Friday, July 2, 2010

Unemployment Rate Drops, In This Case Sucks, As Economy Staggers

Criminal Cartels Shootout Leaves 21 Dead

 Shortly after President Obama in a highly political speech Thursday said the U.S.-Mexican border is the safest in 20 years, 21 persons were killed in a gun battle between rival drug and immigrant trafficking gangs.

Although the shootout occurred 12 miles south of the Arizona border, residents north of the border fear the motive for this kind of violence spills into the United States in other forms.

One aspect of such collateral damage is Phoenix being turned into the kidnapping capital of the U.S., second only to Mexico City, according to Arizona Sen. John Kyl.

Politics notwithstanding, border security can only be measured to the extent of what happens just south of the border is contained from spreading north.

Compared to Mexico, the sporadic murder of one Arizona rancher, the increased violence in kidnapping and shakedowns for ransom, the uptick in drug smuggling arrests are a clear and present danger to those that live in the Southwest.

The degree the Mexican criminal cartels go to protect their trade is blood curdling. Since 2006, the Mexican drug cartels have murdered 23,000 people, including 4,300 in Ciudad Juarez, which borders El Paso, Texas.

The 21 killed near Hermosillo Thursday illustrates the more recent confluence of drug and human trafficking gangs because the area is a prime corridor for crossing the border into the United States.

Sonora state prosecutors confirmed the number killed. They said nine were arrested, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Seven rifles were confiscated, they said.

Mexico's El Dario newspaper said police seized 19 high-powered weapons and 11 late-model vehicles.

Not to be outdone and typical of the daily violence along the 1.993-mile border was the drive-by shooting death of Chihuahua state assistant attorney general Sandra Salas Garcia and one of her bodyguards.

Salas was responsible for evaluating the work of prosecutors and special investigations units in Chihuahua working out of her office in Ciudad Juarez.

Elections in 12 Mexican states will be held Sunday. On Thursday, the decapitated head of Hector Murgia, a candidate for Ciudad Juarez mayor representing the opposition PRI party, was found on the doorstep of his home.

Yes, this is Mexico's problem. But the winners of these turf battles use the power and profits to supply the United States with drugs and cheap labor, their most lucrative market.

Real or imagined, that's how American border residents perceive it. And that's why they snicker when the president says the border is the safest in 20 years.

As a result, the knee-jerk countermeasures the border state governments take is not surprising.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Obama Pitches Immigration Reform, Mucha Suerte El Presidente

One thing President Obama is not is accused of being incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. The president has so many major platters on his agenda it dwarfs the size of a picnic table jammed with plates of enchiladas and tamales at a Mexican fiesta.

For the first time in 18 months as president, Obama Thursday delivered a major speech calling for immigration reform legislation.

It fulfills a campaign promise to his Hispanic supporters. He called for a path to citizenry for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, a road his opponents describe derisively as amnesty.

Obama also signaled to Hispanics not to get their hopes up if the legislative package -- he did not spell out with specifics or set a timetable -- won support from enough Republicans.

Translation: Democrats in his own party don't want to touch this hot-button issue with a fork. They have enough problems in the November midterms without being saddled with immigration.

The Los Angeles Times:

“We can create a pathway for legal status that is fair and reflective of our values and works,” Obama said in his speech at American University. “The question now is do we have the courage and political will to pass a bill through Congress and finally get it done.
“I’m ready to move forward. But the fact is without bipartisan support we cannot solve this problem. We cannot pass comprehensive reform without Republican votes. That is a political and mathematical reality.”

Obama politically was mugged into itching the scab known as immigration reform. The 50 million Hispanic population in the U.S. represents a large percentage of his base of support.

In May, national attention was heaped on Arizona when its Republican Legislature passed a law rubber stamped by Gov. Jan Brewer that made it illegal to step foot in the state without proper documentation of national origin.

That law and more passed in Arizona and other states were embarrassing for it meant they were taking matters in their own hands in areas usually reserved for the feds.

“The border is more secure today than at any time in the last 20 years,” the president said in his speech.

Assertions such as that drive his opponents nuts, especially those who live near the Mexican border and have to live daily with what they consider a heinous problem.

Not to mention residents in interior states from the Rockies to New England who view the predominately Hispanic work force as a drain on their health and safety public services.

As late as Monday, Hispanic lawmakers who have criticized Obama for being lethargic on the issue, met with Obama and his people in the White House. The Times article said they left pleased.

In the past, Obama said the illegal immigrants who have permanently settled in the United States need to go to the "back of the line," pay a fine, learn English and then submit to the citizenship process.

Whatever path immigration reform takes, it must include border and interior enforcement, employer sanctions and a streamlined resolution what to do with families who want to live here permanently.

For a president who prides himself in mastering details of complex issues, he was not exactly forthright saying the border today is more secure than in the past 20 years.

He was spot on in that arrests along the 1,933-mile border from California to Texas are down 54%, from 1,171,396 to 540,865, between 2005-2009.

At the same time, U.S. Border Patrol agents increased from 9,891 to 17,408. Last week, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, increased assignment to the Tucson sector to 3,318 agents, the most of any sector along the border.

The decrease is not in itself increased Border Patrol officers, says T.J. Bonner, president of the union representing 17,000 agents. It reflects a downturn in the U.S. economy beginning as early as 2007.

Bonner in an article in the Free Republic Wednesday is quoted that the sharp increase in drug seizures has coincided with a steady decline in apprehensions, indicating to him that the agency cannot handle both problems at once.

He said once the economy recovers, the illegal entry tide will rise again. His agents apprehend about one out of three persons illegally crossing the border.

Speaking as a cop true to his profession:

 “Are we anywhere close to border security? No, we’re not. True border security means that no thing and no person crosses that border without our permission.”
What few people realize is that the Obama administration has kept a low profile in targeting employers who hire illegal immigrants, a weapon that strikes at the heart of the problem.

Two immigration attorneys co-authored this report on the California Employment Attorney website:

In the past nine months, 65 employers have been arrested and 109 companies have been fined a total of about $3 million. The government has also notified more than 1,600 companies nationwide of plans to audit their records, and has already begun hundreds of inspections. 

The Obama policy is a stark contrast to the Bush administration which they said:

(C)onducted work-site raids that targeted employees rather than employers. Although thousands of illegal workers were prosecuted, few employers were held accountable for their hiring practices and new illegal immigrants replaced those who were deported. 

What the attorneys are advocating to their clients is joining E-Verify, a voluntary electronic program that checks whether new hires are authorized to work in the United States. They said about 1,400 new businesses each week join, with enrollment in June of about 17,000 employers in California and 204,000 nationwide.



I wish Obama luck. I don't think he has his heart in it, politically. Under current laws, enforcement of employer sanctions will work if it is applied with the same mindset as Bonner, the union boss. Think of the outcry when homeowners are fined and tossed in the pokey when arrested for hiring illegal workers hanging around the Home Depots and other drive-by places of "employment." If you drain the pool, the horses will not come to drink.

(Cartoon from Insights on Law & Society)

Nancy Pelosi, The Straw Lady Republicans Love To Hate

Even before she became Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi was a lightening rod for the Republican attack machine, the epitome of a liberal, free-spending Democrat from -- gasp -- San Francisco.

In my family and circle of friends in California, Pelosi is the face of all what is wrong with Democratic liberals for she is seen as an elitist, environmental tree hugger, bleeding heart, anti-war activist, big government advocate and, worst of all, from a city that harbors illegal immigrants and honors homosexuals.

When I ask for specific examples of legislation Pelosi favors, they can name none. My friends and family are not dumb. Those on the right of the political spectrum are following the Republican propaganda machine. Ditto heads.

When I point out to them that as Speaker, Pelosi never lost a vote on any piece of major legislation, they are not in awe.

"With that majority behind her," one family member suggested, "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb could pass any cocklemanie thing they so desired."

In today's politics, vilifying one's opponent is staple as if displaying cartoons of Pelosi, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Hussein Obama will turn their cause to triumph at the polling booths.

What turned me on to this discussion is a story in Thursday's Washington Post, a new attack ad by the Republican National Committee and a months-old YouTube clip in TV ads used by Republican candidates in a few "red" states.

It features what the Post described as "a colossal tax-dollar-engorged monster who ravages small towns and must be brought down by Republican ray guns." The cartoon version is called "Attack of the 50-Foot Pelosi."

There's a variety of versions of the message the ad offers.

In North Carolina, House candidate Harold Johnson, according to the Post:
"If you're a small-business owner," Johnson says, "you get up every morning and you put your helmet on, because you think that Nancy Pelosi is going to come into your bedroom and hit you over the head with a baseball bat." 

My reaction: At least she was honest enough to wait until he awakened.

Pelosi has what is known in advertising markets as a high "Q" rating and the mere mention of her name in Republican circles triggers a Pavlovian response.

 "If you go to almost any grass-roots event and you mention the speaker's name," said Bill Flores, a Republican who is challenging Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), "you will get a huge response from the audience." Which is why, by Flores's estimate, he manages to drop Pelosi's name into his speeches about as often as he does President Obama's

I suspect the hidden motive of Republicans is, in male chauvinistic terms, penis envy or subliminal jealousy.

Her success in pushing health, energy, financial and stimulus bills through the House is a crowning achievement, described by political analyst Charles Cook and most congressional observers as "the most powerful speaker we've seen in modern history."

The question becomes if these ads the ilk of a 50-foot Pelosi translate to success on election day, the answer is no.

Before former House Speaker Newt Gingrich self destructed, the Democrats cast him in the same vilified cartoonish freak as Republicans are doing today with Pelosi. Reid, et. al.

Steve Elmendorf, a strategist for the Democrats during Gingrich's rein said "It's very hard in any of these races to make it about the congressional leadership."

For the Post interview, I was amused that Gingrich turned his bag of intellectual expertise to that of neutral political observer.

Gingrich warned that campaigning against the Democrats — even one as unpopular with Republicans as Pelosi — is no substitute for offering voters some idea of how the GOP would govern if Republicans won back the House. "People who think that all the Republicans should do is just yell 'no' are just plain wrong," he said.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reaching Economic Recovery Blindfolded

The $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009 did better than Republicans would have you believe and worse than the progressive Democrats maintain.

The U.S. economy needs another transfusion of gigantic proportions but without the pratfalls of the last one to avoid
what Kensyian economist Paul Krugman predicts a third prolonged depression since 1873.

Actually, I have one foot on Krugman's boat and one on the dock. Which poison would you prefer:

Risking inflation and a massive debt.

Holding fast to prolonged unemployment potentially longer than in the 1930s during the last Great Depression when it took a world war to scrape ourselves out.

The error of Krugman's ways is printing money (inflation) and selling U.S. Treasury notes at loan shark interest rates.

Krugman argues the panic-generated 1873 Long Depression and 1933 Great Depression

(B)oth included periods when the economy grew. But these episodes of improvement were never enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and were followed by relapses.
We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense. 


(Y)ou might have expected policy makers to realize that they haven’t yet done enough to promote recovery. But no: over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy. 


The Obama administration understands the dangers of premature fiscal austerity — but because Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress won’t authorize additional aid to state governments, that austerity is coming anyway, in the form of budget cuts at the state and local levels. 


It’s almost as if the financial markets understand what policy makers seemingly don’t: that while long-term fiscal responsibility is important, slashing spending in the midst of a depression, which deepens that depression and paves the way for deflation, is actually self-defeating. 

Let's leave Krugman, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to their own little world and pontificate what a new stimulus would do where the last one left off.

In the broadest terms, the 2009 stimulus with a year to go got us where we are today: Saving public sector jobs with bailouts; tax breaks for the private sector where jobs failed to materialize as hoped.

A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows the Recovery Act has increased the number of workers by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million. The CBO also projects that 3.7 million jobs could be attributed to the stimulus by the end of September. 

When the Senate killed a mini-version of a stimulus bill last week most of the attention was placed on the failure to extend $47 billion in unemployment benefits.

But it also would have expanded the COBRA subsidy by $7.8 billion; increased Medicaid payments to states by $24.1 billion; extend the welfare emergency fund by $2.5 billion and provide $1 billion for summer jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics for May was bloated with a once-every-decade hiring of federal census workers which accounted for 411,000 new jobs, excluding farming.  Only 41,000 new jobs in the private sector were added. Unemployment dipped to 9.7% meaning 15 million Americans out of work. The civilian labor participation force for jobs was 65% and the employment population rate was 58.7%. About 2.2 million were marginally attached to the labor force showing no improvement for the past year. Factory employment gained 29,000, bringing that total to 126,000+ in the past five months.

On the downside, construction jobs decreased 35,000 and that signals an even deeper problem.

Part of the $787 billion stimulus was a program offering an $8,000 tax credit to new home buyers. The program ended April 30 and new home sales dropped abruptly to the lowest levels in 40 years.

"The tax credit expired as the peak home-buying season kicked off," said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities. "Imagine what would happen to retail sales if they canceled Christmas."

The backlog of unsold new homes is 210,000 which is a drain on market values and only perpetuates the drop in new construction jobs.

Another failed Obama program was helping drowning homeowners with mortgages in the Home Affordable Modification Program. Out of 3 million eligible, only 170,000 borrowers were approved and more than half of those defaulted for missing payments more than three consecutive months.

Banks bailed out by the government took the equity to regain profits but a renewed vigor by tougher banking regulators curbed their ability to loan in a much tighter credit market.

The ultimate result was between the stimulus and bank bailouts the public sector for the most part held on to their jobs, the banks rebounded and the private sector business community gained additional tax breaks and credits.

The only guy left out was the poor soul living on Main Street.

And To Think John Boehner Could Be The Next House Speaker

To hear Democratic media cheerleaders tell it, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner had a tough day at the office Tuesday. The office of the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that is.

His interview did not go well and the film clips I saw made him look like he swallowed a month's prescription of a sedative moments before the sit down.

I disagree with Rachael Maddow his comments spoken in a monotone laced with no doze may cost the Republicans the November midterm elections.

Judge for yourself with the commentary and clips she provided on her nightly MSNBC broadcast and some pro and con slings and arrows in this blog roundup.

In the interview, Boehner said the financial reform legislation is as "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon." What's most needed is more transparency and better enforcement by regulators, he said.

Said one blogger:

Perhaps his dismissal of what happened to millions of jobs and the collapse of the real estate market is based on the fact that it was a Republican who was in charge when it happened and that the loose financial regulations that allowed it to happen were written by Republicans.

Now that has a familiar ring to it.

Boehner believes the Democrats are "snuffing out the America I grew up in." 
That drew this snort:
As Keith Olbermann observed, growing up the 1950's as Mr. Boehner did meant segregated schools, Jim Crow laws, anti-miscegenation laws, political assassinations, jail time for being gay, and polio. And the Edsel. Does Mr. Boehner really want to bring those things back?
Boehner raised the political mantra of the Tea Party to new levels by saying a political rebellion is brewing and "I don't think we've seen anything like it since 1776."

Maddow and her fellow progressives, better schooled in history than the minority leader, pointed out that little event called the Civil War.
Boehner said he wants to raise the age of Social Security retirement to 70, explained accordingly:
 “We’re all living a lot longer than anyone ever expected,” Boehner said... “And I think that raising the retirement age — going out 20 years, so you’re not affecting anyone close to retirement — and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken.”…
Boehner also floated several other reforms to Social Security, paired with raising the retirement age, to make it more solvent. Boehner said benefits should be tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) instead of wage inflation, and he suggested reducing or eliminating benefits to Americans with a “substantial non-Social Security income” while retired.
“We just need to be honest with people,” he said. “I’m not suggesting it’s going to be easy, but I think if we did those three things, you’d pretty well solve the problem.”
Correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Minority Leader, but Social Security benefit increases in deed are tied to the cost of living index.
Here's a gotcha which embarrassed  the minority leader:

Pandering John Boehner appeared on Hugh Hewitt's show on May 27th to complain President Obama was doing too little:
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Administration is not fulfilling their responsibility to the people of the Gulf Coast area or the people of the United States.
But Friend of Big Oil John Boehner told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review today that President Obama is doing too much:
Boehner said Obama overreacted to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill might warrant a "pause" in deepwater drilling, but Obama's blanket ban on drilling in the gulf -- which a judge overturned last week -- could devastate the region's economy, he said. Louisiana State University scientists estimate the ban could have affected more than 10,000 jobs.
Hey, Dude, what about the 16,000 jobs lost as a result of the blowout, the economic impact on the entire Gulf Coast and the ruination for years of an ecological system depended upon by thousands of species of fish and wildlife.
Summed up one critic:
I also find it disturbing that Mr. Boehner, along with a number of other Republicans, are cavalierly tossing around death and killing metaphors to describe the Democrats; they're "snuffing out America," or candidates talking freely about "taking out" their opposition through Second Amendment remedies or "gathering your armies," not to mention the ubiquitous Hitler and Holocaust imagery that pops into the campaign ads from Alabama to Alaska. I realize all campaigns go overboard, but where the Democrats were mean to George W. Bush and called him names, these folks are skating a little to close to dangerous. There's a difference between snark and death threats.
We've heard that tit for tat before. 
Here's what I think. John Boehner is a lousy mouthpiece for the Republican Party. The GOP is leaderless but not rudderless. Their best spokespersons are Sarah Palin who coins catchy phrases that stick -- "death panels" -- and frequent other misrepresentations of fact -- Ronald Reagan attended Eureka College in California (Illinois, actually) -- and conservative radio mega ego Rush Limbaugh. They will gain seats in both Houses not because of their lack of oratorical eloquence and opposition of no but because of history and voter anger over jobs, unemployment and frustration of a cursed Democratic administration. Yes, the party of no plays a small part of that equation. Good political strategy but bad for governance. The party out of power is always 100% accurate in hindsight. Wouldas and shouldas don't mean much.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kagan Hearings Are A Farce, She Said, Until She Was Nominated

 In a 1995 book review, Elena Kagan wrote that the Supreme Court confirmation hearings were an "air of vacuity and farce."

Now that Kagan is the nominee, she changed her mind and now agrees the lifetime appointees should remain mum if questions from senators “have some bearing on a case that might some day come before the Court.”

Her epiphany came, she testified Tuesday, when Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah took her aside and urged caution in her testimony.

Furthermore, she testified she would not discuss past Supreme Court decisions. 

This proves the obvious. Why hold the hearings? It's a dog and pony show.

Instead, we are spoonfed garbage from Republican senators that Kagan's mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall was some liberal freak activist who supposedly once said make a decision and let the law catch up with it. The man has been dead 17 years.

And Democratic members on the Judiciary Committee lambaste the current Chief Justice John Roberts court as conservative activists. In case you haven't heard, activist is a dirty word in political parlance addressing the courts.

These decisions, Kagan responded, are what they are. Brilliant. And a rose is a rose is a rose.

The fact is less than 20% of Americans have ever heard of Kagan, the Obama administration's Solicitor General, and my guess is that less than 1% can name all nine current justices of the high court and that same 20% could not name the justice she is replacing.

Yet, we must endure more days of hearings and unless an illegal housekeeper or an Anita Hill incident is surprisingly sprung, the chances of the full Senate confirming Kagan are
a slam dunk.

I rarely rue for the old days but it wasn't until the middle of the last century that the Senate hold hearings because it infringed on the integrity of the Judicial branch of government. Newsweek:

“For most of American history, the Senate considered Supreme Court nominees without soliciting [the nominees’] input,” wrote Benjamin Wittes, of the Brookings Institution, in his 2006 book, "Confirmation Wars."  Politicians considered it an intolerable affront to judicial independence to ask a nominee how he would vote on a matter; to answer any such question was unthinkable.
It was not until the high court’s epochal decision desegregating public schools, in 1954, that senators began to be emboldened to press nominees by asking directly or indirectly about what they would do if confirmed. It was an effort to exert some influence on a judiciary that--since Brown v. Board of Education--has assumed a far more commanding role in setting national policies via interpretation of the Constitution. 

The 1987 Reagan nomination of Robert Bork killed by the Democrats is my time line for the extreme partisanship. Ever since Bork, both parties and their special interest backers have one upped each other and turned the nomination process into a Roman gladiator spectacle.

I could care less Kagan is charming when she handles questions such as this as reported in the New York Times.

But the hearing placed an early emphasis on more abstract issues like Kagan’s judicial philosophy about constitutional change. (Sen.Patrick) Leahy (D-Vermont) asked her to expound on how the Constitution had been amended, and she plunged into a kind of Civics 101 discourse on the framers, drawing a contrast between clear-cut provisions like the one that requires senators to be at least 30 years old, and other more general provisions, like the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.
“Those provisions,” she said, “are meant to be interpreted over time.” 


I loved Newsweek's description:

Within a couple of hours after Supreme Court nominee Kagan began her long-awaited question-and-answer session with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning, most of the 19 committee members had left the chamber for much of the time. The spectator gallery was far from full—especially after Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, dispatched people to the exits by announcing: “Let’s talk about antitrust.”

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is fast becoming a favorite of mine for telling it as it is.

"Why should we have this dance if we're not going to find out real answers about real issues about what you really believe?"

Coburn is the guy in the MSNBC promos for its morning show with former congressman Joe Scarborough. Standing  on the Senate building steps being told of Congress's disapproval rating, Coburn said Congress stinks and questions the sanity of those 23% who think they are doing a good job.

I place the court confirmation process as it now exists in the same category of the president pardoning some stupid turkey on Thanksgiving Eve.