OPEC agrees to a production decrease, prices increase – but could be just right

October 11, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

At the end of September, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) surprised the markets by agreeing to a production cut. As soon as the 14-nation deal was announced, oil prices jumped more than 5 percent to some of the highest levels since the crash two years ago. (Editor’s note: Locally prices at the pump are relatively unchanged because the area was mildly affected by the Alabama pipeline break earlier in the month, so prices were just beginning to recover.)

The proposed output cap is historic and represents a shift in the “pump-at-will policy,” as Bloomberg called it, “the group adopted in 2014 at the instigation of Saudi Arabia.”

Many analysts see that the Saudi gamble, aimed at putting American producers out of business, has failed. While U.S. oil production is down from last year’s highs and bankruptcies are up, the industry has become more efficient and the cost of extracting oil from shale is continuing to come down – resulting in the sixth straight week of an increased rig count and the 15th without a decrease. Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports: “Many oil producers believe drilling in some U.S. regions can be profitable even with oil prices in their current range of $40 to $50 a barrel.”

Additionally, U.S. crude stockpiles have fallen for the fifth consecutive week – as have crude imports. American drivers are consuming more gasoline than ever. Exploration budgets, due to the low oil prices, have been slashed with the predicted result of lower production in the next few years. It appears that demand is catching up with production and prices have been creeping up since February’s lows. Phil Flynn, senior market analyst with the PRICE Futures Group explains: “While supply is still at a historically high level for this time of year, strong U.S. demand and rising U.S. exports are cutting down the glut.”

Meanwhile, the social costs of low-priced oil have been high for OPEC members – hitting Saudi Arabia especially hard. The cartel’s biggest producer has lost billions of dollars of revenue, which has resulted in a 20 percent pay cut for its ministers, reductions in financial benefits for government employees, and an increase in fees and fines, and cuts in subsidies, for all in the kingdom. Fear that the loss of the coddled lifestyle could throw the country into chaos, according to industry veteran and consultant Allen Brooks, likely convinced Saudi Arabian officials to moderate their position. The view from Bloomberg concurs: “Saudi Arabia’s willingness to do a deal, in particular, demonstrates the economic pain lower oil prices has caused producers.”

Iran, OPECs other majordomo, has, due to sanctions, gotten used to austerity and is now seeing its economic pressures easing and its oil exports increasing. It, therefore, heading into the OPEC meeting, appeared to be rejecting the Saudi output offer and dashed hopes of a compromise to cut crude production. The Financial Times quotes one Gulf OPEC delegate as saying: “All producers are hurting.”

The surprise came on Wednesday, September 28, when, after two years of failed attempts at an agreement and months of dialogue leading up to the meeting, “Saudi Arabia agreed to take on the bulk of OPEC’s proposed cuts,” wrote the WSJ. The headline from the New York Times read: “OPEC agrees to cut production, sending oil prices soaring.”

The proposed cuts are moderate in reality, only 1-2 percent of the 14-nation cartel’s 33.2 million barrels a day of production and they represent less than 1 percent of total global production. Yet, the announcement buoyed markets and added power to the previously mentioned price momentum. According to CNN Money, the agreement offers “powerful symbolism.”

While the price of oil received a bounce from the news that has given the industry cautious optimism, it is not expected to have a big impact on the price of gasoline. Oil prices are now expected to stay near $50 a barrel through the end of the year and below $60 a barrel through 2017 – which will likely mean an increase of a few cents a gallon at the pump. Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economic, in CNN Money, called the situation “a period of ‘Goldilocks’ oil prices” – low enough to help consumer spending and “high enough to keep major producers afloat.”

The slight bump in prices the proposed deal adds to the upward trend is enough to send some producers back into the oil field and encourage another burst of drilling. That increased production will have a self-leveling effect on prices. As prices go up, production increases. As more oil enters the already-glutted market, prices come down.

Additionally, the OPEC agreement is only a plan. It isn’t finalized. That could happen in Vienna in November if, and it is a big if, the members can agree on who will make the cuts, when the cuts will go into effect, how long they will last, and how they will be enforced. While all 14 countries – and non-OPEC producers such as the U.S. and Russia – will benefit from higher prices, no one wants to be the one taking the cut. Iran, Libya, and Nigeria are all trying to increase production that has been stifled due to sanctions or conflict. Plus, as WSJ reports: “OPEC has a long history of agreeing to production cuts, only to have the pact collapse when countries change their minds.” CNN Money adds: “cartel members also have a tendency to overshoot production quotas.”

So, while the OPEC announcement is “not a game-changing move that will send oil prices shooting back up towards the $100 a barrel level,” as The Guardian reported, it is big news that brightens prospects for the energy industry while keeping things just right for consumers.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

The “poor Kathy” campaign

As a Republican in Maryland, there are two things you have to account for in a statewide race: you have a smaller pool of party regulars in the voting bank when compared to the Democrat in the race and you will have less money and free media than the Democrat has at his or her disposal. These have been givens throughout the modern political era, and it’s a rare Republican who can overcome them.

But I think the idea of playing up just how low-budget a campaign is (against a well-funded Washington insider) doesn’t work well as a serious campaign ad. I’m going to share Kathy Szeliga’s ad so you can judge whether she plays this shtick (as well as the motorcycle riding angle) too much.

In truth, when I looked up the latest FEC reports (as of June 30), Van Hollen only had about a 2-to-1 cash on hand advantage on Szeliga, with $566,795 on hand. Admittedly, Van Hollen had definitely churned through a lot more money than Szeliga over the previous 15 months covered in his report, but he was also trying to fend off a well-known challenger for the Democratic nomination in Fourth District Congressman Donna Edwards.

And Kathy was determined to squeeze her nickels:

Our fundraising has been going well, but we didn’t want to waste a dime, so we shot the ad on an iPhone – saving the campaign thousands of dollars. And TV ads are expensive, so we decided to buy cable and focus on a strong social media push.

She would need more than a strong social media push, though: her 17,126 Facebook likes trail Van Hollen’s 21,333, while the margin is even worse on Twitter: Szeliga has just 2,349 followers compared to 28,780 Twitter followers for Van Hollen. (Of course, Chris has more of a national profile as a Congressman so that should be expected. As evidence, current Senator Barb Mikulski has 48,683 followers while Andy Harris has 6,281.)

But since the Democrat is afraid to debate in the hinterlands of the state (or include the third candidate in the race, Green Party candidate Margaret Flowers), perhaps the ante needs to be increased. This is what you really need to know about Chris Van Hollen: a description from his campaign website but edited for more truthfulness by this writer. Normally this would be a blockquote but I have it in normal text to make the edits (deletions struck through, additions in italics) more clear.

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Chris Van Hollen has been described as “one of those rare leaders who runs for office because he wants to DO something, not because he wants to BE something.” Yet it’s what he has done that should trouble the hardworking Marylanders he’s trying to win over.

This sentiment captures Chris’s approach to public service, an approach that he will bring to the U.S. Senate to fight – and win – for Marylanders who depend on the ever-expanding federal government to deal with on the challenges we face today.

Government-dependent Maryland families can count on Chris to be their champion – because that’s what he has been doing for over two decades. As for the rest of you, well, you are correctly described by our Presidential nominee as the “basket of deplorables“ because you don’t share my ‘progressive’ vision.

Chris was first elected to public office in 1990, when he campaigned for the Maryland House of Delegates as part of the ‘Choice Team,’ which unseated an a pro-life incumbent opposed to women’s reproductive rights. So I have spent 26 of my 57 years on this planet in public office, and as you will see later on I was groomed for this practically from birth.

In Annapolis, Chris quickly earned a reputation as a champion for progressive causes and a talented legislator who was not afraid to take on blame powerful special interests for problems we in government created – like the NRA, Big Oil, and Big Tobacco – on behalf of hardworking families. I just didn’t let on that the NRA never pulled the trigger on a murder victim in Baltimore, Big Oil makes a fraction of the profit for putting in all the work compared to the ever-increasing bonanza we take in with every gallon, and we don’t have the guts to actually ban tobacco because we need their tax (and settlement) money.

He led successful fights to make Maryland the first state to require infringe with built-in safety trigger locks on handguns, ban the prospective job creation of oil drilling around the Chesapeake Bay, and prevent tobacco companies from peddling cigarettes to our kids, taking credit even though sales to minors have been illegal for decades. Chris also negotiated an historic tax increase in funding for all Maryland schools. Just don’t ask me to increase the choices you have to educate your children by allowing that money to follow your child.

Time Magazine said Chris was “a hero to environmentalists, education groups and gun control advocates.” The Baltimore Sun called him “effective” and “tenacious” and the Washington Post dubbed him “one of the most accomplished members of the General Assembly.” If you were a special interest that depended on a continual government gravy train, I was definitely your “fair-haired boy.”

In 2002 Chris was elected to Congress on a wave of grassroots special interest support, ousting a 16-year Republican incumbent thanks in large part to some creative redistricting. There he brought the same brand of can-do activism socialist failure with him. He led the successful effort to stop big banks from reaping outrageous profits from having student loans as part of their loan portfolio - instead, we made sure Uncle Sam got that piece of the action and rigged the game so that even bankruptcy cannot save most graduates who can’t find a job to pay their loans from - and was also credited with helping Democrats win back control of the House in 2006, just in time to steer the national economy into the rocks.  He became a Democratic leader and played a key role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act perpetual annual increase in health insurance rates and deductibles, the Wall Street Reform protection law, and the Economic Recovery Act that helped rebuild our shattered economy has helped saddle us with the worst recovery from recession in the last century.

When the Republicans took over the House in 2010, Chris’s colleagues elected him to lead the battle against the Tea Party budget sanity. In that role he has been leading the fight to protect Medicare and Social Security from GOP budget attacks necessary reforms and protect vital investments in education, transportation, medical research and programs for the most needy. We have to buy those votes somehow and grease the right palms – debt is only a number anyway, right?

Chris has also unveiled a comprehensive plan to address one of the greatest challenges of our time – growing inequality in America.  His ‘Action Plan to Grow the Paychecks of All, Not Just the Wealth of a Few’  Redistribute Even More Wealth and Create More Government Dependency’ has been called a forward-looking blueprint for building an economy a government behemoth that works for everyone the ruling class inside the Beltway.

In the Senate Chris will continue to fight for against bold measures to revive the promise that every individual has the chance to climb the ladder of opportunity and lead a successful and fulfilling life. We Democrats can’t let an individual be successful on his or her own, particularly if he or she is a minority.

The son of a Baltimore native, Chris’s involvement in social justice and political action began at an early age. Chris’s mom and dad were both dedicated public servants, and growing up he saw their strong commitment to making the world a better place.  As a student, he joined efforts to end Apartheid in South Africa and stop the nuclear arms race. And while Chris put himself through law school at night, he worked as a Congressional aide and then as an advisor to Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer. So in my adult life I have never held a private-sector job or signed a paycheck. But I’m fighting for you because I am down with your struggle to balance a household budget when both parents are working multiple jobs!

Chris and his wife, Katherine, live in Kensington where they have raised their three children.

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The above is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but along the line in this campaign I am very tempted to look at some of the local races on a more issue-by-issue basis, a “compare and contrast” if you will. I have no doubt that Chris Van Hollen is well to the left of most hardworking Maryland families.

But if Kathy Szeliga is as conservative as she says, perhaps we should downplay the “Washington insider” angle a bit because that’s not going to play inside the Beltway. The latest voter registration numbers tell the tale: just between the two counties directly bordering Washington, D.C. we find 31% of all state voters. Add in the close-by counties of Charles and Howard and the number edges close to 40%. Put another way, 2 in 5 Maryland voters have some degree of connection to the seat of federal government – even if they don’t work directly for Uncle Sam, their area was built on the economic impact of the government bureaucrat.

So the real question has to be about real solutions. Van Hollen cites a lot of things he has worked on, but one has to ask if the work he has done has actually solved the problem. Intentions might be grand for putting together a political webpage, but they don’t fly in the real world.

Even if you go back to his earliest days, consider these checklist items: as a youth, Van Hollen worked to stop apartheid in South Africa and against nuclear arms proliferation. Unfortunately, the transition away from apartheid also led to the decline of South Africa as a nation – just like a number of American inner cities in the 1950s and 1960s the nation was a victim of white flight because among those who were liberated were too many who used the occasion to settle scores instead of living peacefully as may have occurred with a slower transition. And that youthful resistance against nuclear proliferation yielded to political partisanship when Van Hollen supported the Iranian nuclear agreement. Perhaps the proliferation he sought to end was only our own.

Or ponder the effects of the policies Van Hollen backed in the General Assembly. Trigger locks became required for all guns sold in Maryland, so there’s already an extra expense. And I seriously doubt the bad guys have one on their guns, so if some citizen is shot and killed because they couldn’t disengage a trigger lock in order to defend themselves, will Van Hollen apologize or believe more legislation is needed?

And like many liberal policies, Chris took the first step and his cohorts have walked them a mile. We went from banning oil drilling in the Chesapeake (which may not be economically viable anyway, but we have no way of finding out) to thwarting the state’s efforts to drill for its proven natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale region (as well as other prospective areas including Annapolis and parts of the Eastern Shore.) That cost the state hundreds of possible jobs. Meanwhile, the state of Maryland perpetuates the hypocrisy of encouraging people to stop smoking with a small portion of the taxes they rake in with every pack – a sum that “progressives” annually want to increase as one of the state’s most regressive taxes.

Nor should we forget the policies Van Hollen has supported over the last eight years. Just ask around whether your friend in conversation feels they are better off with their health coverage, or if the economy is really doing well for them. If they have student loans, ask them what they think of the price of college. In all these areas, government that considers meddling as its task has made things worse for the rest of us in Maryland.

These are the questions Kathy Szeliga should be asking, rather than joking about her low-budget campaign. The aggressor sets the rules, and to win over the voters the candidate has to define the opponent for them. My definition of Chris Van Hollen is that he’s part of the problem, so the task is to make sure voters know that before explaining the solution.

Checking the southern front

Today I went Somerset County way to check out two events, one I had planned for awhile and one I had not until yesterday morning.

So at 9:00 this morning I found myself in a restaurant called Peaky’s eating breakfast with a man who wants to be Maryland’s next Senator.

Richard Douglas alerted me to his visit a couple days ago as we have kept in occasional touch since his last run in 2012; a primary that he lost to Dan Bongino. (Douglas still believes Bongino “ran a terrific race,” but Douglas won eleven counties as well.)

In fact, in his remarks Douglas revealed that his second try for the Senate came out of “watching this Iran trainwreck,” an agreement he called “on par with the Munich Agreement” between Hitler and Neville Chamberlain in 1938. Douglas remarked that Iran wasn’t the Westernized nation they try to portray but instead their people ”want to kill Americans and British.” A Senate that approves an agreement with such a nation will tolerate anything, Richard added, noting the Senate is “such (that) it will not heal itself.”

With a significant part of his career being spent in the Senate, Douglas had knowledge of how the game worked, often picking up the volume which contains the Senate rules to make a point. He categorized his era in the Senate as being one with Republicans who had more backbone, such as his old boss Senator Jesse Helms. Regarding his time there, Douglas termed that the one of the “best moments” in the Senate was the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in 2002. Passed as a bipartisan measure, Douglas wistfully noted that the Democrats were “back on the attack” a year later. Douglas also played up his experience with the Justice Department under President Bush as well as his service in the Navy during the Cold War.

Another of Richard’s passionate subjects is Cuba, as he predicted the island nation will open up – just not under the Castro regime. He also predicted that Barack Obama would make some lame duck pardons of several American criminals seeking refuge in Cuba, particularly cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. But opening up Cuba now in the way Obama has is already costing Americans their jobs, as Douglas cited an Alabama company which will move some operations there. “The Senate let it happen,” said Douglas.

In Richard’s opinion, a good Senator needed three things: discernment, a knowledge of procedure, and backbone. “If you’re missing backbone, the other two don’t matter,” said Richard. He continued the point by saying he was willing to deny unanimous consent if he judged a bill or amendment would be bad for Maryland or for the nation at large. “Alarm bells go off” when that happens, said Douglas, and leadership doesn’t like it. Senators “hate to vote,” said Douglas, because they’re put on the record.

Unfortunately, the Senate he’s trying to enter is one that enacted the Obama agenda instead of stopping it as promised. “They’re afraid of looking obstructionist,” said Douglas, “Instead, they look weak.” He would “take issues hostage” because it only takes one Senator to stop the train and start the bargaining.

Most of what Douglas said in his remarks dealt with procedure and foreign policy, but he made sure to mention that there are thousands of voters who don’t care about that because they are struggling economically. It’s “a problem on par with national security,” said Richard, and he stressed that he wanted to work with Governor Hogan to create an economic environment more like that of South Carolina, Georgia, or Texas. In visiting minority neighborhoods, Douglas revealed that “lots of African-American voters” were ready to vote Republican, in part due to Donald Trump. But Douglas called both Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards “eminently beatable.”

There were a number of questions laid out for Douglas, with one being just how far he would take the withholding of unanimous consent when it could cost the state on another bill. That aspect was “part of the calculus,” said Richard, but he vowed to “help when I can and resist when I must.”

Regarding illegal immigration, Douglas said the current laws were fine, just not being enforced. One area of concern for Richard was work permits, and he vowed to “put American workers first again,” trying to tilt the playing field back in our favor. Related to that was the refugee issue, on which Douglas pointed out America was once the “loudest voice” for refugees until Obama destroyed our credibility.

One thing that Douglas noted with regard to the Second Amendment was that Maryland has a “gap” in their state constitution. (He was referring to Article 28: “That a well regulated Militia is the proper and natural defence of a free Government.” It does not give Marylanders the right to bear arms.) But he thought firearms should be in the hands of law-abiding citizens and they shouldn’t face hurdles such as the fee prescribed by the state to secure a handgun permit.

To sum up, while Douglas believes “a weak Senate is bad for America” and has insider knowledge, he does not consider himself an insider. His insider knowledge would be used “for the good of the state.”

I should also note that the Somerset County Republicans have a monthly straw poll and this month Ted Cruz emerged the big winner with 14 votes of 22 cast. John Kasich received 6 and Donald Trump just 2. (More on him in a few paragraphs.) If I read their chart correctly, Cruz and Trump were tied last month but now fortunes have shifted dramatically. (As a caveat, the sample fluctuates each month, I’m sure. For example, they had me as an “extra” Cruz vote this month.)

As a housekeeping note and favor to those who may wish to enjoy breakfast with the Somerset County club (it was quite good), they voted to not have their meeting May 14 because it conflicts with the state GOP convention and several Central Committee members would be absent.

Those absent people must have also planned to show up at the event I was set on attending in the first place. Not a single Somerset County voter came out to Congressional challenger Michael Smigiel’s townhall meeting held at the library in Princess Anne. As a concerned voter who honestly hasn’t made up my mind in the race, it was great to have a 40-minute or so conversation with Mike, but as a blogger it was not very good because carrying on a conversation keeps you from taking notes and I didn’t bring a recorder. So I won’t be chock full of quotes here, and you can take the lack of attendance as you will – of all the counties in the First District, Somerset has the second-smallest number of Republicans. (Kent County, the second leg of Smigiel’s town hall tour today and the last of Smigiel’s planned twelve county stops overall, is the smallest by about 300 voters – both are shy of 5,000. But Smigiel comes from neighboring Cecil County.)

I was given two new pieces of literature today. While both make their good points about Smigiel, the message on the palm card is that “Harris Sold Us Out,” with the flyer adding “Harris Promised All The Right Things And Did All The Wrong Things.” Obviously those with long memories may recall that Harris ran a similar campaign against Wayne Gilchrest to secure the GOP Congressional nomination in 2008, and Smigiel uses some of that literature on his flyer. When I asked him whether he was basing his campaign on one vote Harris took (the CRomnibus bill of 2014) he replied it was more like eight.

A couple other contentions I made regarded Harris’s role in building the party as well as his seniority in Congress. It’s no secret that several local candidates were recipients of Harris money – you can call it buying support, but I would argue that the Congressman was out to build a conservative farm team in this part of the state. Smigiel countered that Harris was also the recipient of money from Exelon, which led to a Harris vote allowing the federal government the authority to override Maryland’s demand for a water quality permit for the Conowingo Dam. Mike also intoned that Somerset residents were unhappy with Harris for a vote against Hurricane Sandy cleanup funds, which is the linchpin for Jim Ireton’s Democratic campaign.

And I didn’t even bring up the Harris votes for Speaker with the former Delegate.

Overall, I felt bad for Mike that no one else showed up. Compare this with his stop in Salisbury that Cathy Keim covered for me while I was away, which had a fair number of people.

The question for all of us regarding this race is simple: Andy Harris is not a perfect Congressman, but then it’s possible no one would be. Is Mike Smigiel running a campaign to convince voters he would be a better alternative? I really didn’t get an answer to that question within our conversation, but it will come as a judgment call for me based on something Richard Douglas said: who has the better backbone to stand up for the people and do what’s right, not just for the First District, but America as a whole?

Someone who’s not convinced me he will do what’s right for America has nevertheless secured a headquarters here.

Yes, the Trump headquarters is at 229 East Main Street here in Salisbury, the former location of a print shop. They’ll be here for less than a month, as I’m told they have the space for a 30-day period. So the question is just what they will be doing in the building and how many people will stop by (it’s not on the beaten path and downtown parking can be a challenge during the day, when you have to feed a meter.) I suspect there may be some volunteers making phone calls from there and perhaps staging a later appearance from The Donald himself locally. That would be a hoot.

But I’ll stick with the choice of the Somerset County Republicans – #TrusTED Cruz.

The call to action

By Cathy Keim

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There is going to be another Protest Planned Parenthood rally in front of the Easton Planned Parenthood facility on Saturday, October 10, 2015. Once again this will be in conjunction with over 330 protests across the nation.

Michael covered the last protest but since then several more videos have come out from the Center for Medical Progress. If you take the time to watch them, you will see Planned Parenthood staff discussing that they must be careful how they approach the issue of selling baby parts because it wouldn’t play well as a newspaper headline. They were correct on that count. More disturbing, though, is watching as they pick through the pieces of a baby to see how much it would be worth if sold to a tissue procurement firm.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life writes:

In our day, many Christians shy away from the word ‘protest,’ but there is no reason to do so. To affirm good means to reject evil. To stand up for what is right means to protest what is wrong.

When people realize the atrocities going on in Planned Parenthood, such as the harvesting of body parts, and when they have the courage to view what an aborted baby actually looks like, a voice of protest arises from inside of them: “No, this is wrong; this must stop!”

At that point, every human being is at a crossroads: we either act on that voice of protest or we silence it.

Too many times we squelch the voice of protest because it is easier, we are busy, it would be embarrassing, or we just don’t know how to go about protesting. Maybe we feel like it won’t make any difference anyways.

And with that decision another part of us dies. Carly Fiorina said at the last debate that:

I’d like to link these two issues; both are incredibly important. Iran and Planned Parenthood. One has something to do with the defense of the security of this nation. The other has something to do with the defense of the character of this nation.

You haven’t heard a plan about Iran from any politician up here, here is my plan. On day one I will make two phone calls, the first to my good friend to Bibi Netanyahu to reassure him that we will stand with the state of Israel. The second to the Supreme Leader to tell him that unless and until he opens every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections by our people, not his, we the United States of America will make it as difficult as possible to move money around the global financial system, we can do that, we don’t need anyone’s cooperation to do it. And every ally and adversary we have in the world will know that the United States of America is back in the leadership business, which is how we must stand with allies.

As regard to Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape – I dare Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.

I think Carly Fiorina correctly connects the Planned Parenthood issue as equal in importance to the Iran agreement. The horrible Iran deal weakens our physical security while the Planned Parenthood holocaust destroys our moral character.

We have become so used to millions of lives being stamped out in their mother’s womb that we are numb to the horror. It is time to shake off our slumber and rise to the call to action. For many, this first step of standing with a sign in front of an abortion provider may seem difficult, but think of the alternative which is to let your conscience die piece by piece. Once you take action, you will find that it frees you to take other steps.

The media speaks with a monolithic voice to lull you into complacency. Because they repeat the same meme over and over again, people think that everybody is in agreement on the issue.

I talk to lots of people that think that there is nothing that they can do to change things or they think that they are not brave enough to face the disapprobation of their family and friends. Give it a try and see if standing up for the defenseless is not worth the effort.

Another point that Father Frank Pavone makes is:

When you look at the organizations that help sponsor these events, you will find people and groups who pour out their time, money, and energy all year long to provide alternatives to abortion and healing after abortion. Some of the organizers are pregnancy centers and maternity homes. Abortions do not happen because of freedom of choice, but because some people feel they have no freedom and no choice. The same people who come out and protest a Planned Parenthood on a Saturday will volunteer at a pregnancy center during the week. Moreover, they reach out to provide counseling and healing to those who have had abortions. We who reject abortion do not reject those who have had abortions, but rather embrace them with mercy and forgiveness.

As I looked around at our last Protest Planned Parenthood rally, I saw people that use their time and money to help their community in many ways from supporting pregnancy centers, to helping the homeless, mentoring children, and advocating for the value of life at every stage. These are the acts of free people choosing to help others. The government would prefer that we numb ourselves with senseless entertainment while they control how everyone lives.

Join us as we protest against the evil of abortion and selling baby parts for profit. Let us stand for the defenseless.

2016 dossier: Foreign Policy

September 9, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

As I work my way up to the most important aspects of deciding on a Presidential candidate to back, I come to foreign policy which will be worth 12 points.

In doing this part, I’m going to make the assumption that, by and large, these candidates will represent a sharp turn from the disastrous direction our foreign policy has taken under our current President and (for one term) his presumptive Democratic replacement. So since these candidates will represent a sea change, I also want to know how much of a priority they place on it. This will actually make my research easier since I will do it specifically from their campaign websites, including their position papers and news they link to.

For various reasons, I’m ambivalent about certain aspects of foreign policy but I want those who oppose our nation treated as enemies and those who back us to be embraced as friends. I’m no longer convinced we can build nations as we tried to do in the Middle East but regard radical Islam as a threat which will require a Long War to neutralize and contain.

Thus, it’s time to see how they do.

Not only does Jim Gilmore have a comprehensive approach to foreign policy on the website, in all aspects save one it is spot on. My lone quibble would be the wisdom of creating a NATO-like defense pact with Middle East nations against Iraq, one which would include Israel. Aside from that, he has charted an impressive course that tops the field.

Total score for Gilmore – 11.5 of 12.

Lindsey Graham is basing his campaign on being the national security hawk, so you better believe he has a plan. Parts of it may be a difficult sell, but it’s combined with some ideas on the domestic front as well, Overall, a great effort.

Total score for Graham – 11.0 of 12.

In establishing the “Rubio Doctrine,” Marco Rubio has hit on many key points and included others, such as our relationship with Europe. But to me it may be a little too interventionist because we don’t need to be the world’s policeman and that’s how I interpret the statement. Nor do I support making Section 215 of the Patriot Act permanent. It’s why Rubio doesn’t have a higher score.

Total score for Rubio – 9.0 of 12.

Focusing more on national defense and the failures of the Obama administration, it seems that Bobby Jindal is a firm believer in the old Reagan-era “peace through strength” doctrine. Some will certainly call him a neocon, but he presents a compelling case for returning to that brand of thinking. However, he doesn’t consider the civil liberty aspect of his ideas, and that drops him slightly.

As he did on energy, though, he presents a very comprehensive plan.

Total score for Jindal – 8.4 of 12.

Jeb Bush stresses three things when it comes to foreign policy: the war on radical Islam, our friendship with Israel, and the mistake we are making in normalizing our relationship with Cuba without demanding democratic reforms first. He has a very detailed plan to address radical Islam, but it may be a tough sell to the American people because surely the Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) will be talking down those efforts.

Yet there is an elephant in the room ignored – or perhaps a bear and a dragon. Admittedly, Bush’s website is a little frustrating to navigate but I found no mention of Russia or China and how he would address those nations. Overall, though, his effort is solid.

Total score for Bush – 8.0 of 12.

Eight years ago, the thing that sank his father’s campaign with me was an unrealistic, isolationist view on foreign policy. Rand Paul is a little more flexible in that regard, and is hesitant to return to the Middle East because of it. He believes that we should not go it alone in that theater, and to that extent he is correct. I’m not as certain how he would deal with other enemies in a Cold War-style situation, though, which is why I hesitate to grade him higher.

Total score for Paul – 7.5 of 12.

Scott Walker is set against radical Islam and the Iranian deal, but I’m not as certain how he will react against others who threaten us. He seems to want to follow a Reaganesque path, but it’s worth noting that we withdrew from the Middle East under Reagan. Will Walker buckle under that pressure?

Total score for Walker – 7.0 of 12.

The conventional wisdom was that Ben Carson would be weak on foreign affairs as a political neophyte. So while he is for keeping Gitmo open, noting plainly that we should be a friend to Israel, warning about Russian aggression, and decrying the poorly thought-out Iran nuclear deal, it’s done as a broad statement rather than a detailed approach. It may be fleshed out in coming months, but for now it isn’t as strong as some others.

Total score for Carson – 6.0 of 12.

Similarly to Carson, Carly Fiorina had spoken in broad, big picture terms on her foreign policy. But she vows on day one to reassure Israel about our friendship and tell Iran that their deal is going to change to allow more surprise inspections. She’s also vowed to send a message to Vladimir Putin through various strategic moves like reinstating an Eastern European missile defense system and rebuilding the Sixth Fleet. It’s a promising start.

Total score for Fiorina – 6.0 of 12.

Chris Christie has a relatively comprehensive foreign policy vision which is global as it mentions both friends and foes. However, there are two issues that I have with it. One is the civil libertarian aspect of continuing Patriot Act provisions, which Chris avidly supports, and the other is about not treating China as an adversary. Until they stop pointing missiles at us, threatening the sovereign state of Taiwan, and manipulating currency to benefit their economy at our expense, I consider them a foe. Communism and Constitutional republics are mutually exclusive.

Total score for Christie – 5.5 of 12.

Ted Cruz seems to have his head on straight regarding foreign policy, but the information is so piecemeal I had a hard time digesting it all. A for effort, D for presentation.

Total score for Cruz – 5.0 of 12.

I have much the same problem with Rick Perry. For example, he did a major policy speech last year that was warmly received – but it’s hard to tell how he would react to newer crises. Aside from immigration, he seems more a domestic policy president.

Total score for Perry – 5.0 of 12.

With Mike Huckabee, as I read through his site I get the sense that we will have a reactive foreign policy more so than a proactive one. For example, he decreed that we should hack China back after they hacked into our computer systems. It seems to me that would be an expected move but not necessarily strategic. While he stresses Israel a lot, he seems a little simplistic so I don’t get that great of an impression.

Total score for Huckabee – 4.8 of 12.

John Kasich seems to want to tie the extent of his foreign policy to the extent of the economy, noting we can afford enhanced defense spending as we improve the economy. But I don’t really see what he would do in terms of relationships.

Total score for Kasich – 4.8 of 12.

With a foreign policy primarily focused on the Iranian deal and using Kurdish proxies to subdue ISIS, there’s a lot I’m left wondering about when it comes to George Pataki. So he doesn’t score very well.

Total points for Pataki – 4.0 of 12.

I can tell you that Rick Santorum doesn’t like the Iran deal and wants to bomb ISIS back to the 7th century. As for China, Russia, and how to pick up the pieces afterward, who knows?

Total score for Santorum – 2.0 of 12.

After doing well on immigration, Donald Trump falls again on foreign policy. There is rhetoric and there is a plan, and Trump has plenty of former and not much on the latter.

Total score for Trump – 0.0 of 12.

My next part is worth 13 points; however, I suspect scoring will be low because my view on entitlements is decidedly more libertarian than the field will likely present.

Iran and refugees

By Cathy Keim

President Obama’s deal with Iran is evoking outrage amongst the citizens of this country with a majority saying they are against the agreement. Due to the Corker-Cardin appeasement bill the Senate needs 67 votes to block the agreement rather than 67 to approve it. However, there are ways to still fight on the issue such as are outlined by Ted Cruz and Andrew McCarthy.

As I wrote back in August, Ted Cruz says that the 60 day review period has not begun because the administration did not provide all of the agreement to Congress to be voted on. Andy McCarthy picks up on this theme by stating:

Understand: It is indisputable that (a) the administration has not provided the Iran–IAEA side deal; (b) the IAEA is not up to the inspection task; (c) the Iranian regime is drastically restricting the IAEA’s access to suspect sites, even to the point of insisting that it will “self-inspect” by providing its own site samples rather than permitting IAEA physical seizures, a point on which Obama and the IAEA have remarkably acquiesced; and (d) Obama claims the Iranian regime can be trusted despite his deal’s laughably inadequate verification standards. To the contrary, the act dictates that (a) the administration must provide the side deal, (b) the IAEA must be capable of doing credible inspections; (c) the IAEA must be permitted by Iran to do credible inspections; and (d) the Iranian regime must not be trusted and will presumptively cheat.

Since the administration did not provide the secret side agreements to Congress within the 5 day period stipulated in the Corker bill, nor did it meet the other stipulations, then the Corker bill is null and void.

Jim Geraghty then advances the idea:

To stop Iran’s nukes, use our own nuclear option. Scrap the filibuster, pass a resolution declaring the Iran deal a treaty that requires Senate authorization, introduce the text of the Iran deal, and vote it down. Remember, Democrats got rid of the filibuster for nominations in 2013, arguing that GOP obstructionism was interfering with the president’s constitutional authority to make judicial appointments. The Constitution requires Senatorial consent to treaties. The administration claims the Iran deal isn’t a treaty because they think it has “become physically impossible“ to pass a treaty in the Senate.

(snip)

Between the Republican presidential candidates pledging to tear up the Iran deal on their first day in office and Congress declaring that the Iran deal is null and void because of its formal rejection by the Senate, you might create enough legal uncertainty to make some companies a little wary about jumping into bed with Iran; at the very least, they may want to wait until 2017 to see if the deal continues past that year.

Why is this important since we know that President Obama still can lift the sanctions by executive order and Congress is unable to block him? Despite his grasping at legacy issues, he is only in office for 16 more months. If he overturns the sanctions, Congress will have taken the lead in discrediting his approach and they will enable the next administration to quickly move to take control of the situation.

The only flaw in this whole discussion is that we are asking the spineless GOP leadership to actually lead. As was evident when they first passed the worthless Corker-Cardin bill, we were sold down the river by our leadership posing as being tough by putting tight requirements on the Iran bargaining. Now we are actually asking them to stand by their “tight” requirements and throw the whole thing out since this agreement clearly does not meet the requirements on multiple fronts.

There is a rally planned for tomorrow on the West Lawn of the Capital building with Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump headlining a growing list of notables against the Iran Agreement. My guess is that the turnout will be huge, but that the GOP leadership will still try to find a way to avoid blocking Obama and this pathetic deal.

Now, what does this have to do with refugees? Iran is the leading sponsor of terror and has been for many years. The Obama administration under the guidance of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry has been meddling and fomenting disasters across the Middle East and Africa. Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, etc. have all seen increases in Islamic terror, governments overthrown or destabilized, and civilians slaughtered, resulting in refugees fleeing the ensuing social and economic disruptions.

The current invasion of Europe by fleeing refugees is not just comprised of Syrians fleeing war. It also includes Africans seeking economic improvement and people from Pakistan and further east looking to improve their lot in life. The social welfare states of the European Union are a big calling card for more than just people fleeing war.

But here is another thought: ISIS and Iran can achieve their goals of world domination in more ways than just beheading people. As they create destruction and terror, people flee, but most of these people are still Muslims so they carry their religion with them.

The Syrian refugees that are being brought to the USA are not Syrian Christians who are being persecuted. The vast majority of these refugees in the pipeline for America are Muslims. Furthermore, they cannot be properly vetted to determine if they are refugees fleeing war or if they are jihadists infiltrating Europe and the USA.

One of the foundational tenants of Islam is civilizational jihad by migration. What better way to make this happen than to force Muslims to flee to other countries and to shame those receiving countries into taking more and more of the very people that are pledging death to them?

Two points here:

  1. Most of the countries in the Middle East are declining refugees and demanding that they be sent on to us.
  2. If you had the misfortune to become a refugee due to war or disaster would you rather be resettled somewhere close to your own home where you can understand the language and the culture or would you rather be transported from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Saudi Arabia? Now take the reverse of that and explain to me why we are bringing refugees here to the USA instead of relocating them someplace closer to home so that they can return when the situation resolves.

It seems clear that it is a joint effort between the terrorists and our elites to force this situation on us. Then as a final touch of unreality, our churches have been co-opted into telling us that we should be ashamed of ourselves if we do not bring as many people here as possible because we are being selfish.

Here is a helpful link to tell you how you ought to be acting. It’s an amazing bit of propaganda packaged in a cloyingly sweet Christian guilt trip. Yes, we can help the masses that are being destroyed by Iran and their minions, but not in the ways that this piece advocates.

We need for our leaders to stand up and lead rather than giving in to President Obama’s hope and change for the world.

The President, MoveOn, and Iran

August 4, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

By Cathy Keim

On Thursday night I listened in on a conference call that President Obama had with people from MoveOn, OFA, CREDO, Americans United for Progress and many more groups. The purpose of the call was for the President to solicit support for his agreement with Iran. He encouraged his supporters to get more active, get loud, get involved, and get informed to make their voices heard in Congress because the opposition (that would be me) is fierce, well financed, and relentless. He assured them that if they would counteract with facts, then the truth would win. He stated that it is rare to have something so clear in front of us, but that his bully pulpit alone is not enough.

His presentation may have thrilled his troops, but it left me amazed by his capacity to lie so fluently. He stated that this agreement is not just the best of bad options. It is a very good deal. He presented his case, but it was so weak and pitiful, with internal inconsistencies, that I was wondering how these people could possibly fall for this.

He stated flat out that the only option was this deal or war. The tired warmongers that brought us the Iraq War are back to agitate against this wonderful agreement because they only want another war.

If you have not seen the following ad, then please sit back and enjoy while Jack Black and his friends explain that the Iranians love their children, so if the warmongers in the USA would behave, there would not be any problems. (But then there is that inconsistency in the final moment when he “hopes” they love their children too, and Jack is right to question it. The Iranians sent thousands of children to their deaths as minesweepers in the Iraq-Iran War.

The president assured his callers that Iran would never get nuclear weapons under this treaty, but without it they would weaponize within six months. Do you really think that somebody that can weaponize in 6 months would decide to never pursue nuclear weapons in the future because President Obama asked them to swear off on it?

He also admits that Iran has been able to get around many of the current restrictions so that they can fund Hezbollah. That is not a problem. It just means that we need to up our game on blocking their egregious behavior concerning conventional weapons. Their misdeeds there have no bearing on their nuclear arms agreements.

He assures his audience that any infractions made by Iran will be quickly detected and sanctions will be reinstated. He does not mention that there are at least two side agreements that have not been released to Congress for review. Without having seen the documents, and there may be more that we do not know about yet, it is only guesswork on anybody’s part to know what we are signing.

Congressman Mike Pompeo (KS-04) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) put out a press release on July 17, 2015,

According to the IAEA, the Iran agreement negotiators, including the Obama administration, agreed that the IAEA and Iran would forge separate arrangements to govern the inspection of the Parchin military complex – one of the most secretive military facilities in Iran – and how Iran would satisfy the IAEA’s outstanding questions regarding past weaponization work. Both arrangements will not be vetted by any organization other than Iran and the IAEA, and will not be released even to the nations that negotiated the JCPOA. This means that the secret arrangements have not been released for public scrutiny and have not been submitted to Congress as part of its legislatively mandated review of the Iran deal.

Then on July 23, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Robert Menendez (D, NJ) asked:

“Is it true that the Iranians are going to be able to take the samples, as Senator Risch said? Because chain of custody means nothing if at the very beginning what you’re given is chosen and derived by the perpetrator.”

Kerry: “As you know, senator, that is a classified component of this that is supposed to be discussed in a classified session. We’re perfectly prepared to fully brief you in a classified session with respect to what will happen. Secretary Moniz has had his team red-team that effort and he has made some additional add-ons to where we are. But it’s part of a confidential agreement between the IAEA and Iran as to how they do it. The IAEA has said they are satisfied that they will be able to do this in a way that does not compromise their needs and that adequately gives them answers that they need. We’ve been briefed on it, and I’d be happy to brief you.”

Menendez: “My time is up. If that is true, it would be the equivalent of the fox guarding the chicken coop.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) introduced a Senate resolution emphasizing that the 60-day review of the Iran deal cannot officially begin until the side deals are provided to Congress.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 mandates that the 60-day congressional review period cannot begin until the nuclear agreement with Iran, and all related materials outlined in the Act, are transmitted to Congress,” a press release from his office notes. “President Obama has failed to provide separate side agreements and federal guidance materials to Congress, so the review period cannot have begun without the majority leader’s consent.

In closing, I will go back to the president’s most pitiful bid for legitimacy with his followers. “As a consequence, if we reject this deal we negotiated, and 90% of scientists and ambassadors (GOP and Dem), and experts in Iranian regime – if those folks (allies and friends), my Secretary of Energy is a nuclear expert from MIT – if Congress for political reasons reject this deal — we’ll find ourselves having to engage in military action or isolated from the rest of the world with no credibility to negotiate on any international agreement.” (my notes and a friend’s notes)

I almost burst out laughing on the phone call when the president of the United States interrupted his argument to build up his Secretary of Energy by saying he is a nuclear expert from MIT!!! If I doubted everything else he had told me, at least I could know that Secretary Moniz is bonafide! That was right up there with having Jack Black and Morgan Freeman use their political acumen to explain why I should trust Iran.

We are in serious trouble as a nation when this is the level of discourse applied to life and death decisions with nations that regularly vow their goal of destroying us.

Please do call your Senators and Congressman using your fierce, well financed, and relentless voice to demand that they do not vote for this very bad agreement.

The Corker bill: another major sellout by our GOP elites

April 21, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, Senator Watch, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

By Cathy Keim

The repetitive nature of our GOP leadership is wearing thin. Once again they are setting up a situation where they will pretend to try very hard to stop the very thing that they are in fact enabling.

The president is pushing hard for a terrible agreement with Iran. Senator Tom Cotton and 46 of his colleagues published an open letter to Iran explaining that the president could not bind the USA to an agreement with the consent of Congress.

Andy McCarthy presents the situation:

Thus, the Constitution mandates that no international agreement can be binding unless it achieves either of two forms of congressional endorsement: a) super-majority approval by two-thirds of the Senate (i.e., 67 aye votes), or b) enactment through the normal legislative process, meaning passage by both chambers under their burdensome rules, then signature by the president.

This put the GOP leadership in a bind. They do not want to constrain the president for unknown reasons, but they do want to appear to their constituents back home like they are trying.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senators Robert Menendez (a Democrat) and fellow Republican Lindsay Graham submitted a bill that will solve this impasse for the GOP elites.

The fact that the Democrats, including Maryland’s Ben Cardin, are jumping on board with the Corker bill is evidence that something is very wrong. As Politico notes:

The low-key Cardin engaged in a furious round of negotiations with gregarious Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, prompting something that was once viewed as almost unthinkable: a bipartisan deal for Congress to review an Iran nuclear deal — with the blessing of President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

This bill looks tough because it forces the president to submit his Iran agreement to the senate, but as McCarthy adds:

Once the deal is submitted, Congress would have 60 days (or perhaps as few as 30 days) to act. If within that period both houses of Congress failed to enact a resolution of disapproval, the agreement would be deemed legally binding — meaning that the sanctions the Iranian regime is chafing under would be lifted. As Corker, other Republican leaders, and the president well know, passage of a resolution of disapproval — even if assured in the House with its commanding Republican majority — could be blocked by the familiar, lockstep parliamentary maneuvering of just 40 Senate Democrats. More significantly, even if enacted in the Senate, the resolution would be vetoed by Obama. As with the resolutions of disapproval on debt increases, it is nearly inconceivable that Obama’s veto would be overridden.

Instead of the president needing 67 senators to approve his Iran deal, now the Senate will need 67 votes to block the deal.

What? Why would the senators subvert the Constitution, turn the process upside down, and virtually ensure that they cannot block whatever the president presents?

This is the same old story of the leadership voting yes to let the bill out of committee so that they can futilely vote no on the floor. What they could kill in committee, they willfully let advance and then make a big show of voting no to their constituents back home. The details are different, but the story is the same.

Do not be taken in by this craven show of weakness by the GOP leadership hidden by a pose of strength. We have been sold down the river once again.

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