“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, August 27, 2010

Blanche Lincoln's Latest Vote-Buying Earmarks

I wrote this recent post describing what happened in New Jersey when the state's supreme court broke our own rules on fiscal management.

Now the Wall Street Journal has reported that Nebraska Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln has gone to great, essentially illegal extent, to get money from the federal government, in the form of an earmark, with which to bribe the state's voters in the run-up to this November's election.

Congress, believe it or not, has actually legislated limits on how much money the government will pay to bail out farmers. But Lincoln, whose first two tries at buying votes were defeated by her own party members, finally got Wonderboy's administration to use an old "Depression-era law," under which tariff funds can be used to make "emergency payments."

So Lincoln shook down taxpayers across the nation to the tune of $1.5B to try to buy her way back into the Senate. Despite rules in Congress enacted to try to stop this sort of nonsense.

In a year of unprecedented deficit growth, economic sluggishness and general ill-will toward Congress, Blanche Lincoln ignores all that and sticks to tried and true principles.

When an incumbent, use taxpayer money to buy your way into Congress.

No wonder so many voters just want new faces in Congress, regardless of the party affiliation of almost any incumbent.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pataki and Pickens On US Dependence On Foreign Energy & Money

George Pataki and T. Boone Pickens engaged in a rather novel discussion on CNBC yesterday morning. Pataki was a guest host, while Pickens appeared, by phone I think, to discuss energy policy.

Without having arranged it, both agreed on the need to wean US off of foreign oil and financing.

It wasn't always like this, but now it is. For decades, Cassandras have preached the evils of US foreign-held debt and imported oil. Back then, however, the US GDP grew faster than the deficit, and the Mideast wasn't sponsoring anti-American terrorists, nor growing particularly powerful in its own right.

Now, the US deficit is growing much faster than GDP, causing understandable consternation among global holders of US debt. Meanwhile, a tipping point seems to have been reached on oil purchases, as other sovereign nations either nationalize their oil fields or make aggressive bids, as nations, to develop the energy resources of other countries.

Oil has become a weapon in the hands of our enemies, exacerbating our deficits. And our mounting debt, also in the hands of unfriendly nations, adds to the perils confronting the US.

Both Pataki and Pickens decried the dependence of our country, succinctly, on foreign financing and energy sources.

It was a completely non-partisan, honest expression of the twin challenges facing a US which has spent itself into a dangerous fiscal situation while continuing to import oil that is a much-desired global commodity.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Happens When We Break Our Own Rules

Monday's Wall Street Journal featured an editorial by Steve Malanga entitled How States Hide Their Budget Deficits. Consider this brief passage regarding New Jersey,

"Meanwhile, New Jersey compounded its woes with other ploys. In 2004, the state broke the cardinal rule of municipal budgeting when it borrowed nearly $2 billion to close a budget deficit, which is like borrowing on your credit card to pay off your mortgage. (The state supreme court ruled this move unconstitutional but allowed it to go forward anyway because it didn't want to "disrupt" government operations.)"

That last sentence seems key, does it not?

Here you have a state with a constitution, laws and a supreme court which is expected to rule on both, and if the state is violating the constitution under which its citizens expect the state government to operate.

But New Jersey's supreme court stood silently by, allowing unconstitutional behavior. Much like the case in which it allowed current Senator Frank Lautenberg to run as a Democrat after the filing deadline, when Bob "The Torch" Torricelli had to drop out due to ethics violations.

Why is anyone surprised that we have such dire financial situations in states, and at the federal level, when our own courts fail to apply the relevant constitution?

When a court notes that a state is violating the state's own constitution, but fails to stop it because it doesn't want to get in the way of "government operations," we have a major problem.

The constitution in question means nothing. Government officials have no limits to their exercise of power.

This is why the Tea Party movement has gained such momentum. Existing governmental entities are failing to do their jobs, allowing abuses of power.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Paul Ryan: Canary In The Coal Mine?

The lead staff editorial in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago was entitled Washington vs. Paul Ryan. Very apropos.

The occasion of the piece was liberal economist Paul Krugman's calling Ryan "the flim-flam man" in his New York Times column of the prior week.

Krugman further alleged that Ryan's "roadmap" to fiscal responsibility was,

"a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future."

For the sin of acknowledging that Medicare is, as presently run, insolvent, and should be replaced by a voucher for purchase of insurance to provide the same services, Ryan is being crucified by Democrats, and ignored by many of his own Republican colleagues.

As with so many contemporary issues in Washington, this is one having many facets: macroeconomic, deficit, government control, and the loss of individual liberty, to name just a few.

The Journal editorial put it this way,

"In that sense, Mr. Ryan is really presenting Washington with a philosophical choice between ever-more indebted government and a plan to pay for the promises we've made while still preserving free markets and economic growth. The firehose of invective pointed at Mr. Ryan is in part an effort to scare voters and in part an effort to prevent voters from understanding that there is in fact a choice."

Ironic, in that virtually every non-partisan pundit you see on, say, CNBC, endorses Congress taking meaningful steps to address Medicare and other out of control spending. Yet, when Ryan offers realistic approaches to doing so, members of both parties react in predictably, unproductive partisan manners.

Democrats paint Ryan as a demon who is trying to destroy Medicare and old-age benefits, while members of his own party try to distance themselves from his comprehensive views and proposals for many needed government budget excesses.

Ryan doesn't confine himself to the usual 'waste cutting' solutions, but goes after the big stuff. As the quoted editorial passage notes, the real gut issues of who controls choice, how spending is done, and how services are provided.

I've argued in a prior post regarding ObamaCare that it is based on three horribly-flawed program designs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. All feature general pots of taxpayer funds out of which individuals are paid on a sort of first-come, first-served basis. Individualized accounts would have been a far more rational approach.

Unfortunately, our federal government is too-often run by people, both elected and civil service, who weren't the brightest candles on the cake, so to speak. Thus, these social welfare programs were designed and run under unrealistic assumptions of ever-increasing tax revenues and voter appetite for social spending. Not to mention ever-increasing appetites of global investors for US debt obligations.

None of these turned out to be true for as long as these programs have to run.

Whether you like Ryan's proposals or not, he deserves credit for saying what he thinks is right for the country, despite his own party members' attempt to acknowledge this. In a Congress dominated by power struggles between the parties, rather than either one focusing on lasting, sustainable solutions for serious problems involving federal deficits, spending, taxes and personal liberties, Ryan stands out as someone who is willing to take positions on issues his colleagues would prefer to ignore.

He deserves much better than Krugman's attacks. But, then, that's all Krugman seems to understand how to do.

Monday, August 23, 2010

More Congressional Deception Re: Countrywide Sweetheart Loans

It's recently been revealed that the Senate Democrats, in a parting gift to Chris Dodd, the resigning Democrat from Connecticut, covered up just how many sweetheart mortgage loans he received as a "Friend of Angelo" Mozillo.

It's been known for some time that Dodd and Kent Conrad received such loans, though both continually denied knowing so.

Now, it's become public that Dodd received, according to the Wall Street Journal,

"as many as six VIP loans, including refinancings, from Countrywide Financial, not just the two in 2003 that triggered the investigation."

We apparently won't know whether Kent Conrad was similarly favored, because the ethically-challenged Republican Senate leadership made a deal to submarine any more details of the Countrywide VIP program.

As much as many of us loathe the Democrats in Congress, this deal makes it clear why we also have plenty of that hatred left for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, too.