28 February 2010

You Know, I Could Use A Tank ...

Telegraph (UK): 200 Russian tanks found abandoned in forest

The Russian army is embroiled in an embarrassing scandal after 200 of its tanks were found abandoned near a forest in central Russia, unguarded and unlocked.

"There are tanks all over the forest, abandoned," an unnamed reporter on the video says. "If you need one, come and get it."

Locals in a nearby village said the tanks had been sitting there for almost four months covered in snow. The armoured vehicles were identified as a mixture of T-80 and T-72 battle tanks, the workhorses of the Russian army.

"We were shocked," Pavel L, a local, told Russian media. "It is like you can sit behind the wheel, start up the engine and drive off and nobody would notice!"

Taxpayers Must Insist On Spending Restraint

WSJ: The Euro's Greek Tragedy, and Its Lessons for America
Nothing short of an antispending upheaval will solve the debt crises in Europe and the United States.

On both sides of the Atlantic, government spending and unfunded retirement commitments continue to hit record highs. This discourages the new private-sector investment needed to create growth and all the good things that go with it: jobs, profits, house purchases and government tax receipts. The fundamental issue is whether government financial crises—in Greece, California, New York or elsewhere—will cause government spending reforms. If not, then growth, the dollar and euro are in further peril as markets force bailouts and waves of defaults.

The Federal Reserve provides the cautionary example. It has fixed short-term interest rates on the dollar at dangerously low levels—in 2003 at 1% and in 2010 near-zero. This allows heavily indebted governments and banks to borrow cheaply at the expense of savers, the dollar and long-term price stability. It also creates harmful distortions in capital flows away from smaller businesses and more productive areas of the economy.

Central governments are moving even deeper into the guarantee/bailout business. This creates short-term stabilization, but at immense cost to long-term growth and currency stability.

The better outcome from 2010's rolling debt crises would be for the taxpayers who will foot the subsidies and loans to insist on spending restraint. Indeed, what's needed is an antispending upheaval within heavily indebted governments.

Bizarre Liquor Laws In Texas

Mother Jones: Cop Walks Into a Bar And...Arrests You. For Having a Drink.

They say everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes absurdity in law enforcement. Most states and towns have public intoxication laws that allow peace officers to pick up the drunk and disorderly. But in the Lone Star State, the nation's broadest PI law lets cops go virtually anywhere and arrest anyone for drunkenness—even if they're quietly nursing a beer in a bar.

Arrested for drinking in a bar? Sounds like the ultimate catch-22. Since 2006, when Texas overtook California as the state with the most drunk-driving fatalities, cops and a beefed-up task force from the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission have used a 1993 law as a pretext to enter any bar and arrest its patrons on the spot. The public intoxication standard, backed by the Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is so broad that you can be arrested on just a police officer's hunch, without being given a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test.

State courts have not only upheld the practice but expanded the definition of public intoxication to cover pretty much any situation, says Robert Guest, a criminal defense attorney in Dallas. "Having no standard allows the police to arrest whoever pisses them off and call it PI," he says, adding, "If you have a violent, homophobic, or just an asshole of a cop and you give him the arbitrary power to arrest anyone for PI, you can expect violent, homophobic, and asshole-ic behavior."

They Are Oh So Important

NRO: What a Fine Governing Class We Have

The common thread here is a twisted sense of entitlement; all of these folks in high office encountered circumstances where the rules and laws that the rest of us have to follow proved inconvenient, too inconvenient to interrupt the important work of these important men.

Fear Over Higher Taxes Distorting Investment Decisions

Ricardian Equivalence negating any supposed benefit from the Stimulus and higher deficits?

WSJ: The Right Way To Squirrel Money From the Taxman

The Great Tax Dodge is under way already.

The how and which of tax increases are still unclear. But there is no question about the if: Higher taxes are coming.

Fearing that tax-code changes could slam fortunes large and small, investors aren't sitting still. In the first three weeks of February, they poured twice as much money into tax-free municipal-bond funds as into all foreign-equity funds combined.

The list of potential rises is long and growing. The likeliest include increases in income and capital-gain rates. Most ominous: lawmakers may breach the wall between wages and investment income by applying Social Security or Medicare taxes to dividends, interest, capital gains, and annuities.

We have been down this road before. Two decades ago, when U.S. debt and deficit levels were on an unsustainable path, market pressures forced the governments under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to cut spending, impose budget constraints, and raise taxes.

27 February 2010

Whigs To The Rescue!

Hat tip: Having No Blog Is Your Blog

Ethics Panel Outrage: Members Of Congress Can Funnel Earmark Money To Campaign Donors

Congress stinks to high heaven. It is time to take out the trash.

Washington Post: Ethics panel clears 7 on earmarks

The House ethics committee ruled Friday that seven lawmakers who steered hundreds of millions of dollars in largely no-bid contracts to clients of a lobbying firm had not violated any rules or laws by also collecting large campaign donations from those contractors.

In a 305-page report, the ethics committee declared that lawmakers are free to raise campaign money from the very companies they are benefiting so long as the deciding factors in granting those "earmarks" are "criteria independent" of the contributions. The report served as a blunt rejection of ethics watchdogs and a different group of congressional investigators, who have contended that in some instances the connection between donations and earmarks was so close that it had to be inappropriate.

The lawmakers -- Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) and C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) -- claimed vindication.

The late John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who until his death earlier this month chaired the defense appropriations subcommittee, was also cleared. The other six lawmakers served on Murtha's panel.

In fiscal 2008 alone, the seven lawmakers sponsored $112 million worth of earmarks for clients of the PMA Group while accepting more than $350,000 in contributions from the firm's lobbyists and its clients, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.

The final word on this practice may come from the Justice Department.

Fannie Mae Wants Us To Borrow Another $15.3 Billion From The Chinese So They Can Watch It Burn

CNN Money: Fannie to U.S.: We need another $15.3 billion

Battered by the housing crisis, mortgage finance company Fannie Mae said Friday that it needs another $15.3 billion in bailout money from the federal government.

Since it was taken over by the federal government in September 2008, Fannie Mae has received $60.9 billion from the Treasury Department.

Freddie Mac reported on Wednesday a fourth-quarter loss of $7.8 billion, compared to $23.9 billion a year earlier. The company lost $21.6 billion for the year, an improvement from 2008 losses of $50.1 billion. Freddie Mac, which has received $50.7 billion in taxpayer funds, did not request any additional money.

In late December, the Treasury Department lifted a $200 billion limit on the amount it was ready to pump into each of the two mortgage firms.

And The Obvious Statement Of The Week Award Goes To ...

The Florida Tea Party, Inc., for their court filing in which they claim:

"Florida Tea Party activists, such as the Plaintiffs, are working toward reform within the Republican Party and view third party candidacies as counter-productive."

We knew it was true, but thanks for confirming it. A bunch of committed Republicans that are unhappy about being out of power.
I suspect that their interest in reforming the GOP will dissipate if the Republicans manage to win some elections.

Quote of the Day

What’s really going on, I think, is that the nature of class war has changed. The old virus has mutated. The old social and political divisions have given way to two new classes — rather as on the trains.

Those in economy are most of us, paying for the comforts of those in first class. And those in first class are the new political class — all those who owe their advancement and their security and their pensions and their privileges not to their backgrounds or their talents, or even necessarily their political parties, but to the state and our taxes. -- Minette Marrin

If You Feel This Way, Check Out The Modern Whig Party

For Me, the Party Is Over

I'm not sure if I left the Republican Party or the party left me. All I know is that I no longer feel comfortable.

The national GOP is a party of exclusion and litmus tests, dominated on social issues by the religious right, with zero discernible outreach by the national party to anyone who doesn't fit neatly within its parameters. Instead, the GOP has extended itself to its fringe...

Which is not to say I feel comfortable in the Democratic Party, either. Weeks before Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh's announcement that he will not seek reelection, I noted the centrist former governor's words to the Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib. Too many Democrats, Bayh said in that interview, are "tone-deaf" to Americans' belief that the party had "overreached rather than looking for consensus with moderates and independents."

Where political parties once existed to create coalitions and win elections, now they seek to advance strict ideological agendas. In today's terms, it's hard to imagine the GOP tent once housing such disparate figures as conservative Barry Goldwater and liberal New Yorker Jacob Javits, while John Stennis of Mississippi and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts coexisted as Democratic contemporaries.

Collegiality is nonexistent today, and any outreach across an aisle is castigated as weakness by the talking heads who constantly stir a pot of discontent. So vicious is the political climate that within two years, Sen. John McCain has gone from GOP standard-bearer to its endangered-species list. All of which leaves homeless those of us with views that don't stack up neatly in any ideological box the way we're told they should.

According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 39 percent of Americans identify themselves as independents -- compared with 32 percent who say they are Democrats and 26 percent who are self-described members of the GOP.

Most Americans Believe Federal Government A Threat To Those Rights It Was Established To Protect

CNN Poll: Majority says government a threat to citizens' rights

A majority of Americans think the federal government poses a threat to rights of Americans, according to a new national poll.

Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they think the federal government's become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. Forty-four percent of those polled disagree.

The survey indicates a partisan divide on the question: only 37 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Independents and nearly 7 in 10 Republicans say the federal government poses a threat to the rights of Americans.

According to CNN poll numbers released Sunday, Americans overwhelmingly think that the U.S. government is broken - though the public overwhelmingly holds out hope that what's broken can be fixed.

26 February 2010

We Need To End The Two Party Zero Sum Game In Congress

One of the spurious arguments against supporting a third party is the assertion that nothing would get done with 3 (or 4, or 5) political parties in Congress.

But nothing is being done now, and one of the reasons is the zero-sum game that results from only having two parties in the legislature. For example:

CS Monitor: Obama health care summit: Obama should focus on Democrats, not Republicans

The fact is that the debate over healthcare reform in Congress has been going on for nearly a year now and all sides are deeply dug in.

Before Thursday, Republicans in Congress were already nearly universally opposed to the Democrats’ legislation. And with the majority party flailing and the retaking of Congress looking increasingly possible, politically, the GOP has no reason to help Democrats enact a bill that is patently unacceptable to many in the Republican caucus.

Now imagine a scenario with multiple parties. The various parties could coalesce in different arrangements depending on the issue. Parties could cooperate on one issue, disagree on another issue, without having to bear the entire weight of public opinion of the President.

Even a casual read of the Constitution indicates that Congress was intended to be the central institution of the federal government. Congress would more properly fill its constitutional role by containing multiple parties, by causing it to be more independent of the executive.

As currently situated, Congress is either in reaction to, or overly supportive of, the executive branch. All Congressional decisions are taken in light of the position of the White House, as Congress is either controlled by the president's party, or is controlled by the opposition. Either way, the party that controls the executive controls the agenda.

Contrast our situation with the theoretical multi-party Congress. The agenda and priorities would be set by the members themselves. The support of, and the influence of, the executive on the legislature would depend on the issue, and members would look more to their constituents.

Wouldn't this hypothetical be better than our current blocked-up, overly centralized and presidential-focused system?

The argument that nothing would get done is usually predicated on the example of Italy. But in a presidential system such as ours, only one party controls the executive, and the legislative process could even function more smoothly in a multi-party environment with less hypocrisy, obstinacy and corruption. Parties that did not negotiate would soon find themselves on the outside looking in. And because we have a presidential rather than a parliamentary system, the stability of the government would not be threatened, but instead be enhanced.

Case of McDonald v. City of Chicago Seeks To Apply Second Amendment To States

USA Today: High court to define reach of gun-control laws

McDonald v. City of Chicago ... will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday and could reshape firearms regulations nationwide.

The case marks the second round of high-stakes litigation over the breadth of the Second Amendment — and will likely have wider impact nationwide than the first. In June 2008, the justices struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban and declared for the first time that the Second Amendment covers an individual right to keep and bear arms.

The new question is whether the 2008 decision also applies to cities and states, or only to laws in the federal government and its enclaves, such as Washington. It sets up another major constitutional question with ramifications for scores of mostly urban gun regulations.

Chicago defends the 1982 law that stops McDonald and other residents from keeping handguns in their homes, arguing that firearms violence is so serious that the court should not extend the 2008 landmark ruling to states.

The overriding question in the Chicago case: Does the Second Amendment grant a fundamental right comparable to, say, the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and the Fourth Amendment's shield against unreasonable searches and seizures? Or, is the Second Amendment in a class of its own because it involves a right to possess a weapon designed to kill or cause injury?

Lower U.S. courts rejected the challenge and sided with Chicago.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, stressed that the Supreme Court held more than a century ago that the Second Amendment applies only to the federal government. The appeals court said the 2008 Supreme Court ruling did not change that.

Among the groups backing McDonald and the other residents is the NRA, which won time to argue separately before the justices on the gun rights side.

Siding with Chicago are three states with populous urban centers: Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey. They contend that if McDonald wins, "nearly every firearms law will become the subject of a constitutional challenge, and even in cases where the law ultimately survives, its defense will be costly and time-consuming."

On the other side, Texas leads 38 states in saying the Second Amendment should apply beyond Washington. They note that 44 state constitutions include a right to keep and bear arms.

McDonald v. City of Chicago is shaping up to be one of the most consequential cases of the term.

The court's decision in Heller, which reinforced the popular notion in American culture of an individual right to bear arms, was decided on an ideologically split vote that has become a defining feature of the current bench under Chief Justice John Roberts.

About the time that case was argued, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll showed that nearly three out of four Americans believed the Second Amendment covered an individual right to own a firearm.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority and was joined by fellow conservatives Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Liberals John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor succeeded Souter in 2009. Earlier that year, Sotomayor, a judge on the New York-based U.S. appeals court, had been part of a three-judge panel that found the Second Amendment did not apply to the states.

Blight Is What We Say It Is

In the aftermath of the Kelo decision, governments piously claim they respect private property, while applying legal definitions so broadly as to make any self-imposed restrictions of eminent domain meaningless.

Government continues to undermine private property. What I find so disturbing is not just the complete lack of concern over property rights among local governments, but that the courts are happy to be their accomplices.

Even at my most cynical, this rank power and property grabbing, still dissapoints me. That judges identify so much more with their fellow politicians than with the citizens should no longer surprise me. I guess they want to think of themselves as the elite, just like everyone else. To paraphrase Fitzgerald, the politicians are different than you and me.

Volokh Conspiracy: Nicole Gelinas on Blight Condemnations in New York

Unfortunately, New York is far from the only state that defines blight broadly enough to justify the condemnation of almost any area.

As I discuss here and here, numerous other states have similar laws.

This enables many state legislatures to pretend that they have banned Kelo–style “economic development” condemnations even as they allow them to continue under the guise of alleviating blight.

You Should Aspire To The Life Of A Disgraced Politician

HuffPo: Kwame Kilpatrick, Disgraced Ex-Mayor Of Detroit, Living Life Of Luxury

If ever a public figure should be down for the count, it is Kwame Kilpatrick.
Stripped of his job as Detroit's mayor, locked in jail for 99 days and saddled with a felony record, he is legally prohibited from seeking the only occupation he ever wanted – elected leader. And his troubles keep coming. He may be called before a judge again for failing to make court-ordered restitution.

But if the 39-year-old Kilpatrick is a ruined man, he doesn't seem to have noticed. When he returns to Detroit for court appearances, he travels from his rented mansion outside Dallas, where he and his wife drive luxury vehicles and spend money on golf, restaurants, nail treatments and other amenities, according to government prosecutors.

"When history records him, he will be considered, in spite of whatever mistakes he made, a great mayor," said community activist Malik Shabazz, who is among the Detroit admirers who stand by him.

China And Iran: Like Joanie Loves Chachi, But With Nukes

NY Times: Despite Pressure, China Still Resists Iran Sanctions

Despite intense public and private pressure by the Obama administration, China has not yet shown any sign that it will support tougher sanctions against Iran, leaving a stubborn barrier before President Obama’s efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Diplomats from two major European allies said this week that China had refused even to “engage substantively” on the issue of sanctions, preferring to continue diplomatic efforts with Tehran. And one senior diplomat said he believed that the most likely outcome might be a decision by China to abstain from voting on a resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

“An abstention is better than a veto,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the delicacy of the matter.

Modern Whig Party Organizes More States

Update from the Modern Whig Party: Modern Whigs the anti-Tea Party?

Revived by post-9/11 veterans & rejecting strict ideology, grassroots movement of moderates continues to move forward.

As the Democrats and Republicans continue to spiral into unprecedented depths of polarization, recent events have highlighted the Tea Party movement as merely a continuation of this ideological rift. The common denominator is that moderate, non-fringe and non-ideological voters are still left without a political home. The national DC-based Modern Whig Party is aiming to become the anti-Tea Party.

The Whig Party revival began as a series of political discussions among deployed American service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. When these men and women returned home, they realized that there is a substantial need for a mainstream, non-fringe political movement that caters to individuals that are not defined by ideology but rather common sense fiscal responsibility, strong national defense and a focus on education/scientific advancement over strict social issues among other items.

"The general idea of the Tea Parties better resonated when they were only about taxes and fiscal responsibility," Western Region Coordinator Andy Trinidad said.

"But that group, like the Ds and Rs, have now become completely entrenched in the games and tactics of personal attack politics and partisan bickering. Meanwhile, Modern Whig leaders have quietly been invited to assist in Democrat-led initiatives, as well as Republican endeavors, in addition to other non-partisan government and non-profit projects. As a result, independent-minded voters are becoming more aware of what we are attempting to accomplish."

"In addition, Modern Whigs are the type of common-sense advocates that may not necessarily go out and loudly protest in front of a megaphone, but they do pay attention, they do vote, and very likely do represent the true silent majority in the country."

After yet another quiet but profound recent surge in national membership, the National Executive Committee is pleased to announce the appointments of the following state leaders:

  • Robert Withers in Virginia;
  • Carl Thompson in West Virginia;
  • Kammie Lydick in South Carolina;
  • John Chapelle in North Carolina;
  • Tim Dills in Ohio;
  • Mike Gagnon in Pennsylvania;
  • Ben Pinault in Maine;
  • Mike Bergstrom in Nevada;
  • and Mike Larsen in Iowa.

These men and woman are among numerous established state and national leaders, and have been tasked with growing modern Whig networks in their home states and promoting the Modern Whig Philosophy, an alternative method of citizen participation in governance.

"Democrats and Republicans Spend More Time Trying To Defeat Each Other Than Actually Serving The Needs Of Citizens"

Excerpt from SlavensSays.com: Third-Party FAQ

The following is a hypothetical conversation concerning third parties and their role in U.S. politics.

I get it. Third parties represent legitimate views that aren’t adequately represented by either of the two major parties. But, obviously, Americans aren’t interested in third parties. We vote either Republican or Democrat, and that’s why those are the two major parties.

Not exactly. There was a time (long ago) when the average man could run for office, as a member of any party, or none at all, and still stand a chance of winning. Especially at the local level.

But Republicans and Democrats began to work together (for once) to restrict ballot access. Now, if any other party wants to appear on a ballot, it must collect thousands of signatures per state. The same goes for individual candidates. They spend so much time trying to get on the ballot that they hardly have a chance to get their message out to voters. Depending on the state, they must repeat this tiring, time-consuming process for each election, over and over!

Republicans and Democrats are not major parties because Americans want them to be, necessarily. They are in their present positions because they worked together to get there, and work together to keep themselves there. If one party could pass a law to make itself the only major party, it would, but since that is impossible, the two are bipartisan in their opposition to ballot access reform while they bicker about everything else.

Even if we were to enact fair ballot access laws, and all political parties were equal, it would be bad for the country. We can hardly get anything done with two parties, let alone three, five, or more!

The two major parties are the cause of partisan gridlock; it could not possibly be worse if there were three or five major parties, particularly if each was similar in size and influence.

Imagine a political process free of today’s chains of “right” and “left;” in which several competing ideologies would be forced to work together and make compromises. There would no longer be two sides, with each calling itself “right” and the other “wrong”. There would be several sides, each of which might share common ground with other parties. Rather than looking at issues in black and white (or red and blue), the political spectrum would include a potentially unlimited number of colors.

Well, if everyone would start voting for third-party candidates, so would I.

Conformity for its own sake is sickening, and an obstacle to progress. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Parties spend more time trying to defeat each other than actually serving the needs of citizens; American politics has become a business, closed to the average working man. Today, the Democrats are in power. Make no mistake; Republicans will eventually replace them. Only to be replaced again by Democrats. The cycle goes on and on, while our nation suffers.

Break the cycle. Become educated about third parties and individual candidates. Make ballot access a priority; praise representatives who support it, and harshly criticize those who don’t. It takes many to bring about change, but if you don’t take the first step, why should anyone else?

Hat tip: Poli-Tea

Corporations Buy Access

NY Times: For Donors to Governors’ Associations, Cash Buys a Seat at the Table

Operating outside the laws that block federal candidates and party committees from taking money from unions or businesses, the Democratic governors’ group — and its Republican counterpart — are case studies in corporate political fund-raising. The two associations brought in a total of more than $100 million over the last two years, and each started this year with more cash than its national party.

Both the Republican and the Democratic groups essentially sell access to governors and their staffs as part of corporate “membership” packages. Both often remind donors that state executives also exert influence in Washington, partly through their decisive role in redrawing Congressional districts.

At the moment, though, the Democrats’ efforts are more noteworthy. Their governors have overcome the national party’s antibusiness image to pull closer to the Republicans in corporate fund-raising. And the governors’ association’s eager courtship of corporate money is at odds with warnings from Congressional Democrats in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that such spending is a threat to democracy.

Quote of the Day

It's easy being vice president — you don't have to do anything. -- Vice President Joe Biden

Rangel Broke Rules, Blames And Fires Aide

Two observations: (1) he blames and fires some aide? What a sorry sack of crap. Hey, Rangel, take some responsibility and don't blame some aide; and (2) the real issue here is that he has been in the House for 40 years. 40 years! Term limits, please.

msnbc: Ethics panel says Rangel broke House rules

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the most powerful tax-writing lawmaker in Congress and a 40-year veteran of Capitol Hill, acknowledged Thursday that an ethics panel has accused him of accepting Caribbean trips from a corporation in violation of House rules.

Rangel called the findings "disturbing and said a staff members he blamed for the mistakes has been fired.

The finding is certain to jeopardize Rangel's chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. The tax-writing committee will take a lead as Congress determines the fate of former President George W. Bush's expiring tax cuts.

Rangel's ethics troubles also present an election-year dilemma for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led a Democratic takeover of the House in 2006 on a campaign promise to end a "culture of corruption" in the GOP-led Congress.

Poll Show Americans Fed Up With Everyone On Healthcare

CBS: Americans Running Out of Patience on Health Care, Polls Show

The poll, taken before the president unveiled his health care proposal earlier this week, gives the president his lowest marks on handling health care to date. Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans say he has spent too much time on the issue, and increased economic concerns have led to a majority (53 percent) that now say the U.S. cannot afford to fix health care at this time.

55 percent now disapprove of his job on the issue, while only 35 percent approve.

While Mr. Obama's ratings on health care are low, a CBS News Poll conducted last month found that the approval ratings of Congressional Democrats and Republicans on the issue are even lower, just 29 percent and 24 percent respectively.

This dismal performance of Congress on health care may explain why the president isn't the only one being blamed for the stalled health care legislation.

Fifty-six percent think the president and Congress are equally responsible for the difficulties in passing health care reform, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times Poll. Another 37 percent solely blame Congress.

New Houston Mayor Bails On Campaign Promise To Screen For Illegal Immigrants In City Jails

Houston Chronicle: Cost sidelines Parker promise to use ICE initiative at city jail

Mayor Annise Parker has shelved a campaign promise to use a controversial federal program to screen for illegal immigrants in local jails, saying the city has not yet decided to fund the initiative amid a tight budget year.

Instead, she said, the city is focused on a less costly program that automatically checks the immigration history of all suspects booked into the city's jails. That program, dubbed Secure Communities, was launched by the former mayor and has been up and running since December.

Parker said on the campaign trail that she favored having the city participate in both Immigration and Customs Enforcement programs, and pledged to dedicate city funds if necessary.

But so far her administration has not taken any steps toward signing up for 287(g), which trains jailers to act as immigration agents. Former Police Chief Harold Hurtt estimated that having the city participate in that program would cost as much as $2 million annually.

25 February 2010

Hypocritical Republican Politicians? In Washington?

They voted against the stimulus before they vote for it ...

The Hill: House GOP: No hypocrisy in seeking stimulus dollars after voting against bill

Amid mounting criticism, House Republicans said this week it is not hypocritical to vote against the stimulus and later seek money from it for their districts.

After standing united in opposition to the president’s economic stimulus bill a little more than a year ago, many Republicans have touted the benefits of that measure back in their districts, according to a comprehensive list compiled by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Citing the stimulus and other measures, the DCCC claims that 91 House Republicans are talking out of both sides of their mouths.

In recent days, former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) have echoed the DCCC claims.

[A] House Republican requesting anonymity said taking credit for projects that members rejected poses a slippery slope ...

Money, Money, Money

Politico: Lawmakers squirrel away cash

... 80 lawmakers — 57 Democrats and 23 Republicans — ... have stashed away more than $1 million in campaign contributions. And for most of the deep-pocketed incumbents, their only worry come November is not whether they lose their own seats but whether the House changes hands.

They’re the most obvious and best source for contributions to the party committees in a tough election year because there are no limits on the amount of money they can transfer from their campaign accounts to the party.

Each party committee creates a dues schedule that sets a target fundraising goal for each member. In lieu of paying dues directly, members can get donors to write checks to the party committees to apply toward their goal.

But even when members pay their dues, party committees often want more.

Worst Congress Ever?

Rasmussen: Congressional Performance
71% Give Congress Poor Rating

Voter unhappiness with Congress has reached the highest level ever recorded by Rasmussen Reports as 71% now say the legislature is doing a poor job.

That’s up ten points from the previous high of 61% reached a month ago.

Only 10% of voters say Congress is doing a good or excellent job.

Nearly half of Democratic voters (48%) now give Congress a poor rating, up 17 points since January. The vast majority of Republicans and voters not affiliated with either party also give Congress poor ratings.

Long Term Trends Point To Opportunity For New Party

Thanks to d.eris of Poli-Tea for calling my attention to the following article.

Excerpts below. The entire article is long, but excellent, so go read the whole thing. AEI: The Way of the Whigs?

I see the current state of affairs as an intensification, perhaps even a culmination, of four interrelated 25-year political trends: a growing distrust of conservative and liberal ideologies, a growing movement away from the two parties and toward political independence, increases in the racial-minority (which usually means Democratic-voting) share of the population, and a growing inability of the Republican party to bridge the gap between its populist and elite wings.

Together, these trends raise the specter of a serious independent, populist presidential candidacy for the first time in a century. And if the GOP doesn't adapt to the shifting political terrain, there is even a remote possibility that the identity of America's two dominant parties will change for the first time since the 1850s, which saw the death of the Whigs and birth of the Republicans.

Consider the first trend, a retreat from ideology. Despite the party polarization in Congress, it's clear from polls and election results that the public has been seeking a middle ground for quite some time. ... While self-described conservatives do significantly outnumber self-described liberals, the largest group during the modern political era has always been self-described moderates.

This trend toward pragmatic centrism can perhaps be most clearly seen in the rise of something that is now almost commonplace, the independent campaign for governor or president.

The political stasis that characterized the 1992-2008 period, an era that Michael Barone famously called "50-50 nation," was in fact not 50-50 but a roughly equal three-way split between a liberal Democratic base, a conservative Republican base, and an independent third group that switched or divided its allegiance depending on which party seemed responsive to its concerns.

Republicans who see the party's underlying weakness and want to address it, however, must also address our last two trends, both of which are harmful to the GOP. The first is America's changing demography ...

That brings us to our fourth trend: the growing rift between the two major wings of the party, the populists and the elite.

If both of today's parties continue their missteps, however, it is not at all inconceivable that a serious third-party presidential candidate could arise. In this scenario, by early 2012 independents would make up a record-high 40 percent or more of the electorate. President Obama would be discredited, blamed for governing from the left and failing to improve the economy while saddling our nation with previously incomprehensible deficits. The GOP would be viewed as the party of incompetence and narrow-mindedness, simultaneously alienating elites and populists. It's easy to envision the rallying cry for this candidate: "Republicans are for the rich, Democrats are for the government, I'm for you."

One should not overestimate the odds of such a candidate's success. Independent campaigns must spend many months and millions of dollars simply qualifying for the ballot in 50 states. They lack the fundraising and volunteer infrastructures that a major party can provide, and without a primary campaign or any presence in the White House or Congress, they must fight extremely hard to receive the free media coverage that major-party campaigns command. But in a scenario where both major parties are discredited and the electorate is looking for a third way, one would be foolish to dismiss the possibility of an independent win.

It is not inconceivable that a new party arising to combat Obama's deficits could be as diverse as the original Republicans, including immigrants and anti-illegal-immigration activists, social conservatives and agnostic professionals, populist Blue Dogs and traditional Republicans.

Whether this coalition would be gathered under a new party founded by an independent president seeking a congressional base, or would be merely a reborn Republican party, is one of the political questions that would face GOP leaders.

Odd To Think That I Am In That Unemployment Statistic Somewhere

Every week the reports say the rise in unemployment is "unexpected." Who are these people that never expect it? I expected it. Do they believe the press releases from the White House as gospel and are then shocked every week? (It's like the Monty Python sketch, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!")

Blaming the rise on snow? I can't blame the snow.

New Jobless Claims Jumped to 496,000

The department said Thursday that first-time claims for unemployment insurance rose by 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 496,000. Wall Street analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a drop to 455,000.

The four-week average has risen by about 30,000 in the past month, raising concerns that job cuts are continuing. Initial claims had fallen sharply over the summer and fall but the improvement has stalled since the year began.

The Labor Department said earlier this month that while the unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent from 10 percent, employers still cut 20,000 jobs. The economy has lost 8.4 million jobs since the recession began.

The Federal Reserve said last week that it expects the rate will average between 9.5 percent and 9.7 percent this year.

The number of people continuing to claim unemployment benefits, meanwhile, was essentially unchanged at 4.6 million. Those figures, known as "continuing claims," lag initial claims by a week. But there are now many more people receiving extended unemployment benefits that aren't included in the continuing claims figures.

Congress has provided up to 73 weeks of extra benefits, paid for by the federal government, for jobless workers who have used up the standard 26 weeks of benefits customarily provided by states. About 5.7 million people received extended benefits in the week ended Feb. 6, the latest data available, down from more than 6 million the previous week. The extended benefit data isn't seasonally adjusted and is volatile from week to week.

If The GOP Was Open To Changing Who They Were, Then They Wouldn't Be Who They Are

Article in the Houston Chronicle reporting that the Texas Tea Partiers are trying the infiltration strategy. The system is highly resistent to change, and an infiltration strategy will fail. In the article, there is comparison to social conservatives in the GOP, but (1) they were invited in; and (2) social conservatives have only gotten a lot of rhetoric for all their support.

I doubt much will happen, except a lot of blowing sunshine up the skirts of the Tea Partiers. A lot of friendly talk in the article from the GOP establishment, who no doubt hope to dupe the Tea Partiers. I wouldn't be suprised if the Tea Partiers end up falling for it.

If the GOP was open to changing who they were, then they wouldn't be who they are.

Houston Chronicle: ‘Tea party' is seeking to bag GOP with grass-roots tactics

Taking a page from the playbook of social conservatives, the “tea party” movement is trying to change the Republican Party of Texas from the ground up.

Tea party activists in the major cities and suburbs across Texas have been recruiting and training candidates for precinct chairs as the building blocks to shift the emphasis of the state GOP from social issues to fiscal restraint by the federal government and individual freedom.

UPDATE 26Feb: Follow up to this post, with trenchant commentary here: Tea Party Bolshevism, Infiltrationist Strategy and the GOP: How to Provide the Ruling Political Class with an Aura of Legitmacy

Ron Paul's Challengers Frustrated, Lack Money

It's like running against a celebrity.

Houston Chronicle: Paul facing unrest at home

But while Paul basks in the applause of conservatives at a Washington hotel, he can't afford to ignore the three self-described conservatives who are assailing his conservative credentials back at home.

“He's as bad as the rest of them,” says Gerald Wall, one of three Republicans challenging the incumbent in the March 2 GOP primary.

Paul, 74, charges Wall, is a “career politician” who ignores the wishes of voters back home, a conservative poseur who doesn't walk the walk when it comes to pork-barrel spending.

Wall, along with fellow challengers Tim Graney and John Gay, believe it's time for a change in the 14th District, which they say Paul has ignored as he travels across the country.They also argue that the incumbent's high national profile translates into few concrete accomplishments on Capitol Hill.

“Ron Paul is literally the most ineffective member of Congress,” said Graney, who owns a consulting business in Katy. “He talks about ending the IRS, ending the Fed, (restoring) the gold standard. But we're not going back to the gold standard anytime soon. Why don't we talk about reducing taxation, reducing legislation, cutting spending in Washington?” Graney argues that Paul is “nonexistent in the district. He's MIA in our community, always off gallivanting, selling books and giving speeches.”

Gay also says Paul is not sufficiently involved in the district. “He's not ... not addressing the concerns of the people of the district,” Gay said.

No matter how deeply held their convictions, Paul's Republican challengers seem every bit as quixotic as Paul was in his 2008 bid for the presidency. Paul enjoys the name recognition that comes from a grass-roots-powered presidential run, a best-selling book and decades of incumbency. He also has extraordinary national fundraising clout for a representative from a mostly rural district.

Paul's opponents are no match for him when it comes to bringing in campaign dollars. At the Feb. 10 filing deadline, Paul's campaign reported more than $2.5 million in the bank. None of his opponents had more than $2,200, according to their latest disclosure statements.

“It's really hard to raise money in this economy,” said Wall, a maintenance supervisor and founder of Freeport's Jesus Is Lord Festival.

Not so for the incumbent. Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said that when his campaign sent out a single e-mail solicitation, $200,000 poured in almost immediately.

Say it ain't so -- Ron Paul, just another entrenched incumbent.

Libertarians: A House Divided

Zeal for Truth: Libertarian Infighting Dooms It As A Political Movement

Breaking The Chains Of The Two Party System

Poli-Tea: Content in their Chains, Partisans of the Two-Party State Oppose Liberation from the Ideological Prison that is Democratic-Republican Politics

In recent weeks, there have been a number of calls for third party and independent activism geared toward building a moderate or centrist opposition to the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government.

Perhaps the best sign that a moderate independent, third party alternative to the ruling order represents a credible threat to the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government is the very fact that partisans of the Democratic and Republican Parties are so concerned to convince us that such independent or third party alternatives amount to nothing more than a political fantasy or a dead end.

[W]e should expect to see attacks in this precise vein, arguing that the Democratic-Republican two-party state is the absolute horizon of all political reality, that the Democratic-Republican two-party system will exist in its present form until the end of time, that consideration of alternatives to the dictatorship of the Democratic-Republican Party is nothing more than fantasy, that we are and will always be the prisoners of the ruling Democratic-Republican political class.

The partisans of the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government are the ideological prison guards of the political process, who seek to convince us that all attempts at liberation are futile.

Quote of the Day

If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms.

Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen. – Samuel Adams

Enceladus Excites: Liquid Water On Saturn's Moon May Support Life

Enceladus: Nasa spacecraft records dramatic pictures of Saturn's moon 'spitting'

The space agency’s Cassini spacecraft fly-by has captured new evidence that Saturn's sixth-largest moon is “bursting at the seams”.

The pictures, taken about 1,000 miles from the moon's surface, a forest of more than 30 individual icy plumes of water – including 20 that have never been recorded – can be seen erupting, or “spitting”, from fractures around its southern pole surface.

The images, taken last November and released by the agency on Wednesday, have left Nasa scientists “astounded” and could provide further clues that life exists on the moon.

Astronomers, who hope the latest data it could further unlock the moon’s mysterious secrets, have concluded that the planet is “one of the most exciting places we've found in the solar system”.

"Enceladus continues to astound," said Bob Pappalardo, of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “With each Cassini fly-by, we learn more about its extreme activity and what makes this strange moon tick.”

Earlier this month Nasa scientists discovered more evidence that liquid water lies beneath the surface. If there is liquid water on Enceladus, they believe it could have the conditions necessary to sustain life.

Hypocritical Democratic Politicians? In Washington?

They voted for the filibuster before they vote against it ...

Via Powerline.

Bernanke Admits Huge Long Term Deficits Cannot Be Sustained

NY Times: Bernanke Expects Extended Low Rates

Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, told Congress on Wednesday that the central bank did not intend to start raising short-term interest rates anytime soon, saying the economic recovery would remain halting for many more months.

In what appeared to be a deliberate response to the criticisms leveled at the Fed, Mr. Bernanke announced support for two measures to improve oversight of the extraordinary lending programs the Fed started in 2008.

In one of the moves toward openness, Mr. Bernanke said the Fed would back legislation requiring the eventual release of the names of borrowers that used the programs.

He also said the Fed had undertaken “an intensive self-examination” of its regulatory duties, after years in which it had failed to curb some of the most excessive risk-taking by the banks it supervises.

“Obviously, unemployment is the biggest problem we have,” he told the committee’s chairman, Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts. “But there are difficult trade-offs that you have to make.”

Mr. Bernanke also agreed with Spencer T. Bachus of Alabama, the senior Republican on the committee, that huge long-term deficits could not be sustained. “In order to maintain a stable ratio of debt-to-G.D.P., you need to have a deficit that’s 2 ½, 3 percent at the most,” he said referring to the gross domestic product.

The current structural deficit, which government agencies estimate at from 4 percent to 7 percent of G.D.P., is unsustainable, Mr. Bernanke said.

He added: “It’s not necessarily just a long-term issue, because it is possible that bond markets will become worried about the sustainability, and we may find ourselves facing higher interest rates even today.”

States Expand Gun Rights

NY Times: Fearing Obama Agenda, States Push to Loosen Gun Laws

When President Obama took office, gun rights advocates sounded the alarm, warning that he intended to strip them of their arms and ammunition.

And yet the opposite is happening. Mr. Obama has been largely silent on the issue while states are engaged in a new and largely successful push for expanded gun rights, even passing measures that have been rejected in the past.

I think this is good to see. Instead of passively hoping that the judiciary will preserve their rights, the people and the legislatures are acting to ensure that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has some real teeth.

On this issue at least, this is as it should be. It is good to see that people realize the necessity of our rights and that they must be preserved, as this is an important right if we are to remain a free and independent people.

The Best Decisions Money Can Buy: Competing Influences In Washington Between Toyota's Money and the UAW's Money

A few days ago, I posted about the money that Toyota has injected into our political system, and how that would affect the decision-making process. (See Government Bought And Paid For By Toyota)

I guess we had better hope that all this money and influence peddling cancel each other out. Ah, the new American way. Just replace truth and justice with money and influence.

Examiner: Thirty-one House Dems quizzing Toyota execs got UAW campaign cash

There is a combined total of 59 Democrats serving on these two panels, which hold potentially life-and-death power over Toyota's ability to continue offering its products to American consumers. So far this year, 31 of the 59 have received re-election campaign contributions ranging from as low as $500 to as high as $10,000 from the United Auto Workers union.

Why is that significant? Because the UAW is a major stockholder of Toyota's top U.S. rival, General Motors. Also, Toyota has successfully resisted UAW attempts to organize the Japanese firm's estimated 31,000 assembly line workers employed in five plants here in America.

Democrats have been telling America for years that special interest money corrupts government. I wonder if that is not the case now in these hearings in which Toyota executives are being grilled and are being subjected to an avalanche of negative coverage in the Mainstream Media.

The full list of recipients and amounts are at the link, above.

I have to say, it seems small potatoes compared to the amount Toyota has spent and is spending.

24 February 2010

Burn Him!

The GOP's misguided hunt for heretics

The RINO hunt is back on, and the coveted trophy is Scott Brown.

It's the purity test all over again; only this time, the stakes are high and the weird are turning seriously pro. Not that the tea partiers are weird, not most of them, anyway. But some are at risk of flying off into the blood-red zone of wing-nuttery.

These true conservatives and RINO-hunters are, to put it mildly, a problem for any candidate or incumbent who tries to speak bipartisan, which translates into "treason."

The hunt for RINOs isn't new. Ask John McCain. Or John Avlon, author of the new book "Wingnuts," who traces the mainstreaming of the hyperpartisan hunt for heretics to the George W. Bush administration.

Writes Avlon: "Hunting for heretics pretends to be a principled fight for ideological purity, but behind that mask is an uglier impulse, an attempt to intimidate and insist on conformity . . . a reminder of what the Czech dissident-turned-president Václav Havel once wrote:

'Ideology offers human beings the illusion of dignity and morals while making it easier to part with them.' "

Human Rights Violated in Venezuela

Venezuela violates human rights, OAS commission reports

Venezuela routinely violates human rights, often intimidating or punishing citizens based on their political beliefs, an Organization of American States commission said in a report released Wednesday.

The 319-page report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says a lack of independence by Venezuela's judiciary and legislature in their dealings with leftist President Hugo Chavez often leads to the abuses.

A related example: Washington Post: Venezuela annuls election of anti-Chavez mayor

The Supreme Court threw out the 2008 election of Jorge Barboza, mayor of the Sucre municipality in western Zulia state, on grounds that he failed to pay $292 in local taxes.

The Supreme Court appointed Humberto Franka Salas, a member of Chavez's ruling party, as interim mayor.

El Universal: Seven Cuban doctors sue Cuba and Venezuela over "modern slavery"

Article Advocates Political Party To Promote Individual Dignity

I am seeing a lot of discussion about the need for an alternative to the Democrats/Republicans. Except of course, in the major media and among politicians themselves, who are completely wedded to our dysfunctional and unsatisfying two party system.

Some extensive excerpts below as I think this is an important idea. Read the whole thing. An unusual source for a discourse on a third party. An interesting idea, and not far away from my hopes for the Modern Whig Party.

The Democrats and Republicans are certainly not interested in upholding the dignity of the average citizen, and they would debase us all if they thought it would keep them in power for another minute. Actually, by allowing our nation to become so indebted (and to China at that!) they have done much to debase us as citizens of our once proud Republic.

Psychology Today: Blueprint for a Majority Third Party: The Dignity Party

We picture the political spectrum as a line running from Left to Right, liberal to conservative, Democrat to Republican. For much of our history, the middle was inhabited by conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. By forging a compromise with centrists, one party or the other could muster enough support to legislate and govern. Achieving a political compromise was often slow and frustrating, but, until recently, it was not impossible.

Now, for a variety of reasons, the middle of the spectrum is depopulated. Compromise is seen as a betrayal of ideological principle.

Instead of searching in vain for policies that include some liberal elements (to mollify Democrats), and some conservative elements (to appease Republicans), we could look for a new synthesis of Right and Left that is fundamental enough to generate policies that satisfy deeper concerns they share.

Upon what human value could we build a synthesis of liberal and conservative principles?

Given the dysfunctional state of American politics, the need for a path that Right and Left can travel together is urgent. If conservatives and liberals cannot subordinate their partisan agendas to the common good, world leadership will pass to nations that do manage to transcend this obsolete ideological dichotomy.
I shall suggest here that if a political party were built on the notion of Dignity, instead of on Liberty or Equality, we could forge a synthesis of libertarian and egalitarian politics that incorporates the truths that sustain each of these traditional ideologies.

In proclaiming a right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the Founding Fathers came tantalizingly close to recognizing dignity as a fundamental right. By liberty they meant freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control. Thus, the right to liberty affords a large measure of protection to our dignity. Likewise, the right to pursue happiness is undermined by the indignities of second-class citizenship. It's not much of a stretch to find in the Founders' intentions an implicit right to dignity.

In contrast to a libertarian society, a dignitarian society is one in which economic power is not allowed to confer educational or political advantages on those who have it. For example, you wouldn't have to be rich to go to college or command a fortune to stand for office.

Much as church and state are separated in modern democracies, economic and political power will be separated in a dignitarian society. This means that publicly funded elections would replace the current practice of corporate and union campaign financing.

In a dignitarian society, loss of social mobility, let alone division into impermeable classes, is unacceptable. If you apply yourself and work hard, institutional obstacles must not be insuperable. Thus, in a dignitarian society everyone has access to decent healthcare and is paid enough to work themselves out of poverty in a generation. The American Dream is a beacon lighting the way to a dignitarian society.

Rank itself may be unequal in a dignitarian society, reflecting undeniable differences in our talents, skills, experience, and levels of authority, but equal dignity is accorded everyone, regardless of role or rank, both interpersonally and institutionally.

Historically, conservatives are defenders of the rights of rank. They have fought to see that rank-holders are not hamstrung, that individual initiative and enterprise are not discouraged, that entrepreneurial activity is not stifled, and that, as a society, we keep our competitive edge.

In contrast, liberals see themselves as watchdogs against abuses of rank, the ill-effects of which fall primarily on the weak. We'll know we're living in a dignitarian society when conservatives condemn the corruption of power and liberals are willing to entrust rank-holders with the authority needed to lead.

In a dignitarian society, rank may change, but you're assured of having a place.

The politics of dignity spans the conservative-liberal divide. Martin Luther King, Jr. has a place of honor in a dignitarian society-for giving us his dream of dignity for all. So does Patrick Henry-for his immortal "Give me liberty or give me death." In the economic realm, no institution does more to curtail abuses of power than the free market. On those occasions when the market does appear to have betrayed us, we invariably discover that human beings have interfered with its freedom by rigging it to their advantage.

Our political history can be read as see-sawing between the ideological poles of Liberty and Equality. So long as the ideological spectrum had a middle, compromise was possible. But absent centrists, ideological polarization leads either to stagnation and decline or to unstable oscillations between the two ideological extremes.

Building a dignitarian society is not a utopian vision, but a natural evolutionary step for an America that can go nowhere so long as liberals and conservative are at loggerheads.

I Thought If We Elected Obama, Everyone Was Supposed To Love Us

I'd say love us again, but I don't think we were ever really loved abroad, except for a few years after WWII. Envied maybe, or feared, but we were never loved like some would pretend.

Washington Post: Anti-American bloc gains ground ahead of Iraq vote

The political movement of Iraq's best-known anti-American cleric has emerged as a major contender in next month's national elections, raising the possibility that the next prime minister could be openly hostile to the U.S. and friendly toward Iran.

A prime minister loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr might push the U.S. military to speed up its withdrawal timetable and pose a threat to future military and economic cooperation between the United States and Iraq.

More On The Public Pensions Timebomb

Reason Online: Even More on The Coming War Over Public-Sector Pensions

Yes, public-sector jobs ofer more security than their private-sector counterparts, but compensation is also higher on average and the benefits, especially in retirement are gold-plated to the nines. That bargain, which is unsustainable economically, is going to hit the rocks.

The only question is: Who is going to pay? Taxpayers or the public-sector workers?

More here: More on The Coming War Over Public-Sector Pensions, here: Public Sector Drives Deep Into The Night and here: Class War (which I have linked to before), all from Reason Online.

Boy, they are really hammering away on this issue. I am glad someone is. It is a bit more important than Tiger Woods apologizing for screwing around.

White House - Big Business Meeting To Embiggen Egos

As if you needed further confirmation that the Obama Administration is all about big government, big finance, and big business, check this out.

WSJ: Obama To Host 6 CEOs At Tuesday White House Dinner

An administration official said late Monday that Verizon Communications (VZ) CEO Ivan Seidenberg, Honeywell International Inc. (HON) CEO Dave Cote, Eastman Kodak (EK) CEO Antonio Perez, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) CEO Mike Duke, Xerox Corp. (XRX) CEO Ursula Burns and PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi are on the guest list for Tuesday's meal.

The session comes a day before Obama addresses the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs from some of the country's largest corporations. Seidenberg, Cote, Perez and Duke are on the group's executive committee.

Cote also is reportedly in the running for a spot on the deficit commission Obama created last week.

The emphasis on big-ness is disappointing.

Why not invite some small businesses to the White House instead? At a time in which our largest financial and industrial corporations are failing, shouldn't we be looking to the entrepreneur to create job growth? Wouldn't the small business owner provide better input on what may be needed politically to support job growth? Don't small business provide the most job growth?

But instead, the Obama Administration is more interested in bailing out large, flailing corporations. Eh, people actually running a business are probably to busy to chew the fat with Obama, anyway.

Instead of a small business owner willing to speak "truth to power", we'll get a bunch of CEOs kissing ass.

And who's picking up the check for this event? Why are our tax dollars feeding these CEOs? (or rather, why are we selling another bond to the Chinese to finance this dinner?)If they want to spend face time with the President, they should take him out and pick up the tab. Besides, I'm sure they all have private dining rooms, or a nice space at the club.

Lobbying Boom Shows Need For Limited Government

The Hill: Democrats' ambitious legislative agenda pushes K Street salaries skyward

Lobbyists for healthcare, energy and financial interests had a banner year in 2009, with the average payout for each reaching as high as $177,000.

Despite his push to rein in special interests, President Barack Obama sparked a boom on K Street with major new proposals on healthcare, climate change and financial policies.

Lobbyists working in each of the three industries took home the most on average that they have in a decade, even when adjusted for inflation, according to analysis of the data by The Hill.

Yet another example of the need for limited government. Despite Obama's campaign promise to end business as usual in Washington, his efforts to expand government control and regulation has been a boom to those whose business is influencing and living off the largess of taxpayers.

If anyone in the Obama Administration had any experience in the private sector, they would realize that money talks. It is that simple. I am reminded of efforts to shame or chide the private sector made by Obama in the past. They just don't get it.

Their lack of any experience in the private sector is indicative that their motivation is skewed compared to you or me. They are about power and control, and money is either a means to an end or a by-product of having power and control.

This may sound questionable at first, but look at their careers. They chose government because it gave them a chance to control others. History has shown that this is a dangerous motivation. This is the reason that the rest of us must insist on limited government.

The founders had it figured out. The federal government is a cumbersome system, designed to stymie ambition by countering it with countervailing ambition. People who are motivated by control must be carefully watched and their power limited by a vigilant public.

GOP Reveals True Colors In Their Spending Of Donated Money

Politico: Michael Steele's spending spree angers donors

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele is spending twice as much as his recent predecessors on private planes and paying more for limousines, catering and flowers – expenses that are infuriating the party's major donors who say Republicans need every penny they can get for the fight to win back Congress.

A POLITICO analysis of expenses found that compared with 2005, the last comparable year preceding a midterm election, the committee’s payments for charter flights doubled; the number of sedan contractors tripled, and meal expenses jumped from $306,000 to $599,000.

When Steele took over the chairmanship last winter, he inherited a $23 million surplus. Since then, the former Maryland lieutenant governor has raised $10 million less than the party collected in 2005 and has spent $10 million more. By the end of 2009, the committee’s surplus had shrunk to $8.4 million, according to campaign finance reports.

Just last week, RNC officials touted a January fundraising haul of more than $10 million. But after hosting the sun-filled winter meeting in Hawaii, paying for the holiday party and taking care of other bills, the committee spent almost all of it. Consequently, the RNC added only $1 million to the committee’s $8.4 million in cash, the reports show.

If you are supporting the Republicans because you think they have changed since they were last in power, you are delusional.

If this is what they are doing with donations, imagine what this bunch will be doing with a taxpayer funded expense account.

If you think the Republicans are the answer, then you are asking the wrong question. They haven't changed a bit, and differ from the Democrats only in degree.

Public Option Dead

The Hill: Democrats give up the fight — public option for healthcare is dead

After months on life support, the public option died Tuesday.

The White House and House leaders on Tuesday pronounced the government-run health program dead even as some Democratic senators continued their effort to resurrect it.

Throughout much of the healthcare debate, liberals have pressured the White House to push lawmakers in both chambers to support a government-run healthcare plan. The White House has said it generally supports a public option but has refrained from demanding that congressional leaders include it in their legislation.

Supreme Court Examines Terrorism, Material Support, and the First Amendment

SCOTUS Blog: Analysis: Anti-terrorism case not an easy one. Humanitarian Law Project cases; Argument recap

With a federal government lawyer pushing for a sweeping interpretation of the government’s most-used anti-terrorism law, the Supreme Court on Tuesday at times seemed tempted to conclude that, perhaps, the law may go too far.

The Court was reviewing the cases of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (08-1498) and Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder (09-89) as tests of a law dating back to 1996 providing up to 15 years in prison if convicted of providing “material support” to any group designated by the U.S. government as terrorist.

Washington Post: Supreme Court weighs free speech against aid to terrorists

The Supreme Court on Tuesday explored the tension between Americans' right to free speech and a federal law that prohibits aid to terrorist groups, and hardly anyone seemed clear about the lines of demarcation.

"Hezbollah builds bombs. Hezbollah also builds homes," Kagan said. "What Congress decided was when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs. That's the entire theory behind this statute, and it's a reasonable theory."

Kagan called the law "a vital weapon in this nation's continuing struggle against international terrorism." The government has brought about 150 prosecutions under the law -- half of them successfully.

Libertarians Pursue Their Goals In Court

Quiet Libertarian Victories

The last several years have not been easy for libertarians to stomach. The U.S. government, which had bloated under President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress - the annual budget had climbed from $2 to $3 trillion under Bush and that didn't count much off-budget military spending - has grown even more under President Barack Obama and his Democrats.

The U.S. now has nationalized industries, out-of-control deficits, and a looming entitlement crunch to deal with. And that's before we factor in Obama's calls for even more stimulus and new programs. America, the joke goes, doesn't have the change to afford hope any more.

So why are so many libertarians smiling?

But I Thought If We Elected Obama They Would Love Us

BBC: Americas bloc excluding US and Canada is proposed

Latin American and Caribbean nations have agreed to set up a new regional body without the US and Canada.

The new bloc would be an alternative to the Organisation of American States (OAS), the main forum for regional affairs in the past 50 years.

Mexico has been hosting a regional summit in the beach resort of Cancun.

Cuban President Raul Castro was quick to applaud Mr Calderon's announcement as a historic move toward "the constitution of a purely Latin American and Caribbean regional organisation".

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez earlier expressed his support for the proposal, citing it as a move away from US "colonising" of the region.

On Monday, Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed that it begin operating in July 2011 with a summit hosted by Venezuela.

Will Tea Party Burn Out?

I have been wondering the same thing. If the GOP gains this year in Congressional elections, that may be the beginning of the end of the Tea Party, as enthusiasm wanes due to divided government.

The American Prospect: The End of the Tea Party
Right-wing populist fads catch our attention -- but they burn out quickly.

The tea-party strain that increasingly dominates the Republican Party represents the latest wave of right-wing populism to sweep the country -- or, rather, the media. There were 200 journalists covering the 600 people who attended Sarah Palin's speech at the tea-party convention in Nashville.

But we've been here before. In the mid-1990s, it was Newt Gingrich's revolution. Gingrich was 1995's Time "Man of the Year," and he and his movement terrified progressives and transfixed the media for most of it. It's hard to remember that period, though, because after just a few months, after a government shutdown and a crippling snowstorm in D.C., it was over.

The tea-party movement cannot be sustained at the level of anger that's currently fueling it. It may leave a permanent impact on the Republican Party, giving it some new faces and new language, and most important, allowing the party to divorce itself from the legacy of that squishy moderate, George W. Bush. But regardless of the economic times or the political mood, hot populism of both the left and right varieties has never had a very long run.

23 February 2010

If Statistics Were Reported The Same As In The 30s, Unemployment Would Be Near Great Depression Levels

CS Monitor: US unemployment and the Technicolor depression

If the market wanted to crash, it would have plenty of reasons to do so. China is tightening bank lending rules. Here in the US, there is the aforementioned Fed discount rate increase. In Europe, Greece is going back to the marketplace to raise more money. And in the Mideast, today’s news tells us that many Kuwaiti could be wiped out by the latest downturn in their multi-billion dollar investment industry.

Many things could go wrong; something will.

As we’ve opined many times in the past, a depression is not just a time when people stand in line to get bowls of soup or sell apples on street corners. It’s a time of adjustment…when mistakes of the previous boom are corrected…and a new economic model is found for going forward. This doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how much federal money is put to work helping it. In fact, the government money just gets in the way…distorting the picture and delaying the necessary changes.

If we reported the numbers the same way they did in the ’30s…the number would already be up near Great Depression levels…at about 15% to 18% joblessness.

And guess what? If you look at the men of the house…men 25-54…what you see is that one out of every 5 of them is out of work.

For men…this is clearly a Depression…no, it’s worse. Not only are they unemployed. They’re going to stay unemployed for a long time. Because it takes times for a depression to do its work. And when it is over – maybe five or ten years…or 20 years ahead – not only won’t they find their old jobs again…they may never work again.

Banks Remain Under Stress; FDIC Deficit Grows

NY Times: List of Troubled Banks at 16-Year Peak, F.D.I.C. Says

After weathering the nation’s worst run of bank failures in nearly two decades, the Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation announced Tuesday that it had added 450 institutions to its list of challenged lenders in 2009 and warned that the industry was likely to remain under stress.

The number of so-called problem banks rose to 702 at the end of 2009, compared to 252 at the beginning of the year. Both the number of troubled institutions and their total assets are at the highest level since 1993, putting enormous strain on the government-administered insurance fund that protects customer deposits.

With banks failing in growing numbers, the F.D.I.C. said its insurance fund fell deeper into the red, ending 2009 with a deficit of $20.9 billion. That position was nearly $38.1 billion weaker than a year earlier. The bulk of that decline reflects funds that the F.D.I.C. is setting aside to cope with future losses.

Gallup Poll Reveals "Darker Employment Picture"

Nearly 20 percent of U.S. workers underemployed

Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. workforce lacked adequate employment in January and struggled to make ends meet with reduced resources and bleak job prospects, according to a Gallup poll released on Tuesday.

In findings that appear to paint a darker employment picture than official U.S. data, Gallup estimated that about 30 million Americans are underemployed, meaning either jobless or able to find only part-time work.

The poll's estimate of U.S. underemployment is higher than official statistics. The Labor Department says 16.5 percent of American workers were without employment or worked part-time for economic reasons in January against Gallup's 19.9 percent.

The Right Of Bearing Arms

We have a right to keep and bear arms.

So the next goal is not just to be able to keep guns in your home, but to carry ("bearing," as in "the right to keep and bear arms") as well. This right is already protected here in Texas, so to me, it seems the logical next step in the securing of our Second Amendment rights.

Reason Online: Guns: Not Just for the Home Anymore
Thus, if the right to defend yourself against assault should be honored by the U.S. government, there is little reasonable justification for restricting that right to only the home. And there is no civilized right more basic than self-defense; indeed, to make such defense more efficient and wide-ranging is one of the only legitimate reasons for government at all, thus making localities' attempts to bar its citizens from practicing the right effectively particularly pernicious.

The Price Of Silence

I complain all the time about how corporate lobbyists buy acquiescence from politicians. It seems that same strategy buys journalistic silence as well. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, by increasing his ownership share of the NY Times, has bought the silence of that paper.

Big Money: The Story the New York Times Won't Touch

The Constitution Is Working As Designed

Commentary: The System Is Working Exactly as Planned

Those annoyed with the failure to jam through controversial legislation bemoan the “gridlock” and urge all manner of parliamentary tricksterism to get what they want — the passage of Obama’s radical agenda. But Rivkin and Casey remind us that this is precisely how the system is supposed to work. It was designed to make swift passage of ill-conceived measures difficult, by ”generally requiring a high level of consensus in support of governmental action.”

The Constitution sets up an intricate framework of checks and balances and the Senate “did the framers one better” with the filibuster, which the Left wants now to abolish. The result, the attorneys explain, is that “the government established by the U.S. Constitution, as well as the document itself, is ‘conservative.’ Its default is the status quo, unless and until the advocates of change can secure a sufficient consensus to support their idea.”

The failure then is not of the “system,” but rather of the Obami and of the congressional Democrats — in eschewing the center and trying to push through a far-reaching agenda with no popular consensus, and, indeed, in the face of a great deal of opposition.

But the critics claim that we are then “doomed” to do “nothing.” Well, sometimes nothing is better than something horrible. But there are two obvious responses.

First, come up with a shortlist of reforms that does enjoy bipartisan support.

And second, look to the states. In addition to federal checks and balances, the Framers set up a federal system with power reserved to state governments, which until recently had primary responsibility for issues such as education, health care, and public safety.

The Transparency Of The Republican Claim To Believe In Limited Government

Salon: The GOP's "small government" tea party fraud

There's a major political fraud underway: the GOP is once again donning their libertarian, limited-government masks in order to re-invent itself and, more important, to co-opt the energy and passion of the Ron-Paul-faction that spawned and sustains the "tea party" movement.

The Right is petrified that this fraud will be exposed and is thus bending over backwards to sustain the myth.

This is what Republicans always do. When in power, they massively expand the power of the state in every realm. Deficit spending and the national debt skyrocket. The National Security State is bloated beyond description through wars and occupations, while no limits are tolerated on the Surveillance State. Then, when out of power, they suddenly pretend to re-discover their "small government principles."

The last eight years of Republican rule was characterized by nothing other than endlessly expanded government power, even as they insisted -- both before they were empowered and again now -- that they are the standard-bearers of government restraint.

This is a huge wedge waiting to be exposed -- to explode -- as the modern GOP establishment and the actual "small-government" libertarians that fuel the tea party are fundamentally incompatible.

But that GOP limited government rhetoric is simply never matched by that Party's conduct, especially when they wield power. The very idea that a political party dominated by neocons, warmongers, surveillance fetishists, and privacy-hating social conservatives will be a party of "limited government" is absurd on its face.

There literally is no myth more transparent than the Republican Party's claim to believe in restrained government power. For that reason, it's only a matter of time before the fundamental incompatibility of the "tea party movement" and the political party cynically exploiting it is exposed.

Discussion of Alternatives On Iran

Daily Beast: The Wrong Way on Iran

The first alternative: Be more assertive about U.S. values and more damning of Tehran’s.

Second alternative: Ratchet up economic sanctions.

Third alternative: Make war, stop talking.

No one has a magic bullet for the Iran puzzle. But the history of power teaches us one thing above all: Don’t fail. What can be done is to work very closely with our Arab friends in the Gulf to strengthen them in the face of increasing Iranian pressure.

This would include behind-the-scenes efforts to bolster the legitimacy of friendly regional governments plus very public upgrades of U.S. capabilities to defend them, as the Obama administration is doing with missile defenses. I

t also means proceeding with sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard.

It entails continuing to try to sabotage Iran’s uranium-enrichment and other nuclear programs as well. This effort will slow down the Ahmadinejad government and give them something to worry about.

Perhaps Reid Will Find Out For Himself

The Hill: Reid: 'Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive'

"Women don't have jobs either, but women aren’t abusive, most of the time," he said.

"Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive," the majority leader added.

Video at the link.

Christina Hendricks: Yo-Saff-Bridge, and now Joan

Of course, Christina Hendricks is getting attention now for her role as Joan in Mad Men, but I have been a fan of hers for years, as the Mrs is well aware.
To me, she will always be our Mrs. Reynolds.

Yet another reason to lament the cancellation of Firefly.

22 February 2010

This Article Does Nothing To Cheer Me Up

Atlantic: How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America

One recent survey showed that 44 percent of families had experienced a job loss, a reduction in hours, or a pay cut in the past year.

There is unemployment, a brief and relatively routine transitional state that results from the rise and fall of companies in any economy, and there is unemployment—chronic, all-consuming. The former is a necessary lubricant in any engine of economic growth. The latter is a pestilence that slowly eats away at people, families, and, if it spreads widely enough, the fabric of society. Indeed, history suggests that it is perhaps society’s most noxious ill.

The worst effects of pervasive joblessness—on family, politics, society—take time to incubate, and they show themselves only slowly. But ultimately, they leave deep marks that endure long after boom times have returned. Some of these marks are just now becoming visible, and even if the economy magically and fully recovers tomorrow, new ones will continue to appear. The longer our economic slump lasts, the deeper they’ll be.

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.