Monday, February 28, 2011

Commentarama--We Bring Good Things To Light

Yes, indeed. President Obama searched and searched to find the right man for the right job. He needed a front man who seemed to have the credentials of free enterprise, but who underneath was a corporate shark who knew how to get his piece of the federal cornucopia. One who knew that most green initiatives are damaging to the interests of the very industry he represents and can gleefully destroy his fellows while sucking up federal money for his own company.

That man is Jeffrey Immelt. He is now the chairman of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (yeah, right) as well as the chief executive officer of General Electric. It is a good fit. Immelt has considerable experience with government. Aside from eliminating 32,000 GE jobs, or sending them overseas between 2005 and 2009, Immelt capped 2009 and 2010 by earning huge fines from the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission for stock manipulation, insider trading, and improper accounting procedures in its financial branch.

So, like tax-dodger and accounting illiterate Timothy Geithner at Treasury, Immelt knows both how to grow business (but only his own) and how to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar by a federal agency. That makes him a perfect Obama appointee. If there's anybody who knows how to send jobs overseas while claiming to "create" jobs in America, it's Immelt. Obama needed to appoint a chairman who didn't have a former membership in the Socialist Workers Party and looked like a successful American businessman. And he got one.

As for creating jobs, Immelt uses the same kind of calculus as Obama. Count "created and saved," and don't mention where they were created, where they were saved, and most importantly, where they were lost. Although GE's workforce is back nearly to 2005 levels, very few are actual net additions to the American workforce. As for the SEC fines, well they were only a few dozen millions of dollars, but Immelt made sure they reached quiet civil compromises without any admission of wrongdoing before the cuffs could go on. In 2010 alone, GE was penalized $23.4 million for its involvement in the Iraq "oil for food" scandal.

Immelt considers renewable energy projects (rather than actual manufactured products) to be his highest priority. And in keeping with that, he has managed to steer all kinds of federal funds to GE to advance the mutual government/big corporation green weenie agenda, even before his appointment as chairman. Among his clever gimmicks is to promote Gore-like carbons taxes while at the same time seeking carbon credits for GE. Nothing like jacking-up the cost of fossil fuels during a deep recession. How is that going to make American more competitive and create jobs (in America, at least)? It's like rubbing dirt into a wound to make the wound heal faster.

But knowing how to play the game, set up phony initiatives that get huge federal support, create a job while destroying five others, and directing the lion's share of profits to your own company while claiming to be "for the average American" is a hallmark of the Obama/big corporation/big union strategy. I can't help wondering if Immelt thinks that there will be a government takeover of all energy producing and energy using mega-corporations, and that he is the perfect guy to be its first commissar.

Thomas Edison must be rolling over in his grave.

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2012 Contender: Mitch Daniels, Conservative?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

EPA Brings The House Down--Literally

Meet the Sackett family, Mike and Chantell. That's a picture of the early and unfinished work on their dreamhouse. They saved, planned and dreamed, and finally purchased a half-acre plot in a residential area near Priest Lake, Idaho. They combined architect's plans with their own practical knowledge, pulled the necessary permits from the regional authority, and began the initial excavation for the foundation.

Who knew their property was in one of those fanciful "wetlands" created out of whole cloth by neo-Luddites and green weenies? Certainly not the Sacketts. Or any of their neighbors. The Sackett property is adjacent to or part of an area in which many other homes have been built without any notice from the EPA or any other crazed agency that the land is part of a protected wetland.

Abruptly they found out. Using a procedure called a compliance order, the EPA landed on the Sacketts' dream like an eco-freak bomb. The order requires the Sacketts to fill in the excavation, remove all construction materials, and "restore the wetlands." "What wetlands?" asked the Sacketts, "this is already a developed residential area." "Take no notice of that," said the EPA, "trust us, you're destroying valuable wetlands."

Not satisfied with essentially taking private property without due process of law by rendering it useless, the EPA informed the Sacketts that that once they covered their excavation and turned their half-acre back into an idyllic bird sanctuary, and after waiting an inexplicable three years, they could apply for a permit to do what the EPA just told them they couldn't do. And the application would only cost a few hundred thousand dollars, including the EPA studies and environmental impact report that would repeat the information the EPA has already based its decision on. Cute, huh?

But it doesn't stop there. After all, the EPA isn't heartless. The Sacketts have the option of leaving the land in its partially developed state while the EPA attempts to enforce its order. Talk about a roll of the dice with no good outcome possible. Yes, the Sacketts could do that, but even if they were proven right at the end, they would still be liable for fines up to $25,000 per day for the alleged Clean Water Act violations on the theory that you must obey the initial order regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the litigation is. That's a Catch 22 on stilts.

The Sackett's appealled the initial decision to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, aka The Ship of Fools, and got a pyrrhic victory. The most-reversed Circuit in the nation held that the $25,000 daily fine could be deferred (but God help the Sacketts if they lost). It found the three-year waiting period to be onerous, and ruled that while the lower court sorted out the issues, the Sacketts could simply initiate immediately the $200,000 to $300,000 process of formally applying for a federal wetlands permit.

Now wait, you say, no matter how outrageous the compliance order may be, the Sacketts are not being denied due process. They've had their day in court twice, and have gotten rulings partially in their favor. Well, not really. A compliance order is unilateral and does not afford a defendant notice or opportunity to be heard. That comes only after the landowner has been hijacked by the EPA.

For a bunch of loony lawyers who talk about procedural due process as obsolete, that's exactly what the EPA and the Ninth Circuit are hanging their legal hats on. Normally they blather on and on about the Warren Court-created "substantive due process." What good are procedures if in the final analysis only one side has any chance of "winning?" The Sacketts could walk away with a final "victory" that cost them $2 million to $3 million dollars all told, or they could lose that and their land too. Now that may be fine for Bill Gates or George Soros, but it's not acceptable to people of ordinary means.

The attorney for the Sacketts summed the case up very well. "The Ninth Circuit conclusion leaves property owners like the Sacketts in an impossible situation; either go through with the permit process that you believe is completely unnecessary and spend more money than your property is worth to purchase your chance at your day in court; or invite an enforcement action by the EPA that gives you your day in court but only at the price of ruinous civil penalties and, depending on the EPA's ire, criminal sanctions for underlying violations of the Clean Water Act."

The Legal Project, which has joined in the defense of the Sacketts, says "The reality of the Sacketts' situation is that they have been unambiguously commanded by their government not to complete their home-building project, to take expensive measures to undo improvements that they have made to their land, and to maintain their land essentially as a public park until the property is restored to the satisfaction of the EPA [emphasis added}. They have long been threatened with frightening penalties if they do not immediately obey, but they have been refused the prompt hearing they should have received as a matter of right in any court."

Now all of this should make any normal person's blood boil. But if you think carefully about it, it should produce another reaction in a great number of us (myself included). That reaction is reasonable fear. If you're already settled into your tract home or city apartment, your anger is an abstract disgust for injustice. But if you own property that you wish to build on, and that isn't part of a fully-approved tract development plan (bribes already paid), you could become the next Sackett family. No property is too distant and no outrageous enviroweenie theory is too silly for the federal fascists to come after you.

The EPA filed over 3,000 compliance orders in 2010. They're on target to issue even more in 2011. And despite the current EPA "de-funding," the agency has plenty of money left over from previous budgets and current extortion money to use a government bludgeon, arbitrary interpretations of environmental law, and capricious enforcement to make any thinking property-owner wary of improving his own small piece of God's green earth. This is nothing short of taking of property with no genuine due process. It's government by bureaucratic fiat.

This is a sufficiently serious issue that we must think in terms beyond the plight of the Sacketts. We are the Sacketts, and the Constitution protects us. Their cause is our cause. Pacific Legal and the Sacketts' original counsel have filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the US Supreme Court. For those not familiar with the expression, that means they have asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, as quickly as possible. The Supreme Court can simply "deny cert" and let the Ninth Circuit decision stand. I pray that the high court will see the fundamental constitutional right being infringed up and grant the Sacketts (and by inference, all of us) a chance to sleep well knowing that our property belongs to us and not to the federal government and its alphabet agencies.
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

California Is Definitely Not Wisconsin

While Wisconsin gets ever closer to fiscal responsibility through its courageous elected Republican governor and legislature, California's governor makes a few dainty cuts around the edges of the state's monumental debt then proposes to put his so-called barebones budget on the ballot. Of course he hasn't even put the proposed budget together, and seems unwilling to act with the legislature to implement the changes recommended by the state's standing fiscal watchdog commission.

The people elect their representatives to carry out the broad wishes of the public, but leave the details to the "professionals" they hired to do the job. California's referendum process has for decades been the escape vehicle for elected officials unable or unwilling to do the tough jobs they were hired to do. They can talk about lofty goals, tightening the government belt, and serious budget cuts, but when it comes time to do what is necessary, they love to kick the ball back to the people. That way, if the solution doesn't work, they can blame everybody but themselves. If the solution does work, they can claim to have been prescient in forming the solution, and "men of the people" by giving the public the right to make the decision.

The referendum is one of those goofy procedures invented by the Progressives back in the Roaring Twenties to emulate direct democracy. But that doesn't mean that it works the same way in each of the states that adopted it. Wisconsin, the first Progressive state, hired a governor and a legislature last November to fix their financial problems and it looks as if that will happen. No referendum there. Californians also elected a governor and a legislature, and now the people are being asked to perform surgery on themselves because the doctors in Sacramento are too stupid or too cowardly to do it for them.

What's the big difference between the two states which both have strong Progressive pasts? Easy. Wisconsin voters elected a Republican governor and a majority Republican legislature. California elected Democrats for the corresponding posts. In order to do their jobs, they could either make draconian cuts in spending for state employees and terminate pie-in-the-sky green/liberal/leftist/cuckoo programs, or wet their pants and send it all back to the voters. The Wisconsin temporary stalemate can't happen in California since the Democrats hold the State House and both legislative chambers, and therefore fleeing to a Motel 6 in Arizona isn't a viable plan.

So Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown and his fellow Democrats dither while California drowns. California has a standing independent citizen fiscal watchdog commission called The Little Hoover Commission. It makes recommendations to the governor and the legislature on the state's budgets. Since about the time that Jerry Brown's chief aide Gray Davis became governor (and got recalled), spendthrift commission members from both parties have merrily wandered down the primrose path with the tax and spend liberals. The commission is comprised of nine members--five appointed by the governor, two by the State Assembly and two by the State Senate. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an alleged Republican, held onto office long enough to have appointed all five of the gubernatorial seats. Three are fiscal conservatives from before Schwarzenegger discovered he was sleeping with a liberal Democrat. The other two are moderate to liberal on tax and spend. Needless to say, the other four members are all liberal to very liberal Democrats.

The crash has hit California extremely hard, and despite its former liberal tilt, the commission found that California's fiscal crisis has many of the same root causes as those of Wisconsin. So it has proposed huge changes to the state's employee pay, benefits and retirement scales. It includes freezing the current plan while creating a sustainable alternative plan. The plan includes specifically capping the calculation of benefits at between $80,000 and $90,000, creating retirement ages and lengths of service which do not encourage early retirement, and requiring employees to pay meaningful contributions to their own retirement.

Said the commission report: "The situation is dire, and the menu of proposed changes that include increasing contributions and introducing a second tier of benefits for new employees will not be enough to reduce unfunded liabilities to manageable levels, particularly for county and city pension plans. The only way to manage the growing size of California government's growing liabilities is to address the cost of future, unearned benefits to current employees, which at current levels is unsustainable."

That means that even the proposals made for future entrants into the public employment sphere will not be enough, and that the governor and the legislature need to take current benefits head-on. But you must remember that the governor is a Democrat, bought and paid for by the unions, particularly the public employee unions and the SEIU. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any real changes will be made without a referendum, and unlike Wisconsin, right-to-work will never be put on the table.

Rather than analyze and tweak the commission recommendations, the Democrats immediately went into attack mode. Democratic spokesman Steve Maviglio was first at bat, saying "Shocker. Little Hoover Commission stacked with Schwarzenegger appointees wants to cut economic security of civil servants." Well, they aren't very civil, and they serve nobody but themselves. Further, if "economic security" means getting cushy jobs at outrageous rates of pay and catastrophic medical and retirement benefits, I suppose they're right. But if "economic security" means a decent job with decent pay and benefits combined with Civil Service protection, they're wrong and they're lying.

Unlike Wisconsin, California's seminal problem will not be solved any time in the foreseeable future. And that problem is the incestuous relationship of public sector unions and state government. The closest thing to agreement on changes from Governor Brown is that he says "I believe people should be working longer. I think 'institutional memory' is a good thing (and a typical "Brownism"--most of us would have said 'experience'). I don't have a problem extending how long people have to work." That addresses Brown's belief in government, not in reasonable compensation. And it's understandable. Brown was first elected three and a half decades ago as the youngest elected governor in the state's history, and was elected last year as the state's oldest governor. He has spent his entire life in government (including his youth at his father's home, former California Attorney General and Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown).

The official spokesmen for the Brown administration were a bit more restrained, and devious, in their comments about the Little Hoover Commission's report. "Our office is reviewing the Little Hoover Commission's findings. The Governor agrees that California faces serious challenges which is why he rolled out a comprehensive framework to reform pensions during his campaign." Well that's nice. A nebulous "framework." They're "reviewing" the findings. The governor "agrees" that there are serious challenges. But--action is noticeably lacking. And when the bankruptcy clock is close to running out, Brown and the Democrats will punt.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Film Friday: Waiting for Superman (2010)

Directed by Davis Guggenheim (Inconvenient Truth), Waiting for Superman is a documentary about the failure of education in America. I’m a fan of documentaries, but this is not a good documentary. It's neither entertaining, nor does it provide useful information, and the only emotion it elicited was a strong desire to strangle the director. If you’re a conservative, forget this turkey.

Documentaries are best judged on two separate standards: (1) is it entertaining, and (2) does it provide valuable information. By “value,” I mean is it time well spent, not is the information consequential. Thus, for example, I’ve seen documentaries on fishing in New York City, suicides on Golden Gate Bridge, and humor in East Germany, each of which was well worth the time, despite the obscure subject matter. Waiting fails both tests.
1. Waiting Is Not An Entertaining Film
Waiting suffers from major defects that make it painful to watch. For one thing, it’s deathly dull. Guggenheim’s pacing is awful. His scenes are too long, and he wastes too much time on scenes which offer nothing, like watching a child brush his teeth. Better documentaries fill these moments with narrative, Guggenheim doesn’t. But that’s not to say Guggenheim doesn’t include narrative, to the contrary, he includes too much. Indeed, he only lets his subjects speak in soundbites, and he fills in the blanks himself. This shows a lack of trust in his subjects. What’s worse, when he narrates, he tries to sound concerned by injecting two second pauses at every. . . single. . . comma. . . or. . . period. This is beyond annoying.

Moreover, he waits almost twenty minutes before introducing the first substantive interview, and he spreads his interview soundbites throughout the film. Because of this, you wait forever to get anything interesting out the film, and it never comes together except in the broadest of strokes. Combined with Guggenheim’s heavy-handed false sentimentalism, Waiting leaves you feeling manipulated. It feels dishonest.
2. Waiting Does Not Provide Valuable Information
A good documentary also must provide valuable information. Waiting fails this test miserably. Waiting presents only small amounts of information, yet it reaches broad conclusions based on these snippets. There are 2,000 failing schools. But what percentage is that? We don’t know, yet Waiting presents this as sufficient to condemn the whole system. Why are these schools failing? We don’t know, yet Waiting blames bad teachers. What percentage of teachers are incompetent? Why are they bad? How do other countries or private schools fix this? We don’t know. And so on. In each instance, Guggenheim tosses out an isolated number, paints a broad brush criticism, shows a school where his criticism does not apply, and then concludes with “see, it can be done.” Yet he never addresses the fundamental questions of “why?” and “how?”

Guggenheim also skips the really significant questions. For example, he tells us only one in some unidentified number of public schools does an excellent job (he never defines what this means). By comparison, 20% of charter schools fall into his mystery excellent category. Thus, he concludes, charter schools are the answer. But he never tells us why charter schools are better, nor does he explain why the 20% do better than the 80%. That’s the real question, i.e. what’s working? He also points out that even our top students do poorly against the rest of the world, but he never asks why, and he criticizes current teaching methods, but never identifies them or gives us alternatives.

Also, his liberalism blinds him. Most of the problems he finds are the direct result of liberal policies, but he never connects the dots, and thus, he suggests more of the same. For example, he observes that American kids vastly overstate their abilities, but he never connects this with the relentless liberal push for teaching “self esteem,” and then he whines that teachers don’t make kids feel good about themselves. He also tells us the connection between money and education quality has been disproven, but then he presents a group of reformers who want to spend more money on teachers. Even worse, he annoyingly acts like he’s the first person to discover common sense. Did you know when teachers demand more from kids, the kids step up to the challenge? Or that money does not equate to success? Of course you didn’t, NO ONE KNEW THIS until now. . . forget that conservatives were saying these things for decades.

Further, because he refuses to connect liberal policies and the failure of education, he seeks out villains to explain what went wrong, but his villains are strawmen. The first villain is the passive voice villain, i.e. THEY. THEY set up a system that prevents good teachers from reaching kids. THEY set up a system that makes it impossible to fire bad teachers. THEY set up a system that lowers kids’ motivation and expectations. Who are THEY? THEY are the people who set up the system in the 1950s. This is a cop-out. The problem is the people who prevent reform. Blaming the long dead creators of the system or the system itself is a red herring, and shows a lack of seriousness.

The second villain is teachers unions. This is what got Waiting a lot of attention because it’s stunning to see a liberal attack a union. But his criticisms are shallow, and again he’s only discovering common sense. Unions stand in the way of reform. Gee, really? They make it impossible to fire bad teachers. You don’t say? And. . . well, that’s it. At no point does he outline the real problems with unions, nor does he discuss the things they’ve done to stand in the way of reform. He doesn’t even use their most damning quotes against them: “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I'll start representing the interests of school children.” (Albert Shanker, President, United Federation of Teachers). Instead, the unions are presented as inadvertently hurting schools because their desire to protect teachers is something a few bad teachers exploit. But ask yourself, can a handful of bad teachers really harm 100% of the students. It’s pretty obvious there is a bigger problem here than his couple of bad apples theory.

Also, in defense of the unions and the public schools (**shudder**), he actually misleads the audience regarding the reason charter schools may do better than public schools. Public school defenders contend that charter schools get to pick their students, and thus have an advantage. Guggenheim attacks this claim repeatedly by pointing out how the selection process for some charter schools is random. But he fails to mention that it’s only random among the parents who cared enough to seek out the best schools for their kids. He then doubles down on this by selecting only black and Hispanic children (with one exception) whose parents are conscientious and deeply value education, and then presenting these as a random sample of poor families. When he shows these kids succeeding, he then savages the strawmen villain, “THOSE who said these children could not be taught.”

But this is a farce. If you want to see a truly representative example of the real problems faced by schools in poor minority neighborhoods, I highly recommend the documentary Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card. Hard Times takes a look at an historic black high school in Baltimore, and what it finds is absolutely horrific: 50% of the class not returning for the sophomore year, only 12 of 500 kids making it to their senior year, nearly 100% illiteracy, parents who don’t care and try to hide from the principal, parent-teacher conferences with no parents, etc. This is a much better documentary that shows what the real problems are, not the sanitized version in Waiting. If Waiting wants to provide any value in this discussion, it needs to get its hands dirty.

Finally, there’s an unspoken liberal boogeyman present throughout the film. Although Guggenheim never says the word “racism,” he constantly implies that racists are the problem. Take a look at his main point that kids are failing because “THOSE who said these kids couldn’t learn” have decided to abandon them. He explicitly identifies these kids as minority kids in inner city neighborhoods -- he completely ignores poor white kids; in fact, the only white kid he mentions lives in Redwood City, California in a multimillion dollar home. The implication is obvious; racists have undermined minority education. This is reinforced in several ways, e.g. all of the bad teachers Guggenheim shows are white, and in each case they are ignoring or abusing minority kids, and each of the reformers he follows is a minority. This is no accident.

Liberals have created a real mess in education, an area they have controlled exclusively for 50 years. It is much more comforting for liberals to think the reason education is such a disaster is a handful of bad teachers who misuse union rules and white racists than it is to admit their policies destroyed generations of black kids.
This is why Waiting fails. It’s a dull and annoying film that is ultimately designed to comfort liberals and excuse their failures; it’s not a film designed to expose or enlighten. In fact, if you pay attention early on, you get a clue to its true purpose when Guggenheim confesses his discomfort at abandoning his principles and sending his own kids to private school. This film is his attempt to justify that decision to himself, without admitting that his liberalism is wrong.

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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Switching Horses In The Middle Of The Stream

Contrary to the common belief, the Barack Obama/Eric Holder decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act is not unprecedented. But such an action is extremely rare, and previous turnarounds almost always involved a decision by the Supreme Court in a related matter. Either way, I find the decision to be both reprehensible and predictable.

First of all, let me make it clear that I have expressed my opinion that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. And unlike liberals and misled conservatives who base a concurring opinion on "equal protection" or "denial of due process," my reasoning is quite different. I think that the federal government has no business telling the states which laws relating to marriage they must recognize from other states. I am a federalist, and damned near a zealous purist about it. If a definition of marriage belongs anywhere in government, it belongs at the state level and not the federal level (except in federal jurisdictions, of course).

The purpose of DOMA was to stave off application of the "full faith and credit" clause which theoretically would require a non-gay marriage state to recognize a marriage performed in a gay marriage state. I totally sympathize with the intent, but I can't sanction the method. Full faith and credit requires a state to recognize the decisions of another state, unless to do so would "shock the conscience of the public" or require the recognition of a law which directly contradicts the objecting state's law and has no basis in the application of a basic constitutional right. The last time I looked, marriage is not a basic constitutional right, and that leaves a state free to make its own marriage laws and reject those of others. So until the Supreme Court rules on [gay] marriage based on the current equal protection and due process arguments, and/or the full faith and credit argument, no state need recognize the gay marriages of another state.

But that's not what this article is about. I first needed to establish that there are several different legal points of view on DOMA, of which my federalist argument is only one. More importantly, I used it to point out that the Obama/Holder decision had next to nothing to do with the law or the Constitution, and everything to do with politics and soothing the savage breast of the Democratic left which believes that Obama has moved too far to the center. The Democratic Party is bleeding votes like a sliced artery, and they needed to put a band-aid on the wound.

Holder's Justice Department has announced that even without the President's change of heart on the issue (oh, yeah?), the DOJ had no choice but to drop the government's defense of DOMA. Aw, baloney. They always have a choice. More importantly, they have an obligation to defend the laws of the United States, whether they personally like them or not. Holder's justification is as follows: "After careful consideration, including review of a recommendation from me, the President of the United States has made the determination that . . . the legislative record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships, precisely the kind of stereotype the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against."

So, the two constitutional geniuses have come up with a purely political argument for applying the equal protection clause. But at least they found something in the Constitution they so routinely disregard to hang their fedoras on. But DOMA was designed solely to protect against enforcement of the full faith and credit clause, not the equal protection clause. Whatever "expressions" were made during the legislative process, the legislation itself contains no such wording. That's largely because a substantial number of Democrats who support gay causes found no corresponding reason to support gay marriage. And it was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who is very gay-friendly who signed the bill. Did they miss all that "animus toward gays?"

Want more proof that this was a political move? Holder will not defend DOMA because it is the Justice Department's legal opinion that the law is unconstitutional. But he also made it clear that he would continue to enforce the law until a court of competent jurisdiction calls it unconstitutional. So he's merrily dropping the will of the American people through their elected representatives and their president that he defend the law, but has no problem enforcing an unconstitutional law. Either he has an obligation to defend the law or an obligation to refuse to enforce it, but he can't have both.

Some of you may be wondering why Holder doesn't simply switch sides. That's what politicians do, but lawyers are ethically and legally forbidden to do so without court approval and the consent of the opposition. That's not bloody likely to happen. So he chose to pretend to be a good cop and a better humanitarian. That's one of the few things to surprise me about this reversal of position. Former Deputy Attorney General and current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick did exactly what is forbidden when the Bush I administration morphed into the Clinton administration. The issue was far less controversial, and the two sides weren't poles apart, but he still switched sides in the middle of litigation and nobody called him on it.

As Attorney General of the State of California, now Governor Jerry Brown refused to defend Proposition 8. I was disgusted, but he was under no constitutional obligation to do so. With California's oddball election system, governors, lieutenant governors and attorneys general are often from different parties. The state constitution imposes no obligation on a Democratic Attorney General to defend challenged laws passed by Republican legislatures and signed by Republican governors or passed by the people via initiative (such as Prop 8). The result is that it is not uncommon at all for the government to have to go to outside counsel to defend its laws.

That is not how it works at the federal level. Law and precedent impel but do not compel attorneys general to defend the government. The Constitution compels the executive branch to "faithfully execute the laws." In almost every case, that has meant that when a law of Congress is challenged, the US Attorney General defends it. So why gay marriage, and why now? Was Obama hiking on the road to Damascus when he reached his decision? Was Holder satisfied with getting away with dismissing voter intimidation cases against Black Panthers when the cases had already gone to judgment? Did the drugs wear off? Who knows, but it stinks of political maneuvering to me.

To be fair, Holder has said and implied that he believes in the rule of law and therefore the matter should be decided by the Supreme Court. Hogwash. The Supreme Court will decide the matter on the arguments of the government and the opposition. If the government puts up no case through its attorney general, the result is very likely the political outcome Obama and Holder want. DOJ dithered and diddled while the California Prop 8 case is making its way through the appellate courts and undoubtedly the Supreme Court. Considerable time has been wasted while the identical twins put their fingers in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. And that's the largest reason why they suddenly discovered the equal protection clause just as they were in trouble with their leftist base. DOMA has taken a back seat to the litigation of Prop 8.

The job of a lawyer is to defend his client's interests. I've defended murderers and robbers, and it had nothing to do with whether I liked them or their crimes or not. I did it because I believe in the constitutional right of every American to be allowed his day in court and a defense. Holder loves the Constitution so much that he won't defend his client's interest in court despite over two hundred years of precedent, but he will continue to enforce the law passed in his client's interest. That's nothing short of legal schizophrenia--or politics.

As for the picture accompanying the article, I couldn't resist. It was taken at a pro-gay marriage, anti-Prop 8 rally in San Francisco. My question was immediately "does this guy know what sharia actually means, and what will happen to gays if Muslims ever succeed in getting sharia law imposed?"

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hyperbole Grips The Liberal Media

Hyperventilation and hysteria are hallmarks of the liberal media whenever discussing conservatives, the Tea Party, Christians, Republicans, and anything to the right of Karl Marx (or Barack Obama). So when I saw the New York Times story which looked as if they might have discovered bad folks outside of mainstream America, I made the mistake of reading it. Well, I was half right.

The Times has been taking pretty much the same view as the general public of the revolt in Tunisia (and Libya) and the brutal government leaders. I shoulda seen it coming. Was the story about dead dissidents lying in the streets? Was it about a madman turning his troops loose on protesters and ordering mass murder? Was it about an insane ex-colonel who declared that he would fight off any attempts at democratic reform to his last drop of blood? (Oh, wait, that's Libya) Well, sort of, but that was the "hook" to bring you to the real story.

You see, the governor and Republican legislators in Wisconsin decided that in order to make serious headway in fending off the state's bankruptcy, it had to raise the employee contributions to health care and retirement of the state's public employees. One way of doing that was to severely limit public employee collective bargaining privileges (collective bargaining for public employees is not a right). The public employees took to the streets in protest, led by the teachers union. Pretty soon it had all the danger and excitement and risk of death or serious injury as a college football game.

All of which caused Michael Cooper and Katharine Seelye to write a Times headline article which included the question "Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?" Within hours, the question was being repeated by David Gregory (Mr. Helen Thomas) at NBC and Bob Schieffer (the valium valedictorian) at CBS. The ABC talking heads were still making their beds in their White House bedroom, so they were running a little behind.

So I started searching for pertinent information and evidence. The first thing I looked for was at least one picture of Gov. Scott Walker wearing his Ozymandias King of Kings robes, a la Gaddafi. No luck. Then I looked for pictures of the capital police dragging off protesters and beating them half to death. No luck there, either. Also missing were pictures of the tanks, troops, flamethrowers, rocket propelled grenades and good old-fashioned machine guns mowing down the protesters.

What I did find was multiple protest signs referring to the governor as Hitler and the very civil pictures of the governor in the crosshairs. But there's another thing I didn't find--the Democratic legislators who vowed to fight for Wisconsin workers rights (that's because they're hiding out in Illinois). Finding themselves on the losing end of a recent election, and knowing that they would be outvoted if they stuck around, the Fleebaggers (God I wish I had coined that name) picked up their marbles and headed for the state border.

So being the great intellectual that I am, I decided to analyze that headline. The democratic uprising that brought about the governor's election and the presence of a Republican majority in the legislature was conducted by the people of Wisconsin. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that makes the protesters the forces of reaction and entrenched anti-democratic forces. So much for that parallel.

There are unconfirmed but reasonable reports that the protesters, with assistance from the Service Employees International Union, were pushing counter-protesters around. But there is not a single report of police brutality, troops advancing on the capital, or even marshals going out to collect the missing Fleebaggers. Not a shot fired, not a protester injured. The duly-elected governor and legislature have not interfered in any way with the right of the public employees to protest. The only thugs committing mayhem in Madison are the union goons. The only troops involved are the cadres sent by the Teachers Unions, the SEIU, Obama's Organizing for America, and other reactionary forces attempting to thwart the will of the people. So much for that parallel as well.

Well, there's one last possibility, and that's flouting the will of the people by ignoring state law and the state constitution. Surely, the governor and the Republican legislators did that, right? Well, no. But there was considerable law-breaking and contract breaching going on--all by the reactionary protesters. First of all, the teachers involved themselves in nothing short of a wildcat strike, forbidden by their contract. Oh, yes, they called it a "sickout," and a "work stoppage," but since those are also forbidden by the contract and state law, so what?

Then there's the matter of union public school teachers calling in, too sick to work, but not too sick to march around in freezing weather with signs calling the governor Hosni Mubarak, Scrooge, and yes, Hitler. And how about those doctors, folks? Doctors who write medical excuses, en masse, for people they've never examined and don't even know. Considering the shouting and caterwauling going on, I assume none of them were diagnosed with laryngitis. Each state law is different, but in Wisconsin, any teacher (or any other public employee) who collects pay under false pretenses is guilty of wage fraud, a crime, not just a breach of contract. So the governor and the Republican legislators are acting lawfully and constitutionally, and the protesters are not. That takes care of the final parallel.

Now I admit I may not have the credentials or the sophistication of a New York Times writer or a network talking-head, but I just don't see how, in any way, Wisconsin is the Tunisia of collective bargaining. In fact, I see much more of a parallel with thirteen colonies which were fed up with rule by the elite, inequality of treatment, and the utter arrogance of incompetent, overpaid government employees. In Wisconsin, the people rebelled, the government obeyed their wishes, and only the forces of reaction stand in the way of success. Except, of course, for the Democratic legislators who are shaking uncontrollably while hiding under the bed at the Best Western hotel in Champaign, Illinois, home of professor and Obama confidante William Ayers.

I will give The Times credit for one thing though. In the matter of Libya, it has called out Moammar Gaddafi (or however the hell we're spelling it this week) by name. That's more than our waffle-eating waffler President or his Secretary of State have had the guts to do as of this writing.

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Libya, On The To Do List. . .

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

Seriously, I'm not making this up!

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

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

To the people of Libya,
Get him!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rules for Writing Fiction

Last week, I mentioned that I’ve been writing a couple books. In that discussion, I said that part of what inspired me to write was to see if I could do it while following a set of rules to avoid what I considered cheating by other authors. A couple people asked to see these rules, so here they are.

The first set is designed to avoid the things I consider “cheating”:
(i) No changing the reader’s “access” by letting the reader see everything the main character is thinking and then withdrawing that access at critical moments to generate tension or deceive the reader. It’s either all or nothing. I chose “nothing” because tension comes from uncertainty, i.e. not knowing what people are really thinking or how they will ultimately act.

(ii) No deus ex machina moments and no coincidences to move the plot. If a character tosses a jacket into a dumpster, that jacket does not somehow get to the cops five states away for use at trial for a crime no one even knows about yet.

(iii) Cause and effect. There can be no effect without a cause, and no cause without an effect. Every effect must be a logical consequence of the cause AND every cause must suffer its logical effects.

(iv) Characters must act consistently with their own values, beliefs and interests. They cannot act out of character to move the plot, and they cannot act in ways humans won’t. Also, characters have a full range of motivations, e.g. their own happiness, morality, job requirements, pride, greedy, guilt, etc.; nobody acts according to one motivation only. Characters also evolve over time as the consequences of their actions come home to them.

(v) Use real trial procedures, not Hollywood trial procedures. No breakdowns on the stand, no last minute surprise discoveries or hidden witnesses, no fake trials that last weeks and take breaks after critical witnesses to give the characters a chance to investigate their testimony, and no “this is highly unusual, but I’ll allow it” rulings.

(vi) No supermen. Nobody is all knowing or all powerful, and nobody can read minds. Average people don’t kill in cold blood, can’t climb buildings, and can’t bend people to their will Jedi-style.

(vii) Everything important needs to be foreshadowed at least twice.

(viii) NO Star Trek TNG Deanna Troi moments: “I sense he has the following personality....” Character traits are revealed through the character’s actions, not by stating them.
Beyond the “no cheating” rules, I also set some stylistic rules that may interest you:
(ix) No filler. No wasted words, no irrelevant discussions, and no scenes that don’t develop the plot or an important character trait.

(x) The reader should be able to understand each scene from the dialog alone, i.e. what the characters are doing and thinking, and where they are.

(xi) Avoid long blocks of text, and avoid information dumps. Specifically avoid describing characters by giving blocks of physical description. Whenever possible, describe characters through something they are doing and/or in relative terms rather than absolute terms, e.g. “Unlike George, Bill was too short to reach the light bulb.”

(xii) Every character needs to be real enough that people think they know what the character is probably doing when they aren’t on the page, and that the reader can tell if they are acting out of character.

(xiii) Each characters needs their own dialog style, word choice, and beliefs.

(xiv) I also got the truly excellent advice of dropping as many adverbs (quickly, angrily, etc.) as possible, as they are meaningless.
Finally, there were three things I wanted to do within the story.
(1) First, I wanted real-realism, not Hollywood realism, particularly with regard to the choices the characters face and how courts work. I really wanted people to get a sense of how it felt to go through a trial, and what it would be like dealing with people you can’t trust. Interestingly, I found this made the plot move in interesting ways and it let me exploit clich├ęs by twisting expectations. It also made the characters more real -- several of my readers even reported strong reactions to different characters I hadn’t expected.

(2) Secondly, I wanted to infuse a lot of philosophy, but to do it in subtle ways throughout the story so the casual reader wouldn’t notice.

(3) Finally, I wanted to leave the characters’ physical descriptions as minimal as possible (without appearing to do so), so readers could insert their own preconceptions. Nothing kills a story quicker for me than having a character described in ways that don’t fit how I expect them to look: “What do you mean the President looks like that guy from ZZ Top?”
So what would you add to the list (or subtract)? Thoughts?

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2012 Contender: New Jersey Governor Christie, RINO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nobody Does It Better (Than China)

Anyone who would be foolish enough to draw parallels between the "pro-democracy" rebellions in Egypt and China is making the mistake of thinking that the repressive regimes running those two benighted countries are equally vulnerable to a successful revolution. Most repressive regimes, Egypt among them, are generally old-school and unprepared for modern dissent.

Hosni Mubarak seems to have been caught flat-footed, unaware of the growing anti-government movement in his country. Like dictators of old, he didn't know whom he could trust, he didn't prepare for the onslaught, and his intelligence agencies dropped the ball by missing the great organizational tool of this "spontaneous" revolt--the Internet. There was a great deal of reaction but very little planning by the Egyptian government in advance of the big demonstrations.

The Chinese government is much more media savvy, and watches the Internet like a hawk. Where it has not succeeded in suppressing anti-government net traffic, it has been fully aware of it, and made plans months in advance for any possible attempt at revolution. What the people attempting to dislodge the dictators knew, the government knew. And when it was time for the protesters to act, the troops were ready to quell. The dictators didn't want a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Bad for the public image, bad for business as usual. So the dictators made sure they knew everything they needed to know about the plans of the protesters before the protesters could assemble in large numbers in very public places.

Naifs were touting the "Jasmine Revolution" that would take down the Chinese Government and bring true democracy to the Great Oppressor. Fat chance. American Internet users assumed that the Chinese mandarins were as unaware of the web chatter as Mubarak's regime was in Egypt. Fatal error. Encouraged by the seeming success of the Middle East Internet-fueled revolts, Chinese dissidents began a huge web campaign to stage massive protests in Beijing and other major Chinese cities. The protests were supposed to burst on the scene this past weekend.

Chinese dictators learn from their mistakes. Having read every Internet transmission, deciphered every plan, singled-out all the potential leaders, and knowing the proposed locations of the protests, the Red Guard sprang into action. Why wait for an embarrassing slaughter of civilians in large numbers and in highly public places when you can knock off the opposition early and in much less visible ways? There would be no repeat of Tiananmen Square. Why bother?

Suddenly, there were mass arrests of dozens of anti-government human rights activists. Those few activists who did manage to gather enough numbers to stage any kind of protest were quickly rounded up amidst the occasional beatings. The problem is that in the Internet Age, spontaneous demonstrations actually have to be spontaneous, as well as successfully clandestine. Organizing via the Internet may have worked in Egypt, but it ain't gonna work in China.

It didn't help that the calls for protests largely originated on Chinese language sites in America. The government knew in advance the thirteen cities which would be targeted, where the protesters would gather and even the slogans that would be used by the anti-government crowds. Police and army troops showed up at the sites before any meaningful protests could even begin. The Jasmine Revolution quickly became the Jasmine Fiasco.

Still, even the attempt shows that there is a large and growing population fed up with government repression and corruption. Despite its public face of new wealth and strides forward, the simple fact is that China is rushing into the 21st Century on the backs of its masses. Modernization is everywhere, and if a few hundred thousand Chinese who got in the way of progress have to die, well, that's life. China has millions of truly homeless people, many displaced by those immense government building projects. At the same time, the government has built "show cities" of the future in which nobody lives and probably never will. Potemkin villages on steroids.

And even though the Chinese dictators skillfully monitored the Internet to shut down the potential revolution, that won't be the end of it. It is extremely difficult to entirely shut down news from the West, pro-democracy Internet posts and the transmission of the message of freedom in the ether and the cloud. As fast as China shuts down a dissident voice, two more spring up in its place. So the tech-savvy dictators may be able to fend off an organized protest poorly-disguised on the Internet, but it cannot entirely shut down the information that could lead to a truly spontaneous revolt throughout the evil empire.

As I've quoted before, "no army is as powerful as an idea whose time has come." That idea is freedom, and though the government may continue to have the ability to shut down Internet-organized protests, it can't entirely shut down the ideas transmitted on the Internet that fuel protests. And if those protests take place on a large scale in very visible places, the government may lose control of its ability to fend off a revolution by using Internet plans against themselves.

Still, for the time being, let's be cautious about the true motivation behind the revolts in the Middle East and wary of optimism about the same thing happening in China any time soon.

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Pirates $238 Million, Liberals 0

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

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

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

So what went wrong? In a word: liberalism.

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

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

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

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

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

Liberals are stupid.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Hypocrite: (noun) Obama.

Obama is an awful President. He’s also a hypocrite. From his heavy vacationing and lavish spending at the same time he’s telling the rest of us to tighten our belts, to his wife's diet-tribes, to his tax cheat cabinet, to his exempting his friends from his own policies, to his strange disparate handling of issues in the Middle East, he’s a hypocrite.
Hypocrisy One: Vacation-O-bamarama
You may recall the late unpleasantness, i.e. the recession that cost millions of Americans their jobs or significant pay cuts. Unemployment hit a level not seen since the inept Jimmy Carter. Tax revenues are down too. So both individuals and governments from Spain to China to Wisconsin to California have been forced to tighten their belts. Obama even spoke some words of sympathy to us, assuring us he felt our pain. Only, he didn’t. Obama never stopped taking luxury vacations. This week, Michelle Obama is in Vail, enjoying a wonderful skiing holiday with her fabulous friends, as they gorge on ribs.

But never fear all of the “personal expenses” were paid by the Obamas. Ok, what about the rest of it? The plane, the staff, the security and their room and board? We're paying for that.

At least she didn’t bring O’Biden, he’s in the Florida Keys for a well (un)deserved vacation.

And don’t get me started on the food hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy Two: Do As I Say Taxpayer. . .
You should have known something was wrong the moment Obama started advocating tax increases “for the rich” at the same time he tried to pack his cabinet with tax evaders. Seriously, how is it that so many of his people felt they didn’t have to pay the same taxes we do? Then came ObamaCare. Did you notice how hard Team Obama worked to make sure the healthcare plans belonging to his union buddies would not be subject to the Cadillac tax? Somehow, the taxes were good for everyone else, but not Obama’s friends. And everyone in Congress and the White House were exempted from ObamaCare. Why? Then we learned that hundreds of friends of Obama were submitting waiver requests so ObamaCare wouldn’t apply to them, and GE got a waiver from EPA rules it had been lobbying for.

Do as I say, not as I do, indeed.
Hypocrisy Three: Some Oppressors Are Worse Than Others
Remember how Obama didn’t care at all about terrorism until it hit an African country? In fact, he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word. . . “man-made disaster” my shiny butt.

Then we had a true moment of inspiration on the international front, as a people, tired of their brutally oppressive government, rose up and tried to bring down their insane dictator. I’m talking, of course, about Iran. As the protestors took to the streets in Iran, Obama said.... nothing. As the army beat the protestors, tear gassed them and shot them, Obama said.... nothing. A few days later, he went on television to proclaim his fondest hopes that both sides would play nicely. As if the protestors were the bad guys!

Obama had another chance when crowds rose up against the thuggish leader of Tunisia. He said nothing.

Then came Egypt. After an initial period where he, O’Biden and Shillary Clinton sent the mixiest of mixed signals, Obama finally got his foreign policy legs and came down firmly on the side of freedom against this not especially repressive regime, who happened to be a long term American ally. So we finally have the new Obama Doctrine, right? Obama would now side with the people?

Well, no. He hasn’t said jack about Libya. As Gaddafi’s army guns down protestors by the hundreds, Obama spent his time fretting about a dispute between Democrats and Republicans in Wisconsin. There is no legitimate foreign policy distinction to be made here. If anything, he should have be more vocal against people who aren’t our allies, like Iran and Libya, and people who are gunning down their own citizens. Yet he doesn't. Why?

Because the man is a bully. He throws his weight around against people who won’t fight back, and he remains noticeably silent as evil dictators mow down their own citizens. At the same time, let me remind you that Obama used to rail against Bush for supporting dictators throughout the world. . . the same dictators he now coddles or whose atrocities he turns a blind eye to in places like Libya, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Venezuela, etc.

Unless I'm missing something here, the man is a hypocrite. Is that how you see it?

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Public Sector Unions: The Party's Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good Bye, Voice of America

Hello, Voice of China. In its ongoing mission to weaken the message of freedom throughout the world while encouraging our enemies, the Obama administration is terminating the broadcasts of the Voice of America into China. Needless to say, that same administration is doing nothing to interfere with propaganda broadcasts coming into the United States from China. In fact, Beijing is planning a major increase in its funding of Chinese broadcasts into the U.S.

Voice of America was first founded in 1942, using short-wave radio to get information into Nazi-dominated Europe. It gave hope to the enslaved peoples and passed on information to resistance movements using codes and diversions. After the defeat of the Nazis, the Soviet Union emerged as the greatest world threat to freedom, later joined by Maoist China, and VOA continued to broadcast hope and liberty to the captive nations and oppressed peoples of the two evil empires. In 1953, VOA became an arm of the United States Information Agency.

Although USIA developed an inability to distinguish friend from foe, important friends of VOA such as Ronald Reagan continued to push for unequivocal broadcasts contrasting tyrannical regimes with free nations. Barack Obama is not such a friend. He apparently thinks that broadcasting stories of freedom in the West and repression in China would be biting the hand that lends us money. Like Gerald Ford speaking of Poland before the fall of the Soviet Union, Obama thinks that Tibet is not a captive nation. While touting the "democratic revolution" in Egypt that will likely end up being the Muslim Brotherhood Republic of Egypt, Obama doesn't want a discouraging word being broadcast to our good friend, China.

China objected to VOA broadcasts which encouraged Tibetan freedom, and wanted no more broadcasts being used to encourage the growing pro-democracy movement in Xinjiang Province. Said Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), member of the House Foreign Affair Committee: "This is another alarming sign that America is cowering before China's gangster regime. The Chinese people [not their government] are our greatest allies, and the free flow of information is our greatest weapon." Though I think Rohrbacher was a bit overly-optimistic about the Chinese people, I also think he got it basically right.

Radio Free Asia, VOA's much smaller sister, will continue to broadcast, but has already been told its budget will be cut dramatically. Funny the budget cuts Obama is willing to make, isn't it? This President is unwilling to stifle Chinese propaganda, and even more unwilling to reduce the budget of the Department of Education (aka The Ministry of Childhood Indoctrination), but he has no problem defunding the voice of truth that helped cripple the Nazis and played a major role in causing the collapse of the Soviet Union. Is there a Voice of America for the Middle East? If so, I'm sure it's a goner as well.
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