Author archives: Chris Gacek

Been in D.C. Too Long?

by Chris Gacek

February 24, 2009

How do you know that you know way too much about Washington bureaucracies and how they “work”? Here’s how. When you hear CNBC’s Rick Santelli calling for a Chicago Tea Party tax protest this summer, you immediately start to wonder whether he’ll need to get permits from some government entity like the Environmental Protection Agency. And then you wonder whether Illinois permits will be needed also. Well, I plead guilty to having had such thoughts last Thursday.

Fortunately, I am not alone and not nearly as bad off as Scott Ott of the D.C. Examiner appears to be. Ott has written a brilliant, hilarious piece entitled, EPA Arrests Rick Santelli, ‘Chicago Tea Party’ Cancelled.” (See Feb. 24, 2009 ed., p. 14.) The satirical article contains the following slam from President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, commenting on Santelli’s arrest for threatening to pollute Lake Michigan: “I don’t know where Mr. Santelli lives, but apparently, like most conservative critics, he has a callous disregard for the lives of the waterfowl, sturgeon and fresh-water mollusks that inhabit the Lake Michigan watershed.”

That’s funny, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Santelli really could be arrested for dumping tea or “derivative securities” (paper) into the Great Lakes. Well done, Mr. Ott.

Andie Coller of The Politico observed today that Gibbs “dismissed [Santelli] as a know-nothing derivatives trader out of touch with Main Street.” Coller then noted that “[a] Rasmussen poll released Monday found that 55 percent of those surveyed thought federal mortgage subsidies to those most at risk of losing their homes would be ‘rewarding bad behavior.’” If I were the White House I would be very careful about trying to roll out a campaign of intimidation and bullying against journalists, in general, and a journalist, in particular, who is very much attuned to public sentiment, is an expert in the numerous cross-cutting markets traded in Chicago, and is the most popular figure on America’s #1 financial news network.

Gregg’s Revolt Unmasks Obama’s Highly Politicized White House

by Chris Gacek

February 17, 2009

Senator Judd Gregg’s announcement late Thursday afternoon, revoking his agreement to serve as Secretary of Commerce, badly damages President Barack Obama’s aura of bipartisanship. Gregg clearly concluded that his future effectiveness at Commerce was rapidly deteriorating. Furthermore, he must have been furious at having been politically humiliated by the White House last Thursday when it announced it would wrest control of the Census Bureau from the Commerce Department. Unfortunately, this debacle reflects the true nature and inherent weakness of the highly politicized White House now being created by President Obama.

It may not seem that important, but the Census Bureau plays a critical role in the political life of our country. Obama’s decision is all about playing with the numbers — that is, the 10-year population data that informs the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives, distribution of state legislative districts, and the allocation of government spending based on population.

According to Carrie Dann in the February 6 issue of Congress Daily, the organizational change came about “after the Congressional Black Caucus, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and other groups expressed displeasure” with Obama’s nomination of Gregg to be Secretary of Commerce. According to the groups, Gregg essentially had condoned the undercounting of minorities in the 2000 Census when he voted against emergency funding that year. It was a grossly unfair accusation. Nevertheless, the decision to shift control of the Census Bureau’s budget and public affairs functions to the Office of Management and Budget was intended to placate these groups.

Try to imagine the Democrats’ response if the Bush White House had put Karl Rove in charge of Census. They would have gone nuts and that reaction would have been justified merely for the appearances created by such a ham-fisted stunt. The problem here is that the Democrats do want to move the census from an actual head count, as required by the Constitution, to a count that incorporates manipulable statistical sampling. Since Rahm Emanuel doesn’t have a Ph.D. in applied statistics, this organizational shift doesn’t seem on the up-and-up.

Gregg’s “resignation” and his public reference to the disagreement over the Census Bureau tell us much about President Obama. First, keeping Gregg in the cabinet and avoiding the unavoidable destruction of political capital was not as important to him as catering to Democratic Party interest groups. Second, it also indicates that messing with the Census is a priority of his administration. If it weren’t, Obama would have made peace with Gregg who most probably could have swallowed the appalling stimulus bill if it were the only unwholesome meal on his menu. However, Gregg could not have allowed himself to become the administration’s GOP political gelding - always available to be trotted around the Ellipse as evidence of Obama’s “new politics” bona fides.

The White House politicization is most obvious in this fight over the Census, but there are other signs. A recent White House staffing decision has also alarmed knowledgeable observers. On February 9 Jon Ward of The Washington Times wrote about opposition researcher “Shauna Daly, a 29-year-old Democratic operative,” who “was named last month to the new job of White House counsel research director.” That is, she is now the top researcher inside the White House legal office. She is not an attorney and “doesn’t list any legal training on her resume.”

An “opposition researcher” is someone who helps dig up dirt on political rivals, and this appears to be the sum and substance of her working career. There may be a place and time for such things, but not in that office. The Times notes that “even some Democrats said there is reason to be cautious about the presence of a political-opposition researcher inside a White House legal office that is supposed to be free of partisan influence.” In this economy, there are certainly plenty of fine, unemployed lawyers who would love to work in the White House counsel’s office for almost any salary. For its part, the White House assures us that she will be doing legal work.

Finally, we have some highly placed abortion activists on the White House staff. Ellen Moran, of Emily’s List, the major political fund-raiser for pro-abortion candidates, will be Communications Director. Melody Barnes, head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, was a board member for Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List. This is not a complete list, and, of course, political activists have long gotten jobs for which they were ill-suited in many administrations. That being said, the Gregg rupture has set off a five-alarm call to examine whether this White House is taking us in a new direction. It may be doing exactly that, but not on the road the country wanted to travel.

MUST SEE TV: CNBC’s “House of Cards”

by Chris Gacek

February 14, 2009

Keep an eye out for an amazing documentary on CNBC called “House of Cards.”  (It will be showing numerous times this weekend.)  David Faber narrates a two-hour program on the current financial-economic recession and its origins in mortgages, securitized debt instruments, the dishonest or incompetent rating of those instruments, and governmental incompetence.  Greed, fraud, stupidity, and recklessness are all on display.  It is an excellent program that is a nice introduction to what happened to our economy.

To me one person stood out above all the rest: “The Maestro,” Alan Greenspan, former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman.  Watching Greenspan make excuses for his non-stop money printing in the early 2000s makes it clear that this guy had no business being in that job.  He essentially admits that he made no effort to control the Fed’s credit expansion because it wasn’t what the political powers in Washington wanted.  This is the problem with having a politician, like Greenspan, as Fed Chief.  The Fed was designed to be insulated from political decision-making; his job was to make the tough choices and control credit.  Instead, he threw up his hands and cranked up the presses.  Disgraceful.

Economists from the Austrian School knew Greenspan’s policies were dangerous.  Read this before-the-crash assessment of his Fed tenure by Stefan Karlsson from the Ludwig von Mises Institute website.  Greenspan’s philosophy was not deregulatory.  No group of economists is more deregulatory than the Austrian School, but they are also committed to price stability and tight money.  Don’t be fooled if someone tells you Greenspan was a conservative; he wasn’t.

Judd Gregg and the Fairness Doctrine

by Chris Gacek

February 4, 2009

President Barack Obama’s decision to nominate Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) to head the Commerce Department has at least one interesting ricochet.  How will Gregg affect Obama administration policy toward reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine?  The Commerce Department contains one of the federal telecommunications regulatory agencies, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  It appears that NTIA would have no direct role in matters pertaining to the reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine ….that capacity lies solely within the jurisdiction of the FCC and Congress.  Of course, judicial review would occur also.

That being said, what is Senator Gregg’s position on the Fairness Doctrine?  Well, Save Talk Radio Dot Org posted the text of a press release from Senator Norm Coleman’s office dated July 13, 2007.  The release states that on that date Senate Democrats blocked an amendment “to the Defense Authorization bill that would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine….”  One of the amendment’s co-sponsors was Senator Judd Gregg. 

Even though Commerce/NTIA would not play a direct role in this matter, as a department secretary whose portfolio does touch on telecommunications issues, Judd Gregg would be better positioned to present a pro-First Amendment case to the President and the Obama cabinet.  He would certainly be much better placed to let the President know the sort of nuclear political war he will start should an Obama FCC go down that path.

Hopefully, Senator Gregg will be reminded of this 2007 vote during his confirmation hearing.

Kanjorski’s Stimulus Vote: A Big Deal

by Chris Gacek

January 29, 2009

There has been much press coverage of the fact that all House GOP members voted against the Pelosi stimulus bill yesterday.  Well, something like eleven Democrats voted against the measure… but not so much coverage of that.  Of considerable interest is the fact that Paul Kanjorski (Dem-PA) was amongst the dissenters.  Kanjorski  appears on  CNBC regularly and  has a  friendly, bi-partisan persona.  He is also the “senior member,” under Chairman Barnie Frank, on the Financial Services Committee.  In fact, he chairs the sub-committee on “Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises.”  That sounds like a pretty important job in a financial/banking crisis.  Given all that, Kanjorski’s vote against the stimulus bill seems very important.  Hopefully, we’ll get the scoop from CNBC host Larry Kudlow, the most important economic journalist in the Obama era, who has interviewed Kanjorski on numerous occasions.  Perhaps, Democrat support for the spending plan is less solid than we are being led to believe.

Murkowski Goes with the Left on Mexico City

by Chris Gacek

January 28, 2009

What’s up in Alaska?  Senator Lisa Murkowski today voted with President Obama to overturn the Mexico City Policy which, according to World Magazine, “prohibits grantees in receipt of U.S. funding from performing abortions, lobbying to legalize abortion, or promoting abortion as a family-planning method.”  (See also, our Tom McClusky’s description of the policy below - in the blog on 1/23/09.)  That places her in the company of liberal Republicans Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe as the only Republicans to vote with the Democrats.  Alaska’s new senator, Mark Begich, voted to fund overseas abortion providers as well.  

I wonder whether Sarah Palin would have made it a trio ?? The GOP Platform on which Palin ran for President with John McCain stated:

We strongly support the long-held policy of the Republican Party known as the ‘Mexico City policy,’ which prohibits federal monies from being given to non-governmental organizations that provide abortions or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other countries. We reject any treaty or agreement that would violate those values.”

Perhaps, I am wrong, but I never heard Palin stating an objection to the platform on this point.

Change Watch Backgrounder: Dawn Johnsen

by Chris Gacek

January 14, 2009

POSTION:  Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel

NOMINEE:  Dawn Johnsen                                                   

Education:  summa cum laude B.A. in economics and political science, Yale, 1983; J.D. Yale, 1986, Article & Book Review Editor, Yale Law Journal

Family:  N/A

Experience: law professor, Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington, 1998-present; Acting Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, United States Department

of Justice, Washington, D.C., 1997-1998; Deputy Assistant Attorney General, 1993-1996; Legal Director, National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League (currently

NARAL Pro-Choice America), Washington, D.C., 1988-1993; Law Clerk to the Honorable Richard D. Cudahy, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Chicago, Illinois, 1986-1987

Clinton White House: From 1993 to 1998 she worked in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), including a stint as Acting Assistant Attorney General heading the OLC

Obama Campaign:  After election, named to Obama transition’s Department of Justice Review Team.

Affiliations:  American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, National Board Member; National Co-Chair of Project on The Constitution in the 21st Century; Co-Chair of Separation of Powers/Federalism Issue Group. NOTE: This group is the relatively new Leftist answer to the Federalist Society.

From her article on fetal rights:

In recent years, however, courts and state legislatures have increasingly granted fetuses rights traditionally enjoyed by persons.  Some of these recent ‘fetal rights’ differ radically from the initial legal recognition of the fetus in that they view the fetus as an entity independent from the pregnant woman with interests that are potentially hostile to hers.” D. Johnsen, “The Creation of Fetal Rights:…”, 95 YALE L.J. 599 (1986).

Until recently, the law did not recognize the existence of the fetus except for a few very specific purposes.”  D. Johnsen, “The Creation of Fetal Rights:…”, 95 YALE L.J. at 601.

In thus treating the fetus, courts have glossed over crucial differences between fetuses and persons, and have lost sight of the interests that narrow legal recognition of the fetus traditionally has attempted to protect.  They have ignored alternatives to equating the fetus with a person that would have more appropriately served their goals.”  D. Johnsen, “The Creation of Fetal Rights:…”, 95 YALE L.J. at 610.

Granting rights to fetuses in a manner that conflicts with women’s autonomy reinforces the tradition of disadvantaging women on the basis of their reproductive capability.  By subjecting women’s decisions and actions during pregnancy to judicial review, the state simultaneously questions women’s abilities and seizes women’s rights to make decisions essential to  [*625]  their very personhood.  The rationale behind using fetal rights laws to control the actions of women during pregnancy is strikingly similar to that used in the past to exclude women from the paid labor force and to confine them to the “private” sphere. 

D. Johnsen, “The Creation of Fetal Rights:…”, 95 YALE L.J. at 624-25.

On Alito Hearings:

We have squandered a rare opportunity for public education. The Senate’s focus on the formal status of Roe, while understandable, masks the extent to which the court has already gutted the right to choose and what the confirmation of Alito most immediately would mean for reproductive liberty.

            D. Johnsen, Slate, “The Outer Shell: The hollowing out of Roe v. Wade,” Jan. 25, 2006.

On Reducing the Number of Abortions:

My point was that the kind of legislative initiatives that come out of the “Republican coalition” you were discussing does not actually accomplish a reduction in abortions.  (And that the primary prochoice organizations do work hard toward that goal.)  That may also well reveal that some (not all) such political forces are more interested in objectives other than reducing the number of abortions.  Among them may be controlling the nature and understanding of motherhood and diminishing women’s equality and sexual freedom (and even where those are not objectives, they may provide strong influences).  For the many who sincerely would like to reduce the number of abortions, that desire provides the basis for education about the true effects of the legislation and the possibility for instead forging common ground policies that promote pregnancy prevention and healthy childbearing.

            D. Johnsen, Slate, “Reducing Abortions,” March 22, 2008.

In his book, Bearing Right, William Saletan notes that in the late 1980s, Dawn Johnsen and Marcy Wilder, top lawyers at NARAL, “drew a hard line on parental involvement” in abortion decisions.  Saletan quotes an internal NARAL memo by Johnsen and Wilder:  “In practice, both consent and notification laws amount to a parental veto power over a minor’s decision to an abortion.  Do not, as part of an affirmative legislative strategy, introduce even a liberalized version of a parental consent or notification law.”

William Saletan, Bearing Right, p. 289 (Memo, Dawn Johnsen and Marcy Wilder to NARAL Staff and Consultatns, “Pro-Choice Legislative Strategy for Minor’s Access to Abortion Services,” 9/5/89).

Obama May Need Environmental Waivers for Spending

by Chris Gacek

January 12, 2009

A recent Los Angeles Times article makes clear that President Obama’s enormous stimulus/spending plan may run into a huge GREEN roadblock - the nation’s environmental laws and, in particular, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  NEPA was signed into law on January 1, 1970, and as Wikipedia puts it: “NEPA’s most significant effect was to set up procedural requirements for all federal government agencies to prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). EAs and EISs contain statements of the environmental effects of proposed federal agency actions.”  If significant environmental effects are found, the government has to propose adequate ways of mitigating the harms to be caused by the project.  Spending vast sums on construction, roadway, and other infrastructure projects are certainly going trigger NEPA reviews. 

To spur jobs Governor Schwazenegger is attempting to clear environmental hurdles to various road projects that he believes “would give the state a $1.2 billion economic boost and create 22,000 jobs over the next three years.” The Governator wants to bypass environmental objections to get the projects moving.  In doing so, he “has infuriated the Sierra Club and other groups with such proposals and with a letter he sent to President-elect Barack Obama last week asking that federal environmental reviews be waived on the highway projects.” (my emphasis)

As I read this, Schawarzenegger wants the Obama administration to waive the NEPA requirements.  California’s request here is understandable, and if President Obama wants his stimulus explosion to effect the economy quickly, the Congress, the president, and the primary federal agencies for each “action” may need to waive these laws.  Otherwise, each project could get bogged down.  As Schwarzenegger noted, ” ‘What is important here is not to have projects ready [ ] three years from now, which can happen with the environmental approvals and other kind of red tape that you go through.’”

Having some familiarity with NEPA and related laws, I was beginning to wonder how its requirements were going to be met if the Obama Administration decided to seek a crash building & spending program.  Well, the article from California makes it abundantly clear that environmental regulation of the stimulus spending is going to be a real problem that the Congress will probably have to address statutorily.

Tales of Chemical Abortion in the New York Times

by Chris Gacek

January 8, 2009

 

On January 5, 2009, the New York Times carried an article (“For Privacy’s Sake, Taking Risks to End Pregnancy” by Jennifer R. Lee and Cara Buckley) describing the fact that many Dominican women in New York City are aborting using the anti-ulcer drug, misoprostol (Cytotec).  Misoprostol is also the second drug in the FDA-approved abortion regimen of mifepristone (RU-486 or Mifeprex) and misoprostol.  Using misoprostol alone is a practice that is widely found in Latin American nations because misoprostol is cheap and available in pharmacies while mifepristone is either expensive, restricted in distribution, or both.  (From some quick web research: RU-486 does not appear to be approved in many Latin American nations; it isn’t even approved in Canada.)

Access to RU-486 is tightly controlled in the United States, but misoprostol is sold in drug stores as an anti-ulcer medication for people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).  In New York City “women can obtain the pills either through pharmacies that are willing to bend the rules and provide the medicine without a prescription or by having the drugs shipped from overseas.”

The RU-486 regimen was developed so that mifepristone could chemically end the pregnancy’s development while relying on misoprostol to then bring about the violent uterine contractions needed to expel the “products of conception.”  With misoprostol-only abortions the mifepristone-related chemical action does not occur, and abortions, like those reported in the article, depend primarily on termination based on contractions and expulsion.  Because of the dual action, RU-486 abortions are more effective than misoprostol-only abortions, but even they fail 3-5% of the time.

To their credit, Lee and Buckley do note that misoprostol abortions have “side effects” that “can be serious, and include rupture of the uterus, severe bleeding and shock.”  The article also quotes a doctor who has studied misoprostol abortions in New York City where “he saw a lot of Dominican immigrants with incomplete abortions in the emergency room.” 

Of course, this is the pattern that we at FRC, along with doctors from the American Association of Pro Life Ob/Gyns (“AAPLOG”), have observed.  We analyzed RU-486 adverse event reports obtained from the FDA via the Freedom of Information Act.  Many chemical abortions do not complete themselves and women are forced to seek out emergency room care while they are tremendously sick.  Blood loss can be significant sometimes requiring transfusions.

Instead of portraying these abortions as events that end the life of a human being while abusing the bodies of the women who have them, chemical abortions are portrayed in a benign light in the article.  But the reality is much different. 

For more on RU-486 abortions and the drug’s U.S. approval, download Politicized Science: The Manipulated Approval of RU-486 and Its Dangers to Women’s Health.

Viacom-Time Warner Cable Cut Deal for Price Increases

by Chris Gacek

January 6, 2009

Last week, cable giant Time Warner “negotiated” a deal to keep showing Viacom’s channels after December 31, 2008.  As a Los Angeles Times article indicated the companies were battling hard with Viacom threatening to turn off kid’s shows to get their money:

Viacom had purchased newspaper advertisements, featuring a tearful Dora the Explorer, and placed an on-screen crawl on its channels to alert viewers to the impending programming blackout. The ads encouraged viewers to complain to Time Warner Cable.”

“The tactic worked — parents reported having to soothe children who were upset over the prospect of not being able to watch their favorite shows on Nickelodeon, including ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.’” 

Emotional blackmailers of children - in which circle of Hell did Dante place such scoundrels?  Not a pleasant one I’ll bet.

Well, of course, Time Warner capitulated and agreed to a 12% increase for the Viacom channels.  Under the old agreement, for example, Viacom received about 32 cents per subscriber per month from cable operators for MTV.  If you didn’t want MTV - tough.  Time Warner carries Viacom channels into 13.3 million houses, so one-third of a dollar per month per subscriber ain’t chicken feed.

Unfortunately, the mechanism to protect consumers from such price increases, manipulation of children, and unwanted purchases of cable channels is not in place.  What would that be?  It is having the power to refuse to purchase and pay for cable channels. 

This episode points to the need for consumer choice in cable TV channel selection.  If cable subscribers had that power - - SpongeBob SquarePants would probably be the one who would need some serious consolation right now after many adults turned him off and pocketed the change.

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