Category Archives: Government Transparency

An Innocent Man Was Probably Executed on Gov. Rick Perry’s Watch…Not That Anyone Cares

Is it possible that the G.O.P would nominate and/or the American people would elect for president a man who as governor more likely than not executed an innocent man?

An even more disturbing question would be: Could Gov. Rick Perry be elected president despite his efforts to keep investigators from learning the truth about the Cameron Todd Willingham case both before and after Willingham’s execution?

It seems we will have an answer to these questions in the 2012 campaign.

Apparently, these questions were not of much concern among Texans. According to a recent Politico article written by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison who ran against Perry in the gubernatorial primary in the 2010 campaign asked focus groups what they thought about the idea that an innocent man may have been executed on Gov. Perry’s watch. For the most part, the question was a non-issue. According to several (unnamed) former Hutchison staffers, they quoted one individual as saying “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

Of course Gov. Perry continues to insist that Willingham was guilty of setting the fire that killed his three girls even though nine independent leading fire experts who have since reviewed the case all say the prosecution’s expert relied on science that has since been discredited.

Gov. RICK PERRY (R), Texas: This is a guy on his- on- in the death chamber, his last breath, he spews an obscenity-laced triad [sic] against his wife. That’s the person who we’re talking about here. And getting all tied up in the process here is, frankly, a deflection of what people across this state and this country need to be looking at. This was a bad man.

These are Willingham’s last words Gov. Perry was referring to:

No question, the words that Willingham directed at his wife are pretty rough. Willingham could have taken the high road but he didn’t. A bad man? Maybe. But to suggest that because Willingham’s last statement, which I agree is obscene and arguably low class, somehow “proves” that he killed his own children tells me that the Texas governor has a very low standard of proof.

Willingham’s spouse believed in his innocence in the beginning but as the execution date drew nearer, she changed her mind and made statements in the media that she believed he was guilty. How many men, innocent or not, in a similar situation would feel betrayed say something similar?

At Gov. Perry’s first debate appearance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, when challenged about his executive order that would have required girls age 12 and over to get the HPV vaccine, he said that the way he went about it was wrong but explained that he was concerned about these young girls getting a deadly cancer. He “errs on the side of life,” a statement I couldn’t believe he could actually say with a straight face given his unwillingness to err on the side of life with regard to capital punishment.

Toward the end of the debate, Brian Williams asks Gov. Perry the following:

Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. [Applause] Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

Gov. Perry responds:

No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which—when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.

Never struggled with the thought that there’s even the slightest possibility that an innocent man has been executed on his watch at all? The fact that five men who were once on death row who were exonerated on his watch doesn’t give Gov. Perry even a little pause? Five men who would have been executed had Gov. Perry had his way? And even after the recent revelation via exculpatory DNA evidence that an innocent man, Claude Jones was executed just before Gov. George W. Bush handed the governorship to Perry and ascended to the presidency?

If Gov. Perry is so certain of the guilt of every single individual who has been executed on his watch, why does he continue to stymie investigations into the Willingham case? Perhaps even more importantly, why does Gov. Perry continue to block efforts to allow Hank Skinner to have DNA testing which would determine once and for all if Skinner is the murderer Gov. Perry thinks he is before executing him this coming November?

What is Gov. Perry so afraid of?

Gov. Perry would have us believe that the “very clear process” in Texas is so perfect that there is just no way that a wrongfully convicted person could be executed. He is either in denial or doesn’t care if the occasional innocent person is killed by the state (and even if Willingham wasn’t a murderer, he was still “a bad man” so who cares right?). The death penalty is just the sort of a punishment that neither Gov. Perry nor the State of Texas can live without. Judging by the thunderous applause at the very mention of Texas’ 234 executions at the Reagan Library, sadly Gov. Perry is hardly alone in a Republican Party where the majority of its members ironically and hypocritically call themselves “pro-life.”

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Social Security Trust Fund: Accounting Kabuki

The looming government debt ceiling crisis has cause Obama to threaten inability to pay Social Security checks. It’s renewed the debate, which I’ve hashed out many times (here, here, here and here, for posterity’s sake), whether the Social Security “Trust Fund” is a veritable asset or merely a convenient accounting fiction used to hide deficits.

I, of course, believe it to be the latter. But M.S., writing for The Economist’s Democracy in America blog, tries to make some analogies about the trust fund’s “accounting kabuki”:

I mean, look, our bank accounts are an accounting fiction. Everyone knows exactly how much money is in anyone else’s bank account: none. There is no money “in” our bank accounts; our banks have already spent it. Our so-called bank account is just an IOU, a promise from our bank to pay us up to the amount specified in our balance.

There are two things here. The first is that the bank account is merely a promise, which is true. This is clearly analogous to the Social Security Trust Fund. The second part, though, is the problem. Making good on the promise is the bank’s responsibility, NOT MINE.

If I want to withdraw money from the bank, they have a legal and moral responsibility to give it to me. It doesn’t matter to me where they get it, but it creates no obligation on me to get that money back.

If they told me that they’d give me my money, but they’d have to garnish my wages for the next year in return, however, I’d be a little pissed off. That’s what the Social Security Trust Fund is.

The key is that American taxpayers are the ones who are being “paid back” out of the Social Security Trust Fund, while American taxpayers are also the ones doing the paying. It’s not an accounting fiction because we have two different line items on the bill, it’s an accounting fiction because the revenues ultimately come from the same place!

From the point of view of the Social Security Administration, of course, the IOU’s are an asset. They are a claim on future government revenue that is essentially on par with the debt that China or institutional investors buy from the US. I.e. from an accounting standpoint, it is a “promise” that carries some heft. However, from the point of view of the American taxpayer, it is additional debt that must be repaid through higher taxation. They’re going to get it from our paychecks, it’ll just come from the line that says “FED INC TAX” rather than the lines that says “SOC SEC TAX” or “MEDICARE TAX”. It still comes out of the same paycheck, which means whether it’s an accounting kabuki or not, it still costs us more money.

Auto Bailout; Can’t Prove A Counterfactual, But You Can Infer

So the big debate is whether the gov’t should sell their post-IPO shares in GM. At current prices, they’d [unsurprisingly] be losing money on the sale, compared to the amount put up in the bailout.

So we have to ask — was it worth it? To determine that, we can’t base our entire calculation on the return of the bailout. A bailout is offered with the expectation that you might not get *any* return — you bail to prevent the craft from sinking; anything else is gravy. So to determine the worth of the bailout, we have to ask what would have happened in the absence of a bailout. Thankfully, the Center for Automotive Research released their prediction back in 2008:

Researchers at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, estimate the impact on the U.S. economy would be substantial were all—or even half—of the three Detroit-based automotive manufacturers’ U.S. facilities to cease operations. The immediate shock to the economy would be felt well beyond the Detroit Three companies, negatively impacting the U.S. operations of international manufacturers and suppliers as well. Nearly 3 million jobs would be lost in the first year if there is a 100 percent reduction in Detroit Three U.S. operations.

“Our model estimates that a complete shutdown of Detroit Three U.S. production would have a major impact on the U.S. economy in terms of lost wages, reductions in social security receipts, personal income taxes paid, and an increase in transfer payments,” said Sean McAlinden, CAR chief economist and the study’s leader. “The government stands to lose on the level of $60 billion in the first year alone, and the three year total is well over $156 billion.”

Yikes! Sounds bad!

But would the automakers “cease operations”? Would they disappear into an economic black hole, never to be seen again, with only confused and unemployed UAW workers left behind like the un-Raptured masses?

Or would they, as Warren of Coyote Blog suggested way back when, be freed from working for an unproductive corporate environment and re-deployed in ways that their contributions will actually generate value?

So what if GM dies? Letting the GM’s of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation. Assuming GM’s DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM’s assets from GM’s control actually increases value. Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value. Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

I can’t find the specific post, but he has another where he suggests that if GM were even to face liquidation, it would not entail the loss of GM’s assets, much of its workforce, or its supply chain. The failure of GM [or Chrysler] would be painful, but fundamentally going through a serious bankruptcy [and/or liquidation] would free GM from its worst corporate problems, possibly returning them to a point where they actually generated value from their operations rather than losses.

Liquidation, of course, is the worst-case scenario. And there were plenty of folks suggesting that liquidation was impossible in the 2008-2010 era, because credit markets had seized and there was NO way anyone in the world would have the capital to buy up assets. But is it true?

Nope. Not at all. You need look no farther than Nortel. Nortel was a MAJOR telecommunications company, existing in one form or another since the late 1800’s, back in the days of the first telephone. It was built into an absolutely enormous conglomerate during the technology boom of the 1990’s, but like many companies in that sector, fell on hard times after the tech crash. They fought through bailouts in 2003 and 2009, but ultimately they declared bankruptcy right in the heart of the credit crunch, hoped to escape intact, but eventually had to go through liquidation. Between then and today, Nortel has basically ceased to exist. A look at the Wikipedia page for the liquidation results suggests that seized credit markets didn’t exactly stop them from finding buyers for their assets.

As an engineer who has dealt with what used to be Nortel and is now a collection of disparate companies that have purchased their assets, I can attest that Nortel has not “ceased operations”. That’s not to say that the changes over the last few years have been pain-free. There has been dislocation, there have been layoffs, and from my discussions with former Nortel employees as well as being a supplier, many things have changed. Fundamentally, though, Nortel’s business units are still in operations under different names. Many Nortel engineers are still employed within the same organization, only with a different letterhead on their business card. And as a supplier, I can say that the disruptions at Nortel have not put all of their suppliers out of business. Being a supplier has become more difficult in many ways — largely because the companies that bought Nortel units are run more efficiently than Nortel was, and this means that supplier competition is tougher — but that is fundamentally a good thing.

Would the experience of Nortel be the same as a potential GM or Chrysler bankruptcy? Obviously, it’s impossible to prove a counterfactual. But that also doesn’t mean that we should accept the claim that bailouts “saved the US auto industry” at face value. Had GM or Chrysler gone bankrupt, it’s likely that their various brands would have been picked up on the open market at various discount rates. Some might have been purchased for their own brand value, others might be purchased to use their factories and design engineers to produce vehicles under different nameplates.

One thinks, then, that the fear was not that the American auto industry would evaporate. The fear, instead, was that the psychological pride of having the “Big Three” would disappear. They didn’t care about jobs, they cared that Americans might be employed working for Toyota rather than for GM. It was nationalism, not economics, that drove decisions. As a result, the US taxpayer is going to prop up a manufacturer with a history of failure and little incentive to change (since one bailout can easily become two or three) solely in order to be able to say that GM still exists. You didn’t save an industry, America. You saved your ego.
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Quote Of The Day

Will Wilkinson writing for The Economist:

To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it’s important to distinguish between the government—the temporary, elected authors of national policy—and the state—the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.

Innocence Project: Key DNA Sample Not a Match to Man Executed in Texas

The Innocence Project reported just today that the hair sample used to condemn Claude Jones to death was not a match.

“(Houston – November 12, 2010) The Innocence Project today released DNA test results proving that crucial hair evidence found at the scene of a murder, the only physical evidence linking the accused Claude Jones to the crime, did not belong to Jones. Although he always maintained his innocence, Jones was executed for murdering Allen Hilzendager on December 7, 2000. George Bush, who was awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the presidential election recount would continue, denied Jones’ request for a 30 day stay of execution to do DNA test on the hair sample. The memo from the General Counsel’s office that recommended against the stay did not tell Bush that Jones was seeking a DNA test of the hair. Evidence that the hair “matched” Jones was critical to the prosecution’s case at trial and proved to be the key factor in a narrow 3-2 decision by the Texas Court of Appeals finding there was sufficient corroboration of the accomplice who testified against Jones to uphold the murder conviction.

[…]

“It is unbelievable that the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office failed to inform the governor that Jones was seeking DNA testing on evidence that was so pivotal to the case,” said former Texas Governor and Attorney General Mark White. “If the state is going to continue to use the death penalty, it must figure out a way to build safeguards in the system so that lapses like this don’t happen again.”

[…]

“The DNA results released today may not prove that Jones was innocent, but they do raise serious questions about whether the prosecution’s case was strong enough to present to a jury and the decision to seek the death penalty in the first place,” said Governor White. “No matter what your opinion of the death penalty, I hope we can all agree that it should only be used when the state is absolutely sure that the right person has been convicted.”

So why are we only now learning nearly 10 years after the fact that the State of Texas executed Claude Jones who was convicted based solely on a hair sample that did not tie him to the crime scene?

After the San Jacinto County District Attorney’s office refused to give the Innocence Project permission to do testing on the evidence, the Innocence Project, the Texas Observer, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network brought a successful lawsuit to do the testing that proved the hair did not belong to Jones.

Yet another example of the State of Texas stonewalling to keep the facts from ever seeing the light of day. These are the same government officials who are actively covering up another case where the state likely executed an innocent man in 2004 by the name of Cameron Todd Willingham (See the Frontline documentary of this case here).

Just two weeks ago, another man by the name of Anthony Graves became the 12th death row inmate exonerated in Texas (and 139th in the country) since 1973 after serving 18 years. Fortunately for Graves, his exoneration came before his date with the death chamber.

In Gov. Rick Perry’s mind, the exoneration of Graves was proof positive the criminal justice system in Texas is “working.”

“I think we have a justice system that is working, and he’s a good example of — you continue to find errors that were made and clear them up,” Perry said. “That’s the good news for us, is that we are a place that continues to allow that to occur. So I think our system works well; it goes through many layers of observation and appeal, et cetera. So I think our system is working.”

Now that this new revelation that Claude Jones was executed based on faulty evidence has come to light, I wonder if Gov. Perry still thinks the system is “working”? They were so cock sure that Graves, Jones, and Willingham* were guilty of capital murder and proven wrong but continue to use the same stonewalling tactics in Hank Skinner’s and other cases. Gov. Perry et. al would rather cover these cases up because they don’t want to risk losing their license to kill.

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Quote of the Day: No, Cops Do Not Have Any Expectation of Privacy Edition

Anthony Graber, the man who was charged for violating Maryland’s wiretapping law for recording on his motorcycle helmet cam and posting a video to YouTube of an undercover cop who pulled a gun on him during a traffic stop will not spend the next 16 years of his life in prison. Hartford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr. dismissed the charges explained (correctly) that the police do not have an expectation of privacy while on duty and in public.

“Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. ‘Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes’ (“Who watches the watchmen?”).” – Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr.

Just a gentle reminder to public servants that they work for us and are accountable to us, not the other way around.

Hat Tip: Hammer of Truth

Related: Cato Presents:Cops on Camera

Be Thankful I Don’t Take It All…

Here’s the outrage of the day, coming straight out of the UK:

The UK’s tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.

The proposal by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.

Currently employers withhold tax and pay the government, providing information at the end of the year, a system know as Pay as You Earn (PAYE). There is no option for those employees to refuse withholding and individually file a tax return at the end of the year.

If the real-time information plan works, it further proposes that employers hand over employee salaries to the government first.

Now, I’ve read the full proposal (1st link inside the blockquote), and I should, in the interest of fairness, clarify one discrepancy between what is stated above and the intended proposal: The HMRC would not be gathering salaries first and then disbursing what is “left over” after tax to the employee’s bank account. Rather, the HMRC would be involved as a third party — i.e. when the employer directs a salary payment, the HMRC advises the employer’s bank what the tax percentage for withholding is before the bank itself makes the payment. Some would say that it’s a distinction without a difference, but I would mention that the government is not, be default, a true middleman that intercepts the payment itself on its way to the employee.

That said, we’ve all seen what happens between legislation’s introduction and its passage, and I definitely am concerned that a) this little distinction could be removed quickly, or b) that this simply notches the gov’t one step further to being the actual middleman.

The article above goes on to express concern at the likelihood of mistakes in the system, but the real issue is greater government ability to step in and damage your ability to live if they see fit. Assuming that they don’t get direct control over the bank account itself, the government is likely to get compliance from a bank if, for example, they decide that someone’s “deduction” should be 100%. Right now the system is decentralized, so the employer has to calculate deductions based upon published rules and pay their employee accordingly. It doesn’t allow for the government to directly, invisibly, and immediately intrude on the arrangement. That would change, and certainly not for the better.

Even without the nightmare scenario, it allows for much less visible and more immediate changes to the tax code. Enabling centralized deductions ensures that if the legislature approves a tax rate or policy change, they don’t need to inform employers and set up a long lag time — citizens just start seeing a slight change to their take-home pay. This will make it easier to raise taxes.

Finally, I’ve often said that the nanny-state and regulatory-state policies of Britain are a leading indicator for the US (although oddly, reading deeper I think we may have beat them to withholding by a year — lucky us!). If this is being pushed there, it is no stretch to think that it’ll be very long before our own politicians want to follow their example.

Of course, it’s only appropriate to close with the song “Taxman”. While I’m partial to the Stevie Ray Vaughan version myself, with this being a story from the UK it’s gotta be the original: The Beatles.

Hat Tip: Billy Beck

Cato Presents: Cops on Camera

As cameras have become more available to individuals and government alike, viral videos of cops behaving badly have become quite pervasive on the internet. This short video by The Cato Institute provides a few recent examples of this relatively new phenomenon and explains why recording the actions of police and government officials for all the world to see is good for liberty. Its government that should be watched and its government that should fear the people, not the other way around.

Venezuela: Ruled By A Complete Madman

If it wasn’t already evident that Hugo Chavez is a complete madman, the exhuming of the long dead revolutionary Simon Bolivar should prove that to you:

(Reuters) – Venezuela exhumed the remains of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar on Friday and will test them to see if he was poisoned by enemies in Colombia.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rejects the traditional account that Bolivar, a brilliant Venezuelan military tactician who freed much of South America from centuries of Spanish rule, died of tuberculosis in Colombia in 1830.

He insists Bolivar was murdered by a Colombian rival, and Venezuela’s newly inaugurated state forensics laboratory is taking as its first case the death of the hero some call Latin America’s George Washington.

The insanity continues considerably with Chavez’s ramblings as he seems to orgasm and faun over the skeleton of Bolivar:

“What amazing moments we have lived tonight! We have seen the remains of the Great Bolivar,” Chavez wrote on his Twitter account, @chavezcandanga, after the casket was opened before dawn.

“My God, my God … my Christ, our Christ … I confess we have cried, we have sworn. I tell them: this glorious skeleton must be Bolivar because you can feel his presence. My God.”

This is sick stuff. Meanwhile, the Hard Left in the United States has been acting in accordance with this sick puppy as he utilizes populist sentiment to expand power and enrich himself. Food is being rationed for the Venezuelan people while Chavez, who had a very trim figure in his revolutionary days, is well fed and plump.

This Is Your Government

As our readers can no doubt see, things have moved to a snail’s pace here. I’m not sure I expect that to change soon [at least for me].

However, I came across this post at TJIC, referencing a post at Coyote Blog, that is an absolute must read.

This is a government that is arbitrary, capricious, and exists not to protect the rights of the governed, but to aggregate power unto itself.

When you ask me why I don’t trust government to do anything, that post is a pretty good example of my answer.

Prosecutors Ask If Congress Duped CBO To Obtain Favorable Score

Okay, that’s not true. But it’s no different than this:

Prosecutors Ask if 8 Banks Duped Rating Agencies

Wall Street played a crucial role in the mortgage market’s path to collapse. Investment banks bundled mortgage loans into securities and then often rebundled those securities one or two more times. Those securities were given high ratings and sold to investors, who have since lost billions of dollars on them.

At Goldman, there was even a phrase for the way bankers put together mortgage securities. The practice was known as “ratings arbitrage,” according to former workers. The idea was to find ways to put the very worst bonds into a deal for a given rating. The cheaper the bonds, the greater the profit to the bank.

The rating agencies may have facilitated the banks’ actions by publishing their rating models on their corporate Web sites. The agencies argued that being open about their models offered transparency to investors.

But several former agency workers said the practice put too much power in the bankers’ hands. “The models were posted for bankers who develop C.D.O.’s to be able to reverse engineer C.D.O.’s to a certain rating,” one former rating agency employee said in an interview, referring to collateralized debt obligations.

I just finished reading Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, and it’s pretty clear that the banks knew enough about the rating agencies’ models to pretty successfully turn shit into shinola. In fact, the agencies made enough of their ratings models public to make it absolutely certain that the banks would game the system. Not *dupe* the rating agencies, mind you, because the ratings agencies were willing partners.

But I thought about it a little bit more, and I was struck by another thought.

The Democratic house leadership wanted to cost projection of the healthcare bill to come in within a certain number. So what did they do? They duped gamed the CBO rating system to ensure that the bill they wrote would have the price tag they wanted it to have. The CBO is a respected and non-partisan office, but they’re asked only to score what legislators give them, NOT what they think the legislators will do in other bills immediately or a few years down the line.

Essentially both the Wall Street banks and Congressional leadership did the same thing: they were teaching to the test. They knew specifically what was needed in order to generate a favorable outcome from the “test”, and they made sure they did exactly what they wanted, but in such a way that got the right score.

So who’s going to prosecute the Democratic leadership when this healthcare bill inevitably costs the American people more than they advertised?

Bureaucratic Environmental Protection Agency

The proprietor of Coyote Blog is an entrepreneur specializing in operating camping & recreation facilities. Recently he’s been moving from big pick-up trucks to much smaller, more fuel-efficient, cheaper used Japanese trucks. That is, until the EPA barred their import:

These are trucks that are from an emissions regime (in Japan) harsher than ours and that have three times the gas mileage of the trucks they are replacing. But apparently the EPA doesn’t have rules for them and doesn’t know how to categorize them, and anything a bureaucrat doesn’t have rules for must be illegal, right? So now we are forced to go back to full-size pickup truck purchases until the EPA can catch up with the market.

Your government at work. Causing higher pollution and higher domestic energy usage by banning imports completely until they can fully study the matter — rather than allowing a variance and continuing to import from a more stringent country while doing their study.

But hey, I’m sure Government Motors is happy for the business Coyote might end up sending their way. No conflict of interest there, right?

Quote Of The Day

From the LA Times, a story about the LA City Council. Electronic auto-voting allows council members to avoid actually attending council meetings, much to the chagrin of voters:

Still, their physical absence frequently infuriates members of the public who show up to testify only to find themselves addressing one or more empty chairs.
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“We go there to talk to the full City Council,” said Ziggy Kruse of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council. “If you get eight people in their seats, you’re lucky.”

Oh, you naive citizen… You’re assuming they actually give a shit what you say.

Hat Tip: Reason

Quote Of The Day

The state of Washington is currently in process on a bill that will impound any car for 12 hours where the driver is arrested on suspicion of DUI. This will be automatic — whether the car is owned by an innocent third party, or whether someone else in the vehicle can legally drive does not exempt the auto from the policy.

But here’s the quote:

The Towing and Recovery Association of Washington is one of the main lobbying organizations pushing for the adoption of the law.

Really?! I’m SHOCKED!

Who’da thunk the tow truck lobby cared so much about the children?

Hat Tip: Overlawyered

Innocence Commission Exonerates Greg Taylor After Serving 16 Years of Life Sentence

North Carolina has at least one criminal justice reform that all states ought to adopt: an innocence commission (particularly for states which currently have a death penalty). So far, North Carolina is the only state which has such a commission.

Greg Taylor, convicted of 1st degree murder of prostitute Jacquetta Thomas in 1993, was the first to be exonerated by the commission after serving 16 years of a life sentence. One who isn’t familiar with the details of the case may assume that Taylor’s conviction was an honest mistake since DNA testing was in it’s infancy in 1993. According to this Associated Press article, however; the commission found a very disturbing omission by the prosecution which could have cast reasonable doubt (if not excluded altogether) on Taylor’s guilt.

Defense attorneys worked to cast doubt about the initial case built against Taylor, and a State Bureau of Investigation agent testified that complete blood test results were excluded from lab reports presented at trial.

The agent’s notes indicated that samples from Taylor’s SUV tested positive for blood in preliminary tests but were negative in follow-up testing, which wasn’t disclosed during the prosecution.

But rather than drop the charges against Taylor, prosecutors went forward with the case anyway and successfully convicted him. The jury was denied access to this critical evidence and Taylor’s liberties were taken from him as a result.

Hopefully, those who failed to disclose the results of the blood test will pay some sort of price but I have serious doubts. Until Taylor is compensated one way or another, this injustice is far from being set right.

Reporting On Stimulus Jobs Becomes Even Less Useful

I suspect we’ll see a corresponding shift in the rhetoric. Instead of Obama saying the stimulus “created or saved X million jobs”, he’ll say the stimulus “put X million Americans to work.”

Either way, it’s still a joke:

When the White House unveiled its nearly $800 billion stimulus package last year, it promised not only to create and save 3.5 million jobs but also to open the books and prove it. But counting jobs turned out to be a lot harder than lining up a work crew and tapping hardhats.

Now, the White House says it will no longer keep a cumulative tally of jobs created and saved by the stimulus. Instead, it will post only a count of jobs for each quarter.

And instead of counting only created and saved jobs, it will count any person who works on a project funded with stimulus money—even if that person was never in danger of losing his or her job.

The new rules came out last month in a little-noticed memo (PDF) sent to federal agencies by Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget. OMB said it changed the guidelines to prevent the kinds of errors and confusion that occurred when the first job counts came out in October.

I’m sure the administration knew all along that they’d get skewered for whatever number they put out, especially when recovery.gov started showing money going to non-existent Congressional districts*. But I think this change shows that they just don’t care about justifying the funding any more.

Hat Tip: Ezra Klein
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Would C-SPAN Make The Healthcare Bill “Worse”? Define Worse.

I’ll blockquote Peter Suderman over at Reason blockquoting the CAP’s “wonk room” blog on this one:

The short version of the argument is that C-SPAN’s coverage would put pressure on legislators to perform for the cameras and thus make the bill worse:

C-SPAN is grounded in the belief that transparency produces superior legislation. And maybe a certain level of transparency does. But if one actually considers the tone and tenor of the televised health care debate of 2009, filming the conference negotiations seems counterproductive.

…On the whole, C-SPAN’s coverage informed and entertained the viewer. But did it improve the underlying bill?

The post suggests pretty strongly that the answer is no. But how you answer this last question depends quite a bit on what you mean when you say “improved.” If you asked me, I’d say that anything in the health care bill that increased individual control and responsibility for their health care improved it. But when anyone at CAP asks whether something has been “improved”, I think it’s fair to say that what they’re asking is whether it made the bill more progressive — ie: does it cover more people, spread costs across a greater share of the population, offer larger subsidies for care, and move more power away from private enterprise and toward centralized government authority. The implicit argument here is that not filming the negotiations will push the bill in a more progressive direction. I agree, but I think that’s a bad thing. And I also think that as excuses go, shutting out C-SPAN and other media because doing so would limit opposition to the progressive agenda is pretty weak.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that CAP is asking whether it made the bill more or less progressive. There are multiple definitions of “worse”, and Suderman is projecting his definition of worse vs. improved onto CAP.

I think a more fair question, particularly when political grandstanding is involved, is this:

Does C-SPAN televising the debate make it easier or harder for Congress to write a bill accomplishing its objectives with a minimum of bad elements?

There are a lot of ways to define “bad elements”. Peter Suderman and I would say that a public option or an individual mandate are bad elements. CAP would probably say that these are desired elements and dropping the subsidies from 400% to 300% or the Stupak amendment are bad elements. All involved would probably say that greasing the wheels of Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieux are bad elements.

The uncharitable way to read CAP’s question is to suggest that getting the debate out in front of voters, news media and bloggers prior to reaching a final bill gets the debate out of Congress and into public opinion, where voters might object to necessary provisions or add bad elements through the political process. But the charitable way to read this is that televising the debates on C-SPAN leads to overt politicization and a necessarily “worse” bill by addition of things that both Democrats and Republicans would consider bad elements. Whether policy is good or bad is not defined by its public popularity.

I like the idea of C-SPAN televising the negotiations, but not because I think they’ll improve the bill. Frankly, I think greater public awareness and pressure might lead to a further public opinion shift against the bill and potentially damage it before the votes come back to House & Senate on the compromise legislation. Any damage to this intrusion of government on freedom that I can get, I’ll take. But I don’t think televising the debates will in any way improve the bill. As the wonk room states:

Turning the conference committee into another Senate floor debate won’t improve health reform legislation. The televised conference hearings will become a drawn out theatrical sideshow — the real discussions will still occur behind closed doors.

They’ll just give a bunch of Congressional blowhards a forum to grandstand, and provide fodder for cable news and the blogosphere to excoriate them in public. Great fun, mind you, but since all the substantive negotiation occurs off-camera anyway, it’s not exactly useful.

Earmark And Healthcare Wars: Ron Paul vs Jeff Flake

A recent article in the Washington Examiner by John Labeaume details the differing approaches to earmarks that two of most libertarian members of Congress have. This difference came out in a vote on an amendment that Flake wrote to H.R. 3791 which was the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009. The Flake amendment would ban earmarks as defined by Congressional rules. All in all, a modest amendment.

From the Examiner article:

Here’s a gross understatement: Friends of Freedom in the Halls of Congress are few and far between. Asked for a “Real Life” practicing politician that they can actually get behind, it’s not uncommon for libertarians of many stripes to limit their response to two: Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Dr. Paul has been known to put his own sometimes idiosyncratic principle before practicality, leading his legions of fevered ‘money bombing’ fans along his particular path to ideological purity. His rabid opposition to barrier-busting trade agreements like NAFTA, quibbling with a new panel it might spawn, is a prime example. And this trait can pit his voting record against those of his erstwhile liberty-loving allies, and align himself with curious company.

……………………………

Last month, in an obscure House vote, this stubborn streak reared its head again. It’s a minor, but instructive instance, as Paul was one of only two “nay” votes on his side of the aisle against an amendment to HR 3791, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009, offered by his fellow Constitutional conservator, Flake.

The only Republican lined up with Paul – and against Flake – was that egregious earmarker, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the Ranking Member on Appropriations. Like his Showbiz namesake, the collegial Lewis’ look could pass for that of a 70’s “Nite Club” act and he certainly knows how to work a room, but he’s dead serious about defending Appropriators’ perks and the practice of earmarking.

Flake’s amendment was modest.

It merely seeks to ensure a competitive, need-based process for parceling out the firefighting grants authorized by the bill. The mechanism was aptly judicious: it enforces the bill’s ban on earmarking. If opened to earmarks, Flake fears that influential Members – like Lewis – could divert dollars to their districts, away from regions with less congressional clout, but in more dire need of an occasional emergency blaze dousing, admittedly not unlike the maverick Flake’s sometimes-parched Southwestern home base. Of course, and more significantly, once Members start horse trading in earmarks, the price tag tends to swell even beyond the bloated figure originally authorized.

Again, Paul stuck to his guns and stood by his controversial defense of earmarking, and let the red light glow next to his name on the big board above the Speaker’s Chair. His office told me, via an email statement, that Paul maintains that “that all spending should be earmarked as this provides the greatest transparency [and]…gives constituents an opportunity for input regarding how their tax dollars are spent.” The statement paid obligatory lip service to “drastically” reducing spending.

But this last line begs the question: what if that “input regarding how” just means “more,” and “for me”?

Before I go into the crux of the debate, my position on earmarking is this:

  • I don’t have a problem with earmarking in general because yes Congressmen should know the needs of their districts better than Federal bureaucrats.
  • However, earmarks lately have been a vehicle for corruption as Congresscritters reward supporters and campaign contributors with things that would be considered bribery under most circumstances (see John Murtha and the aforementioned Jerry Lewis, et al).
  • In addition, the earmarking process has been used as a way to short circuit the competitive bidding process and award contracts to politically connected companies.
  • Earmarks generally reward politically connected members of Congress and promote wasteful spending, however this is no different than other actions of Congress and the Federal government.
  • Therefore, I am a supporter of earmark reform, but I also realize that earmarks are only a portion of the overall problem with wasteful government spending and political corruption.

I believe that Jeff Flake is correct on this issue and I generally support his fight for earmark reform, Ron Paul’s opposition not withstanding. Earmark reform won’t eliminate wasteful spending and political corruption, but it will make a sizable reduction in both. It will also make it easier to defeat incumbent members of Congress as it will give incumbent members of Congress who bribe their constituents less ability to do so and therefore will increase turnover in Congress.

The Examiner article also attacked Ron Paul for not paying attention to the current healthcare fight:

With a scheme that threatens to regulate one-sixth of the U.S. economy wending its way through the legislative sausage-maker, Flake is focused. Glance at his home page; note the repeated references to health care from his multimedia page. Here’s a flurry of press releases issued in the heat of the House debate.

Meanwhile, Paul’s immediate obsession is trained on legalizing Liberty Dollars. Even though this health care overhaul threatens his livelihood – Dr. Paul is a physician by vocation, remember – from his homepage, you wouldn’t know that this issue looms over Washington one bit. Health care merits only a few addresses in Paul’s posted floor statements and press releases from the entire 111th Congress.

And though his official U.S. House site’s blog offers a few posts on this matter, his political arm, Campaign for Liberty, touts a recent interview with a right wing satellite shock jock, a self-styled “King Dude” whose trademark is liberal-lampooning novelty tunes. (Premium content, only for “King Dude” backstage pass holders, sorry.) During the interview, C4L’s homepage boasts, Dr. Paul discusses his pet “issues including Audit the Fed, Social Security, foreign policy, and nullification.” Number of mentions of healthcare? Zero. He didn’t even warble through a single “Death Panel” ditty.

………………………………………

Paul’s Campaign for Liberty sent out an action item, with orders to his loyal legions to contact Congress and demand a floor vote on his “Audit the Fed” bill, one that House leadership has no intention of unbottling.

As ‘Armageddon Day’ for health care regulation approaches, instead of taking up his scalpel to trim a behemoth, Dr. Paul is fiddling with the Fed.

Unfortunately for Labeaume, this is simply not true. Ron Paul has actually been focused, somewhat, on the healthcare debate. For example, the Campaign for Liberty, on its front page has a link to a project called Operation Health Freedom. Some of the proposed legislation in the project even made its wayhttp://www.thelibertypapers.org/wp-admin/post-new.php into the GOP’s alternative bill. Also, the Campaign for Liberty has been featuring articles almost daily on healthcare. Also if you look at Ron Paul’s House site as compared to Jeff Flake’s House site, you’ll see more writings about healthcare from Ron Paul and his office than from Jeff Flake and his office. I don’t begrudge Jeff Flake on the healthcare issue at all, but to say Ron Paul is disengaged from the healthcare fight is either the result of shoddy research at best or outright dishonesty at worst.

As for Ron Paul’s obsessions with the Federal Reserve, nullification, and foreign policy; that can be traced to Ron Paul’s political style more than anything. Paul is a populist oriented libertarian where as Jeff Flake is more a policy wonk libertarian. Flake’s big issues are earmark reform, immigration reform, and free trade which are more keeping of a former head of a think tank (which Flake was before his election to Congress). Paul’s issues are more geared toward a broad, populist appeal where as Flake’s issues are more appealing to political junkies and wonkish types.

As Nick Gillespie from Reason’s Hit and Run wrote:

To paraphrase Todd (“Godd”) Rundgren, sometimes I don’t know what to feel. Can’t we all just get along, and denounce the Fed and health care reform and earmarks and out-of-control spending? I’m sure we can.

Indeed.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Automakers Steal $30B From Obama’s Jobs Program

Now it’s the automakers. Too bad nobody predicted that throwing money into these fine well-run American corporations could have been a bad deal!

The Obama administration will tell Congress Wednesday that it expects to lose about $30 billion of the $82 billion government bailout of the auto industry.

Gene Sperling, senior counsel to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, confirmed in an interview late today that the administration’s forecast is that it will lose $30 billion on its auto investments

Or, as I like to say, that’s $30B that the automakers stole from Obama’s jobs program.

But there’s good news!

“The real news is the projected loss came down to $30 billion from $44 billion,” Sperling said, noting that auto sales have improved ahead of what many analysts had forecast. The administration still holds out hope that if things improve, the administration could still recover more.

Well, at least that’s $14B more for Obama to put into his jobs program! He’s just finding money everywhere!

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