Monday, February 28, 2011

2012 Contender: Mitch Daniels, Conservative?

Who is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels? That’s a good question. The establishment loves him. Indeed, everyone from establishment conservatives like George Will to establishment liberals like The Economist and The New York Times heap praise upon him. Is it deserved? That’s hard to say because divining Daniels’ true beliefs is difficult because every time Daniels giveth, Daniels taketh away.

Daniels’ history is that of a consummate insider. He spent years working for RINO Richard Lugar, he served as Reagan’s budget director, he ran the US operations for Eli Lilly (a big pharmaceuticals firm), he was president of the Hudson Institute (a conservative think tank), and he served as Bush II’s budget director. As governor of Indiana has been known for being pragmatic and “not dogmatic.” Here’s why:

Smaller (Growing) Government: Daniels talks about making the government smaller, BUT then says the government must be aggressive at doing things the private sector cannot, “like improving schools” (which frankly, the private sector is doing better). He further says, “the nation really needs to rebuild,” a standard Democratic trope for spending. As Governor, Daniels has kept spending growth below inflation, BUT he hasn’t actually cut the budget.

Stimulus: He derided the stimulus BUT took the cash he was offered.

Deficit Cutting: He sounds good on the deficit. He favors cuts in military spending. He intentionally avoids puffery statements like cutting “waste, fraud and abuse,” which are shorthand for “I have no idea.” He favors changes to Medicare and Social Security rather than tax increases to cut deficits. Specifically, he favors benefit cuts for high-income and healthy people. He favors slowing the yearly increase in benefits to reduce the real value of reimbursements over time. And he favors raising the age eligibility for both programs, i.e. the retirement age. These are good ideas. BUT, his track record is not as impressive. As Bush II’s budget director, Bush referred to Daniels as “the Blade,” but the budget went from a surplus of $236 billion to a deficit of $400 billion. Some conservatives accused him of “carr[ying] water. . . for some of the Bush administration’s more egregious budgets [and making] dubious public arguments in support of his boss’s agenda.” Of course, that was his job. FYI, he underestimated the cost of the Iraq War by more than 11 times.

Taxes: In 2008, Daniels proposed and got a property tax ceiling put in place of 2% on rental properties and 3% on businesses. This resulted in an average property tax cut of 30% and gave Indiana one of the lowest property tax rates in the country (these caps were put into the state constitution in 2010 by voters). BUT, in exchange for that tax ceiling, he agreed to raise the state’s sales tax from 6% to 7%.

Unions: Daniels reduced the number of state workers by 18% since he took over as Indiana’s Governor in 2005. BUT, Daniels definitely blew the recent union issue. When Democrats fled the state as they had in Wisconsin after Republicans introduced a right to work bill, Daniels first said he “saluted” the Democrats and that their actions were a “perfectly legitimate part of the process.” Here’s what he said: “Even the smallest minority. . . has every right to express the strength of its views and I salute those who did.” Then he tried to backtrack by saying he meant to salute the protestors, not the Democrats. The Democrats, he said, were “try[ing] to trash the process, run[ning] out to another state to hide out” and were behaving “totally unacceptably.” Of course, he’s wrong both times. The Democrats have the right to do what they are doing, but they should not be saluted for it. His job was to exploit their bad decision. He did not. Instead, he caved in to them, abandoning the right to work bill: “I’ve explained more than once, I thought there was a better time and place to have this very important and legitimate issue raised.” Really, when?

Global Warming: With an eye on the White House, Daniels wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which he condemned the Democrats’ cap and trade bill. In that editorial, he echoes my arguments that the scheme would do nothing to affect global warming and would only put the US at a disadvantage to China and India. So far, so good. BUT, he also says he’s approaching the “‘climate change’ debate with an open-mind” and he will let “others” address the “scientific and economic questions.” Then he goes on to say that Indiana is “eager to pursue a new energy future” which he describes as biofuels, wind power, clean coal and “aggressive energy-conservation, indubitably the most cost-effective means of limiting CO2.” His clean coal push also involves “carbon capture.” In other words, he’s not sure about global warming, but he’s all in favor of limiting carbon, i.e. he favors fighting global warming. This is very troubling.

ObamaCare: He supports repealing ObamaCare, BUT he also identifies reforms he would like to see if it isn’t repealed, none of which seem particularly conservative. Indeed, these seem mainly to include dumping Medicaid beneficiaries into Obama’s exchanges and demanding more reimbursement from the federal government. He also proposes giving insurers more flexibility in what they can offer. None of that is good.

Immigration: Daniels has remained disturbingly silent on illegal immigration. He side-stepped questions about Arizona’s law by saying they had “every right to pass that law” (note he doesn’t actually say it’s legal) but that Indiana was “not in the same situation.” Now that a similar bill has been introduced in Indiana, which has an estimated 85,000 illegal immigrants, Daniels refuses to say if he supports it.

Social Conservatism: Social conservatives have been rather upset at Daniels because he said that conservatives need to call “a truce” on social issues because politicians need to unite on urgent matters of national security and debt. Beyond that,
● Daniels claims to be anti-abortion.

● He claims to oppose same-sex marriage as well as recognizing civil unions.

● He supports affirmative action in government contracting and hiring, but not in college admissions.

● He’s a Syrian-American Presbyterian, who says that “atheism leads to brutality” and claims that “the whole idea of equality of men and women and of the races all springs from the notion that we’re all children of a just God,” BUT he also says: “I also take very seriously the responsibility to treat my public duties in a way that keeps separate church and state and respects alternative views.”

So who is the real Mitch Daniels? I honestly don’t know. If I had to pull out a label, I’d say he’s a moderately-conservative establishment type who believes in not rocking the boat. He’s very good at saying things that sound like he’s agreeing with them, without actually agreeing with them, and I have found no evidence that he’s pushing anything more than a veneer of a conservative agenda. He certainly avoids controversy. Would he make a good president? Probably. Would he make a good conservative president? Probably not. But in truth, I have no idea who he really is.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Libya, On The To Do List. . .

Libya. We’re still on Libya. Ug. Why are we talking about Libya? Because Obama is an idiot, that’s why. Well, let’s get this over with.... then we’ll agree to never speak of this again!
1. Obama... Silence Ain't Golden
When a civil war starts in a country that sits a few hundred miles south of Italy, a country rich in oil, a country we bombed in 1986, a country that sponsors international terrorism. . . US Presidents tend to issue statements. So why has Obama been conspicuously silent? We speculated about this the other day and strangely, none of us came close to the real answer: apparently, Obama is soooooo busy he just didn’t have time to issue a statement. I guess Oprah’s been pretty special this week?

Seriously, I'm not making this up!

Here’s the quote from Obama Spokesmonkey Jay “small hands” Carney:
“This is a scheduling issue. The president will meet with Secretary of State Clinton this afternoon. We will have something to say out of that meeting. If possible, the President will speak this afternoon or tomorrow.”
What the heck? This is what you say when you decline a lunch invitation, not when a country erupts in civil war! And how long does it take to issue a statement anyway? It’s really quite simple. Obama takes off his wife’s jeans, puts on a suit. He walks to the statement giving hallway. The media bows, cheers and cries. Someone turns on the TOTUS. Obama reads. The media applauds and holds up lighters. Obama returns to the Huckleberry Hound Show which his staff conveniently TiVoed. How hard is that?

Oh, I see, he doesn’t know what to say? Gee, what do you say when a murderous tyrant the world hates is fighting for his life against his own citizens and his military is switching sides in city after city? Hmmm. How about this:
[look serious]

To the people of Libya,
Get him!

[beat cheeks]
Was that so hard? You don’t even have to put it in Haikou format! Seriously, it’s hard to find an easier speech to give. Grrr.
2. On Israel....
While we’re here, I thought I’d mention briefly what all of this means for Israel. I bring this up because The Economist has taken the strange position that if all of this upheaval in the Arab world leads to free and peaceful democracies in the Middle East (which is actually possible), then somehow the United States needs to abandon Israel.

Right, just like we abandoned England when Germany became a democracy.

How does this make any sense? I honestly can’t tell you. The little bit of “logic” The Economist presented was nothing more than watered down conspiracies statements in the Worldwide Zionist Conspiracy mold. Apparently, those sneaky Jews control the US because they have an effective lobby, and thus US policy has been a servant to Israel (as evidenced by us invading Iraq and in foreign aid we give Israel). If Arabs stop being meanies, then the US will need to give up supporting the regional bully, i.e. Israel. Q.E.D..

I hardly know where to begin with this. AARP is more powerful than the Israeli lobby? And if Jews are so powerful, why would that power suddenly fail them just because Arabs start voting? We invaded Iraq for a dozen reasons, none of which involved Israel. We give foreign aid to everyone. Israel isn’t the neighborhood bully, it’s the kid that stood up to the bullies. And if the Arabs stop being jerks, then Israel doesn’t need our protection. Hence, every single part of this theory is wrong.

The truth is this. If the Arab world becomes democratic and free (and gives up its desire to wipe Israel off the map), there is no reason in the world the US should abandon Israel. Frankly, I expect that would improve everyone’s relations and probably draw us closer into the whole region through increased tourism and investment.

Somehow, between the antiSemitic Economist and our silent President, I get the feeling we're not in the greatest of hands these days.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

2012 Contender: New Jersey Governor Christie, RINO?

A lot of people are talking about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as a possible Republican candidate for President. And he certainly seems impressive from a distance. But with all politicians, you have to look at the whole record. The more I looked, the less I liked. You won’t like this either.
Budget BlueState
Christie’s biggest claims to conservative fame have been (1) passing a budget he claimed cut $2.56 billion in spending, without raising taxes, and (2) standing up to the unions. Not quite.

First, despite the no new taxes claim, his budget includes $250 million in new taxes. These include taxes on insurance premiums, health care, and new businesses. He’s also taxing $28 million from consumer gift cards. More importantly, he eliminated $1.3 billion in property tax refunds.

He claimed he would cut spending without resorting to gimmicks. He didn’t. In fact, the budget actually isn’t “cut” at all, spending increases by 6%. Christie claims this to be a cut based on reductions in spending the Democrats wanted to add. What’s worse, Christie told “Meet The Press”: “In New Jersey, what we did was we cut spending in every department, a 9% cut in real spending.” That’s a lie.

And despite his assurance that he would not use gimmicks, here are the gimmicks he used even to pull off this non-feat:
● He delayed the payment of $3 billion in pension payments for a couple weeks to push that spending into the next fiscal year.

● At the same time he imposed additional spending mandates on municipalities and local school boards, he eliminated $1.2 billion in municipal aid. Essentially, he pushed the need to tax to the local level. To protect taxpayers, he imposed a 2% cap on the amount municipalities can raise property taxes, but this is 2% per year. Also, because of various exemptions, this can actually be as high as 6% per year.

● His budget relies on $270 million in one-time revenue to balance, and it includes $1 billion in federal stimulus funds.
Christie also swore he would never borrow without voter approval, but he’s already borrowed $750 million without voter approval to build schools in urban districts controlled by Democrats.

As for standing up to the unions, he achieved little. To his credit though, he did require all public workers in New Jersey to pay at least 1.5% of their salaries toward their health care and prohibits part-time employees from enrolling in the state pension system. But he also claimed his budget would cut 1,200 jobs, but in November he backed off that. FYI, salaries go up automatically by 7% per year.
His ObamaCare Dance
Christie refused to allow New Jersey to join the lawsuit against ObamaCare. His ostensible reasoning was that:
“I have enough to do up here. I have to examine how this health care legislation affects the health care system in the state of New Jersey and whether or not it’s in our state’s best interests, and then I’ll decide whether we need to take any legal steps to try to protect the interests of the people of the state.”
Really? He didn't know if ObamaCare was a good thing? Interestingly, after Judge Vincent’s decision, Christie suddenly found that he always opposed ObamaCare:
“Yeah, I did not favor ObamaCare in the first place. I thought it was too big a grab by the federal government for our health care system. It should not have been voted on in the form that it was in the first place.”
This makes Christie the only conservative in the country who didn’t know if he liked ObamaCare until after Judge Vincent's decision made it look likely that ObamaCare would be struck down. Even then, Christie seems more concerned about procedure than substance.
He Favors Gun Control
Christie favors gun control, but won’t say what he supports. He has defended a strict gun control law passed by Democrat Jon Corzine, and he said this to Sean Hannity:
Christie: We have a densely populated state and there’s a big handgun problem in New Jersey. Now, I don’t support all the things that the governor supports, by a long stretch. But on certain gun control issues, looking at it from a law enforcement perspective, seeing how many police officers were killed — we have an illegal gun problem in New Jersey.

Hannity: Should every citizen in your state be allowed to get a licensed weapon if they want one.

Christie: . . . Listen, at the end of the day, what I support are common sense laws that will allow people to protect themselves. But I also am very concerned about the safety of our police officers on the streets. Very concerned. And I want to make sure that we don’t have an abundance of guns out there.
He refused to say exactly what limits he would approve. That’s a bad sign.
He Favors Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants
Christie is on the leftist side of the illegal immigration debate. In April 2008, he stated that being in the country illegally is not a crime:
“Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime. The whole phrase of ‘illegal immigrant’ connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime. . . It is not.”
He also stated that he supports a path to citizenship:
“What I support is making sure that the federal government plays each and every one of its roles: Securing the border, enforcing immigration laws, and having an orderly process — whatever that process is — for people to gain citizenship. It’s a very easy issue to demagogue and I’m just not going to participate in that.”
He also attacked those of us who disagree with him as demagogues: “certain leaders around the state that have demagogued on this issue” and he called critics “ill-informed.”

Proving his rhetoric, when he was the US Attorney between 2002 and 2007, his office only prosecuted 13 cases of illegal immigration. By comparison, the Kansas US Attorney prosecuted 597 cases.
His Global Warming Dance
Christie says he’s not sure if he believes in global warming as he’s seen evidence on both sides of the issue. Yet, he supports a multi-state cap and trade scheme known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and he put subsidies in his budget for wind and wave farms. He’s also used $65 million in future sales of pollution indulgences under the RGGI to plug the budget gap.
Judge A Man By His Friend
Finally, Christie’s appointments are truly disturbing, as these are the people who make the day to day decisions that make the state run.
● To his credit, he refused to reappoint notoriously liberal Supreme Court Justice John Wallace. So far so good, right? But this shouldn’t be that surprising, governors always appoint people of their own ideology to sit on courts. Here’s the catch. Christie has said nothing about the Senate Democrats’ refusal to conduct confirmation hearings until 2012, or about the selection of a reliable liberal to fill the seat temporarily.

● He appointed liberal Democrat Paula Dow as Attorney General of New Jersey.

● He appointed a global warming enthusiast as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

● He appointed an ObamaCare supporter as Commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

● He tried to appoint a Kinseyan (sexual perversion advocacy, masquerading as science) as Director of the Department of Children and Families.

● He fired the only conservative he had in his cabinet (Brett Schundler, his Commissioner of Education) for failing to grab Stimulus money which Christie had previously promised he would not accept.
This ain’t conservatism.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pirates $238 Million, Liberals 0

Remember when Obama sent in the Navy Seals to stop some pirates? Everyone cheered. Then Hillary went around getting everyone to send ships to the Indian Ocean to put an end to piracy. Everyone cheered again. These were major triumphs! Well, after two years of showing how liberals wage police actions, no one’s cheering. . . except the pirates.

In 2005, thirty-five ships were taken for ransom by pirates. Arrrgh. The pirates received on average $150,000 per ship. Arrrgh. In 2008, Obama and his Liberal Superfriends stepped in to put an end to this scourge. Hurray for rainbows! How did they do?

Last year, 219 ships were taken and they were ransomed for an average of $5.4 million per ship. That’s a 625% increase in the number of ships taken and a 3,600% increase in the amount paid per ship, combining for a total increase in profits of 22,527%. You should have invested.

So what went wrong? In a word: liberalism.

The Liberal Superfriends (twenty five countries) sent a total of 30 ships. This may not sound a lot, but it was more than enough to start capturing pirates in droves. So far, so good. But then it gets tricky. See, liberals don’t like punishing criminals, so their rules of engagement require that 90% of the pirates captured are released right after they are captured. The others are sent to places like the United States and Western Europe to stay for a few years in our luxury prison accommodations. Three hots, a cot and cable TV, baby! Arrrgh!

So think about the economics of this. If you take up piracy and you pull it off, you and your mates get to split $5.4 million. That’s pretty tempting, especially as your alternative is to sit at home and eat stolen UN rice. But we have to weigh that against the risks before we decide, right? Well, the ship crews aren’t armed because liberals whine that will endanger the crews. . . . 760 of whom have now been held prisoners for more than a year, and 30 of whom have been killed. So the real risk is from the foreign navies. If one of them catches you, which is a small likelihood, then you have a 90% chance of getting a warm meal and a pat on the back before you get sent home. If you’re one of the “unfortunate” 10%, you get an all expenses paid trip to somewhere like the US.

Shiver me timbers! Why would anyone want to be a pirate? It unfathomable!

Well, the liberals intend to fix this unexpected debacle. The new thinking is that maybe the real problem is the lack of foreign investment in Somalia. If we could only build up their court system and give them jobs that earn $4 a year, then they won’t be temped to risk life and limblunch and leaving Somalia for $5.4 million. Yeah, that’ll work.

You know what else would stop piracy? Midnight basketball. Yep. If only pirates had midnight basketball, that would stop them.

Liberals are stupid.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Public Sector Unions: The Party's Over

With the Battle of Wisconsin raging, it seems like a good time to discuss public sector unions. The unions own the Democratic Party, and they get really good value for their investment. But this may be coming to an end, as Republicans are standing up to the unions and even the Democrats appear ready to look the other way. Here’s why.

Let’s start with some facts. Here’s why the unions are powerful:
● There are 7.6 million public sector employees.

● Since 1989, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has routinely been the largest contributor to Democratic campaigns. In 2010, its 1.6 million members gave $87.5 million to Democratic candidates.

● The National Education Association has 3.2 million members, and an annual budget of $300 million. The NEA and the American Federation of Teachers contributed $11 million in 2010 and spent another $5 million lobbying. Almost 100% of that went to Democrats.

● The teachers unions alone accounted for 600 of the 4000 Democratic delegates to the last convention. Over 25% of all delegates belonged to a union.
And here is what they get for their efforts:
● US Bureau of Labor statistics show state and local government employees earning on average $39.60 per hour, compared to $27.42 per hour for the private sector.... 44% more.

● In 2009, federal employees received average salaries of $81,258, compared to $53,056 for state and local government employees, and $50,462 for private sector workers.

● In 2009, federal employees received average benefits equal to $41,791, compared to $16,857 for state and local government employees, and $10,589 for private sector workers.

● Public sector employees worked 12% fewer hours than private sector workers -- 1,825 hours compared to 2,050 hours. Teachers worked only 1,440 hours.

● The chances of a public sector employee losing their job (through lay offs, firings, or quitting) is less than 2/3 that of a private sector worker losing their job.

● 90% of public sector workers have defined-benefit pension plans, compared with 20% of private-sector workers. This means, their benefits are fixed and are not based on how much they contribute. These plans are bankrupting the states, as they represent a $5 trillion unfunded pension liability.
This is too expensive to continue. But even beyond this, unions cause serious problems with our public sector.

America is one of the least efficient rich-world countries when it comes to getting value for its government spending. Our schools are utter garbage because of unionization. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek calculates that replacing the bottom 5-8% of teachers with even average teachers would move the US from the bottom of the international math and science rankings to the top. But getting rid of teachers is virtually impossible. Los Angeles, for example, spent $3.5 million between 2000-2010 just trying to get rid of seven teachers. The “rubber room” became infamous in New York as a place where it was easier to dump teachers who had committed crimes or acts of violence, than it was to fire them. Most districts engage in what is called “the dance of the lemons” as they shift bad teachers from one school to another. Moreover, one survey found that 99% of teachers receive a “satisfactory” rating, which is ridiculous, and only 23% of teachers were in the top third of their college class.

Even the left is noticing, and starting to change their minds about the unions. All over Europe, leftist governments are slashing union pay because they have no choice. New York and New Jersey are following suit. House Republicans are talking about pay cuts and attrition. Even Obama has proposed freezing pay. Wisconsin, Tennessee and Indiana are trying to ban public sector unions.

One leftist group recently released research discrediting the long-cherished liberal belief that money equals education success. They found identical districts with wildly different funding levels produced similar education results. Waiting for Superman (which I’ll review this week... Netflix willing) blasted the unions, something that was unthinkable five years ago. Recent polls too show support for public sector unions falling: 45% of Americans support public sector unions, 45% oppose, and the strongly oppose outnumber the strongly support 30% to 21%. This is a 10 percentage point loss of support in just a few years.

As long as unions earn more than the people who pay their salaries, as long as they work fewer hours and can’t be fired, and as long as they whine and protest the smallest reforms, the unions are risking political oblivion. Wisconsin was the first state to allow public employees to unionize, now it may be the first to ban them. . . and others will follow suit.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Line Item Veto Is Back

Ever since Richard Nixon lost the power to impound money (something Presidents since Jefferson had enjoyed), budget hawks have been trying to give the President a line item veto. This won’t cure our budget problems, but it can definitely help. And now, once again, it’s on the agenda, and it even has Democratic support.

A line item veto is a tool that allows the President to go through the budget and remove spending items he does not like. Right now, the President only has the power to veto entire budgets.

The line item veto comes with both pros and cons. The main reason for the line item veto is that Congress has shown that it’s not capable of crafting a sane budget. Why? Because Congresscritters are answerable only to their own constituents. Thus, their incentive is to secure as much pork as possible, no matter what happens to the national interest. This is made worse in that the critters have learned to work together to make sure they all get what they want. A line item veto would allow the President to wipe out that pork because the President is not beholden to any particular district. Though, keep in mind, Presidents face re-election too and in the modern age, they are heavily involved in Congressional elections as well.

The arguments against are more numerous, but aren’t necessarily better:
● The Constitution gives the Congress the power to make budgets, by letting the President pick and choose which line items will make it into law, the line item veto shifts the budget making power to the President (at least in part). More importantly, this tool could allow the President to become an active legislator by zeroing out funding for unfavored programs.... like ObamaCare. However, it must be stressed that the President cannot add to the budget. Also, the President already has the power to veto the whole budget to get his way.

● Budgets are the results of careful deal making and allowing the President to upset one side of those compromises would result in budget chaos. Except these are dirty deals and tend to be made against the national interest.

● Presidents could use the line item veto to punish individual Congresscritters. Yep.

● Congress could get lazy, knowing that it can vote for anything it wants and the President will take the heat for being the adult. But that's not much different than what they do now, and at least the money won’t be spent with the veto.
Neither argument is perfect, but the miserably history of Congress’s budget-making suggests that a line item veto may be an excellent idea. Moreover, this is a power held by 44 of 50 state governors without major chaos (Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont are the holdouts).

Ronald Reagan first asked for the line item veto in 1986:
"Tonight I ask you to give me what forty-three governors have: Give me a line-item veto this year. Give me the authority to veto waste, and I'll take the responsibility, I'll make the cuts, I'll take the heat.”
He didn’t get it. Clinton asked in 1996, and the Republicans gave it to him. But the courts struck it down in a case brought by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, on the grounds that allowing the President to “repeal” only parts of bills violated the Presentment Clause of the Constitution.

In 2006, Paul Ryan tried again. His bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. In 2009, John McCain in the Senate and Ryan in the House, tried again. The Democrats never let the bill get out of committee.

Now it’s back. This time it’s called the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act, and it would let the President veto specific earmarks or other non-entitlement spending line items. To get around the constitutional question, this bill allows the President only to attack the bill’s spending levels, not the full line item, and then the changes would be returned to the Congress for a majority up or down vote. In effect, the President could zero out the funding without technically killing the program, and Congress would need to approve his decision. Is that enough to satisfy the courts? Probably.

The bill has been introduced by John McCain (R) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) in the Senate, and has 20 cosponsors, a mix of Republicans and Democrats. Obama too says he'll sign it. So it looks like it has a good chance of passing.

I, for one, hope it does. What about you?

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gun Control And Swiss Suicides

Most liberals tell us they don’t hate guns, and they have no plans to confiscate yours. They just want to stop the “destructive effects” of guns, by which they mean “gun crime.” But is that true? What just happened in Switzerland says it isn’t.

Switzerland has a lengthy gun tradition. For at least 800 years now, the Swiss have drafted virtually every able-bodied male into the army. As part of their service, they’ve kept their weapons at home. And when they left the service, they were allowed to keep their weapons. Thus, it’s not uncommon for Swiss families to have rifles, pistols, and even fully automatic machine guns in their homes. Current estimates say there are two million guns in Switzerland, a land of only eight million people.

Since we “know” guns cause crime, Switzerland must be a killing zone, right? Actually no. Gun crime in Switzerland is virtually nonexistent. It’s so low they don’t even bother keeping official statistics on gun crime. It is, in fact, lower than the gun crime rate in Japan, which absolutely bans guns. Switzerland ranks as the fourth safest country in the world and its violent crime rate is 1/100th that of England.

That means Switzerland must have strong gun control laws, right? Actually, no. Gun sales by the Swiss government are registered. BUT gun sales from one individual to another are regulated only in five of the twenty-six cantons. Retail gun dealers do not keep records of over-the-counter transactions, nor are such transactions reported to the government. So why do groups like the Brady Campaign claim the Swiss are heavily regulated? Because Switzerland proves that (1) the presence of guns does not cause crime and (2) the absence of gun control does not cause crime.

Despite the almost nonexistence of any gun harm in Switzerland, an international coalition of leftist groups recently tried to pass a law to take guns away from Swiss homes and require they be kept in armories. Sanity prevailed and the initiative lost: 20 of 26 cantons rejected the initiative, as did 56.3% of the population (it had to be approved both by the people and the cantons to pass).

So what was the gun groups’ ostensible reason for pushing this imitative? Gun suicides. According to these groups, Switzerland has the highest level of gun suicides in Europe. But is that a legitimate claim? Consider this.
1. Switzerland’s suicide rate is not appreciably higher than the rest of Western Europe, and is significantly lower than Eastern Europe. So there’s no logical reason to think guns contribute to Switzerland’s suicide rate.

2. Nor is gun suicide a serious problem. Switzerland has about 1,500 suicides each year, with about 340 (23%) of those involving guns. But this represents only 0.00425% of the population.

3. Suicide is acceptable in Switzerland. Indeed, Switzerland has become infamous for “suicide tourism” because you have a right to assisted suicide in Switzerland if you are “suffering from an illness that inevitably leads to death, or from an unacceptable disability.” In other words, you don’t even need to be suffering yet, when you decide to off yourself. Several people have used this law to kill themselves long before they began displaying symptoms of diseases. So logically, if there’s nothing wrong with committing suicide at the nearest suicide booth, then why is it suddenly a crisis when guns are used?
This is the real issue. Gun control groups have created a pretext. That have seized upon something they would otherwise consider acceptable when guns aren’t involved and they’ve spun this into a crisis that requires almost every household in Switzerland to hand in their guns, even though this "crisis" involves only 340 people a year, i.e. less than 0.00425% of the population -- 1 out of every 25,000 people (three people per NFL stadium). And to make this number sound large, they’ve compared it against other countries in a way that makes it sound large, even though overall suicide rates in Western Europe are fairly similar. . . and the slight increases in Switzerland and Denmark can be accounted for by assisted suicide.

What this tell us, is that there is a real dishonesty among the gun control crowd, the same dishonesty that has them lying about the level of gun control in Switzerland because Switzerland puts the lie to all of their claims. And what they're trying to do with this initiative is to eliminate the world's most obvious example that guns don't kill people, liberal permissive culture kills people.

Finally, let me point out the other side of the equation which the gun groups conveniently ignore. Do you really think Switzerland is the fourth safest country in the world by accident? Or do you think the possession of these weapons by everyone has a role in that? And if that’s the case, ask yourself two questions: (1) how many of those 340 suicides will actually be stopped by this, and (2) how many of those 8 million people will die as victims of crime once they’re disarmed?

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CPAC Winners and Losers

CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) is where Republican contenders strut their stuff. Some candidates get made at CPAC, some get broken. And CPAC is a good way to give the rest of us a sense about where the conservative movement is going. Why is CPAC so influential? Because CPAC is a gathering of the people who “make it happen” for conservatives on the ground, in the media, and with fund raisers. Let’s talk about CPAC's winners and losers.
CPAC: CPAC has made itself into the gatekeeper of the Republican primaries. Despite being incredibly unscientific, its straw polls can literally infuse a candidacy with life, or kill one off. Here are this year’s results:
31%Ron Paul
22%Mitt Romney
7%Sarah Palin
6%Tim Pawlenty
4%Newt Gingrich
4%Mike Huckabee
5%Mike Pence
2%John Thune
2%Mitch Daniels
2%Rick Santorum
1%Hailey Barbour
Chris Christie: Christie didn’t even speak at CPAC, but he came in third in the straw poll, and he seems to be the candidate everyone mentions they most want to see run.

Congressional Freshmen: The biggest winners at CPAC were the new generation of stars among the Congressional freshmen class. As a group, they were treated like rock stars and they lived up to the billing. Rep. Allen West (Fla.) brought down the house and Rep. Kristi Noem (S.D.) delivered this great quote: “A lot of us freshman don’t really have a lot of knowledge about the ways of Washington – and frankly, we don’t really care.” Others made an equally strong impression. Look for some of these people to be on the Republican ticket, possibly as early as 2012.

Obama: Despite the primaries beginning in earnest soon and a plethora (yes El Guapo, a plethora) of candidates, there is no real GOP leader to take on Obama. That makes it hard for the GOP to present unified criticism.

Conservatism: GOPproud is a conservative gay rights group. This was the second year they were in attendance, and as before, several evangelical groups protested or boycotted CPAC because of it. Despite the disagreement, the expansion of “official conservatism” to new groups is a good thing as it will broaden the appeal of conservatism, bring new ideas, and soften the caricature of conservatism as a white, evangelical movement.

Donald Trump: Trump is beyond unelectable and everybody knows it, including Trump. What he wants is publicity, and he got it.
To Be Determined
Mitch Daniels: By all accounts, Daniels gave a well-received speech, though his “sobering” style has never worked in the past. Yet, he drew only 2% support in a weak field. That’s pretty bad for the guy who may be the most qualified in the bunch. But it's also clear Daniels is THE media darling. The press corps, left and right, love this guy and they intend to drive his candidacy. He is the only candidate The Economist has profiled and The Washington Post has slobbered all over him. One liberal even described his CPAC speech as "intellectually compelling" and "eloquently crafted." That may be enough to eventually make him the front runner, just like with McCain in 2008.

Tim Pawlenty: The party began pushing Pawlenty the moment he won in a liberal state, a line Pawlenty continues to use -- unlike Romney, who pretends he’s never heard of Taxachussettes. But Pawlenty went into this election cycle with a lot of conservatives calling him a RINO. His speech did little to change that perception. In a weak field, 6% might be enough to keep him alive long enough for others to drop out.
Mitt Romney: Romney pulled a second place finish, but he did nothing to squelch the problems conservatives have with him. He lacks fire, conviction, and he lacks conservative street cred. And his failure to address his support for RomneyCare continue to rankle. In fact, despite a generally good speech, most of the activists continued to mention RomneyCare first and foremost when asked about him. His support is derisively described as "a mile wide and an inch deep."

Newt Gingrich: Gingrich has been thriving for years on the facade that conservative activists are just waiting to draft him. His 4% showing in a truly weak field may finally be enough to knock down that facade.

Ron Paul: Paul continues to show that he has hard-core supporters who, like Steelers fans and Deadheads, will travel anywhere to support him. But his defense policy disgusts conservatives -- he was even kicked out of a college conservative organization (Young Americans for Freedom “YAF”) in response to it. My sense with Paul is he’s marginalized because everyone knows he’s peaked in terms of support and he’s not political enough to leverage his support with another candidate. That makes him someone everyone else can overlook.

The Democrats: The Democrats still have no one they can target as the main opposition leader, and as they are discovering, attacks against little know congressional figures just don’t light the public’s imagination. So they are still stuck defending Obama.

The No-Shows: Palin, Huckabee, and Huntsman failed to show up. Palin and Huckabee have their own support networks, but if they ever want to be anything more than evangelical Ron Pauls, they need to start building bridges. Skipping the Super Bowl of conservatism is not a good idea, as evidenced by their poor 7% and 4% showing among people who should be their fan base. Huntsman failed for a different reason. By not showing up, he confirmed what conservatives already knew, he bleeds RINO blue.

Rick Santorum: Santorum proved that when your only issue is abortion, you aren’t relevant. Apparently, the hall was barely 2/3 full when he spoke.

Haley Barbour: Barbour always struck me as a corrupt Washington insider, but I could never remember why. Then he said this. . .
“I'm a lobbyist. The guy who gets elected or the lady who gets elected will immediately be lobbying. They'll be advocating to the Congress, they'll be lobbying our allies and our adversaries overseas, they'll be asking the business community, the labor unions. You just -- that's just what presidents do for a living.”
Good point! Maybe we should hire Charlie Manson to write our criminal laws or Satan to create a new religion. . . they knew how to deal with bad people. No thanks. Put a (pitch)fork in Barbour, he’s done.

The Johns: John Thune. . . John Bolton. . . Gary Johnson. . . Jon Huntsman. . . who are these people?

Conservatives:> It is deeply troubling that all our candidates are known more for their flaws than their virtues. Some are de-inspirational or unprincipled. Some are idiots or flakes. Some aren’t even conservatives. Nobody’s perfect, but is this the best we can do? It feels like we’re looking for a babysitter and our only choices are a stoned teenager, an ex-con, and a creepy clown who’s got pedophilia written all over him.

This is the moment leader emerge, when no one else is holding the reins. It's time someone stood up and made the sale. We're waiting.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

It's Republican Godzilla!!!

When the GOP freshman class came to town, people wondered what they would be like? Would they quickly fall into the arms of lobbyists? Would they quietly wait their turn, putting in their time, carrying water for their leadership? Or would they turn into a conservative Godzilla? Well, bring on the rubber suit, they’ve flexed some pretty powerful muscles this week and Capitol Hill Tower is going down!

The freshman class is 87 strong, and right away everyone knew they were different. Be it rejecting the luxury health insurance plan Congress gives itself to cutting the House budget by $35 million to sleeping in their offices, this group acted upon their rhetoric. And they say things like this, by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) at CPAC:
“A lot of us freshman don’t really have a lot of knowledge about the ways of Washington – and frankly, we don’t really care.”
But in the scheme of things, these are token gestures, would the freshmen do more? Last week showed they would.

It began with the freshmen tripping up part of the Patriot Act. This provision likely will eventually pass (it failed because of the procedural technique the House used), but everyone was shocked. And what really impressed me about this was that the new class of Tea Party people signaled they were not beholden to sacred cows. Too many Republicans (most in fact) blindly vote for anything marked “security.” This was a resounding response that these new freshmen intend to view all actions in light of the Constitution. Hurray!

Then the big one hit. Goaded on by the Republican Study Committee, which proposed the cuts discussed here, the freshmen demanded that the Republicans include $100 billion in immediate spending cuts, as promised, in the continuing resolution needed to keep the government running. This caught the leadership entirely off guard -- notably Hal Rogers (R-Ky) the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. His original proposal cut only a third ($32 billion) of the figure the freshmen demanded.

And this isn’t even the end of the issue, because the bill now goes to the floor, where individual members can propose amendments to make even more cuts. In other words, Godzilla will get another bite.

What makes this even better, is that the leadership happily got in line with the freshmen! Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), a leader of the Republican Study Committee, met with House leadership over this issue and said they were “happy with the result” and were “receptive to going higher with cuts.” Rogers too is on board now.

Why the change? Said one insider, the hard-line approach by the freshmen stiffened the backs of the leadership:
“They understand that we will take some arrows from liberal interest groups for whatever we attempt to cut. So, we should be more aggressive.”
This is the exact opposite of the Pelosi years, where a small cabal of hard-left House leaders imposed their policies on willing and unwilling House members. The new dynamic involves a groundswell of House members pushing the leadership in the right direction. That is much more sustainable, and should embolden everyone.

The guy who explains the new relationship best is Rep. Allen West (R-Fla). Patti has been covering much of what West says, and he is impressive (he wowed them at CPAC too). Here’s how he describes the relationship between the freshmen and the leadership:
“We’ve got your back, [now] you’ve got to step out there and take a bold and aggressive look. We’re all part of that crew that said if you make a commitment and make a promise to the American people you got to stand up for it. . . . It’s important that we do the hard work because that’s what folks are expecting us to do.”
This is great. This is how a party is supposed to work, with a unified core of people supporting (and pushing) their leadership to advance party goals. This should stand us well when it comes to (1) improving the number and quality of ideas, (2) avoiding being blindsided by ideas created in a small bubble, and (3) keeping the leadership from failing to follow through.

So let me finish with some bad poetry.
Government tape is red,
Our budgets are too,
Our government's a mess,
We’re counting on you!

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Democrats Continue Abandoning Sunken Ship

Conservative Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia announced yesterday he would retire. Conservative Democratic Sen. Kent Contract of North Dakota also plans to retire. So does Joe Lieberman. Rep. Jane Harman of California is quitting asap. Hmmm. But retiring isn't all they're doing. In the South, so many conservative Democrats are converting to the Republican Party that the Democrats are in danger of going the way of the dodo. What is happening?

History loves irony. In 2008, the Democrats crowed about becoming the new majority party in the US. They were sure America had changed forever. The Republicans were destined to become a regional party, they chuckled. Nancy Pelosi was even hailed as the most powerful speaker of all time. But just like Hitler’s 1000 year Reich lasted only 12 years, Pelosi’s new reality lasted only one election cycle. So sad.

Indeed, not only was the last election a debacle for the Democrats, but it turned out to be the debacle that just keeps on debacling. Since the midterm, 24 state senators and representatives have switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Texas. In Louisiana, the number was enough to give the Republicans the majority in the state House for the first time since Reconstruction. In Alabama, these switchers gave the Republicans a supermajority.

This is happening at other levels too. In Northeastern Texas, nine officials switched. In Louisiana, the Attorney General James Caldwell just switched parties as well. Ten elected officials switched in Alabama, including a Sheriff, a District Judge, County Commissioners and a School Board Chairman. It’s going on everywhere.

So why is this happening? Well, check this out. Ashley Bell is a young (30) black lawyer. He served as president of the College Democrats of America. He was part of John Edwards’ campaign. He spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and his wife was a Barack Obama delegate at the 2008 convention. He just switched parties. Why?
“I think the midterms showed you really can't be a conservative and be a member of the Democratic Party. . . I had to make the decision that if I'm going to be arguing with Democrats at some point I realized I might as well do it as a Republican.”
Bell went on to explain that he believed conservative blue dog Democrats were bullied into voting for ObamaCare.

New-Republican Attorney General James Caldwell (La) explains his move thusly:
“The truth is that this change of party is in line with thousands of everyday people who simply feel more comfortable with most of what the Republican Party represents locally and nationally.”

The key word there is “locally.” For decades, the Democrats survived by talking like conservatives on the local level, but voting far, far left in Washington. They pretended that their party was still the party of FDR rather than the party of Nancy Pelosi, Al Sharpton and Sean Penn. And with the iron grip the MSM had on information, this strategy worked, because little of what went on in DC ever made it back to home districts. But with the internet and blogs and talk radio doing an end run around this information blockade, Democrats are finding that people at home suddenly know what they’ve really been doing in DC. So now it’s becoming impossible to maintain the illusion that they’re just like the rest us, because people know when they vote to socialize medicine or give special rights to various Democratic interest groups: blacks, gays, feminists, unions, etc.

How bad are things getting? Said one Democrat in Georgia, a big part of his job is to “let people know it’s OK to be Democrats.” Good luck with that.

I'm not normally one to say that anything in politics is permanent, but this appears to be the finishing act of a trend that started in the 1960s and accelerated in the 1980s and only slowed temporarily under Bush II: average people have permanently abandoned the Democrats at all levels because the Democratic Party no longer represents (or even respects) average people. If I'm right, this could be game over for the Democrats for at least a generation.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Obama-nochio Lies About Taxes

There are good liars and bad liars. Good liars know the right moment to "enhance" a story to make everything tilt in their favor. Done properly, such lies are undetectable and unverifiable. Bad liars just spit out what they want you to believe, whether it makes sense or not. Obama is a bad liar, as his most recent interview with Bill O'Reilly proved.

What did Obama lie about? Right in the middle of his interview, Obama spat out this doozy:
“I didn’t raise taxes once. I lowered taxes over the last two years. I lowered taxes for the last two years.”
Oh really? See, the problem with this kind of lie is that it can be verified, as indeed I have done. As you may have guessed, his claim that he didn't raise taxes turns out to be a $1.5 trillion lie. Take a look at the taxes Obama raised over the past two years:
On individual income. . . .

● $179 billion. . . elimination of itemized deductions on people making more than $250,000
● $118 billion. . . capital gains tax hike on people making more than $250,000

On business. . . .

● $5.3 billion. . . excise tax on Gulf of Mexico oil and gas
● $17 billion. . . reinstatement of superfund taxes
● $24 billion. . . new tax on carried-interest as income
● $5 billion. . . codification of the “economic substance doctrine”
● $61 billion. . . repeal LIFO
● $210 billion. . . international tax changes
● $4 billion. . . information reporting changes on rental payments
● $62 million. . . repeal deduction for tertiary injectants
● $49 million. . . repeal passive loss exception for interests in oil/natural gas properties
● $13 billion. . . repeal manufacturing tax deduction for oil/natural gas companies
● $1 billion. . . increase amortization period for independent producers
● $882 million. . . eliminate advanced earned income tax credit
● $?. . . $0.62 cents per pack tax on tobacco

Under ObamaCare. . .

● $15 billion. . . individual mandates under ObamaCare
● $28 billion. . . employer mandates under ObamaCare
● $149.1 billion. . . 40% excise tax on “Cadillac” health plans
● $1.3 billion. . . additional 10% charge on early withdrawal from HSAs
● $5 billion. . . end use of HSAs and FSAs for non-prescription medicines
● $13.3 billion. . . cap on FSAs
● $86.8 billion. . . 0.9% hike in payroll taxes for Medicare
● $17.1 billion. . . new 1099 reporting requirements
● $22.2 billion. . . tax on drug companies
● $19.2 billion. . . tax on medical device makers
● $10 billion. . . tax on health insurers
● $5.8 billion. . . excise tax on elective cosmetic surgery
● $2.7 billion. . . tanning tax
● $15.2 billion. . . raising itemized medical deduction from 7.5% of 10% of AGI
● $5.4 billion. . . elimination of deduction for employer-provided retirement prescription drug coverage
● $600 million. . . $500,000 compensation limit for health insurance executives
● $400 million. . . elimination of tax deduction for Blue Cross/Blue Shield
● $?. . . $50,000 tax per hospital that fails to meet HHS rules

And lets not forget that he proposed even more than he got, like:

● $338 billion. . . Bush tax cuts expire for people making more than $250,000
These total at least $1.484 trillion in tax hikes (over 10 years). And lest you think these numbers are the mad ravings of some conservative crackpot, the source for the non-ObamaCare tax hikes was ABC News. The source for the ObamaCare tax hikes was the President’s own Office of Management and Budget.

So how do we account for this whopper? I mean, this seems a little blatant doesn’t it? Here’s the trick: what Obama is doing is he’s offsetting tax increases with tax cuts to make the claim that overall he hasn’t raised taxes. He just carefully avoids telling you that he’s talking about an offset. Instead, he tries to sneak that past you with an ambiguous use of the word "taxes" -- which he uses both in the sense of specific identifiable taxes (i.e. how he wants you to hear it) and as "taxes overall" (i.e. how he actually means it). This careful use has caused some to claim that Obama's lie was premeditated, which appears to be a strong possibility.

Yet, even if we accept Obama's unspoken claim of "net taxes," there is still another problem. This is where Obama’s repeated mention of the two year mark becomes important -- the tax cuts expire at the two year mark. Thus, even under his formulation, he could not make the same claim from the third year onward. Indeed, as Grover Norquist explains it: “Ninety percent of all the tax cuts he ever signed into law are temporary, but 100 percent of all of the tax increases he passed are permanent.”

Finally, just for fun, let’s pretend we’re Keynesians. Keynes believed that every dollar you add to an economy (or remove from it) gets multiplied by five as it passes through the economy. If that’s true, then Obama’s tax hikes will hurt the economy in the amount of $7.42 trillion over ten years, or $742 billion a year. According to Obama, his $789 billion stimulus should have created 3 million jobs. . . though we know how that turned out. So what do you think a $742 billion yearly tax hike will do to jobs?

Yeah, that was my guess too.

So what are your favorite Obama/Democratic lies?

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Huffington Post Sells Out

The Huffington Post has sold out. . . and the left ain’t happy about it. Ha ha ha! The transaction is simple: in exchange for $315 million, mostly in cash, AOL will be buying HuffPo from Arianna Huffington and some of her investors. As part of the deal, Huffington will become chief of AOL’s editorial content. Liberals are aghast. Do they have cause to be? And why can’t conservatives make their own Huffington Post?
The Left HAS Indeed Been Sold Out
For months now, leftists have been unhappy with Arianne and her little website. Indeed, several progressive blogs have attacked her for betraying “progressive ideas” (a true oxymoron) in the name of corporate America. This sale will only reinforce that view, as some of the comments I’ve seen clearly indicate:
● “This is just depressing.”

● “I am truly disappoint. (sic)”

● “Taps for HuffPost. It was promising while it lasted.”

● “It was fun well (sic) it lasted but you sold out to corporate America. It's a real shame that you are going against everything you preached about corporate America.”
Ah.... there are few pick-me-ups as strong as leftist self-pity. In any event, these leftists are not entirely wrong. For some time now, Huffington Post has been intentionally drifting to the center. Don’t believe me? Ok, listen to the Huffers:
● Huffer Christine Pelosi (whose mother is a noted witch) said that she was “bemused by the left-right paradigm since Arianna evolved past that long ago.”

● Huffer Howard Fineman says, “there’s no question about the history of it, but you have to appreciate that it’s going to go beyond that. There are definitely going to be people in the progressive community who are going to say, ‘Wait, you’re abandoning us,’ but most of them will realize that we’re just going to make the circle bigger.”

● Huffington herself says: “we are very committed to continue what we have been working on very hard at the Huffington Post to change that mindset. We are calling it beyond left and right, and this is how our coverage will continue.”
The merger may be part of this. By expanding Huffpo to a more moderate audience and by continuing to bring in Washington insiders (like Fineman), it sounds like this merger is the Washington establishment trying to co-opt the asylum wing of the Democratic Party. Indeed, consider this quote from a Huffer strategist: “I think the progressives have a lot to be excited about here, but I think people who follow Beltway journalism have a lot to be excited about too.” That sounds suspiciously like a forced marriage, and the establishment is now holding the deed to the family home.
Why The Right Hasn’t Matched HuffPo’s Success
In any event, this sale raises an issue that often troubles me. There is no doubting the influence of HuffPo in organizing the left and giving them a home base on the web. Why can’t conservatives achieve the same thing? I think the answer lies in a few problems:

First, conservatives don't work together. Right now, the most important conservative talking heads are either entertainers seeking to promote themselves so they can make money (e.g. Rush, Beck, etc.), politicians looking to support their own campaigns or books (e.g. Palin, Newt), or talking heads looking to pimp their magazines (e.g. NRO, Weekly Standard). What HuffPo did brilliantly was to create a platform where everyone on the left could contribute, but none of them could dominate. Thus, whereas the left can turn to Huffpo to see what everyone is saying, the right must sort through dozens of different sites to see what the right is saying. A single, central site that caters to all conservatives is what is needed here.

Secondly, and more importantly, conservatives are still stuck in the idea that politics is something separate than everything else. Because sports, music, film, etc. are not political per se, conservatives never think to offer these things along side politics. Huffington smartly understood this and now claims that only 15% of HuffPo's business involves politics. What conservatives can learn from this is to copy the news model, just as Huffpo did. XYZ News doesn't create separate websites to handle politics, national news, sports and entertainment. Instead, it creates a single entry page from which visitors can see everything the website has to offer that day and from which they can then choose what they want to see. Moreover, their offerings go beyond pure politics, because variety is what keeps people at the site and gives different people (i.e. those who are not ultra-political) a reason to be there.

The day conservatives put together a website that looks and acts like a news site, which includes opinion and straight news, which includes both political and non-political features, and which brings together important conservatives of all stripes as contributors rather than allowing the website to act as a tool of one or two of them, then we will have something that will easily outstrip Huffpo and the rest of the MSM. Until then, forget it.

What do you think?

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Monday, February 7, 2011

GE: Crony Capitalism Made Easy

It’s good to be the king. It’s equally good to be a friend of the king (“FOK”), as GE can attest. Indeed, you may recall GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, was recently appointed to lead Obama’s President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You may also recall that Immelt spent the last two years trying to foist cap and trade rules on the rest of us so we would be forced to buy his company’s products. Well, it gets better.

It was reported the other day that GE received a waiver from the EPA’s new greenhouse gas emissions rules for a power plant GE is building in California. Yes, the same greenhouse gas rules GE has been lobbying Congress to force upon the rest of us. That’s how you do it when you’re a FOKer.

Of course, GE wants to distance itself from the bad press this generates, so GE issued a press release, in which it claims that it did not request a waiver, nor was it given one. In fact, it says, it’s not even building the project! GE has only offered to provide turbines to the project but its offer hasn't even been accepted yet. So there, nothing to see here. Moreover, the project manager, not GE, requested the waiver.

So who is right? Well, let me say that I have no doubt that everything GE says in its press release is absolutely, technically true. But there’s a problem with GE’s claim. I spent years involved in government contracts, including construction contracts just like this one. And what GE says here is misleading.

When a company submits a bid on such a project, it already has its subcontractors lined up. Indeed, these bids are essentially the work of teams of contractors, whose efforts are coordinated by a single general contractor, who assembles and submits the final bid. Each contractor participating in the team will submit their own bid to the general contractor, usually on the condition that the bid is binding on both parties but only if the team is chosen to handle the contract. What this does is it allows the general contractor to know their costs and what capabilities they can offer, but doesn't require anyone to agree to anything unless they end up winning the overall contract, at which point everything automatically falls into place.

This is how it's always done. Indeed, it’s inconceivable that anyone would submit a bid to build a power station without having an agreement in place for GE (or some competitor) to supply the turbines at a certain price. Thus, while I don't doubt for a moment that GE is being legally correct when it claims that its offer has not been accepted, I have little doubt this is also highly misleading. The technical acceptance is a formality.

What’s more, it's also inconceivable that a project manager would request such a waiver without the full knowledge, support and participation of GE. Indeed, they would have needed GE to identify the issue for them and to guide them through the process. Thus, while it is probably technically correct that the general contractor made the request rather than GE, the general contractor would only make the request at GE’s direction.

Why would GE try to mislead the public on this? Because this is crony capitalism. GE spent $32,050,000 lobbying in 2010 and now it’s calling in those markers to get its politicians to put harmful anti-competitive regulations in place, and then to get exemptions from those regulations for itself. Keep this in mind, along with the 25,000 jobs GE shipped overseas during the last two years the next time you see a GE ad telling you about all of the good things they are doing for America and the world. And even more importantly, keep this in mind the next time some politician (Republican or Democrat) tries to tell you why we should be doing something GE wants. . . because they're FOKers.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Americans, The Media, The Super Bowl

I know you’re all watching the Super Bowl, but this is Commentarama, and that should be your first priority. So I’m expecting 100 comments. . . or Al Gore will shoot this panda. Today’s topic, what's wrong with the media, Super Bowl style.

Do you remember my article on Newsvertising? Super Bowl time is huge for this. Almost everything written is fluff and usually involves discussions of meeting corporate mascots. Did you know the "real" Captain Morgan mascot is in Dallas? Oh my! I should include that in my next AP article! And of course, we get hard hitting news like reviews of Super Bowl ads, like stories on the Super Bowl ads that were rejected, and like stories on the Super Bowl ads that "somehow" leaked onto the web. . . directly from the marketing firms that made them. In films, this is called "product placement." In the hands of journalists, this is called "news."

Well, now we have a journalist who has inadvertently spilled the beans on this corrupt relationship when he started whining about the weather. See, all season, these "journalists" have carefully avoided the damaging stories about the NFL and their reward is a week's paid vacation where they can bask in the light of celebrities who are looking for free publicity. But the bad weather is interfering with that. So we get this rant from Les Carpenter:
And the question keeps rising again and again: why, why, why does the NFL insist on playing its biggest game in cities that can not guarantee good weather? . . .

Dallas is unfit to host a Super Bowl. Indianapolis, Detroit, Atlanta and all the other cold or fringe weather cities that have hosted or been given Super Bowls present similar problems. The game is not meant to be hosted in cold places. . . . The success of the Super Bowl always came with balmy afternoons where fans and sponsors could enjoy golf junkets and the game was certain to be played in conditions no worse than rain. Super Bowl weeks become a convention of sorts where players and sponsors and opportunists all meet to celebrate the nearly completed season. It was not an event where people were meant to be trapped inside. . . .

[Play another game in cold weather] and the game will get farther away from what it was meant to be.
Pity the poor opportunists! Strip away the garbage about guaranteeing good weather for the game because (1) it’s crap and (2) all of the cities about which Carpenter complains (Dallas, Indianapolis, Detroit and Atlanta) have domes, and what you have left is the real way these "journalists" see the Super Bowl -- as a golf junket for corporate big shots. And don’t think for a minute the same isn’t true in every other aspect of the “news” business. This is why journalism is dying.

Now save the panda. . . trust me, Al Gore will do it!

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

TSA Pays Back the Unions

Just before Thanksgiving, TSA ran into some trouble with a little thing called “Gropegate,” where government airport “security” personnel molested travelers ostensibly to keep us safe from al Qaeda. Uh huh. At the time, I suggested TSA better clean up their act because airports all over the country had the option to toss out TSA and their expensive unions, and replace them with private contractors. Guess what? They found another option.

When Gropegate happened, it was revealed that the Screening Partnership Program allowed airports to replace government gropers with private gropers, and that sixteen airports had opted-out, including Kansas City and (surprisingly) San Francisco.

At the time, Republican Rep. John Mica (Fla.) wrote a letter encouraging airports around the country to look into the program as a means of cost savings, service improvement, and general betterment. TSA chief John Pistole responded to this letter that TSA was “neutral” on the idea, and said “[i]f airports choose this route, we are going to work with them to do it.”

But this is bad for unions, especially government unions. And if anyone owns the Democratic Party and/or Obama, it’s the unions. . . trust me, I’ve seen the deed. Well, lo and behold, last Friday Pistole suddenly decided to stop the program in its tracks:
“I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time.”
Think about that statement. Pistole makes the decision that between two apparently equal alternatives, airports must choose the government employees over the “equal” private contractors. Does that make any sense? If there’s no difference, he shouldn’t care. He certainly shouldn’t be defaulting to an automatic increase in the size of government. And that doesn’t even count the fact that “equal” doesn’t mean what you think it does. I’ve been involved in privatizations in the past and I can tell you that the government is given huge advantages in the analysis on the order of a 30% boost.

How are the Republicans responding? Well, the old Republicans would have mumbled, applauded reluctantly, and crawled away. But those days seem to be over. Mica is promising hearings into this, and he has specific reasons:
“It's unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we've had over the last decade. The agency should concentrate on cutting some of the more than 3,700 administrative personnel in Washington who concocted this decision, and reduce the army of TSA employees that has ballooned to more than 62,000. Nearly every positive security innovation since the beginning of TSA has come from the contractor screening program.
I am liking these new Republicans!

Oh, and one more little piece of information to pass along. The two companies who make airport scanners more than doubled their lobbying last year from prior years. In 2005, they spent $2.18 million lobbying; last year they spent $4.52 million. For their increased investment, they received $80.9 million in contracts for scanners. . . scanners many experts say don’t work.

Interestingly, the main lobbyist for the biggest of these companies (L-3 Communications) is Linda Daschle. Daschle is a former FAA official and the wife of somebody. . . oh, what’s his name. . . oh, that’s right, the guy who handled the Democrats’ $250 million campaign to sell ObamaCare to the rest of us. . . the guy who couldn’t be Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services after it was revealed he hadn’t paid his taxes and had earned $5 million lobbying for the health care industry, the guy who once held Harry Reid’s job. Imagine that.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Birthers Find New Avenue

The birthers are back in the news. This time they have a new plan to keep Obama from running for re-election, a plan that looks like it will become law in Arizona and may creep into several other states as well. Unfortunately, I suspect this will look very bad for the Republicans.

The newest plan is sponsored by Arizona Republican Judy Burges and 31 other Arizona House and Senate Republicans. It is all but guaranteed to pass, as there are almost as many cosponsors as votes needed to pass the bill. This bill would bar any presidential candidate who cannot prove they were born in the United States from appearing on the ballot in Arizona. If that’s all the bill said, then this wouldn’t be an issue. But the bill goes further, it specifically requires candidates to provide
“an original long-form birth certificate that includes the date and place of birth, the names of the hospital and the attending physician and signatures of the witnesses in attendance.”
While this sounds fine, it’s actually unconstitutional. Why? Because states are not allowed to discriminate against citizens of other states, and part of that means they can’t refuse to recognize marriages, births, divorces, drivers licenses, and property records that are considered valid in other states. In other words, if Hawaii or Kentucky or whoever decide that a person is a legal resident, Arizona cannot demand that a person provide additional proof beyond that required by Hawaii or Kentucky. Thus, Arizona cannot say “we want more documentation than Hawaii requires.”

Moreover, this requirement raises all kinds of issues. What happens to people whose original birth certificates get lost or destroyed? Of if the doctor failed to sign the certificate? What if the witness signs as “Mickey Mouse” or signed with an "X"? What if Wyoming doesn’t use long-form birth certificates? These people would suddenly be disqualified from running for President, which means this bill is trying to add requirements to the US Constitution. . . that’s a legal no-no.

So if this will fail in court, what’s the big deal? The big deal is the politics of this.

Americans hate technicalities; they see the exploitation of technicalities as cheating, whether in sports or court or jobs or politics. Obama is an American, there’s no one who can seriously doubt that. He was born to an American mother, he was raised largely in the US. He’s as American as a great many of the rest of us. To try to keep him from running because the exact location of his birth is in dispute, is a technicality. And to try to keep him out, when he’s already been elected and is currently serving, will strike Americans as an attempt to cheat -- to use a legal technicality to defeat a political opponent.

(Not to mention that the only thing worse than cheating is cheating ineffectively -- which this would be as Obama won’t win Arizona anyway and as this requirement will be struck down).

And before anyone says, “but it’s the law,” ask yourself how you would have reacted if in 1983, a Democrat discovered that the doctor who should have signed Ronald Reagan’s birth certificate forgot. . . or misspelled his name. . . and suddenly the Democratic Congress passed a law declaring that Reagan couldn’t run for re-election. I’ll bet your response wouldn’t have been “awe shucks, what a shame.” Your response would have bordered on rage or disgust at the Democrats. So why should we think the public would be any less forgiving if Republicans do this to Obama?

Obama is definitely beatable. Trying to disqualify Obama in this way will make Republicans look petty and like cheaters, and will turn Obama from a foolish dictator-wannabe into a victim. In fact, this is eerily similar to the Republicans impeaching Bill Clinton for “lying.” They may have been legally right, but they were politically very wrong, and they paid a heavy price for pursuing what appeared to be a vindictive agenda.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the fact this issue keeps dogging Obama -- I particularly liked how Hawaii Democratic Government Abercrombie breathed new life into the whole thing by trying to kill it. . . but Republicans need to get out and stay out of the birther issue. Leave that to humor circuit.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Individual Mandates: A Legal "Bridge Too Far"

By now you’ve all heard that “ObamaCare was struck down.” As usual, little of what you’re hearing is right. So let’s go over several points, some of which are really quite fascinating, particularly Judge Roger Vinson’s deep understanding of his role as a judge.

1. First, unlike what I pointed out in my prior article on the ruling of the District Court in Virginia, this decision involves 26 states. Moreover:

● This decision, even more so than the Virginia decision, guarantees the Supreme Court will review this issue, because of the involvement of the states attorneys general.

● This decision gives more ammo to Senate Republicans, all 47 of whom openly support repeal. It also provides cover to any Democrats looking to save their political lives by voting for repeal. Joe Manchin (WVa) and Ben Nelson (Neb) specifically have been mentioned -- though both claim they only want to fix the law rather than repeal it.
2. It is worth noting that the arguments made and the Judge’s reasoning come down exactly as predicted in my March 2010 and May 2010 articles, and that the so-called legal experts (read: liberal propagandists) were not only wrong, but were so wrong as to constitute malpractice.

3. Vinson’s decision has two parts. The first part deals with the argument Congress violated the constitutional spending principle by forcing the states to expand Medicaid to the point where it will bankrupt the states. ObamaCare defenders argued that Medicaid is a voluntary program, and thus Congress may impose such requirements because states are free to back out if they think it will cost too much. The states countered that they can’t back out because they are effectively “coerced” into staying in Medicaid. Vinson rejects the coercion argument because every other court that’s looked at Medicaid has found it to be a voluntary program.

I think Vinson is wrong on this point, but I attribute this to a failure by the plaintiffs to properly brief this matter. Vinson seems a thoughtful judge, but it looks like the states just didn’t present much of an argument. Vinson sounds unimpressed with the evidence they offered and they apparently provided him virtually no legal support for their position. In fact, they entirely avoided the stronger Ninth and Tenth Amendment arguments, which were not briefed “except in a single passing sentence.” That’s attorney failure.

4. In the second part, Vinson strikes down the individual mandate. This is where things get interesting.

First, for history/legal buffs, Vinson delves into the entire history of the Commerce Clause and how (and why) it changed over time. Such an in-depth history is rare in District Court rulings, and what he presents is highly informative and quite accurate. Click here to read the decision.

Secondly, his reasoning striking down the individual mandate is impeccable. Vinson points out the cases cited by both sides, and he explains:

● That not a single case has ever held that Congress has the power to regulate “inactivity” under the Commerce Clause; and

● He rejects the ProObamaCare argument that inactivity constitutes activity. They claimed that it’s impossible to truly opt-out of healthcare and, thus, the uninsured are merely engaging in "future cost-shifting" because someone else will ultimately have to pick up the tab for their care when they get sick. He called this too attenuated; saying it was “a bridge too far” to use a person's decision now which might one day result in future cost-shifting which might affect interstate commerce as the basis for finding the current decision to involve engaging in interstate commerce -- especially since they may be wealthy enough to self insure, or charities may pick up the tab, or they may buy insurance before that happens. Thus, there are too many "ifs". He also notes that accepting this argument would give Congress unlimited power because anything could then be considered engaging in commerce:

Congress could more directly raise too low wheat prices merely by increasing demand through mandating that every adult purchase and consume wheat bread daily, rationalized on the grounds that because everyone must participate in the market for food, non-consumers of wheat bread adversely affect prices in the wheat market. Or. . . Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals, not only because the required purchases will positively impact interstate commerce, but also because people who eat healthier tend to be healthier, and are thus more productive and put less of a strain on the health care system. Similarly, because virtually no one can be divorced from the transportation market, Congress could require that everyone above a certain income threshold buy a General Motors automobile --- now partially government-owned --- because those who do not buy GM cars (or those who buy foreign cars) are adversely impacting commerce and a taxpayer-subsidized business.

Should Congress thus have power under the Commerce Clause to preemptively regulate and require individuals above a certain income level to purchase a home financed with a mortgage (and secured with mortgage guaranty insurance) in order to add stability to the housing and financial markets (and to guard against the possibility of future cost-shifting because of a defaulted mortgage), on the theory that most everyone is currently, or inevitably one day will be, active in the housing market?

* * *
The problem with this legal rationale. . . is it would essentially have unlimited application. There is quite literally no decision that, in the natural course of events, does not have an economic impact of some sort.
● The ProObamaCare people also tried to squeeze this individual mandate through the “Necessary and Proper Clause,” which allows Congress to pass all laws that are necessary and proper to carry out its duties. But Vinson correctly notes that this clause cannot be used to justify unconstitutional laws.
5. Finally, we come to the most interesting aspect of this decision -- a true moment of judicial restraint. After finding the individual mandate unconstitutional, Vinson needed to decide if the rest of the statute could go into effect without it. This involves something called severability, which is a legal doctrine that holds that if the unconstitutional provision can be severed from the rest of the law, then it should be, and the rest of the law should go into effect.

Based on the history and the functioning of the act, Vinson concludes that severability is not possible. He notes, for example, the Congressional Record is full of statements about the true purpose of this act bring insurance reform and that the individual mandate was the key element of that reform. He notes that the defendants repeatedly stressed throughout the litigation that the individual mandate is “essential” to the Act. He also notes the failure to include the severability clause in the final draft, which is not fatal in and of itself, but which suggests that Congress viewed the entire Act as one piece.

Ultimately, however, his decision comes down to the fact that Vinson considers it impossible to separate the individual mandate from the Act, while still carrying out the purpose of the Act “as Congress intended.” In other words, the statute is “a carefully-balanced and clockwork-like statutory arrangement comprised of pieces that all work toward one primary legislative goal [which] would be undermined if a central part of the legislation is found to be unconstitutional.”

Vinson then shows a deep understanding of the role of the courts, when he concludes that this makes it impossible for him to carve out the individual mandate. Not only does he say that he doubts he could actually determine which portions of the Act depend on the mandate, but he says that this is not a proper role for the courts:

Cleanly and clearly severing an unconstitutional provision is one thing, but having to re-balance a statutory scheme by engaging in quasi-legislative “line drawing” is a “‘far more serious invasion of the legislative domain’” than courts should undertake.

* * *
If Congress intends to implement health care reform --- and there would appear to be widespread agreement across the political spectrum that reform is needed --- it should do a comprehensive examination of the Act and make a legislative determination as to which of its hundreds of provisions and sections will work as intended without the individual mandate, and which will not. It is Congress that should consider and decide these quintessentially legislative questions, and not the courts.
So when the media (and the Democratic PR machine) start running around calling this judicial activism, remember this quote. This is exactly how courts are supposed to act -- with judicial restraint by leaving the legislating to the Congress.

Finally, let me point out one irony. As an attorney, one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen has been attorneys who simply cannot let go of bad arguments. If the defendants had given up on the mandate, or simply not stressed its importance, Vinson may have just struck down the mandate and left the rest of the law in place. But like so many other bad attorneys I’ve met, they were not going to give an inch of ground if it killed them. And in this case, it did. It truly became a bridge too far.

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