here is Sotomayor in her own words:

Sotomayor's view on judging.

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” said Judge Sotomayor.

In defense of Sotomayer.
Jeffrey Rosen, TNR and the anonymous smears against Sonia Sotomayor

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National Rifle Assoc v. City of Chicago

The oral arguments before the 7th Circuit can be heard here. This was a tough panel. I would guess that the final decision will be 2-to-1 or 3-to-0 in favor of the Chicago position.

Here is the segment where Judge Frank Easterbrook brings up a reference to my work, though he is arguing that it isn't relevant to the discussion.

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More fallout from Sen. Roland Burris

From Fox News:

Sen. Roland Burris promised to "personally do something" for Rod Blagojevich's campaign fund while pressing for the then-Illinois governor to appoint him to President Obama's former Senate seat, according to a wiretap transcript released Tuesday.

The Hill newspaper reports what seems to be another broken campaign promise.

The Obama administration is opposing an Illinois law that helped ensnare Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) in a federal indictment for corruption.

Ethics watchdogs charge that in opposing a law intended to prevent politically connected companies from unfairly winning government contracts, President Obama has gone against promises he made during the presidential race.

“When his administration stepped in, I assumed [Transportation Secretary] Ray LaHood would change the Bush administration policy that says pay-to-play is fine by them,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance lobbyist with Public Citizen, a public interest group.

“Now that he didn’t, I am astounded,” said Holman, who noted Obama’s support during the campaign for the Illinois law.

Administration officials say federal law prohibits any state or local requirement inhibiting competition for federal contracts, which covers pay-to-play laws meant to root out corruption by preventing contractors from paying for contracts through political contributions. They also argue the state laws have the effect of limiting competition for federal contracts, and could slow federal stimulus worth hundreds of millions of dollars that are intended to create jobs. . . . . . .

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"Suspect In Car Break-In Held At Gunpoint"

Here is a defensive gun use from Portland, Oregon.

Suspect In Car Break-In Held At Gunpoint
POSTED: 3:50 pm PDT May 25, 2009
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A northeast Portland man stopped a suspected car prowler by holding him at gunpoint Monday morning.
Rex Elsner and his wife said the day started as an ordinary morning at their northeast Portland home.
"We were just hanging out in the house having coffee and my dog started barking," Tamra Elsner said.
The dachshund, it turns out, was sounding an alarm. Elsner said she saw someone breaking into their truck.
"I jumped up and looked out our big picture window and I came runnin' down through the cars here," Rex Elsner said.
Elsner, a military veteran, grabbed his handgun and ordered the prowler to stop and get on the ground.
"My heart was pounding a little bit, but we both believe in protecting our property," Tamra Elsner said.
Rex Elsner said he held the shoeless suspect, Liem Thanh Huynh, on the ground until police arrived five minutes later.
Officers arrested him on several charges, including cocaine possession and unlawful entry.
"He picked the wrong truck to break into, for sure," Elsner said.

Thanks to Truman Stone for this link.


Class warfare not very successful in Maryland

The Laffer curve seems alive and well in Maryland. From the WSJ:

Maryland couldn't balance its budget last year, so the state tried to close the shortfall by fleecing the wealthy. Politicians in Annapolis created a millionaire tax bracket, raising the top marginal income-tax rate to 6.25%. And because cities such as Baltimore and Bethesda also impose income taxes, the state-local tax rate can go as high as 9.45%. Governor Martin O'Malley, a dedicated class warrior, declared that these richest 0.3% of filers were "willing and able to pay their fair share." The Baltimore Sun predicted the rich would "grin and bear it."

One year later, nobody's grinning. One-third of the millionaires have disappeared from Maryland tax rolls. In 2008 roughly 3,000 million-dollar income tax returns were filed by the end of April. This year there were 2,000, which the state comptroller's office concedes is a "substantial decline." On those missing returns, the government collects 6.25% of nothing. Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year -- even at higher rates. . . . .

Thanks to Tony Troglio for the link.

Dan Mitchell writes me about some very informative videos that he has put together on the Laffer curve here, here, and here. They are worth watching.


Death rate in using small and large cars

Original source here.

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Compare the cost of Microsoft advertising its new search engine to the amount that McCain could spend in last year's presidential campaign

Ad Age reports that more money is being spent on advertising MSFT's new search engine than by McCain in last year's general election for the presidency ($85 million).

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Microsoft has used attack ads to go after Apple, and now it has Google in its sights.

The software giant is set to launch an $80 million to $100 million campaign for Bing, the search engine it hopes will help it grab a bigger slice of the online ad market. That's a big campaign -- big compared with consumer-product launches ($50 million is considered a sizable budget for a national rollout) and very big when you consider that Google spent about $25 million on all its advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, with about $11.6 million of that focused on recruiting. Microsoft, by comparison, spent $361 million. Certainly Google has never faced an ad assault of anything like this magnitude. . . . .



"Beijing is caught in 'trap' over dollar"

It is interesting to me what a small portion of the total US debt that is held by China. In any case, China does have a problem in that if they were to appear to want to sell their holdings, the value of the dollar would drop a lot.

Beijing is caught in 'trap' over dollar
By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing
Financial Times
Published: May 25 2009 03:00 | Last updated: May 25 2009 03:00
China's official foreign exchange manager is still buying record amounts of US government bonds, despite Beijing's increasingly vocal fear of a dollar collapse, according to officials and analysts.

In recent months, senior Chinese officials, including Premier Wen Jiabao, have repeatedly signalled their concern that US policies could lead to a collapse in the dollar and global inflation.

But Chinese and western officials in Beijing say China is caught in a "dollar trap" and has little choice but to keep pouring the bulk of its growing reserves into the US Treasury, which remains the only market big enough and liquid enough to support its huge purchases.

In March alone, China's direct holdings of US Treasury securities rose by $23.7bn (£14.9bn) to reach a new record high of $768bn, according to preliminary US data, allowing China to retain its title as the biggest creditor of the US government.

"Because of the sheer size of its reserves Safe [China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange] will immediately disrupt any other market it tries to shift into in a big way and could also collapse the value of its existing reserves if it sold too many dollars," said a western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The composition of China's reserves is a state secret but dollar assets are estimated to comprise as much as 70 per cent of the $1,953bn total. China owns nearly a quarter of the US debt held by foreigners, according to US Treasury data. . . . .


National Journal: "Enviros Forced NHTSA Nominee To Withdraw"

Nominee withdrawn for stating the truth:

Enviros Forced NHTSA Nominee To Withdraw
By Louis Jacobson
Updated at 10:27 a.m. on May 13.
There was no shortage of suspects in the case of who killed the nomination yesterday of Chuck Hurley to be the new administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But environmental advocates - and not the carmakers or the alcohol industry - appear to be the culprit, sources tell National Journal.
Hurley, most recently the head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, abruptly withdrew his name Tuesday, before the nomination had even been made official. While a wide array of stakeholders had expressed nervousness about aspects of Hurley's record since his appointment was announced in April, Hurley's sudden withdrawal caught insiders on all sides by surprise.
An administration official said he knew nothing beyond confirming that Hurley had withdrawn. But a source who spoke to Hurley said the former nominee cited environmentalists' concerns that he was too soft on raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards - the fuel efficiency requirements that NHTSA imposes on carmakers.
"He said he withdrew because he was getting opposition from the environmental community, who did not like his previous statements about the impact of raising the CAFE standards on safety," the source said. . . . . .

The National Academy of Sciences, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Congressional Budget Office, and National Highway Safety Administration have all found that smaller cars lead to more deaths. So was he removed for telling the truth?

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Is Murtha a ticking time bomb for the Democrats?

Fox News has this:

The Department of Justice is probing a Pennsylvania contractor that has won millions in earmarks and contracts with the help of Rep. John Murtha, according to a new report.

The Washington Post reported Monday that federal investigators are looking into how Mountaintop Technologies got involved in distributing and monitoring local police grants.

The company has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to distribute the money, according to the article, but has received at least $36 million worth of earmarks and military contracts over the past eight years -- with the help of Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and no competition.

According to the article, company executives have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Murtha's campaigns and often distributed the police grant funding on behalf of Murtha before fall elections, and the firm even hired the lobbying company where Murtha's brother worked.

Mountaintop Technologies founder David Fyock told the Post that his company won the contracts on merit. "We are pretty darn good at managing contracts," he said.

But law enforcement sources said the police grants drew attention because the firm was a defense company with little law enforcement experience. . . . .


The high cost of Obama's tax plan

The costs are apparently so large that foreign banks may refuse to take on American clients.

The decision, which would make it hard for Americans in London to open bank accounts and trade shares, is being discussed by executives at Britain's banks and brokers who say it could become too expensive to service American clients. The proposals, which were unveiled as part of the president's first budget, are designed to clamp-down on American tax evaders abroad. However bank bosses say they are being asked to take on the task of collecting American taxes at a cost and legal liability that are inexpedient.

Andy Thompson of Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers (APCIMS) said: "The cost and administration of the US tax regime is causing UK investment firms to consider disinvesting in US shares on behalf of their clients. This is not right and emphasises that the administration of a tax regime on a global scale without any flexibility damages the very economy it is trying to protect."

One executive at a top UK bank who didn't want to be named for fear of angering the IRS said: "It's just about manageable under the current system - and that's because we're big. The danger to us is suddenly being hauled over the coals by the IRS for a client that hasn't paid proper taxes. The audit costs will soar. We'll have to pay it but I know plenty of smaller players won't." . . . .

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Geithner says it is "ridiculous" to say that government ownership of companies borders on socialism

I guess that someone needs to explain to me what socialism is. This from the Washington Post.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner admits private investors are worried about investing in new government-backed commercial mortgage securities and dismisses as "ridiculous" a recent Republican National Committee resolution stating that Democratic policies bordered on socialism.

"There's still a bit of concern about whether, if you participated in these programs, you'll face in the future some change in the rules of the game, and that's causing a bit of -- a bit of concern," Geithner told The Post's Lois Romano for her continuing "Voices of Power" interview series. Private investors have expressed interest in the program, the government will work to limit their concern and he anticipates they will be "a good deal for the American taxpayer."

"That's the important thing to recognize," he said, "because you -- you have in this basic structure, investors putting skin into the game, taking risk, making judgments about what the price should be for these securities, and the taxpayer gets to participate in the upside in those judgments. So we think they're a good deal for the taxpayer."

Geithner also defended President Obama against this week's RNC resolution, stating that the administration "had to do exceptional things to help protect the American economy, help fix this crisis, fix this mess."

"Where we engage in these areas is with extreme reluctance and only because we think it's the necessary way to help reduce the risk of greater damage to businesses, to the basic fabric of the American economy," he said. "And I say where we do it, we'll do it only temporarily, try to make sure we get out as quickly as we can."

The government plans to divest itself of investments in the financial and automotive sectors, "As soon as we can," Geithner said. . . . .

"As soon as we can" would seem to be now.

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Tax policy so narrowly written that it benefits one company

If tax cuts create jobs, why have it so narrowly tailored that only one company can take advantage of the tax law? This from Apple Insider about North Carolina pushing for a tax break for Apple.

A "state official" has told the Charlotte Observer that a bill nearing approval that would bend tax rules for a single, unnamed company are actually meant to accommodate a specific Apple project, which might otherwise be located in another state.

The deal would give the tax breaks to companies with a minority market share in North Carolina, but with a disproportionately large amount of property and staff located in the region. Apple would stand to save as much as $46 million in the space of 10 years but, in return, would have to invest $1 billion within nine years and locate itself in one of the state's poorer counties; Catawba and Cleveland counties are on the short list. . . . .


"11 Wounded at Shooting in Austrian Temple"

Multiple Victim Public Shooting and knife attack in Austria. However, apparently, the attackers are in worse shape than the victims.

VIENNA — Worshippers of Indian origin armed with knives and at least one gun fought one another in a temple in the Austrian capital on Sunday, and at least 11 were wounded, police and ambulance staff said. . . .
Witnesses said the fighting erupted between worshippers in a dispute over the sermon.

Police said at least six men, one wielding a gun and the others knives, attacked the preacher. Other worshippers rushed to his aid, resulting in the melee.

Police spokesman Michael Takacs said all six attackers were in critical condition, while the wounds of the others were less serious. More people may have been slightly hurt and run out of the temple before police arrived, he said. Takacs said he did not know the motive of the brawl. He identified the temple as Sikh.

Ram, 72, said, "I heard four to five shots" in the temple. "People started screaming, children were crying as they ran out. It was like war. There was lots of blood everywhere." . . . .


Bad news for government spending and Social Security?

People have been retiring much earlier than expected this year. This will reduce tax revenue and at least in the short run increase outlays for Social Security.

Reporting from Washington -- Instead of seeing older workers staying on the job longer as the economy has worsened, the Social Security system is reporting a major surge in early retirement claims that could have implications for the financial security of millions of baby boomers.

Since the current federal fiscal year began Oct. 1, claims have been running 25% ahead of last year, compared with the 15% increase that had been projected as the post-World War II generation reaches eligibility for early retirement, according to Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration.

The numbers upend expectations that older Americans who sustained financial losses in the recession would work longer to rebuild their nest eggs. In a December poll sponsored by CareerBuilder, 60% of workers older than 60 said they planned to postpone retirement. . . . .

The ramifications of the trend are profound for the new retirees, their families, the government and other social institutions that may be called upon to help support them.

On top of savings ravaged by the stock market decline and the loss of home equity, many retirees now must make do with Social Security benefits reduced by as much as 25% if they retire at age 62 instead of 66.

"When the recession ends and the economy bounces back, there may be a band of people for whom things will never be the same again. They'll still be paying the price for 10, 20, 30 years down the road," said Cristina Martin Firvida, director of economic security for AARP, the nation's largest membership organization for people 50 and older. . . . .


"Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation"

Bill Gates seems to be a major force behind this move, according to the London Times.

SOME of America’s leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world’s population and speed up improvements in health and education.

The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change.

Described as the Good Club by one insider it included David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America’s wealthiest dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

These members, along with Gates, have given away more than £45 billion since 1996 to causes ranging from health programmes in developing countries to ghetto schools nearer to home.

They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan on May 5. The informal afternoon session was so discreet that some of the billionaires’ aides were told they were at “security briefings”.

Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the summit was unprecedented. “We only learnt about it afterwards, by accident. Normally these people are happy to talk good causes, but this is different – maybe because they don’t want to be seen as a global cabal,” he said.

Some details were emerging this weekend, however. The billionaires were each given 15 minutes to present their favourite cause. Over dinner they discussed how they might settle on an “umbrella cause” that could harness their interests.

The issues debated included reforming the supervision of overseas aid spending to setting up rural schools and water systems in developing countries. Taking their cue from Gates they agreed that overpopulation was a priority. . . . .

Ben Wattenberg has done tremendous work trying to overcome the claim that the world population is ever increasing. In the New York Times in 2003 he wrote:

Now, in a new report, United Nations demographers have bowed to reality and changed this standard 2.1 assumption. For the last five years they have been examining one of the most momentous trends in world history: the startling decline in fertility rates over the last several decades. In the United Nations' most recent population report, the fertility rate is assumed to be 1.85, not 2.1. This will lead, later in this century, to global population decline.

In a world brought up on the idea of a "population explosion," this is a radical notion. The world's population is still growing ? it will take some time for it to actually start shrinking ? but the next crisis is depopulation.

The implications of lower fertility rates are far-reaching. One of the most profound is their potential to reduce economic inequality around the world and alter the balance of power among nations.

The United Nations divides the world into two groups, less developed countries and more developed countries. The most surprising news comes from the poorer countries. In the late 1960's, these countries had an average fertility rate of 6.0 children per woman. Today it is 2.9 ? and still falling. Huge and continuing declines have been seen in countries like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey and (of great importance to the United States) Mexico.

The more developed countries, in contrast, have seen their fertility rates fall from low to unsustainable. Every developed nation is now below replacement level. In the early 1960's, Europe's fertility rate was 2.6. Today the rate is 1.4, and has been sinking for half a century. In Japan the rate is 1.3.

Even before that in the WSJ he wrote:

Now, however, the U.N.’s new proposal acknowledges that fertility is falling more rapidly than expected in some big, less developed countries with “intermediate” levels of fertility (2.1 to 5.0). These include India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Bangladesh and the Philippines. (China, at 1.8 is already below replacement level, in part due to coercive family planning policies.) The U.N. concludes that the less developed nations are heading toward a fertility rate of 1.85, down significantly from the 2.1 of earlier projections. This would yield a maximum global population in the 8 billion to 9 billion range. . . .

Actually, I think even the new 1.85 figure is still too high, and that by 2050 we will see a substantial population decline. I believe the slow decline the document speaks of will snowball, as happens in exponential arithmetic. . . . .

Nicholas Eberstadt largely repeats Ben Wattenberg's points here.

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"OBAMA: Well, we are out of money now."

From CSPAN via the Drudge Report:

SCULLY: You know the numbers, $1.7 trillion debt, a national deficit of $11 trillion. At what point do we run out of money?

OBAMA: Well, we are out of money now. We are operating in deep deficits, not caused by any decisions we've made on health care so far. This is a consequence of the crisis that we've seen and in fact our failure to make some good decisions on health care over the last several decades.

So we've got a short-term problem, which is we had to spend a lot of money to salvage our financial system, we had to deal with the auto companies, a huge recession which drains tax revenue at the same time it's putting more pressure on governments to provide unemployment insurance or make sure that food stamps are available for people who have been laid off.

So we have a short-term problem and we also have a long-term problem. The short-term problem is dwarfed by the long-term problem. And the long-term problem is Medicaid and Medicare. If we don't reduce long-term health care inflation substantially, we can't get control of the deficit.

So, one option is just to do nothing. We say, well, it's too expensive for us to make some short-term investments in health care. We can't afford it. We've got this big deficit. Let's just keep the health care system that we've got now.

Along that trajectory, we will see health care cost as an overall share of our federal spending grow and grow and grow and grow until essentially it consumes everything...

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"It is not [the Obama Administration] goal to reduce the number of abortions.”

From Human Events:

Melody Barnes, the Director of Domestic Policy Council and a former board member of Emily’s List, led the meeting. As the dialogue wound down, she asked for my input.

I noted that there are three main ways the administration can reach its goals: by what it funds, its messages from the bully pulpit, and by what it restricts. It is universally agreed that the role of parents is crucial, so government should not deny parents the ability to be involved in vital decisions. The goals need to be clear; the amount of funding spent to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions is not a goal. The U.S. spends nearly $2 billion each year on contraception programs -- programs which began in the 1970s -- and they’ve clearly failed. We need to take an honest look at why they are not working.

Melody testily interrupted to state that she had to correct me. “It is not our goal to reduce the number of abortions.”

The room was silent.

The goal, she insisted, is to “reduce the need for abortions.”

Well, this raises a lot of questions.

If you reduce the need, doesn’t it follow that the number would be reduced? How do you quantify if you’ve reduced the “need”? Does Obama want to reduce the “need” but not the number of abortions? In that case, is he okay with “unneeded” abortions?

Note what Obama said in his speech at Notre Dame:

“So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. …”

Abortion advocates object to the phrase “reducing abortions.” It connotes that there is something bad or immoral about abortion. Melody’s background as a board member of one of the most hard-core abortion groups in the country (Emily’s List even opposes bans on partial-birth abortion) sheds light on why she was irritated when that was stated as her boss’ goal. . . .

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