"He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left."
Matthew 25:33

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cyber Security

The Obama administration has set the wheels of government in motion to protect us from "cyber attack".  This article is the latest that I have seen describing the effort and its ambitious goals.

Most computer security experts are opposed to any sort of federal control of our internet.  Despite the fact that it was originally a creature of the Defense Department, it is now a bastion of free enterprise, self reliance, and libertarian politics.

It is hard to explain the issues here to those who are not immersed in the technology, but it is easy to draw some parallels.    The Pentagon needs good locks on its doors, but federal control of cyber security nationwide would be a bad idea in the same way that federal control of locksmiths and lock manufacturing would be a bad idea.  Over the longer term, it leaves us more vulnerable both to our adversaries, and to our own government.

So it is with cybersecurity.

Our federal government, Pentagon computers and "power grid" systems most certainly need to clean up their acts if they are exposed to "cyber attack", but it is ludicrous to use this weakness to justify more federal authority over the rapidly changing, privately owned world of computer networks.

Blind Justice or Activism

Current controversy over the nomination of Judge Sotomayor for the US Supreme Court has focused on incendiary issues like racism and the KKK.  This is good theatre, but misses the main point.

There is only one important issue to be resolved in the upcoming confirmation hearings.

Will Judge Sotomayor honor the law as it is written or rely on some other standard?

If some other standard is to be used, what is it?  How will it be applied?  How will it be balanced against the law as written?  When will her "experience" or "empathy" demand a different outcome than that explicitly required by the law?

In the United States, we put a high value on the Rule of Law.  We put tremendous effort into the wording of laws.  We do lawmaking publicly and deliberately, because we presume that law is to be followed.  We write down our laws so that every citizen can be very clear about what they are.

To have a judge on the Supreme Court say that it is best to tilt her decisions in favor of her "experience" is to subordinate the written law to her preferred outcomes.  All who love justice should recoil at this because it relegates legislators to advisors in the application of law.

Judge Sotomayor should be vigorously opposed in the strongest terms if she insists on hedging her judicial oath by injecting her preferences into her decisions.

Both those on the left and the right have the same interest in this principle.  For every "liberal" judge interpreting the law with "empathy" is a "conservative" judge favoring expediency over process.  The solution is not to turn the courts into legislatures, with proper representation, but to insist that the courts honor the laws as written, leaving the legislatures - and the people - to make the policy decisions.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Free Markets, or Central Planning

History has a way of repeating.  The cartoon here is from the 1930s and seems eerily applicable to today.

The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday that tracks the progress of the Obama administration to create a "single regulator" for the "banking system.  (also this article)  This is consistent with the view that Wall Street "greed" and poor oversight allowed an unseemly orgy of "predatory" practices, which caused a bubble, which collapsed. (examples here and here and here)  Proper regulation is intended to "fix" the problem.

In fact, the Federal government and its proxies caused both the bubble and the collapse.  Regulation is another word for central planning, and that very regulation is what caused the meltdown.  Moreover, the continuing and expanding government interference in markets is making things worse.  (Examples here and here)

Do we want to give the government that caused the economic meltdown yet more power to create an even bigger meltdown?

The Obama administration clearly believes that Central Planning is required, and is using the "economic crisis" as an example of "market failure".  His old plan and his new plan are both full of ideas for how government action can "rescue" the economy.

How can we ignore the hard lessons learned from recent experience in every planned economy from Zaire to the Soviet Union to Cuba?  Planned economies do not work.  The economist Von Hayek wrote extensively on why.

More power for regulators will always be costly, and seldom is beneficial.  The power tends to corrupt the government and chips away at our freedom.  Regulations promise "safety" that they cannot deliver.

The founders said it best - those who trade their liberty for a little security will lose both and deserve neither.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wrong issue

This article describes a divorce fight working its way through the courts.  The article is framed in terms of the interests of mothers, fathers, and equal protection.

Those who want fairness in family law currently need to fight for their ideas in the legislatures of each of 50 states.  There may well be unfairness in the current state laws, but the "easy path" to fixing this via the US Supreme Court leaves us with federalized family law.

Whatever the merits of changes to family law, this extension of Federal power would be a huge price to pay.

Our founders limited Federal power for a reason, and one was to maintain 50 "laboratories" for the sorts of laws that are almost impossible to get "right".  Let's not scuttle the constitution in order to correct an injustice.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Democrats decide not to be involved in cuts

Oppinion piece by Gary Andersen and Lee Smith of the Fairmont Sentinel

What an incredible ending to the 2009 Minnesota legislative session! Democrats who control the House and Senate were so intent on increasing taxes and spending more money that they completely missed the ramifications of their desires. Unable to prioritize spending, they now face the reality of line-item vetoes and "unallotment" by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. That means Democrats shut themselves out of the process.

As for Pawlenty, he stuck to his word, refusing to raise taxes. We appreciate this. Minnesota - like the nation - is in an economic slump. It is not possible to tax your way out of such a slump. In fact, just the opposite is true. Higher taxes amid a recession are dangerous. And, in a long-term view, higher taxes do not suggest that Minnesota is a place friendly to business. That is already an unfortunate reputation acquired by the state, and exploited by its neighbors.

Pawlenty has begun looking at the state budget and working with his cabinet to trim it. We know he will put a priority on preserving funding for schools, public safety and veterans; things he wanted to protect before the session even began. We hope he also understands the necessity of a sound judicial system and will not shortchange our state courts. We believe, in the end, he and his advisers will make sound choices.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rule of Law

The Rule of Law means in part that there are rules, and everyone knows what they are, and can follow them.  It is bedrock for our nation, culture and law. Recent "bailout" activity is doing great violence to the Rule of Law.

This excellent article describes the damage.

Congratulations, Governor Pawlenty!

Congratulations to Governor Pawlenty, and Rep. Marty Siefert.  The veto pen has slain the dragon of limitless government growth, with the help of united GOP opposition in the Minnesota House.

The Governor has the authority through the line item veto and un-allotment to do what the legislature has failed to do.  Being the adult in the room takes a stiff spine, and Gov. Pawlenty will take some abuse over his decisions, no matter what he decides to cut.

I commend him for his courage.

Let's take this opportunity to praise and support our elected officials - Governor Pawlenty, Marty Siefert, and all the other legislators who stood together to impose some discipline on state government.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Comprehensive Health Care

I just got a letter from President Obama.  He has reached agreement with the House leadership to pass a "comprehensive health care reform bill by July 31".

Mr. Obama is planning to ram this huge legislation through Congress in record time, deliberation be damned.  After all, he won, right? Republicans are little more than speed bumps on the raceway.

We need not look beyond our borders to see what this "comprehensive" health care reform will look like.  Take a careful look at the system run by the VA, or the various programs already funded and/or run by the federal government.  (Medicare, Medicaid, federal drug coverage)

If accomplished, this "reform", will destroy what is left of a health care market in this country.  At best, the proposed "reform" is a cruel joke that will replace a damaged, but functioning marketplace with a government bureaucracy.  Promises to the contrary are empty.  We have seen this film before, and know how it ends.
The planned "reforms" will encroach on every aspect of health care, from the decisions that your doctor makes in your care, to what hospitals are built.  A federal official will inevitably have to decide who will live and who will die.  All medical decisions will become political policy decisions.  Patients will no longer be customers, but case numbers, forever waiting in lines.

Legislative supporters seem to take absolutely no notice of the total lack of constitutional authority for this legislation, despite the fact that every federal elected official takes an oath to "preserve, protect and defend" the U.S. Constitution.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to oppose this legislation.  It is a massive, unprecedented power grab at the federal level.  It will do tremendous damage to our constitution, our law, our culture, and our health.

Brain Dead Puppet

This letter was printed in today's Saint Paul Pioneer Press. It points out the big problem with Betty McCollum. That she is incapable of any semblance of true leadership. That when she is contacted, all you get from her is a form letter. She recently sent me a letter about how wonderful the stimulus package is claiming there were no earmarks in it. When I read this I asked myself, "Where the hell has she been?" This leads me to believe that she never read the bill. I used to call her Evil Betty. I know now that it is not true. Now I consider her Pelosi's brain dead puppet.

Federal Reserve accountability

One of the promises of our new president is transparency. American taxpayers and future taxpayers are on the hook for trillions of dollars for TARP, automotive and insurance company bailouts, “stimulus” spend­ing projects, a deficit-run war on ter­ror, and whatever else gets dreamed up by the 111th Congress.
Besides these items, the Federal Reserve has printed up trillions of dollars out of thin air to cover the budget shortfalls. The American tax­payer has no control over the value of his or her money. That control belongs to the Federal Reserve.
The Fed is a creature of Congress, yet Congress has no control over this private organization that inflates and deflates the value of our money, cre­ates economic booms and busts through monetary policy, and is more secret than the CIA.
Despite repeated attempts to urge my congresswoman to co-sponsor HR 1207, which would allow Con­gress to audit the Federal Reserve, all I have received are form letters thanking me for contacting her office.
Why have six out of eight Minneso­ta representatives already co-spon­sored this important legislation? Rep. Betty McCollum needs to be accountable to her constituents or move aside.

Eric Goodrich, St. Paul

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lawlessness and Power

An article at Yahoo! Finance today asks whether the President abused Chrysler creditors.

The article, and its several links, highlights the dangers of letting our government officials act as though they have unlimited mandates.  The $700 Billion in TARP funds that Congress granted to the President has become an excuse for interventions that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

This article also makes the case that Mr. Geithner is setting up "programs" that involve billions or trillions of taxpayer dollars, and has no explicit congressional authority.

What is not being discussed is the inevitable corruption (and this)of the government as it becomes entangled in the the enterprises that it is seizing.

Much of the conversation in Washington today is over what legislation will be required to "fix" our financial system.  Little or no thought is being given to the danger of corruption in a new regulatory regime that has life or death power over almost every company in the US.

Power corrupts.  No amount of intelligence or careful crafting of law will prevent enormous new power from causing enormous new corruption.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be cautionary tales about what not to do, yet history is once again being ignored in a naive attempt to "fix" things.

Those of us who respect the Constitution, and hope our children will enjoy a free economy, with the opportunities we enjoy,  need to remain active in opposition to these statist schemes that will do little more than concentrate power in Washington D. C.

Good News

Congratulations to Governor Pawlenty, who found his veto pen, and used it to stop the DFL from indulging in the taxing reflex.  Now comes the hard part - find a budget that is smaller, but honest and responsible.

Count on gamesmanship in the legislature to try to wring "revenue enhancement" concessions from Gov. Pawlenty.  As Marty Siefert has pointed out recently, we have an opportunity to actually shrink Minnesota government this budget cycle.

The staredown has started.  Let's not blink.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Abuse of power

I was disappointed, but not surprised, when Mr. Obama went well beyond providing loans to Chrysler, and decided to become their CEO,  savior and chief mechanic, too.

An article today on Yahoo Finance outlines both the frustrations and dangers of the Federal Government intervening with "bailout" operations.

The dangers of such bailouts are highlighted by the reaction of the Chrysler bondholders.  They started out as a group wanting to be anonymous, but out of fear, the group is shrinking.  Their lawyer in the bankruptcy says that they are fearful of "public reaction", but they also have reason to fear the long arm of the Federal Government.  Mr. Obama has already berated them publicly.  What other federal authority is he willing to bring to bear to pressure these institutions?

This article, in the NY Times points out that the federal government has no obligation to provide the bailout.

That's exactly right, but I would change the word "obligation" to "authority".  The president has no authority to do this, and no legal framework in which to work.  He is making it up as he goes along.  When the president does something, he sets precedent, and that has some legal weight.  He is expanding presidential authority to arbitrarily intervene in corporate affairs.  One has to consider that it is Mr. Obama's successors who will test the limits of this new power.  It doesn't take much imagination to see where this could go.

This is beyond picking winners and losers.  It is micro-managing the bankruptcy process for political gain.  It is corrupt and lawless.  I hope that some of our representatives in Congress will stand up and say so.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Proper Legislative Business

What is the proper role of government?  Should the legislature be limited to maintaining the laws that apply to us all, and leaving us otherwise to pursue our affairs, or should it be directly managing, in detail, a broad array of activities and their outcomes?

The Minnesota legislature this year has opted for the latter course.  It has also been very busy.  It has found reason to exert detailed control of scores of local and individual issues.  A few examples of bills passed include health care and the economy, but also dozens of other areas, like the Central Corridor, nuclear power, online gambling, baby DNA, and ethanol.  I also see at least one explicit bailout.

What is not dictated in state law is often compelled with funding inducements or restrictions to local governments and school districts.

The Minnesota Legislature is deeply involved in the business of managing our daily lives.  Almost every aspect, from the things we buy, to what we teach our children, to local school curriculum is affected by each session of the legislature.

At the Federal level, the picture is much the same.  Despite explicit constitutional prohibitions against some types of involvement, the US Congress continues to regulate, mandate, dictate and prohibit.  The US Congress is in session every year, and is often busy passing laws that have broad effects.  By using the IRS, the US Congress can exert particularly detailed control of economic activity.  By choosing which income will be confiscated by the tax man, citizens are given powerful incentive to behave as Congress desires.  (read more here and here)

A particularly alarming trend is that Congress sees this power as without limit or constitutional consequence.  Chuck Schumer (S D-NY)recently threatened the legendary bonus recipients at AIG with seizure of their bonuses by way of a high-rate tax.  The constitutional term for this is bill of attainder.  I do not understand how Mr. Schumer reconciles his oath of office with this behavior.

Most recently, in response to a "crisis", the Federal government has requested from Congress, and has been granted, broad and poorly defined authority to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to directly affect any specific enterprise it so chooses.  Targets include AIG, GM, General Electric, Citicorp, and many, many others.  Government funds are now used to justify a role in day to day management, as highlighted most recently by the "firing" of Rick Wagoner as CEO of GM, and the forced bankruptcy of Chrysler.

One victim of the bailouts is their competitors.  Think of Ford Motor Company.

The "Big Three" went hat-in-hand to Washington last fall.  Ford - to its credit - broke ranks and said "no".  Today, GM and Chrysler have the US Government in their corner, and "Failure" is no longer an option.  In practical terms, this means that they can do things that Ford cannot.  If GM or Chrysler price their products very aggressively, and drive Ford to great financial distress, is this illegal "predatory pricing"?  In normal times, the Justice Department would be expected to prosecute.  Will (foolish) stockholders invest in Ford, knowing that they are competing with the US Government?

In the end, we as a nation have to be clear on what we want our government to do.

The picture painted above is one of massive and constant interference in our lives.  It is easy to see where this leads.  If specific outcomes are the goal, then more interference is needed.  Mr. Obama has articulated this vision, with cap and trade, universal health care, and his education plans.  History suggests that these programs will not be sufficient, and ever more involvement will be required over time.

Just as the bailouts require more bailouts, health care "reform" will require subsequent waves of "reform", and cap and trade regimes will require more "adjustment".  None of these "fixes" will return autonomy or freedom to the people, but will tighten control in an effort to squeeze out the last bits of error in these expertly planned systems.

The alternative is the radical idea that government is not the master, but the servant of the people.  It is to presume that we all have the right to pursue our affairs without the interference - or help - of the government.  If we were to choose this course, we would limit our government strictly to a set of enumerated powers, and jealously guard our freedoms.  We would work to ensure that laws were minimal, and enforced on everyone equally.  Legislatures would be expected to put high priority on maintaining the body of laws in a way that maintains stability in the law, with minimum changes from year to year.  We would see arrogance in the idea that the government could dictate outcomes and manage the affairs of the People.

I'm a radical.