Friday, March 27, 2009

New Dispatches From the European Front Lines: Brussels Looking like Muslim North Africa and the European Union Under Stress

Fox News this past week posted an interesting report from Brussels, on the front line of the cultural battle between the beleaguered and retreating remnants of Western civilization and the insurgent “Unholy Alliance” of pacifistic socialists and muslims. Interesting not in its portrayal of non-assimilating muslims – that’s an old story – but interesting in its portrayal of the socialists’ continued self-delusion that once victorious they’ll get along just fine with their muslim partners. It’s remarkable to witness how hatred of Western culture and pacifism blinds them to reality.

In a report (link) titled “Politicians Fret as Muslim Population Swells in Europe Amid Little Integration,” Greg Burke of Fox news reports from Brussels:
A clash of civilizations may be taking place on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's also happening a lot more quietly in European cities. Old Europe's population is dwindling even as immigration and high birth rates among Muslim groups are swelling in cities all over the continent. And in Belgium, it is no different. Filip Dewinter, a leader of the far-right party Vlaams Belang, predicts there will eventually be a kind of civil war when the longtime residents of Brussels — the nation's capital and administrative seat of the European Union — realize their city is about to be taken over by Muslim immigrants…. Dewinter, who opposes immigration and has called Islamophobia a "duty," claims three of the 19 sections of Brussels, each with its own mayor, now have Muslim majorities. "In those neighborhoods it's not our government that's in power," he said, "but the Muslim authorities — the mosques, the imams — who are in charge."
FOX News visited one of those neighborhoods, called Molenbeek, which looks more like North Africa than the heart of Europe. For some Belgians, that's not a problem. The mayor of Molenbeek, Socialist Philippe Moureaux, … believes multiculturalism is a good thing: "Be realistic. They're here. They're relatively numerous and they're growing."
[A] real test will come when a major European city has a Muslim majority. The first could be Marseilles, in France, or Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. But don't count out Brussels, the heart and capital of Europe.
A part of Brussels looks like North Africa? Not a problem for its socialist political leader. Just a second front in the fight against Western civilization.

Meanwhile, storm clouds are gathering over the European Union of those starry-eyed socialists. The current cover story of The Weekly Standard is “Tough Times in EUtopia -- the continent's politicians think the undemocratic character of the European Union is a virtue; They have miscalculated” by Andrew Stuttaford (link). He writes:

The EU's insultingly undemocratic nature is not news (indeed, it is part of its rationale), but it remains the key to grasping how those who run the EU have, for better and worse, had so much success in ramming their agenda through. Not having to bother too much about national electorates has been a great boon to Brussels. As the continent's economies slide ever deeper into the mire, however, that once handy feature could end up crashing the entire system…. [T]he EU's persistent recourse to a form of soft authoritarianism has left it peculiarly ill suited to weather the [economic] storm to come. After decades of routinely bypassing its voters the union may well no longer have what it takes to secure their approval for the harsh medicine and painful sacrifices necessary to bring the EU through this ordeal in one piece….
[I]f, as appears disturbingly likely, the economic situation grows far darker, it's easy to draw an alternative picture in which both euro and union come under previously unimaginable stress, stress with unpredictable and potentially ominous consequences, stress that will be echoed and intensified by mounting political and social disorder in a Europe that discovers, too late, that there was something to be said for democracy after all.
It seems to me that most people in the States are either unaware of the situation in Europe or view concerns as overblown.

John M Greco

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama Affronts of the Day – He Wants Power to Seize More Companies and Wants a Mandatory Civilian Youth Corps; A “Center-Right Nation” This Ain’t

The shocking threats from Obama’s radicalism become more apparent every day. Just yesterday, Obama’s Treasury man Geithner announced (link) he (really meaning his boss Obama) wants the authority to seize and control any company posing a threat to the national economy. Geithner says this power would be limited to financial companies. Well, even if so-limited the proposal is dangerous enough (link), but who can trust politicians, especially Democrat ones, to live within the limits of their own plans? The TARP money, to pick a recent example, was expressly authorized to bail out financial institutions, but soon a big chunk of its money was poured into domestic automakers to rescue the Democrat unions. Give politicians who crave for big government control an inch and they’ll take a mile. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution is ostensibly limited to matters of interstate commerce, but big government anti-liberty liberals over the years have stretched it beyond all recognition so that now it’s used to justify just about any intrusion of the federal government in our daily lives. Want to grow your own tomatoes in your back yard? Well, your new crop might cause you to buy fewer tomatoes imported from your neighboring state, so you’re impacting interstate commerce and thus your backyard comes under federal control. The lesson for us is to beware of Democrats asking for authority they promise to use wisely and sparingly.

Meanwhile, we learn that the US House just passed a bill to explore the creation of a mandatory civilian youth service corps, no doubt to be infused with lots of socialistic indoctrination and decked out in its own uniform (link). I wrote the following (link) two months ago when a college professor wrote an article in the liberal Christian Science Monitor calling for such a creation:
Here's this "senior ethics professor" calling for mandatory national service in a youth corps whose purpose is "regeneration" through "permanent cultural change" in a program that will "better educate our students" to form a "new breed of citizens." No doubt all with a special salute and crisp uniforms -- brown would look nice…. You can just about hear what's going on in the minds of the liberal elites… if we could just get all kids into long 24/7 reeducation programs away from family, friends, and the wrong reading materials, we could finally achieve our dreams of "permanent cultural change" with a "new breed of citizens." It can look so innocent when it starts.
After Obama’s election some conservatives reassured themselves by declaring that we were still a center-right country. Well, I don’t think that is so. First of all, the concept isn’t valid. If voters were 50% socialists (desiring state control over most aspects of everyone’s lives) and 50% traditional conservatives (valuing personal liberty, personal accountability, and self-reliance), would it be meaningful to say that on average the country is “moderate?” Nevertheless, assume for a moment that the concept has meaning. Even after the disappointments of the Bush presidency, the very unpopular war, and the weakness of John McCain as a candidate, no “center-right” electorate would have come close to electing Barack Obama as president, given his writings, his past associations, and his past actions. No, Obama’s election and certainly his manifest post-national radicalism mean we are at the tipping point on our way to a bad place. And the so-called “moderates” whom Obama has duped into supporting him (especially those who joined his Administration) no doubt are finding themselves “useful idiots” as Lenin would have called them (a possibly fake but certainly accurate attribution). There's still time to pull away from the cliff if enough Americans react.

John M Greco

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Democrats' Spend and Tax Frenzy Won’t Stop

By recent standards, Monday was just another day in Washington. Republican Senator Judd Gregg and erstwhile Obama cabinet nominee now tells us that the unending reckless spending of Obama and the national Democrats is risking sending the US into bankruptcy, not that many people with a pulse need to be informed or reminded of that. And Treasury and tax-man Geithner, after months of deep thought, announces another installment in a semi-formed plan to rescue banks from the stranglehold “toxic” assets have on their balance sheets – if this plan is half-baked then it’s more than twice-baked compared to his last one. This time the idea is some sort of public-private investment partnership which would buy these assets from banks, and despite a lack of details (what else is new) and the horrific thought that capitalists must have of having anything to do with the anti-business lynch-mob crazed Democrats in Washington, the stock market moved dramatically higher. Hard to figure.

Meanwhile, in Illinois new Democrat Governor Quinn, having just proposed a 50% increase in individual and corporate taxes to cover a budget deficit caused by years of reckless and irresponsible spending, yesterday announced a plan to spend more money (link):
Quinn has proposed $25 billion in projects paid for by raising fees on license plates and driver's licenses. But legislative leaders have floated raising the gas tax to come up with the cash…. To get the ball rolling, however, Quinn wants lawmakers to use about $150 million in taxpayer dollars set aside for road building to acquire $1 billion in loans and federal dollars for immediate road projects…. The Chicago Democrat said he wants that legislation on his desk before lawmakers are set to go on spring break in about two weeks. "We have got to respond urgently," Quinn said. "This is an emergency."

About 80% of the Illinois state budget is social welfare such as Medicaid and pensions, I have read. And not to be left out of the spend and tax and spend mania, even my Village has a referendum on next month’s ballot to increase the local sales tax.

Democrats at all levels of government have gone on a massive, unprecedented spending and taxing orgy. Camouflaged under the pretext of doing something to stall the recession, the real aim is to dramatically increase the size and reach and power of government. For the true intelligentsia in the vanguard of the party, this recession is a “crisis too good to waste.”

Dick Morris, on the Hannity show on Fox News Channel last night, voiced what many I suspect are thinking – that Obama is vilifying capitalists even while his Administration is ostensibly trying to foster some sort of public-private partnership because he wants those efforts to fail, so that in the end the unresolving crisis will give him political cover, as it did FDR in the 1930s, for ever more government control of all facets of American society and the realization of his ultimate goal of transforming America into a nominally- but only superficially-democratic European-type social welfare state.

John M Greco

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

John Ford's The Quiet Man, a Film For All Seasons

This evening I watched some of John Ford’s The Quiet Man, an old favorite. A labor of love for Ford, a film he long angled to make, it is arguably his best film, and certainly his funniest, which is saying quite a bit given the many masterpieces of the man considered to be America’s greatest film director. It was a family affair, with many relatives of Ford, John Wayne, Victor McLaglen, Barry Fitzgerald, and Maureen O’Hara either in front of the camera or behind it. The humor and characterizations may be broad, but the sentiment is deep. I have a T-shirt, framed and hanging as a poster, a gift bought for me in Ireland by an Orangeman friend, no less, that proclaims the film to be “John Ford’s Greatest Triumph.”

There’s record warmth today in Chicago, and it’s a nice soft night, so I think I’ll go join me comrades and talk a little treason.

The photograph is of a large poster hanging in the Erie CafĂ©, an Italian restaurant on Chicago’s near North Side. Not so surprising, for after all wasn’t St. Patrick part-Roman?

Richard Balsamo

Monday, March 16, 2009

Illinois' New Governor Proposes a 50% Tax Hike To Close Budget Gap Caused By Years of Reckless Overspending

Illinois’ New Governor Democrat Pat Quinn, about whom I recently posted (link), has just floated the idea of a 50% hike in the personal and corporate income tax rate, dashing hopes that he would not be just another anti-growth tax and tax and spend and spend and tax and spend Democrat. In his first opportunity to show his true colors now as the state government’s top politician, the man who long cultivated the image of the tax-payers’ champion and advocate for fiscal responsibility has just switched sides.

As revenues fall for all levels of government, all the talk now from Democrat politicians is about the grave need for tax hikes. No mention of how in recent years government spending has grossly outstripped population growth. These politicians are happy and anxious to expand government spending when revenues rise but cannot find much to cut when revenues drop. All we get are visions of looming catastrophe if every proposed tax increase isn’t pushed through.

The facts aren’t pretty, and neither is the reckless malfeasance by Illinois politicians.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois has “a $9 billion budget hole … and our job and income growth has stagnated. Meanwhile, spending is skyrocketing — up approximately 45% since 1998. In the same time period, population has grown only 4%” (link). These stats are staggering -- in 10 years, Illinois state spending has gone up 45% while the population has gone up only 4%.

How did Illinois get into this mess? According to Charles N. Wheeler III, writing in the November, 2008, issue of Illinois Issues Magazine:
Illinois’ fiscal problems are deeper and more longstanding, the inevitable consequence of budget and fiscal policies that habitually have the state living beyond its means. Indeed, not since FY 2001 has the state had enough money on hand to cover outstanding bills — that’s seven straight budgetary deficits, with an eighth a sure bet for FY 2009. “Illinois’ deficit is not just a one-time aberration resulting from unforeseen economic conditions … ,” noted the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank. [Unsound budgetary] tactics “have allowed the state to maintain public service levels that it does not have the fiscal capacity to afford,” said a Center analysis.
Wheeler also noted stated that Medicaid, education and human services account for roughly $8 out of every $10 spent from general funds. Oh, and by the way, Steve Malanga wrote in the Wall Street Journal last November (link) that “according to a study published by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Center on the States, … Illinois … has the largest percentage of unfunded pension liabilities among the states [and] actually cut its contributions to pension funds by $2.3 billion in the flush years of 2006 and 2007….” According to the Institute for Truth in Accounting, Illinois' pensions and long-term liabilities amount to $26.6 billion.

So for years Illinois politicians have spent far beyond the state’s means. They have what Dennis Byrne has called "Budget Deficit Disorder." They’ve made themselves heroes at home to inattentive and hoodwinked tax payers, while kicking the bill down the road by budget legerdemain. But now the jig is up, the music has stopped, and the game they’ve played is out in the open. And so what’s Quinn’s solution? Cut all those programs we couldn’t afford all along and should never have been funded in the first place? Nope – just raise taxes now to fund them out in the open, without budget trickery. Apparently this is Governor Quinn’s vision of honest government. Rather than stifle economic growth, retard job creation, and bankrupt Illinois behind our backs, he’s wants Illinois politicians to do it out in the open.

John M Greco

Friday, March 13, 2009

Liberals Who Read Only Liberal Media Don’t Know the Half of What’s Really Going On – Case in Point: The Obama Team’s Bungled Freeman Nomination

From time to time I’ll be speaking with a liberal friend – I have two in mind – who will seem incredulous when I mention a "hot” political story. Incredulous because they had never heard of it, and incredulous because I would give credence to a story they hadn’t seen mentioned in the New York Times or the Washington Post or on NPR or Public Television or CBS, NBC, ABC, or even in the local Chicago papers (both of which -- one worse than the other -- are oriented toward the liberal). One friend benevolently implored me to stop reading “those conservative” web sites.

Of course, the “joke” is on them. It’s their understanding of events that’s incomplete, because they rely on liberal news sources once thought to be “objective” but which now only carry stories that promote the liberal agenda and often completely ignore stories that undermine their liberal views or liberal leaders. Conservative sources, on the other hand, because their viewpoints infrequently penetrate the dominant liberal “mainstream media,” not only offer news and information one can get nowhere else but, and here’s the important point, they also take note of the liberal media and the stories they are covering and not covering. In taking note of what the dominant liberal “mainstream” media is covering, they thus give readers “both sides” of stories.

This asymmetry -- liberal sources filter and carry stories only to further liberal aims while conservative sources cover both sides -- calls to mind that old TV series Upstairs Downstairs and the more recent movie Gosford Park. In these stories the “upstairs” British aristocrats know only their world, and sometimes that not even well, while the “Downstairs” help, who live and function in not only the Upstairs world but also in the real Downstairs world, see the complete picture. The Downstairs crowd knows both worlds, while the Upstairs crowd knows only its own artifice.

The recent story of the ultimately unsuccessful nomination of former Saudi ambassador Charles Freedman to be the Obama Administration’s new Chairman of the National Intelligence Council is an excellent case in point. The aspect of the story of interest here is not how someone so Anti-Israel and so pro-Saudi could be nominated – that’s easy to figure. My point here is how the icons of the liberal “Mainstream Media” didn’t cover the mushrooming controversy over his nomination. Clearly the liberal media wished to shield Obama from yet more embarrassment and scorn. For some, like the New York Times, the first mention of this whole controversy was when the nomination was withdrawn. Liberals reading only the NYT or the Washington Post must be wondering -- what the hell just happened?

On March 10, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection [by the Obama Administration] to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.

Earlier, on March 5, Michael Goldfarb wrote (link) at the Weekly Standard Blog:
So far the Washington Post and the New York Times have failed to run a single news story on the controversy surrounding Freeman's appointment to a key intelligence post. The AP [Associated Press] is busy writing about Sasha and Malia's new swing set. Perhaps an official investigation, launched with bipartisan support in Congress and involving a steaming pile of political hypocrisy, will be enough to warrant a report.
Here’s Mark Steyn writing after the withdrawal of the nomination at National Review online in a post titled “Don't read all about it!” (link):
I'm glad to see the back of the Saudi shill Chas Freeman, but I wonder what Mr and Mrs America will make of it tomorrow morning, reading for the very first time how the "Outspoken Former Ambassador" (as the AP's headline has it) was scuttled by a controversy their newspaper saw fit not to utter a word about. As far as I can tell, the only papers in America to so much as mention the Freeman story were The Wall Street Journal, Investors' Business Daily, The Washington Times, The New York Post, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Augusta Chronicle, and The Press Enterprise of Riverside, California.
But if you rely for your news on The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Detroit News, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Miami Herald, or The Minneapolis Star-Tribune - just to name a random selection of American dailies currently sliding off the cliff - the end of the story will be the first time you've heard of it.
The US newspaper has deluded itself that it's been killed by technology. But there are two elements to a newspaper: news and paper. The paper is certainly a problem, but so is the news - or lack of it. If you're interested in news, the somnolent US monodaily is the last place to look for it.
Finally, on March 11, only after the nomination’s withdrawal did the liberal New York Times and the Washington Post cover the story. How did they do? Did they finally reveal the details? Here’s Mark Steyn again, writing (link) at National Review online the day after the withdrawal:
Following my [earlier] remarks on American newspapers' suicidal antipathy to news, I see the Washington Post has now run its first news piece on the Chas Freeman story: “Charles W. Freeman Jr. withdrew yesterday from his appointment as chairman of the National Intelligence Council after questions about his impartiality were raised among members of Congress and with White House officials.” Actually, I don't think his best friends would claim there was ever any question about his "impartiality." And, from that textbook example of reportorial torpor, [the coverage is] notably shy on details on exactly what "questions" were raised….
Meanwhile, what excuse has the New York Times given for not covering this story, so embarrassing to Obama? Michael Calderone writes (link) at the liberal-slanting website Politico:
For nearly three weeks, the nomination of Chas Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council has been a hot-button issue among bloggers…. But one outlet that didn’t weigh in until last night was the New York Times. Dean Baquet, the [NY] Times Washington bureau chief, told Politico that there had been “a relentless effort to get coverage for Freeman and his issues," but the paper had to make choices with how to best use resources and personnel. “The main reason we haven’t covered it until something happened is that this is not high enough a job for us to cover relentlessly …” Baquet added….
Greg Sargent, [writing ironically at a website owned by the Washington Post Co.], … wrote that the Times “overall silence is even more bizarre when you consider that its hometown Senator — Chuck Schumer — played a major role in Freeman’s ouster, airing his opposition in private conversations with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.”
So, now that the New York Times and the Washington Post have discovered this important story, how is their coverage? Not so good, according to James Kirchick writing (link) at Contentions March 12:
[In today’s article,] the New York Times today essentially reprints Chas Freeman’s conspiratorial view of how his appointment as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council went down, in a story headlined “Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post.” There is no mention of Nancy Pelosi’s anger at Freeman’s support for the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the 87 Chinese dissidents and human rights activists who signed a letter in protest of his appointment. “The reality of Washington is that our political landscape finds it difficult to assimilate any criticism of any segment of the Israeli leadership,” the Times quotes Robert W. Jordan. Who’s he? Like Freeman, a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia…. Go figure. Having largely ignored this story for the past two weeks, the Times now puts this misleading piece on page 1…. A Washington Post story by Walter Pincus, meanwhile, is no better. Pincus, like the Timesmen, makes no effort to look past Freeman’s claims that he was done in by the “Israel Lobby,” ignoring the China angle….
My liberal friends would be wise to stop relying on the New York Times and the Washington Post for their news and information.

John M Greco

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chicago's London Guarantee and Accident Building

An image of one of my favorite Chicago buildings -- The London Guarantee and Accident Building. This picture is actually of a model of the building found in a remarkable diorama of downtown Chicago that is part of the model railroad exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago on the Southside lakefront. As an aside, the museum's building is one of the few remaining structures from the 1893 World's Fair.

The unusually-shaped London Guarantee building is located at the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, just south of the Chicago River, on the site of historic Fort Dearborn, and looks across the river at the Wrigley Building.

The architectural beauty, unique shape, and historic location make this building a must-see. Judith Paine McBrien writes in the Pocket Guide to Chicago Architecture: Designed by Alfred Alschuler and completed in 1923, "a 22 story building made of Indiana limestone using classical references throughout, from the three story columns
marking the entrance, repeated above the fifteenth floor, to the Greco-Roman tempietto on top. Note how the rusticated base matches that of the Wacker Drive Esplanade below and how the unusual concave facade accommodates the semicircular plaza defining the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive."

This great photo on the left and more can be found here.

Addendum June 2010:

This is an image of a vintage linen postcard from my collection.

Richard Balsamo

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Obama’s Mortgage Bailout – Facts Seem To Belie His Thesis

I’ve been ruminating about Obama’s $350 billion mortgage loan bailout proposal since he announced it a couple of weeks ago. There seems to be two parts to it: (1) people who have little to no equity in their homes could refinance their loans through the federal government at a low interest rate subsidized by taxpayers; and, (2) lenders would be forced to modify loans for people in or at risk for foreclosure; it seems this would include a permanent write-off of some of the loan principal and perhaps even cash payments to borrowers who stay current on their loan payments.

This plan has been particularly galling to many taxpayers, sparking widespread “Chicago Tea Party” protests last week. The argument is that this plan rewards bad behavior because many, and seemingly most, of the intended recipients of such taxpayer-funded charity are undeserving.

I’ve been looking out for information on the people currently in default on their mortgage loans. On the February 23rd Cavuto show on the Fox Business Channel, Bill Procida, represented to be a specialist in “toxic mortgages,” addressed this question. He explained that of the roughly 8% of mortgage loans that are currently in default, about half are for 2nd, 3rd, or 4th mortgages – i.e., they are not on the borrowers’ prime residences. He said that many of the rest are re-financings where the owners have previously taken their equity out as cash; that’s why with the recent drop in housing value their property is worth less than their mortgage loan – they took cash out and spent it. Some of the remaining are investors or speculators who bought property in a booming market hoping to sell later for a big profit. Only a fraction of these mortgage loan defaulters could even begin to fit the image of struggling families unable to pay the mortgage on their primary home. Procida doesn’t at all accept the argument that we taxpayers must bail out these defaulting borrowers in order to save the broad housing market from collapse.

I’ve also wondered how many of the defaulters are in Florida and California, places where the housing bubble seems to have been the biggest. I found the following intriguing. Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute wrote this (link) in the New York Post:
When President Obama discusses his … mortgage bailout, he talks as if it was a national problem…. "We must stem the spread of foreclosures and falling home values for all Americans," he says. But…. most of the United States will pay for the folly of few. The beneficiaries of taxpayer charity will be highly concentrated in just five states - California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Michigan. That is not because the subsidized homeowners are poor (Californians with $700,000 mortgages are not poor), but because they took on too much debt, often by refinancing in risky ways to "cash out" thousands more than the original loan. Nearly all subprime loans were for refinancing, not buying a home.
As for the government forcibly lowering (“cramdown”) the principal on some loans, it seems to me that in the end lenders would have to raise rates for everyone to compensate for the extra losses they would incur from the higher rate of defaulting. Again, the many would subsidize the very few. On February 23, Stephen Spruiell wrote at “The Corner” weblog at National Review Online:
Broadly speaking, this would mean higher interest rates on home loans for everyone from here on out. If bankruptcy judges can write down the principal on home loans, banks will adjust interest rates upward to account for the increased risk. Even economists who favor the cramdown are frank about this — they just think that the negative effects of foreclosures are worse than the price we will all have to pay for this sweeping legislative change. As [was] pointed out earlier, that conclusion is probably mistaken.
Then I wonder – if we could eliminate the 2nd mortgage loans, the refinancings, and the speculators, could such a proposal at least help the truly unfortunate stay in their homes, or would we the taxpayers be throwing good money after bad? From a recent Wall Street Journal editorial (link):
The recent history of mortgage modifications isn't encouraging…. [F]rom those who received a mortgage loan modification, a 55% default rate after 6 months.
Finally, despite all of the above, I wonder if there is much merit to the argument that we need to forestall foreclosures to stabilize home prices for everyone? Are we at the bottom or are home prices still too high by some historical reference point? Alan Abelson wrote (link) in Barron’s recently:
[T]he two charts [on] this page [from the firm ISI] provide eloquent and graphic descriptions of why … there's still plenty of room on the downside for [housing] prices. [O]ne shows the ratio of house prices to rents; the other, the median house price divided by median family income. At a glance, they both relate the same message: House prices are still too high, and not by a modest amount, either. Nor, ISI reckons, will reducing the number of foreclosures … halt the erosion in prices. While fewer foreclosures are likely to slow the rate of decline, they won't reverse the downtrend or determine "where homes prices end up." House prices, in our bloodshot view, have another 20% or so to fall before hitting bottom and, at the earliest, we're talking sometime next year.
So in the end, I conclude that a taxpayer subsidy of defaulting borrowers for the most part is going to benefit few “deserving” people, will not likely prevent many foreclosures anyway in the intermediate term, will primarily benefit people in a handful of states at the core of the housing bubble who were for the most part willing participants in the run up, and would wind up costing everybody not only now for the cost of the bailout but for years through higher mortgage loan interest rates.

So why would Obama want to do this? He and his team must know all of this far better than I. I can only speculate: public relations – promoting the image of the compassionate great healer. And, in his mind, after all, only the “rich” will be paying for the giveaway anyway.

JM Greco

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

For the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” File: Obama Tax-Challenged Democrats Worried About Other People & Companies Not Paying Their Taxes

This is rich. Obama’s Tax Cheat-in-Chief, Internal Revenue Service Head Tim Geithner, has announced that he and the Obama administration will be cracking down on …. people and companies that avoid US taxes. The Associated Press reports (link):
President Obama's Treasury secretary [Timothy Geithner] says the administration will unveil a series of rules and measures in the coming months to limit the ability of international companies to avoid U.S. taxes. Geithner told the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday (March 3) that Obama will propose legislation to limit U.S. companies' ability to shelter foreign earnings from taxation in the U.S. He also said the administration will try to limit wealthy Americans' ability to use tax havens to avoid taxation. He did not immediately provide details.
It should be pointed out that what Geithner is taking about is tax avoidance that is currently legal, unlike what he, Daschle, Rangel, and so many other high-profile Democrats have been caught at but will never be prosecuted for – illegal tax evasion. Even Rahm Emanuel is facing questions about his past taxes on property in Chicago (link).

Presumably Obama and his team of tax cheats won’t be cracking down on their own tax cheating, for to do so might clean out half of the Democrats in the executive branch.

Meanwhile, here’s the latest prominent Obama Democrat to be exposed as a tax cheat. The Associated Press reports (link):
Ron Kirk, [Obama’s] choice to be U.S. Trade Representative, owes an estimated $10,000 in back taxes from earlier in the decade and has agreed to pay them, the Senate Finance Committee said Monday [March 3]…. Kirk also agreed to make changes in his accounting of charitable deductions…. The former Dallas mayor is the fourth nominee by President Barack Obama to run into tax problems.
Jennifer Rubin writes at the Commentary Magazine’s Contentions group weblog (link):
Apparently there is a shortage of qualified Democrats who have paid their taxes. Query whether a better solution to the Obama budgetary revenue shortfall would be an en masse nomination of Obama’s wealthy donors to top spots. That alone would stand to bring in millions to the federal coffers.
This is the change Obama promised from the previous administration – it’s OK with him that his people don’t pay their taxes.

John M Greco

Monday, March 2, 2009

With “Jesse Stone: Thin Ice,” Selleck & Harmon Add Another Fine Film to the Excellent “Stone” Series

Last night the film “Jesse Stone: Thin Ice” (link) was aired on CBS-TV. It’s the fifth movie in the ongoing “Jesse Stone” series (link) which is based on novels by Robert B. Parker. The movies tell the story of policeman Jesse Stone’s experiences in solving crime and in rebuilding his life after becoming police chief in a small Massachusetts coastal town.

All five stories feature a heavy dose of crime mystery but contain a backstory of Stone’s troubled nature and difficulty moving on. He’s melancholy, he drinks, and he’s hurt and haunted by his ex-wife who occasionally calls to talk.

The films feature taut plots and fine-tuned character studies. Tom Selleck is outstanding as the world-weary, reluctant warrior with a strong sense of moral duty. All the films are well written, well paced, and well acted. Last night’s story was, like all the others, directed by Robert Harmon and executive produced by Tom Selleck (who also co-wrote a couple of the scripts).

In short, a fine addition to an excellent series. This is the first of the five that I've seen on TV -- I've watched the rest on DVD. I'm generally not aware of what's on prime-time network TV (and I almost missed this one), but this "made-for-TV" movie is a prime example of what such movies could be, should be, but rarely are. It's far better than most films made for theaters. I would recommend those not yet hooked get the four DVDs and start at the beginning.

R. Balsamo

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Obama Takes Off His Mask

Larry Kudlow writes (link) “Obama Declares War on Investors, Entrepreneurs, Businesses.” Don Luskin, on the Kudlow show, remarks apropos Obama “the mask is off.”

The real Obama is seeping out from under its cover. All last year in America we debated whether he is the man of today’s soothing words or of yesterday’s thoughts and actions. Is he the radical Alinsky-inspired “community organizer” who fomented unrest for socialistic ends, or was all that only cynical political positioning of a moderate man? Is he the product and reflection of his radical past mentors such as Frank Marshall Davis (once a member of the Communist Party), William Ayers (terrorist), and Jeremiah Wright, or is he a crypto-centrist as reflected by some moderates who he picks to surround himself? Is he a traditionally patriotic American or a post-American citizen of the World?

The jury is just about in. He tells us to believe his soothing words and not our lying eyes, but while he distracts us with his mellow speech, he is stealing our wallets and the secret to our prosperity – capitalism.

He knows he can’t usher in European-style democratic socialism overnight, but he’ll start quickly down that path. The socialist playbook tells Obama that he needs a crisis to move America to a place it would not otherwise go, so handed a recession he’ll make it deeper and longer. He tells us that this trillion dollar budget and unimaginable and incomprehensible debt load will be his number one priority to resolve. It will never happen and he has no intention of even trying. He needs the greater, sustained economic collapse his policies will bring.

He needs to bankrupt capitalist America, and do it soon, and in the chaos emerge even more powerful, betting a weakened America will call out for even more government control, as it did before in the 1930s. It happened then, why not again? Democrat policies turned a recession into the Great Depression, and what were the consequences for Roosevelt? Elected president four times and still revered as a savior by a hoodwinked generation. Slick words have gone a long way in the past, and Obama’s giving them another run today. Then we’ll get democratic socialism.

Melanie Phillips, in a post titled “Revolution You Can Believe In” dated September 9, 2008, at The Spectator (U.K.), wrote:
[I]n the world of Barack Obama, community organisers are a key strategy in a different game altogether; and the name of that game is revolutionary Marxism. The seditious role of the community organiser was developed by an extreme left intellectual called Saul Alinsky. He was a radical Chicago activist who, by the time he died in 1972, had had a profound influence on the highest levels of the Democratic party. Alinsky was a ‘transformational Marxist’ in the mould of Antonio Gramsci, who promoted the strategy of a ‘long march through the institutions’ by capturing the culture and turning it inside out as the most effective means of overturning western society…. [According to Alinsky,] The revolution had to be carried out through stealth and deception. Its proponents had to cultivate an image of centrism and pragmatism. A master of infiltration, Alinsky wooed Chicago mobsters and Wall Street financiers alike…. His creed was set out in his book ‘Rules for Radicals’…. It was Alinsky for whom ‘change’ was his mantra. And by ‘change’, he meant a Marxist revolution achieved by slow, incremental, Machiavellian means which turned society inside out. This had to be done through systematic deception, winning the trust of the naively idealistic middle class by using the language of morality to conceal an agenda designed to destroy it. And the way to do this, he said, was through ‘people’s organisations’.
David Horowitz wrote, in a post titled “Candidate of the Left” dated October 30, 2008, at, wrote about Obama:
When you peel away the subterfuges and get down to the facts, what you are left with is a life-long radical posing as a political liberal to win the trust of a larger constituency…. In his heart, he is an economic radical distressed that the Constitution presents obstacles to socialist theft; but when he runs for office he inhabits the persona of an economic centrist. The balancing act is superb.
If one pays attention to Obama’s deeds, past and present, and not his soothing, centrist words and earnest demeanor, it is clear what he stands for and what his intentions are.

John M Greco