Friday, July 9, 2010

Dr. Donald Berwick: The President's One-Man Death Panel

President Obama, who had condemned the practice while he was running for president (just as he had also condemned presidential executive order, Guantanamo, and so many other things), made a recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick as the head of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services on Wednesday.

Even though he was nominated by Obama to the position back in April, no hearing was scheduled, and Dr. Berwick didn't submit information sought by the Senate committee (Finance Committee chaired by Max Baucus, D-Mont.) that would hold the hearing.

Not just Republicans but Democrats, including Finance Committee chairman Baucus, are troubled by the president's use of recess appointment. Baucus said "Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power." (That's really a noble statement, Senator Baucus, coming particularly from you.)

As the Investors Business Daily's article below points out, Dr. Berwick is well-known for his admiration and cheerleading for the Great Britain's health care system. (Either he is deaf and blind, or he genuinely likes the 'cost saving' feature of the Britain's system - 'cost saving' which seems to come as the result of not saving patients.) Some conservative news outlets and blogs call him "Rationing Czar".

The President's One-Man Death Panel (7/8/2010 Investors Business Daily Editorial)

"Health Care: The president recess-appoints a fan of rationing and Britain's National Health Service to direct one-third of American health care. Why does the administration want his views hidden from scrutiny?

"'The decision is not whether or not we will ration care — the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open." That's what Dr. Donald Berwick, President Obama's nominee to head the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, told a National Institutes of Health publication a year ago, when he was just president and CEO of the Institute for Health Care Improvement.

"Such views were to be fodder for a stormy confirmation hearing — except none has been scheduled.

"Instead, Obama opted to make a recess appointment of Berwick to head CMS, an agency that oversees a third of all health care spending in the U.S. and that will play a major role under ObamaCare in deciding what care is available and who gets it.

"Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rightly accused the president of trying to "arrogantly circumvent the American people" with Congress out of town for its annual Fourth of July break.

"Berwick could serve through 2011 without Senate confirmation. This sleight of hand involving one-sixth of the American economy and the man who will run one-third of that is the fruit of hope and change?

"It is understandable why the administration would want to keep Berwick's views under the radar. He has praised the U.K's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which he says has "developed very good and very disciplined, scientifically grounded, policy-connected models for the evaluation of medical treatments from which we ought to learn."

"Last year, the Orwellian-named NICE unveiled plans to cut annual steroid injections for severe back pain to 3,000 from 60,000. "The consequences of the NICE decision will be devastating for thousands of patients," Jonathan Richardson of Bradford Hospital's Trust told London's Daily Telegraph.

""It will mean," said Dr. Richardson, "more people on opiates, which are addictive and kill 2,000 a year. It will mean more people having spinal surgery, which is incredibly risky and has a 50% failure rate."

"And here we thought the first rule of medicine was to do no harm.

"If Berwick wants to imitate Britain's model, perhaps he can explain why breast cancer in America has a 25% mortality rate while in Britain it's almost double at 46%."

Racial and Gender Quota Coming to Financial Institutions?

under the financial "reform" bill, aka Dodd-Frank bill.

Thomas DiLorenzo at LRC Blog writes:

How Washington Plans to “Stabilize” Financial Institutions (July 8, 2010)

"By ordering them to abandon merit in hiring decisions and replace it with skin color and type of sex organ. This is no surprise, of course, since the defining charactaristic [sic.] of the American Left, in academe, politics, and elsewhere, is hatred of white heterosexual males (“while male oppressors” in the language of the academic Marxists who dominate higher education). A second defining characteristic of the American Left, which is on display every week with Paul Krugman’s New York Times columns, is radical and belligerent economic ignorance."


So I followed the link, and here is what I landed:

Racial, Gender Quotas in the Financial Bill?
(Diana Furchtgott-Roth, 7/8/2010 Real Clear Markets)

"WASHINGTON - What one finds when reading congressional legislation is invariably surprising. Take the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, for instance, which was created by merging Senate and House bills. When the Senate returns from recess one of its first actions will be to vote on the bill, which passed the House on June 30.

"I was searching the bill for a provision about derivatives. What did I find but Section 342, which declares that race and gender employment ratios, if not quotas, must be observed by private financial institutions that do business with the government. In a major power grab, the new law inserts race and gender quotas into America's financial industry.

"In addition to this bill's well-publicized plans to establish over a dozen new financial regulatory offices, Section 342 sets up at least 20 Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion. This has had no coverage by the news media and has large implications.

"The Treasury, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the 12 Federal Reserve regional banks, the Board of Governors of the Fed, the National Credit Union Administration, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau...all would get their own Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.

"Each office would have its own director and staff to develop policies promoting equal employment opportunities and racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of not just the agency's workforce, but also the workforces of its contractors and sub-contractors.

"What would be the mission of this new corps of Federal monitors? The Dodd-Frank bill sets it forth succinctly and simply - all too simply. The mission, it says, is to assure "to the maximum extent possible the fair inclusion" of women and minorities, individually and through businesses they own, in the activities of the agencies, including contracting." [Emphasis is mine. The article continues.]

My immediate question is "What is 'fair' and who defines it?"

My second question is "What the hell does this have to do with preventing the financial crisis?" If there had been more minorities and women in the financial industry, the credit crisis and sovereign debt crisis wouldn't have happened? Is that the rationale?

Do they even know (with a few exceptions) WHY the financial crisis and market/economic crash occurred? (It's because of the private banking cartel whose name is "Federal" and who doesn't have "Reserve", and who will be in charge of presiding over all financial transactions of 'small people'.)

(The Congress does deserve a 'fair' wage for coming up with such a brilliant idea. They deserve to be paid NOTHING. Zero. Nada. Null.)

The bill, which by the way dropped "Wall Street" from the bill title in the Senate (isn't that telling?), is currently titled "Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010". H.R.4173 is the bill number.

The writer, however, may have gotten the Section number wrong (or the sections got moved around in conference). I found the Section 1801 in the final House bill (referred to Senate) that defines the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.

If you are curious, here's the PDF file of the House bill. Go to page 522. I couldn't find it in the current Senate amendment, which does not mean it is not there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

3rd Largest Single-Day Debt Increase - Let's Blame Bush

"White House officials said that big a jump is not the norm and that Mr. Obama has worked with the hand he was dealt by Mr. Bush." (from the Washington Times article linked below.)

The rhetoric is getting really tired. (If Obama didn't like to inherit what was there, he didn't have to run for presidency.)

U.S. marks 3rd-largest, single-day debt increase
(Stephen Dinan, 7/8/2010 Washington Times)

"The nation's debt leapt $166 billion in a single day last week, the third-largest increase in U.S. history, and it comes at a time when Congress is balking over higher spending and debt has become a key policy battleground.

"The one-day increase for June 30 totaled $165,931,038,264.30 - bigger than the entire annual deficit for fiscal year 2007 and larger than the $140 billion in savings the new health care bill will produce over its first 10 years. The figure works out to nearly $1,500 for every U.S. household, or more than 10 times the median daily household income.

"Daily debt calculations jump and fall, and big shifts are common. But all three of the biggest one-day debt increases have occurred under the tenure of President Obama, and all of the top six have been in the past two years - an indication of just how quickly the pace of deficit spending has risen under Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush.

""What matters is the overall trend line, and the overall trend line is shooting up," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan deficit watchdog group, who said it is one more reason for a fiscal wake-up call." [Emphasis is mine.. The article continues.]

$166 billion, by the way, is about 29% of the entire public debt of Greece.

In case you haven't noticed, there are an increasing number of pundits (analysts, court-economists) these days who basically call this aversion to government spending by the tax-paying middle class as "austerity hysteria" or "deficit hysteria" that would stifle the economic "growth" at best, and would plunge the entire world into deflationary depression at worst.

Tax-paying middle class (or what's left of it) wanting the government to stop wasting their money is "hysteria" in this new age of Obamanomics, Newspeak and Crimestop.

By the way, to avoid this "hysteria", Congressional Democrats have gone stealth. The article duly notes later:

"Fears over red ink have stalled key parts of Mr. Obama's agenda in Congress in recent weeks, including his push for another round of stimulus spending. Just last week, House Democrats had to use a tricky parliamentary tactic to pass an emergency war-spending bill, aid for teachers and new spending caps."

Yup. The Supplemental Appropriation Bill of 2010 included $25 billion to be given to the public union workers - teachers, firefighters, and policemen, who enjoy much securer job prospect in this worst recession since the GD and higher average pay than the private sector workers, and many of whom will retire as "millionaires" (as their pensions will be worth $millions, to be paid by the taxpayers as their pension funds are almost all underfunded).

May I recommend reading this article by Lew Rockwell for a start, on how to beat back Obamanomics which is the result from almost willful ignorance of economics?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Minyanville: Why Bailout Money Should Have Gone to Underwater Homeowners

Robert Barone, head of Ancora West, argues in Minyanville that $2 trillion bailout money that went to the likes of AIG, Fannie and Freddie, Citigroup, GM and Chrysler and TARP recipients should have gone to homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth ('underwater').

In his article, he cites one recent case of J.P. Morgan Chase modifying the mortgage of one of his clients (who didn't even ask for modification) by 27%, resulting in win-win situation for both the bank and the underwater homeowner client of his:

JPMorgan's Generosity

In June, one of my clients was forgiven a substantial portion of the loan on his primary residence by JPMorganChase (JPM). It appears that JPMorgan is doing this for the sub-prime and Alt-A loans it inherited from its FDIC-assisted purchase of Washington Mutual (WaMu). In my client's case, a $250,000 principal reduction was given on a $937,000 principal balance (originally owed to WaMu). The mortgage holder didn't communicate with JPMorgan or ask for any consideration, and had always been current on the loan. The existing interest rate was 2.5% (variable rate loan). In exchange for the principal reduction, JPMorgan asked for a 5.0% fixed-rate 25-year amortizing loan. The client's monthly payment stayed the same.

Recall that JPMorgan received a large amount of FDIC assistance. (While FDIC insurance funds are technically not directly from the taxpayer, they are indirectly, as banks raise their fees to pay for regulatory expenses.) This action by JPMorgan appears laudable. After all, the shareholders of JPMorgan appear to have gained from FDIC assistance. So, some giveback appears appropriate. However, let's not so quickly attribute this to JPMorgan's generosity. JPMorgan "purchased" WaMu's assets at a huge discount to face value. While I don't know the exact terms, let's, for the sake of this example, assume 60% of face. So, JPMorgan was holding my client's mortgage on its books at a $562,000 value. Under accounting rules, JPMorgan could only recognize a "profit" after my client had first paid down the $562,000 carrying value. That would be 12 years away at the current payment. JPMorgan knows this homeowner is underwater, and, while it probably wouldn't lose money if a foreclosure occurred, it would have foreclosure expenses and market wait time. But, by forgiving $250,000 of the $937,000 balance (or 27%) but doubling the interest rate, JPMorgan immediately recognizes more interest income on its financial statement (2.5% of $937,000 = $23,425 while 5.0% of $687,000 = $34,350). In addition, my client can now sell that home at market (about $800,000). If the home does sell, the client ends up with some equity, and JPMorgan recognizes an additional $125,000 in income ($687,000 principal balance less $562,000 carrying value). No foreclosure. No downward pressure on the neighborhood's home prices. Everybody wins!

The way the bailouts were done, it takes this kind of circumstance to actually get an appropriate outcome. Had the $2 trillion in bailout funds been used to benefit the underwater homeowners to begin with, I doubt the housing market would be in its current funk. As a nation now committed to bailouts, the operative rule ought to be: "Any use of taxpayer money must directly benefit taxpayers."
So, JPM purchased the mortgage at a discount at $562,000 (he uses 60%, but could even be less). By cutting the homeowner's mortgage by 27% to $687,000, JPM is still above cost. JPM offers the client 5% fixed rate instead of variable rate of 2.5%. The homeowner takes it, as it gives him the security of fixed rate (and low) on a significantly reduced mortgage. JPM is happy as it secures the fixed-rate interest payment which is more under the new reduced mortgage than under the old, underwater mortgage with variable rate. The homeowner now have equity in the house, which can be sold for $800,000. If the owner sells the house, he will have money in the pocket, and JPM also pockets the profit ($687K minus $562K).

It looks like a sound business decision on the part of JPM to me. Why wouldn't any other banks, particularly the big ones like Bank of America and Citigroup who greatly benefited from the taxpayer-funded bailout, come to their business senses and do the same?

Earlier in the article, he cites the numbers from CoreLogic: 24% of all homes with mortgages (confirmed in May by Zillow's 23% estimate) are underwater. According to CoreLogic, that's 11.3 million of the 47 million homes.

So $2 trillion could have helped these 11.3 million homeowners at the average $176,991 per homeowner.

How about the argument that these homeowners shouldn't be rewarded for their mistakes? Barone has this to say:
Some will object that this favors the certain population segment that made a judgment error and took on too much debt. I argue that this segment is victimized by economic conditions in the same way as those who lose their jobs during recessions are victimized by economic conditions. This year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we're giving the unemployed $14 billion in unemployment benefit disbursements. Furthermore, "earmarks" on legislation channel taxpayer funds to the benefit of very narrow and specific groups. So, the singling out of a segment of taxpayers to receive benefits isn't something new.
Well, I agree. It would have been a much better use of $2 trillion dollars if the government had to spend on something, although J.P.Morgan Chase and other big coming to the senses by their own profit motive (i.e. market solution) is much preferable to me.

European "Stress Test" to Mark Down Sovereign Debt

It's funny to see Europeans feigning to take their "stress test" seriously, despite Timmy Geithner's numerous visits to Europe telling them all they need to do is what he did in the US, a sham of a test - neither "stress" or "test" - to restore CONfidence.

But are Europeans really saying thanks Timmy but no thanks, and actually planning to put some "stress" in the test?

Reuters reports:

"FRANKFURT/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Stress tests on European banks need to mark down the value of Greek government debt by about 16 percent, sources said, as regulators haggled over how much detail to reveal about the health checks.

"... Two German banking sources said a haircut of 16 to 17 percent off the market price would be applied to Greek debt. Greece's 10-year bonds are trading at about 75 percent of their par value at present.

"No haircut would be applied to German sovereign bonds, the sources said, and a 0.7 percent markdown would be applied to French sovereign bonds, one of the sources said.

"Sovereign bonds of Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland would see more significant markdowns, the sources said.

"A 3 percent loss will be applied to Spanish bonds, Bloomberg reported." [Emphasis is mine. The article continues.]

Hmmm. Greek sovereign debt is already trading at 25% haircut, and the "stress test" will only do 16% haircut. Maybe not much of a "stress" after all. And 3% for Spanish bonds? There you go, that's more like Geithner's stress test...

For a moment I thought Europeans were serious.

JPMorgan thinks it's a joke, and Reggie Middleton has this eloquently titled article on his Boom Bust Blog: "Greece Starts to Restructure in Real Time, Exactly As We Predicted – Rendering EU Stress Tests As Credible As Platinum Laced Frog Farts".

Hahahahahahahahahaha ........ (whatever that means, it sure doesn't sound credible.)

No-News Day, So State Street Steps Up to the Plate

The overnight futures markets were lackluster, trending down. The S&P futures indicated a flat open. There was no major news, announcements scheduled to move the market, Treasury auctions this week were all short-term bills.

In short, it was going to be a muddle-through day at unchanged level at best, as some people started to say "this feels like 1929", others "this feels like 1932". (The former has also crossed my mind.)

Right on cue, State Street Corp (SST) came out with the earning pre-announcement, and the stock market decided to take the "news" and run higher.

State Street is scheduled to formally report on July 20th.

I think I've seen this trick of pre-announcing the earnings before, when the stock market was in a very precarious condition (September 2008 - March 2009) in an attempt to halt the slide of the stock of the announcing company or of the general market (here and here for example).

Telegraph's Evans-Pritchard: Standard Chartered Warns of 30% Drop in Chinese Property Prices

Following up on my previous post on China's bubbly high-end real estate market, here's permanently gloomy Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of Telegraph UK, telling us that the Chinese real estate property prices in major cities are set to plunge 30%.

China's property market braced for 30pc drop
(Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 7/6/2010 Telegraph UK)

"Standard Chartered has told clients to prepare for a fall in property prices of up to 30pc in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzen, and other large cities in China as the delayed effects of monetary tightening begin to bite.

"Stephen Green, the bank's China economist, said a glut of newly built homes were hitting the market just as buyers are restrained by higher down-payments and curbs on speculation. "We believe developers will be forced to cut prices," he said.

"Kenneth Rogoff, ex-chief economist for the IMF, told Bloomberg Television in Hong Kong that the denouement could prove abrupt after such a torrid boom. "You're starting to see that collapse in property and it's going to hit the banking system," he said.

"The government is trying to deflate the housing market gently, mostly using tools known as "financial repression" rather than Western style rate rises. Xu Shaoshi, land minister, said sales are already dropping. "In another quarter's time or so, the property market will probably come to a full correction and prices will fall. It's hard to say to what extent they will fall," he said." [The article continues.]

I've never seen a successful soft-landing from a sugar-high bubble, resulted from highly inflated money supply.

It is also good to recall at this time my post in early January about the "Merchants of Wenzhou" selling out their investment properties in Beijing. I think these shrewed investors knew when to bail with fat profits.

What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor?

I was reading Zero Hedge about the dire warning from none other than Goldman Sachs:

"Last week, Goldman, in a piece unambiguously titled The Second Half Slowdown has Begun, made it all too clear that unless the US government were to succumb to yet another, and another, and another round of drunken sailor spending....."

$2 trillion QE2 here we come!

Hey we know what to do with a drunken sailor, don't we? At least the Irish do extremely well.

Here's by the Irish Rovers. Enjoy.

(Did you know that the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No.2 movement 1 Allegro has this melody as a motif?)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

China's Real Estate: Bubble? What Bubble?

A real estate agent in Shanghai selling luxury high-rise apartments is puzzled at the question by the BBC Business Daily's interviewer: "Is this a bubble?"

"Bubble? People are more cautious these days, but no, it's not a bubble. 80% of the buyers are the "end users" (not speculators). A 320 square meter apartment sells for US$4.5 million. We have USD$30,000 bathtub in the master bedroom. This is what the discerning buyers (top 5% of population) expect nowadays..." (I'm paraphrasing.)

The average wage of urban workers in China was about $5000 per year in 2007. The wage gap between the workers, though, have grown rapidly in recent years. Within the same company, the gap can be between 10 to 100 times (and that's from an article in 2007!) - an average worker of the company may be getting $5000 a year, but a middle manager may be getting $125,000 a year.

There are 477,000 millionaires in China (that's the world's 4th after the US, Japan, and Germany), politically still a Communist country.

You can listen to the entire program here. (Total 18 minutes. Shanghai real estate is after 7 minutes into the program.)

The last segment of the report is about London real estate. London's high-end real estate (over US$3 million) is booming again because of foreign investors (Russians, Indians, and Greeks, whose investment doubled in recent weeks) looking for a place to park their money in relative safety. (Besides, British Pound got cheaper.)

At the height of the real estate bubble in Japan, office ladies were eating tiny pieces of cake with pure gold flakes on top with their afternoon tea. $30,000 bathtub seems very close to being a signal of the real estate market top in China.

If a real estate professional in Shanghai is confident he can sell a $4.5 million apartment, good for him, but it is a bubble; the question is how much bigger can it still get before the inevitable collapse, and how long will it take?

China's AgBank Raises $19.23 Billion, Largest IPO Ever

I become wary when I see the 'superlative' words like "largest".

The last superlative I remember well was the "tallest" building in the world, Burj Dubai. It reached the "tallest" status in July 23, 2008. Two months later, a full-on financial crisis was on us; then a few weeks later the US stock market crashed, dragging the entire global markets down and triggering the severest global recession since the Great Depression.

That led me to believe in the skyscraper index, and to watch out for extreme sentiments expressed in superlatives - tallest, largest, best, worst ...

So what will happen now, after the "largest" IPO in history by the last of the China's big banks with the weakest balance sheet?

Niall Ferguson: US Will Default on Social Security and Medicare, Full-On Debt Crisis if Obama Heeds Paul Krugman

Krugman's advice for another massive "stimulus" by the Obama government, that is.

"The outlook: "Is it going to be inflation or is it going to be default. Right now there is no sign of inflation. We have monetary contraction at an alarming rate, and zero inflation in terms of core CPI, so the option of inflating this debt away doesn't seem to be there right now. What you are left with is therefore default. And I think it is a fair bet that US will default at least on the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare at some point in the foreseeable future.

"What the Greeks discovered you are fine until you are not fine with the bond market and if you have a non-credible fiscal strategy of borrowing a $1 trillion a year for the rest of time, never ever again running a balanced budget, at some point the markets are going to get spooked.

"Nothing would spook the markets more than for Paul Krugman's advice to be accepted by the Obama administration, and for you and I to be reading tomorrow's papers' headlines "Massive fiscal stimulus promised by the US government". That might well be the trigger."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mirror UK: Tony Blair to Become BP Chairman?

The UK's tabloid newspaper Daily Mirror relates the rumor that Tony Blair, ex-British Prime Minister, is tipped to replace the BP chairman.

Tony Blair tipped to take over as chairman of crisit-hit BP
(6/23/2010 Mirror UK)

"Tony Blair was yesterday being touted as the man to rescue stricken BP.

"City experts reckon appointing the ex Prime Minister as chairman is the first step to saving the company after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

"They highlighted his huge popularity in America and his close links to BP as Premier.

"City expert Matthew Lynn said: "Anyone who watched chief executive Tony Hayward struggle to find a voice while being skewered by Congress last week would have realised the company needs to step up its debating skills by about 1,000%."

Yes, BP's problem is all about the lack of debating skills. Mr. Blair has excellent skills, which he used them well to goad his nation into the war with Iraq.

US Express "Dismay" at the Sentencing of a US Geologist While Making It "Class D Felony" to Film Oil Cleanup in the Gulf

Irony is sweet. The Chinese-born US geologist's sentence is eerily similar to what the federal Class D felony charges may involve.

First, the geologist:

China Court Jails U.S. Geologist for Eight Years on State Secrets Charges (7/5/2010 Bloomberg)

"A U.S. geologist was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Chinese court after being convicted of violating the state secrets law by selling a database on the country’s oil industry.

"The U.S. said it was “dismayed” by the sentence given to Xue Feng and remains concerned about his rights to due process under Chinese law. Xue was also fined 200,000 yuan ($29,550) today by a Beijing court at a hearing that was attended by U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Richard Buangan, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said. Calls to Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court and the Foreign Ministry weren’t answered today." [Emphasis is mine. The article continues.]

Now, our own Class D felony charges:

BP plc And The Administration Replace First Amendment With $40,000 Fine And Class D Felony (Tyler Durden, 7/3/2010 Zero Hedge)

"CNN's Anderson Cooper, one of the few people who apparently hasn't or isn't leaving the troubled news network (surely Ted Turner has learned by now from CNBC that his female anchors should wear transparent body suits, show belly button deep cleavage, and install a stripper pole or seventeen for those ever more elusive Nielsen points), reports some troubling developments out of New Orleans. "The coast guard today announced new rules keeping photographers, reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms, out on the water or on beaches. In order to get closer you need to get direct permission from the coast guard captain of the Port of New Orleans. Shots of oil on beaches with booms - stay 65 feet away. Pictures of oil soaked booms useless laying in the water because they haven't been collected like they should. You can't get close enough to see that. And believe me, that is out there. But you only know that if you get close to it, and now you can't without permission. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and class D felony charges. The coast guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet before scaling it down to 65 feet."" [Emphasis is mine. The article continues, and includes CNN's clip, which is linked below.]

Here's federal Class D Felony sentencing, according to

Maximum prison term: Less than 10 years but 5 or more years
Maximum fine: $250,000
Maximum supervised release term: 3 years
Special assessment (to fund the federal Crime Victims Fund): $100

Listen particularly to the two Parish Presidents fighting against the feds to get the job done.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

State of the Economy as Judged by Privately-Funded Fourth of July Fireworks: Not Up, That's for Sure

The town I live does not celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks. But that does not stop private fireworks going off on the beaches, despite increasingly heavy police blockade to the beach access points. Somehow, people manage to bring in commercial grade fireworks and detonate them to celebrate the Independence Day. This private (and technically illegal) firework display is actually much better, bigger and longer than the fireworks that the town does officially for its birthday. Neighbors used to walk to the nearby cliffs and watch the extravagance for hours. The air was thick with smokes from the non-stop big-scale fireworks with elaborate patterns and colors, and dogs would go crazy because the sound hurt their sensitive ears. Even the dot-com bust of 2001 and 2002 didn't deter the private, illegal fireworks.

However, that all changed when the recession hit in late 2007. 2008 fireworks were sporadic, 2009 was even less than 2008, almost quiet. This year, it does sound more than last year, but it's more smaller-scale fire crackers than the commercial-grade big ones which are very far in between. No dog is howling. Not even worth stepping out to see them.

Actually, we used to have this level of fireworks on the beach almost every weekend during the summer tourist season, until 2007.

Police may be patting themselves on the back for the excellent job (of disallowing fireworks on the beach), but I'm afraid it is the economy that's doing the excellent job of depressing the number of big fireworks.

The last, best private fireworks were on the Fourth of July in 2007. As far as I'm concerned, the economy is not "strengthening" until the fireworks go back to the level of 2007, when deafening commercial-grade fireworks detonated without a break for solid 3 hours straight and the whole sky was lit up with colors bursting in so many different patterns ... Dogs were howling and babies were crying, but that felt like such a gorgeous display of optimism.

Eric Garris at Defend Michael Steele!

(I never thought I would feel like defending him either...)

The RNC chairman is being attacked from the Right and the Left (now that it's their dear leader's war) for his Afghan remark.

But stick to your guns, Mr. Steele. You spoke the truth, just like General McChrystal did.

Defend Michael Steele! (Eric Garris, 7/2/2010

"Defend Michael Steele? I never thought I’d be writing that!

"But the neocons, led by Bill Kristol, are demanding his resignation as national chairman of the Republican Party.


"At a fundraising event Steele was caught on video in a “gaffe” (a technical term signifying that a politician has spoken the truth).

"Steele suggested that Afghanistan is “a war of Obama’s choosing.” “Well if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan,” Steele says of Obama. “Alright? Because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan without committing more troops.” Steele suggests America should have a “background” role in the country, “sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops.”

"Steele also described the situation around the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as “very comical.”

"Although Steele later backtracked a bit in an official statement, he should be commended for even talking about what is quickly becoming the Democrats’ war in such a frank manner. The Democratic National Committee quickly attacked Steele for wanting to “walk away from the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job.”

"Here is a video of Steele’s original statement:

"I suggest that you call the Republican National Committee and indicate your support for Michael Steele’s original statement: 202-863-8500 "

Here's one reader's comment:

Makes perfect GOP sense. Annihilate Steele for the only sensible thing he's said
since he was hired.

Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

(from the US National Archives & Records Administration webpage)

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton