4th Quarter Presidential Campaign Finance Disclosures
Here are the highlights. Details later, if there's anything noteworthy. [Update: there is.]
Receipts: $27.2 million (including $18 million loan from candidate)
Disbursements: $34.0 million
Total To Date:
Receipts: $90.1 million (including $35 million loan from candidate)
Disbursements: $87.6 million
Cash On Hand:
Receipts: $10.0 million
Disbursements: $10.5 million
Total To Date:
Receipts: $42.1 million
Disbursements: $39.1 million
Cash On Hand:
Receipts: $27.3 million
Disbursements: $39.9 million
Total To Date:
Receipts: $118.3 million
Disbursements: $80.4 million
Cash On Hand:
Not yet filed
Update: Turns out the Politico reporter (Ken Vogel) doesn't see the filing either. He received summary sheets from the Obama campaign, but agrees the year-end filing is not yet available on the FEC site.
Could just be a tech hiccup, so we'll keep an eye out for it. But the Obama campaign did submit three other reports yesterday (amendments to his last three quarters' disclosures) that are available on the site and date-stamped 1/31, so the missing filing is slightly odd.
Update: There it is. It's date stamped the 31st, so it was presumably a tech problem on the FEC's end.
Receipts: $23.5 million
Disbursements: $40.9 million
Total To Date:
Receipts: $103.8 million
Disbursements: $85.2 million
Cash On Hand:
So Clinton bested Obama in fundraising for the quarter, but Obama was the biggest spender (in either party). $41 million in three months - Monty Brewster would be proud.
Clinton and Obama Play 1-On-1
I'm not going to bother trying to tease out the minutia that divide the two persons left standing on the Democratic stage in California tonight - just going to point you directly over to Hot Air's thread, where any notable video tidbits will be extracted for posterity and lampooned for fleeting comic relief from the suddenly deafening and ominous ticking down of the Super Tuesday clock.
Me, I'm waiting for the midnight hour, when the last-minute Presidential filers will upload their year-end financial disclosures.
Things to watch for:
- Was Sandy Berger briefly a paid adviser to the Clinton campaign during the fourth quarter, despite the candidate's insistence that he served no "official role"?
- Were any of the 4 Democratic Presidential candidates on Norman Hsu and Pals' payroll sloppy and/or audacious enough to accept additional contributions from previously outed members of his suspected straw donor network?
- Did Hillary actually accept re-donations by suspected straw donors whose money she refunded in the third quarter (as she rather astoundingly said she planned to do), rather than allowing that money to (hopefully) make it back to the people from who it was allegedly stolen by Bill and Hillary's "friend Norman"?
Stay tuned for updates...
Update: The filing are now rolling in. I'll be dumping any interesting findings here.
Gridiron Surprise: Romney Buys Entire Super Bowl Ad Inventory
Well okay, that's not *precisely* true.
But given yesterday's heroically incorrect rumor that Mitt wouldn't be buying new ads in any Super Tuesday states, today's news is almost as exciting for those increasingly disquieted, rapidly coalescing ad hoc coalitions of conservatives in the GOP. (HT: Bryan)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plans to run a "significant" level of television ads in California and other states that vote Tuesday in essentially a national primary, aides said Thursday, signaling a willingness to aggressively try to derail Republican front-runner John McCain.
Since his defeat in Florida Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor has been debating over just how much of an effort to make in which of the 21 states that hold primaries and caucuses Tuesday. Romney has tried to cast himself as more conservative than McCain.
Multiple outlets cited Romney campaign sources in their spirited dissemination of the "Seems like Romney's quitting" message. No staffers seemed to say anything more ominous than that ad buys hadn't yet been transacted, but they presumably knew full well how the press would tout the story.
So here's the question: Did Mitt simply need to have a sit-down with Ann before deciding whether or not to give the money tree one more big shake? Or was this more a matter of political panache - a little hoodwink by Romney, feinting like he was about to fold, right before going all in, flipping his cards over, jumping on the table, and glove-slapping McCain?
Black "Elvis" Endorses Wife Of "Black" President
This ought to help with the whole quiet backing away from the race issue that the race-baiting Clinton campaign has failed so spectacularly to exploit in recent weeks.
As the Obama campaign basks in the Kennedy glow, chief rival Sen. Hillary Clinton picked up an endorsement today from a larger-than-life southern entertainer known for his sideburns and white rhinestone-studded jumpsuit.
The name isn’t Elvis Presley, it’s Dwayne Turner, known locally as “Belvis, the Black Elvis.”
Prepare to shift in your seat uncomfortably.
Clinton, who jokes about having two left feet, shook her hips and did a little shimmy. She then gave Belvis a big high five, sparking applause from the crowd of mostly African-American long-time Clinton supporters.
“Bill Clinton was inducted into the black hall of fame. Like Elvis, he transcended race,” Turner said.
Still, as charmingly impromptu as this well-scripted bit of meticulous spontaneity may have been, Clinton may regret her decision to high-five... a *racist*.
He says he has liked the Clintons since 1982 when he was 12-years-old and Bill Clinton was in the early days of his governorship.
Turner says he was playing hide-and-go-seek at the state capital and snuck into a press conference with the then-governor. He says he raised his hand and asked Clinton why white kids got bused to their schools but black kids had to walk over a mile every morning. A week later, Turner says, his school got buses. “I walked right into the state Capitol with my nappy headed self, and I raised my hand and he called on me and he fixed it,” Turner says.
4Q GDP Growth: 0.6% [Update: Fed Makes It a Double]
The economy nearly stalled in the fourth quarter with a growth rate of just 0.6 percent, capping its worst year since 2002.
For all of 2007, the economy grew by just 2.2 percent, the weakest performance in five years, when the country was struggling to recover from the 2001 recession. The housing collapse dealt the economy its biggest blow last year. Builders slashed spending on housing projects by 16.9 percent on an annualized basis, the most in 25 years. The report came as the Democratic-run Congress and the Bush administration continue to work on a program of tax rebates and business incentives aimed at stimulating the economy.
This is just the "advance" report and will be subject to two revisions over the next two months, but there's no getting around the fact that this was an unmitigated bummer of a report. It represents a deceleration of annualized output growth from 4.9% in the third quarter and the drop was somewhat larger than expected (analysts were looking for growth of 1.2%).
Savvy readers will notice 0.6 > 0, meaning the increasingly neurotic we're-already-in-a-recession crowd will have to sit on their hands for at least a few more months. Congress, meanwhile, will undoubtedly interpret the sharp deceleration as validation of their inescapably feckless plan to stimulate us and immediately seek to expand the size of the half-baked package.
Weighing in even more immediately, though, is Ben Bernanke and the FOMC. This afternoon, shortly after 2:00 pm, the Fed will its December policy statement, following the conclusion of its two-day meeting. In the wake of last week's inter-meeting surprise triple cut, investors now expect the committee to follow up with another single or double. I'm hoping for the double, but given the possibility that last week's action may have been prompted by worldwide mini panic (which may in turn have been triggered by Societe Generale dumping out of their rogue trader's not so mini illicit positions), Bernanke may be eager to wipe off whatever egg he may believe to be on his face by withholding that succulent second quarter point.
Then again, today's unexpectedly anemic GDP data might be just enough to convince the FOMC otherwise.
Either way, we ought to see some gorgeously spastic gyrations this afternoon, as the market tries to decide what it thinks of the decision.
Update: Eggy face, be damned - a half-point it is.
The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower its target for the federal funds rate 50 basis points to 3 percent.
On top of last week's triple cut, that makes 125 basis of easing in just 8 days. They didn't even cut that fast after 9/11.
What's more, the Fed is signaling that it still has love to give.
Today’s policy action, combined with those taken earlier, should help to promote moderate growth over time and to mitigate the risks to economic activity. However, downside risks to growth remain. The Committee will continue to assess the effects of financial and other developments on economic prospects and will act in a timely manner as needed to address those risks.
The markets aren't complaining, but they aren't precisely bowled over either. After this morning's GDP report, it looks like anything less than this could've touched off some grumpiness.
As is, it looks like we're staging a respectable rally and preparing to go 3 for 3 to the upside, week-to-date.
Update: Or maybe not. That went south in a hurry.
Was Florida a Closed Primary Or Not?
Color me flummoxed.
In my attempts to self-soothe in the wake of Romney's Florida defeat, I'm poring over the details of the exit polling in search of encouraging morsels, thus far with sporadic success. Mitt beat McCain soundly among conservatives (37-29), among "issues" voters (35-27), and even edged him out among voters for whom terrorism was the most important issue (29-26).
One breakout that puzzles me though is the vote share by party identification. Romney and McCain were tied among Republicans at 33-33, while McCain won independents 44-23. (See page 4 of the exit poll.)
If I'm reading the poll correctly, it suggests 17% of Republican primary voters identified themselves as having no major party affiliation, while 3% identified themselves as registered Democrats.
One of the features of the Florida primary that was supposed to distinguish it from the other contests to date was that it was a closed primary, meaning only party-registered voters could vote in their respective primaries. This was one of those alluring intangibles that hinted at a Romney advantage relative to the earlier open primaries.
And indeed, the exit polling suggests that Romney likely matched McCain among Republicans in Florida (rounded to the nearest percentage point). From where I'm sitting, it appears Mitt Romney might actually have won the Florida primary.
Despite my support for Romney, I'm loathe to hunt for extra innings in this or any contest. That's a game usually better left to the Gores, Kuciniches, Paulnuts, and the other dark-minded conspiracy buffs of the world. And to be clear, I'm not suggesting conspiracy is afoot, only that Florida's record of electoral execution is... well, checkered. You don't have to conspire to screw something up in order to screw something up.
At the risk of being lumped into the ranks of the aforementioned, and given that the impact of participation by non-Republicans in this primary appears to account for the entirety of McCain's margin of victory, I'm tempted to swallow my loathing and press for some answers as to what might have happened. Exit polls rely on the accuracy of the verbal responses given by the pollees and therefore aren't definitively dispositive of anything at all. But 17% of 1,500 respondents self-identifying as independents who voted Republican means something irregular took place, unless hundreds of voters chose to tell pollsters a similar lie.
As we explored earlier (via Michelle Malkin), at least one voter in Broward County reported being forced to fill out a party-specific ballot, despite identifying himself to poll workers as an independent. (As you might imagine, he voted for McCain.) The report claimed that two poll workers confirmed that they had been instructed to give party-specific ballots to independent voters, despite this being in contradiction of state law that requires voters to establish party registration at least 29 days before an election in order to cast a party ballot.
I e-mailed that county's supervisor of elections at around 2 pm on primary day to inquire about the reported irregularity, but have yet to receive a response.
Given the possibility that as much as 20% of the 2 million GOP votes cast today came from independents and Democrats (enough to change the outcome), I think we do now need some answers.
For reference, the exit poll also shows non-Democrats voting in the Democratic primary. 17% identified themselves as independents and 4% as Republicans (see page 3 of the exit poll).
No wonder turnout was so high...
Update: Captain Ed offers this possibility:
Having lived most of my life in closed-primary states, I can tell CapQ readers that the exit polling should surprise no one.
In my experience in California, independents would often re-register as either Democrats or Republicans in order to participate in primaries, and then re-register again as independents for the general election.
In this case, exit polls show "party identification" statistics that put 20% of the voters outside of the Republican Party. That's their stated personal identification, not their actual party registration for last night's primaries.
I see a couple problems with this theory accounting for the whole irregularity. First, between the two parties' primaries, roughly 700,000 people (20-21% of primary voters) would have to fall into this category of strategic, temporary re-registerers and/or voters who no longer identify with their party of record. One could argue that the majestic Democratic tide of 2006 left a lot of Republicans feeling this way, so we shouldn't be surprised to see 20% of registered Republicans disavow the party label. But if that phenomenon is at work, why did 21% of Democrat ballot casters also identify themselves as either independents or Republicans?
The representation of self-identified independents in the exit polling also approximates the representation of independents in Florida's electorate (17% vs. 19%), which is about what we'd expect to see if independents were unexpectedly being given party ballots (at some, perhaps not all, polling places).
Here's one other data nugget to kick around. According to the Florida Secretary of State, 4.1 million votes were cast on the property tax amendment. Since 1.9 million Republican votes and 1.7 million Democratic votes were cast, we're left with about a half million votes (actually 472,000) with no Presidential pick. Those may not all have been independents (the occasional Democrat might've gone only to vote on the tax question, and skipped the irrelevant primary vote), but even if we assume they all were, that suggests a turnout rate among independents of 21%. Among Republicans, turnout was over 50%. Among Democrats (who had no meaningful Presidential contest), it was 41%. You'd expect the turnout among independents to be lower still, but by half?
Well, yes, possibly.
But given the incredible electoral dereliction reported in the Sun-Sentinel article (poll workers saying they were instructed to give party ballots to independents, in defiance of state law), given Florida's history, and given how trivially easy it would be for the Secretary of State and/or one or more county supervisors to grab a random fistful of party-specific ballots and determine whether 0% or roughly 20% were cast by non-party members, this - to me - remains an open issue.
To that end, I've reached out to the SoS and the Supervisor of Elections from each of Florida's 67 counties to see if anyone can shed additional light.
GOP Primary Scoreboard - Florida Edition
John McCain's victory in the Florida Republican primary has vaulted him for the first time into the delegate lead. The state's 57 winner-take-all delegates bring McCain's total to 97, ahead of Romney's 74 and Huckabee's 29.
(If you missed it, here's the play-by-play of the evening's festivities.)
As illustrated below, Romney still leads or ties in some of the aggregate metrics, including average finish and average vote share. Even so, with Rudy apparently poised to endorse McCain, we'll now need to steel ourselves for a week of breahtless media coronations of John McCain as the undeniable frontrunner (and various derivative conclusions about the soul of the GOP, the legacy of the Bush administration, the future of partisan politics, the meaning of life, whether man is inherently good or evil, and other grandiose extrapolations based on 100,000 Floridian votes).
As I mentioned earlier, the national polling trends show Romney climbing swiftly and McCain falling almost as swiftly. But the double-bump McCain will enjoy from the Florida win and the Giuliani endorsement could stop that dead in its tracks. According to tonight's exit polling, as reported by Fox News, Rudy supporters opt for Romney over McCain by 2:1 as their second choice. But Giuliani throwing his weight squarely behind McCain could meaningfully alter the disposition of his refugees.
With Florida now in the rearview mirror and McCain about to realize what may be the grandest endorsement of his campaign, consolation for Romney supporters (in addition to the nearly evenly split frontrunner metrics) may lie in prospective bigwig backings to come Romney's way over the next 6 days. With Super Tuesday looming and wih the field having winnowed to two sharply contrasting candidates (simply put, the conservative and the moderate), anyone who has yet to voice their preference and wants to have an impact will need to act fast. One has to suspect Mitt will be personally burning up the phone lines over the next day or two.
Who do you reckon will be the biggest fish reeled in on each side (other than Rudy) between now and February 5th? And will Huckabee have the good grace to sashay on out of the race or will he relish his new role as possible spoiler to Mitt?
Florida Primary - Predictapalooza [Update: McCain Wins]
The final game of the primary pre-season wraps up tonight at 8:00 pm. Though it's technically an exhibition match on the Democrat side, that hasn't stopped Hillary Clinton from violating her pledge not to campaign in Florida, proving that her word truly is her bond, unless she benefits personally from breaking it.
For what it's worth, Clinton appears poised to win by double-digits tonight and will presumably make great hay of it (despite the zero delegates it will win her) in order to salve the burns of the Camelot endorsements and her outsized defeat in South Carolina.
Let's call that one 55-33 in Hillary's favor, with Edwards barely breaking into double digits. [Update: Actual results - 50-33. Not a terrible guess.]
On the Republican side, Romney and McCain are about as tied as tied can be, with McCain enjoying a tiny advantage in the polling average. That said, a number of intangibles give Romney fans reason to be optimistic. To date, he's been fairly successful when carpet-bombing a state with saturation ad buys (which he's been doing in Florida). And the momentum observed in broader polling trends seems to favor Mitt, which could give him an edge over the most current surveys, which are a day or two old. The absentee and early vote phenomenon in Florida (typically judged to boost Rudy relative to his poll numbers) may also favor Romney vis a vis McCain, as McCain's moderate voting bloc likely overlaps with Rudy's more than Mitt's does. Finally, there's a significant property tax amendment on Florida's primary ballot, which may drive turnout among fiscal conservatives, who can be expected to more supportive of Romney over McCain than the state's GOP primary voters on the whole.
Then again, one intangible that may work against Romney is the possibility that misinformed poll workers are inviting independents to vote in the GOP primary, in violation of state law and likely to the benefit of McMaverick.
With that in mind, let's put some random numbers on the board:
Once the results are in (hopefully by 9ish), I'll update the scoreboard, which I boldly predict will look very different by the end of the evening. [Low hanging fruit successfully picked.]
Update: Brit Hume reports that the early exit polling is showing a "very tight" race. Whaddaya know.
Bill Kristol makes the point that the absentee and early votes may be reported by the counties in the first batch of returns, which would likely overstate Romney's vote share early in the night, relative to McCain's.
Update: The first returns show McCain over Romney 32-26. Interestingly, Fox just announced results of a phone survey that suggested Rudy supporters were breaking for Romney 2:1 over McCain as their second choice (the opposite of what I speculated above), so the early return bias may actually favor McCain, assuming they're loaded up with early and absentee votes.
Who knows. Less than 1% reporting so far -- whoop, new update... Still less than 1% reporting, but McCain now leads Romney by just 1 point, 29-28. Meanwhile, Clinton leads Obama almost 58-21.
CNN's election center is once again a good source for real-time results.
Allah points to some exit polling at The Campaign Spot, which bodes a little ominously for Mitt, giving McCain a 1.7 point edge (and they claim to include early and absentee votes, which seems peculiar if it's an exit poll).
Update: Fox News calls it for Hillary with 19% reporting and Clinton leading Obama 48-29.
Now that the panhandle polling places have closed, Fox is discussing its exit polls, which they say favor Romney over McCain 35-31.
Bizarrely, troublingly, the exit poll shows McCain beating Romney among "economy voters" 38-34.
Update: With 29% reporting, McCain leads 34-33.
CNN's exit polling details suggest McCain won a plurality in slightly more demographic categories than Romney. Overall, the poll gives McCain a 2.6 point edge (33.7-31.1).
Update: With a showing somewhere around 15% tonight, Rudy Giuliani plans to give a speech at 9:00. Mark Halperin at Time Magazine expects Giuliani to drop out and endorse McCain before tomorrow's debate.
And with 54% reporting, the AP and Fox News call it for McCain, who now leads Romney 35-31 and a margin of 53,000 votes.
Assuming Florida's full delegate slate is not reinstated by the RNC, McCain will pocket all 57 delegates, bringing his total to 97, with Romney in second with 74 delegates.
McCain's average finish improves to 2.3nd, but still lags Romney's pack-leading average of 1.9th. Romney also maintains the higher average vote share (37% compared with 23% for McCain) over the 7 contests to date, but McCain's weighted average share (i.e. his total votes received to date) has now crept above Romney's.
Both candidates have a total of 3 wins. To put it in the Romney vernacular, Mitt has 3 golds and 3 silvers, while McCain has 3 golds, 1 silver, and 1 bronze.
McCain [Presumably] Benefitting From Floridian Poll Worker Ignorance
Well, this is pretty disgraceful. Florida's balloting decorum has been healing for 7 long years since the dimpled chad debacle, but it's apparently still the rightful butt of electoral jokes.
In northern Coral Springs, near the Sawgrass Expressway and Coral Ridge Drive, David Nirenberg arrived to vote as an independent. Nevertheless, he said poll workers insisted he choose a party ballot.
“He said to me, ‘Are you Democrat or Republican?’ I said, ‘Neither, I am independent.’ He said, ‘Well, you have to pick one,”’ Nirenberg said.
In Florida, only those who declare a party are allowed to cast a vote in that party’s presidential primary.
Nirenberg said he tried to explain to the poll worker that he should not vote on a party ballot because of his “no party affiliation” status.
Nirenberg said a second poll worker was called over who agreed that independents should not use party ballots, but said they had received instructions to the contrary.
“He said, ‘Ya know, that is kind of funny, but it was what we were told.’ … I was shocked when they told me that.” Nirenberg said he went ahead and voted for John McCain.
If the poll worker's claim that he was instructed to let independents vote in party primaries is accurate, it's all the more troubling. It suggests either serious ignorance on the part of poll workers' supervisors or a deliberate disregard for state law.
According to Brenda Snipes, Broward County Supervisor of Elections:
"We will consistently conduct successful elections in compliance with the law to ensure that every eligible voter can exercise their right to vote."
That's a quote from the supervisor's website, not a comment on today's reported irregularities.
Strong Durable Goods Report Pours Weak Manufacturing Index a Glass Of Shut the Hell Up
Earlier this month, the Institute for Supply Management released its December 2007 Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) and it was disappointing. The market expected a reading of 50.5 and got a much weaker 47.7. A reading below 50 suggests recessionary conditions in the manufacturing sector, so it was a mildly gloomy kind of number. But a reading of 42 or better suggests overall economic expansion, notwithstanding manufacturing weakness, so it wasn't altogether bleak.
Today, the Census Bureau released durable goods data for the month of December and the report told a different, decidedly ungloomy story. For November, the report had shown slightly negative growth in new orders, but this morning, analysts anticipated improvement to a growth rate of 1.5%. What they got was a much swifter acceleration to 5.2% growth (plus an upward revision of November's number to 0.5%).
In other words, for the same month, the ISM showed manufacturing contraction, while the government numbers showed expansion - so what gives (other than the obvious government conspiracy to conceal the country's economic plight)?
As it happens, the ISM index is a messy hodge-podge, blending data on new orders, production, employment, supplier deliveries, and inventories to produce the composite reading. The government's durable goods gauge, on the other hand, is all about the new orders and therefore more forward-looking than the ISM. Still, the new orders component of the ISM was itself well below 50 (even lower than the composite), so we're back to conspiracy.
But there's another ugliness to the ISM data. The group's methodology involves surveying supply managers and arranging their responses into three convenient piles: better, same, and worse. The index for a given measure, then, is simply calculated as [better + (0.5 * same)].
The quantization of all improvement and deterioration into uniformly scored categories of "better" and "worse" obviously leaves room for significant fluctuations in the distribution that won't be picked up in the ISM data. In this case, between November and December, the size of the "worse" pile only rose by 3 points, but many of the "betters" migrated to the "same" pile, which caused enough impairment of the index to suggest contraction in new orders, when that's not necessarily the case. 70% of respondents still reported same or better conditions.
That's not to say the ISM is a bum index - its methodology is clearly laid out and it doesn't claim to be anything that it's not. But for data consumers, it's worthwhile to know its limitations before extracting dark implications from the magic number that pops out the back of the rather ungainly method. ISM data can be worthwhile as a kind of finger in the manufacturing wind to detect broad directional shifts, but when it clashes with a more directly measured, less numerically molested reading like the one reported this morning, I'll defer to the latter.
Long story short: today's data argue incrementally against the likelihood of a looming recession.
Text Of Bush's Final SotU
The first few minutes offered one of the big highlights:
We have other work to do on taxes. Unless the Congress acts, most of the tax relief we have delivered over the past 7 years will be taken away. Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800. Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.
The speech is still underway and I haven't been counting, but it seems like the applause interruption count is running especially high tonight (a lot of layups in re supporting the troops, staying frosty on terrorists, veto pledges for pork spending, etc.).
Update: Brit Hume counts 70 interruptions.
Update: And here's some more gratuitous speech data for you. Per my hasty and fallible calculations (and ignoring articles, pronouns, prepositions, and other lowly parts of speech), these 25 words were uttered at least 10 times in the 5,700 word address.
Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time, our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined. We have faced hard decisions about peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens. These issues call for vigorous debate, and I think it's fair to say we've answered that call. Yet history will record that amid our differences, we acted with purpose. And together, we showed the world the power and resilience of American self-government.
All of us were sent to Washington to carry out the people's business. That is the purpose of this body. It is the meaning of our oath. And it remains our charge to keep.
The actions of the 110th Congress will affect the security and prosperity of our Nation long after this session has ended. In this election year, let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our responsibilities and are determined to meet them. And let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time.
From expanding opportunity to protecting our country, we have made good progress. Yet we have unfinished business before us, and the American people expect us to get it done.
In the work ahead, we must be guided by the philosophy that made our Nation great. As Americans, we believe in the power of individuals to determine their destiny and shape the course of history. We believe that the most reliable guide for our country is the collective wisdom of ordinary citizens. So in all we do, we must trust in the ability of free people to make wise decisions, and empower them to improve their lives and their futures.
To build a prosperous future, we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow our economy. As we meet tonight, our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty. America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months, but jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined. And at kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future.
In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth. But in the short run, we can all see that growth is slowing. So last week, my Administration reached agreement with Speaker Pelosi and Republican Leader Boehner on a robust growth package that includes tax relief for individuals and families and incentives for business investment. The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable. This is a good agreement that will keep our economy growing and our people working. And this Congress must pass it as soon as possible.
We have other work to do on taxes. Unless the Congress acts, most of the tax relief we have delivered over the past 7 years will be taken away. Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800. Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.
Most Americans think their taxes are high enough. With all the other pressures on their finances, American families should not have to worry about the Federal Government taking a bigger bite out of their paychecks. There is only one way to eliminate this uncertainty: make the tax relief permanent. And Members of Congress should know: If any bill raising taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it.
Just as we trust Americans with their own money, we need to earn their trust by spending their tax dollars wisely. Next week, I will send you a budget that terminates or substantially reduces 151 wasteful or bloated programs totaling more than $18 billion. And this budget will keep America on track for a surplus in 2012. American families have to balance their budgets, and so should their Government.
The people's trust in their Government is undermined by congressional earmarks — special interest projects that are often snuck in at the last minute, without discussion or debate. Last year, I asked you to voluntarily cut the number and cost of earmarks in half. I also asked you to stop slipping earmarks into committee reports that never even come to a vote. Unfortunately, neither goal was met. So this time, if you send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I will send it back to you with my veto. And tomorrow, I will issue an Executive Order that directs Federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by the Congress. If these items are truly worth funding, the Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.
Our shared responsibilities extend beyond matters of taxes and spending.
On housing, we must trust Americans with the responsibility of homeownership and empower them to weather turbulent times in the housing market. My Administration brought together the HOPE NOW alliance, which is helping many struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. The Congress can help even more. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, modernize the Federal Housing Administration, and allow State housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. These are difficult times for many American families, and by taking these steps, we can help more of them keep their homes.
To build a future of quality health care, we must trust patients and doctors to make medical decisions and empower them with better information and better options. We share a common goal: making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, not government control. So I have proposed ending the bias in the tax code against those who do not get their health insurance through their employer. This one reform would put private coverage within reach for millions, and I call on the Congress to pass it this year. The Congress must also expand health savings accounts, create Association Health Plans for small businesses, promote health information technology, and confront the epidemic of junk medical lawsuits. With all these steps, we will help ensure that decisions about your medical care are made in the privacy of your doctor's office — not in the halls of Congress.
On education, we must trust students to learn if given the chance and empower parents to demand results from our schools. In neighborhoods across our country, there are boys and girls with dreams — and a decent education is their only hope of achieving them. Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results. Last year, fourth and eighth graders achieved the highest math scores on record. Reading scores are on the rise. And African-American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs. Now we must work together to increase accountability, add flexibility for States and districts, reduce the number of high school dropouts, and provide extra help for struggling schools. Members of Congress: The No Child Left Behind Act is a bipartisan achievement. It is succeeding. And we owe it to America's children, their parents, and their teachers to strengthen this good law.
We must also do more to help children when their schools do not measure up. Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation's capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning. And to open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids. We have seen how Pell Grants help low-income college students realize their full potential. Together, we have expanded the size and reach of these grants. Now let's apply that same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools.
On trade, we must trust American workers to compete with anyone in the world and empower them by opening up new markets overseas. Today, our economic growth increasingly depends on our ability to sell American goods, crops, and services all over the world. So we are working to break down barriers to trade and investment wherever we can. We are working for a successful Doha round of trade talks, and we must complete a good agreement this year. At the same time, we are pursuing opportunities to open up new markets by passing free trade agreements.
I thank the Congress for approving a good agreement with Peru. Now I ask you to approve agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Many products from these nations now enter America duty-free, yet many of our products face steep tariffs in their markets. These agreements will level the playing field. They will give us better access to nearly 100 million customers. And they will support good jobs for the finest workers in the world: those whose products say "Made in the USA."
These agreements also promote America's strategic interests. The first agreement that will come before you is with Colombia, a friend of America that is confronting violence and terror and fighting drug traffickers. If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere. So we must come together, pass this agreement, and show our neighbors in the region that democracy leads to a better life.
Trade brings better jobs, better choices, and better prices. Yet for some Americans, trade can mean losing a job, and the Federal Government has a responsibility to help. I ask the Congress to reauthorize and reform trade adjustment assistance, so we can help these displaced workers learn new skills and find new jobs.
To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. Our security, our prosperity, and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil. Last year, I asked you to pass legislation to reduce oil consumption over the next decade, and you responded. Together we should take the next steps: Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions. Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power. Let us continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to power the cars and trucks of the future. Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources. And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride. The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more efficient technology.
To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow. Last year, the Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask the Congress to double Federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on earth.
On matters of science and life, we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries. In November, we witnessed a landmark achievement when scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life. So we are expanding funding for this type of ethical medical research. And as we explore promising avenues of research, we must also ensure that all life is treated with the dignity it deserves. So I call on the Congress to pass legislation that bans unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting, or cloning of human life.
On matters of justice, we must trust in the wisdom of our Founders and empower judges who understand that the Constitution means what it says. I have submitted judicial nominees who will rule by the letter of the law, not the whim of the gavel. Many of these nominees are being unfairly delayed. They are worthy of confirmation, and the Senate should give each of them a prompt up-or-down vote.
In communities across our land, we must trust in the good heart of the American people and empower them to serve their neighbors in need. Over the past 7 years, more of our fellow citizens have discovered that the pursuit of happiness leads to the path of service. Americans have volunteered in record numbers. Charitable donations are higher than ever. Faith-based groups are bringing hope to pockets of despair, with newfound support from the Federal Government. And to help guarantee equal treatment for faith-based organizations when they compete for Federal funds, I ask you to permanently extend Charitable Choice.
Tonight the armies of compassion continue the march to a new day in the Gulf Coast. America honors the strength and resilience of the people of this region. We reaffirm our pledge to help them build stronger and better than before. And tonight I am pleased to announce that in April we will host this year's North American Summit of Canada, Mexico, and the United States in the great city of New Orleans.
There are two other pressing challenges that I have raised repeatedly before this body, and that this body has failed to address: entitlement spending and immigration.
Every Member in this chamber knows that spending on entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is growing faster than we can afford. And we all know the painful choices ahead if America stays on this path: massive tax increases, sudden and drastic cuts in benefits, or crippling deficits. I have laid out proposals to reform these programs. Now I ask Members of Congress to offer your proposals and come up with a bipartisan solution to save these vital programs for our children and grandchildren.
The other pressing challenge is immigration. America needs to secure our borders — and with your help, my Administration is taking steps to do so. We are increasing worksite enforcement, we are deploying fences and advanced technologies to stop illegal crossings, we have effectively ended the policy of "catch and release" at the border, and by the end of this year, we will have doubled the number of border patrol agents. Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy. This will take pressure off the border and allow law enforcement to concentrate on those who mean us harm. We must also find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally. Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved. And it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals.
This is the business of our Nation here at home. Yet building a prosperous future for our citizens also depends on confronting enemies abroad and advancing liberty in troubled regions of the world.
Our foreign policy is based on a clear premise: We trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace. In the last 7 years, we have witnessed stirring moments in the history of liberty. We have seen citizens in Georgia and Ukraine stand up for their right to free and fair elections. We have seen people in Lebanon take to the streets to demand their independence. We have seen Afghans emerge from the tyranny of the Taliban to choose a new president and a new parliament. We have seen jubilant Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers and celebrating their freedom. And these images of liberty have inspired us.
In the past 7 years, we have also seen images that have sobered us. We have watched throngs of mourners in Lebanon and Pakistan carrying the caskets of beloved leaders taken by the assassin's hand. We have seen wedding guests in blood-soaked finery staggering from a hotel in Jordan, Afghans and Iraqis blown up in mosques and markets, and trains in London and Madrid ripped apart by bombs. And on a clear September day, we saw thousands of our fellow citizens taken from us in an instant. These horrific images serve as a grim reminder: The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists — evil men who despise freedom, despise America, and aim to subject millions to their violent rule.
Since September 11, we have taken the fight to these terrorists and extremists. We will stay on the offense, we will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to the enemies of America.
We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear. Yet in this war on terror, there is one thing we and our enemies agree on: In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. That is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories. And that is why, for the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom.
In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al Qaida is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope. These successes must continue, so we are adding 3,200 Marines to our forces in Afghanistan, where they will fight the terrorists and train the Afghan Army and police. Defeating the Taliban and al Qaida is critical to our security, and I thank the Congress for supporting America's vital mission in Afghanistan.
In Iraq, the terrorists and extremists are fighting to deny a proud people their liberty and to establish safe havens for attacks across the world. One year ago, our enemies were succeeding in their efforts to plunge Iraq into chaos. So we reviewed our strategy and changed course. We launched a surge of American forces into Iraq. And we gave our troops a new mission: Work with Iraqi forces to protect the Iraqi people, pursue the enemy in its strongholds, and deny the terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the country.
The Iraqi people quickly realized that something dramatic had happened. Those who had worried that America was preparing to abandon them instead saw tens of thousands of American forces flowing into their country. They saw our forces moving into neighborhoods, clearing out the terrorists, and staying behind to ensure the enemy did not return. And they saw our troops, along with Provincial Reconstruction Teams that include Foreign Service Officers and other skilled public servants, coming in to ensure that improved security was followed by improvements in daily life. Our military and civilians in Iraq are performing with courage and distinction, and they have the gratitude of our whole Nation.
The Iraqis launched a surge of their own. In the fall of 2006, Sunni tribal leaders grew tired of al Qaida's brutality and started a popular uprising called "The Anbar Awakening." Over the past year, similar movements have spread across the country. And today, this grassroots surge includes more than 80,000 Iraqi citizens who are fighting the terrorists. The government in Baghdad has stepped forward as well — adding more than 100,000 new Iraqi soldiers and police during the past year.
While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just 1 year ago:
When we met last year, many said containing the violence was impossible. A year later, high profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, and sectarian killings are down.
When we met last year, militia extremists — some armed and trained by Iran — were wreaking havoc in large areas of Iraq. A year later, Coalition and Iraqi forces have killed or captured hundreds of militia fighters. And Iraqis of all backgrounds increasingly realize that defeating these militia fighters is critical to the future of their country.
When we met last year, al Qaida had sanctuaries in many areas of Iraq, and their leaders had just offered American forces safe passage out of the country. Today, it is al Qaida that is searching for safe passage. They have been driven from many of the strongholds they once held, and over the past year, we have captured or killed thousands of extremists in Iraq, including hundreds of key al Qaida leaders and operatives. Last month, Osama bin Laden released a tape in which he railed against Iraqi tribal leaders who have turned on al Qaida and admitted that Coalition forces are growing stronger in Iraq. Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al Qaida is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.
When we met last year, our troop levels in Iraq were on the rise. Today, because of the progress just described, we are implementing a policy of "return on success," and the surge forces we sent to Iraq are beginning to come home.
This progress is a credit to the valor of our troops and the brilliance of their commanders. This evening, I want to speak directly to our men and women on the frontlines. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen: In the past year, you have done everything we have asked of you, and more. Our Nation is grateful for your courage. We are proud of your accomplishments. And tonight in this hallowed chamber, with the American people as our witness, we make you a solemn pledge: In the fight ahead, you will have all you need to protect our Nation. And I ask the Congress to meet its responsibilities to these brave men and women by fully funding our troops.
Our enemies in Iraq have been hit hard. They are not yet defeated, and we can still expect tough fighting ahead. Our objective in the coming year is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy. American troops are shifting from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission. As part of this transition, one Army brigade combat team and one Marine Expeditionary Unit have already come home and will not be replaced. In the coming months, four additional brigades and two Marine battalions will follow suit. Taken together, this means more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home.
Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders. General Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in the "disintegration of the Iraqi Security Forces, al Qaida-Iraq regaining lost ground, [and] a marked increase in violence." Members of Congress: Having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen.
In the coming year, we will work with Iraqi leaders as they build on the progress they are making toward political reconciliation. At the local level, Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds are beginning to come together to reclaim their communities and rebuild their lives. Progress in the provinces must be matched by progress in Baghdad. And we are seeing some encouraging signs. The national government is sharing oil revenues with the provinces. The parliament recently passed both a pension law and de-Ba'athification reform. Now they are debating a provincial powers law. The Iraqis still have a distance to travel. But after decades of dictatorship and the pain of sectarian violence, reconciliation is taking place — and the Iraqi people are taking control of their future.
The mission in Iraq has been difficult and trying for our Nation. But it is in the vital interest of the United States that we succeed. A free Iraq will deny al Qaida a safe haven. A free Iraq will show millions across the Middle East that a future of liberty is possible. And a free Iraq will be a friend of America, a partner in fighting terror, and a source of stability in a dangerous part of the world.
By contrast, a failed Iraq would embolden extremists, strengthen Iran, and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies, and our homeland. The enemy has made its intentions clear. At a time when the momentum seemed to favor them, al Qaida's top commander in Iraq declared that they will not rest until they have attacked us here in Washington. My fellow Americans: We will not rest either. We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated. We must do the difficult work today, so that years from now people will look back and say that this generation rose to the moment, prevailed in a tough fight, and left behind a more hopeful region and a safer America.
We are also standing against the forces of extremism in the Holy Land, where we have new cause for hope. Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security. This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year. The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side-by-side in peace.
We are also standing against the forces of extremism embodied by the regime in Tehran. Iran's rulers oppress a good and talented people. And wherever freedom advances in the Middle East, it seems the Iranian regime is there to oppose it. Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and backing Hamas' efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land. Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon. Our message to the people of Iran is clear: We have no quarrel with you, we respect your traditions and your history, and we look forward to the day when you have your freedom. Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, so negotiations can begin. And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home, and cease your support for terror abroad. But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.
On the homefront, we will continue to take every lawful and effective measure to protect our country. This is our most solemn duty. We are grateful that there has not been another attack on our soil since September 11. This is not for a lack of desire or effort on the part of the enemy. In the past 6 years, we have stopped numerous attacks, including a plot to fly a plane into the tallest building in Los Angeles and another to blow up passenger jets bound for America over the Atlantic. Dedicated men and women in our Government toil day and night to stop the terrorists from carrying out their plans. These good citizens are saving American lives, and everyone in this chamber owes them our thanks. And we owe them something more: We owe them the tools they need to keep our people safe.
One of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning. Last year, the Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, the Congress set the legislation to expire on February 1. This means that if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. The Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We have had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.
Protecting our Nation from the dangers of a new century requires more than good intelligence and a strong military. It also requires changing the conditions that breed resentment and allow extremists to prey on despair. So America is using its influence to build a freer, more hopeful, and more compassionate world. This is a reflection of our national interest and the calling of our conscience.
America is opposing genocide in Sudan and supporting freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma.
America is leading the fight against global poverty, with strong education initiatives and humanitarian assistance. We have also changed the way we deliver aid by launching the Millennium Challenge Account. This program strengthens democracy, transparency, and the rule of law in developing nations, and I ask you to fully fund this important initiative.
America is leading the fight against global hunger. Today, more than half the world's food aid comes from the United States. And tonight, I ask the Congress to support an innovative proposal to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world, so we can build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine.
America is leading the fight against disease. With your help, we are working to cut by half the number of malaria-related deaths in 15 African nations. And our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is treating 1.4 million people. We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success. And I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion over the next 5 years.
America is a force for hope in the world because we are a compassionate people, and some of the most compassionate Americans are those who have stepped forward to protect us. We must keep faith with all who have risked life and limb so that we might live in freedom and peace. Over the past 7 years, we have increased funding for veterans by more than 95 percent. As we increase funding, we must also reform our veterans system to meet the needs of a new war and a new generation. I call on the Congress to enact the reforms recommended by Senator Bob Dole and Secretary Donna Shalala, so we can improve the system of care for our wounded warriors and help them build lives of hope, promise, and dignity.
Our military families also sacrifice for America. They endure sleepless nights and the daily struggle of providing for children while a loved one is serving far from home. We have a responsibility to provide for them. So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to childcare, creating new hiring preferences for military spouses across the Federal Government, and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children. Our military families serve our Nation, they inspire our Nation, and tonight our Nation honors them.
The secret of our strength, the miracle of America, is that our greatness lies not in our Government, but in the spirit and determination of our people. When the Federal Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, our Nation was bound by the Articles of Confederation, which began with the words, "We the undersigned delegates." When Gouverneur Morris was asked to draft the preamble to our new Constitution, he offered an important revision and opened with words that changed the course of our Nation and the history of the world: "We the people."
By trusting the people, our Founders wagered that a great and noble Nation could be built on the liberty that resides in the hearts of all men and women. By trusting the people, succeeding generations transformed our fragile young democracy into the most powerful Nation on earth and a beacon of hope for millions. And so long as we continue to trust the people, our Nation will prosper, our liberty will be secure, and the State of our Union will remain strong. So tonight, with confidence in freedom's power, and trust in the people, let us set forth to do their business.
Mary Katharine Ham: Olby's Worst Person In the World!
This is the second time a friend of mine has received the singular honor associated with being targeted by Keith Olbermann's nightly bout of spastic projection (the first being NYU College Republicans President Sarah Chambers). I'm indescribably proud to keep such esteemed company.
The Hammer won the prize for deigning to speak ill of Bill Clinton during an appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources. She suggested Clinton is a wimp who's accustomed to being given a pass by the media and is finding somewhat lesser accommodation in the age of the 24-hour news cycle.
Olbermann went on to scream "A PASS?!" several times before his skull ruptured and they cut to commercial.
Will update with video when available...
Update: There it is, courtesy of Hot Air.
Update: Mary Katharine is appropriately honored by the distinction.
According to a couple incoming e-mails, I was Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World" tonight. I am, of course, honored to be joining such good conservative company in the vast cast of hopelessly evil pink Republican elephants haunting Olby's imagination. I am even more honored to have beaten out such tough competition in Glenn Beck and Karl Rove for the top spot. Imagine that. More "worst" than the Architect himself???
I'm not sure what I won for, but apparently it was something on my rather benign appearance on "Reliable Sources" this Sunday. That's the same edition of "Reliable Sources" that Olbermann appeared on, suggesting that he likely only watches TV shows during which he can admire and ponder the elegant swoop of his own ashen newscaster pompadour.
NOW's Vulgar Sexism
The National Organization for Women is taking the nakedly sexist notion that Hillary Clinton must be chosen over any male rival because of her gender to new and dizzying heights.
After the group's New York chapter issued a press release today calling Ted Kennedy's endorsement of a male candidate the "ultimate betrayal", Allahpundit dumpster-dove their archives and hauled out this piece of trash from earlier this month.
In short, gang raping of women is commonplace in our culture both physically and metaphorically.
This past week, we witnessed just such a phenomenon involving men who are afraid of a powerful woman. Hillary Clinton, in her quest for her Presidential nomination, has in fact endured infantile taunting and wildly inappropriate commentary. Indeed we have witnessed almost comical attacks by John Edwards who in turn sided with Barak Obama as both snickered at Clinton’s “breakdown,” which consisted of a very short dewy-eyed moment. Now John Kerry, who should certainly know better after his own “swiftboating,” has joined the playground gang…
Think about the legacy we’ll leave behind when we support Hillary Clinton for President of the United States. Let’s put a stop to the psychological “gang banging” of women and girls. Let’s stand up and be counted by way of the hard-won votes we can now cast!
By extension, it stands to reason that Hillary and anyone supporting her candidacy are psychologically lynching Barack Obama.
And as a Romney supporter, I guess I need to own up to psychologically imprisoning and torturing John McCain and psychologically crucifying Mike Huckabee.
Joint Economic Committee Economist: Odds Of Recession 1/6
Last week, I treated you to a charming diatribe about the strength of the labor market and the lie that it gives to the increasingly boisterous recession doomsayers.
Today's WSJ Real Time Economics blog notes a Congressional labor model that makes a similar argument against looming economic armageddon.
An economic model based on the unemployment rate and jobless claims signals that U.S. recession odds may now be as low as one-in-six, much lower than what many prominent economists including Alan Greenspan think.
The model was developed by Tim Kane, chief labor economist for the Republican staff of the Joint Economic Committee and formerly director of the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation. His results were presented in a paper released Monday by Rep. Jim Saxton (R., N.J.), ranking member of the JEC.
Kane based his model on the three-month change in the unemployment rate and initial jobless claims. Both rose in December, which pushed up Kane’s model to signal 35% recession odds, which was still below what many on Wall Street and academia have thought.
And the Federal Reserve's model may be showing recession odds as low as 10% in 2008.
10%, 16.7%, 35%, take your pick. They're all lower than 40%, which is the chance of a randomly selected year encountering recession (based on the last 30 years, 12 of which saw recession), so you can feel confident in viewing 2008 as less recession-prone than usual.
Ted Kennedy Endorses Obama, Mary Jo Kopechne Unavailable For Comment
Whoopadeedoo. A bloated, crooked sot makes an endorsement.
"I feel change in the air. What about you?" Kennedy said in a speech salted with scarcely veiled criticism of Obama's chief rival for the nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as her husband, the former president.
Kennedy's endorsement was ardently sought by all three of the remaining presidential contenders, and he delivered it at a pivotal time in the race.
Rather than taking advantage of the ensuing media frenzy by offering a policy proposal or a hint of a tangible idea (the way older, less exciting candidates might have), Obama opted for a lovely string of abstractions about "lifting up, not tearing down" and "remaking the world" and some other tingly froth.
While the Clintons reportedly begged Kennedy not to bat for Senator Obama, the writing has been on the wall for some time. As early as 2005 (before Obama even came to the Senate), Teddy alluded to the alluring prospects of an
Osama Obama candidacy.
Update: Jammie Wearing Fool has me beat by a mile in the headline department (Building Bridges Rather Than Driving Off Them: Fat Drunk From Taxachusetts Endorses Barry O) and notes that in Hillaryland, it's Reno Time!
And that seems like a good enough excuse to post this.
The Sky is Falling
I have been asked a lot lately about the satellite that threatens to kill us all. That's certainly an exaggeration but you couldn't tell from headlines such as "Disabled Spy Satellite Threatens Earth." Are we really at risk of going the way of the dinosaurs? Not quite.
The primary problem is that misinformation and media sensationalism are driving the story. For example:
The satellite, which no longer can be controlled, could contain hazardous materials
The spacecraft contains hydrazine - which is rocket fuel. Hydrazine, a colorless liquid with an ammonia-like odor, is a toxic chemical and can cause harm to anyone who contacts it.
While the spacecraft at one time likely contained hydrazine, the on-orbit fuel of choice, it is re-entering the atmosphere because it is out of the juice. No one will die from any "hazardous materials."
But what about it dropping on our heads? After all:
It is unknown where on the planet it might come down
Turns out the Earth is a pretty big place. While chucks of space stuff do occasionally reach the surface, no one has ever been killed from space debris.
That's the end of the sensationalism, eh?
[A spokesman for the National Security Council] would not comment on whether it is possible for the satellite to perhaps be shot down by a missile. He said it would be inappropriate to discuss any specifics at this time.
That's a great idea. I wish we had thought of the "missile solution." Nothing bad could ever come of doing something like that.
What bugs me about these articles is the blatant lack of research. It's nice to have one's profession make the news, but such blatant attempts to scare the public make me wish that satellites would soon retreat again to the quiet surroundings of space.
L. Ron Hubbard Endorses Hillary Clinton
Romney Takes First-Ever Lead In Florida Polling Average
With just 48 hours to go before Florida's 57 winner-take-all delegates are allocated, Mitt Romney has edged out John McCain in the Real Clear Politics polling average for the first time. Rasmussen is showing the biggest Romney advantage - 6 points over McCain, 33-27. Rasmussen also shows Romney pulling dead even with McCain nationally.
Both Romney and McCain have surged in Florida over the last week, with Giuliani, Huckabbe (and of course Thompson) all bleeding. Based on the average of 7 polls, Romney leads by 0.4 points. But if you throw out the surveys taken before Thompson flamed out in South Carolina (and before his supporters presumably migrated Mittward), Romney leads by 2 points. (On the other hand, all of these polls were taken before McCain received the endorsement of the very popular Florida Governor Charlie Crist.)
Giuliani's still alive, but his support seems to have maintained the downward trajectory it's been on since mid-November. Rudy (and Romney) need to hope that the state's early voters banked enough Giuliani votes to make his performance sufficiently respectable to keep him afloat going into Super Tuesday, with enough credibility as a candidate to leech some of the moderate and northeastern support off McCain.
With the moderate vote split and the conersative vote converging around Romney, February 5th should be a good day for Mitt, so long as all three remain in the race. Unlike McCain, Rudy can speak authoritatively on economic issues and back it up with a successful record of executive, economic leadership. As the electoral conversation shifts from Iraq to the economy (and given the number of stumbles that's caused for McCain in just a few short days), that might just be enough to offer Rudy a third ticket out of Florida even if he doesn't manage to surprise the pollsters.
And that's good news for Romney fans.
South Carolina Dem Primary Night
Polls close at 7:00. Can the Lemon effect once again help Hillary outperform her double-digit polling deficit and snatch the top spot? Or will native son John Edwards pick up enough of the Obama fake-outs to sneak into a second place finish and prolong his campaign's slow, twisting demise? Or is the Obama polling advantage likely to be less superficial in a state with a 20-fold larger African American population that New Hampshire?
I won't be in blogland to post further on it this evening, so let's set you up with a couple links.
The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire offers a round-up of last-minute polling and predictions.
Hot Air's got an open thread going and ought to keep you well-updated throughout the evening.
And if the last few weeks are any guide, CNN's election center ought to have the best real-time returns data.
Yikes: Bill and Hill met with an unholy trouncing. A margin of 28 points, with Obama more than doubling Hillary's vote total. According to the exit polling, Clinton failed to capture a majority among any demographic and Obama did just as well among women as he did among men. Cue to the next volley of campaign "shake-up" stories and brace for the exquisite anathema of the Clinton Machine dialing up to 11...
Eat Your Heart Out, Al Gore: Hillary Invented Genocide
Don't let the by-proxy race baiting and other sewer-dwellingly Clintonian campaign tactics fool you. The woman who would be President is very special indeed.
President Clinton has been touting his wife's commitment to Africa on the campaign trail by telling interested voters that "Hillary was the first U.S. Senator to call Darfur genocide." He used that exact line with voters in Aiken, S.C., yesterday, and it has been pointed out more than once over the course of this campaign.
The usually shy Chelsea also touted her mother's record on Darfur, telling a group at Stanford University earlier this month that she was "really proud that my mom was the first Democratic senator to call it genocide in May of 2004 and put a lot of pressure on the Bush administration to recognize it as genocide."
True, Bill and Chelsea aren't necessarily objective in their praise, but how can you argue with tidbits like that - they're so resolute and facty!
If it weren't for the fact that they're made up, these points would be terribly compelling.
But being involved in solving genocide and being the first to call it genocide are two very different things. Turns out that the honor President Clinton and Chelsea are bestowing on Hillary actually belongs to Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Sam Brownback, R-Kansas.
The Congressional Record documents that on June 24, 2004, DeWine became the first U.S. Senator to call the situation in Darfur genocide on the actual Senate floor.
In a floor speech on July 22, 2004, Feingold followed DeWine's lead, becoming the first Democratic Senator to use the term genocide, stating "all credible evidence indicates that what is unfolding in Darfur is genocide."
In fact, Clinton’s first press statement referring to Darfur as "genocide" wasn’t until March 16, 2006.
When pressed about these indications that Clinton may not in fact have invented genocide in Darfur, her staff backpeddled and qualified like so:
When Clinton’s Senate office was e-mailed to get a clear date for her first use of the term genocide, spokesman Philippe Reines responded, "She has been a leading voice in calling for U.S. leadership in ending the genocide in Darfur."
So yes, Sen. Clinton has been devoted to the situation in Darfur, a fact voters have the right to know. But "first" and "devoted" are two very different things, and some would argue that voters have just as much right to know that as well.
Okay, so maybe Clinton wasn't technically the "first" in a factual way. Maybe she just "took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's" recognition of the genocide.
Who Won the Boca Raton GOP Debate?
According to MSNBC's viewer poll, it breaks out like this:
Mitt Romney: 41%
Ron Paul: 40%
Mike Huckabee: 8%
John McCain: 7%
Rudy Giuliani: 3%
If you disregard the impact of the Ron Paul poll swarmers (which you are well-advised to do), those results are pretty remarkably one-sided.
Maybe Team Mitt has learned to assemble poll swarmers...
Romney certainly did perform well (and oddly, took very little fire from his opponents, though plenty from the moderators). But I think it was the "Bill Clinton back in the White House with nothing to do" line that put him over the top tonight.
Update: A WSJ online poll shows similar results. Ron Paul spammers didn't manage to boost his numbers quite as much, but there's plenty of "Only man who can save America" nonsense flooding the comment thread.
Seeking To Snap 3-Month Awardless Streak, Al Gore Reminds You He's Super, Duper Cereal About Global Warming
Having finally convinced humanity that Manbearpig is ferocious indeed (and receiving every barely applicable award on the planet for so doing), Al Gore would now like you to know that the threat is much worse than even he feared. (HT: JWF)
Climate change is occurring far more rapidly than even the worst predictions of the UN's Nobel Prize-winning scientific panel on climate change, Al Gore said on Thursday.
Recent evidence shows "the climate crisis is significantly worse and unfolding more rapidly than those on the pessimistic side of the IPCC projections had warned us," climate campaigner and former US vice-president Gore said.
Peskily Strong Labor Market Getting Harder To Blithely Disregard
It seems like with each passing day, the nonsensical wailing that, "Not only are we doomed to recession... we're already in one!" gets louder and louder.
Never mind that the most recent quarter for which we have data put up 4.9% GDP growth (which would require a tremendous tumble to actually plunge negative for the two subsequent quarters). One of the more fashionable bits of "evidence" of the inevident recession is the fact that the unemployment rate jumped from 4.7% to 5.0% (!) in December. Despite this rate being significantly lower than the long-term average observed in any of the last 4 or 5 decades, hand-wringers have gotten a lot of mileage out of this this dark little hint about a labor market surely on the brink of collapse.
Let's agree to blind ourselves to the fact that the economy finds itself in its longest stretch of consecutive job creation in history and turn our attention instead to that rather small portion of the labor force that does currently find itself on the sidelines.
Every week, the Labor Department releases data on new unemployment claims. And today, for the fourth consecutive week, new claims declined. The drop was small, from 302,000 to 301,000, but forecasters and economists were expecting an increase to 320,000 (in part because the claims number has been so quizzically downward trending in recent weeks). The steadier 4-week moving average fell by more than 14,000.
The case made by the doomsayers is that the housing and credit crises have begun to infect the broad economy so significantly that they've caused not just a slowdown, but true economic stagnation or even contraction, one effect of which is an impairment of the labor market, something we all now need to fall to our knees to lament.
And while we haven't seen fresh GDP data in a couple months (and therefore we're all guessing somewhat as to what the true growth rate currently is), the labor market tea leaves simply aren't bearing out the pessimistic case.
Joblessness may have crept up to a somewhat less astonishingly low rate in the fourth quarter, but the trend in 2008 is shaping up to be a frustrating one for those would who have you believe the economic end times are looming.
McCain Neatly Sums Up His Lack Of Credibility On Tax Cuts
This may come as a terrible shock, but the only non-Lincoln Chafee Republican Senator to vote against the Bush tax cuts is running for President (as a Republican, no less). Now that the tax cuts have to be recognized as being irrefutably and wildly beneficial to our economy, Senator McCain would like to settle any ambiguity about his fiscal disposition.
SEN. MCCAIN: "I've been involved in all of these issues. I know how to stop the irresponsible spending. I've always been for tax cuts. I have always... er, uh... although I voted against the first tax cuts, but these tax cuts have to be made permanent..."
Did SocGen's Rogue Trader Trigger a Trillion Dollar Sell-Off?
And now, Societe Generale has Jerome Kerviel.
The rogue trader whose bets on European equity markets cost Societe Generale $7.1 billion is reportedly 31 year-old Jerome Kerviel, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets. Kerviel reportedly joined Societe Generale in 2000 and spent around three years in the bank's back office before spending the last two years on its futures desk in Paris. Kerviel wasn't a star trader with SocGen and was responsible for hedging on European equity market indices.
With Kerviel racking up more than $7 billion in losses for the French bank, he easily outstrips Leeson ($1.4 billion) and Jett ($350 million). No slouches in their own right, Leeson and Jett, respectively, won four years in Changi Prison and millions of dollars in fines for their misdeeds that in both cases led to the downfall of their institutions.
Still, Kerviel's multi-billion dollar blunder seems to take rogue trading to a new plateau. What's more, given the timing of the discovery (over the weekend, according to the bank) and this week's frantic global market action, one has to wonder whether SocGen's rapid unwinding of Kerviel's enormous unauthorized positions on Monday morning may have sparked the panicked selling that quickly circled the globe and saw major stock markets shed more than a trillion dollars in market value on no particular news, not to mention (whether they admit it or not) inspiring the Fed to hold an emergency meeting and immediately implement the largest rate cut in 17 years.
Only time will tell if Societe Generale manages (despite an already fragile banking environment) to rebound where Kidder and Barings couldn't. But given the potential scale of the financial fallout from Kerviel's roguery, he can probably count himself lucky that he, unlike poor Mr. Leeson, doesn't trade from Singapore.
Update: WSJ's Deal Journal inducts Kerviel into its rogues gallery, where he will undoubtedly shortly receive his own pencil-dot rendering.
Also, according to Deal Journal, Kerviel has turned up missing. So be on the lookout for this Frenchman.
Or, if you're more comfortable with the Journal-ized version, this is how our resident forensic artist believes Kerviel might appear in pencilvision.
From the Guardian:
At the time of writing, the list has shrunk further to just four friends - providing more fodder to the Facebook refuseniks who question whether someone linked to a social networking page is really worthy of the name "friend".
I've just attempted to friend Monsieur Kerviel. We'll see if he accepts...
America Gives Women a Bad Name
"My God, like... she like, look... if you're ready... to make our generation have a voice..."
One Of the Blandest Ron Paul Fans In America Takes To the Airwaves
Pepare To Adjust Your Global Warming Talking Points
Out: "Man-made global warming increases the frequency and severity of hurricanes."
In: "Man-made global warming causes an alarming lack of hurricanes."
Study: Warming may cut US hurricane hits
Global warming could reduce how many hurricanes hit the United States, according to a new federal study that clashes with other research. The new study is the latest in a contentious scientific debate over how man-made global warming may affect the intensity and number of hurricanes.
So that means "global warming may decrease the likelihood of hurricanes making landfall in the United States," according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Miami Lab and the University of Miami.
(HT: Jammie Wearing Fool)
Two Days In January
Weehoo. This is shaping up to be an interesting week. After being closed on Monday while the rest of the world whipped itself into a panic, U.S. stock markets have been on a thrill ride of back-breaking ambivalence ever since.
Weighing (partially self-inflicted) recession fears on the one hand and the implications of the Fed's whopper of a monetary surprise on the other, for the second straight day the Dow Jones Industrial Average swung through a trading range of more than 630 points (marking just the 7th and 8th times in history that it's seen such intraday volatility).
Happily, while yesterday's closing bell found stocks down significantly (though hundreds of points above their session lows), today, Wall Street turned what at midday was a 300-point sell-off into a 300-point rally by 4:00. Without all the historical intraday price data handy, I can't be sure, but I suspect we may have just seen the steepest afternoon climb on record.
The gains weren't equal-opportunity though. While the broad-based S&P 500 is up roughly 1% week-to-date, its industry components are diverging wildly. Financial stocks (as gauged by the Financial Select Sector SPDR), which have been beaten mercilessly in recent months, have soared nearly 9% over these past two days. Tech stocks, on the other hand, have shed more than 2% during this shortened week (and were down more than 7% midday today).
Interest rate futures are pricing in a 100% chance of another half-point cut when the Fed concludes its regularly scheduled meeting next Wednesday, which gives some indication of what's fueling the outsized rally among financials. Still, with the sector down 4% year-to-date and nearly 25% over the past twelve months, financial stocks have a long way to go before they can be judged to have recovered.
But today was a good start.
Who Does Number Two Work For?
When asked if he would consider becoming Vice President, then Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy remarked, "Let's not talk so much about vice. I'm against vice in all forms." Two men that might not share that view are John Edwards and Fred Thompson.
John Edwards has campaigned aggressively, but his failure to engage in real debate leads me to believe that he no longer seeks the highest office in the land. He recognizes that he has no chance of getting the Democratic nomination, much less winning a state primary or caucus. Edwards knows that either Hillary or Barack will get the nod, and if he does not disenfranchise the eventual nominee along the way, he could be on the Democratic ticket. Edwards is smart and calculating, so don't expect him to endorse one of the two candidates before the race is settled.
Fred Thompson has been somewhat engaged in the Republican debates and on the campaign trail, but he has stopped short of full-out attacks on the most likely nominees: McCain and Romney. While Edwards has decided that it is in his best interest to sit on the sidelines, Fred has made the decision to get out of the way. Some believe he wasn't up for the rigors of Presidential campaigning, but I believe he wanted to maximize his return. The GOP nomination is still a four-way race, and this move makes sure he will at least be considered for VP by the eventual nominee. After all, he would bring strong conservative credentials to Huckabee or Rudy and would be a solid complement to McCain or Romney.
So while the parties' nominees are in the forefront of our minds right now, let's not forget about the eventual Presidential race. Look for Edwards and Thompson to be significant candidates for their party's number two spot.
There's a GOP Caucus Tonight
Turns out the Louisiana Republican Party is sounding off on the primary contest tonight. The caucus wraps up at 8 pm Central and will designate 15 delegates. Since today's a closed caucus, only registered Republicans are eligible.
To avoid the delegate penalties imposed by the national party on gun-jumping states like Michigan and South Carolina, Louisiana's caucus will result in the election of "uncommitted" delegates, who have typically indicated a candidate preference, but who will not be formally allocated to specific candidates. Not sure how that will affect the usefulness of the returns data...
Apparently only Ron Paul is campaigning on site. According to anecdotal evidence, he and Romney have the most boisterous crowds.
Just spoke with somebody on the ground in Louisiana, and caucus turnout is heavy all over the state. Romney and Paul supporters appear to be the most vocal and visible thus far.
Assuming the results are intelligible, I'll update the scoreboard once the returns come in.
While we wait, let's ponder - why is there virtually zero coverage of this contest? It may not be a traditional "early state" but this year there are plenty of expansion teams in the primary pre-season. And with 15 delegates on the line, it's 25% weightier than New Hampshire.
Update: The Louisiana state GOP has released unofficial results of last night's caucus, which are extremely unhelpful. To make sense of the data (conveniently packaged in 11 PDFs), you need several electoral decoder rings (i.e. each candidate's delegate slate for each Congressional District, like this one for Mitt Romney in Congressional District 6).
Applying that decoder to CD6, I count Romney's delegates getting 18.1% of the non-provisional votes. If I understand the process correctly, the top 15 vote-getters in each CD will be dispatched to the state convention to select national delegates (but not before the state primary, which is something of a parallel process to this one).
In any event, only one of Romney's 15 delegates cracked the top 15 (out of a field of 81) in that district, but he did it in style, coming in at #1.
I don't know what this all means (and I'm starting to see why most media outlets chose to ignore this mess), but the state GOP suggests "uncommitted" was the big winner state-wide.
Prior to the tabulation of the provisional ballots, the uncommitted "Pro-Life/Pro-Family" slate appears to have won a majority of delegates in all seven congressional districts.
All candidates who ran for alternate delegate in the the 2nd, 3rd and 4th congressional districts won after qualifying as there were 15 or fewer candidates for those positions.
The Fred Thompson Pinata Has Ruptured
Fred made his departure official today, offering the following statement on his way out.
"Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people."
Fred's departure, following South Carolina, wasn't unexpected. But now that it's official, which of the remaining candidates stands to collect the most former Fredheads? With the Florida primary looming, Fred's 7-12% support in that state could easily swing the result is such a tight race. On average, McCain leads Romney and Giuliani by less than 4%, with Huckabee not far behind.
If Patrick Ruffini's unscientific poll is any indication, Mitt Romney might sweep up as many as 3 of every 4 Thompson supporters, offering a net bump of perhaps 5 points.
Of course any calculated impact could deviate wildly depending on whether and behind whom Thompson decides to throw his own support before next Tuesday. But if he's angling for a VP offer and wants to boost his odds of picking the winner, we might not get that insight until after Florida.
Update: Allah hauls out a more somber (yet equally holiday-centric) metaphor to mark the occasion - the melting chocolate bunnies.
Update: Selena Zito makes the case that Thompson's withdrawal benefits Mike Huckabee most.
Recession Remains Unlikely, As Does Recognition Thereof
Despite the somewhat panic-induced stock sell-off this morning (and the much larger sell-off suggested by early morning futures trading, before the Fed announced a triple inter-meeting rate cut), the fundamental metrics of the American economy remain remarkably healthy.
Unemployment is at the notably low level of 5.0%, even after moving up 3/10 of a percentage point last month. The economy has added jobs for a record-setting 52 consecutive months. Real GDP growth in the most recent quarter for which we have data (3Q04) was a swift 4.9%.
The related housing and credit crises are proving wider and deeper than hoped, but even this broad-based buffeting has as yet been unable to derail this remarkably resilient economy, whose mettle has already been tested by high energy prices, protracted war, and unprecedented natural disasters.
2008 has certainly been a painful one for anyone net long the stock market, with the S&P 500 down more than 11% year-to-date (including today's sell-off, as of 10:30 am). And if panic outweighs cool-headed bargain-hunting on Wall Street, stocks could have further to fall before they turn around. But while the headline-writers will delight grotesquely in the specter of an election year meltdown and attempt to stoke it with bold pronouncements of an economy in shambles, we frankly still don't have much reason to expect a recession in 2008.
A couple weeks ago, I pegged the odds of formal recession in 2008 (two consecutive quarters of negative growth) at 25%, close to the odds of at least one unexpected exogenous shock (a serious oil spike, a terrorist attack, the wrong electoral outcome, etc.). Now, we can probably add "self-inflicted recession" to the mix. If campaign gasbaggery, spastic Congressional response, media castigation, and suffusion of investor panic conspire to convince everyone that the world is indeed ending, that prophecy might just self-fulfill (in the form of a mild recession, anyway), as investors recede and legislators overreach, drying up capital markets and hobbling what's left with the indelicate hand of government intervention. Incorporating this possibility of self-inflicted wounds, let's boost the odds to 1/3.
Lest you think me a blind cheerleader, consider the Fed's own economic model, which (according to some folks who've attempted to recreate it) might indicate a likelihood of recession as low as 10%.
The Federal Reserve doesn’t expect the U.S. to enter recession, Chairman Ben Bernanke has said, and a model developed by his staff appears to back him up.
The Fed economists did not update the model to the present, to tell us what it now says the probabilities are, so The Wall Street Journal asked [Brian Sack, economist at Macroeconomic Advisers] to do it. Mr. Sack said he did not exactly reproduce the Fed model – for example, they used a different credit spread, quarterly instead of monthly data, and they go back further in time. Recently, credit spreads have widened sharply, but the yield curve has steepened. “The offsetting effects capture a lot of what is happening in the outlook. The economy is worse off, as reflected in wider spreads, but the Fed is riding to the rescue, as reflected in the steeper curve.” Based on recent quotes, “the odds of a recession [in the next 12 months] are less than 10% (see chart below), down from over 40% in early 2007,” Mr. Sack says.
He adds: “We run bunch of these types of models, and they all give different results, so I’m not sure any single model should be taken too seriously. I think we would subjectively put the probability of recession above the 10% from this model, but below the 30% to 50% figures that are commonly cited.”
Don't expect such heresy to be repeated much outside the pages of The Wall Street Journal (or at least its economics blog, quoted above). The non-negotiable message right now is "World markets tank on growing recession fears" and the only interpretation of this morning's Fed action is that Bernanke is trying valiantly (albeit in vain) to prevent that recession from dwarfing the Great Depression.
If you wonder whether I overestimate the media's perverse fixation with being pitched into recession, think back to last February. Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan told a group of businessmen in Hong Kong that a U.S. recession was unlikely. The AP immediately printed the headline "Greenspan Warns of Likely U.S. Recession." A couple months later, Greenspan specified that he saw a 1/3 chance of a recession. Again, the AP moaned of our economic plight, clumsily wielding Greenspan's prediction (which, of course, predicted 2:1 odds against recession) to counter optimistic forecasts from the Bernanke Fed and the Bush administration, both of which had (like Greenspan) said they believed a recession was unlikely.
The quarter immediately following those remarks (our most recent quarterly data) saw the swiftest economic growth in four years. The fourth quarter of 2007 (data for which will be released next Wednesday) will certainly show deceleration. The market expects a print of 1.2% real GDP growth - clearly below trend, but equally clearly above 0.0%.
We're by no means immune from recession in 2008, but notwithstanding the genuine and complex economic mess of the housing/credit turmoil, there's little evidence that we're careening inexorably toward one. Truly exogenous shocks aside, most of the determinants are still under our collective control. If investors are inspired to panic, if legislators with economic purview (some of whom can't tell a Treasury Secretary from a Fed chairman) succumb to grand mal intervention, and/or if voters are indiligent in their selection in November, this business cycle might yet find its way into recession, but it will likely be of our own design.
Fed Announces Triple Emergency Cut
Before stock markets opened this morning, the Federal Reserve announced a 75 basis point cut to both the federal funds and discount rates.
The Committee took this action in view of a weakening of the economic outlook and increasing downside risks to growth. While strains in short-term funding markets have eased somewhat, broader financial market conditions have continued to deteriorate and credit has tightened further for some businesses and households. Moreover, incoming information indicates a deepening of the housing contraction as well as some softening in labor markets.
Rumors were circulating last night that this rare inter-meeting action might materialize today, as the holiday-closed U.S. markets watched world equity markets plummet on recession fears. Before the cuts were announced, Dow Jones Industrial futures were down as much as 550 points (4.6%) this morning, while S&P 500 futures were off by more than 5%. Pre-opening markets were briefly buoyed by the news, gaining back most of their losses, but within minutes were once again pointing to a steep drop at the opening bell.
For comparison's sake, the Dow's saw its worst session in history when the markets reopened after 9/11, shedding 678 points (7.1%)
A commentator on CNBC reported he was talking to traders who were "disappointed" that the Fed move was so small (!) and that they were quietly hoping for a full point. With the January Fed meeting just a week away, many people are expecting him to pull the trigger again. Fed Funds futures suggest expectations of either another 50- or 75-point cut to be announced next Thursday.
Romney Revolution Swag
From an e-mail from Craig Romney:
The winning Mitt Romney t-shirt chosen from my designs on the Five Brothers Blog is now available with a $30 contribution toward my dad’s campaign! If you contribute $50, I’ll have my dad sign your t-shirt.
Almost as good as the Che-esque Reagan shirt.
And certainly a step up from this one.
Spam. A lot.
Anyone else get spam-blasted this morning? I got hit with more than 2,600 in about two and a half hours, with the flood starting at 9:17 am.
Is it a fire sale? Skynet?
Identity-Based Votes For Me, But Not For Thee
Stumping for votes in next Saturday's Democratic primary in South Carolina, Senator Clinton is brandishing a mighty double-standard in identity politics.
Her code for, "Vote for me because I'm a woman," has long been to assert an "emotional connection" between herself and female voters. Now, as she tries to woo African American voters in South Carolina (a 30% bloc in a state where she trails badly), she's imploring them to weigh experience over emotion.
That was the message of a televised interview with Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), an African American Congresswoman and a co-chair of Clinton's national campaign, who Hillary trotted out this Martin Luther King Day (in South Carolina) to help convince people not to vote based on the demographic identity of the candidate.
At least not for the next 6 days. The hopeless cynic in me suspects that come January 30th, normalcy will return and "emotional connections" with candidates might once again become legitimate voting criteria.
Wishful Thinking Paying Off
On Saturday, one of your favorite bloggers wrote:
I'd probably give [Romney, McCain, and Giuliani] roughly even shakes at Florida. Mitt's got a money advantage, McCain's got a polling advantage, and Giuliani's (probably) got an advantage among the early birds who've already cast their votes.
If I had to guess, I guess I'd guess Romney will take the Sunshine State, 1) because he's probably been able to mobilize his ground game there a little earlier, while the others were battling in South Carolina, 2) his support demographic skews older than his rivals, 3) because the scoreboard indicates that when you survey a wide and diverse swath of Republican voters, Romney's broad support shines through, and 4) because he's my pick and I'm thinking wishfully.
Drudge reports that Rasmussen will be releasing the newest GOP poll in Florida which shows that Romney leads the pack at 25% with McCain in second at 20% and Giuliani in third at 19%.
That would represent a 6-point swing for Romney over McCain compared with the same poll a week ago. It would also be the first major poll to show a Romney advantage in Florida.
Even if this survey is representative of a big net Romney bounce in the state, there are still 8 days until the primary - plenty of time for the sands to shift. All in all though, if all candidates avoid high-profile gaffes, the long final approach into Florida would likely favor the candidate with the best organization and the most money to burn, which are Romney strong suits.
Update: The Rasmussen poll is out. Looks like Huckabee's losing roughly one point for each one Romney picks up. That doesn't mean they're the same voters, but I noted on Saturday that there's some evidence to support the idea that Mitt may be siphoning off support directly from Huck, particularly among evangelicals.
Based on the results of Patrick Ruffini's informal poll, I'd say if Fred drops out, Romney is going to be awfully hard to beat in Florida.
Scientology - It Helps You Go To the Toilet
You've seen the Tom Cruise Gone Wild videos L. Ron didn't want you to see. Now prepare to learn the real secret of America's most fashionable cult.
Mild content warning for relentless bathroom humor.
GOP Primary Scoreboard - Nevada/South Carolina Edition
The last few votes are still dribbling in in South Carolina, but today's outcomes are assured, so let's get a look at the leaderboard. (Play-by-play coverage of today's action is here).
Mitt Romney prevailed in Nevada with an enormous margin of 38 points over his nearest rival. John McCain edged out John Huckabee by about 3 points in South Carolina, with Thompson and Romney taking 3rd and 4th, respectively.
Despite this being the first time Romney has failed to finish in the top 2, he retains his lead in each category on the board. Most notably, the simple average of Mitt's vote share through the first 6 states stands at 38%, more than 17 points ahead of McCain.
While tomorrow's favored media headline will doubtless be that John McCain is now the "clear frontrunner," the numbers remind us that Romney has the most wins, the best average finish, and the most delegates (not to mention the most money).
Thompson's speech tonight sounded like he's getting ready to bow out, which may shake up the game board a bit. I'd think his supporters would tend to reach out for Romney more than McCain, but obviously any overtures or endorsements Thompson may make upon exiting could change that.
We now begin a lengthy 9 days of rest, during which the 4 remaining viable contenders (Rudy, Mitt, Huck, and McCain) will hump around Florida (where as much as a third of voters may have already voted). At this point, they're all within a range of 5 or 6 points, but today's events may push a point or so away from Huckabee and Thompson and toward Mitt and McCain.
Probably relatively unaffected by today's excitement is Giuliani, who finds himself the subject of the other false but popular media truism right now - namely that Rudy's bid is simply busted, even in his firewall state of Florida. The fact that such a large portion of votes have likely already been cast (not to mention the fact that the most recent poll has Rudy winning the state) tends to cast some doubt on that bit of considered punditry.
If any of the 4 viables can be deemed doomed, it's likely Huckabee. He failed to win highly evangelical South Carolina and he underperformed Romney even among the evangelical block in both Michigan and Nevada. Iowa is looking more and more like the only trick in Huckabee's bag, and it's getting to be a several states-old trick.
I'd probably give the other three roughly even shakes at Florida. Mitt's got a money advantage, McCain's got a polling advantage, and Giuliani's (probably) got an advantage among the early birds who've already cast their votes.
If I had to guess, I guess I'd guess Romney will take the Sunshine State, 1) because he's probably been able to mobilize his ground game there a little earlier, while the others were battling in South Carolina, 2) his support demographic skews older than his rivals, 3) because the scoreboard indicates that when you survey a wide and diverse swath of Republican voters, Romney's broad support shines through, and 4) because he's my pick and I'm thinking wishfully.
Silver Palmetto Day [Update: Romney, Clinton Win NV; McCain Wins SC]
Updated Michigan Count Gives Mitt Outright Majority In Delegate Race
GOP Primary Scoreboard - Michigan Edition
GOP Primary Scoreboard
Silver Palmetto Day [Update: Romney, Clinton Win NV; McCain Wins SC]
It's time, folks. Afters weeks of anticipation, it's finally time for the ante-penultimate and the penultimate pre-Super Tuesday primaries, all crammed into one mildly interesting day.
First on the docket are Nevada's lunchtime caucuses (results of which will probably trickle in between 4 and 5 pm Eastern), where Mitt Romney's lead on the GOP side has been growing fast. Clinton has also led Obama pretty consistently, but the margin is still narrow enough for the polling to be as hideously wrong as it was in New Hampshire.
In South Carolina, the real Republican fight is between Huckabee and McCain, with Romney and Fred battling for third. Among Democrats, Obama's held onto the polling lead, but Clinton has been closing the gap.
To get it on the books, here are a few high-level predictions:
1. Romney: 38
2. McCain: 21
3. Huckabee: 15
1. Obama: 43
2. Clinton: 41
2. Edwards: 10
1. Huckabee: 26
2. McCain: 24
3. Romney: 18
1. Clinton: 45
2. Obama: 40
3, Edwards: 10
I'm looking for "upsets" then, in both Democrat contests, inasmuch as I'm suggesting neither of the current poll-toppers will win the race they're supposed to. I'm taking a cue from what happened in New Hampshire (normal, secret ballot voting which, per the Lemon effect, helped Hillary relative to the polling data) and Iowa (a public, open-outcry caucus, which per the anti-Lemon effect, helped Obama relative to the polling). When the smoke clears, we'll hear a lot more grumbling about election fraud, the idiocy of pollsters, and some awkward fumbling for the hidden political truths about how each candidate managed to poach their victories. But if one or both of these races does pan out this way (particularly if Hillary pulls off a convincing South Carolina win), an honest observer would have to acknowledge the unpalatable possibility that Senator Obama's true support will always be overstated by polling data (and open-outcry cauci).
I'll update the GOP scoreboard as soon as we have solid returns data. With 34 delegates up for grabs in Nevada and 24 in South Carolina, Romney's lead over the rest of the field will likely widen by the end of the day, even if he takes 6th in South Carolina.
Update: Huh. That was quick. As of 1 pm Eastern, Fox News and MSNBC are both projecting Romney has won the Nevada caucus. I wonder if this very early news might translate into a small South Carolina bump.
I'll wait until we have some delegate insights and the South Carolina results before updating the board, but it's worth noting that Romney has now won a majority of the state contests to date. Allah notes these results were supposed to come in at around 3:30, which suggests a Romney landslide. If that's the case, he might be leaving Las Vegas with 30 or more fresh delegates, which could make him impervious to winner-take-all Florida, in terms of delegate count.
Update: Very early returns (<1%) give Romney 46%. Huckabee's back at a distant 5th, behind McCain, Paul, and Thompson.
Update: This is interesting. According to Nevada entrance polls, fully one quarter of caucus-goers classified themselves as Mormon (compared with just 9% statewide, per MormonWiki) and 94% of them planned to vote for Romney.
Update: Meanwhile, the aspiring First Man is helping Hillary line up her excuses this afternoon by seeding a voter supression story in Nevada.
Update: Thinking back to Michigan, it's worth remembering that Romney unexpectedly outperformed Huckabee among evangelicals. I wonder if Huckabee's surprisingly poor performance this afternoon and Mitt's outperformance suggest Mitt's having some success at poaching vote share from Huckabee nationally. Per the entrance poll, 19% of today's caucus-goers were evangelicals, and once again, they've opted for Mitt (32-24 over Huckabee).
Update: With 35% in, it looks like they're about to call it for Clinton. She currently leads Obama 50-45.
Update: Indeed, Hillary wins Nevada with 51%. And yet it looks like Obama won more delegates - 13 to Hillary's 12.
With 98% in, Mitt's Nevada take came in at 52%, giving him a 39-point margin over runner-up Ron Paul. Yes, Ron Paul.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, early results are starting to trickle in. With <1% reporting, it's McCain over Huckabee 33-28. Romney's pulling third with 19%, 7 points ahead of Thompson.
With apologies to the Fredheads out there, isn't it about time to pull the plug on this thing?
Update: With 22% reporting, McCain's extended his lead to 8 points. Seems safe to say he's going to take it, but they're still saying too close too call. Brit Hume claims the number crunchers see the race as "dead even" based on their precinct-by-precinct analysis.
Further down the card, Thompson (who's already made his good night speech) has slipped in front of Romney for third, though the gap is just a few hundred votes.
Update: 72% reporting now, but still no call. McCain leads Huck 34-29. Thompson leads Romney 16-15.
Update: Finally, at 9:19 pm, with 82% reporting, McCain is called the winner.
Judicial Watch Finally Pries Open the Clinton Vault
The Judicial Watch website is
down at the moment (possibly due to a massive traffic flood) back up, but Captain Ed summarizes what the group found in the first collection of documents they managed to wrangle from the Clinton Library on the topic of Hillarycare circa 1993. Specifically, some of the documents detail strategy deliberations that address how to deal with the First Lady's detractors. And the tactics discussed (including the suggestion by a certain Democratic Senatorial elder that the Clintons "expose lifestyles, tactics and motives of lobbyists") are of a flavor that can best be described as Clintonian.
What's more, the memos seem to lay bare the fact that even the coziest Clintonistas weren't precisely bowled over by her radical plans to socialize American medicine. More bluntly, it sounds like even Clinton campers realized the authoritarian utopia Hillary was cooking was enough to make George Orwell himself blush.
A June 18, 1993 internal Memorandum entitled, “A Critique of Our Plan,” authored by someone with the initials “P.S.,” makes the startling admission that critics of Hillary’s health care reform plan were correct: “I can think of parallels in wartime, but I have trouble coming up with a precedent in our peacetime history for such broad and centralized control over a sector of the economy…Is the public really ready for this?... none of us knows whether we can make it work well or at all…”
With the primary in high gear, this ought to shift the political discourse in interesting directions. If the early glimpses are an indication of what's yet to come, we may have to start referring to a young Senator from Illinois as Mr. Inevitable.
Update: I think I've cracked the cipher of the intials "P.S."
Paul Starr (born May 12, 1949) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University.
In 1993, Starr was the senior advisor for President Bill Clinton's proposed health care reform plan.
As fate would have it, Starr recently wrote an article for The American Prospect (the liberal magazine he co-founded), entitled "Hillarycare Mythology: Did Hillary Threaten Democratic Senators?" In the piece, he aims to disabuse us of the notion that the First Lady was so ominously proficient in the dark art of politics.
Writers love stories like this one because they seem to confirm a larger narrative about a public figure's inner qualities. Some stories are so good you wouldn't want to spoil them by finding out they never happened.
Well, we may be about to find out.
Here are a few more of his thoughts about Hillarycare.
We will inevitably be accused of creating a monstrously complicated proposal, and it will take an enormous effort to communicate the essentials in a simple way.
But the issue is not just communication. There is more regulation in this plan that [sic] I expected to see, and I worry about the wisdom of much of it. The spirit and some of the substance contradict the idea of flexibility for states and room for variety, innovation, and competition.
[T]he most heavy-handed part of the program is the budget, and we may not have any credible way of making it more palatable.
And a few more highlights from that Senate elder's smear cookbook (pdf).
Impeach the credibility of opponents:
- Avoid partisan targeting. Demonstrate that opponents are advocates of delay or inaction, regardless of party affiliation. Moderate Republicans must be broken from conservative ranks.
- Expose opponents as "professional lobbyists" with values and interests divorced from average Americans (document salaries, perks, ideological extremism, and provide all to the media.
- Use classic opposition research to expose their selfish and short-sighted motivations, and obstructionist tactics (collect mailings, track ad campaigns, investigate expenditures, and provide to the media).
His punctuation here is comically revealing.
Apply pressure on undecided Congressional votes with intensive message delivery through their home state or home district media outlets.
Result: Three-four days of saturation local coverage in all targeted states and/or districts, tied to national events with network coverage - all featuring "real" people with "real" stories.
At one point, the author (Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, incidentally) lays out the pros and cons of waging an avowedly partisan grassroots campaign vs. a non-partisan campaign, in order to rally public support for Hillarycare. If the modern day Clinton machine is aptly characterized as one of meticulous scripting, triangulation, and... lets face it, ham-fisted sock puppetry, Senator Rockefeller may deserve some credit for showing them the ropes.
Non-partisan: The National Health Policy Council is the most obvious existing organization to be expanded for this purpose.
- ... A high-profile announcement of the decision to take this "aggressively non-partisan approach" would be extremely helpful in building public confidence and support...
- General public would recognize this as a clear attempt to break through partisan politics and gridlock.
NOTE: Just so you understand, I have been involved with NHPC, as honorary chair, for nearly two years. I can attest to their effectiveness and their breadth both geographically and politically. I have considered other existing organizations, but I believe NHPC would serve you needs best, in part because I know that the people involved are prepared to do anything you would ask of them.
All the goodwill of a "non-partisan" organization with all the control and ideological reliability of group of paid staffers? Brilliant. I wonder if Hillary ever tried to replicate that formula.
Update: I reached out to Professor Starr at Princeton, who acknowledges it was his memo and offers a couple of additional points.
Dear Mr. Pidot,
Two points: 1) This memo, which I wrote, was a critique of a preliminary draft, not the final draft, of the 1993 Clinton health plan, and 2) none of the provisions to which I objected are in Senator Clinton's current proposal, which shows that she has fully absorbed the concerns I was raising.
If you use any of this short email, I presume that as an honorable journalist, you will quote it in full.
Just How Straight Up Bonkers Is Tom Cruise - Parts II and III!
Fresh from the atomic volcano, here's another shock dose of stark raving Scientology from Xenu's most precious creation. (Click here for Part I)
In this clip, we learn about one of Scientologists' lesser known powers - the ability to detect the level of dangerous particulate matter in the air by snapping their fingers.
"Why ask permission? We are the authorities."
This is all good fun, insofar as it's an opportunity to see what happens behind closed doors, when Scientologists stop being polite... and start getting bat$#!& crazy.
But what's actually pretty disgusting about Part II (the clip at the top of this post) is that Cruise's 9/11 project, presented as some great act of humanity, appears to be little more than a recruiting center. At the heart of the truly fantastic Scientology canard is the belief that all the physical and psychological ills of mankind trace back to impurities (magical, alien impurities!) in one's body, that need to be expelled not through "actual" medical treatment, but by paying enough money and enduring enough brainwashing sessions as to acquire a fuller understanding of L. Ron's clumsy science fiction writing.
Given that expelling toxins is their whole jag, what better hunting ground for new recruits than among the genuinely heroic (and in many cases ailing) rescue workers at Ground Zero?
If you pause the clip at about 1:30, you'll see the name of the organization that Cruise helped set up is the "New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project." And what might you guess goes on there?
A Unique Program
Only one method for reducing body levels of toxic chemicals has been widely implemented, studied and demonstrated to be safe and effective: the detoxification program developed by L. Ron Hubbard.
Trolling for lucrative new brainwashing candidates among the WTC emergency workers, as the rubble still smoldered under foot. Monstrous.
The center claims that they "provide program services at no cost." And they may. But I would swear, sight unseen, on a stack of Dianetics first editions, that there are E-meters in that building and that the staff is only too delighted to go ahead and sign you up for your first audit.
Previously: Just How Straight Up Bonkers Is Tom Cruise?
Updated Michigan Count Gives Mitt Outright Majority In Delegate Race
If CNN's updated estimate is accurate, Mitt Romney earned 22 delegates in yesterday's victory in Michigan (with another 5 going to McCain and 1 to Huckabee). The previous estimate was 12 for Romney and 9 for McCain, so this is a significant improvement for the delegate leader.
This means that after four contests, Mitt has pocketed more delegates than all other Republican candidates combined, giving him not just a plurality, but a 53% majority.
This also increases the likelihood that Romney will be mathematically uncatchable by Giuliani going into Super Tuesday, even if Rudy carries Florida's winner-take-all pot of 57 delegates (so long as Mitt outscores Rudy by a total of 7 or more delegates on Saturday's matchups in Nevada and South Carolina).
Previously: GOP Primary Scoreboard - Michigan Edition
Jerk Of the Day
Congratulations, Jim Corliss.
The incident actually took place in April of 2006, but this video just popped up.
"I will fall and I will die if you do not let me go - I will fall and I will die."
That's what daredevil Jeb Corliss told security guards at the Empire State Building as they grabbed him and stopped him from leaping off the landmark's 86th-floor observation deck, new video of the April 2006 incident shows.
Corliss and his lawyer, Mark Jay Heller, released the dramatic footage after they filed a $30 million suit against the Empire State Building and the guards who Corliss claims nearly caused him a grisly death.
After listening to his unpleasant tone of voice, you won't be surprised to learn...
Corliss said what the guards did caused him to develop "adrenal-fatigue syndrome," similar "to battle-fatigue syndrome."
Undead Siege: PayPal HQ Bracing For Seething Horde Of Ron Paul Zombies
PayPal was a cool company, before it invited a swarm of enraged Paulnuts to savagely craniectomize all of its employees.
Paypal has suspended an account belonging to a Ron Paul supporters group resulting in the groups inability to pay for a recount in New Hampshire.
The Granny Warriors had fund raised the $55,600 required to be lodged with the New Hampshire Secretary of State yesterday but had their account suspended by Paypal at the last minute. The inability to access the funds resulted in a missed deadline and no GOP recount in New Hampshire.
Ron Paul support groups are urging Paul followers to contact Paypal directly to protest the decision.
We don’t have word from Paypal as to why they suspended the account, but what ever the reason we know they’ll regret it as their mail servers are inundated by a group of people who pursue their support of Paul with unprecedented zealotry.
Former Congressman Mark Deli Siljander (R-MI) Indicted For Terrorist Fundraising
A former congressman and delegate to the United Nations was indicted Wednesday as part of a terrorist fundraising ring that allegedly sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida and Taliban supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan.
The former Republican congressman from Michigan, Mark Deli Siljander, was charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstructing justice for allegedly lying about lobbying senators on behalf of an Islamic charity that authorities said was secretly sending funds to terrorists.
A 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., accuses the Islamic American Relief Agency of paying Siljander $50,000 for the lobbying — money that turned out to be stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Siljander, who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, was appointed by President Reagan to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations for one year in 1987.
Update: Via Bryan, Debbie Schlussel (who worked as a Congressional staffer for Siljander in 1985) paints a surprising picture of the man.
When I worked for Mark Siljander, in the summer after my junior year of high school, and again when I was headed to college, I was just 16, but more than an intern. I wrote speeches for him, I helped tutor him in Hebrew, which he learned to speak and write, and I accompanied him to many events.
What makes the allegations in the indictment so shocking, is that Siljander is a Born-Again Evangelical Christian. We had fast days in his office. There were prayer circles.
That's why it's so hard for me to read that he may have played for the opposite team--for the enemy. ... This is the Congressman--who when I worked for him--was decades ahead of his time in understanding the Islamist threat worldwide and to America. That he'd reverse course sickens and saddens me.
I think this was about money. Since he lost his Congressional seat, he was hard up for money and was involved in many failed business ventures, including an AIDS-Test-By-Mail. (He also ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress from Virginia.)
Desperation and money do bad things.
Schlussel will appear on Fox & Friends tomorrow morning at 7:15 to discuss the Siljander situation.
I'm Thinking Of A Front-Month Commodity Futures Contract That Begins With 8...
Can you guess what it is?
As of 10:50 am, light sweet crude for February delivery was trading at $89.54 per barrel on the Nymex, having declined more than 10% since poking above $100 two weeks ago.
Oil's swift pullback from its brief foray into triple digits offers a welcome counterpoint to this morning's retail inflation report, which showed prices rising slightly faster than expected in December (0.3% actual vs. 0.2% expected). December closed out a year of rather uncomfortably high inflation, with retail prices now sitting 4.1% above year-ago levels. Energy prices were by far the biggest inflationary factor in 2007, soaring 17.4% during the year. Excluding energy and food prices, inflation for the year would've been a far more subdued 2.4% (close to the average rate seen over the last several years).
So whether you like the idea of low inflation (and a Fed with a full quiver of rate cuts) or you take some sordid pleasure in watching the share prices of major oil companies sink, this trend is likely your friend.
NYC Comptroller and Mayoral Candidate's Ongoing Hsu Problem
Yesterday, The New York Times reported that New York City Comptroller William Thompson has emerged the leader among several rivals in the money race for the 2009 mayoral election.
Alert readers may remember seeing Thompson's name in previous posts, as I included him in September on the roster of local politicians who accepted campaign contributions from convicted felon and serial fugitive Norman Hsu. Hsu was recently re-sentenced to three years in prison for defrauding investors in the early 1990s and now faces a 15-count federal indictment for allegedly swindling investors out of as much as $60 million (money he's suspected of using to grease some 80+ Democratic politicians).
Hsu directly contributed the maximum allowable $4,950 to Thompson in 2006 and according to the campaign finance disclosures released just hours ago, Thompson has failed to return any of those funds.
This, despite the fact that such funds might be used to help compensate Hsu's victims, many of whom are current constituents of Comptroller Thompson, whose duties include the management of the city's $105 billion in pension funds.
Yesterday's financial disclosures show that three of Thompson's opponents in the Democratic mayoral primary who had also received contributions directly from Norman Hsu (City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Congressman Anthony Weiner, and Councilmember John Liu) managed to find time to return the tainted funds within the week following the Hsu revelations at the end of August. Four months later, it appears Thompson has not.
In the early days of the Hsu scandal, Azi Paybarah at The New York Observer reported that an aide to Comptroller Thompson said he planned to donate his Hsu money to charity. Indeed, there are three charitable contributions from September listed on Thompson's latest financial disclosure, which collectively approximate the amount he received from Hsu. The problem is, according to the Campaign Finance Board, the use of campaign funds for charitable donations is explicitly forbidden.
A candidate is not permitted to take public funds that he has received for a specific public purpose, and re-direct them toward an entirely different and non-campaign-related purpose. Some candidates have argued that such expenditures are indirectly campaign-related because they generate good will and favorable publicity among voters in their districts. However, such benefits are too tenuous to be considered “in furtherance of” a campaign.
That might be why Thompson's counterparts chose to disgorge the money via refunds, in keeping with local election laws.
That said, Rep. Weiner and Councilmember Liu weren't able to get their hands completely clean. Weiner refunded a total of $15,750 in contributions from Hsu, three members of the Hsu-connected Paw family of California, and four other suspected members of Hsu's straw donor network. However, he received thousands more from Hsu's identified affiliates that he has yet to return. Liu made just one refund - to Mr. Hsu directly, who only accounted for $4,950 of Liu's total haul of $22,950 in Hsu-tainted contributions. Speaker Quinn's only problematic transaction was a single $4,950 contribution directly from Hsu, which she promptly returned.
Still, notwithstanding Weiner's and Liu's incomplete disgorgements, Comptroller Thompson appears to be the only mayoral candidate to decide to keep a check actually signed by Norman Hsu. If the indictment against Hsu is accurate, that money was almost certainly swindled directly from some of the very people who put Thompson in his current office and whom he will ask to elect him mayor next year.
If Thompson plans to make the case that his mayoral qualifications are validated by his performance as the city's chief money manager, he may want to consider clearing his books of this indignity.
The summary and transaction-level detail of the nationwide contributions of Hsu and his suspected affiliates are available in these Google spreadsheets. A searchable database of campaign finance disclosures is available on the NYC Campaign Finance Board's website.
GOP Primary Scoreboard - Michigan Edition
With roughly half of the precincts reporting, the data's probably stable enough to post the updated scoreboard. Mitt Romney now stands alone as the leader in each listed category. He absolutely crushes in terms of average vote share, doubling McCain 40-20. Even when weighting that average share by votes cast in each state (which effectively serves to nearly negate the Wyoming win), he leads McCain by more than 6 points, over the 4 contests to date.
Not only is Romney the only candidate with multiple first place finishes, his average finish also places him distinctly ahead of the rest of the pack. Finally, in the delegate hunt (the only metric that only counts in the final analysis), Romney's enjoying a better than 2:1 lead over his nearest competitor and has pocketed more delegates than all other candidates combined.
Coming up, we've got the Nevada caucus and the South Carolina primary this Saturday (worth a combined 58 delegates) then all-or-nothing Florida on the 29th (worth 57 delegates).
In the RCP averages, Romney currently trails McCain by 7 points in Nevada and 6 in South Carolina, but if his relatively high-margin win tonight offers him a moderate bounce, we could see 3-way splits of those two states' delegates (the third recipient likely being Giuliani in Nevada and Huckabee in South Carolina).
Depending on how that shakes out (but with limited possibility of big swings), it suggests we head into Florida two weeks from today with Romney showing a lead of around 30 delegates over McCain (who may have snuck past Huckabee into the #2 spot).
Since Florida is winner-take-all, its 57 delegates could easily shove Huckabee or McCain back into the delegate lead, so long as both hang on and neither completely tanks in this weekend's contests. What Florida will likely be mathematically unable to do is to put Giuliani into the delegate lead. If Romney collects even a small percentage of the delegates between now and then, he will be uncatchable by Rudy.
Of course, that may not matter if a Giuliani Florida win represents a truly thundering general resurgence of his campaign. But shy of that, the fact that his Florida debut - no matter how compelling - will likely be unable to vault him to the top of any of the category rankings, is surprising (at least to me). Especially since it's pretty clear that the races' prizes have to date been more widely scattered and thinly spread than most people would've predicted, which would tend to favor Rudy's late debut strategy. But even allowing for the fact that he hasn't fought hard in these first 4 contests, his average finish is an abysmal 5th (worse than Ron Paul's).
Does it turn out that Florida was always simply too late to start? Or is the brief window between January 19th and Super Tuesday (February 5th) just big enough to parlay that one big victory into enough of a national recovery to take a respectable chunk of that day's 1,000 or so delegates?
With Michigan in the can, I'll offer a couple of if-then predictions. If Huckabee drops out before Florida (which seems likely if he doesn't win South Carolina on Saturday), then McCain consolidates the moderate vote, goes into Super Tuesday the heavy favorite, and ultimately wins the nomination. If Thompson drops out before Florida (which also seems likely if he fails to win South Carolina), then Romney consolidates the conservative vote, goes into Super Tuesday the heavy favorite, and ultimately wins the nomination. If they both drop out, then Rudy's sunk in Florida - either the newly consolidated Romney or newly consolidated McCain wins and that Florida winner cleans house on Super Tuesday and ultimately wins the nomination.
The only path I see that Rudy can navigate is to win in Nevada (where he only trails McCain by 4), place or show in South Carolina, and win Florida soundly. That may set him up to do well enough on Super Tuesday to advance to the finals (in which case we'll hear no end to the praise of Giuliani's ingenuous late-state strategy).