The World According to Nick
Politics, News, Photography, and Triathlons... What don't I talk about?
Wednesday, 01 September 2010
If The Demand Is So High - Then Where Are The Options?

An interesting thing happened at work yesterday. For the past week, we've had a coworker from one of our offices in India visiting, making trips to several clients while he was here. Yesterday we found out that he needed to get to the Dells area to visit a client the next day. Someone from our Madison office said he would take him to the Dells, so all we had to do was get him to Madison this morning.

Of course, everyone joked, "Let's put him on the high speed train!". And then we started looking to see what our options were.

For $129 round trip, he could have flown from Milwaukee to Madison, but the flight times weren't ideal, and he'd still have to get to the airport and back. What about taking a regular low speed train? Surely if they want to put a high speed train in, there must currently be an Amtrak run going to Madison, right? If you go to the Amtrak website, and say you'd like to go from Milwaukee to Madison, it will first put you on a train to Union Station in Chicago, and then they'll put you on a bus from Chicago to Madison. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

But what about buses? As Patrick McIlheran points out, there is a very successful bus line that runs from Milwaukee to Madison right now. It's also very flexible, since it doesn't depend on massive infrastructure to support. In fact, there's a pick-up and drop off at various Park and Ride locations in Milwaukee on the way to Madison, including a stop at State Fair Park.

What I found interesting, was there was only one bus line that made the Milwaukee-Madison run... Badger Bus. Wisconsin Coach Lines will go down to Chicago, and Lamers will handle all your needs going up US-41. That surprised me. After all, with all this talk about the need for a high speed rail line to Madison, I was imagining this huge pent up demand for mass transit there. And yet, with all this supposed demand, there is only 1 bus line supporting it?

The liberals reading this will immediately react and say... See, we need a high speed rail line! Or perhaps, the demand isn't there at all... and maybe a single bus line going back and forth is more than enough to support mass transit to Madison... and all these billions of dollars that people want to spend will be an absolute waste. After all, imaging how many buses you can buy with that amount of money!

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Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Paul Ryan is a Charlatan - Just Not In The Way Krugman Thinks He Is

So there seems to be a little bit of a controversy surrounding one of my favorite Republican Congressmen... Paul Ryan. Last week, Paul Krugman attacked Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future v2.0" as "leftovers from the 1990s drenched in flimflam sauce." I'm not sure exactly what's in flimflam sauce, but I assume that like McDonald's Secret Sauce, it's really just Thousand Island Dressing.

Krugman then goes on to complain that Ryan has not gone to the right sources for any scoring or verification on his claims. Ryan has now responded in an op-ed in the Journal, correcting Krugman on his incorrect claims. I'll let you read both Paul's yourself and decide who has the correct take on the fiscal impact on the Roadmap for America's Future, because I want to concentrate on a different aspect to this particular controversy.

While Krugman calls Ryan a charlatan and claims that Ryan's numbers are fraudulent, I believe that Ryan is actually a charlatan because were Ryan given the opportunity to vote for his own plan, given his past voting on fiscal measures, he would actually vote against it. I know I seem like a broken record on this, but that's because everyone continues to ignore Ryan's voting history.

Let's start with the fact that the Roadmap for America's Future has been revised to version 2.0. One of the reasons why the revision was required was because in the time between version 1 and version 2, significant new spending was passed by Congress which totally destroyed all the base numbers in version 1. Among those new spending increases were the auto bailout and TARP. Both of which were supported by Ryan.

Even worse is Ryan's flip flop on Medicare. If you read the Roadmap, he talks very bluntly about the need to control Medicare spending, and how it's an entitlement which has grown out of control. What Ryan never says, is that he voted for the largest increase to the Medicare entitlement since it was originally enacted... Medicare Part D. In other words, he helped to create the very problem that he now wants to solve. How generous of him.

And while the Roadmap does have a pretty website, we still don't know if it will become an actual budget proposal that could... you know... actually get voted on. Republicans are pushing this harder and harder right now as the November mid-term elections get closer, but people should be very worried about a GOP Bait-and-Switch here. When ObamaCare was in it's full push, one of the Republican talking points was that Medicare would be cut, and that they would protect it. This is one of the worst examples of GOP political opportunism. When ObamaCare was going to touch Medicare, they saw it as a chance to scare the elderly and to block it. Now that Medicare as seen as a weapon in the budget, they want to control Medicare spending. Given that its nearly impossible to cut programs in the Federal government, especially one that the elderly depend on, does anyone actually think the GOP will back this plan?

Now then, I wouldn't put it past the GOP to flip-flop again if they manage to regain control of Congress in November, but the reality is that the GOP has a poor track record on following through on it's promises of fiscal conservatism once it actually gains power (see 2000-2006 for proof). Just looking at Ryan's own voting record should cast the legitimacy of the Roadmap into doubt. So while Krugman's analysis of the numbers may be wrong, his labeling of Paul Ryan is not. I'll wait until the Roadmap to America's future is pushed by someone who doesn't have a record of creating fiscal problems in government before supporting it.

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Sunday, 18 April 2010
Rube Goldberg Politics

Capper is taking issue with some comments I made on a post by a member of the JSOnline Reader Advisor Committee.  The Committee Member said:

To use a Milwaukee County transit bus, people will need to be wise by paying the weekly or monthly pass upfront. Stella, a senior citizen, in a tight squeeze with her Social Security monthly pension, who several times a week visits her friend across town will have to pay two fares to ride the buses needed. Our County leaders want to save now. What they do not see is that maybe Stella will visit her friend less, or not at all. Maybe Stella or her friend might develop what long ago was call “melancholy” which fully developed will debilitate their health. Maybe in this saving process we the county residents will end up paying more because the end result might be that Stella, or her friend will end up using medical services they will not be able to pay. The same can be said for not spending in children’ art, music, sports programs in our school resulting in the residents of Milwaukee County having to spend more for jails.

To which I replied:

Maybe by eating that extra Twinkie as you type out a weird post, you will increase your cholesterol and extra point, causing a heart attack in a few years which will increase the insurance premiums the rest of us pay.

Maybe by flapping its wings, a butterfly will disturb the air in Africa enough to cause a devastating hurricane in Florida which will cost millions of dollars in property damage.

Its bad enough when we try to make public policy based off of bad statistics that are politically motived. Do we also have to make public policy based off of a Rube Goldberg litany of things which might link together to create some ill effect later down the line?

Now I have no idea what this person ate while writing this post, or if she (or he... I can't tell based on the name) is over weight or in ill health. That was not my point.  My point is that it becomes very easy through strange lines of logic like this to connect absolutely anything that we do, with some over arching "public benefit" which allows people to either increase taxes, or restrict our liberty. The State of New York has already proposed making it illegal for restaurants to cook with any salt, and they are also looking at banning the sale of products that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. Now that the government has taken an even larger interest in the cost of our insurance, they also presume to have the right to control other aspects of our lives that they think affect our health.

The argument made by the Reader Advisory Committee is no different. By changing the model by which people buy bus passes to control costs further, some imaginary woman named Stella may not be able to visit her imaginary friend. Somehow, this will cause "melancholy" which will create a drain on other public services.

Capper then tries to tie this to preventative maintenance on things like the Zoo Interchange which could have eliminated the current costs we're seeing now, or preventative maintenance on your car which will keep it running longer and in better condition. Set aside for a moment that I don't believe anyone has argued that a lack of maintenance was at fault for our current Zoo Interchange problems (the structure was simply at the end of its life)... even Capper's arguments are a stretch.

For one, there is a direct link between engine maintenance and its ability to run longer. If you never change your oil... your engine will seize up. If you never fill potholes on a road... it will deteriorate faster and become impossible to drive on. More importantly than that direct link is the fact that there are no alternative courses. There is nothing you can do to your car besides oil changes to prevent engine seizes. There is no magic fix for potholes other than filling them to prevent the road from deteriorating.

The imaginary example invented by the Reader Advisory Committee Member doesn't meet either condition. First of all, there is no reason to believe that Stella won't be able to use the new system for purchasing a bus ticket, and therefore not meet with her friend. And even if she wasn't able to, who's to say that she won't call her friend more often in order to stay in touch? If she doesn't call her friend, who's to say that the friend's neighbors won't become more involved when they notice her state? There is no direct connection between the lack of bus tickets, and the deterioration of this person's mental state, and as you can see, there are alternatives to help her.

That's the problem with Rube Goldberg arguments. They are a set of completely disparate and unconnected system that have to be setup perfectly next to each other in order to have one fire off the next event in the chain. If one domino is slightly to far away from another, or a marble doesn't quite fall exactly as you want, the whole chain stops, and your expected outcome won't occur.

If you make arguments based of this type of thinking, then absolutely anything can be tied to anything else. How about this? If a rental car tax is increased to pay for the bus system, then people will travel to Milwaukee less, which will cause a business owner who is dependent on travel and has to lay off a college student named Mark. Mark is unable to get another job and has to drop out of college, becomes angry and turns to crime.

So don't you see, if we don't keep taxes low, the future cost will be much higher!

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Friday, 09 April 2010
This Is Why We Have Trials

This shouldn't suprise anyone, but I'm sure some (especially on the further fringes of the Neocon scale) will seem shocked by this. Apparently George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were all very aware that many of the detainees at Gitmo were completely innocent:

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantanamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.
Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of detainees - children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said - never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.

Link via The Agitator.  What's interesting here is that many of the people who fear the worst regarding what President Obama will do with Health Care Reform seem all too eager to trust the government 100% when it comes to unlimited and unchecked imprisonment of foreign nationals.  I theorized this quite a while ago:

... with all the controversy surrounding the base there, the government has a large incentive in making sure that nobody finds out that someone might be falsely imprisoned, which explains why so much evidence is not reviewable by a defense.  In fact, many good men who had issues with the tribunals because of this have resigned over it... for the very reason that the evidence in many cases is just that flimsy.

And so now we have even more proof that this is exactly what has happened there.  But of course, it doesn't extend just to foreign nationals. We are also finding out that the Obama Administration has literally put a hit out on an American Citizen for assasination:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

Of course, he seems to be an evil person... but then... we have a crime that describes this behavior outlined in the Constitution. It is called treason, and captial punishment is even allowed in those cases. So why doesn't the government put him on trial in absentia first? Instead, we have "officials" who say he is "believed" to have shifted to participating in attacks. That's all it takes to authorize the assasination of a United States Citizen? A belief?

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Monday, 08 March 2010
Obama Gets Health Care Reform Right and Wrong All At Once

I have to admit, Obama is an amazing speaker. In a short period of time, he can both capture the correct answer to Health Care Reform, and then immediately after, show that he has it completely wrong. Very few people have the ability to do such a thing in such a short period of time, let alone a single speech. Take for instance his speech last week where he attempted to once again, "Breathe New Life" into his dying bill:

So I don't believe we should give government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats more control over health care in America.  I believe it's time to give the American people more control over their health care and their health insurance.  I don't believe we can afford to leave life-and-death decisions about health care to the discretion of insurance company executives alone.  I believe that doctors and nurses and physician assistants like the ones in this room should be free to decide what's best for their patients.

This is fantastic... and is the basic answer to reform. Patients... individuals... need to be in control. He hits it almost perfectly here. My only small quibble with this was the last statement... that "doctors and nurses and physician assistants like the ones in this room should be free to decide what's best for their patients."  Actually, patients should have the right to decide for themselves what is best, based on the consultation from doctors, nurses, etc.  Doctors shouldn't just be able to force their will on a patient.  At the end of the day, the patient is in ultimate control.

But after he says this, the very next thing he says is:

Now, the proposal I put forward gives Americans more control over their health insurance and their health care by holding insurance companies more accountable.  It builds on the current system where most Americans get their health insurance from their employer.  If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.

There are two problems with this. First, it takes control away from the American people and gives that control to bureaucrats and insurance companies, in direct contradiction to what he said earlier.  As I've said before in many posts, the only way to give the American people more control over their health care and their insurance is to decouple insurance as an employment benefit.  By creating "exchanges" where insurance companies get to offer up their policies, it also gives control to bureaucrats to control what plans are "acceptable" for the exchange.  This is also in direct contradiction to what Obama said.  As for his statement that I'd get to keep my plan if I like it... I wouldn't.  I have an HSA, which would most likely get scrapped by the exchange system.  Any exchange created by the government would include all sorts of mandatory riders, which are the exact reason why health insurance is now so expensive.

Of course, these were not the only things wrong with Obama's speech.  Almost every assertion he made defies economic logic, and has been proven to not work in states like Massachusetts and New York where they have been tried.  However, what I found most amazing was his logic... that somehow by taking control away from the American People, he was in fact somehow actually giving us more control.

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Monday, 15 February 2010
How Do You Like Your Tea?

During the Bush Administration, MoveOn started an impressive grassroots movement, not only against that President, but also to help drive the Democratic minority (at the time) into what it thought would be a successful position for later elections. Some would argue how much of that later Democratic success could be attributable to them, and other groups like them, but it is hard to say that there was no influence.  Now, during the Obama Administration, there is a similar movement afoot... the "Tea Party Movement".  But does anyone know what that movement is really about?

First of all, there are just way too many Tea Parties. There are semi-national groups like Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Nation, and the Tea Party Express to name just a few. Then there are smaller regional groups as well, some of which are loosely affiliated with the national groups, and some of which are affiliated with nobody in particular.  Some of them are fairly independent, and even leaning libertarian, while others are closely coupled with GOP Political Action Committees.

Two weeks ago was the Tea Party Nation convention.  It was a national event held in Tennessee that featured $500+ ticket prices, $10,000 speaker fees (if you have runner's legs and can say "You Betcha") and conspiracy theorists.  For a movement that was about individual anger and the common person, it was surprising and somewhat disappointing to see a for-profit event which was inaccessible to the common person.  Sadly, the worst part was the often ignored primetime speaking platform that was offered to Joseph Farah from World Net Daily.  He chose to use his national speaking time to push his often disproved theory that President Obama is not an American Citizen, getting applause the entire time. It also didn't help that Tom Trancedo was there, suggesting that requiring a literacy test prior to voting would have prevented Obama from being elected.

Many smaller scale Tea Party protests have featured fringe folks holding signs and saying some very crazy stuff.  While Democrats may have wanted to showcase them as being an integral part of the movement, their numbers were in fact very small.  The worst part of the Tea Party Nation convention was that those very fringe people were given primetime speaking platforms.  In effect, they owned up to the crazy folks, as long as they were Anti-Obama.  No matter which Tea Party you choose to go to, you can now be associated with the likes of Farah and other conspiracy theorists.

Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) seemed more hopeful of the movement coming out of Nashville, even as he largely ignored the Farah and Trancedo remarks.  Of course, if you followed the events preceding the convention, Pajamas Media (who Reynolds now blogs for) was not invited, then was, then wasn't, then finally was.  In fact, Pajamas Media rarely has anything bad to say about the movement, so much so that I question their independence.  In a recent post, Reynolds had this say about a Tea Party Candidate running against Harry Reid:

RETTY SURE THIS IS A BAD IDEA: Tea Party to run 3d party candidate against Harry Reid. I think it's smarter for Tea Party activists to target primary races, rather than starting their own party as seems to be happening in Nevada. Two words: "Ross Perot." Two more: "Ralph Nader."

There is also talk of "Tea Party" activists attempting to start at the ground level in GOP strong holds and get elected into the party as precinct leaders in order to change the platform.  It would seem that there is a basic fight going on... one between the "I'm a Conservative, Not a Republican" crowd to remake the GOP, the Libertarians who are looking for a larger audience, and the Republicans (like Palin) who are trying to use the Tea Parties to bring back the old GOP.  It's important not to ignore the libertarians, as the number of people who fit the "small-l" libertarian mold is probably larger than people realize.

The problem is, mostly people aren't all that politically active, and so they really only know two old parties.  But while they may generally choose one or the other if they have to, that doesn't mean they ascribe to the entire platform of one party or the other... not even by a long shot.  Polls like this show that many, if not most Americans, really just want to be left alone and do what they do, without being troubled by the government.  Unfortunately, given the right media, and the right scare tactics, politicians have been able to scare them into giving up that liberty for some false protection of things they cherish, like their families and their children.

But do these Tea Parties do anything to serve those basic wants of the general population?  What started out well as a simple anti-bureaucracy and anti-tax movement (Taxed Enough Already) has transformed into something else.  While Sarah Palin did well to talk about the need for small government, she also concentrated a strange amount of time to terrorism and foreign policy.  She spoke glowingly about the Constitution, only to say it should be ignored when inconvenient in the fight on terrorism.  It was difficult to distinguish her talk from one you might hear at a GOP convention.  But the Tea Party movement started out not as a red-meat Republican movement, but as an anti-government movement. Foreign Policy had nothing to do with it.

While it has been nice to see so many people get off their couches and become active, it seems that they are becoming active in the wrong ways.  The Tea Party movement is shifting away from its small government roots to "use the big government to do the things I want"... which is how the Republican Party got in trouble in the first place.  Scott Brown, for all the Tea Party fan fare he got, supports Massachusetts Health Care (and voted for it as a state legislator).  That plan, is essentially the same one Democrats had proposed, but on a smaller scale.  Supporting him was nothing but an opportunistic way to stop Obama Care.  And yet, many Tea Party folks still support him as a Tea Partier despite the fact that he really doesn't believe in small government.  The reality is, his usefulness to the Tea Partiers is over.  They should really just drop him.

But it seems that the movement is trying to capture as many people as possible with as large of a tent as possible.  The problem is, many of the ideas being thrown around under that tent simply don't mix, or don't help anyone's cause.  While many Libertarians are happy to see people fight for small government, we're much less inclined to support those who want to refuse Constitutional Rights to people, or fight even more foreign wars.  Anti-Tax is fine, but being a birther (or a truther for that matter) isn't.  And what about immigration policy?  There seems to be a wide rift there as well.

It's hard to see exactly what the Tea Party movement is all about, except as a way for various people to vent their frustrations over whatever happens to be bothering them about government right now.  For my part, I will continue to vent my frustrations here.  I don't need a party to do that.

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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Question: Is Paul Ryan Conservative Enough?

Answer: Which Paul Ryan?

Paul Ryan is back in the news again with an updated version of his Roadmap For America's Future.  He's even given it a 2.0 moniker to make it seem oh so very modern, like Web 2.0, but with money! Color me less than impressed. Don't get me wrong, the plan itself is bold and goes at the heart of our nation's budget problems... entitlement spending.  As Ezra Klein said:

Ryan’s budget is a radical document that takes current policy and rolls a live grenade underneath it.

Talking Points Memo on the other hand wonders if this is going to be part of a Republican Bait and Switch, and wants to know if Ryan is out in the wilderness on this, or if the rest of the GOP is going to back him.  I on the other hand want to know if this is yet another Paul Ryan Bait and Switch.  To put it bluntly, Paul Ryan suffers from multiple politician disorder... better known as being a two-face. 

He writes opinion articles in local newspapers talking about how fiscally conservative he is, and how we need to reign in spending, and rework the budget, and then votes on massive entitlements, bailouts which result in the nationalization of industries, and then comes back to his home district and pretends he didn't do any of those things.  I've come to the conclusion that there must be two Paul Ryans.  There is the one who shadow writes his op-eds, and the other one who actually casts votes in Washington.  Frankly, I'd like to know who writes his op-eds for him, so I can tell him to run against Paul Ryan in the Republican primary.

I've blogged about this many times before, and Michelle Malkin has had her doubts for a while as well.  Finally, some others are finally catching on, including Matt Lewis at the Daily Caller:

Though he talks like Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, some of Ryan’s most high-profile votes seem closer to Keynes than to Adam Smith. For example, in the span of about a year, Ryan committed fiscal conservative apostasy on three high-profile votes: The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or  TARP (whereby the government purchased assets and equity from financial institutions), the auto-bailout (which essentially implied he agrees car companies – especially the ones with an auto plant in his district—are too big to fail), and for a confiscatory tax on CEO bonuses (which essentially says the government has the right to take away private property—if it doesn’t like you).
Though Ryan has downplayed his bad votes, what is more interesting is that few conservatives seem to hold them against him. His many defenders (and trust me, I’ve encountered them) cavalierly dismiss his voting record as mere pragmatism, or an easily forgiven mistake, like, 'Oops, I voted for $700 billion! My bad…'

You can read more about Paul Ryan's history on the auto bailout here, and about how it harms the rule of law here.  You can read about how he mismanaged TARP here, and then tried to recover from it poorly here.  You can also read about the many economic contradictions he believes in here. Of course, let's not forget that Paul Ryan also voted for one of the largest entitlement increases in the past decade... Medicare Part D.  In most of those previous blog posts, I have quoted Paul Ryan's own op-eds that show how he tries to look fiscally conservative while at the same time voting for an increase in government spending.  And while he was voting for these increased entitlements and bailouts, he was still pushing "The Roadmap to America's Future 1.0".

So exactly why should I believe him now?  Why should any of us?  The reality is... Paul Ryan is nothing but a standard, big government Republican.  When Republicans were in complete control of the whole shooting match, did Paul flex his supposed "small government fiscal responsibility" and try to make change? No, he voted for Medicare Part D. When GM and Chrysler were finally paying the consequences of their mismanagement and about to go under, did Paul let them?  No, he voted to nationalize them.  Time and time again he has either used his party's majority status to pass whatever they wanted, or used the excuse of "once in a lifetime emergency" to push us further and further into debt.

That debt, by the way, is the very reason why Ryan said he needed to update the Roadmap from 1.0 to 2.0.  He needed to account for the new spending that has gone on.  That new spending, like $700 billion in TARP funding he voted for.  That new spending like the GM bailout he voted for. The new entitlement guarantees that Medicare Part D put upon us, which he voted for.  Only now... now that his party is not in control does he come forth as a "rising star" and suggest blowing up the budget and starting over again.  And if, spearheaded by Paul Ryan's budget ideas, Republicans come back to power... why should we believe that they simply won't shelve the Roadmap and start spending? How many times do the voters have to get slapped around before they learn that their politicians don't love them, no matter how many times they apologize?

I'm sick of op-eds Paul. I want votes dammit.

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Monday, 04 January 2010
You Will Not Leave This Place Innocent

I've blogged a lot about Guantanamo Bay.  Of course, since the Obama Administration has taken over, the fury over the false imprisonment of many men there has died down significantly, even though their reality has not.  Several months ago I blogged about the problems with Gitmo when Obama began seriously faltering on it's closure.  Among many other things I said:

... with all the controversy surrounding the base there, the government has a large incentive in making sure that nobody finds out that someone might be falsely imprisoned, which explains why so much evidence is not reviewable by a defense.  In fact, many good men who had issues with the tribunals because of this have resigned over it... for the very reason that the evidence in many cases is just that flimsy.

The issue here is that there are both completely innocent, and very guilty people at Guantanamo Bay.  The larger problem is that a strong majority of people have decided to assume that all people there are guilty, and because of that simple (and very wrong) assumption, they have decided to forgo the basic system we have put in place to decide guilt and innocence... a trial.  And because of that base assumption, and the fact that many people have based significant parts of their political careers on that assumption, they will do whatever it takes to keep any contrary evidence hidden.  One of the best cases was of Fouad al-Rabiah.

During his detention in Cuba, he was forced to undergo the entire spectrum of torture that is permitted there (or as some people euphemistically call it... enhanced interrogation methods).  As it turns out, he was completely innocent.  He was guilty, at most, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Among many of the shocking revelations in the news story about this man (from late last year) was that his interrogators knew he was completely innocent!  Andrew Sullivan points to this quote from the released court record that detailed one of his interrogation sessions:

There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent.

I have no words to describe the shame I felt when I read that.  I love my country, and to read about people who do something like this... unilaterally sentencing a man to life in prison merely for refusing to confess to a crime he never committed... making a man choose between his honor and good name or the ability to see his family and the light of day makes me ashamed.  This man was told he had to confess to something (which would more than likely lead to another person being put into the same terrible situation), merely so he could be released, and the political future of someone thousands of miles away could remain intact.

Comparing these actions to those of the Salem Witch Trials, or the Spanish Inquisition are not mere hyperbole... they are exactly comparable.  Confess and you shall be forgiven... resist and you shall be purified by a life in prison.  I suppose we can take a bit of solace in the fact that we don't burn people at the stake any more.

Whether these people are housed in a base in Cuba, or imprisoned somewhere in Illinois does not change their situation, only their zip code.  There are many innocent people there.  We have a system put in place to determine who is guilty and who is innocent.  Until these people are allowed their day in court, where they can challenge their detention... we should all be ashamed.  That people there knowingly imprisoned innocent people is beyond shameful.  It is criminal.

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Thursday, 08 October 2009
Sensenbrenner Demands 72 Hours to Review Every Bill But His Own

In Jim Sensenbrenner's latest weekly column, my congressman is asking why we can't have 72 hours to review bills before they get voted on:

Legislation is sometimes complicated, dense and lengthy.  It’s often dry to read, and can be filled with a lot of jargon.  Regardless, I strongly believe that Members and citizens should have the opportunity to read the final version of non-emergency legislation before it is voted on.  That is why I am co-sponsoring H.Res 554, the 72 Hour Rule bill, and have signed a discharge petition to move this bill directly to the floor, as it’s being held up by House leadership.

The legislation has two key points:

1) Requires that all bills and conference reports be made available to Members of Congress and the general public for 72 hours online before it can be brought to the House floor for a vote.

2) Repeals the "last six days" provision in current House Rules, which provides that the opportunity to read conference reports is automatically waived in the last six days of a congressional session.

It all sounds so perfectly reasonable... and it is. In fact, I would argue that 72 hours is not enough.  But here's the rub.  Sensenbrenner is lying about his desire to have 72 hours before voting on a bill, because when Republicans were in power, he personally pushed through a lot of major legislation, which impacted the lives of Americans substantially with less than 72 hours to review a bill.  I'll cite two major examples of Sensenbrenner's hypocrisy.

Example 1: USA Patriot Act

This piece of legislation has been the subject of controversy from day one... so much so that trying to include all sides of the argument into this post would really distract from my main point.  However, the mere fact that it has been mired in controversy speaks to the need for 72 hours worth of review at least.  While Sensenbrenner tries to account for this by exempting "emergency legislation", he never defines what makes legislation "emergency".  In the case of the USA Patriot Act, since it's goal was to protect us from a terrorist attack, wouldn't it behoove us to examine the bill for at least 72 hours to ensure that it would actually protect us, before passing it? You can read it's short legislative history at GovTrack, but the important detail is the timeline... Introduced Oct 23, 2001, Passed House Oct 24, 2001, Passed Senate Oct 25, 2001, Signed by President Oct 26, 2001.

It should be noted that the Patriot Act was really full of a wish list of items that the Justice Department had been wanting since the Clinton Administration, but never had the ability to get passed.  When 9/11 struck, so did the opportunity to ram through this legislation.  Since it's passage, at least one major provision has been struck down as being unconstitutional.  Many of it's other provisions have been used to go after drug dealers and gamblers rather than terrorists. In fact, the Justice Department had the power it needed to get warrants against terrorists prior to the Patriot Act... they just didn't realize it.  Imagine what 72 hours worth of debate could have highlighted.

Example 2: Real ID

As I have blogged about numerous times in the past, Real ID has been one of Sensenbrenner's pet projects. It is also a boondoggle of a bill which tramples privacy, violates state's rights by stripping away powers that constitutionally belong to the states, and pushes onto them an unfunded mandate amounting to billions of dollars.  Once again, a deep discussion of Real ID itself is beyond the scope of this post, but once again, the fact that it is mired in so much controversy would make one believe that 72 hours to review this bill would be beneficial.  Congressman Sensenbrenner thought otherwise.  I think everyone can agree Real ID is clearly not emergency legislation.

The legislative history to Real ID is actually quite complex, but you can read the original bill at GovTrack.  You will notice that the original bill authored by Congressman Sensenbrenner passed in the House but was never taken up for a vote in the Senate.  One of the concerns in the Senate was the aforementioned unfunded mandate.  However, that did not stop Jim.  Instead, he got it attached as a rider to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief bill.  What is interesting here is that Real ID does not appear in the bill as passed by the House, nor does it appear in the text of the bill as it was originally passed by the Senate.  That's because it wasn't added until the Conference Committee met after its passage to iron out the differences in the bill.  Apparently to Congress, "ironing out the differences" means adding entire unrelated pieces of legislation which are unrelated to the original bill.  The conference committee bill is here, and was completed on May 3rd, 2005.  It was passed by Congress just two days later.  Once again, 72 hours was never allowed to discuss a significant addition to a bill.

This brings up an important point with one of Sensenbrenner's caveats in his newly proposed bill.  He wants to exempt "emergency bills" from the 72 hour requirement.  And low and behold, Real ID was attached as a rider to a bill with the word "Emergency" right in.  So perhaps he feels vindicated, and that he's not a hypocrite.  But allow me to ask you this.  What would Sensenbrenner now say if the current Health Care Reform Bill failed to pass Congress, but then was attached as a rider to an "emergency" Afghanistan spending bill without any time for debate?


So if I agree that 72 hours to review a bill is vital, why am I going after Sensenbrenner so much?  Isn't it counter productive?  The first reason is that I believe that providing any exemption to a 72 hour review period is not a good idea, and Sensenbrenner's own behavior is a prime example as to why.  Secondly, I think Sensenbrenner is using the idea of a 72 hour review for purely partisan purposes, and doesn't actually believe in it.  He knows this bill will likely not pass, and that he will never be bound by its terms, and so he is using it's non-passage as an attack against the Democratic leadership, when he has done no better in the past.

All legislators, Republicans and Democrats, need to be held accountable for passing poor legislation without review.  Not only do we need 72 hours for review before legislation is passed, we also need partisan hacks like James Sensenbrenner to get voted out of office so that power can be restored from the political elite (like Sensenbrenner) and returned to those who have a right to it... the individual citizens of this great nation.

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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Where Are All Those Crazy Health Care Rumors Coming From?

Some folks on the left side seem to be very concerned that there is "misinformation" regarding Health Care Reform being spread by conservatives.  Scott has a post on this, as does Jay.  Republicans are lying!  They're pulling all these crazy things out of thin air!  Read the bill damn you!  None of these things are actually in there!  Where are you getting this stuff?!  Well, they're coming from Democrats!

Now I want to start by agreeing with part of what they complain about.  Republicans and Democrats are really good at finding something minor, blowing it way out of proportion and drumming on it until your ears burst.  The whole "death panel" controversy that was built out of the "end of life" counseling was totally over blown.  And as John Stossel puts it:

But no bill in Congress mandates end-of-life counseling, much less "death panels." And there's a deeper problem. When opponents of nationalization make such easily refuted charges, supporters of nationalization gain the upper hand. All criticism is undermined. Neutral observers can easily conclude, "If the death-panel claim is false, why believe anything else the critics say?"

That would be a disaster.

But of course, the bills before Congress do raise major concerns, especially regarding care for the elderly and for the disabled.  There may not be "death panels", but the results may not be all that different.  But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  There are a lot of things that people think are in the bill that aren't, but I can't blame them for thinking they're actually in there.

It seems that a lot of people think illegal immigrants will be covered in this new bill.  Jay seems to assert they won't.  If I take Jay at his word that the bill has no language regarding illegal immigrants, I still can't blame anyone for thinking that illegal immigrants will be covered.  After all, every Democrat who is pushing for this bill, including Obama, talk about how we need to bring coverage to "all 48 million people who are without health insurance".  But as I mentioned in an earlier post, those 48 million include 10 million who are not citizens (including illegal immigrants).  So if they are stumping for the bill saying we need to cover those illegal immigrants, is it all that unreasonable to think that there is something in the bill that will do that?

And regarding those "death panels":

Well, I think it's a great question, and I think the important thing is to underscore that there is consensus that we spend too much on care that does not improve people's health. And if we start with that, then that means we've got to make some changes.

What I've proposed is that we have a panel of medical experts that are making determinations about what protocols are appropriate for what diseases. There's going to be some disagreement, but if there's broad agreement that, in this situation the blue pill works better than the red pill, and it turns out the blue pills are half as expensive as the red pill, then we want to make sure that doctors and patients have that information available to them.

But Nick, you say... he's only talking about providing information regarding medications!  Except, he also has advisors like Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel (who presumably might be on one of these panels) who says things like this:

"Vague promises of savings from cutting waste, enhancing prevention and wellness, installing electronic medical records and improving quality are merely 'lipstick' cost control, more for show and public relations than for true change," he wrote last year (Health Affairs Feb. 27, 2008).
Emanuel, however, believes that "communitarianism" should guide decisions on who gets care. He says medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those "who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens . . . An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia" (JAMA, Feb. 27, 2008).

Sure... that might not be directly in the bill... but anyone who paid any attention to the Bush Administration during his last few years of office ought to know that doesn't mean anything any more.  The Administration could easily decide that it will set standards for insurance companies or Medicare as part of something that did make into the bill... and wallah!  After all, Obama and every Democrat stumping for these changes keep saying that costs must come down.  End of life care is damn expensive, but often times still beneficial.  So while I don't think people will have to go in front of a board to prove they deserve to live, I think its quite possible that standards will be set by which people will be denied certain treatments, like a pacemaker if you are above a certain age.

And what about the "false claims" that the bill will outlaw private insurance?  While it is correct that the bill will not outlaw private insurance, any inclusion of a "public option" as scoped in the bill will crowd out private insurance pretty quickly.  Even if not outlawed, the public option will have resources at it's disposal that no private insurance company has which will allow it to unfairly undercut private insurance prices so much, that they will have a difficult time competing.

For one, people are already talking about taxing those who aren't using the public option to pay for that public option.  For instance, people who have "Cadillac plans" would be taxed to help pay for the public option.  That means they can undercharge the rest of the people, knowing they can make it up by charging people who aren't even using the plan.  That creates an uneven playing field.  After all, private insurance plans can only charge those who are members of their plans to pay for them.  Blue Cross can't send a bill to Assurant Health customers to help cover costs.  But the government can send a bill to Blue Cross and Assurant Health customers to cover the cost of the "public option".  It's called taxes.

The government also has access to almost unlimited debt besides.  Medicare is being held up as a model of efficiency, and yet everyone knows that it has severe debt problems.  Private insurance companies would never be able to survive being in debt that long.  So a public option would almost inevitably use that to it's advantage.  Both of these things can be used against private insurance companies, but have nothing to do with running anything more efficiently.  They are simply things that governments are allowed to do to hide inefficiency.

All of these ideas I talk about here are based on common knowledge of how government works, or based on things that Democrats have said while stumping for this very bill.  Of course, these bills are notoriously hard to read... and in fact are made hard to read on purpose.  So really, all we have to go on is what these politicians say... and what they're saying is exactly what we're afraid of.

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Monday, 17 August 2009
Replacing the MPS Board Is Anti-Democratic

The newest solution being proposed to "save MPS" is to eliminate a democratically elected board, and replace it with a superintendant and school board appointed by the Mayor:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett both said for the first time Thursday that achieving significant reform in Milwaukee Public Schools would require the mayor to lead the school system and select the next superintendent.

Mayoral control of the school system - a tactic that experts say has improved the academic and fiscal performance of some other urban districts - has been hinted at in Milwaukee since late spring, but wasn't formally endorsed until Doyle did so Thursday in an interview with a member of the Journal Sentinel's editorial board.

In addition to selecting the superintendent, Barrett said, the mayor should also appoint the School Board. Doyle did not commit to that but indicated he was open to new ways for the School Board to operate.

If done correctly, he added, changes to the governance of MPS could bring significant benefits to the district.
Under his plan, Barrett argued, the school system would be more accountable to the public, because the mayor is more visible to voters throughout the city. Eight board members now are elected from districts, and only one is elected citywide. In turn, the superintendent would be accountable directly to the mayor rather than nine board members and therefore would be better able to focus on educational issues, he said.

Surprisingly, several people on the right (example here) are in support of this idea.  It seems that everyone thinks "bold changes" are needed by an executive in order to implement the kind of reforms that an elected group of people seem unwilling to implement.  Granted, MPS has been a favorite target of highly conservative commentators for some time.  It should therefore not surprise me that they would be supportive of blowing up a system they see as not working.  However, I see some glaring hypocrisies in this position:

  1. Approval of Taxation Without Representation:  Whether you like who got elected to the current board or not, the school board has the power to tax people.  Anytime there have been suggestions for the creation of other appointed boards that have the power to tax (regional transit, parks, etc.), it rightly comes under criticism that this board lacks direct voter oversight.  Now there are people who want to take an elected board with taxing power, and make it unelected!  This seems to fly directly in the face of Conservative and Republican principles.
  2. Anti-Democratic:  The premise behind this whole idea is that we don't like the fact that an elected body is making slow or bad decisions, and that an executive power has the needed bold changes necessary to fix the system. Therefore it's acceptable to nullify previous elections, and replace that body with appointed members who more closely align with the ideas of the executive.

    If you find this acceptable, would you also find it acceptable for President Obama, citing the fact that Congress has been slow to enact the necessary health care reforms this country desperately needs, to dissolve Congress and replace all Senators and Congressman with appointees?  Right, I didn't think so.  This is just a smaller scale of the exact same thing, and is just as wrong.

    Even Barret's argument that the Mayor is more visible, and therefore more accountable, could be applied to the Federal government.  Everyone knows who the President is, but most people can't name their Congressman or Senators to save their lives.  Would you be comfortable giving President Obama that kind of power?

The reason why we elect our school board is more than just about taxing power though.  It is out of a belief that we care so much about our children's education, that if we are going to have a public school system, those that administer that system need to be directly accountable to the voters... and more importantly... the parents.  This idea inserts a layer between the parents and the school board leaders.  Leaders therefore will have more reason to obey the Mayor's wishes, even if it goes against the wishes of the parents.

It also distorts the basic checks and balances we put in place in our government, where those that create policy (legislatures) are different than those that administer them (executives).  I would strongly fight any precedent setting measure that would dissolve a democratically elected body to be replaced with one appointed by an executive.

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Silencing Dissent? There's an App for That


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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Kenosha - The Constitution Free Zone

It would appear that members of the Kenosha Common Council have too much time on their hands, so they've taken up a new hobby... coming up with ordinances that violate the Constitution:

Swearing in front of your mother may have earned you a bar of soap, swearing in front of a Kenosha Police officer in the line of duty could cost you $118.

The city's Public Safety and Welfare Committee is backing an ordinance change that would allow Kenosha police officers and firefighters to issue citations if they hear profane, vile, filthy or obscene language while engaged in duty.
The city already has an ordinance that prohibits using "profane, vile, filthy or obscene" language within the city. Kenosha Municipal Court Judge John A. Neuenschwander has ruled that a third party, besides the officer and accused offender, would need to witness that language for the citation not to be dismissed.

So you see... the city of Kenosha already violates the Constitution, so it's ok if they add to it.  Speaking of which, why do Firefighters have the right to issue tickets regarding things that have nothing to do with fire safety?

Alderman Michael Orth, a member of the committee, said his only concern was that police officers and firefighters sometimes use strong language when dealing with a crowd and Orth did not want to see those responders liable for their comments.

"Police officers have to be very adamant in some situations and I don't want this to boomerang back where some punk thug files a complaint against a police officer because their feelings got hurt," Orth said.

So let me get this straight.  Police officer's feelings are so fragile, that Kenosha needs an ordinance to protect them from getting their feelings hurt, but we won't hold them to the same standard as regular civilians?  And they get to carry guns?  If they're feelings are so fragile that they can't handle being sworn at, then perhaps we ought to rethink their right to carry fire arms.  After all, I'd hate for a police officer to get so angry at someone swearing at him, that he decides to shoot the guy.  Because as you know, someone who swears at a cop when he's getting a speeding ticket is automatically a thug.

We give police officers an incredible amount of power over us, including the right to shoot other people, and detain them against their will for periods of time.  That means they need to be held to a higher standard, not a lower one.

"If someone's being a knob, you can take them into custody or issue a ticket," Downing said.

I'm sorry.  They're not thugs... they're knobs.  What it sounds like to me is that the Kenosha Common Council wishes they had an ordinance they could use to arrest Robert Gates with, and not be called racists.  Apparently the very overused "disorderly conduct" isn't enough.  They want to fine you for using your Constitutional right to free speech, if it makes you a "knob".  Is there a definition of knob in the ordinance?

Alderwoman Kathy Carpenter, also a member of the committee, suggested obscene gestures could be added to the list of actionable violations.

Guess which finger I'm using to type this Kathy?

The proposed change was supported on a 3-1 vote. The only opposing vote came from Alderman Don Ruef, who was concerned the measure may unnecessarily occupy the city's police force. Alderman Steve Casey was absent.

That's the reason why he voted against it?  Did one person on that committee even think about the fact that they were trying to create an ordinance that violated the 1st Amendment to the Constitution?

Let me ask you fine folks this... especially Kathy Carpenter.  Why stop at swearing at police officers?  Why not apply your ordinance to people who swear and make objectionable gestures to politicians who are trying to have town hall meetings about health insurance?

H/T goes to the lovely MsAlly for alerting me to this story.

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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
The Patriotism of Dissent Is Dependent on the Dissenter

Have you heard about the angry un-American mobs who are protesting what the government is proposing to do?  Of course you have, because it happens during every administration.

Now that Obama is President, those who don't want nationalized health care should just shut up and let Congress do what the majority want.  Of course, when George Bush was President, there were other angry mobs who protested the start of the War in Iraq.  When they were protesting, many on the right said that they were un-American for not supporting the troops.  Do you remember when Social Security reform was top on the agenda?  I was at a Sensenbrenner town hall meeting where an entire union group showed up to ask the same questions over and over again into a microphone... and it wasn't exactly friendly.

Now that Obama is President, the fact that people are protesting is stirring fear that perhaps it will lead to an assassination, or maybe even an Oklahoma City style bombing.  Of course, when people were protesting under the Bush Administration, protesters were openly calling for soldiers to kill their officersThere were even cases where soldiers were killed by protestersLet's not forget all the Bush=Hitler talk that went on.  What about the eco-terrorism that occurs under the extreme left?  Maybe arson is just considered too small to worry about.

Perhaps you're noticing a theme here.  When "our guy" is in charge, then democracy is all about the will of the majority over the minority.  We won the election, so we get to do whatever we want.  You know... it's supposed to taste like a sh*t taco.  When "their guy" is in charge, then we have a right to protest.  After all, dissent is the highest form of patriotism!  When their guys are protesting, they are unruly mobs, who make us fearful that they might engage in some sort of terrorism.  When our guys are protesting, they are community organizers.  When one administration asks that people report to the government anyone who is spreading what they consider "disinformation", it is considered a breach of privacy and socialism!  When a different administration asks the NSA to do it... well... that's different.

Now some of these people are just plain crazy.  People who would torch other people's homes, or shoot soldiers "in protest" of anything, are crazy to say the least, and often times are murderous psychopaths.  The fact that these extreme actions are used by someone else as somehow representative of other more mainstream views is simply disingenuous, pandering and fear mongering behavior.

But for the rest, these protests (no matter who the protesters are) show a reasonable fear by a minority group that those in the majority will use the power of government against them.  As more and more power becomes vested in the government, these protests will naturally increase.  This happens in France all the time, and may people believe that if we follow the French model in health care, then the French model of political protest will soon follow.

But the answer here is not to muzzle the protesters.  The answer is not to question the patriotism of those who speak out, and then push through more increases in government power.  The answer is to put control of people's lives back in the hands of those people.  The answer is to reduce what government does for us, so that we can do it ourselves.  The answer is to shrink the sphere of government influence, in both our economic and personal lives.  As F.A. Hayek once penned:

Nothing makes conditions more unbearable than the knowledge that no effort of ours can change them; and even if we should never have the strength of mind to make the necessary sacrifice, the knowledge that we could escape if we only stove hard enough makes many otherwise intolerable positions bearable.

We protest because we fear losing, more than anything else, the chance to change our situation using our own will.  Both sides of the aisle have experienced it... and yet both sides seem to forget what it was like when the shoe was on the other foot.

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But The Market Already Rations Health Care

Megan McArdle responds to the, now common, liberal argument for a "public option", that "we already ration health care; we just let the market do the rationing."  Read the whole thing.  And if you don't regularly read her blog, you are really missing out on something great.

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