Saturday, April 28, 2012

President Obama's Economic Bright Spot: Republicans

    In his de facto Republican presidential nomination acceptance speech this past week, Mitt Romney took the Democrat's favorite playground-taunt cum campaign slogan and threw it back at them.
[B]ecause [President Obama] has failed, he will run a campaign of diversions, distractions, and distortions. That kind of campaign may have worked at another place and in a different time. But not here and not now. It’s still about the economy” — here he paused for effect — “and we’re not stupid.”
James Carville, who coined that hippest campaign slogan of them all "It's the economy, stupid!" for Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential race, oddly yet somehow appropriately accused Romney of "stealing" his line.  (For a man who is a walking caricature of a campaign strategist, one would think he would appreciate a good send up rather then reacting with foot-stamping petulance.)  But Romney was simply acknowledging the undisputed role that the economy plays in most elections, particularly presidential ones.  This year is no different, and the depths of the country's economic woes may have already sealed the fate of the Obama administration.
    For this reason, the weekly unemployment figures and monthly unemployment reports are two of the most closely watched economic bellweathers. The jobs numbers are the public's most accessible proxies for the nation's overall economic health.  President Obama is well aware of the fact that as the New York Times reported in 2011, "No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent."  As of this March, the rate stood at 8.2%, and few would make the case that the rate will drop more than a percentage point by election day.  Even the President himself in December was less than confident that the rate would even break 8% by then.
    What then is President Obama's economic silver lining?  A look at the state-by-state unemployment numbers over the past three years suggests ironically enough that the silver lining may be Republicans.  My analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment reports for 2009 and 2012 and the current political party makeup of state governments plus the District of Columbia (raw data here) yields rather lopsided results.  (For purposes of my analysis, "control" is based on a party holding at least two out of three of the following: governorship, upper legislative house, and lower legislative house.  "Complete control" means holding all three.)
  • 9 of the 10 states with the lowest current unemployment rates are under Republican control, including six under complete Republican control, one of which is North Dakota with the lowest rate of 3%
  • 5 of the 10 states with highest current unemployment rates are under Democratic control, and the four worst are all under Democratic control, one of which is Nevada with the highest rate of 12%
  • 8 of the 10 states with the greatest improvement from 2009 to 2012 are under Republican control (and 7 of those are under complete Republican control)
  • 7 of the 10 states with the worst performance from 2009 to 2012 are under Democratic control
  • 10 of 17 states with current unemployment rates greater than the national average are under Democratic control
  • The state with the greatest improvement from 2009 to 2012 (36%) is Michigan, under Republican control
  • The two states with the worst performances from 2009 to 2012, Louisiana and Idaho (the rates actually went up,) are under Republican control, but their current rates are still less than the national rate of 8.2%
  • States under Democratic control saw an average decrease of 7.7% in the rate of unemployment
  • States under Republican control saw an average decrease of 15.3% in the rate of unemployment, virtually double the improvement of states under Democratic control
If the decrease in the national unemployment rate had matched that of Republican controlled states, it would already be under 8%.  Conversely, if it had followed the Democratic controlled states, it would still be at 8.6%.  There are some anomalies: Vermont is under complete Democratic control and yet has performed very well; and four states under complete Republican control are included in the states with the highest 2012 rates.  There are obviously other factors at work in the states economic and employment situations, but the big picture is clear.  States under Republican control scored nearly double the improvement of states under Democratic control - the correlation is unmistakable.
    Republicans find themselves in the position of helping the President nationally by virtue of economic and fiscal policies implemented at the state level, but what may seem a political handicap on the surface can be turned to the Republicans advantage.  The challenge will be making the case to the American people that a Mitt Romney administration will work in tandem with Republicans at the state level rather than erecting obstacles in their path as the Obama administration has done for the past three years.  Given the Obama team's dismal record and discredited economic theories, it should not be a hard sell.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Responsibility Bites

    The latest push by the Obama administration to pander to a segment of the electorate involves the youth vote and student loans.  The White House expresses great concern that graduating students should not be saddled with so much debt upon leaving college: "In 2010, graduates who took out loans left college owing an average of more than $25,000."  The press release goes on to note:
On July 1, 2012, the interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans are slated to double from 3.4% to 6.8%. To out-educate our global competitors and make college more affordable, Congress needs to stop the interest rate on these student loans from doubling.
If Congress doesn’t act before July 1, 2012, interest rates on loans for over 7.4 million students will double. And for each year that Congress doesn’t act, students rack up an additional $1,000 in debt over the life of their loans.
Meanwhile, CNN reports the numbers somewhat differently:
If Congress does nothing, the cost to students borrowing the maximum $23,000 in subsidized loans is an extra $5,000 over a 10-year repayment period. The cost to the federal government to extend the lower interest rate is $5.8 billion, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
So what's the big deal?  Heck, one year of the Buffett Rule would almost cover the $5.8 billion price tag.  Well, CNN also notes that "a big reason why House Republicans aren't inclined to go along with extending the rate" is that according to a Pew Research Center analysis, a college degree can mean an extra $650,000 over a 40-year career.  That extra $5,000 would be taken care of in 16 weeks.  Not much to ask over 40 years.
    On Tuesday, President Obama addressed some students in North Carolina.  According to Charlie Spiering at the Washington Examiner, he told them...
...that it was time for them "to be responsible" by "thinking bigger" than just themselves.
"We're here only because somebody somewhere felt responsibility not just for themselves, but they felt responsibility for something else," said Obama, reminding the students that their parents and grandparents ... made sacrifices for them.
So what exactly should these students be responsible for?  You would think at the very least their own debts at market interest rates.  The president seems to think this is too much to ask, even going so far as to urge a national whine-in on Twitter to tell Congress "#Don'tDoubleMyRate."
    The reality of what these young people will be responsible for whether they like it or not can be found at the Senate's Committee on the Budget website.  The Lifetime Share of the National Debt calculator reveals that the current lifetime share of the national debt for a 22-year old is $681,086.  There goes that extra $650,000 that the college degree earned.  And for what?  A chance to enter the 1%, or at least the middle class, that will bear an every increasing burden of paying the national debt?  The ultimate irony is that while the President is "reminding the students that their parents and grandparents made sacrifices for them," his fiscal recklessness is saddling those students, their children, and grandchildren with financial "sacrifices" the likes of which this country has never known.  Responsibility is a lesson best taught by example, and the President has shown himself not up to the task.

Originally published at Blogger News Network

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jon Huntsman: It's My Party and I'll Publicly Denounce It If I Want To

    This morning, Morgen Richmond at HotAir (via Buzzfeed) wrote about novelty GOP candidate Jon Huntsman's recent remarks regarding the Republican party of which he is obstensibly still a member:
[F]ormer presidential candidate Jon Huntsman reminds us why he received the most favorable coverage from the media, and yet consistently polled at or near the bottom of the heap before dropping out of the GOP race. 
Huntsman, the former Utah governor and once President Barack Obama’s Ambassador to China, expressed disappointment that the Republican Party disinvited him from a Florida fundraiser in March after he publicly called for a third party.
“This is what they do in China on party matters if you talk off script,” he said.

Just in case it's not blindingly obvious, Huntsman is complaining about being kicked off the dais at a Republican fund raiser because he publicly called for a Republican alternative in the political arena.  Wouldn't you have loved to have Huntsman on your high school basketball team?  He'd have been a real hoot at pep rallies.
    Although the humor value of his statement is fairly high, let's remember this man was not only a GOP candidate in this election cycle, but was the ambassador to Communist China for two-plus years.  Personally, I'm a big fan of hyperbole, but Huntsman takes the cake.  I suppose we can just be grateful he didn't make the Godwin's Law leap and use a Nazi comparison.  But the reality is, if you're a Republican in the USA and you call for a third party, the GOP cancels your dinner invite.  In China, if you call for a second party, the Party cancels you.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Dog Days of April

    In the 1970s when I was eight, our family moved to Memphis, TN from New Jersey, a trip of over 1,000 miles.  We made the trip in a station wagon: two adults, three children, a dog, a cat, several rabbits (in portable hutches,) and some fish (yes, we took an aquarium in the car.)  And then the luggage, too.  While none of the animals (or the children) rode on top, our arrangements would probably give someone at the modern day National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hives.  Being the youngest, I sat on a fold-down armrest facing backwards between the two front seats where my mom and dad sat, something like this:

This allowed me to face the back seat where my brothers and the dog were so we could play games.  Of course it also set me up to catapult backwards head-first through the front windshield had there been an accident (no seat belt.)  Looking back, I marvel that my parents allowed this, especially since my own children now are seat-belted, car-seated, booster-seated, and otherwise safely anchored in their own seats surrounded by airbags.  But in a few decades, who knows?  My grown children might be wondering how we ever let them ride in a car without helmets and fireproof body suits as they strap their own children into their ejector seats.
    Mitt Romney's much discussed vacation with his family dog Seamus on the roof in a pet carrier was a decade later than our Memphis road trip, but still must be looked at in the context of an earlier era.  Romney has indicated that (especially given the reaction today) he would not do it the same way again. But consider this: when the Romney's went on vacation, they took Seamus with them.  Many people leave their pets home, but their dog was enough a part of their family that they did not want to leave him behind.  And what do dogs like to do when riding in a car?  They love to put their heads out of the window.  Seamus got to ride on top!  Other dogs in passing cars were probably thinking, "He's the luckiest dog on earth!"  When Seamus had his gastrointestinal distress (to put it delicately,) the Romneys stopped the car, cleaned him (and the car,) and then restored him to his place of privilege.  I know some will say that their pets are like children to them, but frankly the Romneys thought enough of their actual children to not cram a dog with the runs (to put it less delicately) into a station wagon packed with seven people and all their luggage.  What would that have said about their parenting priorities?
    Who among us does not have a "can you believe we did that" memory?  But often those are the fondest memories families share.  Were Seamus still around and able to share his thoughts, I imagine the good memories would far outweigh the bad.  In any case, Mitt Romney has now been subjected to months of Seamus-related humor, which he has handled gracefully, but perhaps even a greater amount of overwrought denunciations of his character and judgment based on this harmless anecdote, also handled with grace.
     And what of the other dog story in the campaign?  Although I have enjoyed and participated in the Obama-ate-a-dog joke feeding frenzy (sorry) on Twitter about President Obama's childhood experience, context is of course important there as well.  Few are seriously trying to hold the president accountable for what he ate as a six- or seven-year old.  Some have pointed out that his inclusion of the story without a disclaimer in an autobiography written as an adult says something about the president's values or perspective, but I find the mere fact that someone has written two autobiographical books by age 46 to be even more telling.  Politicians invite scrutiny, and if anything is fair game, an autobiography tops the list.
    Political campaigns are a test of character, not just for the candidates, but for their supporters as well.  In 2008, the McCain campaign chose such a high road that they missed the opportunity to allow Barack Obama and his supporters to show the full range of their true colors.  The double-dog stories have said more about the two candidates backers than they have said about either Romney or Obama.  To paraphrase the president, his backers brought a dog story to the fight, so his opponents brought a better dog story.  In retrospect, perhaps the Democrats would have been wise to let sleeping dogs lie.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Solyndra's Dirty Little Secret

    David Burge of Iowahawkblog tweeted Friday morning that the Solyndra building is up for sale.

  Solyndra is the solar panel maker that infamously and spectacularly failed recently despite heavy support from the Obama administration, both promotionally and financially.  Much has been written about Solyndra's downfall, but the sale of the "green energy" company's state-of-the-art manufacturing facility contains one last bit of irony:

Yes, that's right.  Diesel generators - and they're not burning sunshine.  The diesel generator capacity even exceeds the ~1.2 megawatts capacity of the solar panels that this solar panel manufacturer also has installed.  I guess even to make a green omelet, you still have to break a few eggs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Different Kind of Sampling Error

    Jim Geraghty at National Review Online pointed out some puzzling results yesterday from a recent CNN poll:
Among those who describe themselves as “Tea Party Supporters,” 86 percent have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party, 4 percent have a negative opinion of the Tea Party, and 9 percent have no opinion on the Tea Party.
If you describe yourself as a Tea Party supporter, why would you have a negative opinion of it? Or how could you say you don’t have an opinion when you just told the pollster you support it?
Geraghty goes on to suggest professional help for those self-hating Tea Partiers.  But another kind of professional help might be in order for another demographic subgroup uncovered by the poll.  Page 16 of the poll records the results of the question: "We'd like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people -- or if you have never heard of them... The Democratic Party."  Responses are grouped in various ways, but the most interesting is the 1% of respondents who are listed as Democrats who "Never heard of" the Democratic Party:

So, how does that conversation with the pollster go?
Pollster: What is your party affiliation?
Respondent: Democrat.
Pollster: Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party?
Respondent:  Never heard of 'em.
Pollster: Oooooookay.  Thanks for your time...
Maybe "Sampling Error" has more than one application.

Dogate or Doggate?

I'm too tired to write the post, but I've got dibs on both names for the latest Obama scandal.

UPDATE:  OK, how about this?

Romney dog scandal:  Dog Gate

Obama dog scandal:  Ate Dog

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ford: Focus...

Original photo source: Car Guide Blog

Detroit News:  Ford Motor Co. sold about 12 Focus Electrics in December and January to fleet customers — and none in February and March, said Erich Merkle, a Ford spokesman.
That's it.  I pretty much just posted this because it was fun blurring the photo.  Now if I can just figure out how to make this look like a Chevy Volt...

What $40 Means, Revisited

    In February, I wrote about the White House's "What $40 Means" campaign.  Americans were urged to submit their stories about what a $40 per paycheck difference would make in their lives when the Social Security Tax holiday was up for debate.  Here are just a few of those responses:

$40 a week is half of my family's grocery budget.
B.H., North Waterboro, ME  
$40 means that I can be able to help my mother pay for her prescriptions since she was denied medical assistance and is on SS.
E.M., Maplewood, MN  
$40 for me is about a week's grocery money!
S.Z, Cave Creek, AZ  
$40 a paycheck helps me pay for a week of lunch for my daughter at school.
E.D., Ranch Santa Margarita, CA 

With that in mind, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently weighed in, if somewhat unintentionally, with her response:

From News Maker Today:  "A smiling Mrs Clinton got up and danced the rumba as the band played a series of Cuban tunes before her group left the venue, leaving a $40 tip, the newspaper said."

I'm inclined to think this one won't make the cut at the White House's website.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Buffett Rule, circa 2040

    From this morning on Twitter:

Based on this, I predict the following headline in the year 2040:

President Proposes Middle Class Tax Relief: Calls for One Year Suspension of Buffett Rule

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Buffett Rule and the GOP's War on Firefighters

    Back in the fall of 2011 when Warren of Buffett Rule fame first began angling for a positive Wikipedia entry by insisting he wasn't paying enough taxes, Gene Sperling, the Director of the National Economic Council, wrote an article on the White House blog awkwardly titled "Buffett Rule Facts and Fictions."  If Buffett himself was guilty of comparing apples and oranges as I wrote about in January, Mr. Sperling grabbed an armful of fruit and began throwing it up in the air with a blur of numbers creating a bewildering illusion of fiscal expertise.  In the midst of his statistical juggling act appears this whiplash-inducing, grammatically-challenged non sequitur:
Does it seem right that an American who makes over $110 million pays an effective tax rate of about 18 percent, but if they had a fire at their house, those who would be risking their lives to put the fire out, could be seeing far more taken out of their every additional dollar earned while they are risking their lives?  
 For crying out loud, what does public safety have to do with personal tax rates?  Are there not other groups who would be far less worthy than millionaires?  What about child molesters and other criminals? Should firefighters risk their lives to save their burning houses?  And what about those citizens whose effective tax rate is zero?  Is it "right" for firefighters to risk death or injury for someone who contributes nothing toward their salary?   If this is not class warfare, then I have never seen it.  What's next?  Means testing for 9-1-1 calls?
    In the olden days in England, building owners posted plaques on their properties signifying which fire insurance company they used so the firefighters would know whether or not to extinguish the blaze.  Instead of a plaque, perhaps the modern day equivalent would be a laminated Form 1040 on the front door.  But today in England and America, virtually everyone find public safety and emergency services to be legitimate domains for government involvement.  It is bizarre that the White House would choose to bolster its argument with a Monty-Pythonesque, "Nice house (and nice low tax rate) you got here.  It'd be a shame if  something were to happen to it."

UPDATE: The White House must think they have a winning issue in the GOP's War on Firefighters.  Look what the White House just tweeted Friday morning:

By the way, thanks to HotAir for the link to my post.

This post (before the update) was originally published on April 12, 2012 at Blogger News Network.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You Can't Spell "Vegas" Without G, S, and A

    The Washington Post's In the Loop blog noted today that the GSA had cancelled an upcoming conference in Las Vegas as part of the fallout from the embarrassing revelations of a lavish (has that word been overused yet?) conference in 2010 that was highlighted in an auditor's report and ultimately led to the firing of eight GSA officials and the resignation of GSA head Martha N. Johnson.  In the Loop notes that this recently cancelled conference "... would have been a lot less splashy, since the venue — the relatively modest Hampton Inn Tropicana — can’t hold a candle to the luxe M Resort Spa Casino, where the 2010 shenanigans went down."
    However, a search of the GSA website reveals the quiet cancellation of another GSA conference that was to be held at the same M Resort Spa Casino as the infamous Clown-and-Mind-Reading conference.   The short description that the Google search finds says the conference was to be held "Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM. The M Resort 12300 Las Vegas Boulevard South Henderson, NV 89044."  But clicking on the link brings up a page that begins "We apologize for the inconvenience... The link or location you used does not exist or has changed."  However, there is a Google cache version of the original page.  The event was to be called "Opening Doors NEVADA."  A further search revealed the existence of a separate website for the conference.  However, clicking on the registration link brings up a page with the following message: "We are sorry to announce the cancellation of our GSA Opening Doors 2012-2013 small business conference series in the Pacific Rim Region."  No reason is given for the cancellation.
    It is quite likely the GSA is hoping the attention it has attracted lately will begin to subside, but so far that has not happened, and is not likely to before the Congressional hearing on April 16th.  It will be interesting to see if the cancelled Open Doors Neveda conference comes up at the hearing.  And although the GSA may feel differently, it might also be interesting to find out if another GSA conference held in Las Vegas in 2010 (July) was anything like the October conference.  The 21st Annual Child Care Conference of the GSA was held at the Paris Hotel and Casino (pictured right) in Las Vegas July 13-15, 2010.  Is it possible lightning struck twice that year?  Only time (and perhaps YouTube) will tell.

The Doctrine of "Fair" (No, Not the FCC One)

   Addressing his fellow Democrats at a retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore in January, President Obama fought back against the class warfare charge that has dogged him since the 2008 campaign:
"This is one of the biggest things I'm going to be pushing back on this year, this notion that this is somehow class warfare, that we're trying to stir up envy," Obama said. "Nobody envies rich people, everybody wants to be rich. Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands you've got work hard to be successful. That's the American way."
Has an American president ever expressed the American ideal in words that were at once so crass and largely inaccurate?  Even if one generously interprets the president's description of "the American way" as only consisting of the last phrase ("everybody understands you've got work hard to be successful"), a perusal of the Occupy Wall Street website quickly dispels the notion that "everybody understands" the American work ethic.  But more likely the President also intended "...everybody wants to be rich. Everybody aspires to be rich..." to be included in his read on the American way.  What a cynical  rephrasing of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"!  Given that a Google search for "Obama's soaring rhetoric" returns 59,800 results, one would have thought that this modern day Abraham Lincoln could have found a more eloquent way to capture the essence of his country.
   And what of the president's assertion that "[n]obody envies rich people?"  If taken literally, this could lead to a 20% reduction in the Ten Commandments, as "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not covet" would fade into obsolescence.  The Founders of this country were not as sanguine in this regard.  As Ben Franklin is reputed to have said, "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."  The Constitution severely limited Congress's power to tax for this very reason, a limitation that required the 16th Amendment to overcome it.
   The president went on to reiterate his plans to call for Congress to pass the so-called Buffett Rule.  This plan to make sure anyone earning one million dollars or more per year does not pay a lower tax than those with lower earnings.  His reason?   "[A] sense of fairness and a sense of mutual responsibility and a sense of commitment for the country's future[.]"  Fairness?  Currently, our culture is involved in an epic battle over the definition of the word "marriage," a word that has had a concrete, unambiguous meaning for millennia.  How on earth will we even begin to agree on a definition of "fairness" concerning income and taxation?
   At its most basic level, "fair" would seem to mean everyone is treated equally.  But even most proposed variations of a "flat tax" have various exclusions, exemptions, and even multiple rates.  As paradoxical as it may seem, even the FairTax incorporates an "annual consumption allowance" that inserts a backdoor progressiveness to that tax system.
   So how does the president's latest incarnation of "fairness," this alternative alternative minimum tax (AAMT?), measure up?  The trouble with fairness is that it's a moving target.  Buffett's argument has been that he should not be paying a "lower tax rate" than his secretary.  But what about other secretaries?  Or other millionaires or billionaires that have not structured their compensation as effectively as Buffett and already pay a higher rate?  It is already well established that on average, those making over $1 million already pay more than everyone else.  Must we compare individuals within companies or industries to determine fair rates on a case by case basis?
   To complicate things further, is it only unfairness in the income tax rates (wages versus capital gains) we are concerned about?  If so, then why use Buffett as the marquee example?  It is not the fact that he pays the capital gains tax rate on most of his income that reduces his tax burden compared to that of his secretary, but rather his low payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare.)  His $15,300 in payroll taxes amounts to only .04% of his taxable income versus the 15.3% most people pay.
   As any elementary school teacher, or parent for that matter, can tell you that fairness has as many definitions are there are persons who are calling for it.  But a common thread among those who complain about the rich "paying their fair share" is that they are less concerned about how much the rich are paying in taxes and more concerned about how much money they have left.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chesterton the Pundit

    This comes under the heading of "nothing new under the sun."  Remember all the denunciations of "violent" imagery and rhetoric over the past few years?  Sarah Palin was called out for using "target" symbols on a campaign map... and then it turned out the Democrats had used similar graphics elsewhere.  After Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot by some lunatic, many media figures and politicians blamed the "right" for using language that inflamed passions to such a degree that things like this were bound to happen.  As it turned out, the lunatic was left-leaning if anything in his delusions, and on top of that, a little research showed that many of the denouncers used identical words and metaphors they were now decrying.  This even included President Obama with his infamous "if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun" line.
    So it was quite funny to run across the following as I was reading G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Horne Fisher, the hero of the stories, is visiting a political operative of Fisher's opponent in a contest for a seat in Parliament.  Mr. Gryce would be a familiar face on cable TV were he around today:

"Mr. Horne Fisher, I believe," said Mr. Gryce.  "Much honored by the call, of course. Can't pretend to congratulate you on entering the contest, I'm afraid; you won't expect that. Here we've been keeping the old flag flying for freedom and reform, and you come in and break the battle line."
For Mr. Elijah Gryce abounded in military metaphors and in denunciations of militarism. 
Could there be a more concise yet devastating blow against the political hypocrisy we witness today?  Chesterton wrote this in 1922.  I do not always share Chesterton's views, but I find his writing as sharp as Twain and Wodehouse.  And thanks to Project Gutenberg, the price can't be beat.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He is Risen

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins...  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied...  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead...  (1 Corintians 15:17,19,20a - ESV)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24 - ESV)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Food Police

    For most of us, our daily contact with the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) begins with our bleary eyes absentmindedly scanning the side panel of our cereal box in the morning as we struggle to get our minds in gear for the day.  The familiar Nutrition Facts information panel fulfills the USDA requirements to inform consumers about how good or bad our bowl of Chocolate Covered Sugar Honey Froot Puffs is for us.  Later in the day, we might have a steak that is "USDA Choice".  (For you vegetarians, I don't know if tufo gets a nod from the USDA, but let's face it, "Choice Tofu" would be an oxymoron.)  And at some point in our growing up, we were introduced to the Four Food Groups which morphed into the relatively short-lived and overly complex Food Pyramid which is now morphing into the Food Plate.  The common element in the above examples is food - it's the Department of Agriculture after all.
    So imagine my surprise when reading this recent article on the construction of a police station in Fruitland, Maryland, and who should pop up but the USDA.
For Fruitland Police Department, 'excitement is building' about new facility
 FRUITLAND -- For years, the city's police department had worked in a facility that was not only was limited in space, but also outside of compliance due to its age and condition.  Within the next two months, those issues will be addressed as the department is scheduled to move into its new public safety building... The building, which is being constructed by Mervin L. Blades & Sons, costs approximately $2.6 million and was funded through a low-interest, 40-year loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
My search through the rest of the article for the common element of "food" (noted above) came up empty unless you count "fruit" in the name of the town, but that seemed like a stretch even for the government. (By the way, it's pronounced "frootlind", not "fruit land"; the natives will mock you if you choose the latter.)  Anyway, I visited the USDA website for clues.  It turns out the USDA has all kinds of money to loan under the heading of Rural Development.  The upshot seems to be rural = farming; therefore, in addition to inspecting food going to market, the USDA is now loaning money to build police stations in "rural" America.  Not much of a leap, eh?
    So what is next?  Loan advice from the Justice Department?  What's that?  "Comparison Shopping for a Home Equity Loan" on the Justice.gov website?  Sorry, bad example.  OK, then, what's next?  Recipes from Housing and Urban Development?  What?  "Heart Healthy Home Cooking - African American Style" on HUD's website?  OK, another bad example.  Perhaps we just need to face the fact that our federal government has become a sprawling mass of overlapping and interconnected programs that bear little resemblance to what was envisioned for a country of "limited government."  I have nothing against the town of Fruitland.  But that the funds to build its local police station are coming from a department of the federal government that is ostensibly all about food is rather hard to swallow.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

President Obama v. SCOTUS

April 3, 2012 (At an Associated Press luncheon, in response to a question about the Supreme Court and his health care legislation.)

"The Supreme Court is the final say on our Constitution and our laws, and all of us have to respect it.  It's precisely because of that extraordinary power that the court has traditionally exercised significant restraint and deference to our duly elected legislature, our Congress."


January 27, 2010 (Addressing the nation in the State of the Union address with six of the nine Supreme Court Justices in the audience.  The President refers to the Citizens United case.)

"With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections."

Monday, April 2, 2012

When is Nonpartisan Not Nonpartisan? [Updated]

    A short time ago I wrote about a website called Name It. Change It., an affiliate of the Women's Campaign Fund (WCF).   While my original focus was on the conflicting messages within WCF sites about "what issues are important to women," I was also intrigued by another statement on the main page of the WCF website:
NONPARTISAN - We support women leaders who support reproductive health choices for all, regardless of political party.
As I began to investigate this claim, I found that the information provided on their website about candidates backed by WCF certainly seemed to confirm the non-partisan claim.  I could find no indication of the political parties of any of the 61 listed candidates.  However, elsewhere on their main page the mission of the WCF is proclaimed as follows:
The Women’s Campaign Fund, a nonpartisan organization, is dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of women in elected office who support reproductive health choices for all. [Emphasis added]
Given the obvious divide between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of abortion (the non-euphemistic and more succinct term for "reproductive health choices"), I was reasonably sure Democratic Party candidates would far outnumber Republicans.  I was not disappointed.  Here is what my research turned up:
Democratic Party - 58
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party - 2
Republican Party - 1
A Republican! Yes, Elizabeth Childs is running for Barney Frank's open seat in Massachusetts.  However (surprise, surprise,) Childs is not exactly a lifelong Republican, as the Boston Globe notes.  She's actually a nine-month Republican:
Childs had been registered as either a Democrat or an unenrolled voter for two decades before registering as a Republican in July, just before announcing she was running for Congress.
The Globe article also notes the following about the Democratic side of the race:
But in a statement released by the Childs campaign Wednesday, Nassour said Childs is “the best candidate to take on the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joseph Kennedy, and bring more bipartisan balance and strength to our Congressional delegation,” she added.
Perhaps I'm just cynical, but is it possible that Childs believed it would be easier to face a Kennedy in Massachusetts as a Republican in the general election rather than a Democrat in the primary with the hope that some of that old Scott Brown magic will rub off?  In any case, Childs is certainly not going out of her way to draw attention to her new Republican identity.  A search of her campaign website does return two hits for "Republican," but a perusal of the two pages listed by the search reveals the word is nowhere to be found.
   So, "Women's Campaign Fund, a nonpartisan organization?"  Technically, yes; but in practice, the group is about as nonpartisan as the Congressional Black Caucus.  "Women's Campaign Fund" might not be completely honest and descriptive, but "Liberal Democratic Pro-Choice Women's Fund" would definitely be more difficult to fit on a letterhead.

UPDATE:  Someone pointed out that I would need to analyze the "reproductive health choices" positions of the WCF candidates' opponents to really judge the nonpartisan nature of the WCF.  I acknowledge I am primarily relying on the IIQLAD test, but until the hiring freeze at the Speak With Authority Think Tank is lifted, it will have to do. However, I can add these to the mix:

  1. According to Gallup, 25% of Republican women identify as “pro-choice”. Theoretically, at least, the numbers are out there.
  2. In January, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of WCF’s high profile women, wrote in the Huffington Post, “we must recommit ourselves to doing all we can to elect more pro-choice Democratic women to Congress in 2012.”
  3. There is a longer list of all WCF-endorsed candidates who won their races and are currently serving, but are not necessarily up for reelection. There could be more Republicans on that list, but I have not researched that. Yet.

That being said, I still find the data and empirical evidence so far persuasive enough that I am comfortable with my preliminary conclusion that WCF is only slightly more nonpartisan than they are gender-inclusive.

Originally published before the update at Blogger News Network on April 2, 2012.