Saturday, December 25, 2010

North Korea in the News

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) will chair the Foreign Affairs committee when Congress returns in the New Year, and she has already made enemies around the world. North Korea has insulted her by calling her 'human scum':
...the Korean Central News Agency, the mouthpiece of Pyongyang in a country with no free media, said Wednesday that Ros-Lehtinen's calls for North Korea to be relisted as a state sponsor of terrorism were "intolerable as it is malignant vituperation against the dignified DPRK and its system."

"Ros, man representing the U.S. conservative hard-liners, is human scum as he earned ill-fame as an anti-communist fanatic," the KCNA wrote. "He is a political illiterate ignorant of the background against which the nuclear issue cropped up on the Korean Peninsula and the processes to settle it."
BREAKING: North Korea is still irrelevant.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Constitutional Momentum

This morning I mentioned that the new rules for the House of Representatives included a floor reading of the US Constitution. That idea seems to have been popular based on the number of blogs that have noticed this rule change. The Washington Times notes the purpose of the reading which obviously appeals to conservative and tea party websites:
The goal, backers said, is to underscore the limited-government rules the Founders imposed on Congress - and to try to bring some of those principles back into everyday legislating.
Perhaps this will be the start of a new tradition. Perhaps those schools that have returned from the New Year's break will carry the Congressional reading of the Constitution live.

New House Rules

John BoehnerImage via Wikipedia
The new speaker of the House, John Boehner (R), plans to change the rules in the House of Representatives in ways that Tea Partiers will like. One such change is a reading of the US Constitution:
For those members of Congress who need a refresher course on the Constitution, Speaker-designate John Boehner has reserved the right to have it read aloud on the floor the day after he’s sworn in on Jan. 6.
There's are numerous rule changes that will help reign in spending. Of course, rules can be waived, so the most that we can say right now is that the House has created a framework to promote fiscally conservative legislation:
The rules package, as outlined by aides, incorporates much of what Republicans laid out in the Pledge to America, including new procedural hurdles for deficit spending.

One of the biggest of those hurdles is a rule that the House will no longer recognize tax increases as a way of offsetting new spending in entitlement programs, like Medicare and Social Security. The president’s health-care bill would have been almost impossible to pass if Democrats had been forced to meet that standard.
One rule that I find particularly interesting is about posting video of hearings online. Back to The Wall Street Journal article:
–All bills and amendments must be posted online. Other disclosure rules including posting lawmakers’ attendance records and video of hearings online.
I hope that Boehner and his colleagues in the Senate move to make the entire C-SPAN archive downloadable.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Your Questions for the RNC Chairman's Debate

There will be a debate between the candidates running for RNC chairman on January 3rd. is looking for questions from the public to be asked during the debate:
After registering and logging in, you can submit and vote on questions to be asked of the candidates at the debate. If your question is selected, you will receive both a signed copy of Grover Norquist's Leave Us Alone and a ball cap from The Daily Caller.
I'm not sure why the RNC Chairman race is getting so much attention. I think questions from the public is interesting, but I don't see how those questions will influence the 200 or so people that get to vote for RNC chairman. It really is the ultimate insider's game.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Death of the Duck

The victory lap that the Dems just took in this lame duck session will come back to haunt them. The average voter wont remember, but Tea Partiers and other conservatives will. Here's the out-of-touch arrogance of Harry Reid as reported by The Hill:
“This was, by far, the most productive Congress in American history,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday evening. “And the lame-duck session we’re finishing was the most productive of its kind. Why? Because we heard the message the American people sent us last month: They don’t want us to sit around and waste their time. They want us to work together and work for them.”
R. S. McCain provides a translation:
“Working together” = “Ramming through the Democrats’ agenda with the cooperation of RINOs.”
There are still many RINOs (Republican's In Name Only) in DC. It's going to take time to smoke 'em out of their spider holes.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bill Boosting Nuclear Plant Begins Legislative Path :

Missouri News Horizon reports on pending legislation to add another nuclear plant in the state:
Legislation that backers hope will speed the process of building a second nuclear plant in Missouri is already in lawmakers’ hands.

Sponsor, State Senator Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, was one of the first lawmakers to file legislation for the upcoming session. His bill would allow power companies involved in an effort to obtain an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to recoup through rate hikes the permit costs. The permit cost is estimated at about $40 million.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ending Spending

James Pethokoukis of Reuters identifies one priority for conservatives next year:
The failure to pass a 2011 budget is also tremendously positive [for conservatives]. It shows the impact of the Tea Party movement has not waned since the November midterms. This creates a situation next year where the flood of new Tea Party Republicans can combine a threat of government shutdown with a refusal to raise the national debt ceiling so as to squeeze spending cuts out of Obama and congressional Democrats.
It will be a closely fought battle. Tea Partiers have to prepare to provide support to conservatives on Capitol Hill.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Census Bolsters GOP

With the census nearly complete a picture of the 2012 political landscape is beginning to emerge and President Obama's path to the White House in two years has gotten a lot harder:
The biggest gainer will be Texas, a GOP-dominated state expected to gain up to four new House seats, for a total of 36. The chief losers — New York and Ohio, each projected by nongovernment analysts to lose two seats — were carried by Obama in 2008 and are typical of states in the Northeast and Midwest that are declining in political influence.
It's still unclear whether Missouri will lose a seat, though the map at the New York Times shows us losing one. The most fascinating thing about that map is that it shows no change in California. Looking at the apportionment chart in Wikipedia, this would be the first census in which The Golden State did not add at least one congressional seat. Of course, the analysis out today will have some errors, so we'll have to wait until Tuesday for the final results.

S.510 Passed! Will there be Hell to Pay?

The headline at The Hill says: GOP Abandons Tea Party: In Sunday Night Surprise, Senate Unanimously Passes Food “Safety” Bill:
The Senate unexpectedly approved food safety legislation by unanimous consent Sunday evening, rescuing a bill that floated in limbo for weeks because of a clerical error.
You can't take your eye off of these clowns for a second. The bill still has to go back to the House, but it's unlikely that Republicans will be able to defeat it there.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Marriage Gap

La Shawn Barber on the Marriage Gap:
For example, not only is a residential father more emotionally and financially invested in his children than a non-residential father, children living with their own married parents are less likely to be poor, do drugs, get pregnant outside marriage, or end up in jail.
It's worse than that. The Centers for Disease Control identify: "Nonbiological, transient caregivers in the home (e.g., mother’s male partner)" as a risk factor for child abuse. In other words, stable households headed by married parents mitigate the risk of child maltreatment.

Breaking Down the Tax Vote

Jay Cost in The Weekly Standard on Breaking Down the Tax Vote:
Last night's vote in the House of Representatives to extend the current tax rates marked an ironic end for the 111th House of Representatives. As unpopular as she has become, House speaker Nancy Pelosi did an extraordinary job of holding her caucus together for tough votes. However, last night the Democrats did something they hardly ever did during her four-year tenure as speaker: they split almost down the middle over the final tax provision. The final roll call vote had 139 Democrats voting in favor of the package while 112 voted against. From a Republican's perspective, this is exactly what you want to see. Roll call votes that unite your side and divide the opposition are just what you want from a legislative perspective, and that's exactly what the vote last night produced.

Comparison of Restore Sanity Vs. Restoring Honor

Here's an interesting info-graphic from Guide to Online Schools:
Online Schools - Restore Rallies

Redistricting Russ Carnahan out of a Job

RedState is running some Ideas for Redistricting:
if MO loses a seat eliminate MO-3 Russ Carnahan. Carnahan will probably run for LT Gov then Since LT Gov Kinder is going to vacate the seat to run against Governor Nixon. And I suspect he wants his Dad’s old Job as Governor. He will not challenge Nixon in a primary but it sets him up perfectly.
Are you kidding me? Russ Carnahan for statewide office? Russ's more conservative and less goofy sister just lost a statewide race. Between her successful 2008 race when she garnered 1.7 million votes and her 2010 loss when she got a million less (0.7 million votes) the Carnahan brand has declined. When the people take to the streets demanding more taxes and more spending, I'm sure there will be a surge of nostalgia for Carnahan profligacy, but don't hold your breath.

Oh, and Republican Steve Tilley is warding off competitors for the GOP Lt. Gov. primary with a war chest of $750,000+ on hand. Whoever runs on the Dem side is going to have to draw lots of donors. I just don't see Russ doing that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Three Problems with Ethanol

This is the best sentence I've read today:
Ethanol is so uneconomical that Congress supports it three different ways — with a mandate for its use, a tax credit to subsidize it, and a tariff to keep out competitors.
There are at least two other great sentences in that article, so go read the whole thing!

Some Christmas Cheer: Merry Christmas Afghanistan

Megan McArdle asks a Direct Question

Blogging at The Atlantic, Megan McArdle asks a direct question about the health insurance mandate. Her question is in the context of the court challenge to the healthcare bill that's being heard in Florida:
I don't know the answer to this question, so I'm genuinely asking: would it be constitutional to effectively declare that the nation's health insurers are branch offices of the Internal Revenue Service?
If the health insurance mandate is a tax, then health insurers that collect revenue under that mandate are effectively tax collectors. Does the healthcare bill turn health insurers into quasi-tax collectors and is that Constitutional?

Some Christmas Cheer: Social Network Edition

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Paul Curtman for US Senate?

Bungalow Bill is asking why the Missouri GOP keeps running candidates that have lost when conservatives and Tea Partiers have a great candidate in Paul Curtman:
So why is the GOP keeps retreading the same losers over and over thinking they deserve shot after shot? Why not bring up some fresh talent that has a real backbone, will be honest with voters (something both Martin and Steelman have lost credibility over), and is a true conservative? There are others in the state of Missouri that would do a far better job at defending the Constitution in the United States Senate than Ed Martin and Sarah Steelman would, both who have records of looking out for their own interests in Missouri government.
Ed Martin has only ever run for office once. It's delusional to paint him has a perennial loser. To the best of my knowledge, Steelman has only lost one race as well (the 2008 GOP primary for Governor). Again, it's unfair to characterize her this way. However, I find it odd to suggest that the GOP is driving the candidate selection. Running for office is a personal decision. The party can lean on the scales, but in the Senate race the NRSC has said that it wont as I reported earlier. I guess MOGOP could, but I think they'll follow the lead of the NRSC. Back to Bill:
Why not encourage someone like Jefferson County's Paul Curtman to run for the United States Senate? It's been said Curtman doesn't just know the Constitution, he is fluent in the Constitution. How many politicians can you make that claim for? Not many.
Oh, it's better than that. Paul Curtman has written a book on the Constitution. You can buy it on his website. It's a good read. Bungalow Bill continues:
A true political outsider and tea partier, Curtman proven record of leadership in the Marine Corps and a proven record in government as an independent conservative thinker, we need to bring up candidates who aren't retreads election after election like Martin and Steelman, we need to bring up candidates like Curtman who truly believe in the Constitution and won't be easily influenced by the sins of Washington DC.
Paul's 29 years old (I think). He would meet the Constitutional requirement of being 30 before the election, but he's still going to look young and I think that hurts in a Senate race. Furthermore, he's only just been elected to the the state house. Yes, I think he has great opportunities ahead of him. I think it's likely that he'll hold statewide office someday. I also think that day could be ten or more years from now.

I think Paul will stick to his convictions, but I worry that doing so will marginalize him in the legislature. Compromise is a fundamental part of what happens in legislatures. So certain compromises may look as though he's sold out on some core issue. Curtman will figure out how to play this game.

The biggest barrier to a Curtman for Senate in 2012 campaign is the fact that such a campaign has to start now. It takes a lot of money to run for statewide office, so those planning to do so are already filling their coffers for the fight. The Democrat's likely gubernatorial candidate, Jay Nixon, is approaching $2 million dollars. A likely Republican candidate for Lt. Gov. Steve Tilley, has at least $750,000 on hand. Curtman needs to focus on the business of legislating and does not need the distraction of dialing for dollars.

Throwing Sand in the Empire's Machinery

Jim DeMint headshotImage via Wikipedia
The Hill is reporting that the GOP will paralyze Senate floor with reading of 1,924-page spending bill:
Republicans will paralyze the Senate floor for 50 hours by forcing clerks to read every single paragraph of the 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) is behind this effort and deserves to be rewarded if it comes to pass. My recommendation is a penny a page. Please consider donating $19.24 to DeMint during the reading of the bill.

Given the arrogant truculence of this lame duck session of Congress, I believe the GOP's best strategy is to simply gum-up the works. Doing so may prevent action on other pending legislation including the so-called "DREAM" Act. And while conservatives and the GOP will be criticized for such intransigence, the fact remains that the Democrats had all year, both houses of Congress, and the Presidency and choose not to pass a budget for fear of greater losses this past November.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Small Request: $48 BILLION for Day Care Center

When I first saw Mike Jenson's report, I wasn't sure this could really be true:
In the midst of a colossal global concern for the economic stability of our great nation, Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri's 5th Congressional District representative, has one small earmark on his wish list that deserves some attention.

Cleaver has listed a new earmark -- one of several -- and he promises to "fight for every one." But this is a whopping $48 billion package that must go down as the grandaddy of all earmarks.
But, it is. Gateway Pundit has uncovered even more information about this earmark:
The $48 billion would go to Cleaver’s friend, a gentleman named Lamar Mickens, president of the not-for-profit Quality Day Campus who runs the organization out of his Kansas City home.


Lamar Mickens is the President and the Treasurer of Quality Day Campus, Inc.
His wife Cynthia is the Vice President of Quality Day Campus, Inc.
Wow. Just wow. I think that's gonna take a point or two off of Congress's historically low approval rating. At 13%, they're rapidly approaching a firm floor!

CableGate Reaches Thailand, Will Civil War Follow?

Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra i...Image via Wikipedia
Thai Queen Accused Of Backing 2006 Military Coup: US Cable
A former Thai prime minister with close ties to fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra accused the queen of being behind a 2006 coup that ousted his ally, a leaked US diplomatic cable showed.
The political turmoil in Thailand left almost a hundred people dead earlier this year. The king is generally seen as a neutral party although he's old and dying. To have his queen accused of orchestrating the 2006 coup may generate sympathy for Thaksin's Red Shirts who were ousted in that coup. Some are predicting another coup in Thailand is coming, so it's unlikely that this would ease the tensions.

While I don't know if the redacted names and titles in a post from Bangkok Pundit are the Queen, it seems likely that these cables could precipitate a civil war (notes: 1. the Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD) are the political opponents of Thaksin. 2. this cable was written in Nov 2008):
9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX believed PAD continued to aim for a violent clash that would spark a coup. He asserted that he had dined on October 6 with a leading PAD figure (NFI), who explained that PAD would provoke violence during its October 7 protest at the parliament. The unnamed PAD figure predicted (wrongly) that the Army would intervene against the government by the evening of October 7. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted to us that PAD remained intent on a conflict that would generate at least two dozen deaths and make military intervention appear necessary and justified.
10. (C) We mentioned to XXXXXXXXXXXX the claim by Thaksin associate XXXXXXXXXXXX that Thaksin had been the target of an assassination plot (ref C). (Note: Subsequent to the Ambassador's meeting with XXXXXXXXXXXX, another Thaksin ally related the same claim, and said Thaksin himself had spoken of this plot. End Note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested XXXXXXXXXXXX's list of conspirators -- including two prominent judges -- was not credible, but XXXXXXXXXXXX said he could confirm (presumably because of first-hand discussion with an organizing figure) that certain enemies of Thaksin (NFI) had sought to kill him. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he had been surprised to learn that the contract on Thaksin's life entailed a relatively low payment of only several hundred thousand Baht (in the range of 10,000 USD), although it also entailed resettlement abroad for the person(s) directly involved.
It's interesting to know that our State Department can write dispassionately about "a conflict that would generate at least two dozen deaths." I suppose that's just part of the job.

Obama Administration Supporting Communists Abroad

Dilma Vana Rousseff, Minister-Chief of Staff o...Image via Wikipedia
From a profile of Brazil’s new radical president Dilma Rousseff we learn that President Obama skipped the left-of-center party to throw his support to the hard-left party:
When [Dilma Rousseff's] campaign for presidency kicked off in February 2009, the campaign presented her as the one to continue Lula’s largely market friendly policies and social welfare programs. She told voters that she was “going to follow Lula’s path.” In March 2009, following a meeting with Barack Obama in the United States, Obama promptly asked his campaign strategists to reject a request by Brazil’s Social Democrats (PSDB) and to instead advise Dilma’s campaign.

The significance of this move cannot be overstated. president Obama used his authority to transfer Democratic Party support from a comparatively moderate, leftist party, to a full blown ally of the Communist Party of Brazil. Lula’s Workers’ Party, which includes major communist and Trotskyist factions, has been openly allied to the Communist Party since 1989.

Our "Allies" the French

The French are questioning the role of the US dollar in international monetary policy. Reuters reports that France's Sarkozy thinks the international community should consider SDRs:
France, which took over the presidency of the G20 group of industrial and developing nations last month, is sounding out governments on ways to reform a monetary system dominated for decades by the U.S. dollar with the aim of creating greater global stability.

"We need to start thinking about the relevance of a system based on accumulation of dollar reserves," Sarkozy said, adding that France would float proposals during the next year.

"Does not this system make part of the world dependent on American monetary policy? Should we not reflect on the role of the SDR (Special Drawing Rights) and on the internationalisation of other currencies?" asked Sarkozy, in a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

French officials have said they hope to encourage greater use of the Chinese yuan as a reserve currency during their G20 presidency, including talks on a possible timetable for its inclusion in the basket of currencies which underpin the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Rights.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ed Martin Demands Action from AG Chris Koster

I just got the following in an email from the Ed Martin for Congress campaign:
Campaign Requests Action by Koster, Carnahan Over Election Irregularities
“Robin Carnahan must answer why she failed to maintain database and Koster must investigate St. Louis Election Board misconduct”

St. Louis - In November, Missourians faced unexpected trouble and questionable conduct by election officials. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s statewide voter database failed for most of election day resulting in election day chaos that forced some voters to cast ballots provisionally or being turned away from the polls. In addition, an election official with the City of St. Louis has now admitted to conduct that appears to violate state and local law.

The Ed Martin for Congress campaign has, in keeping with its commitment to fight for the rights of citizens, continued in its efforts to hold officials accountable. To that end, the campaign has asked Attorney General Chris Koster to investigate the admissions by St. Louis Election Chair Eileen McCann that she inappropriately hired a security firm that was also under contract with candidate Congressman Russ Carnahan. The campaign also requested that Secretary of State Robin Carnahan explain to citizens why she failed to operate the statewide database.

“Citizens place their trust in election official like Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Election Board Chair Eileen McCann and, then these official violate that trust, the integrity of our democracy is threatened” said Ed Martin. “We need a full investigation and a frank explanation of what went wrong and why so we can begin to rebuild the trust. Democracy needs it and Missourians deserve it.”

Healthcare Under the Knife in Virginia

University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein explains why ObamaCare is Now on the Ropes:
The decision of Judge Henry Hudson in Virginia v. Sebelius is no bird of passage that will easily be pushed aside as the case winds its way up to its inevitable disposition in the United States Supreme Court. The United States gave the case its best shot, and it is not likely that it will come up with a new set of arguments that will strengthen its hand in subsequent litigation.

The key successful move for Virginia was that it found a way to sidestep the well known 1942 decision of the Supreme Court in Wickard v. Filburn, which held in effect that the power to regulate commerce among the several states extended to decisions of farmers to feed their own grain to their own cows. Wickard does not pass the laugh test if the issue is whether it bears any fidelity to the original constitutional design. It was put into place for the rather ignoble purpose of making sure that the federally sponsored cartel arrangements for agriculture could be properly administered.

At this point, no District Court judge dare turn his back on the ignoble and unprincipled decision in Wickard. But Virginia did not ask for radical therapy. It rather insisted that “all” Wickard stands for is the proposition that if a farmer decides to grow wheat, he cannot feed it to his own cows if a law of Congress says otherwise. It does not say that the farmer must grow wheat in order that the federal government will have something to regulate.
Orin Kerr of The Volokh Conspiracy sees a Significant Error in Judge Hudson’s Opinion
Given that existing Supreme Court caselaw gives the federal government a fairly straightforward argument in support of the mandate under the Necessary and Proper clause, Judge Hudson’s error leads him to assume away as a matter of “logic” what is the major question in the case. That is unfortunate, I think.
It's inevitable that this will end up at the Supreme Court. Below is Judge Hudson's opinion:
Virginia AG Cuccinelli v. Kathleen Sebelius Department of Health and Human Services

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Supreme Circus of New Jersey

Kathryn Jean Lopez in the The Corner at Nation Review Online brings news of a constitutional battle in New Jersey:
Chris Christie is looking to shake up the liberal activist judiciary in New Jersey, but he’s having trouble making it happen, as chaos breaks out not just around but in the state supreme court there.

Christie refused to reappoint Jersey supreme court justice John E. Wallace. It is totally within his rights as governor not to reappoint a justice, but it has never previously happened in New Jersey history.

In response, the chief justice, Stuart Rabner, a Democrat, not only blasted Christie’s move to nominate a new justice for the court — he appointed a justice of his own as an interim one …. not clearly within his constitutional rights.

Arrested for Failure to Waive 4th Amendment Rights

One of the most influential books I've ever read is David Brin's The Transparent Society. It was written in the late 1990's and foresaw situations like the one captured in the video above of Benton County deputy Dana Winn and homeowner John Lewis. As a result of that video, deputy Winn is under investigation. Lewis recorded his own unlawful arrest with a hidden camera:
Lewis, who doesn't trust cops, has various cameras hidden around his home, including a small camera inside his sunglasses.

Lewis told Winn the man he was looking for didn't live there anymore. Lewis kept his answers short and abrupt, which infuriated Winn.
And Lewis has a strong case because his arrest appears to have been for not co-operating:
Winn asked to search the home but was denied because he didn't have a search warrant. Lewis was arrested a short time later for obstructing government operations.
In effect, deputy Winn arrested Lewis for failure to waiving his Fourth Amendment rights when asked to do so.

Don't Get Cocky

Over at The Weekly Standard, Jay Cost admonishes conservatives: Don't Underestimate the President:
As liberals this week publicly question whether some Democrat should primary President Obama, conservatives and Republicans should resist the temptation to become overconfident. If the 2012 presidential election were held today, President Obama would lose, but he wouldn't lose by much -- and more importantly the election isn't for another 23 months.

Jay Nixon's Political Prospects

In mid-November, The State Column reported that Gov. Jay Nixon's (D-MO) re-election bid would get under way on November 30th:
The Nixon campaign announced Tuesday that the governor will hold his first 2012 fundraiser November 30. The campaign urged followers not to view it as a “kick off,” but rather an opportunity to get involved in the campaign.

“While it is true that his first official fund-raiser for the 2012 campaign is that day, Nixon won’t be officially announcing anything at that fund-raiser,” said Nixon’s campaign spokesman.
So, we are left to speculate what exactly Nixon's 2012 plans might be. The consensus opinion is that Nixon will run for re-election as Missouri's Governor, but there may be another option open to him. I think it's unlikely that he would challenge Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in the US Senate primary. They occupy similar places on the spectrum of Democrat candidates, so whoever won the primary would be damaged by that fight and struggle in the general election.

Still, Gov. Nixon is having a strong fundraising quarter. To run for higher office you need to raise a lot of money, and, as the Kansas City Star just reported:
Nixon spokesman Jack Cardetti said Friday the Democratic governor has raised more than $1 million since ramping up his efforts following the November general elections.
Nixon has some cash on hand from previous races and whatever is left of the $2.1 million he raised in the 2010 election cycle. Much of that money was spent to help Democrat sate house candidates. If Nixon can demonstrate that he's capable of raising large amounts of money, he might be positioned to take a shot at the presidency.

The Hill is reporting that erstwhile Presidential candidate and left-wing populist Ralph Nader is looking for someone to challenge President Obama in 2012 in the Democrat Primary (h/t Instapundit):
Perennial third-party candidate Ralph Nader predicted on Wednesday that President Obama's tax deal with Republicans will earn him a primary challenge in 2012.

Though he wouldn't rule out another presidential campaign himself, Nader, 76, said he hoped a new face would take up the progressive cause.
Unlike Claire McCaskill, I think Barack Obama occupies a very different place on the spectrum of Democrat candidates. Nixon appeals to the working class Democrats that tended to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democrat primary. He's in the mold of an Ike Skelton (D-MO) or similar blue dog Democrat. I don't know, perhaps the strength of Nixon's fundraising this quarter is a result of the November election—if you're a blue dog donor who else is left for you to give money to? And Nixon is reasonably popular even by the standards of a Republican pollster who found he had a 51% approval rating.

Jay Nixon's experience will present a problem. He's only been governor for two years; however, he was Attorney General before that. He will face criticism for his lack international experience. Some may argue that he should have canceled his trip to Taiwan before the Chinese consulate asked him to. Finalizing the Midwest Chinese Hub (that deal is what precipitated the suggestion from the consulate) would burnish the governor's international record.

Governor Nixon is also strong on the other "green" energy: nuclear power. Watch for news about a Callaway 2 reactor. I know that the Missouri House is looking at adding a second reactor at Callaway. I'm not sure if Ameren (the Missouri energy monopoly) wants it or not, but I'd assume that they do. Here he is commenting on the importance of nuclear power to Missouri's future.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some Christmas Cheer

Becky Kelly sings Where's the Line to See Jesus?

Here's the video I shot of Becky Kelly performing America the Beautiful with the Sounding Fathers last summer under the Arch.

Obama's Tax Hike Extravaganza

Each tick of the clock brings us closer to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Rush Limbaugh has come out against the compromise bill as has far-left Senator Bernie Sanders. President Obama has unwittingly united the left and the right, but what's gnawing at him is the ghost of George W. Bush.

Having won the presidency in 2008 largely by vilifying Bush, Barack Obama is now facing the reality that Bush's tax cuts will become Obama's Tax Hike Extravaganza at the stroke of midnight that begins the new year. And Obama will receive the blame because of his failure to lead on Tuesdayhis abdication on Friday, and the fact that Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency for the past two years. Thus the nation plods, zombie-like, toward the economic catastrophe of higher taxes for all.

Thoughts on Education

This evening I responded to an email discussion about the failure of public education in the United States. If you think public education is not an abject failure, you need to look at the graph above from Cato. The clear lesson from that graph is that educational outcomes are unaffected by spending. Here are my slightly edited comments from that email discussion where I examine the history of why our education system is as dysfunctional as it is:
I think that the reason that we "turn our kids over to an institution" (schools) is that historically educational institutions had a high degree of quality. That past quality has translated into current pedigree and so we wind up with graduates who are credentialed, but not educated.

The historic quality of education was derived from the fact that educators of yore were at the top of the yet-to-be-named knowledge worker pyramid. Today, they're basically at the bottom--no one fails out of an early education degree and decides to go into engineering. What's happened is that there are a lot more job opportunities for the smartest people so they go work for Google or whatever while the marginal college students tack on the courses necessary to become a teacher as a fall back position. Or, worse, they go into public policy or some other apprenticeship for bureaucrats/education administrators.

A hundred years ago that education bureaucracy didn't really exist. A few people noticed that every time education issues were voted on, more money went to schools. Now, there are battalions of administrators studying everything in their school district except their own efficacy. The first rule of every bureaucracy is to spend your budget. The second rule of every bureaucracy is to fail. They're effective bureaucrats.

And the response of parents (homeschooling or private school) has now become common. They've basically exited the system. In a perfect Hayekian world, a new educational order would emerge. I believe what homeschoolers are unintentionally doing is implementing, testing, and refining that new educational order. At some point, there will be a better and free alternative to public education and shortly there after, public education ceases to be a line item in government budgets.
Well, that's how I think the education bubble will pop. In practice, what will happen is that a town or city facing a huge budget hole will notice a free alternative and implement it while firing their teachers and education administrators. That process will repeat, if the free alternative adequately meets the educational needs of the community, so maybe the bubble has a slow leak instead of just popping.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Eminent Domain Battle Heats Up in Missouri

In 2005 the US Supreme Court propelled the eminent domain debate to the fore when it ruled, 5 to 4, that the city of New London, CT, could take property from private citizens and give it to Pfizer Corporation. For those keeping score at home, the four dissenting justices were appointed by Republican presidents and, at the time, were considered the four most conservative members of the court. They were: O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas.

That case, Kelo v. City of New London, or just "Kelo," started an avalanche of legislation and ballot initiatives to reform eminent domain with the objective of curtailing crony capitalism. Several states have succeeded, but ballot measures in Missouri have been thwarted. The last attempt was stymied by court challenges over the ballot language. Those court challenges dragged on for thirteen months which left little time to actually gather signatures. Ron Calzone of Citizens for Property Rights led that fight and is leading the fight again this time.

Missouri's Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan, has jurisdiction for deciding the ballot language. That is the phrasing that will appear on the ballot and must be limited to a hundred words. If you haven't considered this before, please realize that the ballot language that you vote on is always a condensed summary of several pages of legalease. The role of the Secretary of State (SoS) in deciding the ballot language is to act as a third party to craft a neutral description of the initiative or amendment being voted on. The ballot language appears atop petition signature pages. Petition gatherers must collect a certain number of signatures in every Missouri county for the initiative or amendment to appear on the ballot. Once the SoS decides on ballot language, it is possible for that language to be challenged in court.

The problem is that if the language is challenged, then gathering petition signatures is ill advised. If signatures are gathered and the court decides to change the language, then those signatures are no longer valid. The Missouri constitution sets out a timeline for getting the ballot language, but it does not impose a time limit on legal proceedings. So, if you want to defeat a ballot measure, one strategy is to challenge the ballot language and do everything in your power to prolong the court battle.

That's what happened to Calzone and Citizens for Property Rights the first time. The ballot language provided by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan for the 2010 election cycle was:
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to restrict the use of eminent domain by:
* Allowing only government entities to use eminent domain;
* Prohibiting its use for private purposes, with certain exceptions for utilities
* Requiring that any taking of property be necessary for public use and that landowners receive just compensation;
* Requiring that the intended public use be declared at the time of the taking;
* Permitting the original owners to repurchase the property if it is not so used within five years or if the property is offered to a private entity within 20 years?
At the end of the 13 month court battle, on January 5th, 2010, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District removed the language above that's been struck. I've embedded a copy of their decision below. The Appeals Court found [emphasis added]:
We agree with Plaintiffs and the circuit court, however, that the Missouri Constitution has historically and does currently require just compensation for takings. The fact that compensation may be required for public takings of necessity is not a result of a change in the compensation language but in the language of “necessity.” The process for determining just compensation may be affected, but not the establishment of such compensation.
In short, the reason for striking the "just compensation" clause was because the Missouri Constitution and statutes already make provision for "just compensation" and the proposed eminent domain amendment language did not change those "just compensation" provisions.

For the 2012 election cycle, Calzone submitted the same amendment and requested the same language that had been finalized by the Appeals Court. Yesterday, December 9th, 2010, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan supplied this ballot language:
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to restrict the use of eminent domain by:
• Allowing only government entities to use eminent domain;
• Prohibiting its use for private purposes, with certain exceptions for utilities;
• Requiring that any taking of property be necessary for a public use while continuing to provide just compensation;
• Requiring that the intended public use be declared at the time of the taking;
• Permitting the original owners to repurchase the property if it is not so used within five years or if the property is offered to a private entity within twenty years?
Calzone has responded by urging Show Me State residents to call Carnahan immediately and ask her to use the language the court ordered last January. If the language isn't changed by Monday, a court battle is likely.

I emailed Calzone earlier this evening with some questions. Here are those questions and his answers:
1) Basically, why is the "just compensation" language objectionable?
RC: The Summary Statement in the ballot title is supposed to only point out how the petition will change the law. Our amendment does not change the current just compensation language in the constitution, so the courts ruled against the inclusion once already. Putting it in again gives our opponents something to sue about - a valid claim that the courts have already said the just compensation language can't be in the Ballot Title.

2) What are the ramifications of waging the fight with the SoS's language?
RC: If we let her go unchallenged, she will continue to ride roughshod over us. If the language stays in, the court fight over the ballot title will take longer and there will be less time to collect signatures. In the 2010 cycle, there was too little time left to even try. In the 2008 cycle we collected 428,000 on our two petitions, but were a few thousand short in each.. One or two more days would have been enough to put us over the top.
3) What's the likelihood that the SoS will reverse by Monday?
RC: Not good.
4) What's the likelihood of a court battle if she doesn't?
RC: There will be one.

5) How long until a decision if there's a court battle?
RC: It's hard to say. That's just the point. The ballot title challenge will take months - from 3 to 13, perhaps.
Above I mentioned that one strategy for fighting a ballot initiative is to use the courts to delay a decision on the ballot language effectively running out the clock on signature gathering. The power of the Secretary of State is that she can craft the ballot title such that her allies can do exactly that.

This is why Robin Carnahan has such a high unfavorable rating.

This is why between 2008 and 2010 Robin Carnahan lost a million voters.

Robin Carnahan was one of the first Secretaries of State to win support from George Soros's Secretary of State Project.

Missouri Court of Appeals Opinion WD71224 WD71230

The Impact of Obama's Stimulus is Federal Control

Graph accompanies WSJ article
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, John F. Cogan and John B. Taylor explain why The Obama Stimulus had no Impact (paid subscription). The entire article is good, but this one line identifies the failure of American Keynesianism:
...the federal government borrowed funds from the public, transferred these funds to state and local governments, who then used the funds mainly to reduce borrowing from the public.
Cogan and Taylor explain why the stimulus has been ineffective; however, they do not explore the broader issues involved. I see two such issues: the grant-writing industry and state balanced budget requirements.

The process of the federal government borrowing funds from the public only to turn around and give those funds to state and local governments has been going on for years. Often, those state and local governments put career "civil-servants" in grant writing sinecures to try and secure federal dollars. In other words, state and local governments spend money on grant writers that might otherwise go to police, fire fighters, trash pickup, or something else, so that states and municipalities merely have a chance to get federal grant money. It's the federal grant lottery—you buy your tickets with state and local dollars and you can only win if you've got a ticket! To increase your chances, just buy more grant lottery tickets! So the grant-writing industrial complex is the first problem.

But that's not the worst of it.

Is your state required to balance its budget? Almost certainly. Every state (except Vermont) has a balanced budget requirement. California will balance its budget. There might be blood in the streets from the rioting that follows, but it will be balanced. In general, I'm a fan of balanced budgets; however, the states are balancing their budgets with the help of a disingenuous actor: the federal government. The feds have no balanced budget requirement, but they do have an insatiable appetite for more power. So what's been happening lo these many years, is that the federal government offers the states money to "fill the hole in the state's budget" while also attaching strings to the money that erode the sovereignty of the states and in so doing the feds effectively allow the states to run budget deficits by transferring those deficits to the federal government.

In other words, the federal government through its profligacy has made state-level balanced budgets meaningless while extending federal control over education, law enforcement, transportation, etc. There may be a role for the federal government to play in education, law enforcement, transportation, but the need at the state level to balance the budget has meant that the discussion about that role is one-way: the federal government tells the states what to do.

Until there's a federal balanced budget this problem will persist. Here are a couple of non-traditional approaches to balancing the budget. First, there's my proposal (written on Talk Like a Pirate Day) to run the government like the Pirate Ship of State that it is. Another option would be to require all members of the House of Representatives and their staffs to be paid out of the country's surplus. This second option is elegant because of both its simplicity and flexibility. In the event that the government needs to run a deficit, Representatives and their staffs would presumably be willing to make the financial sacrifice required and the American people would, I think, respond by passing the plate to provide some remuneration.

Note: In Missouri, about 30% of our budget comes from the federal government according to the 2009 Budget Summary. Missouri's 2009 Budget Summary also indicates that a third of our budget is supplied by "Other". The thing is, "Other" is not itemized. I have heard Missouri legislators assert that 60% of Missouri's budget is supplied by the federal government, so I wouldn't be surprised if federal dollars were routed through the "Other" category.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Interesting Observation about Software Copyrights

© is the copyright symbolImage via Wikipedia
I noticed that Eric S. Raymond (ESR) had a great observation about the economics for software copyright and open source software that is driven by the high secondary costs of software maintenance:
If ESR’s The Economic Case Against the GPL is correct, then the implication is that copyright will come to a voluntary end.
I don’t think we can draw that implication. The argument I make in that essay is quite specific to software, which has economics very different from other kinds of information goods.

Suppose we grant what I think is true, which is that the efficiency gains from open source are more valuable than the positive externality capture from software copyright. Ultimately, that is because software maintainance and improvements has large downstream costs that make all kinds of interesting secondary markets.

It might still be the case that the positive externality capture from copyright on other kinds of copyable information goods is worth protecting because they do not have such secondary markets.
One reason that open source software has been successful is because the secondary markets for customization, integration, and maintenance are larger than the primary market for apps. This has fostered an industry of open source consultants that often move between industries (pharma to financial services, say), but hone their skills with the same open source toolset (Apache on Linux, for example).

When Property Prices Collapse, so will Local Tax Revenue

Bloomberg is reporting that Home Values May Drop by $1.7 Trillion:
U.S. Home values are poised to drop
by more than $1.7 trillion this year amid rising foreclosures
and the expiration of homebuyer tax credits, said Zillow Inc., a
closely held provider of home price data.

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Of Tax Rates and Policy

Earlier this week, Cubachi noted that not all conservatives are sold on the tax cut deal:
Conservatives, tea partiers, and republicans have worked diligently and effectively to give the republican party its larget house win in years. We now get an extension of the Bush tax cuts for two years, and funemployment… I mean unemployment checks for 13 months. So the unemployed will have more fun collecting money from those of us in the productive sector. Has the republican leadership in the House put up a fight?

Representative Michele Bachmann and Senator Jim DeMint have voiced their concerns about this deal, while DeMint has come outright against the deal.
Cubachi also points to criticism from Jimmie at the Sundries Shack who thinks the GOP’s tax deal isn’t a very good for us or the economy:
The overall thought is that there was no chance that Republicans could make the current tax rates permanent, and they managed to extract a couple smaller temporary cuts such as a one year payroll tax holiday of 2 percent out of a clearly unwilling President. They get a tailor-made issue to use in 2012 and we get a little tax cut.
Jimmie then goes on to point out several problems with the tax cut compromise. I'm going to highlight only the two (of four) that I want to comment on:

...the paltry one-year, two-percent cut to individual payroll taxes (businesses will still have to pay the full 6.2 percent) is essentially another stimulus check. The only difference is that this money is coming out of the Social Security system, which is already running wildly out of control.
As Ace of Spades pointed out, the White House has said:
[...] The tax cut legislation would provide for a transfer of General Revenues to the Social Security Trust Fund, ensuring no negative impact on Social Security solvency.[...]
Got that? Instead of using Social Security funds to feather bed the General Revenue account as has been done since LBJ, money's going to flow in the other direction. I believe this is the first time that we are planning for general revenue money to be moved to move the non-existent "trust fund". Perhaps this will be the beginning of the realization that Social Security is an unsustainable Ponzi scheme.

The other point that Jimmie makes and I want to comment on is:

...the tax rates will stay put for two years. In the short term that’s a good thing. But for a small business owner, or any business owner for that matter, the uncertainty over how much much money they’ll have to hire employees hasn’t really changed.
I think he over plays the uncertainty issue. The only way that there would now be certainty is if Congress had acted with enough time for businesses to adjust their end of year planning. Because we're running out of time for a compromise right now, uncertainty is at the forefront of everyone's mind; however, this is because Congress chose not to act last spring or summer. In fact, I've already opined about the perversion of incentives that uncertainty creates. It is an issue.

And the idea that there would be certainty if the tax cuts were "permanent" ignores the fact that tax rates have changed often over the years. The expiration of a tax agreement functions more as a scheduling tool for tax discussions which most politicians want to defer. The mistake this time around was deferring them as late as Congress has. I personally think that a two or four year expiration on tax cuts is a feature, but I'll grant that business owners would be better able to plan if that expiration occurred when no new tax legislation is passed six months prior to the actual expiration date. In other words, force Congress to act (or not) in June.

The reason I like the sunset provision is that it requires Congress to reconsider what our tax policy should be. I think there's value in simply having that discussion periodically. From a political stand point, there's value in scheduling tax rate reviews because it's (usually) a winning issue for conservatives, but there are process advantages as well. Tax debates are inevitably contentious; therefore, they take time away from all the liberty crushing bills our betters in DC would rather be working on. But there's also non-political, non-partisan value in the country contemplating and then affirming what our tax policy will be for the next few years.

I see a lot of value in sunsetting the federal code. In fact, I'd like to see (more or less) all laws sunset for the same reasons mentioned above. If you think this is unreasonable, you need to consider the fact that not doing this means that the body of rules, regulations, and legislation that we have will continue to snowball out of control. Obviously, a four year review is unreasonable for reviewing everything (I'm thinking 20 or so years) and such reviews would have to be staggered so the work was evenly distributed over time.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Schooling of Mary Landrieu

Mary Landrieu, LouisianaImage via Wikipedia
Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek takes Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to the woodshed: "how difficult can it be to cut $46 billion in spending from a $3.8 trillion budget? Is it really so difficult, so cruel, so illiberal to reduce federal-government spending by 1.2 percent?"