Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fundraising idiocy

I quite often respond to donation requests from conservative, libertarian and Israeli organizations but you would not believe how difficult it is. About half the time the organization's computer knocks my donation back. A regular problem is that they want you to say what State you live in but list only American States for you to choose from. So I just hit any State, which seems to freak the Visa card system because they know my card is not from that State. Other errors don't even make that much sense. I tried to donate to JTA in Israel today and got knocked back for some incomprehensible reason and I tried to donate to Patriot Post in America and got accepted -- EVEN THOUGH they are one of those who list only American States. All quite mad. Interesting to see if the Patriot Post payment actually goes through.


Iran has shown the emptiness of Obama's approach to the Middle East

President Barack Obama did not "lose" Iran. This is not a Jimmy Carter moment. But the foreign-policy education of America's 44th president has just begun. Hitherto, he had been cavalier about other lands, he had trusted in his own biography as a bridge to distant peoples, he had believed he could talk rogues and ideologues out of deeply held beliefs. His predecessor had drawn lines in the sand. He would look past them.

Thus a man who had been uneasy with his middle name (Hussein) during the presidential campaign would descend on Ankara and Cairo, inserting himself in a raging civil war over Islam itself. An Iranian theocratic regime had launched a bid for dominion in its region; Mr. Obama offered it an olive branch and waited for it to "unclench" its fist.

It was an odd, deeply conflicted message from Mr. Obama. He was at once a herald of change yet a practitioner of realpolitik. He would entice the crowds, yet assure the autocrats that the "diplomacy of freedom" that unsettled them during the presidency of George W. Bush is dead and buried. Grant the rulers in Tehran and Damascus their due: They were quick to take the measure of the new steward of American power. He had come to "engage" them. Gone was the hope of transforming these regimes or making them pay for their transgressions. The theocracy was said to be waiting on an American opening, and this new president would put an end to three decades of estrangement between the United States and Iran.

But in truth Iran had never wanted an opening to the U.S. For the length of three decades, the custodians of the theocracy have had precisely the level of enmity toward the U.S. they have wanted -- just enough to be an ideological glue for the regime but not enough to be a threat to their power. Iran's rulers have made their way in the world with relative ease. No White Army gathered to restore the dominion of the Pahlavis. The Cold War and oil bailed them out. So did the false hope that the revolution would mellow and make its peace with the world.

Mr. Obama may believe that his offer to Iran is a break with a hard-line American policy. But nothing could be further from the truth. In 1989, in his inaugural, George H.W. Bush extended an offer to Iran: "Good will begets good will," he said. A decade later, in a typically Clintonian spirit of penance and contrition, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came forth with a full apology for America's role in the 1953 coup that ousted nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.

Iran's rulers scoffed. They had inherited a world, and they were in no need of opening it to outsiders. They were able to fly under the radar. Selective, targeted deeds of terror, and oil income, enabled them to hold their regime intact. There is a Persian pride and a Persian solitude, and the impact of three decades of zeal and indoctrination. The drama of Barack Obama's election was not an affair of Iran. They had an election of their own to stage. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- a son of the Ayatollah Khomeini's revolutionary order, a man from the brigades of the regime, austere and indifferent to outsiders, an Iranian Everyman with badly fitting clothes and white socks -- was up for re-election....

On the ruins of the ancien régime, the Iranian revolutionaries, it has to be conceded, have built a formidable state. The men who emerged out of a cruel and bloody struggle over their country's identity and spoils are a tenacious, merciless breed. Their capacity for repression is fearsome. We must rein in the modernist conceit that the bloggers, and the force of Twitter and Facebook, could win in the streets against the squads of the regime. That fight would be an Iranian drama, all outsiders mere spectators.

That ambivalence at the heart of the Obama diplomacy about freedom has not served American policy well in this crisis. We had tried to "cheat" -- an opening to the regime with an obligatory wink to those who took to the streets appalled by their rulers' cynicism and utter disregard for their people's intelligence and common sense -- and we were caught at it. Mr. Obama's statement that "the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as had been advertised" put on cruel display the administration's incoherence. For once, there was an acknowledgment by this young president of history's burden: "Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons." No Wilsonianism on offer here.

Mr. Obama will have to acknowledge the "foreignness" of foreign lands. His breezy self-assurance has been put on notice... Mr. Obama's June 4 speech in Cairo did not reshape the Islamic landscape. I was in Saudi Arabia when Mr. Obama traveled to Riyadh and Cairo. The earth did not move, life went on as usual. There were countless people puzzled by the presumption of the entire exercise, an outsider walking into sacred matters of their faith. In Saudi Arabia, and in the Arabic commentaries of other lands, there was unease that so complicated an ideological and cultural terrain could be approached with such ease and haste.



Strike Now At Mullahs' Economic Pillars

As we watch the swelling protests in Iran, it's worth remembering that the aspirations of America are eminently compatible with the aspirations of the average Iranian. As we watch the swelling protests in Iran, it's worth remembering that the aspirations of America are eminently compatible with the aspirations of the average Iranian. I know a bit about this, as I am privileged to represent one of the largest Iranian-American communities in the country, in Orange County, Calif.

The compatibilities between Iranian hopes and the American dream center on the yearning for individual liberties and the end of clerical autocracy — hopes as compelling to the Iranian democrat today as the Jeffersonian democrat two centuries ago. The question is whether President Obama will do anything about it.

The basic points of pressure on Iran's clerical autocrats are simple: the control of petroleum, the need for foreign cash, the reliance upon the instruments of force, and the control of internal communications. All remain the material pillars of the regime.

Its psychological pillars are a bit more complex: Iranian resentment at foreign interference, Shia exceptionalism and a peculiar concept of Islamic juridical rule known as velayat-e faqih. It is possible for the president to strike at the material pillars of the Iranian theocracy, while sparing the psychological pillars that might turn the mass of Iranians against us.

Striking at the mullahs' material base is more straightforward. They need legitimacy and foreign trade to sustain an economy that totters along with rising unemployment that approaches 15% — an ominous figure in a country where about 70% of the citizens are under 30. Iran has the world's third-largest oil reserves, yet it had to impose fuel rationing on its own citizens in 2007, and its economy is extremely vulnerable to lower oil prices.

It's no accident that civil unrest in Iran, as in so many countries, erupts when material expectations of a young and comparatively educated citizenry are unmet by a corrupt and inefficient government. Though not a proximate cause, this is surely among the root causes of Iranian discontent now. With this in mind, crafting a strategy to squeeze the machinery of repression would be an exercise in the sort of multilateral diplomacy in which the Obama administration takes such pride.

Of the major recipients of Iranian oil, the top four are Asian economies and the remainder European nations plus South Africa. Though it is unrealistic to assume that the United States could persuade all of them to forgo Iranian oil, we don't have to: Any one of the Asian nations, or a few of the European nations (building upon the European Union's admirable vigor in condemning repression in Iran), would do tremendous harm to the mullahs' coffers.



Get Ready for Inflation and Higher Interest Rates

The unprecedented expansion of the money supply could make the '70s look benign


Here we stand more than a year into a grave economic crisis with a projected budget deficit of 13% of GDP. That's more than twice the size of the next largest deficit since World War II. And this projected deficit is the culmination of a year when the federal government, at taxpayers' expense, acquired enormous stakes in the banking, auto, mortgage, health-care and insurance industries.

With the crisis, the ill-conceived government reactions, and the ensuing economic downturn, the unfunded liabilities of federal programs -- such as Social Security, civil-service and military pensions, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, Medicare and Medicaid -- are over the $100 trillion mark. With U.S. GDP and federal tax receipts at about $14 trillion and $2.4 trillion respectively, such a debt all but guarantees higher interest rates, massive tax increases, and partial default on government promises.

But as bad as the fiscal picture is, panic-driven monetary policies portend to have even more dire consequences. We can expect rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four or five years, and a concomitant deleterious impact on output and employment not unlike the late 1970s.

About eight months ago, starting in early September 2008, the Bernanke Fed did an abrupt about-face and radically increased the monetary base -- which is comprised of currency in circulation, member bank reserves held at the Fed, and vault cash -- by a little less than $1 trillion. The Fed controls the monetary base 100% and does so by purchasing and selling assets in the open market. By such a radical move, the Fed signaled a 180-degree shift in its focus from an anti-inflation position to an anti-deflation position.

The percentage increase in the monetary base is the largest increase in the past 50 years by a factor of 10. It is so far outside the realm of our prior experiential base that historical comparisons are rendered difficult if not meaningless. The currency-in-circulation component of the monetary base -- which prior to the expansion had comprised 95% of the monetary base -- has risen by a little less than 10%, while bank reserves have increased almost 20-fold. Now the currency-in-circulation component of the monetary base is a smidgen less than 50% of the monetary base. Yikes!

Bank reserves are crucially important because they are the foundation upon which banks are able to expand their liabilities and thereby increase the quantity of money..... When reserve constraints on banks are removed, it does take the banks time to make new loans. But given sufficient time, they will make enough new loans until they are once again reserve constrained. The expansion of money, given an increase in the monetary base, is inevitable, and will ultimately result in higher inflation and interest rates. In shorter time frames, the expansion of money can also result in higher stock prices, a weaker currency, and increases in commodity prices such as oil and gold.

At present, banks are doing just what we would expect them to do. They are making new loans and increasing overall bank liabilities (i.e., money). The 12-month growth rate of M1 is now in the 15% range, and close to its highest level in the past half century.

It's difficult to estimate the magnitude of the inflationary and interest-rate consequences of the Fed's actions because, frankly, we haven't ever seen anything like this in the U.S. To date what's happened is potentially far more inflationary than were the monetary policies of the 1970s, when the prime interest rate peaked at 21.5% and inflation peaked in the low double digits. Gold prices went from $35 per ounce to $850 per ounce, and the dollar collapsed on the foreign exchanges. It wasn't a pretty picture.... For me the issue is how to protect assets for my grandchildren.




Obama Lashes Out at the only major news outlet that is not crawling up his behind: "President Barack Obama vented his frustration with Fox News during an interview on CNBC last week. "I've got one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration," Obama told CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood, who had asked him how he felt about coverage of his administration. "That's a pretty big megaphone. You'd be hard-pressed if you watched the entire day to find a positive story about me on that front," he said, reports Daily Finance. Fox News is indeed a big megaphone because it speaks to an audience that doesn't feel its concerns represented elsewhere on TV. That's not to say Obama has no grounds for complaint — anyone who watches Fox for a few minutes can tell that its default attitude towards him is skepticism. [Skepticism!! How awful!!] For whatever reason, Fox's ratings have climbed in recent months as the network's stridency towards Obama has escalated. As long as that trend keeps up, It's likely that no amount of finger-wagging from the Oval Office is going to make a difference, writes Bercovici".

Obama Closes Doors on Openness: "As a senator, Barack Obama denounced the Bush administration for holding "secret energy meetings" with oil executives at the White House. But last week public-interest groups were dismayed when his own administration rejected a Freedom of Information Act request for Secret Service logs showing the identities of coal executives who had visited the White House to discuss Obama's "clean coal" policies. One reason: the disclosure of such records might impinge on privileged "presidential communications." The refusal, approved by White House counsel Greg Craig's office, is the latest in a series of cases in which Obama officials have opted against public disclosure. Since Obama pledged on his first day in office to usher in a "new era" of openness, "nothing has changed," says David -Sobel, a lawyer who litigates FOIA cases. "For a president who said he was going to bring unprecedented transparency to government, you would certainly expect more than the recycling of old Bush secrecy policies."

Obama is weighed and found wanting: "During the campaign, Biden warned that Obama would be tested in his first six months in office. We all assumed that Biden knew about a planned terrorist attack on the US. That could still happen, of course, although I devoutly hope it won’t. At exactly the five month mark, however, there is a test taking place, and that is the test of Obama’s moral courage with regard to Iran. So far, he’s not doing very well. When 405 Congresspeople turn on “The One,” the one is finding himself on the wrong side of history. When liberal pundit after liberal pundit writes about his or her support for the Iranian people, and then engages in pathetic contortions to justify Obama’s refusal to voice any support, the One is failing a test. When France is a stronger moral presence than the United States, our leader looks small. I see the handwriting on the wall: Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin. Obama is being weighed and found wanting, in the eyes of fellow politicians, in the eyes of his party, in the eyes of the American people, and in the eyes of the world."

The Frogs knew that their Airbuses had a dangerous design fault: "Air France Airbus jets experienced at least nine incidents in which airspeed probes iced over in the past year, according to an internal company report. A probe into the June 1 crash of AF 447, in which an A330 jet flying from Rio to Paris plunged into the Atlantic with the loss of all 228 people on board, has focused on contradictory readings from its “pitot” speed probes. The probes, made by aerospace company Thales, were found to be faulty on flight AF 447. Air France did not wait for a signal from the aviation safety body. It decided on June 12 to upgrade all sensors on its long-haul fleet as a precaution after protests from pilots. In an internal note sent to Air France pilots on Thursday, the company said it had informed the planemaker Airbus and Thales of eight incidents on A340 jets and one on an A330 over a year-long period".

Iran: Activists get assist from “Anonymous,” Pirate Bay: “Iranian democracy activists, meet your new pals: a masked protest movement best known for needling the Church of Scientology, and a group of file-sharers so infamous they’re facing a year in jail. Anonymous Iran is a collaboration between The Pirate Bay — operators of the world’s largest torrent site, convicted in April of copyright infringement — and Anonymous, the prankster collective dedicated to exposing ‘Scientology’s crimes.’ The new site offers tips on how to navigate online in private, upload files through the Iranian firewall, find the best activist Tweeters, and launch attacks on pro-government websites.”


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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