Friday, October 31, 2008

English coot: Can we afford liberalism now?

I'm forwarding this because this old British coot Paul Johnson -- just check out his picture: you'll feel instantly ashamed of yourself! -- makes perfect caricature of the crusty, complaining British lord, while making a perfect mockery of his his crotchety brand of conservatism, which is back on its heels after the demise of capitalism's darlings on Wall Street. A few things I must point out though, in case they're not perfectly obvious:

1) India and China's boom has been in large part thanks to a bubble of consumer credit in the US and Europe. Without our borrowed dollars to consume all their cheap goods, they wouldn't have made it this far this fast. This is changing, to be sure, as they now have strong domestic and regional demand, but it was not the case 10 or 20 years ago.

2) What the hell do political correctness, environmentalism, and the media have to do with the financial mess we're in now? If using the "n-word," clubbing a seal, or turning off my TV will bring back the losses in my 401-(k), I'm ready to give it a try, but first somebody please explain to me how this is supposed to help.

3) Yes, we're in a moral crisis, but it is because conservatives perverted their own morals of thrift and prudence while telling the rest of us we just didn't understand markets or economics.

4) It's scary and absurd of Johnson to praise Red China's command economy, oppression of environmentalists, and coerced displays of enthusiasm before and during the Olympics. Johnson seems wistful not for conservative rule, but for dictatorship. Bring back the monarchy!





By Paul Johnson
October 29, 2008 | Forbes

The financial crisis, detonated by greed and recklessness on Wall Street and in the City of London, is for the West a deep, self-inflicted wound. The beneficiary won't be Russia, which, with its fragile, energy-based economy, is likely to suffer more than we shall; it will be India and China. They will move into any power vacuum left by the collapse of Western self-confidence.

If we seriously wish to repair the damage, we need to accept that this is fundamentally a moral crisis, not a financial one. It is the product of the self-indulgence and complacency born of our ultraliberal societies, which have substituted such pseudo-religions as political correctness and saving the planet for genuine distinctions between right and wrong and the cultivation of real virtues.

India and China are progress-loving yet morally old-fashioned societies. They cannot afford liberalism. Their vast populations have only recently begun to emerge from subsistence living. Their strength is in the close, hard-working family unit in which parents train their children to work diligently at school and go to university when possible so they can acquire real and useful qualifications to then go out into the world as professional men and women determined to reach the top.

I am impressed at the rapid headway Indians (benefiting from their knowledge of spoken and written English) are making in all the advanced sectors of the global employment market--science, technology, medicine, communications, the law, engineering and mining. They are ousting Westerners from top jobs, and rightly so. They are better qualified, more highly motivated and more reliable and honest. They have the old-style work ethic that we, in many cases, have lost.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was sneered at for stressing the Victorian virtues of industry and thrift. But she was right. These emergent Asian professionals have precisely those virtues, which is why they're moving forward and will eventually conquer the world--not by force but by hard work, intelligence and skill.

Equally impressive is the sheer physical power of the Chinese workforce. Anyone who goes to Beijing or Shanghai can't help but notice the astonishing speed at which buildings are rising.
There is nothing new in this. It was once the West that taught the world how to change its skylines through fast and furious efforts. One of the first examples was the Eiffel Tower, designed by engineering genius Gustave Eiffel (who also created the Statue of Liberty's internal structure). It was the centerpiece of the Paris Exposition of 1889. Using the principles of prefabrication, the 150 to 300 workers on the site put it up in only 26 1TK2 months.

Another example is the Empire State Building, which officially opened on May 1, 1931. Masterpiece of the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the Empire State Building was completed in only one year and 45 days, a testament to business efficiency and the determination of the dedicated workforce.

We couldn't match those time frames today, despite the advances in technology, because the advances have been outstripped by an even more rapid growth in complex and idiotic planning procedures, bureaucracy, myopic trade unionism and restrictive legislation.

Wake-Up Call

In London today, for example, residents are infuriated and visitors horrified by the way in which the main sewer and water lines are being replaced over much of the city. The work is agonizingly slow. Contractors claim they are paralyzed by the laws (especially so-called health and safety regulations) that now govern work practices. Depending on the type of activity, these regulations can lower productivity by 15% to 25%. They don't save lives or prevent injuries; they provide lucrative jobs for bureaucrats and fit in well with the ideas of union officials on how things should be run. They are a typical by-product of a liberal society.

In an earlier age New York City would have defied the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center by speedily rebuilding what they destroyed. What's happened instead is a sad and revealing story.

In August China pulled off a propaganda triumph with its staging of the Summer Olympic Games, which involved huge construction projects--all completed on time. London is currently preparing for the 2012 games. All indications, so far, are that this is going to be an embarrassing and hugely expensive fiasco.

I don't know whether this year's financial catastrophe will shock the politicians and people of the West into a new seriousness. There's certainly no sign of it yet. I had to laugh when a Chinese visitor recently said to me: "I see you're going back to the windmill in Britain. We Chinese cannot afford that."

That comment puts things in a nutshell: We are traveling along the high road to incompetence and poverty, led by a farcical coalition of fashionably liberal academics on the make, assorted eco-crackpots and media wiseacres. This strain of liberalism is highly infectious. The Indians and Chinese have yet to be infected. They're still healthy, hard at work and going places, full speed ahead.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Clinton, FMs not to blame for mortgage meltdown

I'm throwing down the gauntlet again.  Who will challenge me?


Poor Homeowners, Good Loans

By Michael S. Barr and Gene Sperling

October 18, 2008  | New York Times

 

 

For those who championed a hands-off approach to the supervision of finance, the economic meltdown should have prompted reflection on the value of common-sense regulation. Unfortunately, a growing chorus in conservative circles is trying to shift blame for the current crisis to the poor and the advocates for the poor.

 

Here's their story line: our current problems were caused not by people in high finance and government over the past eight years, but powerful antipoverty groups and the Clinton administration, which through their advocacy for the Community Reinvestment Act and homeownership goals for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bullied a Republican Congress and the titans of Wall Street into bringing global finance to its knees.

 

There's only one problem with this story: it isn't true.

 

It is not tenable to suggest that the Community Reinvestment Act, which was enacted more than 30 years ago, suddenly caused an explosion in bad subprime loans from 2002 to 2007. During the 1990s, enforcement under the reinvestment act was strong, prime lending to low-income communities increased and it was done safely. In 2000, a Federal Reserve report found that lending under the act was generally profitable and not overly risky.

 

By contrast, in the 2002 to 2007 period, the act's enforcement was weak and its advocates had little influence with Congress. In 2003, President Bush's chief thrift regulator — holding a chainsaw in his hands as a prop — boasted of his plans to cut banking regulations, including the scope of the reinvestment act and his enforcement staff, which he carried out over the next two years.

 

Instead, the bad subprime loans were predominantly made by financial firms not covered by the act. According to recent Fed data, 75 percent of higher-priced loans during the peak years of the subprime boom were made by independent mortgage firms and bank affiliates that were not covered by the act.

 

If the Community Reinvestment Act caused the subprime crisis, it is hard to make sense of why non-covered lenders drove the growth. These subprime lenders were competing with more responsible lending under the act by banks and thrifts. Their loans undid the work of community banks that had been making sound mortgage loans to creditworthy low- and moderate-income borrowers for years.

 

The second claim from advocates of deregulation is that the roots of the current crisis lie in efforts to encourage Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to do more to help low- and moderate-income homeowners. The assertion is that Democrats encouraged financial recklessness by insisting that Fannie and Freddie fulfill their congressionally mandated public purposes by expanding access to home mortgage loans to non-creditworthy borrowers. But again, the argument is not supported by the facts.

 

The Clinton administration explicitly discouraged Fannie and Freddie from buying predatory subprime loans. A report on predatory lending in 2000 from a task force formed by the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development called for Congress to enact legislation to "prohibit the purchase by each of these entities of predatory loans."

 

Furthermore, Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and Gary Gensler, an undersecretary of the Treasury, were severely criticized by the Republican Congress in 1999 and 2000 when they called for reforms to address the systemic risk from Fannie and Freddie and to reconsider their government line of credit. When the Clinton administration left office, the two mortgage firms were still bit players in the subprime market.

 

The subprime boom was led by investment banks and mortgage brokers, not by government-sponsored enterprises. Fannie and Freddie became unhinged in the middle of this decade when they tried to play catch-up. Their shareholders and managers pushed them to recover the securitization market share they had lost to unregulated investment banks getting absurd AAA ratings for packaging subprime dross. From 2005 to 2008, Fannie Mae purchased or guaranteed $270 billion in loans to risky borrowers — triple the amount in all its earlier years combined. That was a serious mistake in risk management, but it was not driven by the desire to fulfill affordable housing goals set in the 1990s or by the Community Reinvestment Act.

 

There are many lessons to learn from the financial meltdown. Chief among them is to beware the reckless spending, conflicts of interest and opaque practices of those seeking high profits. But it is a serious mistake to attribute any of our troubles to consumer protection laws and the actions of those in the nonprofit community with a history of promoting responsible lending to families of moderate incomes.

 

Michael S. Barr, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, and Gene Sperling, the national economic adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, are senior fellows at the Center for American Progress.

 


Taibbi's smackdown on cause of financial meltdown

Taibbi throws this National Review pseudo-intellect to the mat in this debate on what really caused the financial crisis.  Taibbi is my hero of the week for this.  Read this and weep, all you Fannie haters!

 


Matt Taibbi and Byron York Butt Heads Over Whether McCain Deserves Blame for the Wall Street Meltdown

October 14, 2008  |  New York Magazine

 

Every day (or close to it) until November 4, a series of writers and thinkers will discuss the election over instant messenger for nymag.com. Today, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi and National Review's Byron York argue over the headwinds facing McCain, what Phil Gramm had to do with the financial crisis, and the importance of credit default swaps.

 

M.T.: So how are you feeling about McCain's chances today?

 

B.Y.: I've just finished an article for National Review — the actual magazine — about the headwinds McCain faces. I was going to look at three, and then I started to list them. I stopped at ten. New Gallup numbers out today show that George W. Bush's job approval rating remains at 25 percent, while his disapproval rating has ticked up to 71 percent. How hard is it to succeed a two-term president of your own party who is at 25-71? We don't know because it's never been done.

 

M.T.: Yeah, that's a damned shame, too. I feel really badly for the guy. I suppose you think the media coverage is also a headwind?

 

B.Y.: Actually, I did not list media coverage among the headwinds. I listed the succeed-a-two-term-president problem, the right-track/wrong-track problem, the Republican-Democrat-enthusiasm gap problem, the Republican-Democrat-I.D.-gap problem, the financial meltdown, Iraq, Republican gloom on Capitol Hill, Obama's fund-raising advantage, and McCain's historical problems with the GOP base.

 

M.T.: But all of those "headwinds," or almost all of them, are the direct result of McCain having supported policies that are now unpopular. There is absolute justice in his facing a "headwind" from the financial meltdown, from the unpopularity of the Iraq war, and so on. How is that a "headwind"? That's just self-created unpopularity.

 

I mean, his onetime campaign co-chair and top economic adviser, Phil Gramm, basically created the credit-default-swap market back in 2000. Why shouldn't he get hammered on the financial crisis?

 

B.Y.: Did I suggest that headwinds are unfair? But on the financial meltdown in particular, if you're suggesting that that is a Republican creation, or even more specifically a McCain creation, I think you're on pretty shaky ground.

 

M.T.: You don't think the unregulated CDS market was a major factor in the current crisis? Were you watching when AIG almost went under? Were you watching the Lehman collapse?

 

B.Y.: I think that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were also major factors. And I believe that many of the problems in the mortgage area can be attributed to the confluence of Democratic and Republican priorities: the Democrats' desire to give mortgages to people, particularly minorities, who could not afford them, and the Republicans' desire to achieve an "ownership society," in part by giving mortgages to people who could not afford them. Again, I believe that if you are suggesting that the financial crisis is a Republican creation, or even more specifically a McCain creation, I think you're on pretty shaky ground.

 

M.T.: Oh, come on. Tell me you're not ashamed to put this gigantic international financial Krakatoa at the feet of a bunch of poor black people who missed their mortgage payments. The CDS market, this market for credit default swaps that was created in 2000 by Phil Gramm's Commodities Future Modernization Act, this is now a $62 trillion market, up from $900 billion in 2000. That's like five times the size of the holdings in the NYSE. And it's all speculation by Wall Street traders. It's a classic bubble/Ponzi scheme. The effort of people like you to pin this whole thing on minorities, when in fact this whole thing has been caused by greedy traders dealing in unregulated markets, is despicable


[Thank God Taibbi said in plain English what so many of you have smugly accepted as the truth: That black people who couldn't pay their mortgages destroyed the entire U.S. financial system.  That's what many of you have been trying to tell me.  Some have even claimed Wall Street was a "victim!"  But pinning this on blacks doesn't pass the smell test, or the brain test. I can almost understand why people like Al Sharpton are so paranoid, because at the first opportunity, blacks get blamed for everything that goes wrong in America.  - J]


B.Y.: I was struck by the recent Senate testimony of James Lockhart, who is head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, about the sheer recklessness of Fannie in recent years. Despite "repeated warnings about credit risk," Lockhart testified, Fannie became more reckless in 2006 and 2007 than they had been in the scandal-ridden tenure of Franklin Raines (who departed in 2004). In 2005, Lockhart said, 14 percent of Fannie's new business was in risky loans. In the first half of 2007, it was 33 percent. So something terribly wrong was going on there, and it became a significant part of the present problem.

 

M.T.: What a surprise that you mention Franklin Raines. Do you even know how a CDS works? Can you explain your conception of how these derivatives work? Because I get the feeling you don't understand. Or do you actually think that it was a few tiny homeowner defaults that sank gigantic companies like AIG and Lehman and Bear Stearns? Explain to me how these default swaps work, I'm interested to hear.

 

Because what we're talking about here is the difference between one homeowner defaulting and forty, four hundred, four thousand traders betting back and forth on the viability of his loan. Which do you think has a bigger effect on the economy?

 

B.Y.: Are you suggesting that critics of Fannie and Freddie are talking about the default of a single homeowner?

 

M.T.: No. That is what you call a figure of speech. I'm saying that you're talking about individual homeowners defaulting. But these massive companies aren't going under because of individual homeowner defaults. They're going under because of the myriad derivatives trades that go on in connection with each piece of debt, whether it be a homeowner loan or a corporate bond. I'm still waiting to hear what your idea is of how these trades work. I'm guessing you've never even heard of them.

 

I mean really. You honestly think a company like AIG tanks because a bunch of minorities couldn't pay off their mortgages?

 

B.Y.: When you refer to "Phil Gramm's Commodities Future Modernization Act," are you referring to S.3283, co-sponsored by Gramm, along with Senators Tom Harkin and Tim Johnson?

 

M.T.: In point of fact I'm talking about the 262-page amendment Gramm tacked on to that bill that deregulated the trade of credit default swaps.

 

Tick tick tick. Hilarious sitting here while you frantically search the Internet to learn about the cause of the financial crisis — in the middle of a live chat interview.

 

B.Y.: Look, you can keep trying to make this a specifically partisan and specifically Gramm-McCain thing, but it simply isn't. We've gone on for fifteen minutes longer than scheduled, and that's enough. Thanks.  [That's called tapping out, folks.  Byron York just cried "Uncle!" - J]

 

M.T.:  Thanks. Note, folks, that the esteemed representative of the New Republic has no idea what the hell a credit default swap is. But he sure knows what a minority homeowner looks like.  [Boo-yah!  - J]

 

B.Y.: It's National Review[Who cares? - J]

Stiglitz: How to reform financial markets

A crisis of confidence

By Joseph Stiglitz

October 22, 2008  | Guardian.co.uk  

 

Our financial system has failed us. Part of the reason it has performed so poorly is inadequate regulations and regulatory structures. Everybody agrees that lack of confidence in our financial system is a problem. But how can there be a restoration of confidence when we have simply given the banks more money to lend recklessly? We have changed neither the regulatory structures, the incentive systems, nor, in the US, even those who are running these institutions. As we taxpayers are pouring money into these banks, we have even allowed them to pour out money to their shareholders.

 

It is hard to have a well-performing modern economy without a good financial system, but financial markets are not an end in themselves. They are supposed to mobilise savings, allocate capital and manage risk, transferring it from those less able to bear it to those more able. In America, and some other countries, financial markets have not performed these functions well. They encouraged spendthrift patterns, which led to near-zero savings. They massively misallocated capital. And they created risk, did not manage it well and left huge risks with ordinary Americans, who are now bearing huge costs because of these failures. These problems have occurred repeatedly and are pervasive. The failures in financial markets have effects that spread out to the entire economy.

 

There are three related reasons for these failures: (1) poorly designed incentive structures, (2) inadequate competition and (3) inadequate transparency.

 

Strong competition is an essential aspect of well-functioning markets. But information imperfections often limit the extent of competition. America's financial markets have gone beyond these natural limitations of competition to engage in anti-competitive practices. Lack of competition helps explain banks' supernormal returns in good years. In many markets, small- and medium-size businesses have access to only one or two lenders. That is part of the reason that bank failures are of such concern. As banks fail, information about credit worthiness held within these institutions is destroyed, and it will take time to recreate. In the meanwhile, access to credit may be limited and/or expensive.

 

The failure to have strong competition enforcement has meant that there are a number of institutions that are so large that they are too big too fail. That provided an incentive to engage in excessively risky practices. It was heads I win (they walk off with the profit), tails you lose (we, the taxpayers, assume the losses, because we simply couldn't let them fail).

 

Even Adam Smith recognised that unregulated markets will try to restrict competition.

 

Markets only work well when private rewards are aligned with social returns. Incentives matter, but when incentives are distorted, we get distorted behaviour. In spite of their failure to perform their key social functions, financial markets have garnered for themselves in the US and some other of the advanced industrial countries 30% or more of corporate profits - not to mention the huge compensation received by their executives. But the problem with incentive structures is not just the level, but the form - designed to encourage excessive risk-taking and short-sighted behaviour.

 

Finally, markets often fail to produce efficient outcomes (let alone fair or socially just outcomes) when information is imperfect or asymmetric. But information imperfections and asymmetries are at the centre of financial markets - that is what they are about.  Our financial markets have even worked hard to exacerbate these problems, as they created non-transparent products that were so complex that not even those who created them fully understood them. This non-transparency is a key part of the credit crisis we have experienced over recent weeks.

 

We need to ring-fence the core financial system (commercial banks, pension funds, et cetera). We have seen the danger of allowing them to trade with risky unregulated parties. There will be ancillary benefits in restricting their dealing with offshore secretive banks, whose raison d'ĂȘtre is, for the most part, regulatory and tax evasion, facilitating terrorism, drugs and corruption.

 

We need more transparency to ensure that incentive structures do not encourage excessively risky short-sighted behaviour and to reduce the scope of conflicts of interest - our financial markets are rife with them. At the very least, they need to be disclosed. We need countercyclical capital adequacy/provisioning requirements and speed limits. We need to proscribe predatory lending - many of our problems are a result of lending that was both exploitive and risky. We need a financial products safety commission to make sure that the products purchased by, say, a bank or pension fund are safe and appropriate, designed to manage the risks they face; and a financial systems stability commission, to assess the overall stability of the system.

 

Part of the problem has been our regulatory structures. If government appoints as regulators those who do not believe in regulation, one is not likely to get strong enforcement. We have to design robust regulatory systems, where gaps in enforcement are transparent. Relatively simple regulatory systems may be easier to implement and more robust, and more resistant to regulatory capture.

 

Well-designed regulations may protect us in the short run and encourage real innovation in the long. Much of our financial market's creativity was directed to circumventing regulations and taxes. Accounting was so creative that no one, not even the banks, knew their financial position. Meanwhile, the financial system didn't make the innovations that would have addressed the real risks people face - such as how to stay in their homes when interest rates change - and indeed, have resisted many of the innovations that would have increased the efficiency of our economy. By reducing the scope for these socially unproductive innovations, we can divert creative activity in more productive directions.

 

The agenda for regulatory reform is large. It will not be completed overnight. But we will not begin to restore confidence in our financial markets until and unless we begin serious reform.


Ohio man shoots teens defacing McCain yard sign

Yeah, but these teens were in his yard. In his yard! That's holy ground. You don't come onto a guy's yard and then dare to deface his free yard sign. That's crossing the line. You take your life in your hands when you go there. Serves them right. Real men like Rowles, defending their lawns and the 2nd Amendment at the same time, make me proud to be an American.


October 28, 2008 | CNN

A Warren Township, Ohio, man faces charges of felonious assault after authorities say he fired his rifle at two teens who were attempting to deface his McCain presidential campaign yard sign.

Kenneth Rowles, 50, pleaded not guilty to the charge Monday, according to CNN affiliate WBNS.

Bail was set at $10,000.

Rowles told police he was sitting on his porch Saturday when a tan SUV pulled up and a black youth jumped out and ran toward his house, screaming, "This is for Obama."

He said another male was hanging out of the passenger window screaming the same thing.

Rowles said he went inside, got his rifle and fired three shots to scare the youths away, according to a Warren Township police report.

He told officers he believes that the men "were the same two that have been destroying his McCain sign."

Just hours before the shooting, Rowles called police and said that a car had stopped in front of his house and that a black male "ran up and said something about Obama," according to the report, and "damaged his sign again."

One of the youths, 17-year-old Kyree Flowers, was shot in the arm, according to a police report. He and the second youth, Patrick Wise Jr., 16, told police they were in the car attempting to leave when Rowles fired at them.

"Kyree stated that he witnessed the homeowner trying to shoot Patrick but he was having trouble chambering a round," the police report said.

The teens admitted that they had defaced the McCain sign several times, Warren Township police Lt. Don Bishop told CNN.

Rowles' is the only McCain sign on a street full of Obama signs, he said.

Bishop said the teenagers probably will not be charged -- and are unlikely to damage campaign signs again, as the incident scared them.

Warren Township is in Trumbull County not far from Cleveland, Ohio.

Iraq's gov't won't sign U.S. occupation treaty

I don't know how much attention the MSM is giving this story, but it's pretty darn significant.  The U.S. occupation of Iraq could end on January 1, 2009 de jure -- when America's current status of forces treaty with Iraq expires -- if Iraq's government delays much longer on agreeing to U.S. demands for a new agreement thru 2011.


Iraq Asks U.S. to Reopen Talks Over Security Pact Changes

October 28, 2008  |  Associated Press

 

Iraq's government decided Tuesday to formally ask the United States to reopen negotiations on a proposed deal to keep American troops here past the end of the year. The U.S. suggested it may not be ready to offer more concessions.

 

That cast doubt on whether the agreement can win parliamentary approval by the end of 2008, when the U.N. mandate expires — and with it the legal basis for the U.S. military to operate in Iraq.

 

The U.S. has warned that without an agreement or an extension of the mandate, military operations would cease, including not only combat operations but also infrastructure projects and aid to Iraq's government.

 

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the decision to ask for more talks was taken after Cabinet members submitted amendments to the draft. They asked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to present them to the Iraqi negotiating team.

 

Al-Dabbagh described the amendments as "essential" before the prime minister can submit the draft to parliament. Al-Maliki has said he won't submit the document to the 275-member legislature unless he is confident it can win overwhelming approval.

 

In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration may talk to the Iraqis about their proposed amendments, but that "it will just be a very high bar for them to clear for us to change anything" in the agreement.

 

She said that U.S. officials have not seen the amendments list.

 

"It might be something we can work with, it might not," Perino said. "We have provided them with our best thinking on it, our best offer. We think that the door is pretty much shut on these negotiations."

 

For nearly two weeks, Iraqi politicians have been considering the draft agreement, which would keep U.S. troops in Iraq through 2011 unless both sides agree that they could stay.

 

The draft would also give the Iraqis a greater role in supervising U.S. military operations and allow Iraqi courts to try U.S. soldiers and contractors accused of major crimes off duty and off base.

 

But critics say the draft does not go far enough in protecting Iraqi sovereignty, and major Shiite politicians said last week that the agreement stands little chance of approval in its current form.

 

One option being floated privately is to ask the U.N. Security Council to renew the mandate for six months or a year until a way out of the deadlock is found. It is unclear whether Russia, China and other council members may raise their own demands and delay the process.

 

An official at al-Maliki's office said some of the amendments submitted in Tuesday's Cabinet meetings had been forwarded to U.S. diplomats in Baghdad. The official said the changes were mostly attempts to clarify parts of the text that the Cabinet found open to interpretation.

 

He said the changes were introduced in both the English and Arabic texts of the agreement. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to talk about the discussions.

 

Neither the official or al-Dabbagh elaborated on the changes. Some Iraqi politicians have complained that the parts dealing with Iraqi jurisdiction were unclear.

 

They also wanted clarification of the conditions under which U.S. troops might be asked to stay after Dec. 31, 2011.

 

The agreement, reached after months of tough negotiations, has stirred a political storm in Iraq, with most of the major political groups reluctant to take a clear position for or against the deal.

 

Only the radical group led by anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has taken a public stand on the agreement. The group, which holds 30 seats in parliament, has rejected it outright.

 

Al-Maliki has not publicly committed himself to the current draft.  [Whoa, that's something!  Al-Maliki is supposed to be our guy in Iraq. -- J]

 

Iraqi leaders have objected to what they describe as unjustified threats by senior American officials about what would happen if the year ends without an agreement or a new mandate.

 

"I don't think there are any Iraqis who think that they are ready to do this on their own, deep down," Perino said. "Iraq still has a lot of violence that they have to deal with. Our soldiers are the ones who are there to help them deal with it. And they're going to need our help for some time."

 

In violence Tuesday, four police officers were killed in a drive-by shooting in the turbulent northern city of Mosul, while three civilians were killed and 13 others wounded in a Baghdad car bombing, police said.

 

Also in the capital, another nine people, including four policemen, were wounded in two separate roadside bombs targeting police convoys.


Why shouldn't voting be easy?

Voting on a Tuesday is an anachronism.  Here's why:
The reason we vote on Tuesday makes perfect sense — at least it did in 1845. To understand the decision Congress made that year, let's imagine ourselves as members of early agrarian American society. Saturday was for farming, Sunday was the Lord's day, Monday was required for travel to the county seat where the polling places were, Tuesday you voted, Wednesday you returned home, and Thursday it was back to work.
Voting should be easy and pain-free.  It shouldn't be a chore.  People shouldn't have to miss work, or stand in line for 8 hours (as some people are doing already in early-voting states).  We are the world's oldest democracy.  We should be able to get voting and elections right.  Indeed, elections are the "blessed sacrament" of democracy; if you're compelled to miss voting, then you're missing out on what it means to be a free American. 

For that matter, registering to vote should be made as easy and painless as possible, with more than one way to register.  For example, whenever you get any kind of government ID, you should be automatically registered to vote.



By Judson Berger
October 28, 2008  |  FOX News

Barack Obama's call for voters to take off work to volunteer for his campaign on Election Day drew swift recriminations from John McCain's campaign.

But it also might help rekindle a debate over whether Election Day should be made a national holiday or moved to the weekend as a way to boost voter participation.

The non-profit group Why Tuesday? -- which advocates making Election Day "more convenient" for voters -- highlighted Obama's statement on its Web site Tuesday, claiming Obama was calling for a "pseudo Election Day holiday."

While the group's managing director Barnett Zitron clarified that's not quite what Obama appeared to be saying, he told FOXNews.com that Obama's announcement certainly lends legitimacy to the call for an Election Day holiday.

"There's supposed to be record turnout this year. All stats point to that. ... There is a consensus out there that people would like voting to be more convenient," Zitron said, pointing to the fact that more than 30 states have adopted some sort of early voting.

Zitron said there's no "silver bullet" for election problems, but he and other advocates of adjusting Election Day argue that the U.S. needs to do something to improve its relatively low turnout.

On the campaign trail, Obama has been encouraging voters to go to the polls for early voting. The Democratic nominee took that a step further when he released a new 30-second spot on his Web site urging voters to "talk to your boss" or professor and then take the day off from work or school to volunteer for his campaign on Election Day.

Neither Obama's nor McCain's campaigns would comment on whether the nominees actually support holding Election Day on a holiday or weekend.

A study from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance shows that the United States ranks 139th out of 172 democratic countries when it comes to voter turnout over the past 60 years.

Why Tuesday? co-founder Norman Ornstein and Democratic New York Rep. Steve Israel noted last week in a New York Times op-ed that the U.S. doesn't come close to the top nations for voter turnout "despite all the money and the news media hysteria," and they argue that the current system "penalizes" single parents and people with two jobs.

They called for Congress to back a weekend voting measure -- which Israel, along with Democratic Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, has introduced. The bill calls for Election Day to be held on the first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November.

"Moving Election Day to the weekend means more convenience and less expense," they wrote in The New York Times.

That measure, along with another from Michigan Rep. John Conyers calling for an Election Day national holiday, has not gained steam in Congress.

But Israel's press office told FOXNews.com that Israel plans to re-introduce the weekend voting bill in the next Congress.

And a spokesman for Conyers said the Michigan congressman would probably take up the push for a national holiday again next year. "I don't think his interest has waned," the spokesman said.

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, nine U.S. states have already designated Election Day a state holiday. And a number of countries in western Europe and elsewhere hold their elections on holidays or weekends.

However, other research conducted at the federal level has shored up the view of skeptics who say changing up Election Day, or making it a holiday, would have no positive effect on turnout.

Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, is one of those skeptics.

"Somebody will probably introduce something (proposing to make Election Day a holiday). I hope it fails," he said.

Gans said congressional research has shown that among democracies where voting is voluntary, turnout is slightly lower for those that have elections on weekends or holidays.

"The problem with participation in this country isn't procedural. It's motivational," he said. "Outside of elections like this, people will go fishing and not voting."

Gans also argued against early voting, saying it permits large swaths of voters to potentially make their decisions under drastically different circumstances.

Instead, he said state officials should move toward widening the window when people can vote on Election Day.

John McCain apparently has similar concerns. In an interview from December 2007 posted on the Why Tuesday? site, he said he'll support "whatever gets people out (to vote)" -- but that when it comes to a national holiday, "I'm not sure that people wouldn't just go fishing or on vacation."

Kay Stimson, communications director at the National Association of Secretaries of State, also said research for the 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform, which she worked on, showed little evidence that holding elections on holidays or weekends actually boosts turnout.

"Some people believe it's not really going to give people any more time or motivation to go to the polls -- it'll just give them motivation to take time off," she said.

She also said there have been questions over whether absentee ballots could be accepted on an Election Day holiday, since mail service would be halted on such a day off.

Obama was not specifically calling for an election holiday in his latest announcement.

The "Take the Day" campaign suggests voters sign up to go to battleground states or work in phone banks closer to home on Nov. 4, when they would normally be at work or in class.

"We can't win this election unless every Obama supporter gets out and votes on November 4th. To do that, we need a massive team of volunteers helping us. Can you take next Tuesday off from work, join the final push, and make sure that everyone who supports Barack turns out to vote?" asks the Web page hosting the Obama ad.

McCain's campaign, though, scolded Obama for encouraging voters to skip work on his behalf.

"Apparently Barack Obama believes that you can't 'make history' by doing your job, or going to school, or caring for your kids. Apparently Barack Obama thinks the only way Americans can make history is by voting, and working, for Barack Obama," McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb said in a statement to FOXNews.com. "It's the arrogance of a man who believes Americans either support his candidacy or cling bitterly to guns and religion out of fear and xenophobia."

Monday, October 27, 2008

5 Myths about Obama and taxes

1) Obama will not raise taxes on 401-(k)'s.  And in fact, he's in favor of eliminating income tax on seniors who earn less than $50,000 per year:

 

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2008/aug/08/twisting-facts-taxes/

 

2) Heard the one about how Obama's plan to raise corporate income taxes will decrease the number of new hires?  Obama wants to give a $3,000 tax credit to any business for each new employee hired:

 

http://discussions.pbs.org/viewtopic.pbs?p=673870&sid=3869f174a956fdee85156ab74de0bf92

 

3) Moreover, Obama wants to raise tax on businesses making a profit of over $250 K, not revenue over $250 K.  Big difference!:

 

http://www.gopolitico.com/2008/10/business-tax-is-on-profit-not-revenue.html

 

4) Want to calculate how much your tax cut would be under Obama?  Just answer 3 questions in this Tax Cut Calculator provided by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center:

 

http://alchemytoday.com/obamataxcut/

 

5) But what about Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher, that hard-working guy whom Obama allegedly wants to tax to death?  Actually, Joe already owes nearly $1,200 in unpaid taxes and $1,261 in unpaid medical bills, but nevertheless, under Obama's plan, he'd be eligible for a tax cut, not an increase:

 

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Vote2008/story?id=6047360&page=1

 

Finally, let's dispel the biggest myth of them all: the myth of the Lib'rul Media.  Tell me, how can a rational person argue that the profit-driven mainstream media is in the bag for Obama, when their parent corporations (GE, Time Warner, Disney, News Corp, and Viacom) stand to gain $1.44 Billion in tax cuts if McCain is elected?:

 

http://sugarfreak.typepad.com/mobtownshank/2008/10/the-myth-of-lib.html