Archive for September, 2009

Depends on the Definition of “Gains”

A few days ago, the New York Times was trumpeting President Obama’s “gains” at the UN concerning Iran’s nuclear program.

With a beaming Mr. Obama standing next to him, Mr. Medvedev signaled for the first time that Russia would be amenable to longstanding American requests to toughen sanctions against Iran significantly if, as expected, nuclear talks scheduled for next month failed to make progress.

Well.  That was then, this is now:

China will not support increased sanctions on Iran as a way to curb its nuclear program, a government spokeswoman said Thursday. Although China has generally opposed the use of sanctions, the announcement is sure to complicate President Obama’s efforts to impose tougher penalties on Iran, should international talks over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, scheduled for Oct. 1, fail to make headway.

Even if China had supported sanctions – and Obama may yet find concessions to bring them on board – there’s no particular reason to think Russia would abide by them.  It’s also perfectly reasonable to believe that Russia consulted with China prior to making its own announcement.  And the batting average of sanctions in getting countries to abandon nuclear programs is roughly .000, with Israel’s strike on Osirak (Iraq) and our invasion of Iraq (Libya), along with the Allied occupation of Berlin (Germany) being the only successes in that field I can recall.

As Powerline points out, some are arguing that it was the public revelation of Iran’s facility that moved Russia to reluctantly support sanctions, and if so, the President might have thought to present that information to them before handing them the diplomatic gift over missile defense.

So, according to the Times, “gains” means giving up tangible defenses obtained at a serious diplomatic price, abandoning allies who came through for us on those defenses, achieving the vague promise of weak sanctions at some point in the future, contingent on a lack of “progress” at talks that do nothing but give credibility to a monstrous regime that seeks to run out a clock we keep trying to reset.

Some gains.

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Notes From the Senate Race

A couple of notes on the race for the Republican nomination.  First of all, despite the headline – and the weight of the party’s senior ex-officeholders – former Lt. Gov. Norton did win the straw poll, but did not “clobber” her opponents.  Mrs. Norton will no doubt point out that she hadn’t had much time to organize for the straw poll, and yet still came out first.  Her opponents will note that this should have been, in many ways, her natural constituency, the old-line party activists, and that she got barely 1/3 of the vote.  So while her assumed fundraising prowess still makes her the odds-on favorite, it appears that this race has some room yet to run, and that she’ll have to earn it.

Evidence that she knows that came Thursday night at a meeting of the R Block Party, a group of mostly Arapahoe County- and Centennial-based activists.  While there was some grumbling that she didn’t stick around for questions, the mere fact that she showed up indicates that she understands she’ll have to court the new activists that last year’s elections generated, and can’t simply rely on the old guard to dominate the caucuses they way they have in the past.  (For the record, the only candidate for Senate or Governor who didn’t show up or send a representative was…Scott McInnis.)

For the moment, the favorite of the new activists still seems to be Ryan Frazier, who performed well at Wednesday’s Liberty on the Rocks South Metro, and seemed to have a lot of fans at the R Block Party as well.  Still, Norton’s bearing and presence seemed more senatorial; whether that bears up under tough questioning remains to be seen.

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Gates of Sofia

While most of the attention at the UN was focused on Obama’s speech, Ghadafi’s theatrics, Ahmedinejad being Ahmedinejad, and Sarkozy taking on Obama at the Security Council (what, you missed that one?), another little all-too-UN election drama was playing out at UNESCO.  This is the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and it’s one of the few UN organizations that the Islamic bloc hasn’t managed to corrupt beyond recognition.  For instance, the official UNESCO page for Israel lists its capital as Jerusalem, which is almost more than the State Department can muster these days.

So naturally, it made perfect sense that the next chairman should be an Egyptian culture minister who claimed that he would personally burn any Israeli books found in the new Library of Alexandria,and boasted (somewhat innacurately) that Egypt banned any books insulting to religion (Protocol of Zion and Mein Kampf notwithstanding).  That last should be particularly chilling, given official-Islam-in-Europe and increasingly, official-Islam-in-America’s desire to define itself as “religion” in such matters.  (Naturally, all of this was only enough to get Mr. Hosni “accused” of anti-semitism by the New York Times, self-accusation not actually being enough to convict.)

Fortunately, the civilized members of UNESCO managed to unite behind an alternative: a former Communist Bulgarian diplomat in charge of “political and human rights issues” under that regime, now a member of the former-Communist Bulgarian Socialist Party, whose father was editor (in a Winston Smith sort of way) of the key Bulgarian newspaper.  Like all former Communists, she doesn’t claim she was just following orders, rather that she did it for her career, one of the reasons that the east never underwent a de-Stalinization, akin to Germany’s and Japan’s post-war cleanising.  And one of the reasons why former Communists, Putin included, are pretty much given a pass on their pasts.

Like a good former Communist, she sees what should be a cultural and arts position as a means to advance myriad lefty political agendas: “She said she would strive to give Unesco a more prominent role in talks on climate change and would focus more resolutely on gender roles, the financial crisis and other issues.”  If that UNESCO gig doesn’t work out, I understand the Obama administration has a couple of vacancies over at the NEA.

Look, Bokova is probably an improvement over Hosni, but it’s not clear that an organization whose top two contenders for the world’s premiere cultural post are a former Communist and an anti-Semite is one that’s benefited from our “engagement” over the years.

And what of Mr. Hosni?  He seems to be taking his defeat with the Egyptian equivalent of Al Gore-like grace, the “accused” anti-Semite blaming a Jewish conspiracy and declaring a kulturkampf on Israel (but not Jews, of course).  The last part has gone unreported by the Times, probably because it comes a little too close to promoting Hosni past the “accused” status.

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Denver’s Employment Not Quite So “Stabilized”

Still catching up from Rosh Hashanah this weekend – it’s going to be that way for a few more weeks as the Holidays of Tishrei descend on us for another season.

So Colorado’s Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment pronounces it “encouraging” that Colorado gained 3100 jobs while shedding 15,200 workers.  The unemployment rate will probably get worse again before it gets better, but mostly because people will re-enter the job market as things do improve.

But Denver’s job market, not so good.  According to the release, the Denver-Aurora MSA accounted for more than the state’s net labor force loss, dropping 15,552 workers (and 6,400 jobs).  The rest of the state gained 9500 jobs, and actually added a few hundred to the labor force.  In fact, Denver-Boulder and Colorado Springs MSA were the only areas to lose significant jobs in August.

In related news, the city council will fail to ask citizens to re-direct Referendum A-I money to useful projects.

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Venture Capital, Take Note

In the generally miserable venture capital environment of that last few quarters, one bright spot has been the health sciences market.  It’s one of the area where Colorado can compete effectively, and an area where America is well ahead of the rest of the world.  It produces actual long-term savings and real quality-of-life and lifespan improvements.

And the Senate – presumably with the agreement of Colorado’s Bennet and Udall – is getting ready to kill it.

First, the numbers.  VC itself has, not surprisingly, gone cliff-diving along with the rest of investment capital recently.  After the dot-com craziness, total VC investment seemed to return to a normal growth curve this century before crashing in the recent downturn:

The one exception to this has been Life Sciences.  While well behind last year’s pace, VC in life sciences has recovered fairly well in Q2, to the average over the last 5 years, and close to 2005 levels:

Note the steep drop-off in Healthcare Services VC after 2000.  I’m not certain why that’s so, but it’d be interesting to find out.  Also note that medical device investment has grown not only in dollars, but also as a percentage of total LS investment.

While the National Venture Capital Association doesn’t provide crosstabs between regions and sectors, it’s reasonable to assume that at least some of Colorado’s growth from 3.0% of venture capital dollars in 2008 to 4.3% in 2009 is a result of our strong biotech sector.

Now, the Senate is proposing what is, in effect, a national excise tax on medical device sales, to help pay for the health care takeover.  (Hat tip: TigerHawk)  Exactly where do they think the large companies come from?  Exactly where do they think the large companies get their devices to re-sell?  They don’t free-ride on this technology, they buy it once the ideas have been developed by smaller, ie, venture firms.

Brilliant idea, gentlemen.

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More Community Reinvestment

As though forcing banks to loan to bad risks had worked before:

The Obama administration’s chief steward over small-business policy visited Colorado on Thursday, in part to deliver a message that the state’s banks need to do more to extend emergency stimulus aid to struggling businesses.

In remarks to The Denver Post before a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration head Karen Mills said her staff has ramped up efforts here to promote America’s Recovery Capital loans. Banks make the $35,000 loans while the SBA guarantees them at 100 percent.

Mills met with Gov. Bill Ritter, who is trying to promote the program, and Don Childears, head of the Colorado Bankers Association, who has criticized ARC lending as unprofitable for banks unless they take on large volumes.

Of course, it’s not the banks who are on the hook here.  It’s you.  I’m sure that not all of these businesses are bad risks.  Most probably aren’t.  But enough probably are to poison the whole pool if banks are expected to loan en masse, and the government doesn’t exactly have a sterling record in distinguishing between the two

We’re not in the business of promoting panic here, but it’s not as though the banking and mortgage systems have exactly been put on sound footing.  The Congress – notably that savant Carl Levin – is encouraging the FDIC to borrow from the Treasury (who will borrow from the Fed, who will either print the money or borrow it from the Chinese or take it from the banks in question, anyway), at the same time that the FHA is tightening lending standards after discovering that the subprime business may be riskier than we thought.  Horse, meet barn door.

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‘Bama Bigfoot

It’s good to know that it’s not only Republicans who are dealing with out-of-staters eager to pick winners:

President Barack Obama endorsed U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet today, throwing the force of the White House into a Democratic primary battle that officially is just over a day old.

The direct endorsement of a president still enormously popular among progressive voters is perhaps the biggest hammer that national Democrats can bring to Bennet’s primary battle against former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, and they wasted no time in wielding it.

Does this make sense?  Only if it works.  Rumors had abounded that Romanoff had about $1.5 million (roughly 0.0001% of Obama’s deficit spending) ready to come on board, and to make him immediately competitive.  Certainly Romanoff wasn’t going to be able to run to Bennet’s left, but the endorsement of The Big Leftie himself probably gives Bennet some room to move to the center if he has to.  Of course, the primary is 11 months from now, and who know what Obama’s endorsement will be worth by then.

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What Do Freddie & Fannie Have that Sallie Doesn’t?

The same thing that a public option in health insurance would have: the ability to run off the competition.

Yesterday, you may have heard, the House voted to cut off funding for Acorn, with all of the opposition coming from 75 Democrats.  Typically, the minority – the Republicans, for the moment – will try to tack something truly poisonous to the majority on a bill that the majority – for the moment, the Democrats – just can’t refuse.

In this case, it was the final gasp knee on the ventilator tube of the independent student loan market.  The story combines the worst elements of the government part of the mortgage mess with the scariest elements of the proposed insurance mess.  Way back, bankers and independent lenders didn’t see students as such good credit risks.  (They still don’t, which is why they tend to loan to them at 18% interest on credit cards.)  So the government decided to step in and offer subsidized loans for education.  Over time, the banks who made the federal money available were subject to more and more restrictions, until they became, to all intents and purposes, a utility of the federal government when it came to student loans.  So much so that they could be portrayed – sadly, with some justification – as rent-seekers offering no value added:

“This bill will end the billions upon billions of dollars in unwarranted subsidies that we hand out to banks and financial institutions, and will use that money to guarantee access to low-cost loans,” Obama said in a statement.

The unwarranted subsidies to bad credit risks and liberal universities naturally go unmentioned, those being virtuous in nature.

Now, in a student-loan version of the Community Reinvestment Act, the government will spread that virtue around:

The Obama administration would use anticipated savings from the measure to increase grants for low-income students, boost funding for minority student groups, provide money for school construction, with a small portion left over to pay down the deficit.

The news has driven Sallie Mae’s credit rating down to a BBB-, and its stock price down accordingly.  This is exactly the path that a public option in health insurance would take.  The public (heh) has roundly rejected that idea as pretty terrible.  It was terrible with mortgages (85% of which are now backed by the government), it would be terrible in health insurance.  Why is it any better with student loan debt, which is also some of the worst debt in the world to owe?

I understand the Republicans’ desire to get the Democrats to vote on ACORN.  With any bills likely to be bottled up in committee forever, a floor amendment to one of the few bills the Democrats were permitted amendment to was the logical path to take.  Ironically, it may also focus attention on just how bad a bill that is.

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House Votes to Defund ACORN; DeGette, Polis Dissent

Despite the opposition of Representatives DeGette and Polis, the US House has just voted to defund ACORN, on an amendment to a student aid bill.  The amendment passed, and the bill has now passed out of the House, as amended.  The bill doesn’t seem to have been introduced yet in the Senate, so including the defunding there would seem to be an easy matter, if the Democrats choose to do so.

UPDATE: Reader Patrick Gibbs reports that Representative DeGette’s office claims that, ”

her response for voting “no” was because she “regularly votes no when a tactic like this is used to slip in unrelated rules into a particular bill”. In other words, since it was part of the “Sudent Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act”, it was a procedural tactic and on principal she is “Read Moreagainst” doing that (not necissarly on the merits of the bill). This, even though she said she is in favor of the SAaFR Act and in favor of holding ACORN accountable.

If this were he true motive, one would expect to see her signed on as a co-sponsor on HR 3571, the Republican bill to defund ACORN.  Needless to say, she has not.

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Maaser vs. Zakat

Both Jews and Muslims are required to give an annual tithe.  In Judaism, it’s called “maaser,” and in Islam, it’s referred to as “Zakat.”  Somehow, I ended up on the Zakat list for some Muslim charity last year, and apparently they share their lists (or more likely, sell them) just as Jewish organizations do.  Which means that this year, I’m on four lists.

Both amuont are 10%, but they’re 10% of very different totals.  In Judaism, Maaser is a 10% after-tax line-item deduction on income.  In Islam, Zakat is a 10% assessment on net assets (with a personal exemption, to boot).  So for Judaism, it’s an Income Statement problem, and for Islam, it’s a Balance Sheet question.

I don’t know enough about how Islam view wealth or Zakat for that matter to come to any conclusions (although if I keep reading these solicitations, I may) but I’d like to throw out there as a working hypothesis that they represent different views of money.  A tax on income would seem to reflect a more dynamic view of wealth.  Someone may have a lot of assets, but either be unable to dispose of them, or may simply have a bad year.  Where a tax on assets – a property tax, if you will – may reflect a more static view of wealth, that it’s unlikely to evaporate (or sublimate) over the course of a year.

As I said, I’m not sure about this, and I’m open to proofs that I have it exactly backwards.  But I do think it’s an interesting difference.

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