Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy Jupiter

Why is Obama Trying to Weaken the Freedom of Information Act?

Wasn't Obama supposed to make the government all about transparency?  As always, it seems to make sense to take a look at what he does and not what he says (or should I say, "reads").  Here are some of the changes Obama is making to the Freedom of Information Act (h/t Sunlight Foundation):

  • deny requests that aren't addressed to precisely the correct department (16.3 (a))
  • summarily dismiss requests if they deem the wording too vague (16.3 (c))
  • automatically apply exclusions to FOIA whenever it can (16.4 (a))
  • be able to hide what part of the agency is responsible for filling requests (16.4 (e))
  • reset their deadlines for responses any time they refer requests among departments (16.5 (a))
  • make it more difficult for requests to be deemed urgent (16.5 (e))
  • insulate department heads from having to stand by denials (16.6 (d))
  • lie, and claim records do not exist, when they do (16.6 (f))
  • remove the ability for the courts to oversee how DOJ applies some exclusions (16.6 (f))
  • make it easier for businesses to declare that information is a trade secret (16.7)
  • be able to destroy records that might be responsive to FOIA requests (16.9)
  • ignore your request for information to be given in a specified format (16.9(a)(3))
  • disqualify most schools from getting FOIA fees waived (16.9(a)(4))
  • exclude new media from getting fees waived (16.10(a)(6))
  • make it easier to deny fee waivers (16.10(k)(2)(iii))
Basically, they want the right to lie about the very existence of documents, don't want you to know which bureaucrats are even saying no, want less judicial oversight and want to be able to use shredders.  Awesome!  Even the ACLU has said this would dramatically undermine government integrity.  Between this and his desire to go around Congress to "get things done" some people might wonder if he has certain dictatorial fantasies.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Disposable Personal Income Signalling Recession

As I mentioned yesterday, the GDP number that came out, while positive, has a few issues with it. One of them being the fact that the annual growth rate for quarterly real personal disposable income only grew by 0.4%. Today, we received an update which provided us with the monthly data, with September growth at 0.2%. To put it into perspective, take a look at this chart from the Federal Reserve's FRED database with the recessions shaded:

As you can see, the level we are currently at is usually associated with recession (though there have been 3 1-month long anomalies in the data, the most recent due to Hurricane Katrina) and in fact, in half of the recessions in the last 50 years we never even made it this low.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Don't get too excited by the GDP number

Today's GDP number, showing 2.5% annualized sequential growth, really helped the market open strong today and stay strong, especially after the first half GDP numbers. But if you view the GDP data on a year-over-year analysis, which will eliminate all seasonal effects, the economy has at best halted its decline this quarter rather than accelerated:

As you can see, Q3 2011 is just 1.6% higher than 2010, exactly the growth rate we saw last quarter, and for that matter in Q1 2008 (and remember how that turned out?). Also, if you look at real disposable personal income, that number only grew by 0.4% over the prior year, which is extremely anemic growth and the lowest since we came out of the recession (note that this number was showing 1% annual growth in Q4 2008, only turning negative the following quarter). And before the most recent recession the last time we saw a 0.4% number here was Q1 1991, which was officially a recessionary quarter.

So don't get too exhuberant just yet.

Some Dirty Pool Going on with Credit Default Swaps

Part of the reason for the recent market rally is because of the "announced" agreement with regards to the sovereign debt crisis, especially as it pertains to Greece (I think it is the fourth such agreement in the last year and a half).  It actually seems to be an agreement in name only as they've agreed about what they wanted to do but not exactly how they were going to do it (e.g. where will the funding come from exactly, which I would consider a very important detail).  And one aspect of the deal might actually lead to some nasty consequences down the road.  They've agreed that private investors need to take a 50% haircut on their sovereign debt instead of the 21% they mentioned previously (I pointed out why it would be inadequate here) and it looks like the International Swaps and Derivatives Associations (ISDA) has said that as long as the haircut is technically "voluntary", credit default swaps won't be triggered.  Now I don't know if the EU leaders have pressured the ISDA (maybe through threats of increased regulations of derivatives) or if the ISDA ate a brain tumor for breakfast but this decision is so horrible and counter-productive, I don't really know what to say.  It is sort of like you getting into a car accident and then the insurance company telling you they won't pay to fix your car because you were driving the car at the time (even if the accident wasn't your fault).  Imagine, if you will, that you are managing a giant sovereign bond portfolio that is hedged with credit default swaps, so that you can feel comfortable owning the debt through this crisis.  Well what this ISDA decision does is make you aware that instead of being 100% hedged with 0% default risk, you might actually be 0% hedged with 100% default risk (depending on what countries you own of course) and completely destroys any value you have placed in the credit default swaps.  This will lead you to quickly try to sell any sovereign bonds that you are worried about, exacerbating the current crisis, because without credit default swaps you have almost no effective way to hedge that risk (well until they create a new derivative class of course, but that could take years).  My guess is that over the next days, weeks and months you will see the yield of countries like Portugal, Italy and Spain (and even France) really skyrocket as the few people who felt comfortable holding their debt start to get far less comfortable.

Markets, despite what the protesters say, are based on certain rules and fair play.  There are trillions of dollars in equities, debt instruments, currencies and derivatives traded on a daily basis, many by market participants who don't know each other but trust that the rules will not change on a daily basis or at the whim of the powers that be.  A decision to make a 50% haircut on a bond not a default puts entire markets into question and really threatens the stability of the financial system much more than if Greece suddenly decides to go with the Drachma.   A lack of confidence in a certain market or group of markets (like Greece, Spain, tech stocks, etc.) is one thing, a lack of confidence in the actually function of the market itself is another.  The ISDA really needs to get its act together or there could be disastrous consequences down the road.

Cain Really Needs to Run a Better Campaign

I've been on vacation for a few days so I've been a bit behind the news. So let's just say I was a little shocked when I saw this ad put out by the Cain campaign:

Now why exactly do we want an ad featuring some political hack chief of staff with a 70's mustache? And why exactly are we getting a closeup of him smoking his cigarette down to the nub? He seems to have all the dignity and class of your standard used car salesman.

This just reinforces the view that I am developing which is that Cain is someone who I probably agree with most of the time but he will probably be frightfully ineffective once in power. I keep hoping there will be a candidate that will keep me from having to vote for Romney but voting for Romney is looking far more likely with missteps like these. Cain needs to get a professional staff and fast!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Latest Thoughts on the GOP Race and Latest Debate

I really don't remember races being as fluid as this one is, I guess part of the reason is that we have so many televised debates between the candidates and so many people are actually watching and caring what the candidates say.  So at this point, almost every candidate has been put through the ringer on their positions and you can really get a real sense of what you are getting if you vote for them.  It is definitely better if you find out the warts now rather than November.  Remember, the revelation that W. had a DUI arrest in his past nearly cost him the 2000 election because it came out about 5 days before people voted (he was leading nicely in the polls before then).  The downside though is I feel we might be a little bit too aware of all the weaknesses of the candidates and that can be deflating as unfortunately, nobody is perfect.

I'm really finding Romney to be grating, more so now than before.  I feel like every debate I find another thing not to like about him and I'm not talking about him hiring landscapers who hired illegals (if that were a crime, a large percentage of homeowners would be guilty, how the heck are you going to know if they have their papers, especially if they do their work during the workweek when you might not be home?).  I really didn't like how he snarkly mentioned that he got the idea for the individual mandate from Newt and the Heritage Foundation.  Every time he defends Romneycare I get more and more convinced he won't do almost anything to repeal Obamacare.  Repealing Obamacare is going to require trench warfare and the use of a lot of political capital, I don't see Romney fighting that strongly, not when he is spending so much time defending the individual mandate.  I also didn't like the way he yelled at Perry during the debate.  Yup, Perry was annoying, constantly interrupting him and blowing up that landscaping issue to make it sound like Romney was busing truckloads of illegals himself (Romney is the #1 magnet for illegals?  His lawn isn't THAT big).  When he said "if you want to be President of the United States, you'll let the other guy talk" I felt that was way too condescending.  It sort of reminded me of the way people talked to Jackie Mason in Caddyshack II as if Rick Perry was some Nouveau Riche guy who just isn't suave enough to be considered a "gentleman".  That said, Perry is probably toast. 

Now on to Cain, who I still really like.  His knee jerk reaction to things seems to be, "government shouldn't be involved in that" which, as a libertarian, I love.  On the other hand, he really needs to professionalize his campaign.  He needs better PR people advising him and he needs the boots on the ground promoting him.  Otherwise, even if he wins in Iowa or South Carolina he might not be able to capitalize on it and someone like Romney, who has the funding to compete nationally, could end up beating him.  Organizations matter.  Obama beat Hillary last time because of his organization (though Democratic party demographics didn't hurt).  He also needs to practice thinking things through before he says them.  How does one say that he would be willing to release the gitmo prisoners in a trade with Al-Qaeda and then in the very next sentence say the policy of the United States should be not to negotiate with terrorists?  Does that mean we might have a policy but like all other politicians, Cain won't hold himself to it if it suits him not to?  That's not very reassuring.  If I wanted a Republican who bent like a reed in the wind, I'd vote for Romney.  Luckily all this can be fixed.  I also think the 9-9-9 plan has zero chance of getting passed though it is at least goes in the right direction of what needs to be done.

Now on to batsh*t crazy Newt.  He has done excellently in the debates, a really great job.  I think I have enjoyed at least something he has said in each one.  He also comes across as someone who can actually get things done if elected, unlike others (will Cain be able to convince people to vote his way?  The apples and oranges metaphor will wear thin really fast).  I think you can confidently say he will do the conservative thing 90% of the time and some crazy off-the-wall thing the other 10%, but unfortunately you don't know when it will come.  Remember his description of the Paul Ryan plan as "social engineering"?  Where the heck did that come from?  He does realize Ryan is trying to reform a single payor (i.e. socialist) system right?  So I don't know how I feel about Newt.  Cain is definitely more of an authentic conservative/libertarian but Newt will probably get more conservative/libertarian items actually passed (and some stuff I hate as well).

I like Santorum but I felt the last debate was his weakest one.  Usually he does a great job of sounding like a reasonable conservative who can get things done.  I felt he really went over the top in this debate though.   His diatribe about how he has won in a blue state was a bit pathetic since he lost so badly in 2006, getting only 41% of the vote.  A little humility given he was so humiliated would have been in order.  Also, he attacked other candidates for supporting TARP but can he really say with a straight face that he would have opposed it had he been in office?  I find that hard to believe given he was in the Senate leadership and he also voted with his party for Medicare Part D.

I think Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann are fun to listen to but they really are also-rans at this point, barring some sort of miracle for their campaigns.

So there we have it.  I feel like I know a ton about all the candidates but I remain perplexed about who I actually want to win the nomination.  At least I feel like I've narrowed down the list some.  Well, until the next debate anyway.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Neoconservatives vs. Cain

It seems Herman Cain really stepped in it with some neoconservatives this weekend thanks to his appearance on Meet the Press, especially this portion:

MR. GREGORY:  What about foreign policy advisers?  Who, who has shaped your thinking about the U.S.  in the world and foreign policy?

MR. CAIN:  I've looked at the writings of people like Ambassador John Bolton. I've looked at the writings of Dr. Harry--Henry Kissinger.  KT McFarland, someone who I respect.  So...

MR. GREGORY:  Would you describe yourself as a neoconservative then?

MR. CAIN:  I'm not sure what you mean by neoconservative?  I am a conservative, yes.  Neoconservative, labels sometimes will put you in a box. I'm very conservative, but...

MR. GREGORY:  But you're familiar with the neoconservative movement?

MR. CAIN:  I'm not familiar with the neoconservative movement.  I'm familiar with the conservative movement.  And let me define what I mean by the conservative movement.  Less government, less taxes, more individual responsibility.

He seems to have made two cardinal sins here, first, he said he wasn't familiar with the neoconservative movement and, second, he said he liked John Bolton and Henry Kissinger at the same time which made some neocons short circuit (you could pretty much picture the sparks flying).  On the wonderful Commentary Magazine blog, the home of neoconservatism, Jonathan Tobin refers to Cain's ignorance as "ridiculous" and really seems insulted by Herman Cain:

As COMMENTARY readers know, neoconservatism has a long and honorable history as the movement that helped mobilize the country to oppose détente and the Soviet Union as well as having played a key role in critiquing the failures of the welfare state. During the Bush administration, leftists used the word as an epithet seeking to demonize those who believed not only in the need to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in the whole idea of promoting democracy abroad. After all that, it truly says something about a public figure who would admit to never having heard the word or knowing what it means.

I'm sorry but this reminds me of how some academics get upset that you are completely ignorant of  their work within an obscure sub-genre of a relatively well known academic field.  Now I am not trying to belittle neocons, especially given the title of this blog, but even I know neoconservatism is nowhere near a movement.  When was the last time you saw a neocon demonstration?  I'm sorry but luncheons at the American Enterprise Institute don't count.  I think Herman Cain is a regular guy who thinks in terms of having a choice between a strong defense or a weak defense and is clearly for a strong defense, which, as a neocon, and an eyewitness to 9-11, I have to endorse.

Unfortunately, the neocon assault on Cain hasn't stopped there, Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post (who also used to write for Commentary, see how small the neocon world is these days?) outright mocked Cain for his mentioning Kissinger and Bolton in the same breath:

He told David Gregory he likes both John Bolton and Henry Kissinger as foreign policy thinkers. (What — he curries favor with the despots only on odd-numbered days?) These pairs of conservatives are polar opposites, of course. It is sort of like picking Justice Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as your favorite Supreme Court justices — it suggests a lack of understanding of the diametrically opposed views they present. More to the point, it raises doubt as to how Cain could make national security decisions with no vision of his own or familiarity with the issues.

I think this criticism is completely unfair.  He didn't say he completely endorsed either person's views just that they helped shape his, which is something completely different.  Now I haven't read everything that either man has written but I did read Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy.  The point of that book was that countries should act diplomatically to further their long term strategic interests.  Is that controversial?  Is that something that John Bolton would disagree with?  Most neocons are neocons because they believe that supporting democracy abroad is in the long term interest of the United States (and world peace).  Sure Bolton and Kissinger probably disagree on what to do with Iran but if you look at the big picture, liking some writings from Bolton and from Kissinger doesn't have to be some sort of idiotic contradition.  Also, I find the crack about currying favor with despots pretty funny considering that one of the scions of neoconservatism, Jeane Kirkpatrick, wrote in Commentary (there it is again) in 1979 her famous defense of the support of US-allied despots "Dictatorships & Double Standards" (an article that I'm sure Kissinger supported aspects of).   So I actually think Cain mentioning both Bolton and Kissinger is a good thing.  It means he has ideals but won't hurt American interests to pursue them.  He won't be the guy to tell an American ally, like Mubarak, to go and only have him replaced by a military junta and possibly soon, a radical islamist government. 

I even am starting to think Cain's responses to questions about Iraq and Afghanistan, that once President he would want to see all the intelligence before drawing a conclusion, is wise and common sensical.  Didn't we see Obama harshly criticize W.'s foreign policy when he only had a small fraction of the facts and then,once President, continue many of those same policies?  Foreign policy isn't like the economic sphere, where everyone pretty much has the same information, it is actually the exact opposite.  There is just so much that lay people don't know that you really don't know what you would do if you were President until you see all the top secret files.

Do I wish Herman Cain were better versed in foreign policy, you bet.  It would certainly make me more comfortable supporting him as you never like supporting someone with too many unknown unknowns (to borrow a phrase from Rumsfeld).  But what I do know is this.  I think we'll find Cain is more of a neocon than Romney, since if you want someone to stand up for American ideals internationally you need someone who actually has some ideals to begin with.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why Isn't Mitt Romney Gaining More Traction Despite Winning the Debates?

Mitt Romney has been viewed as the front runner for the 2012 GOP nomination for quite some time now.  And since the beginning of 2011, he has won or nearly won every GOP debate (at least according to pundits from both left and right), coming across as a very polished and professional candidate (he is the Dorian Gray of the GOP after all), someone who can wipe the floor with Obama.  He has even seen one rival, Pawlenty, quit the race (and endorse him) and two others, Bachmann and Perry, peak and crumble.  Between this and some key endorsements, you would think Romney should be riding high with 40%+ poll numbers that would be practically unassailable short of a scandal.  Unfortunately for him, you would be wrong.  Romney has languished at the same levels for the last year, never being able to break out of the 20% range.  Even worse, he has made no improvements in his polling numbers since he dropped out of the race the last time on February 7, 2008.  This after he has been campaigning for President almost continuously since the last election and with much of the establishment lining up behind him for the current run.

I think his main problem is that, while he does keep winning debates, he keeps letting things slip which demonstrate to us that he has not really changed at all since his Romneycare days.  Take Tuesday's debate in New Hampshire and the question that Newt asked him about capital gains taxes in his 59 point plan:

GINGRICH: Governor Romney, I'd like to say, first of all, there is an awful lot in your plan that is very good, and that I think would be very helpful if implemented, a lot better than what Obama is doing.

But one of the characteristics of Obama in his class warfare approach has been to talk about going after people who made over $250,000 a year and divide us.

And I was a little surprised -- I think it's about page 47 of your plan -- that you have a capital gains tax cut for people under $200,000, which is actually lower than the Obama model. Now, as a businessman, you know that you actually lose economic effectiveness if you limit capital gains tax cuts only to people who don't get capital gains.

So, I'm curious, what was the rationale for setting an even lower base marker than Obama had?

ROMNEY: Well, the reason for giving a tax break to middle income Americans is that middle income Americans have been the people who have been most hurt by the Obama economy. The reason that you're seeing protests, as you indicated, on Wall Street and across the country is, middle income Americans are having a hard time making ends meet.

Not only do we have 25 million people out of work, or stopped looking for work, or part-time jobs needing full-time employ, we just saw this week that median income in America has declined by 10 percent during the Obama years. People are having a hard time making ends meet.

And so if I'm going to use precious dollars to reduce taxes, I want to focus on where the people are hurting the most, and that's the middle class. I'm not worried about rich people. They are doing just fine. The very poor have a safety net, they're taken care of. But the people in the middle, the hard-working Americans, are the people who need a break, and that is why I focused my tax cut right there.

Besides using Obama-like class warfare rhetoric the plan itself is pretty stupid.  Just guess what percentage of total capital gains can be attributed to those making $200,000 or less according to the latest IRS data (2009)?  A whopping 4.5%!  Out of $199.5 billion in capital gains, only $9 billion is from those making under $200,000.  And just to show how insignificant this number is, consider that the total income for those making under $200,000 is $3.2 TRILLION.  So capital gains earnings as a percentage of total earnings is only 0.3%.  As we tax capital gains at levels between 15 and 35%, eliminating capital gains would be the equivalent of letting those making under $200,000 keep an additional 0.1% of their pay!  Talk about a rounding error.  How is such a feeble amount supposed to spur investment as it is supposed to do under Romney's plan?  This is clearly all about style and not about substance.

Another point in the debate where he let things slip was this:

CAIN: Yes. One of my guiding principles has been and will always be, surround yourself with good people. The 999 plan that I have proposed is simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral.

My question is to Governor Romney. Can you name all 59 points in your 160-page plan, and does it satisfy that criteria of being simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral?



ROMNEY: Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems. And I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate.

Spoken like a true technocrat who believes in big government.  It's the idea that we need complex solutions to our problems which gave us tens of thousands of pages in the Federal Register and a tax code that is impenetrable to most taxpayers.  When you make things complex, it is hard for business owners to really feel confident that they know how much certain investments may cost them and so they won't make them.  If you don't know if a healthcare plan is going to cost you $20k per employee or $40k per employee in a few years how many people are you going to hire?  If you don't know what environmental and labor regulations you will have to deal with, are you really going to feel confident opening another plant?  The idea that we need complex solutions is really what got us in this mess in the first place.

And that is why I am really warming up to Herman Cain.  I know there are people that are very critical of his 9-9-9 plan, but based on my experience in DC and watching from outside, it pretty much has a zero percent chance of passing so debating its minutiae is a waste of time.  What is more important than the plan itself is the idea behind the plan and, even more importantly, the man who came up with the idea.  The idea of 9-9-9 is to radically simplify our tax code which will unshackle $430 billion that we spend every year just to comply and enforce the damn thing.  Also, by making things so simple, politicians will not be able to hide behind their euphemisms any more.  Raising taxes will be raising taxes, not "closing loopholes".  Clearly, Herman Cain will do everything in his power to simplify the tax code and make America much more business friendly by simplifying our regulatory structure. That is what is important.  And I think normal Americans understand this, which is why has a very good shot of winning the whole thing.  When other GOP candidates blow up, Romney has not been benefiting at all and when the field starts to seriously thin out I don't necessarily see things changing.  Why would a Santorum, Bachmann, Gingrich or Perry voter go to Romney?  Aren't they much more likely to go for Cain?  My one concern about Cain is that he clearly doesn't have an "A" caliber staff helping him.  He comes across as unprepared for some questions and you can clearly see he is making stuff up as he goes along.  Luckily that is easily rectified with some funds and good judgement on personnel.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Obama Wanted to Apologize for Hiroshima? He is so Embarrassing

Apparently there is a Wikileaks cable which mentions that Obama wanted to go to Hiroshima in November 2009 and apologize for the bombing.  Luckily the Japanese government viewed this as a "nonstarter".  It's really embarrassing having him as President.  There is absolutely no reason for us to apologize as we didn't start the war and it was pretty clear that the war would drag on for much longer if we didn't do something drastic.  We even gave them fair warning in the form of the Potsdam Declaration, which was issued on July 26th.   In it we wrote:

The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.

Those are pretty unequivocal terms, if you don't surrender we will destroy your army and your land.  And it is not like the Japanese didn't know this was the inevitable conclusion of the conflict.  Germany and Italy had already surrendered and Japan was left alone, battling the might of the US, UK, China and the Soviet Union, which just entered the conflict.  They must have had some sense of honor which told them that, despite it being a lost cause, they would be willing to fight house to house against a superior foe, sacrificing millions for nothing.  It's pretty clear that the casualties, to both Americans and Japanese, would have dwarfed the casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had we not dropped the bomb and scared the living daylights out of the leadership.  Think about it, between 150,000 and 250,000 people were killed in the bombings of the two cities, however you had 95,000 Japanese soldiers killed in just the battle over the small island of Okinawa and 205,000 Japanese soldiers killed in the battle of Luzon.  You also had about 500,000 people killed in a conventional strategic bombing campaign which laid waste to 67 Japanese cities and destroyed over half of Tokyo (one city, Tokoyama saw 99% of its area destroyed).

It is pretty clear that we have zero reason to apologize, and if anything the atomic bombs saved lives.  So why did the President of the United States want to apologize?  It just boggles the mind.  I have to wonder, who else did he apologize to or try to apologize to?  I wonder if he apologized to the Iranians for our support of the Shah.  At this point it wouldn't surprise me. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It Won't Take Much for the Shalit Deal to be a Disaster

I'm shaking my head right now.  1,000 Palestinian criminals/terrorists in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit is such a tremendous price to pay.  After all, it will only take one small terrorist attack by one of the released prisoners for this deal not to have been worth it.  And we know that there won't just be 1 or 2 victims of this release.  I definitely feel for Gilad Shalit and his family, both have essentially been in hell these last 5 years but the Prime Minister of Israel needs to consider what is best for his entire country, not what is best for one family.  In this regard, Netanyahu has failed miserably.  There is just no way that this deal makes any sense!  We are talking about the release of between 15-20% of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, some of them facing lengthy prison sentences (probably for horrific crimes).  What is he going to tell the families of the future victims of terrorism?  Why should scores of innocent men, women and children be volunteered to give their lives for the sake of one of their countrymen?

And if logic isn't good enough to convince you that this is a bad deal for Israel, just take a look at how Hamas is acting.  They are acting like giddy little school girls (granted, hairy homicidal school girls) calling this a "national achievement".  And what is to stop them from doing this again?  It's not like it is really that difficult for them to sneak across the border and steal someone.  Or they could kidnap a vacationing Israeli somewhere outside the borders.  Clearly based on this deal, any investment of resources would be worth it.  What I would have preferred would be a resumption of the campaign of assassination of the Hamas leadership until Shalit were freed.  Or at least use his release as a precondition for the resumption of talks.  Just about anything would have been better than complete surrender.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Will a libertarian party in Slovakia break the Euro?

Remember that Greek "bailout" that was announced back on July 21st?  It increases the size of the bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), from $440 billion Euros to $780 billion Euros, but before that can happen, every parliament in the Eurozone needs to approve it.  So far every one of them has except for Malta and Slovakia and tomorrow the Slovak parliament votes.  The approval of the facility expansion is in jeopardy however because of the opposition of the Freedom & Solidarity party, a relatively libertarian party (it is fiscally conservative, led by the father of Slovakia's flat tax, but also supports same sex marriage and the liberalization of drug laws) that is within the ruling coalition and controls 22 out of the 150 seats in parliament.  Without the support of Freedom & Solidarity, the only way the bailout would pass would be with the support of the social democratic party, which controls a whopping 62 seats out of 150 (it is the largest party in parliament and was only kept from power because the four center-right parties combined to form a coalition).  And they have said that they would be willing to support the measure only if they were promised that new elections were called, which is a pretty high price for the ruling coalition as it could bring the socialists back to power.  Now I am not so steeped in Slovak politics to know if the Freedom & Solidarity folks will not sell out or if the ruling coalition is more afraid of German anger than they are of losing power, but I find the whole thing to be very fascinating.  It has really brought to the fore the insanity of this whole bailout proposal, how does it make sense for a state like Slovakia to bailout Greece, which has a GDP per capita which is 30% higher?  Anyway, check out these arguments against the EFSF expansion by Richard Sulik, head of Freedom & Solidarity in an interview in Der Spiegel:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Slovakia has yet to approve the expansion of the euro backstop fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), because your Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party is blocking the reform. If a majority of Slovak parliamentarians don't support the EFSF expansion, it could ultimately mean the end of the common currency.

Sulik: The opposite is actually the case. The greatest threat to the euro is the bailout fund itself.


Sulik: It's an attempt to use fresh debt to solve the debt crisis. That will never work. But, for me, the main issue is protecting the money of Slovak taxpayers. We're supposed to contribute the largest share of the bailout fund measured in terms of economic strength. That's unacceptable.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does one of your reasons for not wanting to help Greece have to do with the fact that Slovakia itself is one of the poorest countries in the EU?

Sulík: A few years back, we survived an economic crisis. With great effort and tough reforms, we put it behind us. Today, Slovakia has the lowest average salaries in the euro zone. How am I supposed to explain to people that they are going to have to pay a higher value-added tax (VAT) so that Greeks can get pensions three times as high as the ones in Slovakia?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Scott Brown on Elizabeth Warren Deciding Not To Take Her Clothes Off: "Thank God"

Elizabeth Warren, the likely Democratic nominee for Senate in Massachusetts, who has the sex appeal and the looks of a Communist apparatchik (as well as the philosophy), took a jab at Senator Scott Brown at a Democratic candidate debate the the other day.  When asked how she paid for Harvard she said she "kept her clothes on", a reference to Scott Brown's spread in Cosmopolitan.   I really have to say I loved Scott Brown's response when asked about it on the radio "Thank God".  He continued by saying (over the DJ's laughter):

You know what, listen: Bottom line is, you know, I didn't go to Harvard. You know, I went to the school of hard knocks. And I did whatever I had to do to pay for school. And for people who know me, and know what I've been through, mom and dad married and divorced four times each. You know, some real challenges growing up. You know, whatever. You know, let them throw stones. I did what I had to do. But not for having that opportunity, I never would have been able to pay for school, and never would have gone to school, and I wouldn't probably be talking to you. So, whatever.

Kudos to Scott Brown for not taking any crap.  It really is amazing what he has been able to accomplish.  His parents divorced, his mom had to go on welfare.  He was sexually abused by his camp counselor when he was 10 (the counselor threatened to kill him if he told anyone), physically abused by his stepfathers, bounced around from living with his mom to his aunt and grandparents.  He even was arrested for shoplifting in his early teens.  But straightened himself out, worked hard, eventually becoming a US Senator.  I think it is pretty clear Elizabeth Warren has no right to judge him.  Next time Elizabeth Warren gets that question about how she paid for college she should respond "I didn't pay for it, society did" or some such communitarian nonsense.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

IMF Advisor: We May Be 2-3 Weeks Away from a Global Financial Meltdown

It's a pretty sobering view of the markets from some pretty credible analysts. Also, note the part where they summarize the recent announcements from the EU as a "plan for a plan but we don't have a plan yet".

Does the Anti-Israel Left Even See How Illogical Their Arguments Are

I couldn't help buy get pissed off by Nick Kristof's peace on Israel in the Times (I should have known better than read it).  It is just so clear that he is quite illogically anti-Israel in every way and he just even notice the major flaws in his arguments.  Check out what he wrote:

Now it is Israel that is endangered most by its leaders and maximalist stance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is isolating his country, and, to be blunt, his hard line on settlements seems like a national suicide policy.

Nothing is more corrosive than Israel's growth of settlements because they erode hope of a peace agreement in the future. Mr. Netanyahu's latest misstep came after the Obama administration humiliated itself by making a full-court diplomatic press to block Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. At a time when President Obama had a few other things on his plate — averting a global economic meltdown, for example — the United States frittered good will by threatening to veto the Palestinian statehood that everybody claims to favor.

With that diplomatic fight at the United Nations under way, Israel last week announced plans for 1,100 new housing units in a part of Jerusalem outside its pre-1967 borders. Instead of showing appreciation to President Obama, Mr. Netanyahu thumbed him in the eye.

O.K., I foresee a torrent of angry responses. I realize that many insist that Jerusalem must all belong to Israel in any peace deal anyway, so new settlements there don't count. But, if that's your position, then you can kiss any peace deal goodbye. Every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement — 1967 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states, only a token right of return — and insistence on a completely Israeli Jerusalem simply means no peace agreement ever.

It's funny how he decries Netanyahu's "maximalist" stance without actually defining what exactly that stance is.  Is it maximalist to build units in a subdivision of Jerusalem that everyone knows will remain part of Israel even in a final negotiation?  I don't think so.  Does Kristof even know what the defitinion of a maximalist is?  According to Merriam-Webster it is "someone who advocates immediate and direct action to secure the whole of a program or set of goals". So a maximalist Israeli stance would be "we are annexing all of the West Bank and kicking out all Palestinians who don't swear fealty to the Jewish State".  It would not be someone who has accepted a two state solution and called for direct negotiations at the UN and accepted the quartet negotiations proposal, as Netanyahu did.  I just don't see how Kristof thinks it makes sense to call Netanyahu maximalist when he is offering to meet 90-95% of the way and the Palestinians seem reticent to give up anything at all?

It's very clear from Kristof's own piece that it is the Palestinians themselves who are maximalist.  Note the portion where he says "every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement — 1967 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states, only a token right of return".  Isn't that pretty much everything that the Palestinians officially want?  What do the Israelis get in such a framework?  Practically nothing. How is this not, therefore, a maximalist position from the Palestinian side?  And Israel is just supposed to accept this?  Also, the fact that the Palestinians already turned down an offer from Olmert that would have ceded Israeli control over 100% of the West Bank (with land swaps) including ceding Israeli sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem, proves that the Palestinians are the ones that are completely unreasonable and probably hell bent on destroying the entire Jewish State (and just about all its Jewish inhabitants). 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Latest Thoughts on the GOP Nomination

I miss Tim Pawlenty.  Yes he was awkward and a bit of a wimp.  But I liked him.  I felt like if you vote for Tim Pawlenty you really know what you are getting.  A true conservative who also wouldn't scare anyone, partly because he was so bland.  As others have noted, he is as close to being a generic Republican to oppose Obama as you can get (given that the "generic Republican" candidate leads Obama in the polls by 6%, this is pretty important).  Unfortunately, very few, if any, people got excited about Tim Pawlenty, mainly because he is just not the kind of candidate you ever can get excited over.  It reminds me of the part of "When Harry Met Sally" when Sally says she had great sex with a guy named Sheldon, to which Harry responds:

No you didn't. A Sheldon can do your income taxes, if you need a root canal, Sheldon's your man... but humpin' and pumpin' is not Sheldon's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me Sheldon, you're an animal Sheldon, ride me big Shel-don.' Doesn't work.

Basically, if you want to run a state or country, Pawlenty is your man, if you want someone to be excited over, he clearly isn't. 

Regardless, I will have to vote for someone when the primary comes around though the more I think about it, the more indecisive I get.  If I didn't have my small government ideals, I think Romney would be the easiest one to vote for.  He certainly looks like a Presidential candidate, debates very well and says all the right things (this time around, there are plenty of YouTube videos saying some very wrong things just 3 years ago).  He is also popular enough with women and independents that even deep blue Connecticut would be in play according to the Democratic polling outfit PPP.  There is a good chance that if Romney is nominated, we will see the most states go Red since the 1980's with all the associated coattails (there are 23 Democratic Senate seats up in 2012 and only 10 GOP seats so coattails will be important).  I'm tempted to vote for him just for the euphoria of election night and the inevitable articles about the demise of the Democratic Party.  Unfortunately, the hangover will be terrible.  This is a guy who created the model for Obamacare for heaven's sake, so I am just not convinced he will actually work for repeal as vehemently as would be necessary.  And if we don't have someone like that in charge, we might be stuck with it FOREVER, which would be a major travesty for this nation.  I also, don't like his answers with regards to Israel.  He seems to criticize Obama because he publicly has criticized Israel instead of attacking the President for the beliefs themselves.  I'm just not sure he wouldn't try to pressure Israel to go back to the 1949 lines and give up the Old City of Jerusalem.  Whether it is done in public or private won't really matter in the end.  I can just see Romney as President being another 4-8 years of complete frustration, with none of the reforms we really need.

Perry is someone I could get excited over but as a candidate he really needs to improve and fast.  If it's not a completely canned response he has a high likelihood of messing it up, badly.  I want to see our nominee break Obama in the debates, not someone who will at best get a "draw" (like with McCain and W).  I'm just not looking forward to the possibility of constantly having to defend his gaffes.  I also don't think he is going to be a great help downticket  In terms of policy, he definitely makes me nervous (though not nearly as nervous as Romney does obviously).  His whole "have a heart" response on the DREAM Act was something I expected to hear from W, not Perry.  The Executive Order on Gardisil is another big issue.  So you saw a cancer patient and therefore you wanted to mandate that every teenage girl in Texas be vaccinated?  What happened to individual liberty?  Is he going to do this every time someone pulls on his heart strings?  Are we going to get a Medicare Part E? 

Cain is someone I am warming up to, but there are just so many holes he needs to fill as soon as he possibly can.  He really needs to steal a better campaign staff from someone.  How does it make sense that he hasn't been to Iowa in a month?  Doesn't he understand the path dependent nature of the nomination process?  It's all about momentum in these things.  Granted the exact order of all the primaries are unknown but traditionally the winning candidate had to win either Iowa or New Hampshire and then take South Carolina.  The latest polls in Iowa are more than a month old but it looks like if Perry is collapsing there like other places, his votes are up for grabs.  If Cain doesn't take them, Romney just might.  Imagine if Romney takes both Iowa and New Hampshire?  He might be close to unstoppable due to the momentum that would generate and even if Cain takes South Carolina, it may not matter.  Also, while I really like the 9-9-9 plan, I'm just wondering how wise it is to have to defend a flat tax and a national retail sales tax at the same time?  Obama is going to be campaigning about raising taxes on the rich and giving it to the poor and Cain is going to be campaigning on raising taxes on the poor and lowering them for the rich.  Many independents won't actually look at the details of the plan and therefore won't realize how great it is, they will probably be swayed by meatball-over-the-plate soundbites from the media.  Also, Cain really needs to brush up on his foreign policy.  On Fox News Sunday he talked about how much he supported Israel but then looked like a deer in headlights when asked about the Palestinian Right of Return issue.  He clearly had no idea what it was.  Luckily, this is all stuff that can be fixed with the proper staff in place.  The only other issue I have with him is that I just don't know what I'll be getting.  He has never held elected office so how will he act when he has real governing responsibilities?  How much will he compromise?  While supporting TARP, he railed against "free market purists".  I know why he felt the need to support it, but why attack believers in the free market?  That is not something that gives me the warm and fuzzies.  I'm certainly leaning in his direction right now, but I'm just not sold yet.

Gingrich has done so well lately, I've almost forgotten how batsh*t crazy he is.  If I just focus on the Gingrich I've seen in the debates and not the Newt of the past, he is clearly very impressive and can really go toe to toe with Obama in any debate.  However, as someone who has pissed off just about every person in the GOP at one point or another, is this someone who will be able to get enough people behind him to win the White House and take back the Senate?  Maybe if he stays on his meds, which is something he hasn't been able to do consistently.  Also, it's unclear what his path to the nomination will be.  He is currently in the low single digits in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Santorum is also someone who has done well lately, being one of the top performers at the debates.  I definitely would feel very comfortable with him as President from a policy perspective as his conservative bona fides are strong (though obviously not spotless).  Unfortunately, other than a few pundits, nobody seems to like him.  Maybe it's because he comes across as mean/constipated all the time?  He almost seems like the Tim Pawlenty who overcompensated for his own inherent blandness by becoming an attack dog. On the off chance though that he does survive long enough to be a contender in the NJ primary, he would have my vote based on what I know now.

The great thing about Bachmann is that you know where she stands.  If you vote for her, you know what you are going to get.  Unfortunately, I wish she were a better candidate.  She reminds me of a boss I had who was very intelligent but would occasionally get these ideas in their heads and it took a herculean effort to get it out.  How much press/debate time did she waste linking Gardisil to autism?  You only get so many gaffes in a primary, especially one this competitive.

I love Ron Paul when he talks about economics, I hate him when he talks about foreign policy.  It's very hard to vote for someone like that.  Though I do admit, given our dire economic and fiscal situation, I am tempted to stomach is horrific foreign policy just so we can have someone like him guiding our fiscal policy.  In reality though, I probably would only vote for him if the other choice was Jon Huntsman, who is just as leftist on foreign policy and not as free market on economic policy.

So, long story short (yeah, I know, too late), my vote is pretty much up in the air.  I'd like to vote for a Cain or a Santorum, but will they even last long enough to make it to my primary? 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Obama Presidency By the Numbers

A great video (h/t Powerline):

The Occupy Wall Streeters Are Real Whackadoos

I'm sure their whackadoo status doesn't really come as a surprise to most but you really don't understand the full extent of their idiocy until you see this "Proposed List of Demands For Occupy Wall St Movement!" which I paste below with commentary:

Demand one: Restoration of the living wage. This demand can only be met by ending "Freetrade" by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market to level the playing field for domestic family farming and domestic manufacturing as most nations that are dumping cheap products onto the American market have radical wage and environmental regulation advantages. Another policy that must be instituted is raise the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hr.

Imposing a tariff on all trade goods?  Have they zero knowledge of history outside of Howard Zinn?  Or even watched Ferris Bueller?  This policy is a great way to destroy the US economy and the world economy with it (not that there is much left to destroy, but we need all we can get).  I also love the minimum wage of $20 an hour.  So businesses will have to deal with everything being more expensive thanks to tariffs and possibly have to pay their workers much more at the same time.  How are they going to survive exactly?  Tell me again how  fewer jobs and everything being more expensive helpful to anyone?

Demand two: Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.

That demand just means these people have no idea how the healthcare system works.  Private payors actually pay doctors much more than the government does, which usually pays doctors at a loss or a near loss for procedures (e.g.  a doctor who has to pay $120 to do an osteoperosis test will only get $80 from Medicare for that test).  Also, in all those single payor healthcare systems out in the world, how much are doctors making?  They usually are paid like government employees, with the service to match.  What an idiotic system that would be.

Demand three: Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.

So even if you are a loser cleaning gum off the pavement you can be paid $20 an hour?  Who pays for that? 

Demand four: Free college education.

I guess professors will be paid with rainbows.

Demand five: Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.

A yes, because Solyndra worked so well!  And what exactly do they mean by a fast track process?

Demand six: One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.

Because our old stimulus package worked so well! Also, with the price of everything being increased by previous demands, $1 trillion won't buy as much as you think.

Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America's nuclear power plants.

Who wrote this?  Dr. Evil Protester? 1 TREEEEEEELion dollars.  Also, you know that we have 230 billion trees in the United States right now?  That is 770 trees per person!  I really don't think we need more trees as a nation.  Have these people ever actually seen the middle of the country or the South?

Demand eight: Racial and gender equal rights amendment.

Here's a silly question, don't they already have equal rights?  Given affirmative action, if anything they get special treatment.

Demand nine: Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.

Good, because I think if these policies get instituted, I will definitely want to migrate.  Out of this country!

Demand ten: Bring American elections up to international standards of a paper ballot precinct counted and recounted in front of an independent and party observers system.

How about we check ID's, wouldn't that be easier?

Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the "Books." World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the "Books." And I don't mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.

Why do I get the feeling that whoever wrote this has a lot of debt?  Also, wasn't this the plot of Project MAYHEM in Fight Club?  Seriously though, this is probably the most ludicrous demand I have ever seen.  One person's debt is another person's asset, after all.  This will destroy all the banks. And given this policy, shouldn't I just not pay my taxes?  Theoretically, I will be in debt to the government but that will be wiped out.  It'll be interesting to see how these people pay for their trillion dollar projects with no money.  Unless of course they just print it like Zimbabwe.  So 1 trillion dollars might be the cost of a cup of coffee.  Also, how do you demand that all debt be wiped out on Earth?  How is your dinky little protest group going to get France to wipe off debt?

Demand twelve: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.

So whoever wrote this has a lot of debt and a 600 or below credit score, I think it's all coming together.  Again, this is a ludicrous demand.  Without credit reporting agencies how can banks give out loans.  Oh, I forgot, debt is illegal.  Silly me.  We are going to have to start using corduroy jeans as a means of exchange. 

Demand thirteen: Allow all workers to sign a ballot at any time during a union organizing campaign or at any time that represents their yeah or nay to having a union represent them in collective bargaining or to form a union.

Kind of a moot point with no economy to go with it, isn't it?

These demands will create so many jobs it will be completely impossible to fill them without an open borders policy.

So let me get this straight, an economy with no banks, no ability to have debt, high prices due to tariffs and minimum wage laws will have "so many jobs it will be completely impossible to fill them without an open borders policy'?  Next time they are on the Brooklyn Bridge, they might want to consider jumping off.  Talk about a waste of (dirty) hair.

Obama Is Against Bank Profit?

Obama really showed his anti-capitalist colors yesterday during his interview with George Stephanopoulos.  While everyone is focused on his comment about Americans not being better off than they were four years ago (which is going to make an awesome GOP commercial next year) he actually said something that is rather frightening to hear from our head of state:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you stop this [Bank of America] service charge?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you can stop it because it-- if you-- if you say to the banks, "You don't have some inherent right just to-- you know, get a certain amount of profit. If your customers-- are being mistreated. That you have to treat them fairly and transparently." And-- and my hope is is that you're going to see a bunch of-- the banks, who say to themselves, "You know what? This is actually not good business practice."

Say what?  Banks don't have some inherent right to offer a service and charge for it and profit from it?  It wasn't that long ago that we didn't have debit cards at all and people had to either use credit cards, if they had them or pay with physical cash (which often required a visit to the bank or ATM, which has service fees of its own).  And how is this bad business?  It's bad business to offer services at a loss, like Obama's friends at Solyndra did.   Also, has he seen the stock prices of the banks this year?  The index is down 30% because people are worried about their continued profitability and solvency in the wake of the continuing mortgage mess and sovereign debt issues in Europe.  Dodd Frank certainly hasn't helped, adding much regulation and making them get rid of their profitable prop desk businesses for no apparent reason whatsoever other than to punish them.   Seriously, it's as if he is purposely trying to run them in the ground.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Don't We Have More Important Things to Talk About Than the Response to a Couple People Boo-ing at a Debate and the Name of Land Leased by Perry's Dad?

After hearing that Herman Cain was going to be on two Sunday news talk shows, This Week and Fox News Sunday, I decided to DVR both so I wouldn't miss them as I don't know too much about Herman Cain (beyond what I saw on the debates) and this would be a great opportunity to get to know him better.  I was a bit hesitant to watch This Week, I remember when it was This Week with David Brinkley and from what I have heard, Christiane Amanpour would have him turning over in his grave (on CNN she seemed vehemently anti-Israel and anti-US) but thought "hey, at least she will ask Herman Cain some tough questions and we'll see how he handles them."  Instead, what I got was some farcical grilling of a very politically correct nature.  You would think she would open up with questions about his 999 plan or how he would reform the tax system AND reduce the deficit at the same time.  Or at least, question him about his TARP support.  Nope.  God forbid.  Instead we got this (her side of the conversation from the transcript):

AMANPOUR: Let me -- let me start by asking you some of these questions.

AMANPOUR: You've just seen what President Obama said last night about that incident at the Florida debate, where there was booing in the audience when a gay soldier started to speak. Nobody said anything. You didn't, Rick Santorum, none of the others did. Do you wish you had said something, intervened at that moment?

AMANPOUR: But you don't think that you probably should have said something, like, audience, you know, please, a little bit of respect?

AMANPOUR: In retrospect, would you have done something, given the controversy it's...


AMANPOUR: And what do you think when President Obama says this is not the people we are, we're not so small as to boo anybody, much less a soldier serving and defending this country?

And the delivery was even more annoying than the transcript indicates.  It was just so whiny, repetitive, unobjective and completely off-topic.  It's not like Herman Cain boo-ed the soldier.  It's so clearly trying to paint Republicans as insensitive hatemongers.  But if you actually saw the video, the boo-ers weren't boo-ing the soldier, they were reacting (one of them actually sounded like he was howling) to his question about whether the GOP candidates would revert Pentagon policy to Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Also, this wasn't widespread boo-ing, it sounded like only two people in a hall of thousands.  I've been to that convention center more than once for medical conferences and in that very room for the keynote speeches/plenary sessions.  It is really gigantic and I just don't see how the people on stage would have been able to make heads or tails out of a couple of people boo-ing/shrieking.  I would think they were probably more focused on their answers to the questions that they might be asked.  This is exactly how Cain responded, which obviously was not to Amanpour's liking or she wouldn't have continued to badger him with questions about it until he said he wishes now that he reacted just to get her to shut up.

You would think that would have been the end of the politically correct segment of the interview.  Nope.  Here was the very next question:

AMANPOUR: On the front page of the Washington Post today, there's a story about Rick Perry...

CAIN: Yes.

AMANPOUR: ... and a hunting lodge that belonged to his family, bought in the 1980s. And on a rock apparently near the entrance there, there is a word that is a very ugly racial word, a slur.

CAIN: Yes.

AMANPOUR: And it's been -- it's been painted over. But the report raises questions about whether this rock, this stone, with that word on it, was still on display even quite recently in the last several years. What is your reaction to that?

Really?  The economy is tanking, the stock market is imploding and you have a surging Presidential candidate in front of you and you decide to ask a question about a friggin rock?  Granted, this was a hot topic today and yesterday but really, after the lightweight boo-ing question, did this interview really need more filler that was of no interest to anyone outside of Washington DC and the Upper West Side (and maybe those dirty hippy losers trying and failing to make a ruckus in Downtown Manhattan)?  In this case, unfortunately, Cain did take the bait.  As a Republican I would have thought he would just have said, "I don't know if what was painted on a rock on a piece of land leased by Perry's father has any bearing on any of the problems that we are facing as a country. The key question is whether Rick Perry is racist and based on his history and my personal knowledge of him, the answer is clearly no"  But instead he decided to score some cheap political points.

The allegation that Perry is racist actually does sound pretty absurd to the people that know him best, Texans, Republican and Democrat alike.  The Texas Tribune actually has a nice piece debunking the racism charges:

Even some of Perry's fiercest Texas critics say they do not believe he is racist. They point to his record of appointments as evidence: He appointed the state's first African-American state supreme court justice, Wallace Jefferson, and later made him chief justice. (Jefferson's great grandfather was a slave, "sold like a horse," Perry once said with disgust.) Perry's former general counsel and former chief of staff, Brian Newby, is black; so is Albert Hawkins, the former Health and Human Services Commissioner who Perry handpicked to lead the massive agency in 2002.

"He doesn't have a racist bone in his body," said former Democratic state Rep. Ron Wilson, who is black and served with Perry in his early years in the Legislature. "He didn't then, and he doesn't now."


Added Dallas Democratic Sen. Royce West, who is also black: "I don't agree with him on policy issues, but you can point to many things he has done that were sensitive to ethnic minorities."

Indeed, in his 11-year gubernatorial tenure, Perry has appointed more minorities to statewide posts — including university regents and secretaries of state — than any governor in Texas history. The biggest beating he's taken on the campaign trail so far? His unwavering support for granting in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants in Texas.

"Texans need to see that no matter where you come from, the color of your skin or the sound of your last name, that if you are willing to work hard and play by the rules you can become anything you want in this state," Perry said in a 2010 interview with The Dallas Examiner.

If I were Herman Cain, I would have been pretty upset about the line of questioning on both the sunday shows, especially This Week.  The line of questioning clearly ate into the time he could have spent featuring his plan and his competency to be President of the United States (after all, most people still don't know much about him and this was a great opportunity for him).  And you have to wonder, would a Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum have to field questions about some rock on a property Rick Perry and his dad occasionally hunted on? 

Anyway, all I could do was shake my head and still be uncertain about who Herman Cain is and what kind of President he will be.