Friday, July 31, 2009

Vote Fraudsters File Mickey Mouse Lawsuit

If this doesn't qualify as a frivolous lawsuit, what does?
The liberal activist organization ACORN filed a lawsuit Wednesday that aims to strike down a Pennsylvania law that authorities are currently using to prosecute several of the group's former employees on charges related to voter-registration fraud.
The suit, filed in federal court in Pennsylvania, seeks to have a state law known as solicitation of registration declared unconstitutional. The law makes it illegal to pay an employee for soliciting voter registrations based on the number of registrations the employee obtains.
Five former employees of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) were charged in May with various voter-registration-fraud crimes, including solicitation of donations. Those charges, which authorities say included ACORN employees submitting registration forms for "Mickey Mouse," are still pending.
The episode in Pennsylvania was one of several in battleground states that saw ACORN come under fire during last year's presidential election. At least 14 lawsuits have been filed against ACORN after the 2008 election, including a suit brought by former ACORN employees under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law more commonly associated with mobsters than community organizations
In a detailed report released on July 30, Republicans in the House of Representatives say it's about time for a federal investigation of ACORN. The report asserts that "ACORN hides behind a paper wall of nonprofit corporate protections to conceal a criminal conspiracy on the part of its directors, to launder federal money in order to pursue a partisan political agenda and to manipulate the American electorate." Click here for the full report.

Homeland Security Building On Bush Initiatives

While the administration continues to blame its horribly incompetent predecessor for the country's ongoing economic troubles, it oddly seems okay with Bush-era homeland security policies:
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano outlined Wednesday the Obama administration's domestic approach to preventing terrorist attacks -- a strategy that will rely in large measure on refining and expanding initiatives launched under President George W. Bush. Ms. Napolitano said the U.S. hasn't done everything it can to educate and engage the public in preventing terrorism. Ms. Napolitano spoke Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations...In an interview this week, Ms. Napolitano signaled that the Obama administration isn't contemplating a wholesale revision of the agencies or programs created under Mr. Bush to further antiterrorism efforts.
In her Council on Foreign Relations speech, Napolitano said that
So how do we secure our homeland and stay true to our values? We do it with four levels of collective response. It starts with the American people. From there, it extends to local law enforcement, and from there up to the federal government, and then finally out beyond our shores, where America's international allies can serve and do serve as partners in a collective fight against terrorism.
Click here for the full text of the speech.

And in a related development, the administration will continue yet another Bush policy--this time regarding the procedures for detaining illegal immigrants:
The Obama administration has refused to make legally enforceable rules for immigration detention, rejecting a federal court petition by former detainees and their advocates and embracing a Bush-era inspection system that relies in part on private contractors.
The decision, contained in a six-page letter received by the plaintiffs this week, disappointed and angered immigration advocacy organizations around the country. They pointed to a stream of newly available documents that underscore the government’s failure to enforce minimum standards it set in 2000, including those concerning detainees’ access to basic health care, telephones and lawyers, even as the number of people detained has soared to more than 400,000 a year.
Click here for the DHS letter that denies the petition for rulemaking.

Philadelphia Voter Intimidation Case Resurfaces

From the Washington Times: Capitol Hill lawmakers want Obama's functionaries in the Justice Dept. to explain why they dropped a case against the perpetrators of Philadelphia voter intimidation in the November election even after obtaining a default judgment against them:
Congressional Republicans on Thursday escalated their criticism of the Justice Department for dismissing a controversial voter-intimidation case, demanding that civil charges against the New Black Panther Party be restored. They also renewed their request to interview career attorneys who disagreed with the administration's decision to dismiss the charges.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, a senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, obtained an opinion Thursday from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) affirming that charges could legally be refiled without violating the double-jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution and said he thought Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was obligated to refile the case...
The Times on Thursday reported that Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, the department's No. 3 political appointee, approved the decision to drop the case against the NBPP and its members even after the government had won judgments against them for their actions in November at a Philadelphia polling location.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

International Terrorists Busted In North Carolina

The feds break up an alleged terror cell in the Raleigh area:
A North Carolina father who led an unobtrusive rural life as a drywall contractor had militant roots dating back to 1980s Afghanistan and Pakistan and secretly led a U.S. group plotting international terrorism, federal prosecutors said.
Daniel Patrick Boyd, 39, was arrested Monday with his two sons and four other North Carolina men. Prosecutors accused them of military-style training at home and plotting "violent jihad" through a series of terror attacks abroad.
Authorities believe Boyd's roots in terrorism run deep. They said when he was in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 1989 through 1992, he had military-style training in terrorist camps and fought the Soviets, who were ending their occupation of Afghanistan.
Separately, according to Politico, in a perverse set of incentives, theds deny new law enforement funding to NYPD because they are doing too good a job:
As Vice President Biden prepares to announce new funds for local police departments at an event in Philadelphia Tuesday, at least one city's leadership is outraged that their application for new federal aid has been rejected.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose police force has reportedly been denied due to insufficient crime and budgetary problems, released a blunt statement:
"The decision to deny New York City funding from the COPS grant program is disappointing, to put it mildly. To punish our police department because they have driven down crime with fewer resources shows the backwards incentive system that is sometimes at work in Washington. Denying that funding because New Yorkers have already dug into their pockets to maintain our City’s sound fiscal stewardship and pay for our exceptional policing doesn’t make sense. Lastly, the attacks on New York City were attacks on the nation and we should be receiving strong federal support for the NYPD to fight terrorism in the nation’s largest city."
Update: The Department of Homeland Security apparently caved; the NYPD will get $35 million in federal money to hire new offcers.

And according to Immigration Daily, the U.S. Senate is considering repealing the Real ID Act of 2005, which pursuant to 9/11 Commission recommendations was "aimed at ensuring that all states meet minimum driver’s license security standards in order to enhance national security and driver safety, combat drug running, and better safeguard against identity theft and fraud."

The law, for which compliance is voluntary, has been criticized--perhaps correctly in some instances--by both ends of the ideological spectrum on the basis of states' rights, cost factors, and privacy among other issues. However, in addition to its other reasonable applications in the name of homeland security, a secure driver's license helps offset ballot fraud in those states which logically require a photo ID at the voting place (just saying).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Justice Clarence Thomas: The Son Also Rises

Although lost in recent news events after the initial burst of worshipful publicity, Judge Sotomayor will likely soon be seated in the Supreme Court well before its new term begins in October. This is a good time to remember that that the judge is hardly the only nominee with what the beltway echo chamber repetitively calls a "compelling personal story" (as we've mentioned, hypocritical Senate Democrats refused to allow the appeals court nomination of super-lawyer Miguel Estrada, a Honduran immigrant, to receive an up or down confirmation vote.)

The journey from rural and inner-city Georgia to the nation's highest court was no less compelling for Justice Clarence Thomas, who was nominated in 1991 to the Supreme Court at age 43 after 15 months of service on the D.C. Circuit. This remarkable, only-in-America, journey is chronicled in his riveting memoir, My Grandfather's Son, which we just had a chance to read.

The book's title derives from the fact that Thomas was primarily raised by his no-nonsense grandfather (and grandmother), who instilled in him among other things a strong work ethic and a philosophy of self reliance.

And as everyone knows, there was one huge difference between Thomas' confirmation experience and the how the current Supreme Court vacancy is being handled.

In contrast to the civil treatment afford Sotomayor, Thomas underwent severe grilling during the bitter and contentious hearings. And that was after his nomination dragged on for months over the summer and fall while the liberal attack machine and what he aptly calls the news media's "funhouse mirror" relentlessly worked overtime to sabotage his appointment--including but not limited to the Kafkaesque, 11th-hour allegations raised by Anita Hill, an ambitious former employee who nonetheless insisted on following Thomas from the Education Dept. to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If you recall, the controversy forced the Senate Judiciary Committee to reopen the hearings, and Thomas returned to the committee to publicly refute these allegation, which he famously termed "a high tech lynching.

His forceful, primetime testimony turned public opinion in his favor, and the Senate narrowly confirmed his nomination on October 15, 1991, several weeks after the court term began. (An interesting factoid from the book: Thomas was dogged by financial problems most of his life, and was still paying off his Yale Law School tuition when he joined the high court.)

How did Thomas wind up getting appointed by a Republican president? Although Thomas aligned himself with campus radicals in college, his views gradually began to change. Finally, in the fall of 1980, inspired by the presidential candidacy of Ronald Regan, he decided to change his voter registration to Republican:
It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one. I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled, with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens, and I was particularly distressed by the Democratic Party's ceaseless promises to legislate the problems of blacks out of existence. Their misguided efforts had already done great harm to my people, and I felt sure that anything else they did would compound the damage. Reagan, by contrast, was promising to get government off our backs and out our lives, putting an end to the indiscriminate social engineering of the sixties and seventies. I thought that blacks would be better off if they were left alone instead of being used as guinea pigs for the foolish schemes of dream-killing politicians and their ideological acolytes. How could I not vote for a man who felt the same way?
During his difficult confirmation ordeal, Justice Thomas was sustained by family and close friends, his love of country, and his faith. Thomas describes his detractors in this way:
What [my friends] didn't understand was that my opponents didn’t care who I was. Even if they had wanted to know the truth abut me, it would have mad no sense to them, since I refused to stay in my place and play by their rules and was too complicated to fit in their simpleminded, stereotypical pigeonholes. In any case, I couldn't be defeated without first being caricatured and dehumanized. They couldn't deny that I had a loyal and loving family, so they found ways to use it against me; the couldn’t deny that I'd been born into rural poverty, so they cast doubt on everything I'd done since leaving home, twisting and belittling my escaped from the poverty and ignorance of my young years. Above all they couldn't allow my life to be seen as the story of an ordinary person who, like most people, had worked out his problems step by unsure step. That would have been too honest--and too human.
Interestingly, unlike the army of handlers and spin doctors that assist high-profile nominees today, Thomas was directly assisted by only a small group of dedicated helpers, led primarily by former federal judge Michael Luttig (who was not yet a judge at the time).

In one passage, Thomas talks frankly about his preparation for the confirmation hearings and his approach to judging:
Trying to review so many cases in the space of three months was like trying to cram for a final exam while being shoved around by an angry mob. It wasn't that I doubted my ability to master the material. I already understood the key cases and the legal concepts behind them perfectly well. But it's one thing to know a precedent and another one to think it through methodically, then apply it to specifically cases. Until he's gone through that deliberative process on a case-by-case basis, an open-minded judge can't predict how he will rule in any given situation. As for the matter of my judicial philosophy, I didn't have one--and didn't want one. A philosophy that is imposed from without instead of arising organically from day-to-day engagement with the law isn't worth having. Such a philosophy runs the risk of becoming an ideology, and I'd spent much of my adult life shying away from abstract theological theories that served only to obscure the reality of life as it's lived.
The abortion rights lobby among others aggressively opposed his nomination, assuming that he was pro life despite any public record either way. Despite the obsession from both the left and the right over abortion, it's perhaps fair to say that a lot of ordinary people are conflicted and have a great deal of ambivalence about the whole issue. And even some pro-choice individuals feel that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided because there was no basis for federal intervention into a state matter. Perhaps if the court had steered clear of the case, abortion may never have been politicized in the first place. That being said, in his first round of testimony, eyebrows were raised when Thomas claimed that he'd never discussed Roe. That answer didn't seem plausible even for those watching at home who might otherwise be supportive of his nomination (since the Bork hearings, noncommittal, evasive answers by judicial nominees have, however, generally become the norm). But Thomas elucidates:
The fact was that I'd never been especially interested in the subject of abortion, and hadn't even read the decision until in turned up in one of Mike's [Luttig] many binders. In law school I'd been a self-styled "lazy libertarian" who saw abortion as a purely personal matter. Like most Americans I had mixed emotions about it, and I wasn't comfortable telling others what to do in difficult circumstances. The closest thing I ever came to talking about abortion at Yale was the course work I did on substantive due-process cases and the right to privacy, but Roe was handed down after I studied constitutional law, so it wasn't part of the curriculum. Of course I knew and understood the personal pain of those who had to choose between having a child or an abortion, but at the time I took the easy way out by remaining agnostic on the matter.
On Hill's allegations that nearly derailed his nomination:
I felt sure that I had never said or done anything to her that was even remotely inappropriate, but I knew that in Washington, what matters is not what you do but what people can be made to think you've done. I also knew from working with Anita that she was touchy and apt to overreact. If I or anyone else had done the slightest thing to offend her, she would have complained loudly and instantly, not waited for a decade to make her displeasure known. Of course, we'd disagreed sharply about politics--I remembered how she's said at our first meeting that she "detested" Ronald Reagan--and I'd found her political views to be both stereotypically left of center and uninformed. But I never allowed political differences with my subordinates at EEOC to stop me from working cordially with them, and Anita was no exception. Outside of purely political matters, the only thing about which we'd argued during the time we worked together was my refusal to promote her, and even that hadn't stopped me from helping her get another job.
The firestorm started when Hill's confidential statement was leaked to National Public Radio and a Long Island newspaper. Thomas writes:
On Sunday morning courtesy of Newsday, I met for the first time an Anita Hill who bore little resemble to the woman who had worked for me at EEOC and the Education Department. Somewhere along the line she had been transformed into a conservative, devoutly religious Reagan-administration employee. In fact she was a left-winger who'd never expressed any religious sentiments whatsoever during the time I'd known her, and the only reason why she'd held a job in the Reagan administration was because I'd given it to her. But truth was no longer relevant: keeping me off the Supreme Court was all that mattered. These pieces of her sordid tale only needed to hold up long enough to help her establish credibility with the public. They fell away as the rest of the story gained traction in the media, just as the fuel tank and booster rockets drop away from a space shuttle once it reaches the upper atmosphere. I was struck by the glaring difference in the way the media treated Anita and me. Whereas it was taken for granted that whatever she said had to be true; it was no less automatically assumed that anything I might say in my defense would be untrue.
It is important to note that in the exceptionally well documented book The Real Anita Hill, David Brock found no substance to Hill's flimsy, thinly corroborated sexual harassment charges. Although Brock has since changed his ideological stripes, to the best of our knowledge the information presented in the book has never been refuted. The Brock tome is not mentioned in the Justice's memoir.

In his remarks announcing the nomination, President G.HW. Bush said that the-then Judge Thomas was "the best qualified nominee at this time." That statement engendered a lot of skepticism, and even Justice Thomas admits that had doubts about it. Five years into his service on the high court, Justice Thomas had the opportunity to ask former White House advisor Boyden Gray about the president's statement:
He explained that the president had been looking for someone who was not only competent at doing the job but who had also been tested in political battle and this could be counted on not to cave under the pressure of a confirmation battle, or to change his views after being appointed to the Court. I definitely qualified on that score: I had spent a decade in the eye of the storm at EEOC and the Department of Education, and had never compromised on matters of principle. "It also mattered that your FBI file was very clean at least as FBI files go," he added. "Everything added up to make you the best-qualified choice."
If only the White House had vetted the David Souter appointment in the same way...

In any event, the confirmation battle is only a small part of the heartfelt, candid 289-page memoir. Even if you have ideological or jurisprudential disagreements with Justice Thomas (or you feel his rendition of events might be overly self-serving), you will find his American journey fascinating, including the harsh form of tough love administered by his grandfather that led to the Justice's iron-clad determination and career success but sadly created a rift between the two men.

To a certain degree, is it fair to say that the success of Clarence Thomas in rising to the pinnacle of the legal profession is on some level reflective of the spirit of every self-reliant American?

Click here for an unusually fair 60 Minutes interview with Justice Thomas shortly after his book was published.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Health Care Reform: Trouble in Paradise

Congress may or may not vote on the job killing (if not people killing), privacy destroying government healthcare takeover bill until the Fall--at least in the Senate:
Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday abandoned plans for a vote on health care before Congress' August recess, dealing a blow to President Barack Obama's ambitious timetable to revamp the nation's $2.4 trillion system of medical care.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delivered the official pronouncement on what had been expected for weeks, saying, "It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through."
His words were a near-echo of Republicans who have criticized the rush to act on complex legislation that affects every American.
In the other chamber, although House of Representatives leadership claim they have the votes to go forward now, so-called moderate Democrats--who generally talk a good, fiscally responsible game, but then for example ultimately capitulated on the stimulus bill and cap-and-trade among others--apparently refuse to be railroaded this time:
House healthcare negotiations dissolved in acrimony on Friday, with Blue Dog Democrats saying they were “lied” to by their Democratic leaders.
In advance of a subsequent press conference called by House leadership, Blue Dog liaison Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) said the healthcare bill should be staying in committee.
"I expect the committee process to proceed," Cardoza said.
The seven Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee stormed out of a Friday meeting with their committee chairman, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), saying Waxman had been negotiating in bad faith over a number of provisions Blue Dogs demanded be changed in the stalled healthcare bill.
“I’ve been lied to,” Blue Dog Coalition Co-Chairman Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said on Friday. “We have not had legitimate negotiations....
Melancon said there would be 40-45 “solid no” votes from the 52-strong Blue Dogs, among other problems throughout the caucus. And Melancon said there are more Democrats who will vote against the bill.
Congress needs to get a clue: For one thing, there are any number of YouTube videos available online where ordinary, non-ideological Americans register their strong opposition to this bill during town meetings with lawmakers, administration officials, and other Obama apologists. So far, absolutely none of these officials have committed to giving up their current insurance coverage in favor of the public option. In the meantime, the House majority seems to be engaging in a most undemocratic form of censorship:
Democrats are preventing Republican House Members from sending their constituents a mailing that is critical of the majority’s health care reform plan, blocking the mailing by alleging that it is inaccurate.
House Republicans are crying foul and claiming that the Democrats are using their majority to prevent GOP Members from communicating with their constituents.
The dispute centers on a chart created by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Republican staff of the Joint Economic Committee to illustrate the organization of the Democratic health care plan..a closer look at the image reveals a complicated menagerie of government offices and programs that Republicans say will be created if the leading Democratic health care plan becomes law.
Economist and actor Ben Stein (most recently seen in those tedious and unfunny commercials with NBA star Shaquille O'Neal) is not a fan of socialized medicine either:
The American people have already awakened to the truth that the stimulus bill -- a great idea in theory -- was really an immense bribe to Democrat interest groups, and in no way an effort to help all Americans.
Now, Americans are waking up to the truth that ObamaCare basically means that every time you are sick or injured, you will have a clerk from the Department of Motor Vehicles telling your doctor what he can and cannot do.
The American people already know that Mr. Obama's plan to lower health costs while expanding coverage and bureaucracy is a myth, a promise of something that never was and never will be -- a bureaucracy lowering costs in a free society. Either the costs go up or the free society goes away.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DOJ Offficial: Bush Used Wartime Authority

Law professor John Woo, the former Justice Department official who helped write the harsh interrogation memos, thereby making the enemy-combatants lobby very upset, responds in the Wall Street Journal about the recent Inspector Generals report alleging possible FISA violations by the Bush administration:
Under [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], to obtain a judicial wiretapping warrant the government is supposed to show probable cause that a specified target is a foreign agent. Unlike, say, Soviet spies working under diplomatic cover, terrorists are hard to identify. Yet they are vastly more dangerous. Monitoring their likely communications channels is the best way to track and stop them. Building evidence to prove past crimes, as in the civilian criminal system, is entirely beside the point. The best way to find an al Qaeda operative is to look at all email, text and phone traffic between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. This might involve the filtering of innocent traffic, just as roadblocks and airport screenings do.
In FISA, President Bush and his advisers faced an obsolete law not written with live war with an international terrorist organization in mind. It was to meet such emergency circumstances that the Founders designed the presidency...
Clearly, the five inspectors general were responding to the media-stoked politics of recrimination, not consulting the long history of American presidents who have lived up to their duty in times of crisis....Now, according to the inspectors general, those of us in government following the 9/11 terrorist attacks should have assumed that the usual peacetime rules for domestic wiretaps applied and interpreted FISA in a most curious way -- to delete the president's traditional authority as commander in chief to collect signals intelligence in wartime.
Click here for the full text of the Unclassified Report on the President's Surveillance Program prepared by the Inspector Generals of DOD, DOJ, CIA, NSA, and DNI.

AmeriCorps Inspector General Files Wrongful Termination Action

The AmeriCorps federal watchdog sacked by the White House for investigating the Sacramento corruption scandal is going to court:
Gerald Walpin, the AmeriCorps inspector general who was summarily fired in June amid controversy over his investigation of a politically-connected supporter of President Obama, has filed suit alleging that the firing was "unlawful," "politically driven," "procedurally defective" and "a transparent and clumsily-conducted effort to circumvent the protections" given to inspectors general under the Inspectors General Reform Act of 2008.
Walpin's suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is against the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps. Also named are Nicola Goren, the acting CEO of the Corporation, Frank Trinity, its general counsel, and Raymond Limon, the Corporation's "chief human capital officer." The suit asks the court to declare Walpin's firing unlawful and restore him to his position as the Corporation's inspector general.
At the time of his firing, Walpin was involved in a dispute with the Corporation's board over his handling a case involving the misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars in AmeriCorps funds by Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star who is now mayor of Sacramento, California and a prominent supporter of President Obama.The board disapproved of Walpin's aggressive probe of Johnson, and the investigation also sparked conflict with the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento, because of fears that the probe -- which could have resulted in Johnson being barred from ever winning another federal grant -- might stand in the way of the city receiving its part of billions of dollars in federal stimulus money.
In other hope-and-change news, the "healthcare" deadline is not the only initiative that is experiencing slippage according to Newsweek:
An Obama administration task force set up to develop a plan for the closure of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay will miss its first deadline this week—and put off a key report—amid continued divisions over how to resolve one of the president's thorniest policy dilemmas.
The task force, set up on Obama's second day in office, was charged with preparing a report to the president by Tuesday, July 21, outlining a long-term detention plan for detainees captured in counterterrorism operations after Sept. 11. But continued debate within the task force over the legal basis for holding detainees who are not charged with any crimes—and where to house them once they are moved from Guantánamo—has forced the task force to postpone its report by a "few months," a senior administration official told NEWSWEEK.
An update to this story has it that Gitmo is still on schedule for a January 2019 closure "even as officials acknowledged that two key reports on the issue—which were due to be delivered this week—have been delayed for months." The New York Times has more.

A Grand Social Experiment...

In contrast to the high-and-mighty political rhetoric from "spin doctors" (pardon the pun), click here for a line-by-line analysis by the Economic Policy Journal of the House bill that would lead to a government takeover of the "healthcare" system. And Investor's Business Daily re-confirms its analysis of the reform plan moving through the House that essentially outlaws the private individual medical insurance market.
Not fully trusting our own interpretation, we asked for confirmation from the House Ways and Means Committee. Sources there agreed: The bill would indeed shut down the individual private health care insurance market.
Our impression was further confirmed Monday when Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking member on Ways and Means, told us that "any existing plan will not be able to enroll members." There will be "a prohibition," the Michigan Republican said, "on enrolling individuals in private health plans" after the bill becomes law in 2013.
It was also confirmed by Ways and Means staff director Cybele Bjorklund, who, in response to questions from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin during a committee markup session, admitted last week that insurance providers "cannot create new policies outside of that window outside of the exchange."
Alternative perspective: For a point of view that eloquently conveys support for the current legislation, visit the Painespeak blog.

The Sotomayor Tap Dance

With the ongoing economic turmoil and the looming possibility of socialized medicine, the Sotomayor hearings became an afterthought, a sideshow. Understandably so--in these difficult times, the focus is on job security and family finances. According to online media reports (we didn't bother watching the event on TV), the judge fared well in the boring proceedings--although she apparently back-pedaled furiously on some of her previously stated beliefs. But as a practical matter, and leaving politics aside, can we fault her--or any similarly situated person (to use lawyer-speak)--for that? In any job interview, everybody is on their best behavior. The name of the game is to get the gig--and when it comes to a high-profile federal appointment, that's what all nominees (and their handlers) generally try to do, regardless of their political party or ideology.

In addition to the prestige, being elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court is a cushy, lifetime sinecure--with great medical benefits! And once Judge Sotomayor is safely confirmed to the Supreme Court bench (which is a foregone conclusion), she can revert to her leftist judicial philosophy.

The judge did have to field some tough questions from some Judiciary Committee members, but unlike the horrible ordeal of Judge Bork, Justice Thomas, or Justice Alito among others, she received polite, respectful treatment, without the partisan character assassination that those jurists faced. And unlike Miguel Estrada (who probably was on the fast-track to the Supreme Court had he made it to the D.C. Circuit) and other highly qualified judicial selections whose nominations were sabotaged by bad-faith Democrat parliamentary trickery, she will of course get a vote before the full Senate after the nomination is rubber-stamped out of the committee. (The short-circuited Estrada nomination was also the result of the inexplicable failure of the Bush White House and the Justice Department under Alberto Gonzales to use their political megaphone.)

Even among her natural supporters, however, not everyone is enamored of Judge Sotomayor. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who usually follows the liberal playbook down the line, had this to say:
She is fully qualified. She is smart and learned and experienced and, in case you have not heard, a Hispanic, female nominee, of whom there have not been any since the dawn of our fair republic. But she has no cause, unless it is not to make a mistake, and has no passion, unless it is not to show any, and lacks intellectual brilliance, unless it is disguised under a veil of soporific competence until she takes her seat on the court. We shall see. In the meantime, Sotomayor will do, and will do very nicely, as a personification of what ails the American left. She is, as everyone has pointed out, in the mainstream of American liberalism, a stream both intellectually shallow and preoccupied with the past
And the reliably liberal Connecticut Law Tribune editorial board also has reservations about the nomination:
In short, although the addition of Judge Sotomayer would assure that the Supreme Court “looks more like America,” appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the surface, the court will be more homogenous than ever before. It will consist of professional federal judges, nearly all with Ivy League educations, mostly from the Northeast, and disproportionately Catholic. If diversity on the court is valuable because a wide range of backgrounds and experience strengthens collective decision making, then the court is becoming an increasingly impoverished decision maker...Whatever the explanation, we should pause before getting too carried away celebrating the increasing diversity of the Supreme Court. True diversity is, of course, not inconsistent with demographic diversity. But it requires more. And true diversity may be difficult to attain unless we somehow manage to extricate ourselves from a politically-charged confirmation process that demands nominees cut from the same safe mold.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mexico Celebrates Democracy

The "election" of Al Franken--a/k/a Stuart Smalley--in Minnesota is yet another example of contemporary vote stealing in the U.S., something that should never be tolerated in the world's foremost democracy. As reported by FrontPage Magazine, the U.S. has a lot to learn from our neighbor to the south to ensure clean elections:
Every registered Mexican voter has a Voter ID card, complete with photograph, fingerprint, and a holographic image. It’s not just the existence of the card that’s important, but how it is used. At the Mexican polling station, there is a book containing the photographs of every voter in the precinct. When a Mexican voter presents his card, the poll worker looks up his photo to see if it matches up. If it does, a mark is made next to the photo in the book, and the voter is allowed to cast his ballot.
When I was there on July 5th, a voter’s photo ID didn’t match up with her photo in the book, because she brought her previous voter ID and not her current card. She wasn’t allowed to vote, and had to go home to get her current ID.
After voting, ink is applied to the Mexican voter’s thumb. That way, if he shows up at another polling site to vote, they know he’s already voted elsewhere. (The ink wears off after a few days.)
In contrast, U.S. voter registration is a joke. In many states, it’s not even necessary to prove one’s citizenship or identity. Registrars have been instructed not to be inquisitive about applicants’ citizenship, or lack thereof.
It should come as no surprise then, that the last few years have seen more and more examples of voter fraud coming to light, including the casting of ballots by non-citizen voters.
Whenever Americans try to require photo ID, it typically gets opposed by Hispanic activists who say it’s discriminatory. That’s ironic, since photo ID is a requirement in Mexico, which is the world’s biggest Hispanic country. The solution for U.S. states is to adopt a Mexican-style photo voter ID system, at government expense.

Socialized Medicine Making People Sick

Privacy advocates and civil libertarians who have raised a ruckus over electronic surveillance or harsh interrogation tactics haven't made a peep over a government-run healthcare system. Doesn't heavy-handed bureaucratic control over the doctor-patient relationship--in other words, socialism as Michael Steele correctly described this gargantuan federal apparatus--also violate a fundamental element of freedom and/or privacy? And as a practical matter, how does a budget-exploding, paper shuffling monolith--which will cause even more job loss and overseas outsourcing--improve the health of ordinary Americans?

There are plenty of problems with the way the current healthcare system operates and reform is needed. To be sure, insurance companies, medical providers, drug corporations, and trial lawyers (as well as individuals who adopt a self-destructive lifestyle) have contributed to runaway healthcare costs, but the ideologically driven proponents of socialized medicine (which has failed everywhere it has been tried) have been less than candid over what the legislation actually requires. Unlike members of Congress, some people are actually taking the time to read the legislation. From the New York Post:
President Obama promises that "if you like your health plan, you can keep it," even after he reforms our health-care system. That's untrue. The bills now before Congress would force you to switch to a managed-care plan with limits on your access to specialists and tests.
Two main bills are being rushed through Congress with the goal of combining them into a finished product by August. Under either, a new government bureaucracy will select health plans that it considers in your best interest, and you will have to enroll in one of these "qualified plans." If you now get your plan through work, your employer has a five-year "grace period" to switch you into a qualified plan. If you buy your own insurance, you'll have less time.
And as soon as anything changes in your contract -- such as a change in copays or deductibles, which many insurers change every year -- you'll have to move into a qualified plan instead (House bill, p. 16-17).
When you file your taxes, if you can't prove to the IRS that you are in a qualified plan, you'll be fined thousands of dollars -- as much as the average cost of a health plan for your family size -- and then automatically enrolled in a randomly selected plan (House bill, p. 167-168).
It's one thing to require that people getting government assistance tolerate managed care, but the legislation limits you to a managed-care plan even if you and your employer are footing the bill (Senate bill, p. 57-58). The goal is to reduce everyone's consumption of health care and to ensure that people have the same health-care experience, regardless of ability to pay.
From Investor's Business Daily:
So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised — with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won't be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers.
And this from the American Spectator:
Democrats and President Obama have denied that the creation of a new government-run health care plan would be a Trojan Horse for single-payer health care, but a new report by the Lewin Group (comissioned by the Heritage Foundation) finds that the House Democrats' health care bill would shift more 83.4 million Americans from private health care coverage to the government plan. To put that in perspective, that would mean that nearly half (48.4 percent) would lose their private health coverage. In all, the government plan would have 103.4 million members once implemented, according to the Lewin analysis. President Obama has repeated the mantra that anybody who likes their health insurance plan can keep it, but in reality about 63 percent of covered Americans get their health care through their employers, and if employers decide to drop their current health plans in favor of the government plan, workers won't have any choice but to sign up.
The nation wants costs reigned in, but the anxiety average Americans are feeling and will feel over a government-run system will make people even more sick--even before the rationing and waiting lists start (and have you read any articles about the decrepit condition of VA hospitals--the precursor to nationalized healthcare?). As Michelle Malkin writes, the Obama plan is also apparently designed to cover illegal aliens, yet most Americans don't want undocumented persons to get drivers' licenses, let alone medical insurance:
Democrats want to ration health care for everyone in America -- except those who break our immigration laws.
Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee defeated an amendment that would've prevented illegal aliens from using the so-called "public health-insurance option." Every Democrat on the panel voted against it.
Nevada GOP Rep. Dean Heller's measure would've enforced income, eligibility and immigration-verification screening on all ObamaCare patients. The citizenship-vetting process would not have required building a new bureaucracy, but used existing state and federal databases to root out entitlement fraud.
If the congressional majority is truly committed to President Obama's quest to wring out cost savings, why won't it adopt the same anti-fraud checks imposed on other government health and welfare beneficiaries?
A healthy citizenry is an important part of homeland security, but a rationing based, government-controlled program is simply inconsistent with our freedom and opportunity based society, especially since it could drive the U.S. to near bankruptcy with its $1 trillion or more price tag according to the Congressional Budget Office. Layer upon layer of job-killing taxes and regulations presided over by overweight, overpaid public sector bureaucrats (perhaps some of whom smoke cigarettes like Obama) aren't going to promote wellness. How could it? Free-market structural reforms (of which there are many sound proposals) must be the primary component of the cost-savings solution. This from RealClearPolitics:
...A handful of people who probably never even ran a small business actually think they can reinvent the health care system....How do these arrogant, presumptuous politicians believe they can know enough to plan for the rest of us? Who do they think they are? Under cover of helping uninsured people get medical care, they live out their megalomaniacal social-engineering fantasies -- putting our physical and economic health at risk in the process.
And as we wrote in a prior post, if the nation wants to treat the causes rather than the symptoms of illness, conventional medicine and insurers must move towards less costly and more holistic, alternative approaches rather than total reliance on pharmaceutical drugs and surgical interventions. (Yet it is often government bureaucrats who have conducted an ongoing push-back against legitimate alternative healers and healing modalities.) As Mike Adams, the self-designated "health ranger," writes:
Even now, the FDA (under the Obama administration) continues its outright war against the natural products industry, censoring truthful information about the health benefits of dietary supplements in a tyrannical effort to eliminate Big Pharma's competition. This has the effect of eliminating choice for consumers, ultimately driving up monopoly health care costs under the system of western medicine that (laughingly) claims to provide health care today.
In a separate editorial, Adams echoes our concern that health is a national security issue as well as one that goes to the essence of personal privacy:
There's nothing in the Obama plan that protects health freedom, or provides consumers with more choice, or teaches people a single strategy for preventing disease through nutrition, sunlight, exercise and informed self-care...No nation can economically survive if its people are not healthy.
And if a nationalized program is so wonderful, why is Congress exempting itself and its labor union cronies from enrolling in the so-called public option?

Update: National Review Online Columnist Deroy Murdock has the right idea:
Rather than endorse such big-government overkill, pro-freedom members of Congress should promote a simple concept: Let every American own and control an individual health-insurance policy that can be transported among jobs, self-employment, graduate school, and life’s other twists and turns...
What Americans need is a thriving market in individually owned and controlled health-insurance plans. When you book an airline flight, does not ask, “What is your group number?” You decide when and where to fly, and then buy your ticket. At least with personal travel, your boss does not fund this. The same is true for car insurance, home insurance, and often life insurance. Why must Americans shop for health insurance at work, rather than online or through independent agents?
By the way, the Obama/Congressional plan will make it illegal to go to a private doctor for care and pay out of your own pocket and will even rule out using your own money to buy a supplemental insurance policy (which is what many seniors currently do to augment their Medicare coverage). Is that freedom--or fascism?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Harry Alford, American Hero

Back on June 16, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) gave Brig. General Michael Walsh grief for of all things addressing her as "ma'am" instead of senator during a Capitol Hill hearing (even though male senators are routinely addressed as sir). Well, Harry Alford, the head of the National Black Chamber of Commerce which opposes the cap-and-trade bill, calls the senator out on her patronizing behavior towards committee witnesses.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Homeland Security--287g and E-Verify

Under the U.S. Constitution, one of the government's principal responsibilities is to insure domestic tranquility. Does this DHS policy change help accomplish that important constitutional objective?
The Department of Homeland Security said Friday [July 10] it was revising a program that authorized local police to enforce federal immigration law -- a controversial aspect of U.S. border policy.
Opponents said the program, known as 287g, was intended to identify criminal aliens but instead has led to racial profiling; it allowed local police to identify and arrest illegal immigrants for such minor infractions as a broken tail light. Program supporters said it has been an effective tool for combating illegal immigration.
The new guidelines sharply reduce the ability of local law enforcement to arrest and screen suspected illegal immigrants. They are intended to prevent sheriff and police departments from arresting people "for minor offenses as a guise to initiate removal proceedings," according to Homeland Security. The program will instead focus on more serious criminals.
Sorry to be repetitive, but this policy change will make America safer and more secure how?

Now for some good news about the rule of law in the workplace in connection with the previously scuttled E-Verify program:
The Senate on Wednesday [July 8] agreed to permanently adopt a program for verifying the immigration status of those seeking work in the United States, previewing what could be a fight over revamping the troubled immigration system this year.
The Senate agreed to make permanent the voluntary "E-Verify" program as part of a $42.9 billion bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal 2010.
The Obama administration had sought only a two-year extension of the program, which uses Social Security numbers and immigration records to verify immigration status.
The House could still perform some legislative mischief when the bill goes to the conference committee, so stay tuned.

Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings: Must Avoid TV?

Since it's a done deal, there seems to be little reason to watch the Sotomayor confirmation hearings either live or on replay. Unless there are some interesting fireworks, it will just be more political theater--and boring at that. Better off watching Animal Planet or NatGeo. One thing is for sure: she will be treated with far more civility by the opposition in stark contrast to the horrible ordeal that Judge Bork, and Justices Thomas, Roberts, and Alito were forced to undergo. And unlike Miguel Estrada, whose federal court nomination was unfairly filibustered by the Democrats into oblivion despite his compelling personal story and superb credentials, she will get an up-or-down vote. [Then-senator Obama voted against both Roberts and Alito, and supported the Estrada filibuster.]

We've already proposed a a few questions to ask the judge. However, Stuart Taylor of the National Journal again does some excellent work in connection with the judge's questionable role in the Ricci appeals court decision:
For all the publicity about the Supreme Court's 5-4 reversal of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's decision (with two colleagues) to reject a discrimination suit by a group of firefighters against New Haven, Conn., one curious aspect of the case has been largely overlooked.
That is the likelihood that but for a chance discovery by a fourth member of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, the now-triumphant 18 firefighters (17 white and one Hispanic) might well have seen their case, Ricci v. DeStefano, disappear into obscurity, with no triumph, no national publicity and no Supreme Court review.
The reason is that by electing on Feb. 15, 2008, to dispose of the case by a cursory, unsigned summary order, Judges Sotomayor, Rosemary Pooler and Robert Sack avoided circulating the decision in a way likely to bring it to the attention of other 2nd Circuit judges, including the six who later voted to rehear the case....
But the case came to the attention of one judge, Jose Cabranes, anyway, through a report in the New Haven Register. It quoted a complaint by Karen Lee Torre, the firefighters' lawyer, that she had expected "'a reasoned legal opinion,' instead of an unpublished summary order, 'on what I saw as the most significant race case to come before the Circuit Court in 20 years.'"
According to 2nd Circuit sources, Cabranes, who lives in New Haven, saw the article and looked up the briefs and the earlier ruling against the firefighters by federal district judge Janet Arterton. He decided that this was a very important case indeed, and made a rare request for the full 2nd Circuit to hold an en banc rehearing.
Cabranes, like Sotomayor a Clinton appointee of Puerto Rican heritage -- and once a mentor to her -- was outvoted by 7-6, with the more liberal judges (including Sotomayor) in the majority. But by publishing a blistering June 12, 2008, dissent Cabranes brought the case forcefully to the attention of the Supreme Court.

Politicized Intelligence Gathering

NationalReview online's Andrew McCarthy calls the blogosphere's attention to the following:
"Had [President Bush's Warrantless Surveillance Program]" been in place before the [9/11] attacks, hijackers Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi almost certainly would have been identified and located."
Another Friday night, another dump by the Obama administration of a report underscoring the vital importance of President Bush's post-9/11 national security tactics.
The above quote about Midhar and Hazmi and is from Gen. Michael Hayden, the former CIA director who was director of the NSA when that agency ran Bush's "Terrorist Surveillance Program." It is a bombshell mentioned in passing on page 31 of the 38-page report filed by five executive-branch inspectors general (from DOJ, DOD, CIA, NSA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) pursuant to Congress's 2008 overhaul of FISA (the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act).
The full report can be found here. In the meantime, AG Holder floats a trial balloon:
Contrary to White House wishes, Attorney General Eric Holder may push forward with a criminal investigation into the Bush administration's harsh interrogation practices used on suspected terrorists.
Holder is considering whether to appoint a prosecutor and will make a final decision within the next few weeks, a Justice Department official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on a pending matter.
A move to appoint a criminal prosecutor is certain to stir partisan bickering that could create a distraction to President Barack Obama's efforts to push ambitious health care and energy reform.
As we have asked on this blog repeatedly, what is the end game here? This witch hunt/show trial--a stimulus package for lawyers and bureaucrats--will make America safer and stronger how? To some extent, this potential inquiry, and trotting out tired allegations against Cheney, seems like a feeble way to distract the American people away from the Obama administration's failed economic policies. This is a swerve: In general, no one other than the out-of-touch beltway pundits and law school professors cares about any of this.

Memo to Holder and other Obama functionaries: The average American living in the real world cares about whether he or she is going to get pink slipped at work, or how much it costs to fill up their gas tank, or sadly, what's the latest with Paris, Britney, or Lindsay. Actually, spending billions of taxpayer money on a so-called stimulus--that seems to call for an criminal investigation.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Card Check Threatens Employee Privacy

Although it's been placed the backburner, organized labor and their allies in Congress and the White House have been pushing the improbably named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). This measure contains a provision known as "card check" which would do away with the secret ballot in union elections.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce...
Under the existing law today, workers have a chance to vote for or against unionization in a private-ballot election that is federally supervised. Under Card Check, if more than 50% of workers at a facility sign a card, the government would have to certify the union, and a private ballot election would be prohibited--even if workers want one. By forcing workers to sign a card in public--instead of vote in private--Card Check opens the door to intimidation and coercion.
This YouTube video summarizes the economic impact of card check:

Isn't the secret ballot one of the cornerstones of democracy? What reasonable person would support a bill that would subject a worker to possible threats from either management or labor (in the contemporary workplace, we know intuitively where most of the intimidation would come from--but either source is unacceptable in a free society)? If, for example, union advocates are so convinced that forming a union is such a great idea, why would they oppose a vote after each side gets a chance to present their case? Card check is a throwback to an era, a world of work, that no longer exists.

Sixty years ago labor laws rightfully helped level the playing field for employees. And yes, as we've pointed out numerous times in this blog, employers continue to make unfair, arbitrary, and irrational decisions in the workplace to the detriment of hard-working employees.

But making it easier to install a corrupt union--which will generally protect featherbedding employees rather than workers with legitimate grievances--won't help. Card check is really more about a money grab--allowing union bosses to confiscate more dues to spend on politics rather than collective bargaining.

Today, politicized and overreaching unions have forced business to go under and have nearly bankrupted states and municipalities (in the case of overpaid, overbenefitted public sector employees). Management has to share a lot the blame by bad decisionmaking including giving away the store to the unions in many instances, and failing to be more aggressive with regard to concessions or give-backs. That aside, with the economy on the brink and many businesses barely holding on, rigid and wasteful union work rules are the last thing a company needs to stay viable and continue to keep workers on the payroll. To survive in this financial climate, business must operate more efficiently than ever. The obsolete union-contract straitjacket "doesn't fit" anymore.

Ironically, union bosses often aren't very keen on collective bargaining when it affects their meal ticket directly. For example:
One of the leading proponents of a bill that would allow workers to form a union by signing authorization cards is being accused by a California health care union of blocking such a card-check election for its members.
In January, the National Union of Healthcare Workers was established by former leaders of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West. They had been removed from SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West executive board and steward positions after accusing the SEIU of centralizing power at its Washington headquarters and making “corrupt deals” with employers.
Since then, about 100,000 health care workers throughout California have petitioned to leave the SEIU and join the new union. The effort has been stymied, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, by SEIU tactics that resemble those of businesses that want to prevent unions from forming.
The SEIU has tied up the process by filing charges in court and at the National Labor Relations Board, according to the union. It also has been accused of intimidating workers who want to change union affiliation....
One person involved in the California health care union’s defection from SEIU found it ironic that [SEIU president Andy] Stern would not let the decertification process occur through card check.
“He seems to be an advocate of EFCA except for SEIU members,” said John Borsos, vice president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
And if EFCA goes through in some form, what's next--ACORN instead of the NLRB supervising union elections?

Click here for a Federalist Society online debate about EFCA.

Update: George Will weighs in on the Obama-Big Labor connection:
HOW does the Obama administration love organized labor? Let us count the ways it uses power to repay unions for helping to put it in power. It has given the UAW majority ownership of Chrysler. It has sent $135 billion of "stimulus" money to states to protect unionized public-sector employees from layoffs and other sacrifices that private-sector workers are making. It has sedated the Office of Labor-Management Standards, which protects workers against misbehavior by union leaders.
Now it is the Teamsters' turn at the trough. Congress might change labor law to assist UPS, a Teamsters stronghold, by hindering its principal competitor, FedEx.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Freedom Fighter" Contemplates Life Without Lawyers

After finding himself embroiled for years in bitter patent infringement lawsuits over frequency modulation (FM) royalties with battalions of corporate litigators, inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong famously said that the legal system is "a world where men substitute words for realities and then talk about the words."

[In a 2007 article about then-Congressman Bobby Jindal, National Review Online pointed out that gambling is a crime under the Louisiana constitution, but in 1991, state legislators wrote a law that specifically defined "riverboat gaming" as not gambling.]

Armstrong would have probably appreciated Philip K. Howard's new book Life Without Lawyers (W.W. Norton, 2009). Howard, a prominent lawyer himself, is the founder of Common Good, a nonprofit, nonpartisan legal reform coalition.

Howard's expertly written and documented book argues for a world just the opposite of what Armstrong encountered in his protracted legal struggles: one that would restore freedom, spontaneity, sound decisionmaking, common sense, and economic vitality to individuals and organizations. Howard advocates persuasively for a new, modern legal structure that leaves room for local initiative and authority.

In a book peppered with real-world examples and perceptive quotes from philosophers, the author argues that daily freedom in contemporary America has been undermined by the legal system obsessed with individual rights that ironically infringe on the rights of other individual citizens who operate in good faith. He sums up the thesis of his book as follows: "Freedom can be destroyed by tyrants, by lawlessness--and by too much law." He adds that "to restore our freedom, we have to purge law from most daily activities."

Among other significant issues, Howard describes how law has transformed your local public school into a "regulatory agency" with excessive red tape that prevents removing menacing, violent students or incompetent teachers from the classroom, how negligence lawsuits restrict normal and healthy activities, and employment disputes undermine personal accountability and unleash a wave of unintended negative consequences.

As we pointed out in a previous post, managers often make unfair, arbitrary decisions in the workplace detrimental to hardworking, conscientious employees. By the same token, however, Howard perceptively observes that “law can guard against overt patterns of discrimination, but intervening in specific employment decisions creates a hopeless morass."
Law is supposed to be a structure that promotes our freedom. It does this by setting boundaries that define an open field of freedom. Instead law has moved in on daily life, becoming the arbiter of potentially every disagreement in a free society. We've asked law to do too much--trying to enforce fairness in daily relations is not freedom, but a form of utopia that predictably degenerates into squealing demands for me, me, me.
As we mentioned in a prior post, a court opinion doesn't just decide one case; judicial precedent can have a ripple-effect with broad social ramifications for everyone. With this mind, Howard says that lawmakers should pass the following statute:
Judges shall take the responsibility to draw the boundaries of reasonable dispute as a matter of law, applying common law principles and statutory guidelines. In making these rulings, judges shall consider the potential effects of claims on society at large.
Howard calls Washington a land of "political make believe" obsessed with oneupsmanship and posturing that has "sunk into an ocean of law, rules, and processes." He adds that "American needs to rewrite its legal and regulatory codes. Bulldozing is not too strong a term. Most of the laws and rules long ago lost their connection real problems and real people."

Part of the systemic problem, Howard explains, is that we have evolved into a hyper risk-averse society:
In the age of individual rights, however, American leaders have been told not to focus on the odds. Instead they focus on the effect of one person. No one wants bad things to happen to other people, but in America today we try to make public policy by looking at the effect of one situation on one person. Uncle Sam has become a kind of mad scientist, peering all day through the microscope to identify risks to individuals instead of looking at the effect on everyone. Any risk is cause for a campaign to eradicate it. With enough money and effort, we assume, we can create a world without danger or disappointment….Risk, unfortunately, is inherent in all life choices. Every choice involves a risk. Every movement involves a risk. Doing nothing involves risk. Crossing the street, exercising, taking a job, getting married, all involve risks Risk is just the flip side of opportunity--do away with risks and we lose all chance for accomplishment.
To remedy these problems, Howard advocates targeted courts for areas of special expertise (such as "heath courts" to deal with medical malpractice), more authority vested in local leaders (such as teachers and school principals, and business managers), greater accountability for impossible-to-fire government service employees, and more decentralized civic involvement and accountability brought about by voluntary mediation bodies.

In stressing that accountability should be based on accomplishment rather than legal/bureaucratic conformity, Howard has the right idea in his crusade for responsible personal freedom. Howard expertly diagnoses the flaws in the legal system, but his solutions may be overly optimistic, if not pie in the sky. (We previously expressed similar sentiments in connection with Thane Rosenbaum's otherwise compelling book.) We're also not buying his glowing references to Al Gore's superficial-at-best reinventing government initiative. And as a practical matter, with the Obama administration completely in the tank for the trial lawyers and labor unions, real reform appears unlikely if not impossible, at least in the near term. (Highly politicized judicial appointments have not been in the best interests of our society--how would the health courts, for example, avoid the ideological divisions that permeate the federal and state courts?)

Philip Howard's take on healthcare reform--in which he proposes a complete overhaul of the healthcare system's reimbursement, regulatory, and liability structures--can be found here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday America!

From the Library of Congress archives: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson meet at Jefferson's lodgings in Philadelphia to review a draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stuart Smalley, The Senator From ACORN

Yesterday's ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court on the U.S. Senate election contest was not unexpected. While former senator Norm Coleman could have pursued a further appeal in federal court on equal protection grounds, he instead did the statesmanlike thing and conceded the election. Of course, this move may have coincided with preserving Coleman's future political viability. But let's face it; Coleman, who seems to be fine man who may have run a lackluster campaign, was done-in by phantom ballots that appeared after his apparent election night victory. If you separate out the fraudulent votes, Coleman likely would have been reelected. Even with all the ballot stuffing, Stuart Smalley only managed to eke out a 312-vote win.

The guys at PowerLine blog, who followed this court struggle closely, suggest that Coleman's case was sabotaged by bad lawyering on the part of his legal team. But they also add the following:
We are left with the realization that every Republican in a statewide race here in Minnesota starts a few thousand votes in the hole, due to the disparate standards for judging absentee ballots used in Republican-leaning versus Democratic-leaning counties. Of course, that understates the case: the Republican starts out farther behind than that, due to illegal votes that cannot be prevented because of the Democratic Party's blocking of a photo ID requirement. We have no real idea of the magnitude of this disadvantage...The moral of the story, I guess, is that Republican counties should loosen their absentee ballot standards; that is to say, quit following the law.
Isn't it kind of demoralizing in contemporary American that the counties in compliance with the rule of law should no longer do so, otherwise they are put at a fundamental disadvantage?

As an aside, since there were three candidates in this particular election, why not implement an "instant runoff" process like they have in the UK and elsewhere, where you vote for your first choice and your second choice? Under that system, if no candidate makes it to 51% when the first-place votes are counted, the second preference comes into play.

But the larger issue is why in the greatest democracy in the world do we condone such lax if not fraudulent voter registration procedures perpetrated by ACORN and other groups along with their enablers in government? The Bush administration had the bully pulpit for eight years; why not use that to advocate a national law mandating photo ID to vote among other sensible legislative measures to protect ballot integrity? As we mentioned in a previous post, there is no reasonable basis for opposing such a law. Was the administration scared off by the Bush v. Gore controversy? Instead, wasn't that actually a golden opportunity to tighten procedures so that every legal vote is counted? Until the day comes, if ever, that the government creates a hi-tech national voter database that checks your fingerprint or iris when you go to vote on election day, or the equivalent, simply showing your driver's license (which is already required in some states) could be an effective way to protect against voter disenfranchisement.

Again, we'll never understand why the previous administration didn't use its huge megaphone in that instance and others--such as pushing back against misleading media reports on domestic or international issues or fighting to get judicial nominees confirmed over Senate filibusters. In the meantime, close elections will sadly continue to be decided by illegal votes, and judges understandably will be reluctant to overturn the results, even if the results are fishy. In the event of a legal challenge, the court system will likely issue rulings confirming the outcome derived from ideology or make-believe validation of the rigged fact-finding conducted by a lower court or politicized state elections officials.

From the Wall Street Journal:
What Mr. Franken understood was that courts would later be loathe to overrule decisions made by the canvassing board, however arbitrary those decisions were. He was right. The three-judge panel overseeing the Coleman legal challenge, and the Supreme Court that reviewed the panel's findings, in essence found that Mr. Coleman hadn't demonstrated a willful or malicious attempt on behalf of officials to deny him the election. And so they refused to reopen what had become a forbidding tangle of irregularities. Mr. Coleman didn't lose the election. He lost the fight to stop the state canvassing board from changing the vote-counting rules after the fact.
As Joseph Stalin said, "The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."