Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weekend Music Chill

When I was growing up, Pops always had an eclectic variety of music on the stereo: classical, country and western, and folk. (No rock and roll for him.) I wasn't aware of it at the time, but many of the folk singers we heard in our youth were pretty much lefties, Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Cisco Houston to name a few. Didn't seem to harm me much, as I grew into the libertarian leaning conservative and otherwise fine upstanding citizen. I was particularly fond of some of Ian and Sylvia's tunes, especially V'la Le Bon Vent (and yes Paul, you ultra-rightist, I took French in high school.) I couldn't find Ian and Sylvia's version of that tune on YouTube but I came across a group called the McDades who rock! So here are the McDades with a traditional French-Canadian chanson à répondre (a round).

Daschle and Patriotism

Tom Daschle, wanna-be Generalissimo of Health, fails Joe Biden's patriotism test. Today's post can be found over at Beers with Demo.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Growing a Spine?

At first I was fearful, then hopeful, now I am just resigned. After today's love fest between Republicans and Barack Obama, I feared that they were going to just cave in on the stimulus porkage being offered up by the administration. Then I saw Drudge's headline "NO!" and thought great, now the Republicans are growing a spine and standing up to a permanent increase in government spending and race to socialism disguised as a stimulus bill. The bill proposes to give tax credits to people who pay no income taxes at all. If that isn't socialism, what is?

But then I started thinking about the Republican track record of late. It occurred to me that this is all just posturing to extract some concessions from Obama and then they'll go along, or enough will, to give a show of "bipartisanship." If the concessions are meaningful, then I say great, but Obama made it clear that he is not going to compromise on the tax credit issue. Why not? Because it allows the Democrats to buy votes from poorer Americans who will get hooked on this juice and just want more and more. It's a form of European socialism that will wreck this country, so no matter what other concessions Obama might grant, the tax credit issue is a deal breaker on which there should be no compromise.

Who's Your Daddy?

Pictured at left is the newly installed Chairmen of the Board of Citigroup, who just got the job last week. The two men pictured are of course Barack Obama and Richard D. Parsons. I leave it to readers of the BwD article, to decide who is the actual chair.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Interesting First Week

So what did our new President accomplish in his first week? Most of what a President can do in that short a time is symbolic, but Obama sought to create the impression of motion. Some thoughts.

First, he reversed the Mexico City Policy, that requires charities receiving federal funds to refrain from promoting abortion. While this was typical, it also served to remind the public that Obama is a typical doctrinaire pro-abortion Democrat. I don't think the policy really makes much difference one way or the other, because it is too difficult to enforce.

More substantively, he gave the expected Presidential order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This just raised questions about where the prisoners will go and why won't their home countries take them back. As discussed previously, I think this will negatively impact him as Americans realize none of the mostly Muslim nations of origin for these killers are willing to take them back just to help Obama. I also think this used up news cycles and allowed conservatives an easy line of attack, without having to directly attack the President. Tonight, I saw that Hannity will be profiling each terrorist in Gitmo, one at a time. Nice water torture for his viewers, but also a reminder of Obama's lack of planning. A silver lining is that there are reports that they ship these murderers to the Colorado SuperMax. That's a real prison, with 23 hours of solitary a day that grinds the life out of its inmates. (H/T WeaselZippers) If we ever catch Bin Laden, I hope he ends up there, as a constant reminder to our enemies that he is under our control.

On the stimulus package, when Republicans raised objections that Obama's plans to send checks directly to all Americans would be redistributive and be giving money even to those who don't pay taxes, he replied, "We won." Great, but don't expect any cooperation. Also, trying getting Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to first agree with you, then agree with each other, then get their troops in line if you can't get a single Republican vote. Further, when stuff goes wrong, as it inevitably will, that comment will come back to haunt the President. More substantively, isn't this just socialism flat out? I mean, were just going to tax those who work and give money to those who don't. How else could you characterize such a scheme? Maybe a charge of socialism isn't toxic in politics any more, but the gross unfairness of such a scheme is surely grist for conservatives mill.

I already commented on his little press room incident. Although it seems small it is important. To quote David Warren:

The liberal mind—now fully restored to power in the United States—is in love with symbolic gestures.

When those gestures go south, they can be harbingers of things to come. One can only hope... for change.

And remember: Dissent is Patriotic.

For those who missed it, here is the video of the muffed oath. The spin is that this is all on the Chief Justice, but notice how Obama is not exactly a team player, my opinion. (I'd like to hear yours.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Best Video From Last Week

This is definitely the most powerful video from last week. H/T: WeaselZippers,

How ironic that among this week's executive orders, was one that rescinded the ban on funding for international birth control organizations that advocated abortion. But hey, you dance with the one who brung ya.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Something to Ponder from over 2000 years ago

The following quote appeared online in the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons website, of all places. (H/T E3 Gazette)

And then, later, Brutus, the long-time sycophant of the ambitious Caesar, came to his senses and went to Cicero with his plea that something be done to save the nation. He confessed his error, he said he had believed in Caesar, he had believed he would restore the public, but that he has betrayed his trust.

Cicero's bitter reply was "Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and gave him triumphal processions and laughed delightedly at his licentiousness and thought it very superior of him to acquire vast amounts of gold illicitly. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the 'new, wonderful good society' which shall now be Rome's, interpreted to mean 'more money, more ease, more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.' Julius was always an ambitious villain, but he is only one man."

Just something to ponder.

Making Matters Worse

Dean has an excellent post on Robert Reich's proposals for make work, targeting the unskilled and minorities for more employment. In typical racist fashion, he assumes that construction workers are white males. Further, the administration proposes mandates for hiring the unskilled.

This is why the recession will last longer the more stimulus that is applied. The whole reason we got into a recession is the misapplication of resources. In the inevitable correction that follows economic activity contracts as resources stop flowing to investments and spending that now appears to lack utility. But lo and behold, the aptly named Reich's proposals for a national socialist experiment, will only serve to continue to send funds to unneeded projects. Further, the requirement to use unskilled labor will only increase the waste. What happens to these unskilled folks when these make work projects dry up. It will just lead to more recession. Just as FDR's policies prolonged the Great Depression, so too will these kind of policies prolong the current recession.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Not Ready

Barely into his first week in office, Obama is working on convincing me has not matured enough or developed the temperament to hold the highest office in the land. Play this video and I will explain further.

Note his intent, "I came down here to visit," not adding, "my adoring fans." Here is a man with a pathological need to be liked, and his instincts are that the press room is the place to satisfy that urge, the way Clinton knew to look for chubby interns. Unfortunately, some members of the press seemed willing to oblige:

The president was quickly saved by a cameraman in the room who called out: “I’d like to say it one more time: ‘Mr. President.’ ”

News flash for Mr. Obama. The press are not your friends, they're not your groupies, they're not you're biggest fans. They are supposed to be the "fourth estate," keeping our government honest by asking those tough questions. Get used to it.

Part two of my complaint is that Obama wants to be seen as the "coolest dude." He's like this geek that was somehow transformed, and he just can't stop showing off his utter coolness: From the same article:

He revealed that he had already gotten in two work outs since being sworn in Tuesday.

"Turns out I have a little gym up there," he said with a smile.

This man needs to mature fast, for the sake of the country. Hopefully not as a result of a tragedy he could have prevented.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rapid Bus? Update

In an earlier post, I bemoaned the proposed waste of stimulus dollars on so-called rapid transit initiatives. Desperate to fill space, the local fishwrap published my letter to the editor on the same subject (scroll about halfway down to read it).

So I gave public transportation a try anyway, with my youngest (online handle: mew2ds); recently riding the so called "express bus" downtown, making one transfer to get to his school. He will be sans transportation next semester, as Mrs. Daddy goes back to school herself, so this was a test run to see if the public transportation system was a viable alternative. It was, barely. I'm hoping this motivates him to get and keep his license his senior year, right now, he just has the permit.

So we carefully plotted out the whole route, careful to give ourselves an 18 minute cushion. It is about three blocks to our initial bus stop, not too bad; but being lazy, we caught a ride anyway. No need, because our bus was eight minutes late. Not to worry, right, we're on the express bus. My first gaffe was committed as I boarded the bus; I forgot about that whole exact change thing; so I ended up donating ten bucks to the city coffers of "Enron by the Bay."

View Larger Map

As we debarked at our downtown transfer, (bus 50 to bus 3, Fifth and Broadway, if you zoom in you can see the bus stops), we saw our #3 bus pulling away. Our eight minute cushion for the transfer had evaporated. Not to worry, the 120 bus also goes north on Fifth, however, when it pulled up, we noticed the warning: LTD STOPS, which we took to mean limited stops. Maybe a bad idea to hop on we thought. We ended up waiting a little beyond the advertised fifteen minutes for the next #3 bus. Finally, we were dropped right by the school, exactly ten minutes late for school. All told, an 11 minute car ride turned into a one hour public transportation adventure.

Some observations; the buses were clean and appeared well maintained; not so all of the riders, there were a plethora of new scents. Also, our bus was crowded for most of the trip. Downtown is filled with both business people and employees hustling to work and sketchy characters, just hustling, or not.

A 7 mile, 11 minute trip that would cost me $1.50 in gas in the Civic (based on the round trip) was $10 and one hour on the bus. To be fair, the student monthly pass will be $34 and theoretically could be used for 20 round trips per month, but still, there would not be much savings. For frequent flyers(?), the bus pass is certainly the way to go, but having to budget an hour of your life, two if you took the bus home, certainly explains why everyone who can afford to, takes their car.

It's Official: Republicans More Responsible Administrators

From this week's Economist:

The outgoing president has done an admirable job of smoothing the transition. Mr Bush’s staff have done all they can to brief and assist the new people, for example by quickly giving 1,000 members of the Obama team clearance to look at sensitive information. Mindful that terrorists like to strike when their enemies are unprepared, incoming and outgoing aides and cabinet members met at the White House this week to rehearse their response to a hypothetical terrorist attack. The Bushites’ co-operativeness contrasts with the childish behaviour of some Clintonites in 2001, who vandalised White House offices as they packed up to leave.

That's right, when it comes to responsible behavior in turning over the executive branch, the previous Administration has it all over the previous Democrat one. This, despite the mantra at DailyKos that Democrats are somehow more competent.

Congratulations to the former President and his chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, for putting the good of the nation as their first priority during the transition period.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Heart Beat Away

The election is long over, but Joe Biden can't seem to find the off switch for the "Gaffe-O-Matic," even getting his wife in on the action. After swearing in cabinet members at the White House today, Biden apparently had to be reminded by Obama that he was also supposed to swear in senior staff. Not content to let it ride, he commented:

"My memory is not as good as Chief Justice Roberts."

Which was a swipe at the Chief Justice's misplacing the word "faithfully" in the part of the swearing in oath yesterday.

A couple of days ago, Jill Biden let slip on Oprah that Joe was given the choice of Secretary of State or VP. Dean has more insight here. I remember during the campaign, Joe commenting on how Hillary was probably more qualified than him to be the Vice President. The most recent comments puts a whole new spin on those remarks.

I'm also concerned about something else? If Obama has to correct the Chief Justice and remind the VP of his duties, is this a trend? Will he have to do everything? That would make for an interesting four years.

Monday, January 19, 2009

There May be Hope and Little Change for us yet

Will Rogers famously said, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." The opening agenda of the Democrats seems to confirm the quote and I happy to see them tackling issues that will waste their political capital.

Obama's supposed first act will be to close the Guantanamo Bay holding facility. I commented on this previously, but now I say, great, chew up political spin cycles on how you are going to deal with moving the prisoners to the U.S., the embarrassment of no other countries taking them and a big fight over what constitutional rights they should be afforded. Ultimately, this is a small issue. If the Democrats start to look weak in the fight against jihadis, I think that will be self correcting. Meanwhile, I look forward to them wasting time and political capital on this issue.

Second, in a shocker, Nancy Pelosi says she is open to prosecution of former Bush administration officials. I say, go for it. Hold hearings. Televise them. Get conservatives worked up over the injustice of it all. Embarass yourselves with comparisions to Clinton, Blagojevich, Tim Mahoney, Bill Richardson, the mayors of Detroit and Baltimore, etc. Criminalize participation in the Executive Branch and see how many capable folks on your own side decline nominations.

Third, the Democrats are signalling that they are going to run against Bush in 2010 and 2012 as well. They are trotting out talking points about how this "deep recession" might last that long, and why they should be forgiven if they don't have it fixed by then. Good luck. Even though the shenanigans at Fannie Mae could be fairly blamed on the Democrats in Congress and the previous Clinton administration, see how far that got the Republican party in the last election. And desrvedly so, I might add. Because, it was Bush's watch, and he could have used the investigative power of the Justice Department to clean up Fannie and Freddie if he had the will to do so. My point is that blaming the previous administration will only buy you about a year. Then, tough, it's your problem. Meanwhile, the Democrats will have given conservatives some time to re-group to challenge what I consider the biggest menace, the proposal to slowly nationalize health care.

See Carpe Diem and Beers With Demo for some excellent discussion on why more free market competition would be good for health care costs, not less. More from Professor Perry here and here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

And Yet...

As we close the books on the Bush Presidency in just a few days, there is much for conservatives and libertarians to regret over the last eight years. I twice voted for Mr. Bush, so you might say that I have little excuse for this hand wringing. As KT points out, the alternative was worser, so I have no regrets about my vote. Still I have a long list of complaints about the last eight years, so I will let fly.

1. No Child Left Behind. Anytime you see a so called conservative teaming up with Teddy Kennedy, you can be sure mischief is afoot. This vast intrusion on local school systems, however well intentioned, is out of the constitutional purview of the federal government. Further, it will retard much needed scholastic experimentation for decades to come.

2. Indifferent support of free trade. In 2002, Bush imposed steel tariffs to buy a few votes in the Rust Belt, showing a total moral indifference to the defense of the principles of free trade. Despite lifting them later, he sent the message to the rest of the world that he didn't really care about the issue, setting back international negotiations.

3. Indifference to the constitution. From foreign wiretaps to Guantanamo, Bush acted as if his commander-in-chief powers trumped the rest of the constitution. While I agree with the policies per se, I disagreed vehemently that the President had the authority to implement them unilaterally. On the foreign wiretaps, of course they have provided valuable intelligence, that's why even Democrats voted for changes to FISA when it came to a vote. So why would the administration lay themselves open to charges of illegality when they could have got this legislation so easily passed. Further, it has been argued that it is too difficult to get judges to approve the needed surveillance. Baloney, if it is that important, then create enough special judgeships to oversee the program. We spend enough on the war itself, spend enough to make sure surveillance is conducted legally. Same for military tribunals and the Gitmo prisoners. Do they deserve to be treated as POWs under treaty? Obviously not, but the President lacks the authority to invent a procedure to deal with unlawful combatants out of whole cloth. When Republicans controlled both chambers, surely he could have gotten the procedures and avoided a smack down from the Supremes.

4. Incompetent execution of the war. I was on active duty when Donald Rumsfeld was selected as Secretary of Defense. I remember his emphasis on re-shaping the military to a smaller force with more emphasis on special forces and air power. I disagreed at the time, and believe events in Iraq have proved me out. While I have no smoking gun, there is no doubt in my mind that we went with too small a force in the initial Iraq invasion. The initial looting became important as a tipping point, letting thugs and terrorists (but I repeat myself) know that we lacked the forces to control the country. Displacing a government will always take fewer forces than maintaining effective control of a nation, and we should have known better. Further, we mindlessly de-Baathisized Iraq, but were left with no one who knew how to manage vital civic services. We have only recently found our footing and not because of the geniuses and cowards in the Pentagon. (I don't use that term lightly, Generals and Admirals have a duty to resign and speak out when the administration is being criminally stupid, but those guys valued their pensions and promotions more than their duty.)

5. Indifference to social security reform. Bush gave up on the ownership society way to easily. He failed to communicate and let constant naysayers Pelosi and Reed get the best of them, even though, by their own admissions, they had no better plan to deal with the Ponzi scheme that is called social security.

I could go one, but these are my chief complaints. Do I blame Bush for the recession? To the extent that it is due to the war and other spending putting us into deep debt, yes. So by this reckoning, it would seem that his was a failed presidency.

And yet....

I'm still not sure. The book "Good to Great" talks about the hedgehog, who only has to know one thing to defeat the much more clever fox. George Bush may be that hedgehog in that he knew this: Allowing the drift of events and opinion in the Middle East to continue unchecked would inevitably bring far greater tragedy to the world than the events of 9-11. Something huge needed to be done, something that only America could do, something that would demonstrate our commitment to democracy as well as serve as a reminder that we remain the most powerful nation on earth. A confluence of events made that something a place and a war called simply "Iraq." Only time will tell if he was able to reverse the course of history. I am certain only of this, on the most important decision he had to make on his watch, George Bush got it right. We hope and pray that Barack Obama will be similarly fated.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Try Not Paying THEM

So, my state is broke. The controller, John Chiang, announced today he would stop paying tax refunds on February 1. I guess that's what bankrupt firms do, stop paying their just debts. I just wonder what would happen if I stopped paying taxes.

However, this situation reminds of the advice that every tax professional has ever given me, don't over-pay your taxes just to get a fat refund, your just giving the government an interest free loan. Now I've got another reason to follow that advice. Hopefully, I was smart enough to owe a few bucks this year. More likely, I was not.

Meanwhile, the state failed to run a surplus and save for a rainy day when the revenue was pouring into the treasury. I pray the Republicans keep up the good fight and force steep spending cuts during this crisis. Rahm Emmanuel is reputed to have said, "We can't let a good crisis go to waste..." That can cut both ways.

Of course the usual suspects are crying about how their interest group can't stand to give up any of their government funding. For example:

"Cutting crucial health and human services for the poor while demand for those services skyrockets during this recession is simply the wrong approach to solving the financial crisis," Jeffrey Luther, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians, said in a statement.

Meanwhile in Texas, where the legislature meets for about five months, every other year, (H/T Dean), a state almost as big and with as many difficulties as California, their budget problem is vastly less. They are facing a $9.1 billion shortfall compared to California's $41 billion. The California budget gap is actually bigger than every state's budget except New York's, (H/T San Jose Mercury News.)

Piracy Update

I previously posted about the difficulties, strategic and otherwise, in containing pirates near the Horn of Africa. The Commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet, Vice Admiral William Gortney, pictured, pointed out perhaps the most significant problem: No deterrent. How's that you say? Aren't there laws? Yes, but no country is willing to take the pirates in to try them. Why aren't we bring the pirates to the U.S. for trial? Are you kidding, after all the crap we took over Guatanamo? This isn't even our fight really, but the Saudis and others in the area won't lift a finger.

And all that help we're supposed to be getting from other nations.

The United States is expecting other nations to join the anti-piracy task force, but at the moment, the United States is the only country in the task force with just three ships off of the waters of Somalia.

That's right, three ships to patrol a million square miles of territory, source here. Good luck sailors, you're going to need it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rapid Bus?

In today's fishwrap, Erin Steva of CALPIRG waxes poetic about how Obama needs to spend money on rapid transit.

"Imagine bus rapid transit connecting downtown San Diego to San Diego State University, going through downtown along Broadway, North Park and Hillcrest, and finally, down El Cajon Boulevard through midcity neighborhoods."

Kind of gives you a tingle? NOT! Who rides that route? I did try to imagine it, but all I get are visions of empty vehicles, like the official "rapid bus" pictured above left. Any time I see proposals for the oxymorons "light rail" and "rapid bus," I know to clutch my wallet.

Besides, even if every car on the road was powered by solar, wind or hydrogen engines, would-be socialist central planners would still be against the them because they give Americans freedom to go where they want, when they want. This is anathema to the culture of state planning. So, if we're going to be wasting our grandchildren's inheritance, let's get real and build some decent roads and expand the one's we have.

P.S. I got the picture of the bus from a web site Light Rail Now, that made the case that only 13% of the passengers for LA's "rapid buses" came from people abandoning their cars, the rest were cannibalized from other forms of public transportation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lumens and Tungsten and Bulbs - Oh My!

Over at Carpe Diem, Professor Perry has been having some fun pointing out how clearly superior products from present day actually cost significantly less than the same products from decades ago. There are some great pictures from old Sears catalogs, so I suggest you check out some of his articles. I point this out because it is important to remember that over the last few centuries, life has gotten progressively better. We work less and enjoy leisure time more, with more opportunities for recreation and serious pursuits. Even if these current times seem clouded with uncertainty, the challenges don't even seem as daunting as in the previous century. The century before that saw the country engage in a great civil war that killed a larger portion of our population than any war before or since. And in the century prior to that, we struggled against the greatest empire of the age, that sent the largest expeditionary force ever before assembled in the history of the world to defeat us, and yet we prevailed.

Back on purely economic terms, the arguments persist as to whether we are really better off, are goods really cheaper. This is a classic problem in economics, to the cost of like problems from different eras. It was tackled by William Nordhaus in 1998 in a paper on the unit cost of a lumen, a measure of light flux, i.e. photons per unit of time. Neither photons nor time have changed significantly over the course of the study. Not surprisingly, Nordhaus concludes that traditional economic measures significantly underestimate the cost benefits of quality improvements over time. His study showed that the cost of a lumen had declined by a factor of almost 400 since 1800. Different technologies such as the transition from tallow candles to light bulbs and then the introduction of tungsten and finally fluorescent bulbs continued to make the production of light less expensive. But in economic measures, the production of candles and their costs are one part of the measure of economic output. In fact, candles are now largely decorative. It is the production of a lumen that is a better measure of economic well being.

Some selected data (you can see the whole thing on page 23):
Year------Technology---------Price (cents per 1,000 lumen-hours)
1800--Talllow candle----------40.293
1815--Whale oil lamp----------29.886
1875--Gas lamp-----------------5.035
1883--Edison carbon lamp-------9.228
1900--Filament lamp------------2.692
1940--Filament lamp------------0.392
1992--Fluorescent bulb---------0.124

The study is a bit of a slog, but it is worth looking at the tables and graphs. I remember an article in The Economist on this some years ago, but couldn't find the piece to link.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's a matta with you's guys?

After choking down $45 billion of jack from Washington loan shark, Sammy the Nose (as in "Yo Uncle Sammy nose what's best what's best for you's guys health.") The not so street-smart suits at Citibank have changed their tune about giving bankruptcy judges more latitude in resetting the terms of payment of home mortgages. No connection to their new best friend? Dean has rescued my blog with the full story.

Light blogging tonight as I finish two days of training in "best practices for service management" and have two short papers to write for an on line course in Information Resources Management.

The Limits of His Personal Charm

In a widely publicized trial balloon, presidential team advisers have indicated that Obama is preparing an executive order to close the terrorist holding facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In a little noted excerpt from the article:

"...many nations have resisted Bush administration efforts to repatriate the prisoners back home. Both Obama advisers said it's hoped that nations that had initially resisted taking detainees will be more willing to do so after dealing with the new administration."

Stepping aside from the wisdom of bringing the most dangerous terrorists in the world onto U.S. soil, is Mr. Hope and Change really going to cajole other countries to take back terrorists through his charm? This reflects two strains of fallacious thinking that will be exposed. First, that hatred of America is all about Bush and as soon as he is gone the world will just love us. I made a facetious comment to this effect on DailyKos and was lauded for my thinking. Second, as I (and others) have discussed here and here, Mr. Obama seems to have a stratospherically high regard for himself.

To quote P.J. O'Rourke, "Is it too soon to talk about the failed Obama presidency just because Obama isn't president yet?"

Monday, January 12, 2009

Harry Reid Constitutional Update #5

UPDATE #5 (and hopefully the last)

Apparently Harry Reid has given up on his fight against the constitution and the Senate is going to seat Roland Burris. Full story here. This is an amazing development if, and it's a big if, you ever took Harry's "fight to the death" rhetoric seriously. Even the funsters at DailyKos have been taking their shots at Harry. Hopefully he will have a long tenure as leader of the Senate Democrats.

Also, I find the outcome comforting. For all the twists and turns and out and out criminality, it looks like the rule of law will prevail, both in seating Burris, and in removing Blagojevich in the constitutionally accepted manner of impeachment and trial in the state senate.


Reuters is mindlessly parroting Harry Reid's assertion that he has the sole authority on whether or not to seat Roland Burris, Blago's pick for Illinois Senator. Read this quote:

Under the Constitution, Reid said, "We determine who sits in the Senate. And the House (of Representatives) determines who sits in the House. So there's clearly legal authority for us to do whatever we want to do. This goes back for generations."
As I posted earlier, this is so much rubbish and is settled case law at that. This is just further evidence of why the Democrat run Senate and House can't break 20% approval ratings. Clear legal authority to do what we want to do? So much for the constitution, so much for elections for that matter, why doesn't Harry just pick all the senators himself?


As expected today, the Secretary of the Senate refused to seat Roland Burris because "his credentials were not in order." Meanwhile Governor Blagojevich has called a special election to fill the vacated House seat of Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. Is he governor or not? The Democrats only have themselves to blame for neither impeaching Blago immediately nor passing legislation to remove his power to fill the senate vacancy. From the Chicago CBS affiliate story:

Roosevelt University policy studies professor Paul Green said there is no reason why Burris should not be seated."One doesn't know what's going on, because legally, (Burris is) absolutely correct, and there should not be any debate; there should not be any discussion. Secretary of State White really has no function in this; the statute is clear. The governor makes the selection," Green said. "I don't know how you bar somebody from a sovereign state who was legally appointed not to go to the U.S. Senate – which, by the way, is not known for being the home of many vestal virgins – and all of a sudden you have everyone shocked, outraged by this process."



Rumor has it that Senate Democrats are seeing the writing on the wall and preparing themselves to seat Roland Burris. More here.


As legal analysts come around to my position, this from Greta Van Susteren this evening:
I wish the President-elect and Harry Reid would just say, we didn't have time to read the seventeenth amendment to the constitution.

I guess it's just asking too much for lawmakers to be versed at all in the consitution. Especially former consitutional law perfessers.

Fixing the Mortgage Mess

In an earlier posts, here and here, I discussed ethics and the disconnect between market actors that contributed to the mortgage mess that has in turn contributed to our financial meltdown. Specifically, the fact that mortgage holders now can't even tell who owns their mortgages is causing many of our troubles, because no re-negotiations are possible. I was at a loss as to how to solve it.

Turns out that this problem has been solved in Denmark, of all places. When a Danish mortgage bank makes a loan to a homeowner, it is required to sell a bond of equal value and interest rate (plus a tiny bit extra for its fees). So far, no difference. In Denmark, however, the issuer of the bond is required to continue to make the payments even if the borrower defaults. As pointed out in the Economist article, this maintains the link between those who sell mortgages and those who bear the risk of default. Also, mortgage-holders can buy the bonds in the market in a process similar to re-financing. Danish law also requires borrowers to finance no more than 80% of the purchase price.

A criticism of the system is that it makes it hard for risky borrowers to get loans, albeit at higher interest rates. Excuse me? I find that reassuring. Also, mortgage banks are very quick to seize homes for non-payment, since they are the one's paying on the bonds. However, this leads to very good lending practices.

Amazingly, this whole mechanism has been in place since 1850. However, it has also been updated to take advantage of new lending innovations such as adjustable rate mortgages. Further, the Danes have not seen the free fall in housing prices that plagues the U.S and U.K. Further, because there is a large securities market for mortgage bonds, it obviates the need for the likes of Fannie Mae to create such a market to insure liquidity. That too, is another advantage, because it gets quasi-government agencies out of this business. Even though the Danes regulate this market, no taxpayer money is at risk. But best of all, this system restores the transparency needed for the proper functioning of capital markets.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Destroying Jobs -- For the Children

Charlotte, the organic bear, picture at left, may soon be outlawed in the United States in the interests of safety. Dean has great commentary about how a new law designed "for the children," is driving eco-friendly and organic toy producers out of business. While the cynic in me might think that's a good thing, do we really need to be putting companies out of business and people out of work right now? By the way, it seems that doing it "for the children," has become the favorite phrase of those paving the "Road to Serfdom."

A Dose of Skeptism

Greg Mankiw, Harvard economics professor, pens a thoughtful critique of the Bush/Obama stimulus plan in yesterday's New York Times. (There, I said it. In a strange way, it seems that we are getting a third Bush term after all.) (I also note that those supposed bastions of liberalism, the NYT and Harvard, embrace free markets in their economics and business departments.)

His critique is that the multiplier effect for government spending is small, we can't be assured that the spending will be on anything really useful to society, it will lead to an inexorable increase in the size of government, and tax cuts would be more effective.

KT over at the Scratching Post has argued against tax cuts because past practice has shown that they only lead to higher deficits. In and of themselves, tax cuts don't slow government growth, and the ensuing deficits are bad for the economy. He has changed my mind on this subject. However, given that we are going to have some sort of "stimulus package," I would prefer that it come in the form of tax cuts, so that the money spent will at least be on useful goods and services.

To borrow from Mankiw's example, if the government hires you for $200, to dig a hole in your neighbor's yard and then fill it up, government statisticians will record your effort as economic activity and that the economy is improving. However, it is unlikely that your neighbor would spend a $200 tax rebate on so frivolous a project. But who would bet againsty the government doing so? Hence, my preference for tax cuts as stimulus.

Professor Mankiw's argument that the increased spending will result in programs that never end is well taken. From his article:

Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, has said, “You don’t ever want to let a crisis go to waste: it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.”

What he has in mind is not entirely clear. One possibility is that he wants to use a temporary crisis as a pretense for engineering a permanent increase in the size and scope of the government. Believers in limited government have reason to be wary.

Enough said.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wait 'til It's Free - Round Two

Dean had a great post about how the free market works to reign in the costs of health care. His title references P.J. O'Rourke:

"If you think health care is expensive now, wait 'til it's free"

Carpe Diem tipped us off to another danger of government run health care, a threat to your personal freedom. From the Washington Time article:

Recent news dispatches from Tokyo have highlighted a new Japanese law that ranks as the world's most aggressive, and possibly most ill informed, anti-obesity measure.

The law requires everyone between 40 and 74 years of age to have their waist measured. The requirement, which will cover almost half of the country's population, stipulates that people whose waists exceed the allowable limit — 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women — will be given three months to get in to shape. Failing that, they will be given another six months of health re-education to reduce their waist measurements. Companies with large-waisted employees will be financially penalized.

Six months of health re-education? Welcome to the gulag, comrade, and I don't care how many gold medals you won as a Sumo wrestler. You know this will be good for you.

But seriously, this is such a great example of how the "Road to Serfdom" is paved. What area of freedom is more personal than one's own choice of dinner entree? The more the government controls the economy, the more the government will control our private lives. It's axiomatic. We need to make the fight against universal health care on both the economic front and the personal freedom front if we are to have success against this evil.

Friday, January 9, 2009

This Can't Be Good

Picture above is of a canister filled with $3 million being parachuted onto a ship held ransom by Somali pirates. Source here, with more great photos. Piracy has been a scourge for centuries, despite the romance you might see in film, and our nation's earliest naval battles after independence involved piracy. Although piracy is certainly a form of injustice and a proper topic of this blog, I haven't commented because I am conflicted on how the United States should deal with this. Turns out the two leading Naval bloggers, Information Dissemination and CDR Salamander, are also at odds over tactics and strategy; I highly recommend their blogs for naval topics. Information Dissemination is arguing the need for a coalition to fight piracy, with an eye on the longer term goal of drawing China and India into long term strategic partnerships. The good Commander argues that we can never really count on such allies, even temporarily, because ultimately our national interests diverge, calling this the triumph of hope over experience.

A further complication is that I am not sure if the Somali pirates aren't the enemy of my enemy, specifically Islamic extremists. In a previous seizure, the pirates claimed that they were preventing shipments of heavy weapons through Kenya to help the vicious Islamofascist regime of Sudan pummel Christians in the Darfur. From Questionable Source:

This story is interesting because it paints a highly accurate picture of the political realities at play in Africa. Somali pirates, who are hired to hijack ships to pay for food, seize a shipment of Russian arms inbound to either Kenya, Somalia, or Sudan, to either aid or repel Islamic extremists, depending on where this particular shipment was going. American and Russian battleships surround the Somali pirates to ensure that the arms reach a favorable destination, which could be anywhere in a region where loyalties can change instantly with some financing. Islamic extremists wage a daily war against the transitional Somali government and their Ethiopian allies, fueled by arms imports from Russia and China.

Ultimately, this rash of piracy highlights the failure of the rule of law in the entire region. Putting an end to it, we must, but by what means? Further, we need to keep in mind that the same militant Islamic extremism that fueled the 9/11 attacks is on the march not only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, but in East Africa as well. Call it a war on terror or not, we are in for a long slog against enemies with whom we can not compromise.

As to those pirates and all that swag?

But as they made off they continued to row about the payout.

'Two of them swam and survived. One is still missing.

The weather was so terrible that it blew the boat over, then sank it.

We got five dead bodies and we are still searching for the missing one. The waves were disastrous,' said Farah Osman, an associate of the gang.

It is not known what happened to the money or those who survived.

Nice. Maybe we should suggest sending T-bills in the future.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year! You're on the Hook for a Cool Trillion... Per Year... For Life

A smiling Barack Obama goes to meet with Congressional leaders. Later he announced that he is down with deficits of a trillion per year. Happy New Year!

Meanwhile Democrat blogs are pointing out the hypocrisy of Republicans opposing large deficits. However, in their meager defense, KT at the Scratching Post, points out that things could have been worse.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Harry Reid Constitutional Update #2, #3 #4

Reuters is mindlessly parroting Harry Reid's assertion that he has the sole authority on whether or not to seat Roland Burris, Blago's pick for Illinois Senator. Read this quote:

Under the Constitution, Reid said, "We determine who sits in the Senate. And the House (of Representatives) determines who sits in the House. So there's clearly legal authority for us to do whatever we want to do. This goes back for generations."
As I posted earlier, this is so much rubbish and is settled case law at that. This is just further evidence of why the Democrat run Senate and House can't break 20% approval ratings. Clear legal authority to do what we want to do? So much for the constitution, so much for elections for that matter, why doesn't Harry just pick all the senators himself?


As expected today, the Secretary of the Senate refused to seat Roland Burris because "his credentials were not in order." Meanwhile Governor Blagojevich has called a special election to fill the vacated House seat of Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. Is he governor or not? The Democrats only have themselves to blame for neither impeaching Blago immediately nor passing legislation to remove his power to fill the senate vacancy. From the Chicago CBS affiliate story:

Roosevelt University policy studies professor Paul Green said there is no reason why Burris should not be seated."One doesn't know what's going on, because legally, (Burris is) absolutely correct, and there should not be any debate; there should not be any discussion. Secretary of State White really has no function in this; the statute is clear. The governor makes the selection," Green said. "I don't know how you bar somebody from a sovereign state who was legally appointed not to go to the U.S. Senate – which, by the way, is not known for being the home of many vestal virgins – and all of a sudden you have everyone shocked, outraged by this process."



Rumor has it that Senate Democrats are seeing the writing on the wall and preparing themselves to seat Roland Burris. More here.


As legal analysts come around to my position, this from Greta Van Susteren this evening:
I wish the President-elect and Harry Reid would just say, we didn't have time to read the seventeenth amendment to the constitution.

I guess it's just asking too much for lawmakers to be versed at all in the consitution. Especially former consitutional law perfessers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Obama Was Warned

A month ago, an AP story appeared about how Bush was warned of the impending mortgage crisis, by some obscure lender named Paris Welch in a letter to regulators. At the time I thought, "Are you kidding me, that constitutes a warning?" So in response, I telepathically warned Barack Obama that appointing so many ex-Clintonites with all that swag Washington was throwing at businesses, even one's that don't seem to want it, would inevitably result in a scandal during his Presidency. But I was wrong, scandal seems to be arriving early, as Bill Richardson withdrew his name for Commerce secretary as a federal grand jury probes "goings on" in New Mexico, dating back to 2004. Amazingly, Obama is sticking with his "No Clintonite Left Behind" strategy and is reportedly going to appoint Leon Panetta as DCI, (that's Director of Central Intelligence for those who haven't read some of the great novels of the twentieth century.) Anyway, Obama was warned.

But the sarcasm belies a deeper point; what the heck is wrong with our political class? Why does the world's second oldest profession have lower moral standing than the first? The scandals of the last few years are mind boggling. Blago is not so amazing as he is prototypical.

As one with a little training in economics, I believe incentives matter. There is just so much money in play, and it is often spent at the whim of the powerful, that bad actors are constantly tempting politicians with goodies. For example, years ago, domestic sugar producers spent $4 million lobbying to protect their "industry" from cheap Caribbean imports of sugar cane. Congress, realizing the national security implications, rallied to their defense and preserved tariffs on sugar cane imports that were worth about $4 billion a year at the time. Their wasn't even a bribe, or at least no indictments. So who wouldn't spend that kind of cash for 1000 to 1 return on investment, in the first year alone. (Although this doesn't explain the Larry Craig's of the world, I'll admit.)

The solution is for we the people to demand limits on government and how much discretion it has to spend our money. We need to realize, to get really educated, on the harm done to our economy and and to our freedom when government becomes Big Brother to business. And that's the real danger of this bail out. Not that it will fail and we all go broke, but that it will appear to succeed and set a dangerous precedent, much as the New Deal did.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Not so Golden Memories

...but far more faulty to be sure.

Dean here. Hey gang, guess who turns 50 this year? Think history and specifically Western Hemisphere geopolitics. If you guessed the Left’s and the West’s favorite communist revolution that took place in Cuba 50 years ago this week you would be absolutely correct. And just like the inevitable march of time tends to gloss over some of the finer details of the past, you will find no greater example of convenient forgetfulness than that of Castro’s Cuba.

In fact, the extent to which rationalizations are tortured and facts twisted, you would think the many useful idiots living here on the right side of history would find themselves in the hospital. No such luck though as the shameless whitewashing of the dire consequences of totalitarianism basks in its golden anniversary.

From the get-go a mass grave of more than a hundred men and boys that had been machine-gunned on orders of brother Raoul and which was being bull-dozed a day after Castro promised the nation he would “solve all of Cuba’s problems without spilling a drop of blood” was certainly the cue for the U.K. Observer to note: "Mr Castro's bearded, youthful figure has become a symbol of Latin America's rejection of brutality and lying. Every sign is that he will reject personal rule and violence."

Ah, Fidel. Ever the revolutionary and symbol of social justice for .edu-guy and middle class mall rats across the nation.

It stands as monument to idiocy and callousness that despite the intervention of facts (the dramatic rise in infant mortality post-Revolution despite Cuba’s current universal health care, the rise in prostitution on the island post-Revolution despite Havanna breaking free from the decadent West, the highest abortion rate of the Western Hemisphere as well as the highest suicide rate in the W.H. which is also 3 times what it was during the dreadfully corrupt Batista regime), Fidel, Raoul and of course Che’ are held in such high regard by people who should absolutely know better.

It is our sincere hope that the people of Cuba will live to see the demise of this dehumanizing and spirit-crushing system of governance that will be moved ever more swiftly along by an also hoped-for speedy demise of their leader and his brother.

H/T: American Thinker

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Light blogging today while we visited friends, finished off some final gift exchanges and watched the Pac-10 complete a perfect 5-0 bowl season against the hapless Big-10 challengers.

We pray for success for our new President in the coming year. He faces great challenges. But let us not forgot that our country overcame greater challenges in the twentieth century when we survived a great depression, not just a recession, defeated fascism and then communism. This is a great country and continues to be so because of our ideals of freedom, democracy and rule of law.