Friday, January 27, 2012

The Final Five: January 27, 2012

The Final Five: Bedtime Stories for Conservatives
January 27, 2012

Tonight's Crazy Story:
Embarrassing 'SHCOOL' Sign Replaced in NYC
On Tuesday, we brought you the story of the "SHCOOL" sign painted on a street in New York City. It's amazing what some media attention can do, because the company that painted it suddenly found time to get it fixed!


Topic One: Tax the Rich!
Much of the debate over taxing capital gains at a lower rate centers around the idea of "fairness". However, even fairness has to be defined by a person, and our definitions vary. A great American Thinker article by Dale Brandy reframes the idea of fairness on capital gains taxes. Krauthammer agrees and calls it a war against the wealthy.

However, the White House has not said how much revenue the "Buffett Rule" will raise. The truth is that it will likely cost the government money because investors will leave their money in investments and accumulate paper gains instead of withdrawing it for realized gains. However, the White House cannot even come up with a number of how much the rule would have raised in years past.


There's Always Time for a Laugh:
"There was another Republican debate in Florida tonight. What is left to know about these candidates? Is someone going to confess to a murder?"
-Jimmy Kimmel


Topic Two: Iran
A worrying report on Iran says that Iran could potentially develop a nuclear weapon within a month if all goes well. The report does admit that it is a highly unlikely scenario, but it says that a more likely scenario involves Iran developing a weapon by August of this year. Meanwhile, the US and Israel are not seeing eye to eye on solutions to the Iran problem. Of course, our "first Jewish president" always knows what is best for Israel even when they do not.

Laura Kam writes a great HuffPo Op-Ed on how the "Never again" idea fits into the Iranian situation. "Yet this year, the Iranian regime's continued determination to realize its nuclear ambitions underscores the necessity to turn the motto 'Never Again' into action. The memory of the Holocaust should be at the forefront of the minds of world leaders who today must keep nuclear weapons out of Iran's reach. Even those statesmen who dismiss Iran's calls for Israel's destruction as little more than jingoistic rhetoric must regard Tehran's fanatical Holocaust denial as reason enough to thwart their nuclear armament."


Debt Watch:
Yesterday, the government returned to spending more than it brings in, increasing the debt by $4,194,020.89. The debt at the end of business on Thursday stood at:
$15,236,231,788,440.22


Topic Three: Income Inequality
Two interesting articles on who we should not blame for the increase in income inequality. First, WaPo says we should not blame the rich. "Mobility is not limited to the top-earning households. A study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that nearly half of the families in the lowest fifth of income earners in 2001 had moved up within six years. Over the same period, more than a third of those in the highest fifth of income-earners had moved down. Certainly, there are people such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates who are ensconced in the top tier, but far more common are people who are rich for short periods."

Second, Alan Greenspan argues at the Financial Times that capitalism is not to blame, either. "High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1c76d726-4687-11e1-89a8-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1khq325XL Capitalism, since it was spawned in the Enlightenment, has achieved one success after another. Standards and quality of living, following millennia of near stagnation, have risen at an unprecedented rate over large parts of the globe. Poverty has been dramatically reduced and life expectancy has more than doubled. The rise in material well-being – a tenfold increase in global real per capita income over two centuries – has enabled the earth to support a sixfold increase in population. While central planning may no longer be a credible form of economic organisation, the intellectual battle for its rival – free-market capitalism – is far from won."


Tweets of the Day:
Michael Q Sullivan (@mqsullivan): Obama fact of the day... When Obama became president, debt-per-person was at $34,731. Today, it's $48,699.


Topic Four: ObamaCare in Action
Despite Romney's arguments, the Massachusetts health care law is very similar to the (Un)Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Whether or not this plan was actually a blueprint for the President's reform can be debated, but the similarities in the basic structure of the two laws is hard to dispute. Therefore, when considering the potential effects that this law may have when it is fully implemented in 2014, we can look to Massachusetts to derive some of our conclusions.

A Health Affairs study shows that in Massachusetts, the law accomplished some of its primary goals, but it has struggled to keep costs affordable. "The Massachusetts health reform initiative enacted into law in 2006 continued to fare well in 2010, with uninsurance rates remaining quite low and employer-sponsored insurance still strong. Access to health care also remained strong, and first-time reductions in emergency department visits and hospital inpatient stays suggested improvements in the effectiveness of health care delivery in the state. There were also improvements in self-reported health status. The affordability of health care, however, remains an issue for many people, as the state, like the nation, continues to struggle with the problem of rising health care costs." Ben Domenech has analysis of the report available at Ricochet.


Food for Thought - A Quote from our Founders
"Speak seldom, but to important subjects, except such as particularly relate to your constituents, and, in the former case, make yourself perfectly master of the subject."
-George Washington


Topic Five: Wisconsin
Polls are showing that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker leads the major candidates among those considered likely to run to replace him the the recall election. While unions are expected to throw money at this race and hope that it produces a similar result to Ohio's repeal of SB5 last year, this is a completely different election. In Ohio, voters were asked about a specific bill that had not yet taken effect; in Wisconsin, voters will be asked about a particular person, not a specific piece of legislation. There will be people who oppose the collective bargaining law but will support Walker over the Democrat candidate.

Furthermore, the unions are finding themselves in a difficult situation. There is a governor who they want recalled, but there is also a president they want reelected and a House and Senate they want controlled by Democrats. After the money they spent supporting the SB5 repeal effort in Ohio last year and the money they will spend in an attempt to recall Walker this year, the union political coffers may be on the verge of running dry. While this will probably not effect the Presidential race (the unions will have whatever money necessary to support Obama), it could have a dramatic effect on House and Senate races. Democrats in tight races who could previously depend on an infusion of union cash into their races may end up without union support this year. The unions will definitely have to prioritize their spending this year to ensure that they can accomplish all of their political goals, and that bodes well for Republicans.


Tomorrow in History
January 28, 1915 - The US Coast Guard is officially established by an act of Congress.


Grab Bag - Interesting Stories to Conclude Your Evening

Government spending problems explained by one graph

Hawaiian lawmakers consider tracking every website you visit

Obama dismisses Brewer tension

A post-partisan president no more

Most foreign postal services are profitable

St. Louis hosts parade for Iraq vets


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Washington Update: January 27, 2012

Senate
Yesterday's Action:
The Senate passed four measures by unanimous consent: S. Res. 355, honoring the memory of Special Agent Jared Francom of the Ogden, Utah Police Department, H.R. 3800, the "Airport and Airway Extension Act", H.R. 3801, the "Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act", and S. 2039, the "State or Local Government Levee Construction Act". All were reported as passed.

The Senate then considered H.J.Res. 98, to express disapproval of the President's request to raise the debt ceiling. A vote for cloture failed with 44 yeas and 52 nays.

Finally, the Senate considered S. 2038, the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act". The Senate will hold further debate on this bill on Monday, with a vote for cloture occurring at 5:30 PM.

Today's Schedule:
The Senate will not be in session today. The next meeting of the Senate is scheduled for Monday at 2:00 PM.

Senate Committee Meetings:
There are no committee meeting scheduled for today.


House
Yesterday's Action:
The House was not in session yesterday.

Today's Schedule:
The House will meet in a pro forma session today at 11:00 AM.

House Committee Meetings:
There are no committee meetings scheduled for today.


All information is taken from the Congressional Register.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Final Five: January 26, 2012

The Final Five: Bedtime Stories for Conservatives
January 26, 2012

Tonight's Crazy Story:
Dentist Pleads Guilty to Medicaid Fraud for Using Paper Clips in Root Canals
A dentist looking to save money used paper clips instead of stainless steel posts in root canals. And we wonder why people hate going to the dentist.


Topic One: Tax Reform
The State of the Union speech brought tax issues back into the headlines. However, Obama's "reform" plan is to institute new taxes and subsidies while simultaneous clamoring that millionaires do not pay enough taxes. However, one of the reasons that they pay such a small tax rate is because of the availability of subsidies and tax credits. Liberals were throwing a fit over Romney's supposedly small tax rate of 15%, but at least he pays what he is legally obligated under the tax code to pay. Perhaps the Obama administration should consider paying their "fair share."

Forbes contributor Howard Gleckman calls the Presidents proposals a tax deform agenda. "Here’s just a partial list of the targeted tax breaks Obama promoted: Tax credits for clean energy and college tuition, as well as tax cuts for small business that create jobs, domestic manufacturers, high-tech manufacturers, and companies that close overseas plants and move production back to the U.S. At the same time, he’d require individuals making more than $1 million to pay an effective income tax rate of at least 30 percent, in part by eliminating their ability to take many deductions."

Finally, American Thinker has a blog post discussing the drastic rise in denunciations of US citizenship. ""Increasingly" is an understatement. In Fiscal Year 2008, George W. Bush's last year, 146 Americans renounced their citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes. In FY 2010, that number soared to 1,534, an increase of 950% - and no, that is not a misprint. 950%." While there may be other reasons for some of the denunciations, the almost ten-fold increase should concern those who love America regardless of the reason.


There's Always Time for a Laugh:
"House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she has dirt on Newt Gingrich, but so far she's keeping her lips sealed — because that's how the last surgeon left them."
-Conan O'Brien


Topic Two: The Election
The election is coming down to three candidates: Romney, Gingrich, and Obama. All three of these candidates are working hard to not only explain their views, but also to modify the debate to their advantage. Obama has already made two prominent speeches to explain how he is going to campaign: he will take a stance as the supposed protector of the poor and middle class from the abuses of the rich. (This sounds remarkably familiar to the statements from the Occupy movement.) This is intended to deflect attention from his lack of accomplishments in almost every area. As such, Obama will frame the election as a choice between two paths, rather than a vote on himself.

Romney has its own explaining to do on health care. Obviously, conservatives and Republicans consider repeal of Obama's health care reform as a huge priority in the coming term. However, Romney has his own health care law which contains all the major provisions of the new federal law. Romney's only defense is that it was passed at the state level. While this is certainly a valid point, it does not make conservatives feel confident that Romney would be committed to repeal. According to his arguments, he seems to support individual mandates and subsidies when passed at a state level, despite the disastrous effect they have had on insurance in Massachusetts. The Weekly Standard has a great summary of this issue, asking what exactly he opposes on health care.

Meanwhile, Gingrich has his own problems. Obviously, his three marriages and the way they came about concerns social conservatives. However, beyond that, he has his ethics complaint during his time in Congress. The Washington Examiner explains exactly what happened during the complaint process. Pelosi has also claimed that she knows something that would defeat Gingrich in the general election. However, Gingrich says that is not true. I would certainly take Gingrich over the other two candidates here, but it is unfortunate that the race is likely coming down to the point where he may be the best of the options.


Debt Watch:
On Wednesday, the government reduced the debt by another $8,857,961.16, which brings the total debt at the end of business yesterday to:
$15,236,227,594,419.33


Topic Three: The Arab Spring
RCP has a great article on the effects of the Arab Spring movement. "The Western media are centering their attention on what the next Egyptian constitution will look like and whether it will guarantee rights for women and minorities. What they fail to recognize is that the Islamic fundamentalists now in charge of Egypt don't need a constitution to implement their tyranny. All they require is what they already have - a public awareness of their political power and their partnership with the military."

Eric Trager sends happy birthday wishes to the Egyptian revolution. "When Hosni Mubarak resigned eighteen tumultuous days later, the Arab Spring had bloomed. Or so we wanted to believe. The reality of the past twelve months, however, has undone whatever high hopes one might have held." Meanwhile, CNN goes back on its "sudden uprising" stories from a year ago and describes how the seeds for the revolution were sown years before.


Tweets of the Day:
Ben Howe (@Ben_Howe): BREAKING: Romney only paid 7% on his sales tax while buying stuff in SC. THAT'S LESS THAN HIS SECRETARY PAYS IN INCOME TAX!!!! #FairShare


Topic Four: Iran
Iran now says that to sit down for talks about its nuclear program. The media is trying to claim a victory for the western world, saying that the sanctions are doing their job and forcing Iran into change. However, a madman like Ahmadinejad will never give up nuclear ambition. Iran will only talk if it believes that talks can delay the world long enough to complete its work on a weapon.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad's bastion of freedom is stepping up its arrests of Iranian journalists and bloggers. However, these arrests are not being "officially reported" and are being spread by word of mouth. The head of a human rights group says, "[The Iranian government] can’t come out publicly and name them or charge them with anything, because they can’t justify why they’re holding them." Obviously, these people have committed the dangerous act of stating their opinions without approval of the Iranian government. That sounds like a great place to live.


Food for Thought - A Quote from our Founders
"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."
-Thomas Paine


Topic Five: Social Security
William Shipman has an interesting article on the way Obama has transformed the Social Security program. He contends that payments and benefits have been "delinked" so that the payments made have no effect on the benefits earned. Most people believe that Social Security is not truly an entitlement program in the sense of welfare or food stamps because it is based on forced payments made into the system through payroll taxes. However, as Shipman contends, the reductions in Social Security taxes paid have not resulted in reductions in future benefits, showing that Social Security is truly an entitlement.

However, the problem is that benefits have never been linked to payments; they have been linked to earnings. The benefit you receive is based on an inflation-adjusted average of your annual earnings over the course of your lifetime. It does not matter if the FICA tax is 4.2%, 6.2%, 1.2%, or 0%: your benefit will be the same unless Congress changes the method of calculation. In fact, the payroll tax was only implemented in order to provide legitimacy to the system. Shipman quotes, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the father of Social Security, who says, "We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no [expletive] politician can ever scrap my Social Security program." From its founding, Social Security was intended to be an entitlement, but the payroll tax serves to force its existence for all of history.


Tomorrow in History
January 27, 1825 - The US Congress approves the creation of the Indian Territory (in present-day Oklahoma), setting up the forced relocation of Indians on the "Trail of Tears".


Grab Bag - Interesting Stories to Conclude Your Evening

An explanation of how wind power works (or doesn't work)

Indiana House passes right-to-work

8% more Americans think the economy is improving, but that won't stop Politico from announcing it to the world

Airlines now forced to reveal total cost of flight before purchase

Tension between Obama and AZ governor Jan Brewer

Taxpayers still owed $133 billion from bailout

Reform the UN or else...we'll still give you your money

20,000 jobs aren't that many? Seriously?


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Washington Update: January 26, 2012

Senate
Yesterday's Action:
The Senate was not in session yesterday.

Today's Schedule:
The Senate will meet today at 9:30 am to consider H.J.Res. 98, the "Debt Ceiling Increase". The Senate is expected to vote for cloture at Noon, with a vote on passage soon afterward if the motion for cloture is successful.

Senate Committee Meetings:
There are four committee meeting scheduled for today:
  • The Budget Committee will on the economic outlook for the United States and the world.
  • The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) will hold hearings to examine compliance with tax limits on mutual fund commodity speculation.
  • The Judiciary Committee will consider S. 1925, to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, and two nominations. The committee will later hold hearings to consider five additional nominations.
  • The Intelligence Committee will meet in closed session to consider intelligence matters.


House
Yesterday's Action:
The House passed two measures under suspension of the rules: H.R. 3801, the "Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2012", by a vote of 408-0, and H.R. 1022, the "Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act", by a vote of 338-70.

Today's Schedule:
The House will not be in session today. The House will meet in a pro forma session tomorrow at 11:00 AM.

House Committee Meetings:
There are no committee meetings scheduled for today.


All information is taken from the Congressional Register.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Final Five: January 25, 2012

The Final Five: Bedtime Stories for Conservatives
January 25, 2012

Tonight's Crazy Story:
Hearse That Carried JFK's Body Sells for $176,000
Did you know that the hearse that carried JFK's body is still around? (It's older than me!) It was recently auctioned in Dallas for $176,000.


Topic One: State of the Union
It is becoming more difficult to distinguish between President Obama and Candidate Obama. Ultimately, Obama spent his first year and a half implementing policy (healthcare reform, financial reform, etc.), but he has spent the second year and a half campaigning, and he has no plans of stopping until November. The NY Times says Obama's speech last night was a State of the Campaign address instead of a State of the Union address. (Yes, you read that right. The New York Times really said that!)

Obama's speech was basically what I expected it to be: more class warfare rhetoric, more big government solutions, and more treating Americas as idiots who need governmental guidance to make the proper choices. Mitch Daniels phrased the last point very well in his response: "In word and deed, the President and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection." However, the Heritage Foundation's blog raises the point that the speech was also notable for what was not said. And as a final note, John Stossel wrote his own State of the Union address.


There's Always Time for a Laugh:
"Obama focused on four areas he believes are the keys to restoring economic security. Energy, manufacturing, education, and TV shows about cupcakes, which we love."
-Jimmy Kimmel


Topic Two: The Keystone Cancellation
The Blaze raises four possible reasons Obama said no to the Keystone Pipeline:
1) As the administration has said publicly, there is not enough time to do a proper environmental impact study?
2) Thanks to alternative energy companies like Solyndra, we’re on the path to becoming an oil-free energy generating country?
3) Billionaire Warren Buffett (and Obama advisor) has an investment in a Canadian railway that would benefit from killing Keystone?
4) Is it because Brazil, the country whose deep-water oil fields we agreed to fund, is going to be selling us cheap and plentiful oil?


Many of the pundits seem to think that it is the third reason. The San Francisco Chronicle admits that the pipeline decision will help Buffett. (I am not familiar with the political leanings of the paper, but given the city where it is located, I am reasonably confident that it is not a bastion of conservative ideology.) American Thinker points out that the pipeline could also have been used by North Dakota's oil industry, but the oil produced in that state will now have to be transported by rail. Obama's decision may have upset the unions, but Obama's support of other pro-union legislation will appease them. This is a move of political pandering to the environmentalists and to the one man who has helped push Obama's latest class warfare move.


Debt Watch:
On Tuesday, the government spent $8,857,489.29 less than it brought in, bringing the total debt to:
$15,236,236,452,380.40


Topic Three: Parental Control in Education
New Hampshire recently passed a law that is intended to give parents more control over what is taught in public schools, but will likely only create major headaches for educators and administrators. Parents in New Hampshire will be able to raise objections to curriculum and force the school to modify it so that it avoids the questionable material. According to the NY Times, the law is unclear as to how it would be implemented, and it applies to any topic of any subject matter.

While I am usually in favor of attempts to involve parents in education, this goes too far. As the NY Times article above states, "Believe spelling is a waste of time in the age of spell check? Just raise an objection, and in New Hampshire, your child should be accommodated." I would support a provision that allows parents to petition the school district for modifications, with changes implemented if enough parents sign. I could also understand opening the door for parents to suggest alternative books or curriculum that is more in line with their views. (For example, allowing a parent to request that a survey of creation science be taught alongside evolution.) However, every minute teachers have to spend searching for and revising curriculum is one less minute the teachers can spend actually preparing to teach.

Ultimately, parents are in charge of a child's education, but that does not mean that parents should have "veto power" over everything that is taught. If a parent disagrees with enough of the school's curriculum, then the parent should enroll the child in a private school or home school. (This leads to a separate discussion on school choice.) The NY Times dedicated a room for debate section on the matter. I probably agree most with Tiffany Cooper Gueye, who writes that parents should add to education in order to combat areas of disagreement. Instead of forcing schools to change curriculum, parents should educate students at home in order to supplement the school's curriculum. This is not to say that parents should feel completely helpless, but it should take the objections of more than one parent in order to force curriculum change.


Tweets of the Day:
Ace of Spades (@AceofSpadesHQ): I can't wait to hear Obama's List of Things That Aren't Going To Happen. It's like the world's most boring fairy-tale!!!


Topic Four: Copyright Enforcement
SOPA and PIPA have been withdrawn, but the debate over punishing copyright infringement still remains. Cathy Young at RCP argues that the copyright debate misses the big picture. "Yes, creators and copyright holders have important rights and legitimate interests. And yes, some Internet users display an obnoxious sense of entitlement to "free" intellectual content. But media corporations and other owners would be far better helped by being savvy about consumers' wants and needs than by draconian and ultimately futile attempts to police the Web."

Ultimately, laws like SOPA and PIPA would not only result in the possibility of internet censorship, but they would also discourage innovative thinking. Instead of developing new methods of copyright protection, arts industries are running to the government for protection. Had these industries used the money they spent on lobbying for SOPA to develop new piracy-prevention technologies, it is definitely possible that we could have new technology on the way that would meet the goals of these industries without government intervention. Unfortunately, the current climate of political pandering makes it easier for companies and industries to look to the government for solutions instead of looking to the free market.


Food for Thought - A Quote from our Founders
"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."
-Thomas Jefferson


Topic Five: Fairness
Michael Bargo Jr. wrote an excellent column at American Thinker on the idea of fairness. For example, he argues, "The average Federal employee can be paid no more than the average American employee, currently $42K a yr. Wouldn't that be fair? And the highest amount paid to any retired Federal employee should be no more than the highest Social Security monthly amount. Wouldn't that be fair?" This is one article that is definitely worth a read!


Tomorrow in History
January 26, 1838 - Tennessee becomes the first state to enact a prohibition law.


Grab Bag - Interesting Stories to Conclude Your Evening
The Giving Race: Romney 15%, Obama 1%

Park director defends Occupy DC

Cordray makes first visit to Capitol Hill

Walker raises $12 million for recall campaign

New Google privacy policy could threaten anonymity

Gabrielle Giffords set to resign from House today


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Mid-Week Media: No Budget, Solyndra, Dumb Passengers, the Environment, and Cellphones

It's Wednesday, so that means it is time to take a look at some of the best media of the past week!

The Heritage Foundation put out this video showing all the things that could happen in the time since the Senate last passed a budget:


Solyndra found a great way to waste taxpayer money: destroy perfectly good materials so that they cannot be sold to repay the government:


As Captain Obama's ship is sinking, Newsweek has an important question:


What happened to all the trees? They were cut down to help save the environment:


We can't wait on creating jobs, except when we can:


A good graphic depicting the way support and opposition for SOPA and PIPA changed in one day:


And finally, a violinist was probably surprised when his cellphone started ringing, but he recovered nicely:

Washington Update: January 25, 2012

Senate
Yesterday's Action:
The Senate met in the morning yesterday for routine business, including receiving nominations, referring bills to committee, and scheduling a time for consideration of the President's debt limit increase request. There were no recorded votes taken.

Today's Schedule:
The Senate will meet today at 9:30 am to consider H.J.Res. 98, the "Debt Ceiling Increase". The Senate is expected to vote for cloture at Noon, with a vote on passage soon afterward if the motion for cloture is successful.

Senate Committee Meetings:
There is one committee meeting scheduled for today:
  • The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold hearings to examine contract management for Arlington National Cemetery.


House
Yesterday's Action:
The House passed four measures under suspension of the rules: H.R. 2070, the "World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2011", by a vote of 386-26; H.R. 290, the "War Memorial Protection Act", H.R. 3800, the "Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2012", and H.Res. 516, to express that passage of a 2013 fiscal budget is of national importance, by a vote of 410-1, with one present vote.

Today's Schedule:
The House will meet today at 9:00 am to consider one bill under suspension of the rules: H.R. 3801, the "Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2012".

House Committee Meetings:
There is one committee meeting scheduled for today:
  • The Agriculture Committee conduct markup on six bills: H.R. 1840, to improve consideration by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of the costs and benefits of its regulations and orders; H.R. 2682, the "Business Mitigation and Price Stabilization Act of 2011"; H.R. 2779, to exempt inter-affiliate swaps from certain regulatory requirements put in place by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act; H.R. 2586, the "Swap Execution Facility (SEF) Clarification Act"; H.R. 3336, the "Small Business Credit Availability Act"; H.R. 3527, "Protecting Main Street End-Users from Excessive Regulation"
  • The Energy and Power subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on H.R. 3548, the "North American Energy Access Act".
  • The Indian and Alaska Native Affairs subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on H.R. 2467, the "Bridgeport Indian Colony Land Trust, Health, and Economic Development Act of 2011"; and S. 292, the "Salmon Lake Land Selection Resolution Act".
  • The Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on the NHTSA's response to the Chevy Volt fires.
  • The Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on ways to strengthen the federal pension system.


Joint Committee Meetings
  • The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe will hold hearings on the stability of the government of Kazakhstan.

All information is taken from the Congressional Register.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Final Five: January 24, 2012

The Final Five: Bedtime Stories for Conservatives
January 24, 2012

Tonight's Crazy Story:
School Daze: Misspelled Crosswalk Has Reportedly Remained on New York City Street Since Last Summer
Beware of 'shcool' crossings! A New York City street repaired last summer following utility work now shows the misspelled word, and the utility company that performed the work has yet to come back and fix it.


Topic One: The Stopped Pipeline
More fallout on the Keystone Pipeline decision. Of course, we must first set the record straight: this is the Republican's fault. Obama wanted to spend a whole year to weigh the pros and cons of the pipeline (read: after the election), but those pesky Republicans forced him to decide late last week. As part of the debt deal, the project would go forward unless Obama decided that it was not in the "national interest." Obama declared that this pipeline, a project that would create thousands of jobs and reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, was not in the national interest.

Jay Ambrose writes about Obama's pipeline lies. Ed Lasky writes that it is no coincidence that Saudi Arabia announced an oil price hike on the same day as the pipeline decision. And FOX's Michael Goodwin says that the decision reveals Obama's priorities. Meanwhile, Canada says it might decide to build the pipeline to the west and sell the oil to China instead. What a great decision by our President.


There's Always Time for a Laugh:
"There’s a new Facebook app that will post a final status update for you after you die. That’s ridiculous. I don’t need someone to change my status when I die. I need them to water my Farmville crops."
-Jimmy Fallon


Topic Two: The Constitution & The Courts
Yesterday, the Supreme Court released a unanimous decision which barred law enforcement from using GPS to track a person's automobile without a judge's permission. The court decided that use of the GPS technology constituted a search. The court was divided, however, on the reasoning. The majority opinion contended that placing the device constitutes a trespass and therefore is considered a search, while a concurring opinion written by Samuel Alito argued that a suspect has an expectation of privacy while travelling in a vehicle, and the expectation of privacy is invaded when GPS tracking is used. While this decision may not settle all issues regarding the use of technology in police surveillance, it is an important victory for freedom.

In a second ruling, a district court judge says that a woman must decrypt her laptop so that prosecutors can search it for evidence. Ramona Fricosu, a Colorado woman under investigation for mortgage fraud, contends that forcing her to decrypt her laptop would amount to self-incrimination if she were found guilty. The judge gave her just under a month to produce a decrypted hard drive. This case will likely work its way to the Supreme Court as a fifth-amendment issue.

Finally, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was stopped by the TSA while travelling from Nashville to Washington yesterday. Paul contends he was detained; the TSA argues otherwise. The issue of detainment could be very large, as Senators are Constitutionally protected from detainment on their way to and from their official duties. Paul later boarded another flight without incident.


Debt Watch:
Yesterday, the government reduced the debt by another $26,569,923.09, bringing the current debt total to:
$15,236,245,309,869.69


Topic Three: Tax Reform
Bruce Bartlett has an excellent NY Times column on the differences in the views of tax reform. He explains that the liberals who dominated our government in the 1900s subscribed to the theory that all income should be taxed, and that the idea of taxing consumption has (until recently) fallen out of favor with most politicians. Another NY Times column by N. Gregory Mankiw describes four keys to a better tax system. He starts with a quote from Nixon's treasury Secretary, William Simon, who says, "the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose." While I do not agree with every specific of Mankiw's plan, I do believe that he raises some good points that should be discussed in the tax reform debate.


Tweets of the Day:
Kristina Ribali (@ORlibertygal): It takes a special kind of failure to be derelict in your duties for 1,000 days. Way to go Senate Dems! #1000days


Topic Four: Arab Spring
Has the Arab Spring given way to an Islamist Winter? Egyptian Columnist Raghida Dergham believes that it has. The final total from Egypt's parliamentary elections shows that Islamist parties control 75% of the seats in the new Egyptian parliament. This parliament will be tasked with writing a new constitution for the country. While the Muslim brotherhood contends that it does not want to implement Islamic law, the second party in the election, the Al-Nour Party, does support Sharia, and it is possible that there could be enough support for some form of Sharia law to be enshrined in the new constitution.


Food for Thought - A Quote from our Founders
"Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution."
-James Madison


Topic Five: ObamaCare
Another broken ObamaCare promise was revealed this week when the administration announced that religious institutions will have to provide insurance with free birth-control and morning-after pills. Jeffrey Anderson lists seven reasons why this is wrong. Now some religious institutions will be forced to either provide a product that is contradictory to their beliefs or face a fine imposed by the government for not providing insurance. (Of course, under the administration's argument that the penalty is a tax, it could be argued that non-profits do not have to pay the penalty.)

Meanwhile, discussion is brewing about the prospect of a unique healthcare identification numbers. This would be similar to a social security number but would be used only for health care (at least at first). This number would guarantee access to your records at any doctor's office or hospital in the nation, but it would also raise concerns about privacy. I believe that a system of this type is wholly unnecessary.


Tomorrow in History
January 25, 1924 - The first winter Olympic games open in Chamonix, France.


Grab Bag - Interesting Stories to Conclude Your Evening
Iran claims embargo will be ineffective

Look the other way: this does not mean there is any fraud

Idiotic stories of "no tolerance"

Indiana Senate approves right-to-work legislation

Obama can't get budget done on time

Meanwhile, the Senate can't get 2009's budget done on time


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Disregarding the Law (and the Constitution)

Today, we find another example of the Obama administration's disregard for the law and the Constitution. Obama announced that he would be unable to submit his budget by the legally-mandated first Monday in February, and he would instead submit it one week later. Apparently, he cannot even do what first-year Presidents do--submit a basic outline--despite the fact that he says he will have the complete budget done one week later. However, this is only one of many examples of the ways that Obama has shown a disregard for our laws:
  1. The Obama administration pushed through Congress a bill that gives the government the unprecedented power to force Americans to purchase a product as a condition for living.
  2. Instead of changing the law, he announced that the government would no longer defend one of its laws: the Defense of Marriage Act.
  3. He announced that the government would halt deportation proceedings on thousands of people who have broken the law by entering our country without permission.
  4. He declared the Congress to be in "recess" and made recess appointments even though his own party declared in 2007 that meeting every three days did not qualify as a recess.
  5. He has prohibited states from enforcing existing federal immigration laws by suing them in federal court. While immigration is a topic that has been ceded to the federal government, enforcement of the laws should be the responsibility of both the federal government and the states.

There are probably more that I have forgotten. Feel free to e-mail me if you know of an example I have left out.

Washington Update: January 24, 2012

Senate
Yesterday's Action:
The Senate passed two bills by unanimous consent. H.R. 3237, the "SOAR Technical Corrections Act" and S. 1134, the "St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act". The Senate further agreed to H. Con. Res. 96 to agree to a joint session of Congress. The only vote of record occurred when the Senate confirmed John M. Gerrard as a US District Judge for Nebraska by a vote of 74-16.

Today's Schedule:
The Senate will be in session today prior to the State of the Union address. The schedule for today was not published in the Congressional Record.

Senate Committee Meetings:
There is one committee meeting scheduled for today:
  • The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will meet today in a closed session to consider intelligence matters.


House
Yesterday's Action:
The House passed two bills under suspension of the rules. H.R. 3117, the "Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2011" by a vote of 373-1 and H.R. 1141, the "Rota Cultural and Natural Resources Study Act" by a vote of 278-100.

Today's Schedule:
The House will be in session today prior to the State of the Union address. The schedule for today was not published in the Congressional Record.

House Committee Meetings:
There are no committee meetings scheduled for today.


Joint Committee Meetings
  • The Conference Committee on H.R. 3630, to extend the payroll tax holiday, unemployment compensation, Medicare physician payment, provide for the consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline, will meet today.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Final Five: January 23, 2012

The Final Five: Bedtime Stories for Conservatives
January 23, 2012

Tonight's Crazy Story:
School Fears “Cougars” Mascot Will Offend Women
A Utah school district decided to override the students vote and not allow them to select a Cougar as the mascot for the new school because they feared that the term could be offensive to women.


Topic One: State of the Union
Obama will give his (campaign) speech tomorrow. It will likely be more of the class warfare rhetoric we have heard from the President recently. According to FOX News: "A senior Democrat familiar with the remarks the president is crafting tells Fox News that Mr. Obama will build upon his December 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas by providing specifics on how the president wants to fix the economy and tackle the issue of taxes, for example." Obama claims the speech will be an "economic blueprint."

However, not everyone is excited to hear Obama's remarks. John Boehner said that it would be pathetic if Obama offered the same old ideas during his address. Newsmax is taking a look back in history to discuss the unfulfilled promises from previous addresses. While Obama would likely blame it on "Congressional gridlock", his 2010 promises came at a time when both houses were controlled by his own party. If he could get health reform passed in 2010, he certainly should have been able to keep these promises. Finally, the Washington Post describes Obama's balancing act when it comes to the State of the Union address. Obama wants to use it as another opportunity to present his campaign message of class warfare, but he risks alienating some Americans in the process.


There's Always Time for a Laugh:
"President Obama aired his first campaign ad of 2012, which promotes his record on clean energy. Obama’s a big environmentalist. In fact, for the election he plans to recycle the same promises he made four years ago."
-Jimmy Fallon


Topic Two: Three States Down
Gingrich became the third winner in as many states this weekend in South Carolina. With Gingrich taking the lead in the polls from Florida, he must be considered at least an equal frontrunner with Romney. Gingrich said that the establishment will "go wild" if he is selected as the nominee. However, it is difficult to believe his claims of being an "outsider" when he spent years in Congress.

Two other articles about the election process captured my attention. First, Politico introduces us to the "super super PAC." These are combinations of a traditional PAC, which can donate limited amounts of money to candidates, and a super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited money to promote a particular candidate. Second, Michael Barone's column on RCP defends negative advertisements. As one of his points, he contends that it is not dirty to point out the weaknesses of your opposition. I would even go one step farther and say that it is important that those weaknesses be brought up prior to the general election. For example, I believe that the Kennedy ads from Romney's 1994 Senate campaign should be brought up and discussed, since we will likely see similar ads this year should Romney be the nominee. By bringing up these weaknesses sooner, we prevent the eventual nominee from being blindsided during the general election.


Debt Watch:
On Friday, the government reduced the debt by $8,855,894.98, bringing the current national debt to:
$15,236,271,879,792.78


Topic Three: "Do Nothing" = Good
Two interesting articles this weekend praised the "Do Nothing" Congress that Obama is campaigning against. First, Selwyn Duke asks the question, "...how can we expect to have small government if we condemn Congress for not growing it?" He goes on to give the answer: "...my understanding is that a "bill" that's signed by the president becomes a law. I also have this goofy notion that a law is by definition a removal of a freedom, as it states that there's something you must or must not do. Ergo, enslaved as I am by the old math, my figuring informs that the more laws we have, the less free we are. It then seems to follow - at least using my white male linear logic - that since we continually enact more laws but hardly ever rescind any, every year the progressives make us progressively less free."

Joel Pollak has a different take: the economy produced zero jobs in August, Obama presented the American Jobs Act, Congress did nothing, but the employment numbers improved. "Unlike “the buck stops here” Truman, Obama has done even less than the Congress he attacks--most notably in his neglect of the nation’s debt. He rejected the findings of his Simpson-Bowles commission, enabling the country’s debt rating downgrade last summer. He also refused to assist the Congress’s debt super-committee, whose failure to produce a deal on debt reduction led to defense sequestrations that Obama has already eagerly embraced. The fawning mainstream media has come to the absentee president’s aid by heaping scorn upon the “do-nothing” Congress, attacking the Tea Party in particular for allegedly hijacking the Republican party and Washington in general."


Tweets of the Day:
Greg Gutfeld (@GregGutfeld): Fact: no candidate has ever lost to an incumbent after ingesting a package of double stuff Oreos. #lookitup


Topic Four: Iran
The EU agreed to sanctions on Iran's oil exports today, while Iran repeated its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions were implemented. However, this comes only a day after an American aircraft carrier sailed through the strait without incident. However, Iran also tried to play down the incident this weekend, claiming that American ships travelling to the gulf were routine.

Two NY Times Op-Eds analyzed the Iran situation this weekend. First, David Sanger basically contends that there is no good outcome for the President. If he does not strike and Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, the President will be derided as weak. However, if he does strike, then he will upset the peace-loving base of his party and further damage the small amount of credibility he gained by ending the war in Iraq. To top it off, this is coming at the worst time for him: election year. In the second article, Bill Keller concludes that we will have no choice but to bomb Iran this summer.


Food for Thought - A Quote from our Founders
"It is a just observation that the people commonly intend the Public Good. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend they always reason right about the means of promoting it."
-Alexander Hamilton


Topic Five: SOPA and PIPA
Both houses of Congress have delayed their planned votes on piracy legislation in light of the recent protests by many websites and loss of support in Congress. Politico calls it a "Hollywood ending", but says that in this case, it is Hollywood that is learning that its power is reduced. A HuffPo Op-Ed by Patrick Ruffini discusses the future of internet freedom in the post-SOPA time. While I certainly hope that the protests were the death knell for these bills, I am not confident that we have seen the end.

SOPA author Lamar Smith (R-TX) authored a CNN article defending the Stop Online Piracy Act. My problem with SOPA is that it does not take actions against the actual guilty parties. For example, consider the recent action against Megaupload.com. First, it is highly doubtful that the owners of the site participated in illegal piracy. It is possible that they may have built a framework allowing for the sharing of pirated material, but it was also used for many other purposes. The people who uploaded and downloaded pirated materials from the site should be prosecuted, but the people who simply created a site that benefits many, but also makes piracy possible should not be prosecuted.


Tomorrow in History
January 22, 1964 - The US Constitution is officially amended for the 24th time. The amendment would eliminate the use of a poll tax in national elections.


Grab Bag - Interesting Stories to Conclude Your Evening
Government says Chevy Volt is safe

Human rights group says Iraq is becoming a police state

Lawmakers compromise on FAA authorization

Saving lives not part of police officer's job?


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It's Not My Money

This article originally appeared here on 6/24/11.

The Federal Government is setting itself up for a financial crisis. Deficits and debt are rapidly spiraling out of control, and the economy continues to show negative signs despite the numerous programs which were promised to help. Government spending is at an all-time high, even as tax revenues continue to shrink, and despite all the talk on reducing fraud and waste in the government, we continue to read stories showing exactly how our tax dollars are being misspent. At the heart of the issue is the sentiment expressed on a recent ad for the Postal Service, “It ain't my money. I seriously do not care.” (If you haven't seen the ad, you can view it here.)

It's great to save money when the money saved goes into your pocket. However, when the money is coming in from the pockets of every American, it seems as if the government feels that it is not necessary to be concerned about savings. Americans have enough problems staying away from the credit cards when they know the bill will eventually come, so imagine the problems that have resulted from giving thousands of government employees access to money that they know they will never be responsible for repaying. Furthermore, departments and programs that spend more money will have an easier time lobbying Congress for additional funding in the next budget. This sets up a system where increased and even wasteful spending is rewarded, not discouraged.

Trying to keep track of every dollar spent can also be a problem given the size of budgets today. The smallest budget for any executive department in 2009 was for the Department of Commerce ($15.77 billion). With over 43,000 employees, it is difficult to track down the spending of each employee. Increase this to the Department of Health and Human Services, with 67,000 employees, and an $879 billion dollar budget, and the problems only become magnified.

These problems are not just limited to the executive department. Congressional appropriations also waste money. We hear regular reports of ridiculous appropriations that are stuck into bills at the last minute. Usually, the more popular a bill is—meaning that its passage is almost assured—the more “pork” is attached. Monies spent on unnecessary building and transportation projects usually go this route. These monies are paid out above the federal budget that Congress approves every year.

How can we fix these problems? First, we can restore the Presidential power of impoundment. Impoundment is a power that is given to an executive branch officer to refuse to spend money that is allocated by the legislature. Currently, forty-three of the fifty governors have this power. Thomas Jefferson was the first President to make use of this power, and all Presidents up to Richard Nixon had this power. However, in 1974, Congress became frustrated by what they viewed as excessive use of this power and passed a law that basically ended its practice. Presidents can still attempt to impound funds, but that impoundment must be approved by Congress within 45 days. Since Congress is not even required to vote on the matter, most attempts have gone unrecognized by Congress.

Second, we can give the President the power to strike down individual appropriation measures contained within bills. Unlike impoundment, which would only require passage of a bill in Congress, this would require a Constitutional amendment to implement, since a line item veto law passed by Congress was declared unconstitutional in 1998. However, this would force Congress to vote on individual appropriations vetoed by the President in an override vote, rather than forcing the President to sign a bill full of waste or suffer the criticism for vetoing a popular bill.

Third, we must expect all leaders to be responsible for controlling spending. Instead of being able to spend at will and bill the government, each department manager must be responsible for keeping the department within its budget. The annual budget passed by Congress should not be regarded as a suggestion that can be changed with another appropriation from Congress; it must be treated as a firm cap on spending.

Unlike the CEO of a company, the President has very little control over the majority of the budget. The President may submit a budget each year, but the final budget that makes it out of Congress rarely looks anything like the original budget. Giving the President these powers will make the President more like a CEO and less like an observer in the budget process. This will still require the President to want to reduce spending, but given the current state of our economy and finances, a reduction in spending is quickly becoming necessary.

Washington Update: January 23, 2012

Senate
The Senate will convene to open the second session today. The Senate will then consider the nomination of John M. Gerrard for the US District Judge for Nebraska. A confirmation vote is expected to take place around 5:30 pm.

Senate Committees
There are no committee meetings scheduled for today.


House
The House is expected to convene at Noon today.

House Committee
There are two committee meeting scheduled for today:
  • A panel of the Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the challenges of companies doing business with the DOD.
  • The Rules Committee will hold a hearing on HR 3575, the "Legally Binding Budget Act of 2011", which would establish a revised system for establishing the budget.