Tag Archives: liberal

Taking Aim at Ames

The Ames Straw Poll was on Saturday, the unofficial first start to a presidential campaign if you’re a Republican. Depending on what your personal view is of straw polls, it has varying degrees of influence on campaigns, as well as what kind of candidate Iowans want to see. This year, over 16,000 participated in the straw poll, with Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) winning in a close contest over Ron Paul (R-Texas). The two candidates combined for more than 50% of the vote, leaving the other seven participants in the dust.

But how much does the straw poll really matter? After all, its a voluntary survey of anybody who is willing to pay $30 can vote in, and big-hitters like Texas governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney decided to not take part in (Mr. Romney was included by vote of the Iowa Republican Party and Mr. Perry made it as a write-in). Yet, the dismal showing by former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who had been struggling to stay relevant, led him to bow out of the race the next day, so clearly this poll has enough weight to force candidates out early, and Mr. Perry’s roughly 718 write-in votes was very good considering he declared his candidacy that day.

If you’re a Ron Paul supporter, there are two ways you can look at his second-place finish. The “glass half-full” view is that it’s a big accomplishment to finish within 160 votes of Michelle Bachmann, who is the home-town favorite having been born in Iowa and is widely expected to carry the state in the primary. That kind of performance would make any campaign team happy, and should cement Dr. Paul’s place among the top-tier of candidates. The downside to the second-place finish is that it was in a straw poll, which is Dr. Paul’s best event, and his first second-place finish since last year’s SRLC conference in New Orleans. Also, since the poll wasn’t just for registered Republicans, his vote strength may’ve come from independents who may not participate in the caucus in February, which raises doubts on whether or not he is as politically strong as his second-place finish would have you believe.

Straw polls are all about organizing your faithful followers to make a strong showing, and Dr. Paul supporters are some of the most determined in the field. Ms. Bachmann’s, though, are just as determined, as is evident by the close finish on Saturday, and could potentially close caucus if the straw poll is an accurate indicator of how the caucuses will go. Dr. Paul proved he can place well in straw polls, but whether or not he can parlay that into electoral victory in February is uncertain.

Make no mistake about it, the campaigns are now going to get fierce, but the straw poll has shown who the main contenders are. It may not be an accurate indicator of who the winner will be, but it does reveal who has the grassroots strength to run a long campaign, and who has a devoted enough base to win in February, and maybe even in November.

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The Amazing Surrendering Congress

We’re now five days away from hitting the deadline to get a deal done to raise the debt ceiling, and things aren’t looking up for anybody interested in a “grand bargain”, or anything other than maintaining the status quo. What’s even more depressing is that from a couple of negotiations, there seems to be an almost bi-partisan push to surrender lawmaking authority to either the executive branch or a small group of lawmakers beholden to practically nobody.

In one case, some lawmakers are considering giving the president authority to raise the debt ceiling by himself, using a vague interpretation of the 14th amendment that states that the ability of incur debt “shall not be questioned”. The other method, which is being supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), would allow a “Super Congress” to be formed, a 12-member body from the House and Senate that would have the exclusive power to draft legislation regarding the deficit, and the legislation couldn’t be amended by either the House or Senate. It doesn’t take much research to know that both of these proposals are disasters waiting to happen.

Starting with the “14th amendment solution”, which I mentioned in a previous “Constitution Watch” article, is a gross misinterpretation of one section of the Constitution, which disregards the part where it gives Congress the power to tax and spend. While I’m not surprised some of the President’s advisors want him to involve the 14th amendment, I am surprised that some in Congress want to handover decision making on the debt to the President so readily. As for the “Super Congress”, which is the proposed bicameral, bipartisan panel, it is just as bad. The deficit, which is getting closer to $2 trillion with no real end in sight, is one of the most important issues facing the legislature. Letting such a major issue be decided by 12 out of 535 members of Congress is unwise, especially if it’s filled with legislators committed to tax increases rather than making any meaningful cuts. Unsurprisingly, this proposal is being attacked by both the left and right as an unconstitutional power-grab that shuts out 96% of legislators to the decision making process, and reduces their role to a simple “yea or nay” vote on whatever the panel comes up with.

More at www.silverunderground.com

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Five Days of Liberty: A Recap of PorcFest 2011

The freest festival in America

Ever wondered what it would be like if you lived in a world where there were no police, no laws, and no mandates from legislators? For the last five days I was in such an environment in Lancaster, New Hampshire. This event, called PorcFest, is a weeklong celebration of freedom, liberty, and a rebellion against crooked governments and statist legislation. This event is hosted each year by the Free State Project, a non-profit organization that seeks to create a libertarian community within New Hampshire, considered by many, including the prestigious Mercatus Center at George Mason University, to be the freest state in the country both economically and socially. The goal is to get 20,000 liberty activists to agree to move to New Hampshire to make it even freer than it already is. PorcFest is a yearly event that brings together people from around the world to join together under the cause of “liberty in our lifetime”, and also to be able to do the kinds of things that are illegal in their hometowns.

Read on at www.silverunderground.com

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A Nation Drowning in Debt

Our national debt crisis is serious, we all know that. Where many disagree is how serious the crisis really is. People like Robert Reich insist that it’s “ridiculous” to concern ourselves with the debt right now, when we can deal with it five years from now, and various Keynesian economists believe that spending will fix our current economic conditions, and tackle the deficit and debt when we’re on more stable financial footing.

Unfortunately for this side of the argument, the time to tackle debts and deficits is now, and the days are numbered. A recent Moody’s report, one of the most influential debt rating agencies in the country, stated that a downgrade on America’s debt rating “is likely” by mid-July if there isn’t a “credible agreement on deficit reduction”. This is the second such warning in two months, coming on the heals of the S&P’s threats of a downgrade amidst the debt ceiling discussions currently taking place in Washington.

Yet while the seriousness of this situation can’t be understated any longer, Congress doesn’t seem to be too concerned. President Obama set a deadline for a debt ceiling deal to be ready by the end of June, with Vice President Biden leading the talks. However, the Senate is in recess this week, the House will be in recess next week, and Biden is in Italy, making it unlikely a proposal will be ready at that time. You’d think given the severity of the situation, Congress would hold off on their vacations until a proposal could be agreed upon. It’s their job, right? But alas, it is becoming clear that if there is one thing Congressmen value more than anything, it’s frequent vacations, even in times of national importance such as this.

America’s perfect credit rating hangs by a thread, our deficit has grown to unacceptable levels, and important budget reforms have been subjected to fear-mongering and childish insults. Maybe instead of taking a week off, our representatives should commit to staying in Washington to fix this fiscal nightmare. Otherwise, break out the gyro stands and pop the Ouzo, it’s going to look an awful lot like Greece.

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“Justice was Done”

The great international manhunt came to an end last night, as the United States finally got their man. Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and countless other atrocities around the world, was killed in a daring raid on a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a wealthy neighborhood some 50 kilometers north of Islamabad. This moment, nearly ten years in waiting, touched off jubilant celebrations from New York to Los Angeles and beyond. President Obama remarked that this moment is “the most significant achievement” in the War on Terror, and he couldn’t be more correct. However, amidst the euphoria and celebration of the news late Sunday night, there was a shroud of mystery surrounding the raid that deserves to be addressed. How did bin Laden make his way across Pakistan away from the Tora Bora Mountains without being noticed? Why did nobody suspect anything was amiss in that neighborhood when a giant mansion with 18-foot walls was erected, dwarfing every other house in the area? Most importantly, how did the Pakistani government not realize that the most wanted man in the world was practically in their backyard, and living near one of the largest military bases in the country? Even though he was finally found and killed, new suspicions have arisen, leaving one to wonder how friendly American-Pakistani relations really are, or if we’ve been played like a fiddle for the past decade.

Let’s focus on the mission itself to start with. According to military sources, this raid had been in the plans for the last four years. The reason it didn’t commence earlier was apparently because the units that took part in the mission needed to be trained to handle such a vast, protected complex, and they had to confirm that bin Laden was actually there. This cautious approach was necessary because the neighborhood the house was in is no slum: it’s an affluent neighborhood far from the combat zone, and right on the doorstep of a supposedly friendly government. There was a great risk that this mission would go pear-shaped, and have ruinous consequences for diplomatic relations with Islamabad if the house had held just innocent people. It was a bold decision on the part of President Obama to sign off on such a mission, knowing the risks involved and the political hot-water he would be in if the suspicions were wrong. Luckily for him, and for the soldiers that took part in this historic raid, the intelligence was correct, and the most wanted criminal on the planet was taken out.

Unfortunately, it seems it didn’t matter very much if the mission was successful or not in terms of our partnership with Islamabad. The success of the mission only raised more questions regarding where the Pakistani military and government’s allegiances really lie. We all knew that fraud and two-timing deals are the norm with this country, but the fact that bin Laden had been hiding in plain sight for all these years, in a part of the country that is as heavily militarized as Abbottabad, is troublesome. There might be reason to believe that the Pakistani government knew he was there all along, and was using his presence there for leverage against the United States, especially when it came to coordinating counter-terror attacks on the Afghani-Pakistani border. We now know that bin Laden was nowhere near that area, debunking years of assurance to the contrary, and somebody either on the Pakistani side or our side has some explaining to do. 

A problem I have with the media’s response to this event is that there seems to be a consensus that with bin Laden out of the picture, al-Qaeda and the Taliban will crumble. I find this hard to believe for a multitude of reasons. First of all, al-Qaeda is an elaborate terrorist network, and it would be surprising if they didn’t have a successor-in-waiting in the event of bin Laden’s death. What is more troubling is how the organization will react upon hearing the news, and what consequences will their actions have on innocent civilians across the world. In the US, security has been beefed up at all airports and possible places a terrorist attack may go down, and governments across the Western world are following suit. While nobody expects a repeat of 9/11 to happen again, attacks like the Madrid train bombings and the 7/7 attacks on London’s transportation system are possible, and relatively easy to plan and carry out. These next few days and weeks are going to be some of the most nerve-wracking of the last decade, especially when we don’t know if al-Qaeda is going to be a force anymore without its leader and spiritual guide. As for the Taliban, they will definitely still be around, and still pose a threat to the Afghani government and people, as well as to the troops still over there. Make no mistake; this is no time to let our guard down. These terrorists are battered, but not beaten.

Politically, this moment couldn’t have come at a better time for Obama, who’s foreign and military policies have been much criticized by both Democrats and Republicans as of late, especially in regards to the war in Libya. While the success of the operation can and should be credited to the military commanders and the soldiers that took part in the planning and execution, the President is still the commander-in-chief, and signing off on this mission was a gutsy move. Also, headed into the 2012 elections, he has a huge weapon in his re-election bag of tricks now, and it’s a weapon that we can expect him to use repeatedly in his campaign, especially if the economy is still lagging. His approval rating is going to go through the roof over the next few days, I’m expected it to peak at around 60%, but any wartime spike in approval is usually short lived, and it won’t be much longer before his numbers come back down to Earth, especially since there are still many more problems the country is currently facing and he is still struggling with. Still, he has that one-up on President Bush that nobody thought he would achieve: during his presidency, bin Laden was found, and justice was done.

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When Ben Bernanke Faced the Nation

Man, the world has gotten depressing recently.

Every time I read the news or flip on a cable news channel, it’s the same dreary stories day in and day out: Oil prices are skyrocketing, the dollar is plummeting, commodities prices are soaring, and Lady Gaga still wears ridiculous clothing in her music videos. Usually one looks to our President for answers, but he’s been too busy raising money for his re-election campaign to stop and give us any answer that doesn’t involve partisan rants or false promises. So rather than listen to the same old chatter, I decided to listen to another perspective on our current economic woes, one that is rarely heard outside of Congressional hearings, and an individual that is often shrouded in a fog of confusion and frustrating mystery. Today was Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s first news conference of his tenure as chairman, a rarity for someone of his position. I was hoping that watching this news conference would shed some light on our fiscal and monetary problems we are suffering from right now. Why is the price of oil so high? What is causing the dollar to fall to such lows? Why are commodities like beef and corn getting more expensive? I thought all of these questions would be at least partially answered by the Fed chairman today, but alas, all I got was more of the same old chatter with no answers or substance.

Up until now, the Federal Reserve’s answer to our fiscal woes has been to print more money. The way the Fed does this is by buying government bonds and securities from banks and the Treasury, or by lowering the amount of money banks are required to keep in reserve, which puts greenbacks into circulation. This strategy, termed “Quantitative Easing”, is intended to make credit easier to come by, and give businesses money to pay their employees and take out loans. A few months ago, Ben Bernanke authorized $600 billion worth of bonds to be bought, which has caused inflation. Essentially, what has happened is that since more dollars are in circulation, they are being devalued, which means goods suppliers want more money for their goods, causing inflation to occur. In addition to these policies, the revolutions throughout the Middle East have caused oil prices to jump to record highs, making transportation of goods more expensive. Since oil prices are determined in US dollars, it makes the dollar look weaker and weaker. Hoping to hear about a new direction from the Fed chairman, I tuned in, but all I got instead was Bernanke saying his policies were going to remain the same.

When asked about the rising gas prices, he admitted that there isn’t much the Fed could do to stem the rise. While I agree that he can’t magically make them go lower, and we shouldn’t expect him to take any drastic action, there are still policies that he could enact that would help consumers at the pump, like selling government bonds to take dollars out of circulation and keep the prices somewhat controlled. Since the United States has an import-driven economy, it is imperative that we have a strong currency so imports, like oil, remain affordable. Bernanke went on to say that he can’t lower the rate of inflation right now because the economy is still fragile, and doing so would cause a second recession. He conveniently forgot to mention that persistent inflation is still not good either, and if the 2% inflation rate (which he has set right now) holds for much longer, it would put American jobs at risk by making goods harder to afford. I know 2% doesn’t seem like much right now, but as time goes on, it has a bigger and bigger impact on the economy than previously.

The press members that were present today did a pretty good job at asking tough, poignant questions regarding the state of the economy, and I only hoped that Bernanke would be able to respond with more than just vague answers that the Federal Reserve is famous for. Since such public statements by a man in his position are rare, I was hoping that he was going to announce some bold new plan of his to keep the economy going, or what he thought would keep the economy going but instead made the dollar weaker and weaker. Unfortunately, the much hyped news conference was just Bernanke telling the nation that he’s continuing the same policies and that he might alter them when the economy gets better and more people become employed. He still deserves some applause for having a big enough pair of moneybags to go in front of the cameras, but I just wish I got some real answers as to why the country is on a slow, depressing decline. 

Back to the depressing drone for me, I suppose.

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Who Won the Government Shutdown Smackdown?

Just before midnight on Friday, April 8th, Congress pulled off the equivalent of a last-minute field goal in the realm of government: they got a long-term spending deal done and are able to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. Although there is still no real budget, the spending plan promises to cut a record $39 billion, the largest one-year cut in history. President Obama and John Boehner both claimed victory for this negotiation, and in a rarer moment, the Tea Party praised Boehner rather than criticized him. Democrats and Republicans, in usual partisan fashion, each hit the airwaves trying to claim credit and heap blame on the other side for stalling on the proposal. The tough battles lie ahead, and the battle over the FY2012 budget will be as intense if not more so than the battle to keep the government going. One thing we say about this deal though is that Boehner went toe-to-toe with Obama and Reid, and got what he was elected to the Speakership to do: cut spending.

On numbers alone, Boehner won the poker match. Considering he is dealing with the most spend-happy President and Senate Majority Leader we’ve had, it was an accomplishment to win any sort of spending reduction, especially considering the Democrats didn’t want to cut anything. Yes, $39 billion isn’t going to bring down the deficit at the rates the country needs, and it’s a far cry from the $61 billion some Tea Party leaders were calling for, but it’s more than half that number, a good result in what were some very tough negotiations. It also shows the American people, as I mentioned in my previous article “Countdown to Shutdown”, that the GOP means business when it comes to cutting spending. It also puts the budget fight in Paul Ryan’s court for the next six months, and the promise of $6.3 trillion in cuts will win over some on the fence legislators. It’s unrealistic to think the Ryan budget will get to the President unaltered, after all, Democrats control the Senate and the White House, but it gives Republicans the upper hand in negotiations because they can act with the confidence that they can get serious spending reforms passed, even ones President Obama might not be comfortable with. The downside of the negotiations is that the defunding of Planned Parenthood and NPR and the reining in of the EPA’s extra-legal powers are going to a Senate vote, which will result in certain defeat, but hey, that’s negotiating for you, although these are proposals that should be given serious consideration in the months ahead.

Round one of what might be the biggest spending battle in American history has been decided, and the result was a $39 billion cut that may be miniscule in the face of a $1.6 trillion deficit, but it was a strong first step in the quest to rein in government spending. The next round will feature a real budget that may very well determine the 2012 presidential elections, as well as who controls Congress come 2013.

Fasten your seat belts, kids, it’s going to be a wild ride.

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