Saturday, June 05, 2010

Terminal Frustration with Obama

If you are like me, I am no longer frustrated with Barack Obama. I'm not angry. I'm not disgusted.

I'm just done. He is the most incompetent man ever to hold the high office of President. I used to believe he had evil intent but now I am see that he just dithers dawdles and destroys things like a child who is clumsy and bumbles everything he touches.

Even his most core support has been eroded.

I haven't said this for real before, but even Joe Biden would be better.

Barack Obama must resign for lack of capacity to lead.

He has none.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Not the End of the World

I like to read what Jerry Pournelle writes. I have a struggle in trying to Hyperlink to a specific story in his blog design. So in spite of the fact it will upset some people, I am going to reprint this verbatim with attribution. It's a great observation, worthy of repeat. The link is here, but the problem with Mr Pournelle's blog is it seems to de link often. So, read Jerry's wisdom. If the permalink thing on his format is ever figured out I'll use it.

It's an Oil Spill, Not the End of the World

Today is full of dismaying news. First, the hole isn't plugged. In fact, while President Obama was telling us that the maneuver to fill the pipe with driller's mud would have a 60% chance of plugging it, the operation had been called off, apparently by the people who have their boot on BP's neck. The government has given the Attorney General orders to make sure the boot stays in place. The effect of that on actually plugging the hole isn't known, nor is it known whether the AG will go to Louisiana, where I am sure more lawyers are needed.

Not that I am carrying any brief for BP. I don't know the whole story -- I doubt anyone does -- but all the evidence I have seen points to BP always taking the cheapest course even when the cost differences involved are a few million to tens of millions of dollars in operations that bring in billions. Of course managing economic risks is part of what capitalist ventures do. The problem here is that the consequences of failure are borne not merely by the capitalist venture, but by all of us. It's another case of thr rewards of success going to the private venture, while the cost of failure is borne by others. We've seen a lot of that in the past few years. Both the Creeps and the Nuts like that sort of "gamble."

We all know how the Creeps played with Credit Default Swaps and such. The Nuts do it a bit differently but the results are the same. The Nuts, for example, insisted on minimum wages for Samoa; that ran the cost of fish processing up, so a number of canneries closed their Samoan operations and moved to other places in Asia where there is no minimum wage. Now the Nuts are sending a few tens of millions to Samoa to bail out the collapsing economy. The economy wasn't in collapse until the fish processing plants closed eliminating one of the major job sources. Of course that's small potatoes compare with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac injecting more and more money into the housing market, buying up bundles of junk mortgages and using those piles of junk bonds as security to borrow more public money to inject into the housing market. Meanwhile the Nuts insisted that we spread housing ownership around, meaning that finance companies should ought to make loans to nearly anyone who wanted in on the American Dream of housing ownership. Which of course led to the sob stories about the gardener with a $40,000 a year "stated" (i.e. not verified or even documented) income being able to "buy" a $450,000 house that, after the collapse of the bubble, turned out to be "worth" about $200,000; now the poor chap is being foreclosed and evicted. It's the end of his Dream. Etc.

Decoupling risk from consequences didn't work too well in keeping the economy going. How well has it worked with deepwater oil drilling?

Actually, a lot better than it did with the housing market. We've heard a lot about the terrible damage from the oil torrent, and it is certainly frightening; but it turns out not to be quite so big in the context of other oil spills. I first heard that this morning on the Rush Limbaugh show. Rush is seldom my primary source of information, but this morning he gave his source, Dr. Roy Spencer, whom we've recommended here in the past. Limbaugh shows Spencer's chart on his web page, and it's instructive. Yes, it's a disaster, but it's not large in comparison with previous -- even frequent -- disasters. This isn't the end of the world as we know it. The torrent has to be stopped, the oil has to be contained, the hole has to be plugged, and the longer that takes the worse it will be, but the Persian Gulf recovered from the world's worst oil spill (deliberate at that) and the Gulf of Mexico will recover from this one.

That doesn't excuse us from the obligation to learn more about containing these disasters, and my recommendation is that every oil pumping operation should be subject to a separation tax devoted to funding the creation of Civil Defense organizations, a recovery force of specialists, and research and development of recovery methods. I'm no great fan of bureaucracies, but sometimes they are necessary. Fire Departments are bureaucracies. Volunteer fire departments work in some places, private fire fighters have been advocated by strict libertarians, but I'm quite pleased with the Los Angeles Fire Department. I gather that New Yorkers are fond of the NYFD; and indeed mot places I go seem happy with the local fire departments. But that's another discussion about details: the most important thing needed for the future is to re-create Civil Defense, not just for oil spill containment but also hurricanes, earthquakes, twisters, etc.

We can be dismayed that the hole is not plugged (the Top Fill attempt apparently was stopped by the US government, perhaps for good reasons); but at least we know this isn't the worst disaster of the Gulf and isn't the end of the world as we know it.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Winning the war on Terror

How one brave Nigerian is risking his life to win militants and terrorists to Christ.

Kelechi Okengwu has taught me to face my fears.

This 32-year-old Nigerian evangelist will probably never star in a movie or be featured on the evening news. But he has been a younger role model for me since I met him seven years ago.

Converted to Christ at 21, Kelechi has spent the past decade reaching dangerous militants who are spreading violence on Nigeria's university campuses. Through his Gospel Mania Project, the young preacher shares his faith with leaders of The Black Axe, Brotherhood of the Black Brigade, The Big Eye, The Pyrates, the Buccaneers and The Mafia—clandestine groups that mix African occultism with drugs and violence to spread fear and political instability throughout the country.

"Dying for Christ is the highest honor we could ever experience. I am not afraid to die. That would be one way to say thank you to God for all He has done for me." — Kelechi Okengwu

"Many people think what I do is madness," Kelechi told me last month when I visited him in the city of Akure. These campus gangs kill 30 to 40 students a year in Nigeria. The murders have forced many parents to send their children abroad to study, creating a brain drain that has siphoned off many of the country's potential leaders.

I am constantly inspired by Kelechi's courage. The students he is reaching are involved in assassinations, bloody occult rituals and bank robberies. They have been known to slit students' throats and bury the bodies in the woods. They often enjoy demonic protection (which they get from witchdoctors) but they are also armed with rifles and machetes.

Who would dare risk being near these people—much less reaching out to befriend them? Yet Kelechi has led more than 400 of these dangerous young men and women to Jesus.

In a typical campus meeting, held outdoors, Kelechi will preach the gospel and then ask if any of the campus militants will surrender their lives to Christ and leave their gangs. The power of God always shows up. "Sometimes they will fall down on the ground, under conviction," Kelechi says. "Sometimes, if they are demon possessed, they will fall on the ground and scream."

Those who respond to Kelechi's message surrender their witchcraft paraphernalia—which often includes bones, belts, woodcarvings, charms, powders and other objects that supposedly offer spiritual protection. They also lay down their weapons and drugs. Today, many of them serve as part of Kelechi's unique mission team to reach other militants.

As if this level of danger isn't enough for him, Kelechi has taken on a new and even riskier assignment in the past six months. He and his disciples are now evangelizing the Muslim terrorists who have been setting up training camps in northern Nigeria. They identify young Nigerian men who are being radicalized by Islamists from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya and Afghanistan. Then they attempt to share Christ with them.

It is the ultimate in counter-terrorism—with no bombs or bullets involved. Kelechi's weapons consist only of (1) the Bible, (2) unconditional love and (3) lots of fasting and prayer.

I asked Kelechi if he ever feels afraid. He admitted some fear, but then explained why he won't let it paralyze him.

"It is the fear of death that causes people to be afraid of witnessing," Kelechi told me. "But dying for Christ is the highest honor we could ever experience. I am not afraid to die. That would be one way to say thank you to God for all He has done for me."

It's easy for us in the West to sit on our comfortable couches in our air-conditioned homes and pontificate about how to stop terrorism while we watch the news from Nigeria or the Middle East on our flat-screen TVs. But after spending time with Kelechi and viewing this threat from his vantage point, I am humbled.

I've never looked into the eyes of a terrorist. I have certainly never put my life on the line by offering the gospel to a guy holding an AK-47. I pray I could have half the boldness my friend has.

I am grateful to Kelechi and all the other nameless and faceless heroes who are modeling selfless New Testament Christianity in the developing world. They are on the front lines in today's global struggle. We owe them our prayers, our support and our utmost respect.

Housing Values about to drop Again

Everybody take a nice long look at today's Pending Home Sales Index from the National Association of Realtors, because it's just about the last positive picture we're going to see for a while.

Yes, the index rose even more than expected, as buyers rushed in to take advantage of the home buyer tax credit.

And yes, those numbers will show up in Existing Home Sales in May and June, but then look out.

This index is based on contracts signed in August, and that's how the credit was set up; you had to sign your contract by April 30th and close by June 30th in order to get your $8000 if you're a first time buyer and $6500 if you're a move up buyer.

And then came May, traditionally the height of the spring housing season.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home began to sink. Now, four weeks later, mortgage purchase applications are down nearly 40 percent from a month ago to their lowest level since April of 1997. Yes, you can argue that a larger-than normal share of buyers today are all cash, but those are largely investors.

That means real organic buyers are exiting in droves.

"With another week of historically low mortgage rates, the trend from the prior three weeks continued, as refinance applications increased while purchase applications dropped. Purchase applications are now almost 40 percent below their level four weeks ago, while the refinance share, at 74 percent, is at its highest level since December," said Michael Fratantoni, MBA's Vice President of Research and Economics.

And then the Realtors' chief economist, Lawrence Yun, after touting the numbers and telling all of us how much home equity was "preserved" by the tax credit stabilizing prices ($900 billion), throws water on his own numbers:

“A big concern surfacing recently is insufficient time to close the deal at the settlement table. Under normal circumstances, two months would be enough time from contract signing to settlement date,” Yun said.

“However, the recent housing cycle has brought long delays related to the short sales approval process by banks, and from ongoing appraisal issues. There could be a sizable number of homebuyers who responded to tax credit incentives, but may encounter problems meeting the settlement deadline by June 30.”

So now the NAR is asking Congress to provide flexibility on the deadline for closing.

Let's see how that goes over, as the government continues to try to find the back door out of the housing market.

Monday, May 31, 2010

What do you get when you have the worst of Carter, Nixon and LBJ? OBAMA

You Can Take the Pol Out of Chicago. . .

Jennifer Rubin - 05.30.2010 - 8:17 AM

As he often does, Obama tried to distance himself from his own administration’s mess. He ducked a personal response and had his lawyer issue a memo on the Joe Sestak job-offer scandal on the Friday before Memorial Day. He thereby succeeded in revealing that Sestak is a fabulist, his own White House is little more than a Blago-like operation, an ex-president has been reduced to the the role of a “cut out,” and the whole lot of them practice the same sleazy-politics-as usual that Obama ran against (which, ironically, was symbolized in the primary by Hillary Clinton).

The White House counsel says it really wasn’t the secretary of the Navy post that was offered. It was an unpaid advisory-board position. A few problems there. You send a former president to offer that to avoid a primary fight? And more important, it doesn’t get over the legal hurdle. As Hans von Spakovsky explains:

[White House Counsel Robert] Bauer admits that Rahm Emanuel asked Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an appointment to a “Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board,” and that the appointment would be attractive, i.e., a benefit. The statute does not absolve you of liability if you are offering someone an uncompensated appointment. It also specifies that you are guilty of a violation if you make such an offer “directly or indirectly.” Moreover, since the executive branch may not spend money that is not appropriated by Congress, any such board would be authorized by or at least paid for by an “Act of Congress.”

And boy, did they pick the wrong election cycle to pull this. The underlying gambit is bad enough, but the roll out of the explanation is potentially worse and will be thrown in Sestak’s face in the election. The stall. The lawyer swooping in with the cover story. The process of getting everyone on the same page. It is precisely what the voters are screaming about: backroom deals, evasive pols, lack of transparency, and dishonesty. Obama has made perfect hash out of the race, first by pulling the weather vane Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, then trying to unsuccessfully push the opponent out of the way, and finally by sullying everyone involved.

Obama has been compared to Jimmy Carter (in his misguided notions about the world), to Richard Nixon (in his sleazy backroom dealing and lack of transparency) and to LBJ (in his infatuation with government). Unfortunately, it appears that he embodies the worst of three unsuccessful presidents. And like all three, he may manage to drag his party down with him.