Trouble in Cyprus
It Can Happen Here, Too
"The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence." --John Adams
The tiny Mediterranean island of Cyprus is currently mulling over its few available options to stave off financial collapse after a week of battles with the EU Central Bank caught much of the world's attention. Cyprus was in line for a €10 billion (euros) loan from Brussels, but the EU wouldn't help without a €5.8 billion guarantee from the Cypriot government. And thus was born the bright idea of confiscating a portion of private savings from Cypriot depositors to fund the guarantee. Think something similar can't happen here? Think again.
The original formula called for a one-time tax of 6.75 percent on savings between €20,000 and €100,000, and 9.9 percent on savings over €100,000, taken straight from bank accounts. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Central Bank Governor Panicos Demetriades both claim they were blackmailed into accepting this plan by the EU, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission.
Predictably, the plan set off a run on banks and ATMs as depositors scrambled to move their money out of the government's reach; that forced bank closures. On Wednesday, however, the Cypriot parliament rejected the tax without a single vote in favor. Cyprus is now trying to rework the terms of the bailout while its banks remain shuttered.
Cyprus also sought aid from Russia, which has a disproportionately large amount of money in Cypriot savings accounts, but the latter nation withdrew any offer for help when talks didn't progress. The EU set a Monday deadline for a plan.
The EU argument for its unprecedented and outrageous idea to arbitrarily confiscate private savings is that Cyprus should take part in its own salvation. The EU also wants to tap into the country's large foreign savings pool. Thanks in part to lax anti-money laundering rules, 37 percent of the €70 billion in Cypriot banks is foreign-owned, and 60 percent of that belongs to Russia. Whatever excuses the EU comes up with, this tax on savings is unlikely to work. EU central bank bailouts -- and this would be its fifth -- are meant in part to shore up confidence in European markets. Plucking money out of private savings accounts by government fiat will do just the opposite, particularly when that savings is supposed to be insured by the very same government. If people don't believe their money is safe, then they will take it elsewhere. Or they may even take it out of circulation altogether by stuffing it under the proverbial mattress, or, worse still, not save money at all. This won't help the Cypriot economy or the larger European one, because banks rely on that cash to serve as capital for investors, thereby driving the engine of commerce.
An even scarier outcome of the Cypriot banking crisis is the possibility that similar events could happen here. Barack Obama is a faithful observer of how the Europeans handle their leviathan governments, and, like most leftists, he picked up on all their bad habits. He's built his entire presidency on "spreading the wealth around" and making the rich "pay their fair share." This kind of confiscatory policy is tailor-made for a statist who wants nothing more than to continuously expand the size of government.
Indeed, Fox News host Neil Cavuto noted, "While no one is taxing our bank holdings, thanks to ObamaCare, they are going after some of our other assets. Remember that 3.8 percent Medicare surtax on investment sales larger than a couple hundred grand. Surprised? The next time you try to sell your house, trust me, you'll be hitting the roof. I want you to think about that. A tax not on your income, earned or unearned, but your assets, what you have, what you own, your tangible assets. Homes here, bank accounts [in Cyprus]. Is there really a difference? No." Not only that, but the Federal Reserve continues its policy of quantitative easing, which causes inflation and has the same net effect as a withdrawal from your savings account.
U.S. debt far outweighs that of every European nation -- nations that are going for bailouts one after another. The U.S. government could seize 100 percent of the $9.3 trillion held in banks in the country and it would cover just over half of our total national debt. That $9.3 trillion would cover just two-and-a-half years of the federal budget.
Think about that the next time a politician laments the supposed disaster caused by reducing budget growth by $85 billion.
Government and Politics
News From the Swamp: Budget Votes
The House Republican Study Committee released a plan this week to balance the federal budget in four years, though it was defeated 104-132, with 171 Democrats voting present hoping the budget would pass so they could demo-gogue it. The proposal would have reached fiscal balance six years earlier than Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan's plan. Like Ryan's budget, the RSC plan called for repealing ObamaCare, reforming welfare and transforming Medicare and Medicaid, partly, by implementing a gradually increasing eligibility age for Medicare. The RSC also called for a gradual increase in the Social Security retirement age, and it reset spending to 2008 levels. The Senate Democrats' budget proposal, by comparison, made no attempt to balance the budget.
By a vote of 221-207 on Thursday, the House approved Ryan's budget, though the Senate quickly defeated it 40-59. As for the Senate's budget -- the first one proposed in four years -- the House defeated it 154-261, with 35 Democrats voting no.
In the end, both chambers approved a continuing resolution to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. The funding measure solidifies the spending level set by the sequester, though it gives agencies some flexibility in acting. It would seem that governing by continuing resolution is the only way forward. That's a huge victory for Democrats, who, as we predicted in 2008, set a new spending floor with their "stimulus" plans. Leviathan never gets smaller.
On another note, today is ObamaCare's third anniversary, and as an early celebration Thursday, the Senate voted 79-20 to repeal the 2.3 percent medical device tax. Of course, it was a non-binding resolution and doesn't change anything, but hey, it's the thought that counts.
Taking Aim at Gun Legislation
A major assault on the Constitution was repulsed this week, though the battle still rages as leftists attempt to push some form of gun control through Congress. To the dismay of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and her fellow NeoComs, the highly anticipated "assault weapon" ban will not be part of the final gun control package expected to be presented to the Senate next month. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to dismiss the legislation was based on meager support -- the likelihood of garnering even 40 "yes" votes in the Senate was a long shot, and the measure faced certain defeat in the House. With an eye toward 2014 mid-term elections, Reid's decision was also a strategic one to protect vulnerable senators from a vote on the ban.
"Not to give me a vote on this would be a major betrayal of trust," Feinstein whined. Frustration likewise came from Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who absurdly opined, "We're talking about millions of kids dying, being shot down by assault weapons. ... This is not just a political issue. It's a moral issue." Leftists won't allow the "assault weapon" ban to fade. Their goal is to boil this frog slowly: incrementally win a few restrictions up front, hope for another "gun massacre" and then come back for the prize with the ban ready and waiting. Gun confiscation disables the people's ability to defend Liberty, which is why Democratic Socialists endeavor to render the Second Amendment "null and void." Conservatives can't let their guard down.
In Colorado, Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several anti-gun bills. "The bills require background checks for private and online gun sales and ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds," reports the Associated Press. Additionally, among the proposals is a requirement for "purchasers to pay fees for background checks." The proposals aren't sitting too well with county sheriffs, some of whom have publicly decried the new restrictions, vowing not to enforce the anti-constitutional measures. Colorado-based firearm accessory manufacture Magpul Industries Corp. -- who warned the governor against signing the legislation and threatened to pack up and leave state -- wasn't bluffing. "We will start our transition out of the state almost immediately," Magpul said in a statement. We salute Magpul for standing tall.
Meanwhile, New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing a bit of embarrassment (again) after having to rescind part of the state's newly implemented law banning magazines holding more than seven rounds. The fact that no one makes seven-round magazines for many guns makes complying with the law a bit of a joke. One that isn't funny, too, as an Iraq vet found out when he sold an AR-15 with six standard-capacity mags to an undercover cop; he faces up to seven years behind bars. Cuomo won't strike the law, but residents will be allowed to carry a 10-round magazine -- as long as they don't carry more than seven bullets. Stupid is as stupid does.
This Week's 'Braying Jackass' Award
"What is the downside of saying you can have clips with only 10 rounds in it? What does that violate? Hunting? Sportsmanship? ... You can't get the deer in three shots? You shouldn't be hunting. You're an embarrassment. ... What am I doing to infringe upon your constitutional right? ... When you go to [gun] registration, it raises all the black helicopter crowd notion that what this is all about is identifying who has a gun so that one day the government can get up and go to the house and arrest everyone who has a gun, and they'll cite Nazi Germany and all that." --Joe "Buy a Double-Barrel Shotgun" Biden
UN Arms Treaty Up Again
Last week, newly minted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signaled the conditional commitment of the United States to the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Kerry wistfully described the treaty as a "strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty" that "recognizes that each nation must tailor and enforce its own national export and import control mechanisms." Furthermore, he said, it "does not impose any new requirements on the U.S. domestic trade in firearms or on U.S. exporters," and it "bring[s] all countries closer to existing international best practices." In other words, like the Seinfeld show, it's just a show about nothing because those are a lot of empty words.
There is concern the treaty might be used as some sort of springboard to restrict Americans' Second Amendment rights, but for practical purposes enforcing a treaty lacking defined compliance mechanisms or benchmarks will be utterly futile. Another international treaty will do little or nothing toward regulating the estimated $60 billion global arms trade.
Income Redistribution: Eisenhower Memorial Design to Be Scrapped?
Since 1999, advocates for a memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower have patiently waited for an acceptable design to be completed and construction to begin. Thus far taxpayers have "invested" $62 million to secure a design from architect Frank Gehry that, quite frankly, the Eisenhower family hates. Little wonder -- it's a design depicting Ike as a barefoot child rather than a grown man who served our nation. Gehry, who was selected in a closed competition, said he would be willing to make "appropriate" changes to the design, but it's doubtful the Eisenhower family will agree to anything short of starting over.
The obvious corollary question, though, is this: Where did the money go? Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) is sponsoring legislation to scrap the project altogether and not spend an additional $100 million on a boondoggle few outside the highbrow architectural community appreciate. "The simple reality is that this project and the commission, which are funded by millions of taxpayer dollars, are at a stalemate," said Bishop. But the American Institute of Architects is crying foul about Bishop's proposal, calling it "an effort to intimidate the innovative thinking for which our profession is recognized." In the end, though, good architecture satisfies both the client and the intended user; Gehry's design does neither. And our 34th president deserves better.
Warfront With Jihadistan: A Retrospective on Iraq
This week we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq. Based on results of the latest CBS News poll, relatively few outside that country now readily recall the gruesome tortures Saddam Hussein inflicted on his own people -- the plastic shredders used to shred people, the gassing of the Kurds, the ritual dismembering of would-be dissenters and countless other unspeakable atrocities. Unfortunately, the enemies of freedom haven't forgotten Hussein's methods.
Witness this week's 20 or so "anniversary bombings" in Baghdad and surrounding areas, totaling 65 deaths and scores wounded. That the murder of innocents is still used as a political weapon in Iraq demonstrates that the deep-seated depravity of the culture of thuggery is still alive and well. Had then-President George W. Bush not sent troops in to preempt another 9/11 -- or worse -- from developing, no doubt the situation would be even worse.
So, was it worth it? Was it worth so much of our blood and treasure? A CBS poll shows that 54 percent of Americans now say that "going to war with Iraq was not the right thing to do." That figure compares unfavorably to over 70 percent of Americans who backed the war when it began. Why the disconnect? For one, leftist media shills love to continually remind us that "no weapons of mass destruction were found" -- the only reason, in their mind, for the preemptive invasion -- but they ignore the basis on which the actual decision was made.
At the time, the best intelligence estimates available indicated a clear intent on Saddam's part to develop and use nuclear weapons. Further, in debates on the merits, while leftist hacks immediately try to recast the threat posed by Iraq as distinct from 9/11 or even from terrorism generally, they over-simplify the case. That Bush did not effectively communicate the rationale behind invading Iraq is an indictment of his leadership skills, not of the rationale itself, which was based on probable imminent capability and a clearly communicated intent to use it.
In any case, the Iraqi people certainly haven't regretted the "mistake." Those who remain unconvinced -- predominately, the cohort of Democrat I-was-for-the-war-before-I-was-against-it media panhandlers -- conveniently forget that this war was waged with congressional authorization, with popular national support and with the backing of over a dozen UN Security Council resolutions demanding Iraq's disarmament. They also forget that Saddam was shooting at U.S. pilots in the no-fly zone, that he attempted to assassinate a U.S. president, and that he was a state sponsor of the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign.
Just prior to the Iraq war, then-Illinois state senator Barack Hussein Obama railed against invading Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, labeling the action "rash" and "dumb." Notwithstanding the fact that Obama is an eminent authority on these terms, our guess is that had Saddam not been deposed, he would have been just one more tyrant to whom our Charlatan-in-Chief must bow. If for no other reason, we're glad the former dictator is, well, "former."
Department of Military Readiness: Obama Undermines Missile Defense
The Obama regime finally decided to beef up U.S. missile defense capabilities in the Pacific, and perhaps not a moment too soon. In a Friday afternoon news dump, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reported that the Pentagon is adding 14 more interceptors to an anti-missile base located in Alaska while also deploying a new radar for an anti-missile system in Japan. The new deployment, which ironically reverses an earlier Obama decision to freeze the Pacific system, was prompted by North Korea's progress toward building intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, its recent nuclear tests, and its promise to deliver a nuclear strike to the U.S. At least the Obama regime is moving in the right direction for once.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our European defenses. Recall that after entering office in 2009, Obama stabbed Poland and the Czech Republic in the back, canceling an anti-missile system that President George W. Bush had promised the two countries. Obama's faulty strategy was a "reset" with Russia, and to add insult to injury for our allies, he canceled the project on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. Obama's capitulation was entirely one-sided.
With his newly won post-election "flexibility," the president just handed the Russians another concession, again with nothing in return. Hagel also said last week that the U.S. is abandoning plans to place long-range interceptors in Poland, the original final stage of America's Europe-based anti-missile system. These long-range interceptors are designed to stop missiles from Iran and North Korea that are heading toward the U.S. or Europe. Instead, the plan now is to deploy shorter-range interceptors in Poland and Romania within the next five years. Russia had decried the now-canceled long-range system, contending that it would be used to counter its own ballistic missiles. Obama's concession, however, wasn't enough for the Russians. As Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov put it, "We feel no euphoria in connection with what was announced by the U.S. defense secretary, and we see no grounds for correcting our position" against missile defense systems. Of course not. But it looks like all Russia has to do is wait a little while before the Obama regime hands them another costless concession on missile defense. Obama offers quite a contrast to Ronald Reagan's announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative 30 years ago Saturday.
From the 'Non Compos Mentis' File
"As I indicated, it was quite a big explosion [at the Hawthorne, Nevada military ammunition facility]. ... [I]t's very important we continue training our military, so important. But one of the things in sequester is we cut back in training and maintenance. That's the way sequester was written. ... It's just not appropriate ... that our military can't train and do the maintenance necessary." --Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blaming the sequester for the deaths of seven Marines when a mortar round exploded during training
Obama's First Trip to Israel
A Middle East reality check this week, and not a minute too soon. Barack Obama, who spent most of his first term coddling the Islamist and advocating for the Palestinians, has reversed his position on Israeli settlements in "Palestinian territory." With Egypt and Syria melting down, and Iran threatening to level Israeli cities if Israel attempts to destroy any of Iran's nuclear bomb facilities, Obama now says that the eradication of settlements as a prerequisite to peace talks is backwards, and that a peace agreement that establishes the boundaries of a Palestinian state will solve the settlement issue.
"The core issues right now, is how do we get a sovereignty for Palestinian people and how do we assure security for Israeli people," said Obama. "That's not to say settlements are not important. It is to say that if we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved. So I don't want to put the cart before the horse. I want to make sure that we are getting to the core issues and the substance."
Clearly, Obama did want the cart before the horse until yesterday. As for peace, we have noted before that the Palestinians are considered the lowest cast of Muslims, and that no other Islamic state wanted to take them in. Additionally, the Palestinian conflict against Israel has amounted to a surrogate assault by the other Islamic states in the region. If an Israeli/Palestinian agreement is reached, then the Islamists will find a new front to keep alive their objective, which is to obliterate the Jews.
For Syria, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Another rat deserted the sinking ship of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's regime last week. General Mohammed al-Din Khalouf, believed to be the Syrian Army's head of logistics, announced his defection after arriving safely in Jordan with his wife and children. General Khalouf asserted that morale is very low among the officers still hanging on with Assad. They know they face the same fate as the loyalists who stood to the end with Moammar Gadhafi -- a rope or a bullet. Each of them must be going through a similar calculus of attempting to defect.
Assad himself is the most likely to stay to the end, although even he could escape to some safe haven and live out his remaining years. As his control over the country shrinks, his desperation will mount proportionately. At what point does Assad turn to the option of last resort -- chemical weapons? This week, the government accused Syrian rebels of using them in an attack on a town in northern Syria, while the rebels in turn blamed the government. Neither side offered proof, and claims must be met with skepticism. (Indeed, U.S. intelligence indicates that reports are false.) The rebels in particular have heard Western leaders say repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line for military intervention (Obama said it would be a "game changer"), and their motivations for alleging such atrocities are obvious.
Finally, some European governments appear to have conceded that their arms embargo on both sides of the uprising has hurt the rebels far more than the regime. Russia and Iran have spent the last year delivering all manner of arms and weapons to the regime, while the rebels still lack anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. France and the UK are leading the bloc in favor of lifting the embargo, and French President Francois Hollande has even suggested France might ignore the EU's official policy and provide arms on its own. Not all EU members are onboard, however; Germany in particular expressed reservations. Caution is definitely advisable since the "Arab Spring" hasn't exactly been about spreading Liberty.
From the Left: Perez for Labor Secretary
Barack Obama nominated Thomas Perez to be his next secretary of labor to replace the outgoing Hilda Solis. Obama's nominees are always dangerously ideological, and Perez is no different. Perez was the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, where he used his power to enforce his own twisted brand of "justice." Perez, like his boss, is an adherent of disparate-impact theory, which supposedly proves racism, prejudice and discrimination through statistics. For example, since blacks represent 13 percent of the population, they should therefore occupy 13 percent of all manner of jobs, school admissions, home loan recipients, and so on. If and when that doesn't happen, the answer is discrimination. But this theory is stereotyping on a large scale that doesn't account for societal and political realities.
Furthermore, Perez is in the midst of a congressional investigation. The backstory is that the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, suddenly decided not to defend itself before the Supreme Court in a case alleging discrimination in enforcement of the city's housing code. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), along with Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Patrick McHenry (R-NC), sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder last fall detailing Perez's involvement: "Mr. Perez fretted that a decision in the City's favor would dry up the massive mortgage lending settlements his Division was obtaining by suing banks for housing discrimination based on disparate effects rather than any proof of intent to discriminate. Accordingly, as documents reviewed by Committee staff show, he orchestrated a deal to induce the City to drop its Supreme Court challenge. In exchange for St. Paul dropping its case before the high court, the Justice Department declined to intervene in an unrelated False Claims Act (FCA) case that had the potential to return over $180 million in damages to the U.S. treasury."
Investor's Business Daily outlines other problems on Perez's résumé in the DoJ Civil Rights Division: The DoJ dropped the Black Panthers voter intimidation case, it sued Florida over the state's plan to purge 182,000 non-citizens from voter rolls, sued municipalities over affirmative action hiring for police and fire departments and sued Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his efforts to enforce federal immigration law. As IBD concludes, "Failing Perez upward to the Department of Labor -- an organization already fraught with pro-union partisanship and thuggery -- would be a disaster."
Regulatory Commissars: The Non-Denial Denial
The Keystone XL pipeline, which has been studied to death in a desperate attempt at plausible deniability by the Obama regime, may now be on the fast track to oblivion thanks to an edict from the White House. Barack Obama is now considering the expansion of the Nixon-era National Environmental Policy Act to include the potential of global climate change in approving new projects, broadening the required reviews and inviting years of legal action from deep-pocketed environmental groups. It creates a situation in which Obama could say yes to Keystone while the courts say no, allowing Obama to have it both ways.
Meanwhile, the president wants to line the pockets of "green" energy investors with more federal cash. Not content with blowing billions on ill-considered schemes like Solyndra, Ener1, Abound Solar, and A123, the president now wishes to use $2 billion in revenue from federal oil and gas leases to pay for electric car research. When Chevy Volts need thousands in federal subsidies to make them sell, it should be apparent that there's no viable market for them, but that doesn't seem to dissuade a president who knows so much that isn't so. Obama explained, "The private sector on its own will not invest in this research because it's too expensive; it's too risky." So instead of allowing the free market to work, Obama will compel taxpayer "investment" in things that are "too risky."
Second Amendment: Home Raided After Facebook Pic
The Department of Children and Families and local police descended upon the home of a New Jersey man after someone alleged that he was abusing his son. At first blush, one might applaud this "Good Samaritan" for trying to protect a child. The problem here, however, is that the concerned citizen didn't call after hearing screams coming from the house or seeing bruises on the child's arm. Instead, they took issue with the father's latest Facebook post: a picture of the boy holding a .22 rifle.
This story is very disturbing on several levels, most notably the government's willingness to raid a home, threaten to remove the children and demand to see a homeowner's firearms, all based on a snapshot of a smiling child properly holding a rifle. It's worth noting that the father is an NRA-range safety officer and a New Jersey hunter education instructor and that the child has a state hunting license and passed the hunting safety course.
But perhaps the most disturbing part of the story is that someone can make such a patently false child abuse allegation without fear of legal consequences. It's not even clear here why someone would label this as "abuse" in the first place. This boy is certainly not the first to take an interest in guns -- ask anyone who's seen A Christmas Story. The abusers aren't the ones who teach their kids about firearms; they're the ones who leave that training to inner city gangs.
Faith and Family: Marriage and Poverty
After years of dodging the issue, last week Hillary Clinton came out of the closet, announcing her support for same-sex marriage. Of course, it comes as no surprise given Hillary's obvious 2016 presidential aspirations. Clinton's announcement follows a similar announcement by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who, after years as a staunch supporter of one-man/one-woman marriage said he'd changed his mind after learning his son is homosexual. Or as USA Today's DeWayne Wickham observes, Portman "chose family and son over faith and ideology."
However, those most likely to miss out on the true benefits of marriage aren't same-sex couples at all but rather poor Americans. As University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds writes, marriage rates among lower-income Americans are "plummeting." He notes that "while people are going on and on about Wall Street and income inequality, it turns out that marriage inequality is one of the biggest things making people less equal, accounting for as much as 40% of the difference in incomes." Reynolds cites several reasons, from the diminishing stigma of single parenting to the welfare-payments-in-lieu-of-a-father mentality. But the result is that more and more lower-income Americans are eschewing the economic opportunities provided by marriage, and instead choosing lifestyles that are not only less healthy for children but also less stable financially. In short, there are numerous reasons that traditional marriage is traditional.
March Madness is upon us, the time of year when the NCAA basketball tournament takes center stage. As with everything else, however, politicians have to weigh in. Rather than submit a budget, as he's obligated by law to do each year on the first Monday in February, Barack Obama worked on his brackets. Priorities. Not to be left out, Nancy Pelosi shamelessly pandered on the floor of the House: "I don't even want anybody to lose, I'm just rooting for everybody. Especially the players. I want them all to succeed, whatever team they're on. I'm crazy -- I'm, I'm, I'm mad -- March Mad." For once, we agree with San Fran Nan. She's mad as a March Hare.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Nate Jackson for The Patriot Post Editorial Team