31 January 2009

Once Again, With Feeling: Republicans Claim To Return to Principles

We've been giving the Democrats here a hard time. As the party in charge, they are natural targets. So what have the Republicans been up to?

There's a new chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. The Republican hope to show how different they are from the Democrats by copying them. The Democrats have a black guy who claims to be a moderate, so the Republicans picked a black guy (who in the context of the Republicans) claims to be a moderate. Let me guess -- he will start talking about hope and change. I'm not sure they are going to be able to change the minds of people like the ones who made this video. Oops, here's a hit piece already.

Note that a significant minority (vote was 96-77) of RNC voters backed his opponent, Ken Blackwell, a member of white-only country clubs and who, in an interview, stated he entered politics because he resented the federal government’s forced integration of the South.

Here's another perspective: GOP: Some Old Dogs Have No Tricks. More here: RNC Hangover.

Besides, we all know who the real leader of the GOP is: Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh Cracks the Whip, and Republicans Get in Line. More here. And here. Quote: "The real leader of the Republican Party in America today is a corpulent drug addict with an AM radio talk show, Rush Limbaugh."

But what about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell? Who? Exactly.

An article from a couple of days ago had him talking "change". And about a return to Republican principles. I always find talk about a "return to principles" from Republicans amusing. First, if they were really principles, then why are they always having to return to them? Second, what principles are we talking about? Let's take a look at some planks from the Texas Republican Party. These are all from the 2008 Texas GOP platform found here:
    • We urge the Legislature to rescind no–fault divorce laws. We support Covenant Marriage.
    • We support legislation that would make it a felony to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple and for any civil official to perform a marriage ceremony for such.
    • Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.
    • We oppose the replacement of textbooks by laptops.
    • We support objective teaching and equal treatment of strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, including Intelligent Design.
    • We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state.
    • We urge that the IRS be abolished and the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution be repealed.
    • We favor abolishing property taxes.
    • We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed.
    • We believe it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that we immediately rescind our membership in, as well as all financial and military contributions to, the United Nations.
Yikes. I left out a lot, but the whole thing is pretty far gone. These proposals would represent a major upheaval in government and society, and do not have the support of a majority of Americans, or else the Republican officeholders would be talking more about them. Or would have enacted them when they had a chance.

So we have this nonsense on one hand, and on the other, the actual behavior of the Republicans while they were in office. Here's the real principles of the Republicans: corruption, fiscal irresponsibility, poor management, government expansion, poor handling of the Iraq war and foreign affairs in general, and funneling tax dollars to their supporters.

Just like the Democrats, with the main difference being the group who gets to feed at the government trough.

Don't think people don't notice: GOP decline
So the ultra-wealthy remain loyal to the Republican Party. So do hard-core fundamentalists, along with many militarists. But America as a whole has turned strongly against the GOP. Released Wednesday, a new Gallup Poll of 350,000 people concluded:
"The political landscape of the United States has clearly shifted in the Democratic direction. That dramatic turnaround is clearly an outgrowth of Americans' dissatisfaction with the way the Republicans (in particular, President George W. Bush) governed the country."
At the same time, two new polls by NBC and the Pew Research Center found that Americans now prefer the Democratic Party by huge margins, almost 2-to-1 in most regions.
Looking at their "principles" and their performance, it's no wonder.

An excellent Whig analysis of the situation from Whigs in Virginia: Steele, Limbaugh highlight GOP splinter. An excerpt:
So if the Republicans continue their freefall, Obama maintains his allure, Democrats don't destroy themselves, and outside forces such as maintream Whigs and Constitution Party theocrats gain influence among these various ends of the GOP, we may very well have the end of this party as we know it.

Bruce "Bad Things" Smith elected to NFL Hall of Fame

Bruce Smith has been elected to the NFL Hall of Fame. Story here.

But I can't think of a better representation of what Bruce Smith was as a player, than Dennis Hopper's Nike commercial.

Bad things, man.

All Power to the Bureaucrats!

On the 24th, I posted about the Stimulus Bill Section 1105 -- Bureaucrat Slush Fund which provides that any funds allocated under the bill, instead of going back to the Treasury, would be retained by the agency in question and spent as they see fit, without the need for Congressional approval or public input.

Now it is revealed that the new "Stimulus" proposal would reverse the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, once of President Clinton's real accomplishments. I wonder what else is hidden in the "Stimulus" proposal?


The very heart of the widely applauded Welfare Reform Act of 1996 is a cap on the amount of federal cash that can be sent to states each year for welfare payments.
But, thanks to the simple phrase slipped into the legislation, the new "stimulus" bill abolishes the limits on the amount of federal money for the so-called Emergency Fund, which ships welfare cash to states.

"Out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, there are appropriated such sums as are necessary for payment to the Emergency Fund," Democrats wrote in Section 2101 on Page 354 of the $819 billion bill. In other words, the only limit on welfare payments would be the Treasury itself.

"This re-establishes the welfare state and creates dependency all over the place," said one startled budget analyst after reading the line.

In addition to reopening the floodgates of dependency on federal welfare programs, the change once again deepens the dependency of state governments on the federal government.

It's a return to big-government welfare that we will choke on.

Both of these changes shift the discretion to spend to the executive, outside the control of Congress.

30 January 2009

More Money For Weed

Just a few weeks ago, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) was telling parents that they had to cut the $30 million magnet program transportation budget because they couldn't afford it in a $1.2 billion budget. The cutbacks would have severely impacted school choice options and would have damaged the district's magnet program.

But wait, HISD hands out bonuses of almost the exact amount!

And the Superintendent Saavedra gave himself a $77,000 bonus on top of his $300,000+ salary.

I guess they had the money after all. Why spend it on a proven program to ensure academic excellence when you can pad the pocket of the administrators?

HISD Superintendent Saavedra needs to be run out of town on a rail.

Headline reference here.

I Am Shocked. Shocked!

Not really.

Critics claim HPD tried to skew red-light study

The Houston Police Department tried to influence the outcome of a controversial city-commissioned study by changing how crashes at intersections with red-light cameras were counted, according to documents included in a lawsuit.

Critics say the cameras’ primary purpose is generating revenue, not reducing accidents.

Although the study found that crashes went up at red-light camera intersections, the authors speculated that was only because accidents are going up all over Houston. Collisions at the intersections they studied would have been higher, they reasoned, without the cameras, too.

They did not make that conclusion, however, in a draft report sent to the city in February. They made it only in the final version, released to the public last month, and produced no definitive data proving the underlying theory that crashes are going up in Houston.

In fact, according to HPD data cited in the lawsuit documents, accidents have declined every year since 2004.

Accidents are declining in Houston, except for the intersections where there are red light cameras. They are a scam and need to go.

The Rangel Rule

Oooohh, you know what's next....

Unless you are Treasury Secretary Geithner or Chairman of the House Ways and Mean Committee Rangel.

That was too easy.

How about the "Rangel Rule Act of 2009"? Introduced as a joke by Congressman John Carter (R-TX), the bill provides that any taxpayer who wrote “Rangel Rule” on their return when paying back taxes would be immune from penalties and interest. Thanks to TaxProf Blog for the graphic above.
I forgot a few days ago to express my amazement that Senator Byrd (D-WV) was one of two Democrats to vote against Geithner saying:
"While I believe Mr. Geithner when he expressed regret for his failure to pay these taxes, he doesn't explain why the failure happened," Byrd said. "This embarrassing ‘mistake’ occurred despite Mr. Geithner’s receiving annual and quarterly documents from the IMF and signing annual tax allowance requests that were supposed to serve as reminders about his tax obligations. He also failed to pay these taxes despite having accountants review his tax filings, and despite using software to prepare his tax returns. Had he not been nominated for Treasury Secretary, it’s doubtful that he would have ever paid these taxes.”
Here's the latest on Rangel (D-NY): Rangel, Other Reps, Party in Caribbean With Citi Funds

Six Democratic members of Congress enjoyed a Caribbean junket sponsored by Citigroup after Congress had approved the $700 billion bailout of financial services firms in October.

The ‘lead sponsor’ was Citigroup, which contributed $100,000. Citigroup was certainly aware that it would be a major recipient of bailout funds. It was also aware that its fortunes had become increasingly reliant on Congressional actions.

“Citigroup should have also been aware that corporate sponsorship of such an event was banned by House rules adopted on March 1, 2007, in response to the [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff scandal and the infamous golf trip to Scotland.”

In addition to Rangel, other members of Congress who attended were Donald Payne of New Jersey, Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and Donna Christensen, the delegate to the House from the United States Virgin Islands.

AAARRRGGGHH! What does it take?

UPDATE: Turns out that former Senator Tom Daschle, who has been nominated to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, recently paid over $100,000.00 in back taxes for failing to completely report his income over three years.

I guess its a good thing that Obama is nominating these people for positions, or otherwise these taxes would never get paid. Maybe he can keep it up, and collect enough in back taxes from nominees to put a dent in the deficit.

29 January 2009

Stimulus or Carpe Diem?

Stimulus or Carpe Diem? The New Deal Wasn't a Stimulus Package Either

Bottom line: the more that those of us who are skeptical continue to even refer to this as a "stimulus" plan, the more we play into the other side's hands. This isn't a stimulus package, it's a whole bunch of programs designed to extend the state's role in the economy and in our personal lives, and to do so at enormous cost to us, and to our children and grandchildren.

Let's challenge the rhetoric of fear and crisis and name this for what it is: the current majority's attempt to do exactly what the Bush Administration did post-9/11, which is to use fear and crisis to pass programs that will impoverish us and curtail our freedoms, and to do so with the minimum of serious debate possible.

It's like they're inside my head!

Vote 59-0 to oust Blagojevich

The Illinois Senate voted 59-0 to convict Rod Blagojevich of abuse of power, automatically ousting the second-term Democrat from the governor's office.

Story here.

Of course, Blagojevich still maintains his innocence and vows to fight on to clear his name. Yeah, good luck with that.

"Change for the people of Illinois will come when elected officials actually impose ethical reform, fiscal reform, create jobs and bring greater transparency and accountability to our government." -- Andy McKenna, the Illinois Republican Party's chairman.

House Resolution 45 takes aim at your rights

It’s that time of year again. Another House Resolution designed to further erode our 2nd amendment rights is being introduced by Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois. HR45, also called Blair Holt’s Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009, is another bill designed to make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain a firearm while doing nothing to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals.

I find it particularly repugnant that the title of the bill refers to Blair Holt. Blair Holt was a young man who was fatally shot while trying to defend some passengers on a bus from being shot by a 16 year old gang-banger. The fact that the shooter was a 16 year old gang member who could not possibly legally own a firearm does not stop Congressman Bobby Rush from using it to add an emotional aspect to the legislation. There are certainly no logical reasons for a bill like this to be passed. Perhaps if one of the passengers on the bus had been armed with a legal firearm the whole tragedy could have been averted.

This story here.

You can read the entire HR 45 Bill here.

Say, where’s the ACLU when you need them? Oh thats right. I forgot they aren't concerned with all civil liberties.

I found this while perusing the Democratic Underground, but, Say Uncle provides some great information too. More here.

My advice? Join the NRA if you haven't already. If you're already a member, send a donation to their Civil Rights Defense Fund.

Col. James Pohl is a judge I would vote for given the opportunity

A military judge Thursday refused to delay proceedings against the accused mastermind of the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole despite President Obama's call for a temporary halt to trials of suspected terrorists.

Obama ordered a 120-day delay of pending cases at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on his first day in office, requiring prosecutors to seek delays in the 14 active cases before military commissions there.

But the judge, Col. James Pohl, refused the government's request for a delay and ordered arraignment for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri to go ahead as scheduled February 9.

Obama's order to stay proceedings is meant to give his administration time to review (read: meddle in) cases before the much-criticized military commission process, which the Bush administration set up to try prisoners accused of taking part in terrorist attacks on Americans.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that Pohl's ruling won't affect the review.
"We are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case," Gibbs said.

The Office of Military Commissions, which manages the prosecutions, may have to temporarily drop charges against al-Nashiri to comply with the presidential order, said Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesman for that agency. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell discounted that possibility but said that no proceedings against al-Nashiri would be going forward. "The bottom line is, we all work for the president of the United States in this chain of command," Morrell said. "And he has signed an executive order that has made it abundantly clear that until these reviews are done, all of this is on hiatus."

Critics of the system have said that is one of the problems with the tribunals: that the courts are subject to the influence of officials up the chain of command.

The Pentagon announced in June that it would seek the death penalty against al-Nashiri. U.S. officials have characterized him as al Qaeda's former operations chief in the Arabian Peninsula.

Read the military's allegations

But al-Nashiri has said he was tortured into confessing involvement in the bombing. The CIA has admitted "waterboarding" him at a secret location in 2002, and tapes of the interrogation were destroyed in 2005.

The United States accuses al-Nashiri of terrorism, murder, attempted murder and destruction of property, among other charges.

Story here.

The suggestion that al-Nashiri was tortured by the CIA into confessing does not warrant a get-out-of-jail-free card.

28 January 2009

R.I.P. Pay As You Go

The House voted to approve stimulus spending ... who knows how much and what it's really for...

Dig 'em back up, shoot 'em and bury 'em again: PAYGO and the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990.

Remember the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act? So long ago....

Speaking of irresponsibility: Tax Refunds Now on Hold in California. So goes California, so goes the nation?

Tigerhawk blames the baby-boomer generation.

Congressional To-Do List: Panic

Politico: The case for doing nothing

Washington has a habit of passing legislation in a crisis and suffering from morning-after regrets — the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and last year’s original bank bailout plan come to mind.

The language used to make the case for stimulus is stark and gloomy — and, by all measures, pretty accurate. But there is also a caveat attached to every solution proposed: that it simply might not work.

Economists on the right and left say there is a chance, perhaps a decent one, that $1 trillion injected into a $14 trillion economy might be too little, too late to turn things around anytime soon. In fact, government stimulus plans have a long history of failure. Remember last February’s $168 billion economic stimulus package? President Bush called it “a booster shot for our economy” and promised that it was large enough to have an effect. It wasn’t, and it didn’t work.

This time around, the Do-Nothing Crowd argues that the new spending — which dwarfs last year’s effort — is probably insufficient and definitely unwise. It is largely an economic argument. But there is also a cultural dimension. Many of the Do-Nothings argue that a painful recession is the best way to destroy America’s runaway culture of irresponsibility and debt. Economic turmoil, after all, has a way of grounding Americans.

Schiff and the other Do-Nothings argue that the government should simply allow the economic chips to fall where they may. Dramatic belt-tightening across the board is the only way, they say, to stop the endless cycle of borrowing.

“Our standard of living needs to come down to the point where it can be supported by organic output,” says Schiff. “It’s brutal, but it’s called capitalism, and it works. The alternative is called socialism, and it doesn’t work.”

What To Do When All Choices Suck? Aggregate the Toxins.

So after we have already spent $700 billion to prop up the banking industry, the government is now getting around to figuring out how to remove the so-called "toxic assets" from the banking industry.

In effect, the Obama Administration is admitting that the $700 billion spent so far has been essentially wasted, and spent on a strategy that has not worked. After spending $700 billion, it's back to where we were last November. Unbelievable. Is there anyone in Washington that understands what they are doing?

So, according to the articles below, we have three options: 1. Nationalization; 2. insuring against losses; or 3. setting up a "Bad Bank" (also called an "Aggregator Bank") to acquire the "toxic assets" and dispose of them in a more-or-less orderly manner, like the Resolution Trust Corporation back in the early 90s. Of the three options, setting up a "Bad Bank" seem most favored. This is what Congress supposedly intended with the bailout, until the Bush Administration got caught up in what was basically a nationalization approach.

There's not a lot on Option Two above. It doesn't seem to be under serious consideration as it is the approach that was pursued in Britain, and is having some problems there.

First, problems with nationalization:

Inside the banks
Unless nationalisation takes place at market prices, it undermines property rights and raises the long-term cost of capital. And even if expropriation is avoided, there are difficulties. Although nationalised banks could increase the supply of credit by restoring confidence, their record at allocating it is even worse than private banks’. If the idea is state-directed lending, the banks will waste a fortune and kill enterprise. If the plan is to offer the banks a brief shelter in a storm, it looks fanciful. Large bank privatisations are unlikely for several years.
Additionally, as the government buys up more shares and assumes control, the value of the privately owned shares decreases, and may eventually plummet, causing even more problems.

Which leaves Option Three, the "Bad Bank":

U.S. wading deeper into banking industry

In his confirmation hearing last week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the White House is working on a new bank rescue plan. He was short on details, but the massive scope of the problem has prompted talk that the administration may be planning to "nationalize" a large portion of the banking industry.

In its most extreme form, nationalization would mean that the government buys (or takes) all the shares of stock and takes over operations of the company, keeping the profits. Such state ownership is typically a form of socialism; major oil producing countries, for example, have set up state-owned companies to produce and sell oil, using the proceeds to pay for government services.

Wasn’t the Troubled Asset Relief Program supposed to buy up these toxic assets to get them off the banks hands?

Instead, the Treasury gave most of the first $350 billion directly to banks in exchange for stock that pays a fixed dividend. The hope was that taxpayers eventually would get the money back and banks would start lending again. But lending has actually fallen — in part because banks are using the money to offset more losses and in part because the recession has hurt demand for loans.

On idea that seems to be gaining ground is a so-called “good bank, bad bank” scenario that would involve creating a government-run “bad bank” to take over toxic assets until the market for these investments improves, which could take years.

The "bad bank" plan has something of a precedent: In the late 1980s, when the savings and loan industry collapsed, the government set up the Resolution Trust Corp. which took over failed S&Ls and sold off their assets. The process cost about $150 billion in today’s dollars, which seems like a bargain solution compared to the current mess.

How much would that cost this time around? It depends on how you choose to define “troubled assets,” but the $700 billion TARP program would represent only a down payment. A recent report from Goldman Sachs estimates that including assets backed by mortgages, credit card debt, car loans and commercial real estate, the total could run to $5 trillion.

More here as all three options are analyzed: Treasury Weighs Hard Choices To Save Banks and additional analysis here: The spectre of nationalisation.

They Didn't Waste Any Time Getting Started

Justice in Somalia: Militants cut off thief's hand

Islamic militants have cut off the hand of a man convicted of stealing fishing nets, officials said Wednesday.

The group, al-Shabab, is imposing a strict form of Islam with punishments including lashings and stonings that have drawn fear and trepidation in this Muslim country.

In one case, the group stoned a 13-year-old girl to death for adultery even though her parents said she was a rape victim.

Al-Shabab, which is on Washington's list of terror groups, has been gaining ground as Somalia's Western-backed government crumbles.

Related post: No Justice for Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow

Bacon Explosion

All I can say is "wow."

FOR a nation seeking unity, a recipe has swept the Internet that seems to unite conservatives and liberals, gun owners and foodies, carnivores and ... well, not vegetarians and health fanatics.
Certainly not the vegetarians and health fanatics.

This recipe is the Bacon Explosion, modestly called by its inventors “the BBQ Sausage Recipe of all Recipes.” The instructions for constructing this massive torpedo-shaped amalgamation of two pounds of bacon woven through and around two pounds of sausage and slathered in barbecue sauce first appeared last month on the Web site of a team of Kansas City competition barbecuers. They say a diverse collection of well over 16,000 Web sites have linked to the recipe, celebrating, or sometimes scolding, its excessiveness. A fresh audience could be ready to discover it on Super Bowl Sunday.

USPS to cut services?

The U.S. Postal Service may be forced to eliminate a day of mail service because the economic downturn has led to plummeting volume and revenue, the postmaster general said in Senate testimony Wednesday.

Story here.

I've been saying for years that the USPS needs to be revamped. With e-mail and e-commerce taking over, the need for daily mail delivery is long gone.

Think about it. If you're sending something next day you don't use the USPS. Odds are you don't use the USPS to pay many bills. The USPS is basically for casual mail. Why not cut delivery down to 3 days a week or so and make the whole organization a model of efficiency? Think about cutting the mileage on all those mail jeeps by 30% or more. Think about how happy that would make Al Gore. Okay, never mind. Where is my Pottery Barn catalog?

Al Gore urges passing stimulus deal to aid Al Gore

Climate crusader Al Gore said, "For years our efforts to address the growing climate crisis have been undermined by........." blah, blah, blah

Spending or Investing?

From the Washington Post: Democrats Among Stimulus Skeptics
Some See Long-Term Goals Going Unmet

Republican criticism of the stimulus package that the House will vote on tonight has focused on its soaring price tag, but some Democrats on Capitol Hill and other administration supporters are voicing a separate critique: that the plan may fall short in its broader goal of transforming the American economy over the long term.

For some House Democrats, the problem is less a matter of balancing the short and long term than a shortage of focus and will on the part of the administration. Their disappointment centers on the relatively small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs. While each serves a purpose, the critics say, they add up to less than the sum of their parts, and fall far short of the transformative New Deal-like vision many of them had entertained.

The bill to be voted on today includes $30 billion for roads and bridges, $9 billion for public transit and $1 billion for inter-city rail -- less than 5 percent of the package's total spending.

Administration officials have said they did not push for more infrastructure spending because of concerns about how many projects are "shovel ready" -- a view that House members say is held most strongly by Lawrence H. Summers, Obama's chief economic adviser.

Even though most House Democrats say they will back the plan, many reject the administration's argument, saying that infrastructure projects could easily be expedited, that the economy will need additional infusions for years to come and that the real reason for shunning infrastructure was to make room for tax cuts. Obama, with a public mandate to do something big, is missing a rare opportunity to rebuild the country, they say.

"Every penny of the $825 billion is borrowed against the future of our kids and grandkids, and so the question is: What benefit are we providing them? What are we doing for the country? It's the difference between real investment that will serve the nation for 30, 50 years and tax cuts, and that's a very poor tradeoff," said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.). "I go to my district and people say, 'Yeah, I can use 10 extra bucks a week, but I would rather see more substantial investment.' We've gone through a couple bubbles that were borrowing and consumer-driven. We want a recovery that's solid and based in investment and productivity, and that points us at building things that will serve us decades to come."

Rep. John L. Mica (Fla.), the ranking Republican on the transportation committee, called the proposed infrastructure spending "almost minuscule" and expressed regret that the administration had not crafted its plan around an ambitious goal such as building high-speed rail in 11 corridors around the country, which Mica said would cost $165 billion.

I agree. We are missing an opportunity to do this right, with investments that will pay off for decades. Instead, we will spend all this money, and have little to show for it in ten years.

Obama Administration Tests New Approach to Muslim World

In his first televised interview since taking office, President Obama told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy," noting in the 17-minute interview that he has Muslim relatives and lived in Indonesia, a Muslim country. "The same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that," Obama said.

Story here.

Then again, if we had nuked Mecca seven years ago, we wouldn't have to go around kissing the Muslim world's ass like that.

That's just wrong.

Cloning and Stem Cell research no-doubt, hold valuable scientific secrets yet to be unlocked. These sciences should be studied, practiced and used. But, as always, good science gets used for something wrong.

Nina and Edgar Otto picked up their cloned yellow lab puppy at the Miami International Airport Monday night. Lancelot Encore was cloned from the DNA of the Ottos' late dog Lancelot, which died of cancer in January 2008. Guessing that pet cloning would one day be possible, the Ottos had DNA samples of their dog frozen five years ago. These idiots spent $155,000.00 on a cloned dog. That's a new Porsche. That's a decent house in some cities. And that dog died of cancer!

BioArts International created Lancelot Encore in South Korea, where he was born 10 weeks ago. The Ottos say he's the first single-birth, commercially cloned puppy in the United States.

With most things, there is a line drawn which separates what is allowable and what isn't. You can burn the American flag (not advisable in my neighborhood) but you can't shout "fire" in a crowded restaurant. You can clone a dog but not a human? Where is the line drawn? What if its a really good human? What if its a superstar athlete who gets killed in a car crash before his prime? Is it just humans or is it all bipeds? Like Justice Stewart attempting to explain obscenity in 1964, I can't define what is wrong, but I know it when I see it.

27 January 2009

Time For Some Serious Talk About The Stimulus Proposal

I've been belly-aching about bailouts of one kind or another since the lights came back on after Hurricane Ike.

These Bailouts are enormous transfers of wealth from the working and middle classes to the wealthy and connected.

Not that we have been exactly frivolous here, but faced with the looming passage of a Bailout Package of staggering size, it's time to get serious.

And time to get educated about what is happening, and what is going to happen.

What follows below is from The Economist's Free Exchange blog: This blog deserves a better class of stimulus debate, which provides the links to the posts below, and more. Check it out. These sites also have a lot of comments and discussions by people who seem to know what they are talking about. Poke around and learn. Sink some time into it, and you will surely know more than the lawmakers making these decisions. Now there's a scary thought.

There is currently a shortfall in Chinese demand for the world’s goods, not Chinese demand for the world’s bonds
Brad Setser engages Willem Buiter, who has argued that America should be far more concerned about its twin deficits than about the global downturn. Mr Buiter is very, very concerned about the external deficit, to the extent that he is advocating contractionary fiscal policy. He suggests monetary policy should be left to do the stimulating (though as Paul Krugman argues, there's not much ammo left in that gun). What he's missing, says Mr Setser, is that enormous increase in American domestic saving. Private consumption and investment are tumbling, making room for fiscal expansion. (Mr Setser also has interesting things to say on the Chinese economy; do read the whole thing).
Five Reasons Why Fiscal Policy Might Be Completely Ineffective: A Textbook Exposition
At Econbrowser, Menzie Chinn does his best to strip stimulus arguments of their ideological content and provide a textbook analysis, complete with graphs.
How economists analyze the stimulus

That is, they assume that what is true of $100 of government spending is proportionately true for $800 billion of government spending or for $100 trillion of government spending.

However, the more the government spends, the less likely it is that the additional dollars will soak up unemployed resources and the more likely it is that instead additional dollars will draw resources away from private output.

Furthermore, there probably are diminishing returns to the Galbraith effect--as you get beyond the "low-hanging fruit," the usefulness of additional government projects will decline.

Second, I think that the spending plan will pass because politicians, particularly Democrats, assume a huge Galbraith effect. They value government output much more highly than private output.

Larry Summers famously said that in order to be effective, fiscal stimulus must be "timely, targeted, and temporary."

The Democrats' plan is none of those things. Instead, it is an enormous Galbraithian transfer from the private sector to the public sector. While I can understand their enthusiasm for this transfer, I cannot share in their glee.

State Pension Fund Shortfalls

I've been reading a lot about this, it's a growing concern. Like General Motors, state and local governments have promised more in pensions than they are able to fund. And also like GM, who do you think is going to have to pony up for years of mismanagment?

The land of liabilities

A sample of 109 state pension funds lost $865 billion, about 30% of their value, between October 2007 and December 2008, according to the Centre for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College.

Some states have been more battered than others. The value of America’s biggest pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, shrank from $253 billion at the end of 2007 to $181 billion in November 2008. Trouble descended on cities as well. Philadelphia’s pension fund lost 23% of its value in 2008, according to the city’s controller.

[T]he CRR estimates that to return funding levels to those of 2007 by 2010, the rate of return on market assets would have to be 52% each year. To return to 2007’s levels by 2013, the yearly return would have to be 18%. “Taxpayers”, explains the CRR’s Alicia Munnell, “will have to ante up.” The main question is when, and how much.

Reviving the Can-Do Attitude That Made America Great

From the WSJ Opinion page: How Modern Law Makes Us Powerless

It is an excellent article, hitting a theme we have brought up here before. American was once renowned for it's can-do spirit. What happened? Only selected parts below, the entire article is worth a read.

The growth of litigation and regulation has injected a paralyzing uncertainty into everyday choices. All around us are warnings and legal risks. The modern credo is not "Yes We Can" but "No You Can't." Our sense of powerlessness is pervasive.

Those who deal with the public are the most discouraged. Most doctors say they wouldn't advise their children to go into medicine. Government service is seen as a bureaucratic morass, not a noble calling. Make a difference? You can't even show basic human kindness for fear of legal action. Teachers across America are instructed never to put an arm around a crying child.

The idea of freedom as personal power got pushed aside in recent decades by a new idea of freedom -- where the focus is on the rights of whoever might disagree. Daily life in America has been transformed. Ordinary choices -- by teachers, doctors, officials, managers, even volunteers -- are paralyzed by legal self-consciousness. Did you check the rules? Who will be responsible if there's an accident?

We have lost the idea, at every level of social life, that people can grab hold of a problem and fix it. Defensiveness has swept across the country like a cold wave. We have become a culture of rule followers, trained to frame every solution in terms of existing law or possible legal risk. The person of responsibility is replaced by the person of caution. When in doubt, don't.

The flaw, and the cure, lie in our conception of freedom. We think of freedom as political freedom. We're certainly free to live and work where we want, and to pull the lever in the ballot box. But freedom should also include the power of personal conviction and the authority to use your common sense.

The overlay of law on daily choices destroys the human instinct needed to get things done. Bureaucracy can't teach. Rules don't make things happen. Accomplishment is personal. Anyone who has felt the pride of a job well done knows this.

Reviving the can-do spirit that made America great requires a legal overhaul of historic dimension. We must scrape away decades of accumulated legal sediment and replace it with coherent legal goals and authority mechanisms, designed to affirmatively protect individual freedom in daily choices.

"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing," Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, "and as necessary in the political world as storms are in the physical . . . ." The goal is not to change our public goals. The goal is make it possible for free citizens to achieve them.

26 January 2009

Government That is as Limited as Possible and as Extensive as Necessary

One of stated goals of this blog was to try to figure out what a modern day Whig would think about the issues of the day. This was even before we became aware of the Modern Whig Party. So where are we now? A review of our posts indicates that some themes have developed.

Whigs should be for individualism, capitalism, and social reform. Social reform means policies that support social mobility, the availability of good education, and access to economic advancement and opportunity.

Looking back, here are some common themes to our posts:

Civil Liberties
Simpler, Lower Taxes
Less Bureaucracy
Open, Transparent Government
Personal Responsibility
Support for Small Business
Support for Public Education
Support for Scientific Research
Strong Military
Support for Veterans
Access to College
Lowering the Public Debt
Access to Affordable Heath Care For All
Reducing Dependence on Foreign Energy
Defense of our National Interests
Confronting Radical Islam
Improvements in Transportation and Communication

Rise of the Imperial City

Height of Power: The Washington Fiefdom Looms Larger Than Ever

But already the dukes of Wall Street and Detroit have submitted their papers to Washington for vassalage. Soon many other industries, from high-tech to agriculture and energy, will become subject to a Kremlin full of special czars. Even the most haughty boyar may have to genuflect to official orthodoxy on everything from social equity to sanctioned science.

At the same time, the notion of decentralized political power – the linchpin of federalism – is unraveling. Today, once proudly independent – even defiant – states, counties and cities sit on the verge of insolvency.

Americans may still possess what the 19th-century historian Frederick Jackson Turner described as "an antipathy to control," but lately, they seem willing to submit themselves to an unprecedented dose of it.

A financial collapse driven by unrestrained private excess – falling, ironically, on the supposedly anti-Washington Republicans' watch – seems to have transformed federal government cooking into the new comfort food.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Taxes? Taxes? Geithner Don't Need To Pay No Stinking Taxes!

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Unless you are Tim Geithner.

Timothy F. Geithner was confirmed by the Senate as Treasury secretary.

I celebrated by throwing away my 1040. When the Feds come for me, I'll just tell them I forgot.

It worked for their boss, it should work for me, right? Right?

All I ask for at this point is for the elite to be subject to the same rules as me, but I guess that is too much to ask.

Your Supreme Court, Protecting Your Rights. Right.

The Supreme Court issued opinions and orders today. Among them:
  • Ruled that a man wrongly convicted and sent to prison for 24 years cannot sue the former Los Angeles district attorney and his chief deputy for violating his civil rights. The court said unanimously that decisions of supervising prosecutors, like the actions of prosecutors at trial, are shielded from civil lawsuits.
  • Ruled that police officers have leeway to frisk a passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation even if nothing indicates the passenger has committed a crime or is about to do so.

Energy Independence

We cannot acheive full energy independence. But actions toward that goal will also bring great benefit. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I may disagree with some of how he wants to get there, but I support his goal, and agree with what he said below:

Obama Announces Plans to Achieve Energy Independence

America's dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.

Year after year, decade after decade, we've chosen delay over decisive action. Rigid ideology has overruled sound science. Special interests have overshadowed common sense. Rhetoric has not led to the hard work needed to achieve results and our leaders raise their voices each time there's a spike on gas prices, only to grow quiet when the price falls at the pump.

Now America has arrived at a crossroads. Embedded in American soil, in the wind and the sun, we have the resources to change. Our scientists, businesses and workers have the capacity to move us forward.

Islamists Take Advantage of Chaos, Advance in Somalia

Ethiopian troops have completed their departure from Somalia. What passed for a capitol for the internationally recognized government was soon looted. They are now meeting in Djibouti along with some representative of moderate Islamists. The al-Shabab radical Islamic group mentioned below are avowed supporters of al-Qaeda.

Islamists seize Somali MPs' base

Islamist insurgents from the al-Shabab group entered Baidoa from two different directions on Monday, officials say. There were reports of heavy fighting in the city.

Eyewitnesses said the militants were later seen on the streets of Baidoa, shouting "Allahu Akbar! [God is Great!]".

25 January 2009

Government Policies Help The Big, Hinder The Small

One issue I hope the Modern Whig Party adopts is help for small business. Or at least not hurt. They are getting piled upon by the two main parties, and could use some relief. All they get is lip service from the Republicans, and they don't even get that from the Democrats.

Small Business to Get Short Shrift from Obama Administration

If small businesses are the economic engine that creates jobs, builds wealth, and makes the American dream possible, then naturally our new president plans to support and rely upon them and give them everything they need to pull us out of the economic slump, right? Well, no.

Instead, American small businesses face not only tax increases on individual income, dividend income, and capital gains as the 2003 tax cuts expire, but new environmental fees and regulations, health care “pay or play” mandates, and a significant expansion of new “rights” for workers that may well include compulsory unionization. The entrepreneurs we are counting on for future economic growth have only higher expenses and reduced flexibility and opportunities to look forward to.

Still, that’s no problem because small businesses can just send their CEOs and lobbyists to Washington D.C., by private plane to pick up their bailout checks, right? No, instead they can only watch on C-SPAN as their bloated and well-connected competitors cash in their political favors.

Previous post: Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) To Ruin Small Business

Combining the Seven Deadly Sins

The post I'm linking to is old, but I just came across it today, and thought I'd share:

Seven Deadly Sins…Combined

With a handy reference chart.

Growing Weary of Fear-Mongering

I like this article, because it laments the prevalence of fear-mongering, not only about the economy, but about security, safety, and health.

Excerpt below from the Weekly Standard: This Is No Time to Panic

Have we become so fragile that we can't handle any recession? The 11 recessions since World War II are part of the "creative destruction" that ultimately drives our economy, yet today politicians act as if they can insulate us from pain with bailouts and "stimulus packages."

Even smart people like Paul Volcker say, "This crisis is different." Politicians say things like this because they're too close to the problem. They've panicked. I saw this again and again doing consumer reporting: People closest to problems often panic beyond reason.

After 9/11, people overreacted because of fear of terrorism. We federalized airport security and spent tax money on nonsense like bulletproof vests for dogs. In 1999, it was the Y2K computer technicians themselves who were most convinced that computers would freeze and planes crash. It was the bird flu specialists who were convinced that millions would die from the bird flu. Today, it's the scientists creating global warming computer models who are most insistent that we take economically destructive steps to stop climate change.

Fortunately, the bird flu doctors and global warming fanatics didn't hold the reins of government. Unfortunately, today's most frightened people do.

George W. Bush told CNN, "I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system." Why did Bush and Pelosi think they knew how to run the economy?

F.A. Hayek famously termed this the "fatal conceit"--governments can't possibly know everything that's going on in an economy, and so while government intervention may delay some economic pain, it cannot stop it.

"The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled," said Cicero in 55 B.C. He was right.

Here's the op-ed referenced in the full article: Don't Just Do Something. Stand There.
Worst of all are the political incentives that are unleashed when Washington promises to spend a trillion dollars (and counting). No one can spend such money wisely even if they want to. The information about who needs to be bailed out and who needs to fail is too complicated. Inevitably, such decisions will begin to be more about politics than economics.

Lobbyists in Texas Spend Money, Get Results

From the Houston Chronicle: Lobbyists run $12.8 million tab for lawmakers

Lobbyists have spent at least $12.8 million in the last four years wining and dining Texas lawmakers and other state workers — including thousands of dollars for trips to a Ritz-Carlton lodge in Georgia, a resort in British Columbia and the Hyatt Regency in Lake Tahoe, according to a Houston Chronicle review.

Since 2005, they have doled out more than $3.5 million directly on state senators and representatives — and another $3.8 million on lawmakers’ staffs for everything from meals and entertainment to golf excursions and other outings, Texas Ethics Commission records show.

“Legislators aren’t going to bite the hands that feed them,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of watchdog group Public Citizen of Texas. “The biggest lobbyists and the biggest industries are feeding your legislators richly every night here in Austin.”
Lawmakers have structured the rules so that most of their contacts with lobbyists are not reported. Instead, lobbyists typically only have to report aggregate totals of their spending without state officials’ names.

Lots of Republican names in the article, read the whole thing. Here's a link to Public Citizen of Texas.

Lobbyists wouldn't be spending that kind of money if they weren't getting a return.

Maybe regular citizens need to get together and hire some lobbyists to get our own politicians to listen to us.

I >Heart< Gillibrand

Like most people, I first heard of Gillibrand just in the last few days. I understand that her nickname among her Congressional peers is "Tracy Flick" as she is unpopular with her fellow congressmen.

What sounds good is that she voted against the Bailout and has introduced a bill for a balanced budget. A balanced budget supporter! Wow. I didn't think any of those were left.

Anybody unpopular with other members of congress and who supports a balanced budget is OK to me. I like her already. Better than Hillary, much better that Princess Caroline.

Gillibrand Is a Centrist With a Tenacious Style

In Washington, the new Democratic majority handed her two plum committee assignments, Agriculture and Armed Services, and she has a political portfolio not easily charted along a left-right axis. She earned a 100 percent approval rating from the National Rifle Association while also being showered with love and dollars by women’s groups like Emily’s List; she favors the English language-only movement as well as abortion rights; she voted in July 2007 to withdraw troops from Iraq and, this fall, against the Wall Street bailout bill.

In Washington, Ms. Gillibrand has made a calling card of transparency, posting a “Sunlight Report” on her Congressional Web site that lists her meetings with lobbyists as well as the names of those seeking government grants known as earmarks. Some senior colleagues, in a club where such names are often considered state secrets, complain that this tended to make them look bad.

She has supported balanced budget amendments, opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants and voted against withholding funds to prosecute the war in Iraq.
When she opposed the bailout bill, however, despite having received bushels of campaign contributions from Wall Street, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi grew angry.

Did I say like? This may blossom into something much more ...

24 January 2009

Miss America Still Around

Katie Stam of Indiana was crowned Miss America on Saturday night, fighting off a throat infection, laryngitis and 51 other contestants to win the 88-year-old pageant.

Once an American icon, the shine on Miss America's crown has been dimmed by slipping ratings and the popularity of more salacious reality shows.

The pageant was dropped from network television after the 2004 pageant drew a record low viewership. It found a home in Las Vegas after moving from its longtime location in Atlantic City, N.J., but it has struggled to get its footing on cable.

When I was a kid, this was a much bigger deal. I was unaware it was still around until my daughters found in on TV. They were fascinated. It does seem a bit out of date.

Quick, Let's Vote the Rich Some More Bailout Money

OMG! The government must do something!

Hard times hits Rolls-Royce:
Rolls-Royce, whose customers might be thought impervious to hard times, sold 29 cars in December 2007, but precisely none last month.
Heyyy -- I know -- let's take up a collection so that I can buy one. We all must do our part.

Quote of the Day

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -- Albert Einstein

Stimulus Scorecard

Federal Bailout and Stimulus Spending Over the Last Year:
  • February 2008 Stimulus Package : $168 Billion
  • Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Bailout: $200 Billion
  • Bear Sterns Bailout: $29 billion
  • AIG Bailout: $60 Billion
  • TARP Financial Bailout: $700 Billion
    Including: Auto industry bailout : $20.9 billion
    Bank of America bailout: $35 billion
    Citigroup bailout : $45 billion
  • Stimulus Plan: $825 Billion (Pending)
If past "stimulus" spending has not saved the economy, then why are we still trying the same remedy? There has to be a real reason, doesn't there?

Ta-da! Here it is: many of the recipients of federal bailout funds are also major political donors. From the Washington Times via The Volokh Conspiracy.
Many of the large American companies that received billions of taxpayer bailout dollars by pleading that they didn't have enough money to lend to customers were, at the same time, spending millions of dollars dispatching lobbyists to influence the federal government.
A Washington Times review of lobbying disclosure reports found that 18 of the top 20 recipients of federal bailout money spent a combined $12.2 million lobbying the White House, the Treasury Department, Congress and federal agencies during the last quarter of 2008.
For instance, the government bought $3.4 billion in American Express Co. stock on Jan. 9 as part of an aid package. In the last quarter of 2008, the company spent more than $1 million on federal lobbying.
Forget trying to make an honest buck, hire a lobbyist.

Stimulus Bill Section 1105 -- Bureaucrat Slush Fund

One part of the proposed Stimulus Bill is section 1105, which provides that any funds allocated under the bill, instead of going back to the Treasury, would be retained by the agency in question and spent as they see fit, without the need for Congressional approval or public input.

Which means that any money not spent can be used any way the bureaucracy likes, and too bad if you don't like their decision.

This is the open, transparent government that was promised?

Here is a link to the text of the Stimulus Bill. Section 1105 provides:
Amounts that are not needed or cannot be used for the activity for which originally obligated may be deobligated and, notwithstanding the limitation on availability specified in subsection (a), reobligated for other activities that have received funding from the same account or appropriation in this Act.
Hey, you're just a resource to be exploited. Now shut up and get back to work.

Dictators Take Heed: In a Single Generation, the Son of an African Immigrant Rose in America to Be Leader of the Free World

Newt Gingrich makes a great point here in his article, "Taking President Obama At His Word".

“We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you," is a quote taken from Obama's Inauguration speech.

Obama’s challenge is to reconcile this conservative rhetoric with his liberal allies.

Unstimulating Stimulus

The budget-busting "stimulus" bill now being rushed though Congress is seriously flawed. It is a proposal to bankrupt America, and serves little long-term purpose. It spends money for the sake of spending money.

Washington Confident It Can Forge Recovery Plan
The concern over spending centers not only on how much but how fast it can be pumped into the economy. A Congressional Budget Office analysis questioned whether the spending would course through the system quickly enough to produce the jobs that the new administration forecasts.
Despite claims on the Huffington Post, and other sites, that the Congressional Budget Office didn't actually issue an analysis, it does exist, here and here is the report alluded to in news stories.

From the NY Times' David Brooks, The First Test

There is a strong case to be made for a short, sharp stimulus package to restrain the collapse of the American economy.

There’s also a very strong case to be made for long-term government reform. America could fundamentally rethink its infrastructure policies — create a new model adapted to new modes of community-building. It could fundamentally rethink human capital policies — create a lifelong menu of learning options, from pre-K programs to service opportunities for the elderly.

But the stimulus bill emerging in the House of Representatives does neither of these things. The bill marked up Wednesday in the Appropriations Committee is a muddled mixture of short-term stimulus haste and long-term spending commitments. It is an unholy marriage that manages to combine the worst of each approach — rushed short-term planning with expensive long-term fiscal impact.

The bill has three essential failings. First, it lacks any strategic vision. This $825 billion bill has to be passed within weeks. There’s no time for fundamental rethinking or new approaches. Instead, there’s a sloppy profusion of 152 different appropriations — off-the-shelf ideas that mostly create costlier versions of the status quo.

Second, the bill has relatively modest short-term impact. Many parts don’t even pretend to be stimulus measures, like funding for basic research, or special ed programs.

Third, the spending measures in this bill have no sunset. In the middle of the Appropriations markup, the ranking member, Jerry Lewis from California, asked his chairman the crucial question: What happens when the economy recovers? Does this new spending disappear?

This is a real shame, for it demonstrates that our political class is missing an opportunity to do some good and to make some changes. I would agree that we need to invest in capital improvements in education, transportation, communications, and our communities. The public mood is in favor of this type of spending. But I fear that the powers-that-be are blowing it.

More here: This Is What Taxpayers Are Getting For TARP

What's This? You Want to Teach Science in Science Class?

The fight to teach science in science class continues in Texas.

Scientists: Board proposals undermine evolution teaching

Texas schools won’t have to teach the weaknesses of evolution theories anymore, but the State Board of Education ushered in other proposed changes Friday that some scientists say still undermine evolution instruction and subject the state to ridicule.

The new proposals came just one day after the board — in a move celebrated by many scientists — narrowly agreed to delete a provision in current curriculum standards that requires teachers to instruct students in weaknesses and strengths of evolution theory.

The “strengths and weaknesses” standard has been a staple in the curriculum for about 20 years.

On Friday, however, the board looked again at the issue and decided students should have to evaluate a variety of fossil types and assess the arguments against universal common descent, which serves as a main principle of evolution — that all organisms have a common ancestor.

The board’s effort to undermine “universal common descent” in public schools will make the state’s science standards “an object of ridicule,” said Steve Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science.

“It’s really unscientific. It promotes creationism. It says that students will be required to learn arguments against common descent or ancestral connections,” Schafersman said. “The only alternative to common descent is creationism in their minds.”

Scientists vowed to fight the plan before the board takes final action in March. New science curriculum standards will influence new science textbooks for the state’s 4.7 million public school children beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

Monument to Fallen Soldier Stolen

This hacks me off:

Thieves add to family's grief

Philip Ford confronted heartache when his 21-year-old son Cody, a U.S. Army specialist, was killed in an explosion in Iraq two years ago. Now, the grieving father is experiencing a new kind of heartache — the vandalism and desecration of his son’s grave site in the tiny Brazoria County town of Jones Creek, 60 miles south of Houston.

Some time late last week, thieves went into the Gulf Prairie Cemetery on County Road 304 and hauled away a battle cross that topped the slain soldier’s grave site — his bronzed jump boots, bronzed assault rifle and a bronzed helmet just like the one he wore in Iraq.

The thieves even stole the bronze base that supported the battle cross, authorities said.

Sheriff’s investigators are asking anyone with information about the crime or the monument’s whereabouts to call Brazoria County Crime Stoppers at 800-460-2222.

Cody Ford, a 2004 graduate of Brazosport High School, was killed Dec. 10, 2006, when his Humvee drove over an improvised explosive device. Two other soldiers, Sgt. Brennan Gibson, 26, of Tualatin, Ore., and Pfc. Shawn Murphy, 24, of Fort Bragg, N.C., also were killed in the blast. Ford was awarded a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and other medals after his death. He left a $400,000 insurance policy to his twin brother, Tanner, so he can go to medical school.

22 January 2009

Needed: More Competition, Less Protection

From Slate: America's Fear of Competition

How cronyism and rent-seeking replaced "creative destruction." (Yes, I know it's by the disgraced Eliot Spitzer, but it makes a lot of sense. Read the whole thing.)

Although everybody claims to love the market, nobody really likes the rough-and-tumble of competition that produces the essential "creative destruction" of capitalism. At bottom, this abhorrence of competition and change are the common theme that binds together the near death of the American car industry, the collapse of the credit market, the implosion of the housing market, the SEC's disastrous negligence, the Madoff Ponzi scheme, and the other economic catastrophes of recent months.

For both the SEC and the auto industry, Congress was a place to find protection from meaningful competition. Each used its bureaucratic clout to insulate itself from the pressures of capitalism. Both the SEC and GM have lacked the nimbleness to realize that the market was changing beneath their feet. Each found it easier to continue doing the same thing over and over and to reward those who made the same product, or kept the competition from marketing a better product, rather than themselves creating a better product.

Over and over, we supplied the protection from needed change that these entities desired. Then, when the going got tough, neither the SEC nor GM was up to the task. By preventing the stern taskmaster of competition from forcing adaptation, we became complicit in their becoming dinosaurs.

I would also add that laws that restrict ballot access and prevent people from running for office is a form of protectionism for the two main political parties. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are corrupt, out of touch dinosaurs.

More political competition would produce a better product.

Charter 08

A group of scholars, academic, and lovers of freedom in China published an open letter demanding reform, democracy, and human rights called Charter 08.

A copy of Charter 08 is here.

What sounds reasonable and right to you and me is dangerous in China. The brave men and women who publicly signed this demand are being rounded up by the Chinese government. Some information on those arrested is here.

Charter 08 and the legalization of words

Charter 08 is a 3,000-word statement by 300 fearless dissidents (all citizens, all resident in China) who offer to the people of China, "in a spirit of duty as responsible and constructive citizens," 19 principles of democracy that the Charter's creators believe are essential. Why? Because "the Chinese government's approach to 'modernization' has proven disastrous. It has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse.

Charter 08 boldly invokes its predecessor, Charter 77, the declaration in 1977 by Czech and Slovak dissidents, including a playwright who would become president, Vaclav Havel.

A thorough analysis and compilation of news and opinion about Charter 08 can be found here at RConversation.

From Foreign Policy: What does Charter 08 tell us about China in 09?

These Chartists are not only asking for political and civil liberties. They also want private property rights, separation of powers, a federated republic, social security, and environmental protection.

The tone of the document also makes it clear that these Chartists do not expect to achieve their goals not through a constructive dialogue. Instead, they appear to be banking on a mass social movement that forces the government in Beijing to capitulate to its demands.

Who couldn't sympathise with this passage from the Charter:
The political reality, which is plain for anyone to see, is that China has many laws but no rule of law; it has a constitution but no constitutional government. The ruling elite continues to cling to its authoritarian power and fights off any move toward political change.

The stultifying results are endemic official corruption, an undermining of the rule of law, weak human rights, decay in public ethics, crony capitalism, growing inequality between the wealthy and the poor, pillage of the natural environment as well as of the human and historical environments, and the exacerbation of a long list of social conflicts, especially, in recent times, a sharpening animosity between officials and ordinary people.

Leona Helmsley for Secretary of the Treasury

We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes. -- Leona Helmsley

I guess I'm one of the little people. Not like Tim Geithner. Or Charley Rangel.

Leona Helmsley Went to Jail. Tim Geithner Might Go to Treasury.

The Leona Helmsley Administration

No Change in Government Corruption

Excellent post : Obama's Posse o' Change . Click and meet your ruling party! Among them, Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY).

From the Congressional Quarterly: Ethics Case Knocks Against Rangel’s Tax Acumen

The ethics committee is looking into Rangel’s efforts to raise money for a public policy school to be named in his honor from a chief executive of an offshore drilling company that benefited from tax legislation handled by Ways and Means. It is also investigating the chairman’s use of his House stationery in soliciting funds for the school.

Other issues include Rangel’s failure to pay federal taxes on income from rental property in the Dominican Republic, and whether his lease of four rent-controlled apartments for his New York City residence and campaign office amounted to a gift that exceeded the $100 House gift limit.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Rangel’s use of House stationery and his failure to report rental income showed arrogance, but she added that the chairman “isn’t the first member to screw up his financial disclosure.”

Sloan said the allegation that Rangel solicited school donations from the chief executive of the offshore drilling company that later benefited from a tax break is more worrisome.

The core of this scandal is that Rangel has been in the House since 1971! Good lord, give us some fresh blood in Congress.

Serving You Peasants No Longer Pleases Us

Princess Caroline deigns to not serve in the Senate. You know.

21 January 2009

Some Pigs Are More Equal Than Others

Did you know that the nominee for Treasury, Tim Geithner, was deeply involved in the botched bailout as head of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve? From PJM: Top Ten Disturbing Aspects of Obama’s Choice of Treasury Secretary .

Also, why is this guy -- a tax cheat -- getting a pass? Because the Senators identify more with him than with you or me. You see, they wouldn't want their tax shortcuts to keep them from a cabinet position.


Treasury Pick Misfiled Using Off-the-Shelf Tax Software

Intuit, the company that makes TurboTax, released a statement yesterday, suggesting the fault was Geithner's: "TurboTax, and all software and in-person tax preparation services, base their calculations on the information users provide when completing their returns. TurboTax also has built-in, error-checking tools that routinely catch common taxpayer mistakes."

For Treasury Secretary
We still don’t have a clear picture of Mr. Geithner’s role — as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for the past five years — in the decisions to bail out Bear Stearns, the American International Group and Citigroup, or the decision to let Lehman Brothers go under.
Geithner's Tax Code
Perhaps the most embarrassing moment for Mr. Geithner was his attempt to evade the questions by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl on why he had only remedied the error on back taxes for two of the four years.

Some Helpful Advice for the New President

Found this at the Wall Street Journal, some of the ideas are good, some not so much, but it is an interesting read, go check it out.

Hopes for the Obama Presidency

This was my favorite: Rewarding Work By Edmund S. Phelps

Capitalist systems have no preset course, no predictable destination. Every government, though, seems to have a mission. We have just been through a regime of "compassionate conservatism," with its crusade to boost homeownership over renting, give free pills to the elderly, and implant democracy overseas. There was not much compassion, though, for the low skilled and those depending on fiscal responsibility for their future Social Security benefits.

I welcome the announced projects for more and better infrastructure -- roads, bridges, airports, broadband, and the electric grid. This initiative -- even if taken by every country -- will contribute a net increase to employment in the capital goods sector and to aggregate employment in the U.S.

Back When People Had Some Sense And "Treated Summarily" Meant a Rope

Here's something I found at LGF II from Dumb Looks Still Free entitled "Whatever did happen to clarity?":

Let me share something of value to everyone. I present to you the perfect prescription to the closing of Gitmo.

Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers - such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.
Straight from here:
promulgated as General Orders No. 100 by President Lincoln, 24 April 1863

Hat Tip: Birdbrain

Here's what I don't understand -- the far left was upset that the Guatanamo detainees were being held without trial. Then when the detainess were getting trials, the far left was upset about that. Then Obama halts the trials. So now the detainees are now being held without trial. Again. But now the far left is happy. Since Obama is doing it.

Hope Dies in Zimbabwe

From the BBC: Harare diary: 'Hope has died'

In town you now cannot buy anything unless you have foreign currency.

If you talk and speak your mind, you're labelled an activist - and that's it, you're gone. So that outspokenness has gone.

Related news: the Zimbabwe dollar is nearing the end of its life, as the economy switches to U.S. dollars: Zimbabwe rolls out Z$100tr note. This Z$10,000,000,000,000.00 note is worth about $30. At least for a little while.

Censorship Roundup from China and the Netherlands

Obama speech censored in China
China Central Television, the country's main broadcaster, aired the speech live with a simultaneous Chinese translation.
But when the translator got to the part where President Obama talked about facing down communism, her voice suddenly faded away.
The programme suddenly cut back to the studio, where an off-guard presenter had to quickly ask a guest a question.
Here's the video. Very clumsy.

Think that only countries like China censors? Then take a look at the Netherlands, where the right to free speech takes a back seat to the sensitivities of those in power. The Court of Appeals decision "... considers appropriate criminal prosecution for insulting Muslim worshippers because of comparisons between Islam and Nazism made by Wilders."

Islam film Dutch MP to be charged

"In a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to... draw a clear line," the court in Amsterdam said.
Mr Wilders said the judgement was an "attack on the freedom of expression".
"Participation in the public debate has become a dangerous activity. If you give your opinion, you risk being prosecuted," he said.
Not only he, but all Dutch citizens opposed to the "Islamisation" of their country would be on trial, Mr Wilders warned.
"Who will stand up for our culture if I am silenced?" he added.

This idea that free speech must yield to anyone who may be offended or get their feelings hurt by the remarks is an insidious and dangerous concept. How does this prosecution not violate Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which reads: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."?

More here: There’s one thing you can say about the Dutch political establishment: it is thoroughly immune to irony. The images of burning cars and firebombed synagogues have barely faded from the TV screens of the Netherlands. The cries of “Heil Hitler!” and “Jews to the gas!” that mingled with “Allahu akhbar!” are still echoing in the glass-strewn streets. Yet Geert Wilders — who speaks out against these barbaric forces, and proposes to halt the Islamization of his country in order to put a stop to them — is the one who is being prosecuted for “hate speech”.

Previous posts:

Freedom of Speech

Film Critical of Islam Posted Online

Obama: Friend of The Terrorists

I have been pretty quiet lately about slamming Obama, partially because I have been impressed with his somewhat moderate cabinet choices and partially because I resigned myself to give the man a decent chance to prove me wrong. Hey, we all have regrets in life.

So, on his first full day as President, he suspends the ongoing prosecution of admitted 9/11 terrorists as part of his plan to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Close Gitmo because it skirts your perception of our civil rights ideals? Okay. I don't like it, but fine. Good luck finding a place for the detainees. Maybe they can go live with Murtha's family or perhaps the Kennedy compound has room.

Release detainees you can't prove cases against? Okay. I don't like that either but I figured that would eventually happen. Again, good luck placing them.

But why suspend the prosecution of cases against known, admitted terrorists? Why go that far?

During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus so that Southerners (Americans!) could be held without charges to prevent them from acting against the Union in some way. So if it was okay to suspend habeas corpus for Americans in order to prevent them from attacking, then certainly its okay to suspend habeas corpus against foreign terrorists for whom the right doesn't exist in the first place. And we thought Obama was such a fan of Lincoln. Abe must be rolling over in his grave at this point. And what of Washington, who Obama invoked in his speech yesterday? How offensive that is now.

"The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."

I hope this is a stunt for the Hollywood types who donated millions and not an indication of our spineless future.

Its time for another Red State Update

Ya know, Jackie makes a good point.

20 January 2009

Iranian Regime All Fired Up With Hope & Change

Gateway Pundit: Iranian Regime All Fired Up With Hope & Change

Good luck with that "talking to our enemies" thing.

Law Grinding Down Common Sense and Initiative

From the Economist: Law v common sense

For nearly every problem, lawmakers and bureaucrats imagine that more detailed rules are the answer. But people need to exercise their common sense, too. Alas, the proliferation of rules is making that harder.

The relentless piling of law upon law—the federal register has 70,000 ever-changing pages—does not make for a more just society. When even the most trivial daily interactions are subject to detailed rules, individual judgment is stifled. When rule-makers seek to eliminate small risks, perverse consequences proliferate. Bureaucrats rip up climbing frames for fear that children may fall off and break a leg. So children stay indoors and get fat.

The direct costs of lawsuits are only one of the drawbacks of an over-legalistic society. Too many rules squeeze the joy out of life. Doctors who inflict dozens of unnecessary tests on patients to fend off lawsuits take less pride in their work. And although the legal system is supposed to be neutral, the scales are tilted in favour of whoever is in the wrong. Because the process is so expensive and juries are so unpredictable, blameless people often settle baseless claims to make them go away. The law is supposed to protect individuals from the state, but it often allows selfish individuals to harness the state’s power to settle private scores.

Palestinians and the Squandering of Opportunity

I agree with this guy:

In the 20 years between partition and the six-day war in 1967, the Palestinians, Egyptians and Jordanians made no effort to build a Palestinian state in Gaza or the West Bank. And in the three years since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the Palestinians have again squandered an opportunity to start building a state with bright lights, instead focusing on weapons and striking Israel.

If the Palestinians and wider Arab world decided to put the development of their own societies ahead of tearing down Israel the conflict would resolve itself quite quickly. Israel cannot be expected to cure the Arabs of this illness.