Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bastardization of Civic Involvement

What do drunk drivers, pending high school graduates, and desparate concert goers all have in common? They are compelled to complete community service. Ken Ulman has struck a deal with Virginfest to give tickets to those that complete community service. This is one of those political maneuvers that looks great, but has very little substance.

You can't make people get involved in their community. You can't even encourage them to get involved. In almost all cases, they need to be inspired. These types of programs, whether administered by a judge, a school board, or a concert organizer, do nothing more than make community service into work. Worst of all, those that are "served" are held out as so many pieces of trash that need to be picked up before a goal is reached. That is not service.

If you want to reward service, give the tickets to those that were working the shelters, parks, etc. before there was a Virginfest in Columbia. Or, better yet, give the tickets to those that would never be able to afford to go to a concert...you know...the ones that a "free concert" is targeted towards.

Monday, June 29, 2009

London Calling

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in; Engines stop running and the wheat
is growing thin; A nuclear error, but I have no fear; London is drowning-and I live
by the river


I don't know if you all have noticed, but there is a lot of violence going on right now. The Iranian people are protesting the results of an election (that probably would have gone the same way even if the polls weren't rigged). Honduras's military has staged a coup under the banner of democracy and the surrounding countries (including Obama lover Hugo Chavez) are vowing a counter-revolution to reinstate the leftist president. North Korea is playing "I-squish-your-head" from across the Pacific by suggesting a 4th of July attack on Hawaii (or in their words a "fireshower of nuclear retaliation", which sounds quite refreshing). Oh, and Chicago (with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country) is literally bleeding out.

Nonetheless, our media outlets spent the weekend talking about how awesome Michael Jackson is.

What are we to make of this? I think the first thing to be clear on is that the world is no longer afraid of us. We can see the passive effects of this in Iran and the more aggressive effects in North Korea. This can't be completely blamed on Obama, but it can certainly be seen as an indictment of his "I want everyone to like me" approach. One thing the "blame America first" crowd refuses to understand is that every other country is looking out for itself first and the US gets a bad rap because we have the good fortune of being so well off that we can avoid some of the international agreements that become traps. Obama has attempted to take us back to the bargaining table, which some of the more aggressive countries may see as weakness. I am all for diplomacy, but one of the rules America has always followed is to "negotiate from a position of power." Obama's apologies make that power invisible, which then forces the US into the position of being unable to bring that power to the bargaining table when dealing with North Korea, Iran, and the legion of countries that wish us harm. When you can't negotiate from a position of power, you have no other choice than to simply use it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Apocalypse Now

I was thinking the other day that there are plenty of studies on how carrots help eyesight or a glass of red wine may (or may not) be good for you. Why haven't there been studies released that definitely prove that Global Warming is occurring?

When a condescending liberal makes fun of you for doubting "global warming", the first thing you should do is correct them and tell them that all science has been able to find is "climate change" and that "global warming" is a semantic tool used to make people think of uncomfortable hot days when they are recyclying their milk jug. Second, you should let them know that even with some evidence of climate change, there has never been any proof that this change is caused by humans. Third, to the extent there is any proof of any of this, we do not have enough data to come to any conclusions. No one took the Earth's temperature a the beginning of the Industrial Revolution with the idea that we'd be flailing our arms 100 years later talking about the end of the world.

I believe we should take care of our environment and that if we can reduce CO2 emissions in a responsible way that will not hog tie our economy, we should. The WSJ reports on the true cost of the Dem's climate bill and it is something to be worried about. We do not have proof that this bill will work (or if it is even worth working), but we do have proof that it will have great harm. Nonetheless, it is cool to be "green" and these jokers want nothing more than to be liked.

It is beyond me how anyone can watch what the government has done over the past decade and still think they should be in charge of our doctors. If you didn't like Bush, I've got news for ya, Obama ain't gonna be king forever.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gov. Sanford Commits Political Suicide

...with the most faithful weapon of Political self-destructionists.


I work with some faithful blue hats and they are over-joyed. "Always the Republicans with the affairs." Me: What are you talking about? Maybe you remember Bill Clinon? Eliott Spitzer? "Oh I know, it's just the moral majority Christian Conservatives are running on family values, and look at this." Me: Just like Nancy Pelosi is promoting the environment has she jets back to California on the weekends. "Yeah...well, all politicians suck." Me: Agreed.

Behind it all, here is yet another reason why the Republican party (and politicians in general) need to get out of the bedrooms and family rooms of our populace. Affairs are always bad and our politicians (and reality stars) should know better to act that way in the public spotlight. But at the end of the day, the Clintons and Spitzers of this world will be forgiven (Sorry John, you can't cheat on your cancer-striken wife and get back in the ring). The Sanfords of this world will NEVER be forgiven because they pretended to ride the white horse of family values and moral certainty. The Republican party looks dumb for sticking its hands into the mess that is human morality.

Barney Frank is Bad for America

When I was little, my mother would tell me that it is bad to "hate" someone, and that you should say "strongly dislike" instead. Well I hate Barney Frank. Don't know the man, don't plan to ever meet him, but I hate him. The reason I hate him is that he thinks he is smarter than everyone else, better than everyone else, and immune from criticism. As noted in this editorial, he was the one that wanted Fannie and Freddie to "roll the dice" ("wowl the dice" is more likely) toward subsidizing the housing market. There is no better indictment of his culpability in this disaster than the quotes contained here.

He now wants to lower lending standards for purchasing condominiums. There really are no words. What's sad, is that if this wasn't our economy he was screwing up, he would make a hilarious movie character. A Congressman that believes himself to be the smartest of them all makes deliberate move after deliberate move that cripple markets and make the situation worse. When he is criticized, he blusters through with nonsensical answers.

Maybe, one day, I will "strongly dislike" Barney Frank. But not today.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"These aren't the droids you're looking for"

(Please excuse the Star Wars quote, but it is spot on for what I'm talking about)

Obama is attempting to nudge us towards health, wealth, and wisdom. He is being advised by the authors of the book "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness", which is a great book but a horrific thing for your government to reference in terms of federal policy.

There is a valley between "Just Say 'No'" and "No." There is another word for "nudging" and that is "manipulating." It is cute and tongue in cheek to say "nudge", but really the government is using what's called "Choice Architecture" (from the book) to give a false sense of choice. A perfect example of this is auto-enrollment in 401K plans. You aren't forced to stay in the plan and can reclaim the 5% of your paycheck that may be invested for you, but more likely than not (about 80% of those surveyed) you will leave the investment plan alone and never miss the money you never received.

Get your foil hats out. If the government is going to start nudging us on matters of finance and health, how long until our political choices are "nudged"? In fact, aren't our health and financial decisions political in nature since they often proscribe related political beliefs on matters of stem cell research and taxes. I imagine it won't be too long until they start handing out the soma.

A Lesson in Governance (And Link Dump)

I ride the DC metro everyday. Yesterday's accident was incredibly disturbing and my heart goes out to all of those who were affected. I wanted to make a few notes:

1) The news reports that these cars are automated through a computer system. Whether or not such a system exists, I can tell you that operators have the ability to override the governor and probably 70-80% of them do on a daily basis. If you've been on the metro, you've probably heard the operator describe the next movement of the train before he/she moves it forward, etc. This is going to come out and I assume it will be at the heart of the crash.

2) The DC metro is a government run business. Many will point to the long history of safety, but will ignore the fact that it should be impossible to crash two metro cars on the same line that are supposed to be going no faster than 40 mph.

Links

Stratfor has a tremendous analysis of the Iranian uprising, discussing how the Western Press has got it wrong. I will restate my own personal belief that the reformist movement is building in Iran, but the above linked article does a great job of explaining why this cannot be considered a revolution and is almost sure to fail (unfortunately).

I noted in an earlier post that under Maryland case law, it is practically impossible to find a legislator guilty of accepting a bribe in a quid pro quo context as a judge will not accept their votes as evidence. However, as also noted therein, you can surely bring a case against the one offering the bribe. City Developer Ronald Lipscomb pled guilty to "violating campaign finance laws" and agreed to cooperate with state prosecutors in their case against Mayor Dixon. The bribery charges against Mr. Lipscomb were dropped. State Prosecutor Rohrbaugh is taking a huge risk here. He is discarding "bird in hand is better than two in the bush" for the maxim "I want Big Bird."

Another Doctor joins the ranks of the medical community that think government run health care is a bad idea. Good thing Obama isn't listening to any critics on this one or he'd be in a real bad mood.

A lot has been made of Obama's popularity ratings recently, but it's all fluff. Obama's popularity has staying pretty constant at around 60% since coming to office. Also, we shouldn't be happy that a President is not popular. Two things normally happen: 1) Drastic discordant policy changes that hurt regular Americans; 2) Opposing party takes pot shots.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Monetary Base Problem

In six months, the monetary base in circulation has gone from 95% to less than 50%. What this means is that banks now have over 50% of the US monetary base (money released by Federal Reserve) in their vaults. That also means that the money in circulation, which helps set the price of milk, gasoline, etc., is less than 50% of what could be in circulation should the banks decide to lend again.

I bring this up because Christina Romer, chief economic advisor to the President, doesn't seem to have a problem with this. In fact, she wants to make sure the government doesn't do anything to resolve this time bomb. It reminds me of the scene in Jurassic Park when the kids are being attacked by the T-Rex and they're told "Don't move" except in that movie the T-Rex ran off, ate the guy on the toilet, and left the kids to see another day. In our movie the T-Rex is going to keep staring at us...until we move.

Ms. Romer made an earlier appearance on this blog where she noted that the fundamentals of the economy are sound as long as Obama says so.

Ideological Profiling

If you search for "von Brunn Right Wing" in Google News, you will find 1,219 results. However if you search for "Kendall Myers Left Wing", you will have 2 results, one of which is a sports related article. Giving me some measure of equity is the fact that if you search "Kendall Myers Democrat" you will find 159 results, compared to 413 articles connecting von Brunn to the Republican party.

More than likely, you don't even know who Kendall & Gwendolyn Myers are.
[F]ederal prosecutors allege that Mr. Myers, now 72, used his top-secret clearance as a State Department analyst to steal classified information from government files for nearly three decades, and that Ms. Myers, 71, who worked as a bank clerk, helped pass the information to Cuban handlers. They were arrested earlier this month and are being held without bail.
If you read further about the Myers, you will see that they were both politically active in the Democratic party. Ms. Myers even worked as a political aide for South Dakota Democrat Senator James Abourezk. Previously she had worked in Gov. McGovern's campaign for President, as well as assisting Tom Daschle and current aide to President Obama Pete Rouse.

Von Brunn was a whack job that anyone representing the Republican party would surely dismiss and distance themselves from. The Myers were going to parties with the big wigs. But yet Von Brunn's crimes result in dispicable editorials such as this one in the New York Times by Frank Rich, which suggests that Fox News and general disagreement with Obama's policies fostered the hate that resulted in Von Brunn's murder of Stephen Tyrone Johns.

I normally laugh when I hear indignant liberals talk about how the press is not biased and that Fox News is the problem. The Myers indangered all of us and it can be directly linked to a "blame America first" mindset, yet such analysis is NOWHERE in the coverage. Well allow me to be the first to say "It's all your fault" to the party in blue.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Power Grab

You should be furious. Your government played a critical role in a financial collapse, yet is using the opportunity to give itself more power and control over those very same markets it destroyed.

This administration flat out refuses to allow the "creative destruction" of free markets to take place, which is making our economy into Weekend at Bernies 3, in which there is a house full of dead people that have to be moved around like puppets...ok pardon the metaphor, BUT these corporations are tied up in labor agreements and insurance agreements that are not sustainable.

The most scary part (if I use that phrase too often, it is because it is a scary time) is that under these new regulations, the US Government will now be able to designate the market "winners" as corporations that present a systemic risk. If they feel one of these corporations is in danger of failing, they will appoint a puppeteer to manage the new Bernie. We are turning our market into a zombie film. (More on that in a great WSJ editorial here.)

IT GETS WORSE. After a zombie is taken over, it basically becomes a government sponsored corporation. We all know how well those do (ahem, Freddie, Fannie, please stand up...you too Barney).

The problem right now is that we have a President that is asking "What can I do?" rather than "What should I do?" His motto was "Yes we can", so I guess I shouldn't be surprised...as long as that "we" does not include corporations, investors, consumers, workers, economists, Republicans, Independents, blue dog Democrats, you and I. All I know is, I would not want Obama as my doctor.

Speaking of which...we all know what's next.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Healthy Howard on All Things Considered

There is a mostly fawning post on All Things Considered discussing Healthy Howard. However, the post was unable to get around the fact that no one is enrolling. New to the discussion is Beilenson's solution: mandates. This is hilarious. "Daddy, Joey won't let me play with his toy. Make him share!" The gentle doctor wants to FORCE people to enroll in his program. This is not stated in so many words, but it surely can be gleaned from the article.

a) He wants insurance to be mandatory for all citizens
b) Non-employer sponsored insurance is prohibitively expensive
c) If there were a mandate, Healthy Howard would be healthy

I'm glad that the government always knows what is best for us. Otherwise I just do not know how we would take care of ourselves. I foresee government mandated shoe-tie-ers in about twenty years.

Update: Thanks to Greg for the heads up. According to him, the review of the program on the air/podcast was a little more harsh.

The Prisoner Trade

I can't help but look at the photographs of the Uighers in Bermuda and think of the two US journalists sentenced to twelve year sentences in the labor camps of North Korea (they've already been detained for the past three months). Where are our priorities? How can a mostly powerless country like North Korea do this to our citizens while firing ICBMs over Japan?



I do not advocate for the interventionism suggested in this editorial, but I think the general thrust is spot on. We are losing battles that we don't even know are going on and by doing so, creating a power vacuum.



If Obama wants to turn the page on diplomacy, that's fine and I'd look forward to the results. However, there is a line in the sand. If you threaten the United States or our citizens, you've crossed it. This line has been in existence for at least the past 50 years. We are giving up these positions so that Obama can have this:

Speaking of Candidates

Anthony Jordan posted his written testimony against CB 29-2009 on his website this afternoon. It looks like the Council was trying to cram 3-4 incredibly controversial pieces of legislation through (along with about 15 other bills) after accepting testimony on Monday night.

For all I know, my house may be annexed to Baltimore County under one of those bills...I may have to change the blog name.

But...an NBA player likes him...that makes him cool

As 60 Minutes and ESPN covered ad naseum, former NBA star Kevin Johnson was recently elected mayor of Sacremento, CA. Mr. Johnson was also a strong Obama supporter. You may be asking "who is washing Mr. Johnson's car while he serves as mayor?" and the answer is Americorps. The WSJ has an editorial today about how a White House Inspector General was most likely fired for his uncovering of a scam perpetrated by Mr. Johnson and his charity.

Nice way to scare the IG's right before the stimulus fraud ($1 out of every $10) starts to register.

I would be embarrassed to have an Obama sticker on my car right now. He fooled you.

Interesting State of U.S. Politics

I noticed the recent Gallup Poll stating that Conservatives are the single largest ideological group with 40% of those surveyed. About 21% of those surveyed considered themselves liberal. This result did not surprise me too much. I think the loudest and most influential among us are liberal, which can give the impression of a profligate majority. I also think this contributes to "conservatives" feeling hopeless about the government and staying home on election day.

The converse of this is that Republicans are not conservatives. If I had my choice between evils, I think I'd rather have my big government in blue than red. I don't want theocratic-morality in my cereal. I would prefer (gulp) the red tape and inefficiencies of a bumbling big brother who may at least have some think tank reports to back him up. The intellectual dishonesty of this argument arises from the fact that we don't really know what the motivations of liberal big government are.

I don't think the Republican party is lost. Unfortunately I subscribe to the belief that we have two teams in this game and you need to root for one. Yes it is a depressing and cynical way to look at our democracy, but I also see the political parties as little more than vehicles. If there is a candidate that can speak well, present good ideas, and has shown a commitment to his/her community, I think the party would have a hard time holding him/her back. (This is my counter-vailing naive opinion). I've yet to be proven correct here, but the combination of skills described above is rare. It amazes me how many aspirational politicians show themselves unable to put two words together when behind a podium. Sadly, this core flaw is what stands between us and good government...because the bad guys are ALWAYS great speakers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran

Although this blog is more interested in local issues than those from afar, I felt compelled to make a brief entry on what's going on in Iran right now. I am a foreign affairs geek and have followed much of the situation in Iran for the past four years or so. What the US public doesn't seem to understand, and confuses the hell out of them, is that Iran has basically been hijacked. There is an intelligent populace with moderate views of everything from religion to geo-political relations, but yet their government imposes a theocracy upon them along with a crooked President (who really has very little power other than mouth-piece).

Right now the youth of Iran are protesting in frustration. In a country that fits the US understanding of the Middle East (i.e., poverty, extremist terrorists, etc.) such rioting would only occur after a US bombing or due to worsening employment levels in said country. In Iran, they are protesting their oppression. Hell, the forces at play in Iran need to import Hezbollah in order to enforce the extremist views that the government espouses. The people are not behind them.

So when you see the news and you see the youth of Iran (and their professors) fighting in the streets, know that they are fighting for the future of Iran. These are not shoe banging anti-American holocaust deniers. These are pro-democracy, pro-diplomacy students. These are the people we want to win.

UPDATE: Here is a good summation of the situation and all of the surrounding politics.

SECOND UPDATE: Proving that I am not afraid of being wrong (or being perceived as wrong), please check out this analysis by Stratfor, a think tank that I have a lot of respect for. While not entirely in contravention of my own discussion, I believe the author would suggest that the idea that students are in a position to reform Iran is simplistic and wrong. I would only counter with the Western idea of "from the mouth of babes" and suggest that the older generation of Iranians may be interested in this revolt for more than safety reasons.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Safeway's Health Insurance Plan

This is great. The government approaches these problems as "If we subsidize your life, we can tell you what to do." The private sphere says "If you follow our incentives, we will subsidize those behaviors that are positive, and let you pay for negative ones."

Common sense hurts so good.

Breaking Down CB29-2009


I spent yesterday doing some research into CB29-2009, which should be entitled "Bill Allowing Fox to Guard Chicken Coup." I found some interesting tidbits here.

First, theoriginal zoning regulation amendment request (ZRA 102) was made by the Wilde Lake Business Trust, which is one of the many business entities in our state that exist in an ephermal state as far as campaign finance regulations are concerned. I won't claim that there was a direct intent to hide anything, as the contact e-mail address is for Kimco Realty. However, this "Trust" is made up of multiple development companies, most of which have donated heavily to our county council. Free speech is grand, but the disclosure of contributions is required for amendment requests and one must figure that all the little guys are hiding behind the elephant in the room that is Kimco Realty.

Second, in October 2008 the Department of Planning and Zoning (under Executive Ulman) recommended the approval of ZRA 102 with some amendments, most notably refining the allowed uses and density as well as the definition for Village Center.

Third, in May 2009 the Planning Board discussed but did not pass (2-2) ZRA 102. The Board recommended further research into the implications of the Amendment and the many unanswered concerns of the community. Most of these concerns boiled down to whether or not this bill would open a door that could never be closed on development in Columbia. The Board expressed concern to the residential land use provision of allowing residential property to develop within the town centers, taking up space originally intended for commercial use. There was an undercurrent of concern (as there should be) as to whether village centers would become new locales for low income housing.

Finally, Mary Kay Sigtay introduced CB 29-2009. This bill incorporated some of the amendments recommended by the DPZ, but, most importantly, retained the language of allowing amendments "to any use or density" as long as the amendment complied with existing county law. Councilman Sigtay appears to have completely ignored the Planning Board report and the concerns expressed therein.

Some Thoughts:
This bill is tied to the failing health of the Wilde Lake Village Center, but as noted in the DPZ Technical Report, the vague use of the term "Village Center" was not necessary. The amendment could easily have been directed toward the Wilde Lake Village Center or the term "Village Center" could have been defined in such a way to limit the application of the amendment.

Think of Village Centers as ground zero. This bill would allow the village center boundaries to expand as developers apply for new zoning under the law. This is NOT a limited bill.

Village Centers, in the original plan for Columbia, were intended to have a measure of harmony amongst the businesses (i.e., a barber shop, pizza place, and liquor store rather than two liquor stores and a 30 story hotel). This bill would in effect end those master plans.

Getcha Shoes on, it's time to Testify.
Note: An earlier draft stated that Calvin Ball introduced this bill. That was incorrect. It was introduced by the Chair and I had incorrectly noted that to be Councilman Ball when it was in fact Mary Kay Sigtay. I apologize for the error.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CB29-2009

One of my readers has brought my attention to the linked bill. I've read it over a couple times and it seems to be a way for developers to streamline zoning changes in community centers across Columbia (but also in the surrounding county) at the expense of community input. Let me know what you think. I'm having a hard time getting my head around what exactly is changing with the new bill, but can tell that at the very least it is putting developers (or "property owners") in an advantaged position against someone that wants to sell cupcakes out of their kitchen and wants to petition for a new zoning measure.

Back in the Saddle

Hello everyone,
I am back from a fantastic wedding and brief honeymoon. There is plenty to cover, but in the meantime, please check out a new post on Anthony Jordan's site.

A couple notes:
Baltimore City is proving yet again that the maxim of sunlight being the best disenfectant does not apply to their politics. The former Chairman of the Board of Education has been gifted a BS job paying him $175,000 a year, which is the second highest paying job in the Baltimore school system. What will he be doing? He will be " in charge of ensuring that the systems of the district, from human resources to food services and building maintenance, work more smoothly." In other words, his job has no quantifiable measure. There will be no way we will be able to tell if he is doing a good job...or any job at all.

The US House has passed a "Cash for Clunkers" bill, which would provide up to $4,500 vouchers for fuel efficient vehicles when trading in an inefficient vehicle. My only question is whether those economists that are explaining the housing bubble also read the newspaper. If they did, they may mention to the crowded masses that Congress shows no shame in creating market bubbles with subsidies such as this, where there is a predictable "end of the road" wherein prices will collapse. If I give you a dollar a day to buy something you may not ordinarily buy (i.e., The NY Times), but then all the sudden stop paying you that dollar, you probably will stop buying the paper. If I extend this over thousands of people, the price of the NY Times will plummet once my subsidy dries up. Same for these cars. The bigger issue is that the prices will become inflated at the cost of those who otherwise want to buy fuel efficient cars. Market manipulation is a bad idea.