Archive for November, 2009
November 30th, 2009 at 4:36 pm
ABA Endorses NY Gitmo Trials
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In the “not a big surprise” news category, the ABA announced that it “supports” Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try some Gitmo detainees in New York federal court.

Carolyn Lamm, President of the ABA (American Bar Association) and occasional lobbyist for Uzbekistan, wrote General Holder arguing that “[t]he transfer of these high-profile cases to federal court affirms this nation’s adherence to due process and the rule of law, and clearly establishes that these men are being tried as criminals, not as soldiers in armed conflict.”

CFIF has opined on these trials here and here, and while the Gitmo detainees are clearly being treated as criminals now, are we not now in an “armed conflict?”  How many Americans have died in Afghanistan because 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Shiekh Mohammed decided to turn passenger jets into missiles?   Would American conspirators in foreign countries be tried in civilian courts for engaging in acts of war?

The ABA seeks “competent assistance of counsel … due process … and [the right] to be treated as innocent until proven guilty” for the Gitmo detainees.  Let’s hope they receive those rights without jeopardizing national security or turning a real trial into a spectacle that puts American foreign policy on the witness stand.

November 30th, 2009 at 12:06 pm
Should Congress Ban DVRs to Save Network Television?

Apparently, consumers still like options and the technology that provides them.  Since late night host Jay Leno moved down the clock to the 10pm hour, NBC’s ratings have taken a substantial nosedive because people are recording his show on DVR while watching other shows when they air.  The problem for NBC doesn’t just stop at drops in air time viewers.  NBC’s advertisers are feeling the pinch because later viewings on DVR recordings make it possible to skip commercials.  The less people watch ads, the less companies will pay to air them, which means the less money networks like NBC will make to produce television shows.

Obviously, something must be done.  Simply put, it’s time for Congress to act because Jay Leno is too big (a chin) to fail.  Network television executives just need a little help from Big Brother in “equalizing” the market in their favor.  Think of it as “net neutrality” for broadcasters and advertisers.  Since the mantra around Washington right now is to do anything that increases consumption, it’s time to ban the DVR as an impediment to economic growth.

November 30th, 2009 at 11:36 am
Rep. Wilson Was Right; Obama DID Lie

Turns out Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) told the truth when he yelled “You lie” after President Obama said illegal immigrants would not be covered under the health care reform bill. A report by the Washington Times shows that both the House and Senate versions of the legislation fail to prohibit illegal immigrants from getting taxpayer-funded health coverage.

The House bill mandates, and the Senate bill strongly encourages, businesses to extend health care coverage to all employees. But the bills do not have exemptions to screen out illegal immigrants, who usually obtain jobs by using false identities and are indistinguishable from legal workers.

A rough estimate by the Center for Immigration Studies suggests that the practical effect of the mandates would be that about 1 million illegal immigrants could obtain health insurance coverage through their employers.

Democrats who wrote the House bill said that employer coverage for illegal immigrants is not intentional, but rather the outcome of people breaking the law.

Well, it may not be intentional, but it certainly logically follows. The failure of Democrats to address this loophole (and others like it) is the reason the health care “reform” will become seemingly uncontrollable. Of course, no social welfare program the government creates is truly uncontrollable, so long as there is diligent enforcement of means testing. But then, what’s the point of having universal health care if everybody (citizen or not) isn’t in the same system?

November 30th, 2009 at 11:16 am
Congress Still Rich
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A few members of Congress took a financial hit this year due to the recession but according to Roll Call, the 50 Richest Members of Congress are still worth approximately $1.3 billion.

It pays to be a professional politician too, as 4 of the 5 richest members have “served” a combined 74 years in Congress. A freshmen politico, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), adds new money to the pile with a minimum net worth of $72 million.

You can click here for the list or click here for the story.

November 30th, 2009 at 8:54 am
Morning Links
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November 27th, 2009 at 1:12 pm
Another Obscure Community Organizer Bursts Onto The World Stage

In what may be a lesson for budding progressive politicians, the career paths of President Barack Obama and the new European Union foreign minister offer insight into how to position oneself for stardom while ascending in darkness.  It turns out that like Obama, Lady Catherine Ashton has a dodgy past full of close ties to political radicals on the Left.  As a paid organizer for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), then Ms. Ashton rubbed shoulders with a group that Russian Communist leaders found helpful during the Cold War.

Yet the fact remains that the Kremlin found CND and other “peace movements” useful ways of undermining the unity of NATO, weakening the West’s defence posture and stoking anti-Americanism. The ex-dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, an expert in Soviet penetration of the West, says: “the worldwide disarmament campaign in the early 1980s was covertly orchestrated from Moscow. To a substantial extent it was also funded by the Soviet bloc”.

Like Obama’s well-documented connection to ACORN, though, the row over Lady Ashton’s past affiliation with folks proclaiming “better red than dead” probably won’t be enough to force her resignation as the embodiment of European foreign policy.  Who knows; maybe she’ll be able to broker a deal with a resurgent Russia to help combat the rise of an Islamic Republic inside the continent.

November 27th, 2009 at 12:36 pm
Ignoring the Evidence on Climate Change

Whither evidence-based public policy? In the wake of the metastasizing scandal over falsified global warming data, the Obama Administration is acting as though the only debate over climate change is when to stop it. As Richard Wolffe reports, President Obama’s recent Asia trip was a crucial part of brokering a deal to set new restrictions on carbon emissions at next month’s Copenhagen conference.

Beyond the photo ops and press statements, Obama was pushing President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the kind of climate deals that eluded him at the G8 summit in Italy in the summer – and have eluded international negotiators for the last decade. China and India have played central roles in blocking past agreements, alongside the US, in a seemingly intractable dispute between fast-developing economies and the older, wealthier polluters.

Now Obama is at the point where he feels on the verge of a breakthrough, based on the kind of talks that don’t get covered by reporters obsessing about state dinners. “He had extensive conversations with President Hu specifically on climate and conversations with the prime minister of India,” said one senior White House aide. “So he has been building momentum for a political agreement to be brokered at Copenhagen.”

This is another example of what Obama meant during the campaign when he said as president he would “turn the page” on the old debates dividing America. Then, as now, the only page turning to be done is when it dismisses the opposition as unserious and uninformed. How tragic if the president succeeds in realizing Al Gore’s dream of a voluntary global energy contraction just as news is surfacing that the very data supporting it is corrupt.

November 26th, 2009 at 12:56 pm
Giving Thanks for Texas
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About a year ago, in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the White House staff was engaged in a massive bout of what are known as “departure photos”, where staff members bring family members to the White House for an opportunity to meet the President before departing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When President Bush learned that my parents were small business owners in California, he teasingly replied “so how long have you been thinking about moving to Texas?”

In a post on the American Enterprise Institute’s “The Enterprise Blog”, Ryan Streeter looks at the salient differences between the economic climates in California and Texas, and discovers what has been increasingly obvious in recent years — The Lone Star State is built for performance; The Golden State is built to fail.

For a detailed side-by-side comparison that shows how Texas is pulling ahead, see this recent report from the American Legislative Exchange Council and this editorial from The Economist (if you’re a subscriber). For a thorough dissection of California’s failures, see my piece from the fall issue of National Affairs.

November 26th, 2009 at 11:38 am
Happy Thanksgiving
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A chronicle of the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, via the Wall Street Journal.

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

November 25th, 2009 at 1:27 pm
New York’s Highest Court Disappoints
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By now, most of you have heard that New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has ruled in favor of New York City’s use of eminent domain.

This opinion strikes a huge blow to the state of property rights across the nation and it’s another sad consequence of the U.S. Supreme Court’s dreadful decision in Kelo v. New London.

The land in the New York case wasn’t blighted or vacant.  Instead, certain well-heeled individuals with connections to the city government thought that they could use their power to construct … a basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets.  Seeing as how the Nets haven’t won a game this year, perhaps they ought to take up residence in a local high school gym instead of forcing landowners out of their property.

If you have the stomach for it, the full New York Court of Appeals opinion is available here.

November 25th, 2009 at 12:31 pm
Government Mandates and Health Care
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Much has been made about the proposed federal mandate that all individuals purchase health insurance.  Some have called this mandate unconstitutional since the only constitutional justification could be the interstate commerce clause in Article I.

Since standing around and not purchasing health care is hardly an act of interstate commerce, critics make a good point.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) went one step further in its criticism of the mandate in 1994 when it noted that the individual mandate was “an unprecedented form of federal action.  The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.”

This year, Greg Dattilo and Dave Racer conducted a study of state and federal mandates.  The results aren’t too surprising when you consider that most government action fails to achieve the desired result, or leads to unintended consequences that harm other sectors of the economy.

For example, auto insurance is mandatory in 47 states but the uninsured rate has held steady at 14.6 percent.  In addition, the federal income tax is of course mandatory, but the non-compliance rate is still 14.7 percent.  These individuals are all law breakers, to be sure, but mandating something doesn’t make it so.

I would propose a government mandate on happiness, prosperity and full employment.  That could solve a lot of problems.  Perhaps a government mandate on earning at least $30,000 a year?  The way the FED is printing money, that should be no problem.  Maybe a government mandate for universal chocolate chip cookie access and subsequent ban on diabetes?

Racer and Dattilo conclude:

If the goals of health reform are to reduce the uninsured rate, increase access to health care, and improve quality, forcing more people to sign up for health plans is not the answer.  The CBO makes it very clear; people who are forced to own health insurance will, as a result, use more health services.  That will increase overall health spending, put stress on the supply of health care services (reducing access) and not make a dent in quality.

November 25th, 2009 at 11:11 am
A Worthless Weekend of Presidential Travel

In spite of the dubious value of his recent trip to Asia, now comes an announcement that President Obama will be traveling to the glorified photo op that is the denuded climate change meeting in Copenhagen on his way to Oslo to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize. In both cases Obama’s presence was assured only after any meaningful criteria were removed.
The only meaningful accomplishment possible at Copenhagen is scheduling another meeting next year. And of course, no single person on the planet can claim to live in a greater state of peace after 10 months of Hope and Change. Such is the Obama approach to international relations, which is looking and sounding resolute when there is nothing able to be resolved.

November 25th, 2009 at 10:32 am
Republicans Launch “Contract with Colorado”

Finally, a group of Republicans are putting the calls to reemphasize GOP core values into action. In a move that was partly motivated to eliminate his primary opposition, gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis invited former Rep. Tom Tancredo and other conservatives to help write a “Contract with Colorado.” Called the “Platform for Prosperity” (pdf), the proposal seeks to give all Republican candidates for state office in the 2010 election cycle something to support. This statement of principles is the kind of party-uniting exercise sorely needed in several states throughout the union, and within the GOP’s ranks in the U.S. Congress.

A discussion of the contract’s genesis and a comparison of it to the 1994 Contract with America can be found here.

H/T: Valerie Richardson at Human Events

November 25th, 2009 at 9:13 am
Morning Links
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November 24th, 2009 at 11:45 pm
Regulation of California’s “Compassionte Use Act” Goes Up in Smoke in West Hollywood

Just when I begin to think that California government can’t produce a worse example of willful resistance to the rule of law, the city council of West Hollywood vies for attention. Under the terms of California’s “Compassionate Use Act” medical marijuana dispensaries are supposed to be non-profit entities supplied by legal growers for distribution to people with a qualifying medical ailment. This is how the city council of West Hollywood is choosing to implement that law.

Simply, West Hollywood has no clue if its dispensaries are buying pot from gangs, organized crime and illegal grows — or someplace else.

As West Hollywood Councilman John Duran says, “We knew from the beginning that they were operating for a profit. The greater evil was to send AIDS patients back to drug dealers and back alleys.” In fact, the West Hollywood “model” of regulation, praised days ago by city councilmen Rosendahl, Dennis Zine and Paul Koretz, is a rudimentary system of rules that require closing on time, using an unarmed security guard and not attracting loiterers. The city is not even attempting to prevent profits.

But Duran concedes a darker truth, saying, “We know that the collectives are not able to get all their marijuana from California, and some are coming from drug cartels, and the pesticides are highly toxic to AIDS patients. We did advise the dispensary that they should find marijuana that won’t be harmful to patients.” Beyond that, although having only four outlets to worry about, they simply “don’t have the expertise to figure out” where all that high-end $25-per-gram pot is coming from, Duran says.

According to the same LA Weekly article, the Los Angeles city council follows a similar program of non-compliance. Amazing.

November 24th, 2009 at 7:39 pm
New Gun Rights Case Could Expand Use of Originalism in Constitutional Interpretation

The people who brought – and won – District of Columbia v. Heller (aka “the D.C. Gun Rights Case”) are back with a lawsuit challenging a nearly identical ban on handgun possession in Chicago, IL. The Supreme Court ruled in Heller that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to own and use a firearm (not a militia’s) in the District of Columbia (i.e. a federal jurisdiction). Now the question in McDonald v. City of Chicago is whether the Supreme Court will extend its ruling in Heller to cover McDonald’s right to own and use a firearm to invalidate a state law.

But wait; there’s more! The lawyers for McDonald are advancing a provocative theory that could expand the use of “Originalist” interpretation of the Constitution. Close followers of the Court will recall that Justice Scalia is the most well known proponent of interpreting the Constitution in light of its original and public understanding of its text at the time it was ratified (i.e. 1791). In fact, Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller was a triumph of sorts for Originalism as an authoritative method of interpretation. In their brief, McDonald’s lawyers argue for using Originalism to overturn a 136 year old precedent in favor of interpreting the 14th Amendment as its framers intended. That is, to guarantee the extension of the federal bill of rights against encroaching state laws.

Apart from federalism concerns, the use of the 14th Amendment to reinterpret the application of the first ten amendments could – as this blog post from the Wall Street Journal explains – make Originalism more attractive to liberal members of the Court. Why? Because instead of looking at 1791 as Scalia does, Justices like Breyer and Ginsburg would look to 1868, the year the 14th Amendment was ratified. (A time when America was rethinking the scope of state’s rights.)

The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case next year promises to be consequential. As usual, what’s at stake is far bigger than the surface level issue that got the parties through the door. Stay tuned…

November 24th, 2009 at 3:13 pm
The New Stimulus: $150 Billion Tax Increase
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Ah, the world of Democratic fiscal policy.  If you pass three massive stimulus bills that not only fail to stimulate job growth, but partly contribute to 10.2% unemployment, why not go back to the well and push for tax hikes?

According to the Hill, Democrats are seeking a $150 billion tax on the sale and purchase of financial instruments like stocks and derivatives.  The thinking is that since Wall Street is finally recovering and unemployment is still lingering above 10 percent that Wall Street needs to involuntarily fund a “Job Creation Reserve” for the unemployed.  If that’s all it takes to lift a $14 trillion economy out of recession, why didn’t our exalted class of politicos think of this before?

Now that Wall Street is starting to recover, what better way to welcome it back to prosperity than with a massive new tax hike?  This failed line of thinking reminds me of the old Ronald Reagan quote, “If it moves, tax it.  If it keeps moving, regulate it.  And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

For real life illustrations of this quote see: Wall Street bailouts/new taxes, taxing “rich people,” bailing out Detroit, subsidizing Amtrak, subsidizing the postal service, subsidizing agriculture, and the regulation of pretty much every productive economic venture in the U.S.

November 24th, 2009 at 10:39 am
Video: Would ObamaCare Kill Medical Innovation?
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November 24th, 2009 at 9:02 am
Morning Links
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November 24th, 2009 at 12:43 am
Afghanistan … Again
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It’s late on Monday night and President Obama has been huddling with his “war council” at the White House for the ninth time discussing a strategy for the war in Afghanistan.  Never mind that Obama himself unveiled a new strategy in the spring, that he was responsible for appointing General McChrystal as the commander in theater, and that his months-long ambivalence on Afghanistan is in sharp contrast to the “fierce urgency of now” that drove the stimulus package, cap and trade, and health care reform to be rolled out in massive pieces of legislation delivered in the middle of the night.

Even putting all that aside, what’s truly worrisome about the President’s current state of mind is his unseriousness.  According to CNN’s coverage of the council meeting:

At the last war council meeting – on November 11, Veteran’s Day – Obama pushed for revisions in proposed plans for troop increases to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama would seek answers at Monday’s meeting to the questions he posed on November 11 about “not just how we get people there, but what’s the strategy for getting them out.”

It’s all well and good for Obama to be considering what the endgame in Afghanistan will look like, but that’s no reason to delay the decision-making process.  The historical record is pretty clear. While an emphasis on exit strategies always sounds comforting, they’re almost impossible to construct in a vacuum.  If Afghanistan is really the “war of necessity” the president has said it is (and it is), he needs to settle on a strategy for victory. Trying to figure out how to leave before figuring out how to win is a recipe for failure. Obama is president now — which means it’s time for him to stop thinking about the war in terms of election cycles.