Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Empty President?

Certain to be a controversial op/ed right here.

Favorite Line: "There seems to have been very little individuation, no real argument with conventional wisdom, and no willingness to jeopardize popularity for principle."

Election of Judges...Discuss

(Hat tip to Anonymi for bringing the topic to the fore)

To quote one of my favorite Mike Myers skits: "I'm getting a little amongst ya-selfs. Lemme give you a topic..." Judges, our supposedly independent branch -- should they be elected?

In Maryland we have a two part system where the Circuit Judges are first appointed and then confirmed every two years by election. As with any other political race, unfortunately, in contentious races, this has the tendency to create the perception of favors by way of donors and the like. The ideal election would be that of Judge Timothy McCrone, where you barely see signs and the entire process is more of a referendum on the political decision and not a political decision in and of itself.

Attorney General Doug Gansler wants to change that process.

My take is that judges are political, period. At least in a electoral process, fundraising laws require that the interests be made known. Appointments create untoward "influences," but we the people are not made aware of those interests. This is just about as sticky an issue as it gets. We spent entire seminars in law school debating this topic. You cannot separate politics from the law no matter how you try.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

So this is how Universal Health Care Unfolds

The NYTimes caught the tiger's tail, althought it was by way of an Op/Ed. The government, proving that they will use yester-years mistakes for tomorrow's traps, is using the boo boo of a non-inflationary target number (featured prominently in the Alternative Minimum Tax) to shut down your health insurance. Remember when Obama said that his health care plan would not affect your current coverage. Well, to quote Mr. Wilson, "he lied."

Housing Market Hits The County Purse

The Baltimore Sun covered the new property tax assessments that are being mailed out today, which have decreased an average of 20%. Being one of those home owners who bought in the last two years, I am in the margin of those who will benefit the most from this decrease (after appealling my 2007 assessment TWICE). I have already gone online to check my new assessment, which is down approximately 15%. Due to the Homestead Tax Credit Program, this decrease should keep my tax burden lower than the 2007 levels for almost the next decade.

The concern is that our county is already scrambling for revenue. There are signs of future revenue growth (that don't have "Columbia Redevelopment" stamped on them). But I was recently told by an elected official that the cupboard is bare and the county savings are kaput.

We have citizens such as Jeff Robinson urging the county to avoid raising taxes, but due to the ever present free-rider mentality (i.e., I won't complain until you hurt me), the only voices that are being heard are those that still want more in the face of less. As external philanthropic income has gone down, these groups turn to the county for funding as if it was a everlasting font of free money. I have great sympathy for these groups and dedicate my time to a number of them, but I think our county needs to think critically about what it is able to spend. Due to the nature of tax cycles, it will be a long time before revenue streams recover. Raising taxes will seem like the easy fix, but that will only further constrict the private revenues that these service organizations rely on for growth.

It just brings me back to the fact that $100,000, no matter how significant in the hundreds of millions that are spent by the county each year, is going towards signs that tell us lightning is dangerous. Absurdistan is right.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Drunk With Power

Couldn't not share this one...since the mainstream media is having fun ignoring it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Great Advice Is Always Applicable

One of the best pieces of advice I've received from my elders is "Nothing good happens after midnight." This is not advice I follow, but yet I believe it to be true. I might add that "Bad things affirmatively happen after 3 am."

Well I also think that "Nothing good happens when Congress votes on ground-breaking legislation on Christmas Eve."

Constant readers know that I believe we need to repair holes in coverage for every American. You should not be financially prohibited from medical care due to the loss of employment or a pre-existing condition. I also believe that innovations in the market such as Health Savings Accounts with High Deductible plans go a long way to address these faults. Unfortunately, HSAs may be subject to bureaucratic "rennovation" and there have already been attacks against these plans as "tax shelters for the wealthy" (because we all know the wealthy are evil).

So yes, "reform" is needed. However, our President promised us transparency. He promised us change we can believe in, with the attendant presumption that is is "change we can understand." The last count on the Health Care Plan is over 2,000 pages. The common retort to the sheer mass of this bill is that health care overhaul requires this amount of detail. The Constitution of the United States was 4 pages. This bill does not need to be 2,000 pages and any suggestion otherwise is naive. There are things hiding in this bill. It will be interpreted by regulators and produce 2 million pages in regulation. It will be interpreted by the Courts and extend itself organically beyond its pages. This bill will change your life. But yet Congress needs to pass it immediately and on Christmas Eve of all dates, when most Americans have taken off for the Holidays (i.e., Christmas).

Brace yourself America. The goal has been replaced with the measure. The ends replaced by the means. This has become an arm wrestling match in which the competitors care more about winning than the prize (or price). Those that have fought against its passage sit tired. Those that have fought for passage can only give blind hope to what 2,000 pages of law may bring. The rest of us wait for touchdown. This bill will change your life.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Climategate Continued -- From the Mouths of Scientists

Full disclosure: I make sure to always turn my office light off, even as others leave theirs on to give the appearance of still being at work. I try to unplug electronic devices that I am not using whenever I can. I recycle. I take short showers. We buy energy efficient devices. I've planted my share of trees. I don't litter. I love to hike (have a love/hate relationship with camping).

But this editorial needs to be read. I started this blog with the intention of taking those things that are generally accepted and challenging those ideas to the extent that they are at least talked about. I am concerned by ANY politically charged scientific theorem in which there is a lot of money to be made. Yes, oil companies fund research, but they also have invested billions of dollars in the green industry (and there is a GREEN INDUSTRY). Cap & Trade has the possibility of inventing value where none previously existed. There is plenty of money that funds the "climate change" side as well and I think it is disingenuous to ignore it.

My view on climate change is that if there is a 10% that it is true, we need to do everything we can to address it. As such, Climate-gate really doesn't effect my world-view on this issue. However, I think that if there is a 10% chance that it is NOT true, we need to have a vigorous and fair debate. Even the appearance of impropriety in the scientific literature should be of great concern. I have yet to see a reasoned response to the claim that Anthropomorphic Climate Change "doubters" were excluded from the scientific literature, as noted in the above editorial. I'm still swapping out my light-bulbs, but I want to let the scientists speak.

ADDENDUM: Well someone's having fun in Copenhagen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bill of Rights

Yesterday was the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. My father posted as much on his Facebook page, and I appear to have ruffled some feathers by stating that the enumeration of those rights was considered to have limited our freedoms. This was even commented on by one of our state representatives!

It concerns me that there may be an absence of knowledge about this very critical aspect of our Constitution and attendant amendments. The Federalists, arguing against a need for a Bill of Rights, stated that it would be impossible to list all of the rights of the people, and therefore by listing an enumerated few, we would be limited to those there listed. The response was the creation of the Ninth Amendment, also known as the "unenumerated rights" amendment. In effect, the Ninth Amendment opened the door for all those rights not specifically listed, including the Right to Privacy, reproductive rights, and many other rights that have been interpreted from the "penumbra of rights" found in the Constitution (most famous use of one of my favorite words).

There is also a further political philosophy argument here. By enumerating rights, we suggest that they are somehow derivative from the government. My not enumerating them, we limit the government to those powers we have granted it. There is a ominous and frightful nature to creating a fence around the government. It is no longer a tool of the people, but rather a entity all of its own. By relying on the Constitution for our rights, we as a people began to see it in an expansive way. "Surely the government would not prohibit us from this right, so we should interpret it from what is written." This thinking then looks at the powers granted the government in the same way. "If we are giving an expansive interpretation to our rights, why shouldn't we also read the powers of government in the same expansive fashion?"

Just some food for thought. I don't know if I presented much of an argument here, nor did I intend to, but I don't much care for the maxim that "the Constitution protects our rights." That is bumkus. A smart dude with a ponytail once wrote that our rights are inalienable. The government does not have a right to them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Whole Foods Wants Your Vote

The WSJ has an interesting op/ed on "Whole Food Republicans" that really nailed my own ideology when it comes to Republican thinking. For fear of calling myself an "intellectual," I do believe that Republicans can be the "smart people" party. There is a lot that can be said for how government should work in conjunction with the private sphere, as opposed to a replacement of the same. I feel that this is a much more mature position than "The private sphere can't do it, so lets have the government save the day" as if there is some track record indicating that the government could do so if it was so inclined.

I find it interesting that the author is affiliated with Whole Foods and titled his article "Whole Foods Republicans." Did George Washington warn us about the partisanal-industrial complex? Ha ha.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Paging Czar Feinberg

Call me crazy, but reading that federal workers are experiencing a boom time in salaries in conjunction with almost across the board increases in agency budgets next week makes me sick. Those that have followed this blog, or know me personally, know that I used to work for The Beast. I was a federal employee, working 9 hours a day, and getting off every other Friday as a part of an Adjustable Work Schedule (AWS). I had off on Columbus Day. If I worked overtime, I could take days off in "Comp Time." I had 14 days of vacation, which in conjunction with the federal holidays and AWS days, translated to about four weeks of vacation. As with most other federal workers, I was prepared to take a pay cut to appreciate these "benefits," but now that gap is slimming. I was at a holiday party for my law firm this past Friday where I heard a husband of one of the attorneys say that his LAW FIRM salary was matched by the Department of Transportation. When I entered the private sphere, I had a similar experience where the government told me that they were trying to be "more competitive" in their hiring. My salary wasn't matched, but as noted above, I didn't expect it to be.

I left The Beast because I could not stand working for a broken machine that was more often than not run by high school graduate office administrators. I work longer hours, for more pay. I sometimes work on days that I am supposed to have off. I no longer am able to properly observe Columbus Day. But I am proud of my work and have again aligned myself with the work ethic that helped my father build his own business and the American economy to thrive. A work ethic that is not necessarily required, or encouraged, from the public sphere.

Please don't interpret my post to say that federal workers don't work hard. There are plenty of federal workers that have 12 hour days and work weekends. Unfortunately, this is not a product of the system, but rather of the individual. When was the last time the federal government had mass layoffs? Do you know a federal worker that was fired for a "poor work ethic"? The answers are never and probably not.

My old law professor Ken Feinberg, the so-called "Pay Czar," should probably read that USA Today article about federal salaries. Maybe when he is done with the private system, he can turn to the public one. I don't believe in "too big to fail" and believe the best way to regulate Wall Street salaries would be to let them evaporate and reform. The economy is an organic being, and we've created artificial life. However, where the big firms may be vicious wild beasts that can either dominate or be dominated, the federal agencies are domesticated beasts that live off the success of their masters. And don't forget to think that the nation's largest employer with 1.8 million employees is also the largest voting block. Do you think these people are more likely to vote for a candidate promoting cuts or expansion in goverment services?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Harry Reid Has No Shame

Traffic Issues with Columbia Redevelopment

Try to go to the Columbia Mall this weekend. I dare you. While mushing through the nearly stopped traffic, think about what it will be like when thousands of new Columbia residents are injected into the community. The Howard County Times has an article on a recent Council meeting where they discussed these issues, including a new interchange on the already jammed Route 29.

I still feel like the glitz and glammer of the new development is being put in front of the logistics. I remember when I played Sim City as a young kid. In order to keep the people from rioting, you had to build the infrastructure BEFORE you built the big projects. Otherwise you lost money and crime went through the roof. I'm not saying that this is like a video game, but I hope at least one of these council-members has played it. Otherwise we are in trouble.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dixon Convicted

As you know by now, Mayor Dixon has been convicted of one of the six counts brought against her in the first trial. She was acquitted of three and the jury was hung on two. In case you were not aware, the jury must be unanimous for either conviction or acquittal.

I really feel that with all the dirt Rohrbaugh has received over this trial, it could do a lot of good for the city. You never like to see "example-setting" justice (mostly due to the harshness with which it is administered) but if a message needs to be conveyed, Dixon is the one to get it across. As far as I am concerned, "innocent until proven guilty" only applies to legal terms. I believe Dixon was guilty of much greater depths of corruption than were allowable in court due to the ridiculousness of legislative immunity. She clearly cared about her position (the Sun suggests this was care for the "city," ha), but knew where the lines could be "fudged." This had nothing to do with race, although it will certainly be painted as such. This had to do with lax ethics and a culture of corruption. A wall was placed between the elected officials and the public, and Ronald Lipscomb was the crack that tore the wall down. I see london, I see France, I see Baltimore's underpants.

Unfortunately I feel that politics has become a "Players' Game" that excludes those that truly care and have the mind to make a difference. The only good news is that at least one of those Players is suspended indefinitely.