From the Left: Menendez's Problem With Planes and Prostitutes
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is working hard to cover his tracks. The FBI this week raided the offices of Dr. Salomon Melgen, Menendez's travel companion and a major campaign donor. It's unclear if the raid was related to allegations that Menendez flew on Melgen's private plane to the Dominican Republic where he allegedly had sex with underage Dominican prostitutes. The senator denies these deeply disturbing allegations, of course, but, suspiciously, Menendez waited until after the raid to repay $58,500 for three flights to the DR. His chief of staff called the delay in repayment "sloppy" and "an oversight." Sure thing -- those flights just happened to slip under the radar until the FBI raided the jet owner's office. Either way, the timing is rather inconvenient for Menendez, who is set to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee now that John Kerry is headed to the State Department.
"The U.S. economy posted a stunning drop of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, defying expectations for slow growth and possibly providing incentive for more Federal Reserve stimulus," reports the Associated Press. It's the first drop in GDP since 2009, though for all of 2012, growth was 2.2 percent, which was up from 1.8 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, job growth trudged along, with the economy adding 157,000 jobs in January and headline unemployment going up to 7.9 percent -- higher than January 2009, oddly enough. Real unemployment remained at 14.4 percent, as 169,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force, brining that number to 8.5 million since Obama took office.
Boy, the $800 billion stimulus and the Fed's repeated "quantitative easing" (read: bond buying and money printing) have worked magic! Nearly $6 trillion in debt to get the economy going again, and instead it's shrinking and unemployment is stagnant. Look for Obama to propose more of the same in his State of the Union address.
Of course, the so-called "recovery" is and has for four years been laughable, and the economy is stagnant and shrinking because of the explosion in federal spending. The trajectory is unlikely to change now that most Americans are taking home less pay thanks to Barack Obama's tax increases. But the White House, as always, is pointing fingers elsewhere -- namely at House Republicans. "Our economy is facing a major headwind, and that's Republicans in Congress," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, adding that the GOP is to blame for sequestration and the debt ceiling standoff. "This is political brinkmanship that results in one primary victim. That's American taxpayers and the American middle class." Shameless.
Meanwhile, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as "The Stimulus," included a provision that required the Obama administration to submit quarterly reports detailing the spending and progress of the $800 billion package. Yet the White House hasn't submitted any reports since summer 2011 when that report revealed that for every $317,000 in stimulus money spent, only one new job was "created or saved." The return on investment has grown progressively worse, so the Obama team decided that it was no longer politically expedient to keep the public informed about the abject failure of the much-lauded stimulus. We suppose that's why Obama is also disbanding his once-ballyhooed "Council on Jobs and Competitiveness." It's no longer politically useful.
Regulatory Commissars: Imaginary Biofuels
The zealotry of Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency is causing the administration to lose a number of court cases. The most recent decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, held that the EPA might not punish the oil refiners for their noncompliance with the EPA's Renewable Fuels Standard, though it left the standard in place. The standard required cellulosic biofuels to be purchased by fuel refiners, importers and blenders and then blended into our fuels. Unfamiliar with these biofuels? You're not alone. Only about 20,000 gallons were ever produced despite EPA's outlandishly optimistic projections of 8.7 million gallons in 2012. Rudimentary mathematics is a skill continuing to elude the Obama administration -- the EPA's projection was overstated by roughly 99.77 percent. Scoring accuracy of about 0.23 percent is a spectacularly failing grade even for a Renewable Fuels Standard created by a Democrat-controlled Congress in 2007. Meanwhile, the EPA responded to the court ruling by nearly doubling the mandate for 2013.
Consistent with Obamacratic doctrine to misdiagnose problems and apply the wrong remedies, EPA is punishing the consumers required to buy a fictional product instead of the imaginary producers. In a way, EPA's biofuels fantasy isn't all that dissimilar to ObamaCare, which punishes the customers (both participants and non-participants) with outrageous taxes. We can only guess what further regulatory wonders the EPA will inflict before the Obama regime is forced to leave office.Around the Nation: Pennsylvania Next in Line for Right to Work
With Indiana and Michigan becoming Rust Belt success stories of throwing off the shackles of closed shops, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its Republican majority government may prove the next battleground in Big Labor's decline on the American pol
But the Keystone State's union culture may prove a tougher nut to crack than those of other states. Besides the obvious threats and bluster from unions that dominate the cities, a number of GOP lawmakers were beneficiaries of union contributions. And Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is reportedly "lukewarm" to the prospect of Pennsylvania's becoming a right-to-work state.
The legislators who introduced the bill tout the job growth in right-to-work states compared to those with closed shops. And the time may be ripe for applying a crippling blow to Big Labor, as only 7 percent of the private-sector workforce remains unionized. Public-sector workers now make up the vast majority of union membership in America, and it's their dollars and volunteers that now provide the political muscle behind maintaining the status quo. The two most recent state converts, though, prove that victory over the unions -- and freedom from coercion so that workers may choose to join or not -- is possible even under the most unlikely of circumstances.Illinois Suffers Credit Tumble, Postpones Bond Sale
The state of Illinois postponed a scheduled bond sale this week after its credit rating was downgraded to among the lowest in the nation; a ranking on par with California as the two most financially troubled in the union. Big Labor played a hand in this fiscal debacle. "Our problem," said Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, "is that we have not substantively and fairly addressed the state public pension issue." The credit downgrade will cost the state's already-overburdened taxpayers an additional $95 million in interest on the $500 million bond sale.
While the purpose of the bond sale was financing school construction and transportation projects, it's the $96.8 billion of unfunded pension liabilities that concerns those who grade the state's financial situation. Moreover, the state has $9 billion in unpaid bills, according to state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.
Even though Democrats rammed through a "temporary" income tax increase in 2011, its expiration in 2015 looks more and more doubtful as the state searches for ways to quench its thirst for our money. Illinois has lived on a virtual credit card for decades, using bonds to put off making difficult choices required in the private sector. Current Gov. Pat Quinn and his predecessor Rod Blagojevich -- both Democrats, of course -- issued pension bonds, selling $15 billion worth of debt rather than addressing the issue with reforms.
John Kerry once testified that U.S. soldiers "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan," among other horrific crimes. That was, of course, in 1971 after his return from an unusually brief seven-month tour in Vietnam. True to form, Kerry in 2005 chastised American soldiers for "going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, women." We have long called for him to be prosecuted for acts of treason.
Apparently, however, time really does heal all wounds, because this week the Senate confirmed Kerry as the next secretary of state by a jaw-dropping 94-3 vote. The three Republicans who opposed were John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, and Oklahoma's James Inhofe. Kerry promised to implement "President Obama's vision for the world," which is just one more reason why he should have been rejected.
To take Kerry's place in the Senate, Massachusetts Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick tapped his own former chief of staff, Mo Cowan, for the job. Cowan will serve as a placeholder until the special election in June. Cowan is black, so is he just a "token," or does that label apply only to black Republican senators like South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott? That's a rhetorical question, of course, but, obviously, Democrats couldn't allow the only black senator to be a Tea Party conservative.
The other cabinet position to be filled soon is secretary of defense, for which Obama nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel. The hearing was little short of a disaster. Hagel seemed woefully unprepared to deal with questions about his previous statements on, for example, Israel and the "Jewish lobby," and he gave flat-out wrong answers about administration policy on major issues like Iran's nuclear program.
More to the point, Obama means to take the military down several pegs, and Hagel might be just the man to do it. The Army will bear the brunt of budget cuts, losing at least 75,000 soldiers and much equipment. The Marines will also face significant troop cuts. The Navy is coping with its smallest fleet since 1916, and the Air Force has never flown older planes. Hagel has described the military as "bloated," so it's unlikely he'll do anything to correct these problems. While Obama crows that a "decade of war is ending," he should use the opportunity to retool and upgrade our fighting forces, not further decimate them.