Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vacation

Dear dear readers. I will be out of contact for the next week as I get ready for my wedding. I'm going to try to sneak in a post or two, but my internet availability will be spotty (future father-in-law has wireless internet, but forgot password a long long time ago).

In the meantime, please frequent Anthony Jordan's site www.voteanthonyjordan.com and comment away with anything you think should be discussed. I've come to realize that there are a fair amount of readers out there that don't post, which is encouraging as far as the readership of this blog. I truly appreciate all of the support here and enjoy every comment I received (although the majority of which come from Anonymous, who for all I know may be legion).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Keep Your Shoes On, Sheila

Famous shoe-wagger Mayor Sheila Dixon may have slipped the grasp of State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh based on one of the most backward precedents our country has. Legislative Immunity stands for the principle that a legislator may not be civilly or criminally liable for speech, actions, or votes related to or contained within the duties of a legislator. Most people can agree with this principle on its face. You don't want your representative to be worried about being civilly liable for voting for playgrounds, roads, etc. where people may get hurt.

The problem is that Judge Sweeney, retired Howard County Circuit Court judge, has held that a legislators actions may not be used as evidence of bribery in a criminal trial. If you boil away all of the legal mumbo jumbo, this means it is near impossible to convict someone of being bribed, however you may easily convict the briber. Seeing as the politician has a much larger potential and capacity for being bribed than the briber (who is of limited purpose and means), this legal precedent is a travesty.

Everyone rails against the political fundraising issues in our country. Local politicians end up holding $250 a plate fundraisers that end up giving them more money than they'll ever need in a county election. This is because any quid pro quo relationship that may develop is completely immune from investigation or prosecution. I am not suggesting that all large donations can be traced directly to political action, but the environment is furtile for such abuse, and I think we can all agree that this abuse is prevalent.

In light of judicial decisions such as these, the burden is incumbent on all of us as voters to box out politicians that abuse the immunities that they are allowed. Judge Sweeney did not rule that Mayor Dixon is unaccountable. He simply ruled that she was not criminally accountable. Let's start using our vote to take their jobs away. We'll see if they still have the "support" of developers then.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Anthony Jordan -- Development

I'd like you guys (and possibly gals?) to check out a posting on Anthony Jordan's site. I've been working with him on his campaign and we plan to keep the site updated regularly with insight on where Anthony stands on county issues. Today's post is about Howard County development and the results of letting developers run your council chamber.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bay-Dog Millionaire

There appears to be a big hullabaloo (that's right, hullabaloo) over whether Maryland millionaires are fleeing the state as a result of the new millionaire bracket of 6.25% state income tax. The Wall Street Journal had a brief commentary editorial today suggesting that Maryland Millionaires as a group are paying $100 million less this year than they did in years past.

The Baltimore Sun took offense to this suggestion after staking out the position that millionaires were not in fact leaving but rather have filed for extensions or have lost millionaire status due to the recession. I love (LOVE) this paragraph in the Sun editorial:
Finally, look at it this way: Someone who makes $2 million a year would pay
about $20,000 more in 2008 Maryland taxes than he or she did a year before
because of the millionaire surcharge and other changes to make the tax code more
progressive. That probably seems like a lot of money to the average Marylander,
but it's important to remember just how much more $2 million is than the $57,000
the Census bureau says the average Marylander makes. Look at it this way:
$20,000 is to a $2 million earner the equivalent of about $570 for someone
making $57,000 a year. That's like taxing Joe Blow Marylander an extra $11 a
week. Not great, but not exactly worth moving to West Virginia, either.

Even for someone that makes double the $57,000 average, $570 is a lot of money. Not to mention the fact that millionaires we are talking about are not using $100 bills to light their cigars. These are people with kids in college, parents in nursing homes, and regular bills to pay. $20,000 is a lot of money.

At the end of the day, the Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot was the one that first said millionaires are leaving. He's the guy that collects our money. I'll take his word over a failing newspaper any day of the week.

And the Nominee Is...

Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the Second Circuit.

Some critical reviews:
"Not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench"

She believes that the Court of Appeals is where "policy is made."

She has stated that a Hispanic woman should use her own experiences as a woman of color to make her decisions.

I note those articles because it seems as if there has already been a white-wash of coverage as to why this nomination is so wonderful. From my perspective, she doesn't have any bad decisions to latch on to, but I think her multiple public speaking events will bite her. I'd put money down that she is easily confirmed, which are two scary words to use in conjunction with an unelected self-described "policy-maker."

Here's an interesting story behind the story: Looks like Obama's people have been updating the heck out of Sotomayor's Wikipedia page. Look at all of the edits for May 26 compared to the previous history. These edits were clearly aimed at painting her as a centrist supported by both parties.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Greg Fox Partisan???...!!!!!

One of these days I will read the Howard Section of the Baltimore Sun and not turn red.  What they don't seem to realize is that even Democrats want to see honest discourse in their paper.  The blue-blind approach to the Sun's coverage will only diminish readership.  The absolute ONLY reason I still subscribe is the Sports section.  There is no better feeling in this world than reading the hard print of a Ravens victory the Monday after it happens.

Here's a letter I sent into the Sun in response to a "Political Notebook" entry that is not available online.  Just trust me that it was baaaaaad news...literally.  Please feel free to poach some of the facts and make your own letter.  They should be sent to nathan.pitts@baltsun.com, linda.schubert@baltsun.com.

It is interesting to me that Councilman Greg Fox’s suggestion to scale back Healthy Howard funding in the face of underperformance is called “partisan” while the lock-step support of four Democrats to a program sponsored by a Democrat Executive is somehow given the color of fair-minded political poetry (“Some Cry Partisanship in Fox Fight with Health Plan,” 5/24/09). Healthy Howard was projected to serve 2,000 citizens in its first year at $500,000 operating costs.  The program was only able to recruit 200 citizens, but sought to re-up that original $500,000, even with a projection of only 950 people by the end of the fiscal year.  One can presume that a significant majority of this funding will go towards a public relations campaign aimed at convincing people that they need this program.  From the overwhelming positive press this program has received in the press, Healthy Howard’s greatest success has been to redirect citizens to programs that they already qualify for, which would suggest a hefty price for a match-making service.  We need political opposition in our government.  It is galling to me that under the circumstances noted above the word “partisan” would be put in print anywhere near Councilman Fox’s name.  How about “Acting Chairman of Common Sense”?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some Friday Notes

Here's a good summation of where we are on the GTMO situation. My guess is that the detainees are eventually shipped to Colorado. We already have some of our convicted terrorists there, such as shoe-bomber Richard Reid. At the end of the day, even without congressional funding, Obama can use previously allocated DoD monies to transport these bad guys to whatever federal prison he wants. All you're seeing right now is bluster so that whatever happens from here on out, the senators will have plausible deniability.

US Marshals put a witness in a cell with three guys he was testifying against in Baltimore. I imagine the walk towards the cell went something like this: "Um, Um, guys...you are going to walk me right past the...hey...hey why you opening that door...hey guys, watcha doing...you're gonna put me in there? No no no. (Witness tries to climb up the arm of a US Marshall to get away from the cell) At least give me a knife or something..."

The US House defeated a measure to investigate Nacy Pelosi's claims with regard to the CIA misleading her on "enhancing interrogations." No Democrats voted for the investigation, and only two Republicans voted against it. About as pure of a party vote as you get. I don't like vengeful politics. I don't support measures like these where there are bigger fish to fry. I think Pelosi has been exposed and hopefully the voters will respond (I don't think they will). I will say that it is a shame and an embarrassment that measures like these are defeated, yet MLB steroids and the NCAA football issue get all the time the press will give them. Makes me sick.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Healthy Howard On Life Support

I have been ignoring my dear county recently with my obsession with all the fun market manipulation going on in DC. I apologize Howard County. Maybe this weekend we can go to the park and spend some time just us, like the old days.

Anyway, the Council passed a $1.4 Billion budget 4-1. Greg Fox was the sole dissenter, holding objection to the continued forced march of Healthy Howard. My favorite part of the article:

The council made virtually no changes, rejecting an attempt by Republican
Greg Fox to cut in half the county's second annual $500,000 grant to Healthy
Howard Inc., Ulman's program to provide health access to uninsured, low-income
residents."The (enrollment) numbers were 10 percent of what they were intended
to be when this came to us," said Fox, the council's lone Republican, criticizing Ulman for starting new programs with a recession coming.
Democrat Jen Terrasa fought back."It looks like you don't support health care, or is there something else going on here?" she said.

I've got a special place in my heart for people like Councilman Terrasa. They take criticisms of a broken program and inflate them to the breaking point. "If you don't like Healthy Howard, you must hate doctors. In fact, I bet you drink soda before going to bed without brushing your teeth."

I've said this before, but Healthy Howard may be a product without a market. The Council had the opportunity to debate this point, but after Councilman Terrasa pointed out that minds were already made, the Council chose to continue to fully fund the program. The Council suggests that one year is not enough to evaluate the success of this underperforming program, yet found one year to be more than enough time to evaluate and narrow the Senior Tax Credit last year.

This is party politics streamlining Ulman's pet project. If this program is a failure, Ulman loses big. If it is a success, (or can be continually described as a program going through "growing pains"), Ulman wins big. The real shame is that county employees will be losing their jobs and going on furlough while this program eats about $500,000 in county funds annually for 200 participants (approximately $2,500 per head, which only accounts for operating costs and not the original sunk costs and private contributions).

If you want to see a program floudering for relevance, read this article from the Sun, a paper that has tried repeatedly to fluff up support. The biggest thing to pay attention to is that this program originally anticipated 2,000 participants in the first year, but has only 200. The program originally asked for $500,000 to serve 2,000 people, but now wants $500,000 to serve 200 people. How does this make any sense? Well for that you need to look to a quote from that article

Beilenson said the major roadblock to signing up more clients is lack of
awareness. "I think it's very clear people just don't know about it," he said.

The money is going to posters.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New CAFE Standards


The Obama Administration has issued new CAFE standards to require that carmakers produce vehicles with an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. The Obama camp claims this will only raise auto prices by an average of $1,300, which stretches the use of the word "only" for most car-buyers. Those in the auto industry have predicted the end of the SUV as we know it and the reallocation of trucks to those that require such vehicles for work.


I am torn here. On one hand I get very frustrated by the civilian tanks that seem to be escalating an arms race of "safer cars" (i.e., my Honda Accord would be a perfectly safe car as long as I am never hit by a Hummer, Excursion, etc.). I am also frustrated when I see such a car with a "Get Out of Iraq, NOW" bumper sticker when it is my own personal belief that we would let the Middle East become the battle-field of Africa if we didn't care so much about the stabilization of fuel prices vis a vi our love affair with big ass cars.


On the other hand, I agree with one of my Anonymi that I would much rather the administration tax fuel prices and let the market innovate in response. If you want to drive an SUV, go ahead. You will be subsidizing our government in the same way a smoker subsidizes health care.


The problem with just leaving well enough alone is that the American people are no longer rational economic actors. Consumers saw gas prices go down and thought "Whew that was scary" and then went back to their Tanks. Those prices will be back and next time it will probably be for good. Oil is a commodity that will rise with the coming inflation and soar when the US economy turns in on itself with the devaluation of the US Dollar (I know I am skipping some steps, but work with me).


I guess the real question is, are CAFE standards anachronistic anyway? Should Obama have made the new standards based on alternative energy?


Or...should he have just left the darned thing alone?

Small Request

I know that Blogger can be a pain to put a profile in, but I'm curious if some of my Anonymi may sign their names within the content of their comment. I am not going to try to find out your true identity, and a first name will certainly work, but I want to be able to respond to commenters and it becomes difficult when everyone is Anonymous. I also would like to get to know the views of those that comment, and will be better able to aggregate past views if there is a single name to identify with. If you are uncomfortable doing this, I understand.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Free Lunch

The Credit Card bill has passed the Senate and now will be reconciled with the House bill and sent to the President. The NYTimes had an article earlier today about who this hurts...and it's not the credit card companies. It will hurt YOU. A staple of any personal finance book is to use credit cards for the free benefits that can result if you pay your bill on time every month. Now credit companies will be looking to make consumers pay for the privilege of using their card, which will subsidize those who abuse their credit card, but yet cannot be charged for such abuses.

Why is this world being made easier for the irresponsible? Does paternalism have no limits in the face of market forces?

The most practical pain in the ass of this whole mess is that those who have high benefit, no/low fee cards will now have to decided whether it is worth closing their accounts and taking a hit on their credit score or simply paying the new fee.

Hail to the CEO!

David Brooks has an interesting piece on traits of successful CEO's and how they are a different breed of people than one may assume. What I like most about it is that it becomes a sneaky argument for why we don't wan politicians running our businesses. You can turn that argument on its head and say that we really don't want politicians to run anything, but they seem to be the best at getting elected.

Monday, May 18, 2009

To Fix the Problem of People Buying Homes They Can't Afford...

...we are going to help people buy homes that they think they will be able to afford in the future. The FHA has decided that they may allow home-buyers to get an advance on their $8,000 home-buyer's tax credit to buy their home.

As a recent home-buyer, I love the idea that more people will be buying homes. But the economics of this are off. This new initiative will bring back and artificial bump to prices that will be doomed to again recede. The $8K is to encourage people to buy homes. The reason every renter isn't running out to buy a home is because they need to save up for the down-payment in order to qualify for a mortgage. If they no longer need to save as much for a down-payment, a huge inhibitor is removed and the market would be flooded, especially now that sellers are paying up to 3% for closing costs.

We cannot let our government artificially buoy market prices. No matter how much fun it may be to blame the "greed" of Wall Street, there is a big thumb-print of Uncle Sam on the scales that ended up enabling unfit buyers for home-ownership. I am not suggesting that all those that would take advantage of this program are unfit, but I will say that after just over 1 year home-ownership, the unexpected costs that come along with owning your own home require that you have savings and A LOT of it. We can't have people buying homes on the government's dime.

Thanks for the link, Tim. I wish I could have found a more positive light for the program.

In Defense of Offense

I can't find any articles that I want to write about, but want to make up for last week (I was on travel). I want to encourage all of my readers to do something that I seek out in my own life: Find fun in argument. Those that share a viewpoint with myself will often find themselves out of the "cool crowd" of political enthusiasm. Many of our social groups encourage a backing of Obama, but discourage what I would consider to be a healthy challenge to those in power. This is concerning.

What I want to encourage everyone to do is be more open about your ideas. Our society was founded in public discourse. Before televisions, entertainment was often found in public debate. In my own life, I've found a tremendous benefit in engaging others in a respectful argument over ideas that are either important to me or those that I don't subscribe to, but want to defend in order to find the dimensions of such foreign ideas. I can say without reservation that you do not know what you believe unless it has been actively and passionately challenged. I think this may be why so many "conservatives" (the term is used loosely nowadays, and in my own usage I mean those in favor of less government intervention in the day-to-day lives of its citizenry) may find it easier to say what they believe now than when Bush was President.

I am not suggesting you "pick a fight", I'm only saying that you don't let the next opportunity pass. Don't let your emotions get involved. Don't tell the other person they are ridiculous, stupid, dumb, or suggest they "don't know what they're talking about." If you tumble across such thoughts, I've found the best approach is to ask them "Do you mean..." and more often than not you'll find out that you have misinterpreted their view.

In light of a post showing shades of condescension, please let me know of any topics you'd like me to post on. Maybe this will be your opportunity to "pick a fight" with me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

GTMO Pictures & The Worst Politician...Ever

What is the interest in publishing pictures of GTMO abuse other than a sick fascination with the dirty side of intelligence?  Sunlight is the best disinfectant, but does this maxim apply to all things.  Can it apply to news that is so abrasive that it will almost certainly cause Americans to be killed across the world?  When Abu Gharib pictures were released, we saw an American beheaded on video in an orange jump-suit.  He was not the last to meet such a fate.  Does anyone doubt that the release of these photos will lead to the exact same result if not worse?

Nancy Pelosi exposes the hypocrisy and front-runner nature of Democratic (big d) politics.  Biden (Hillary, Kerry, etc.) was for the Iraqi war before such a sentiment was unpopular.  Pelosi wanted to make sure the "enhanced interrogation methods" were enough, until it such ideas became out of fashion.  Republicans are excoriated for being backwards and outside of popular thought, but might it just be that Republicans are sticking to their guns on principled issues?  While we may not agree with all of the planks (myself included) I can respect politicians that stand by their honestly held convictions rather than run with the wind.  Pelosi should be ashamed.  Say what you want about Bush and Cheney, but Pelosi represents all that is wrong with politics.  

It may bother me that I don't agree with certain policies, but hopefully those policies stay still long enough for me to disagree with them.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Arlen Gets Made

"As far as Jimmy was concerned with Tommy being made, it was like we were all being made. We would now have one of our own as a member."

That is the scene when Henry and Jimmy think Tommy is being made but he is really being taken to a house wrapped in plastic and is whacked before uttering a half-obscenity.

Present Arlen Specter. They've seperated him from the party and are now destroying him. It really is disturbing to watch.

So THAT's what the $40 Mil was for...

...paying for Baltimore City mistakes.

This poor guy had his door knocked down on a mistaken drug bust two months ago, has yet to be reimbursed, and when he left the door outside for city pick-up he was fined $50 by city inspectors.

Admitting both that Baltimore City is probably the worst run government on the East Coast and that two months is nothing to start protesting over, I still must ask how anyone can justify additional governmental bureacracy seeping into our everyday lives when fact patterns like these play out on a weekly basis.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Crazy Week

I apologize for being off the radar for almost a week. I haven't really seen anything that piqued my interest enough to write about. The news has been obsessed with the Swine Flu, which could be seen as another smoke screen as our financial system is being re-worked. I can tell you that I am not concerned about a flu that is less severe than Salmonella (which I had) and kills less people that the regular flu (by about 1,000%).

I hung out with some people that are a good amount more "right" than me last week for a seminar. During a break one of the people there played the new Wolverine trailer and insisted that the music in the background was saying "Oooooobaaaaaamaaaa, Oooooobaaaaamaaa". It made me feel better about my own slight forays into paranoia. I am no where near worried about movie trailers brain-washing our youth.