October 25, 2009
All the News That's FitBy Randall Hoven
Trying to follow the news can be like drinking from a fire hose. It's a climate summit one day, Iran testing yet more rockets on another, and balloon boy on a third day. What is wheat and what it chaff?
I'm going to play New York Times today and tell you what is newsworthy. Here then, are some news items to catch you up on 2009.
Politics. The President of the United States is a Democrat. Democrats hold 256 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives - close to a 60-40 advantage. Democrats hold 60 of the 100 hundred seats in the Senate - not only a majority, but a "filibuster proof" majority. Republicans on their own cannot pass or stop any legislation. Any legislation that happens, or doesn't happen, is entirely due to Democrats.
Here is how the top Democratic leaders scored in 2007 according to the National Journal. Barack Obama (now President) was the most liberal Senator. Joe Biden (now Vice President) was the 3rd most liberal Senator. Harry Reid (now Senate majority leader) was the 9th most liberal Senator. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, was the 20th most liberal Representative (top 5 percentile) in 2006. The entire Democrat leadership is the most liberal of the liberal in government. These same Democrats have run both houses of Congress since 2006.
Legislation. So far, here are the big things the Democrats have done legislatively in 2009: pass a $787 billion stimulus bill and a $410 billion omnibus spending bill to finish off the 2009 fiscal year. Both were passed in February. The 2009 deficit came in at over $1.4 trillion, the highest deficit ever in dollar terms, the highest deficit as a fraction of the economy since World War II and more than triple the 2008 deficit.
Here are some things the Democrats have not done yet.
Each and every one of these could be passed with Democrat votes alone, or any combination of votes that loses fewer Democrat votes than is gained from Republicans.
Regarding the FY 2010 budget, President Obama did propose one. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it would more than double the 10-year cumulative deficit over what it would have been under existing legislation. That is, it includes about $5 trillion in additional deficits that were not inherited. And that assumes the recession ends this year, and includes neither health care reform nor cap & trade.
Commander-In-Chief. We still have lots of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of US troops in Iraq fell from 145,000 in December 2009 to 124,000 in September 2009. However, the number of US troops in Afghanistan rose from 34,000 in September 2008 to 62,000 in August 2009. So the total for the two has increased under President Obama.
Despite the number of US troops in Afghanistan nearly doubling in the last year, almost all of that under President Obama, the top US military commander there is requesting more troops, perhaps 30,000 more. President Obama is considering that request, as well as the whole US strategy in Afghanistan. To date, he has been considering it for over four weeks, and thinks it will take a few more.
In the meantime, 2009 has been the deadliest year ever for US troops in Afghanistan. While US troops have been in Afghanistan for eight years, 27% of all US troop fatalities there occurred in 2009, more than the total of the first four years there combined.
On the other hand, Navy SEAL snipers picked off three Somali teenage pirates and captured a fourth. Navy SEALs also assassinated a wanted terrorist, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. He was wanted for bombing an Israeli hotel in Kenya, and the US SEALS killed him in Somalia. (If you can figure out the legalities of that, please send me a note.) None of those was rendered to another country or harshly interrogated before being shot to death.
Head of State. Since 2008, it seems our old enemies are our new friends, and vice versa. Our President bowed to the Saudi king and soul-shaked Hugo Chavez. However, about the only country to cooperate with us in South America in the last few years, Colombia, is getting the cold shoulder, as is Israel, the country most likely to vote with us in the UN. The missile shield program we promised Poland and the Czech Republic? Nixed. In favor of Russia, who votes against us in everything.
Iran tests rockets every so often, and North Korea also test rockets and nuclear bombs every so often. Both countries enrich uranium and do other stuff required to make nuclear bombs. But we can't be sure, since they tend not to tell us what they do and don't let us come and look. We are negotiating with them, with partners like the UN, France and Russia. It is unclear whether such diplomacy is "intense."
Iran had elections and the top dogs we've come to know and love, like President "Wipe Israel Off the Map" Ahmadinejad, "won." Not everyone thinks the elections were fair, including every sane person on the planet, plus some major Iranian imams. There were protests in the streets. President Obama called it a "robust debate." Some protesters were killed and others arrested. One Iranian-American was just sentenced to 15 years for his role in the protests. The US, UN and everyone else recognizes Ahmadinejad's government as the legitimate government of Iran.
However, the UN, Organization of American States, the US and most other countries do not recognize the current government in Honduras as legitimate. The previous president, friend of Hugo Chavez, did some illegal and unconstitutional things in office. The Honduran Supreme Court unanimously ruled that he must be removed from office. The Honduran Congress, by 120-to-5, voted to remove him. The military did what the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress told it to do, and removed him from office. He was replaced with a member of his own political party, and elections were scheduled for this November.
Too bad the Honduran debate was not robust enough for President Obama. He refused to recognize the new Honduran government, and took away the visas of its top leaders. As these leaders were turned away, Iran's Ahmadinejad was welcomed in New York and addressed the UN and Columbia University.
As for the rest of the world, not much has changed since 2008. Antarctica has a bit more ice. China has a bit more people and now emits more carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels than any other country. Burma is still Myanmar. Still no peace in the Middle East. Europeans, whose governments account for 45-50% of their economies, still blame free markets for their problems. Russia thinks 1989 never happened.
The Economy. Every month in 2009, through September, saw fewer jobs than the prior month. The job loss in September (263,000) was bigger than the job loss in August (201,000). In all, over four million jobs have been lost in 2009. The most recent unemployment rate, 9.8%, was the highest level in 26 years. The teen unemployment rate, at 25.9%, was the highest since records have been kept: 1948. But for those lucky enough to work, the minimum wage is also the highest ever -- $7.25/hr, or 40% more than it was three years ago when the unemployment rate was 4.4%.
Real Gross Domestic Product has decreased in each of the last four quarters for which we have data. In the first half of 2009, it decreased 1.8% (an annual rate of 3.6%).
Although some people see signs of recovery, those signs are not in the jobs data, unemployment figures, real GDP, or private investment so far. Maybe a sign is in retail sales, which in the last four months was up, down, up and down. As it is, the NBER has not yet called the end to the recession that it said started in December 2007, or 22 months ago.
On the other hand, the stock market is up 20% in 2009. The S&P 500 is almost, but not quite, at the level it was when the TARP bailout was passed by the Senate on October 1, 2008.
Global Warming Watch. The average summer temperature over the contiguous US in 2009 was lower than the 20th century average. July in the Midwest in particular was the coldest on record. No word yet on how much the sea level changed, but if it's on the apparent trend of the last 120 years, it fell by 1.35 millimeters, or about as much as your hair grows in four days. The Kyoto treaty runs out in 2012, and so far there is no agreement on a replacement treaty. A recent poll says only 36% of American believe warming is man-caused.
SITREP. I think that's what they used to call it in the Navy, for "Situation Report." So we are in a recession, a bad one, with few signs that we are recovering from it. The long-term economic picture is just as grim. Everything our government is doing makes it worse. Our enemies around the world are getting stronger and working on nuclear weapons. Our friends around the world are getting less help from us. It looks like France is the most potent opposition the bad guys have. The UN is as strong as ever.