Saturday, June 23, 2007

Congressman McHenry and Earmarks

Conressman Patrick McHenry represents NC District which includes Mitchell County where I now sit typing. McHenry was recently featured in The Crypt's Blog from The Politico for pushing hard against David Obey (D-Wis.), who as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has been reluctant to make earmarks transparent to the public. Here is a portiion:

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) was all over the House floor last week, bashingAppropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and other Democratic leaders for not doing enough to disclose member earmarks early in the appropriations process, as Democrats had promised when they took over the House in January. Republicans eventually got Democrats to back down and release
the earmark requests -- read "pork" -- earlier than Obey had planned, so McHenry got what he wanted. And now McHenry will be forced to defend his $129,000 earmark, via the Small Business Administration, for Christmas trees.

Actually, the $129K is to go to the The Mitchell County Development Foundation, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating jobs and strengthening the educational system, as well as
promoting tourism in Mitchell County
The "Perfect Christmas Tree" part comes in because in 2003, author Gloria Houston donated the rights to her children's book, "The Perfect Christmas Tree" to the town of Spruce Pine, N.C. Spruce Pine and Mitchell Country have thousands of textile and manufacturing jobs over the last several years to foreign competition. Mitchell County used the money to fund some small business jobs for woodworkers and other craftsman.

"Look, the important thing is transparency and openness," McHenry said when asked about the earmark, which he confirmed that he had inserted into the bill. "I have never been opposed to directed

McHenry added: "I just think that it's critical for members to know what they are voting on when a [spending] bill comes to the floor."

Update - This isn't going to make McHenry happy. Courtesy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee comes this little ditty. McHenry has been unofficially nominated as the "Republican That
Democrats Most Dislike,"
so it's no surprise this came out. The song is sung to the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree." Here you go:

"O' McHenry,
O' McHenry,
How steadfast your hypocrisy!

You pitch a fit on the House floor,
But Christmas trees you do adore.

All politics are local and this enforces that fact for me. Unemployment in Mitchell County for the first five months of 2007 averaged 7.9%, almost double the national average. As to me, McHenry just got a three base hit by:

  • Fighting David Obey on earmarks
  • Fighting NC District 10 and Mitchell County unemployment
  • Being named "Republican that Democrats Most Dislike"

Update: A reader comments that I made false statements concerning unemployment numbers. As cited in the post my source was the NC Employment Commission and the numbers for Mitchell County (not Avery as the commenter used) were for Jan - May 2007 respectively: 9.1, 8.7, 7.3, 7.5, 6.8. Total 39.4/5 = 7.88 which I rounded to 7.9%. No intention to mislead on my part. Thanks to the reader for the comments.

NYT Exposes Edwards: Poverty Center's Main Beneficiary Was Edwards

The New York Times, violating a rule not to hurt one's own, ran a article that revealed the truth behind John Edwards "poverty center" at UNC Chapel Hill. While the NYT had a glossed over title of "In Aiding Poor, Building a Bridge to 2008" clearly the bridge was using a non-profit to fund his campaign, travel, and broaden his exposure while he held no official office by claiming he was fighting poverty; he was certainly ensuring that poverty would never touch his own doorstep.

Directly from the horses mouth, the NYT:

Mr. Edwards, who reported this year that he had assets of nearly $30 million, came up with a novel solution, creating a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of fighting poverty. The organization, the Center for Promise and Opportunity, raised $1.3 million in 2005, and — unlike a sister charity he created to raise scholarship money for poor students — the main beneficiary of the center’s fund-raising was Mr. Edwards himself, tax filings show.

...Mr. Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, set out to keep his political options open by promoting issues he cared about, like poverty.

“He wanted to learn, travel and be in a position to be a viable candidate,” said J. Edwin Turlington, a Raleigh lawyer who was the manager of Mr. Edward’s 2003 presidential exploratory committee. “He had the ability to raise money to fund his activities. He had a vision, and he knew it would take money.”
Mr. Edwards mixed policy and politics in a way that allowed his supporters to donate to the causes he believed in — and to the organizations he had set up. He also set up two political action committees, something commonly done by politicians thinking of running for president.

But it was his use of a tax-exempt organization to finance his travel and employ people connected to his past and current campaigns that went beyond what most other prospective candidates have done before pursuing national office.

Now, besides the hefty fees he charged for giving speeches against poverty, recall the hedge fund Edwards went to work for that Edwards remarked was a 'way for him to learn more about poverty' -- from which he collect a hefty $500,000 consulting fee:

He was hired by the Fortress Investment Group, a New York hedge fund, to “develop investment opportunities,” according to a 2005 Fortress news release.

...“Fortress became a vehicle for foreign travel,” Mr. Turlington said, “but it was also a way to spend more time with sophisticated financial people.”

The "Poverty Center's" ...directors included Mr. Turlington, the Raleigh lawyer; Miles Lackey, Mr. Edwards’s former chief of staff; Alexis Bar, his former political scheduler; and David Ginsberg, Mr. Edwards’s current deputy campaign manager.

The Edwards campaign declined to disclose the amounts raised or spent by the two similarly-named nonprofit agencies — the Center for Promise and Opportunity and the Center for Promise and Opportunity Foundation — since their 2005 tax filings, which are the most recent to have been filed.

...Of the explicitly political entities, Mr. Edwards’ OneAmerica Committee 527 organization allowed donors to give without limitations. The money was transferred to his leadership political action committee. Leadership committees were initially created to allow prominent politicians to raise money for distribution to needy office-seekers. But Mr. Edwards spent the entire $2.7 million he raised for OneAmerica, including $532,000 raised by the 527, on himself, an increasingly common trend among politicians.

And this fianl last opinion quoted by the NYT: Nonprofit groups can engage in political activities and not endanger their tax-exempt status so long as those activities are not its primary purpose. But the line between a bona fide charity and a political campaign is often fuzzy, said Marcus S. Owens, a Washington lawyer who headed the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees nonprofit agencies.

“I can’t say that what Mr. Edwards did was wrong,” Mr. Owens said. “But he was working right up to the line. Who knows whether he stepped or stumbled over it. But he was close enough that if a wind was blowing hard, he’d fall over it.”

Does Religion Encourage Families or Do Families Want Religion?

In a fascinating and insightful analysis in the June/July 2007 Policy Review, Mary Eberstadt tackles key presumptions and beliefs about our belief systems in How the West Lost God. The article goes to heart of the common axiom that the great religions command having families as opposed to Eberstadt's proposition that family life leads to a desire for religiosity.

She makes many import points a few blurbed here: ...if 9/11 drove to church for weeks on end millions of Americans who had not darkened that doorstep in years — as it did — imagine the even deeper impact on ordinary mothers and fathers of a sick child or the similarly powerful desire of a devoted spouse on the brink of losing the other. Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, so too would there appear to be few in the nursery or critical care unit, at least most of the time.

In sum, because it treats belief as an atomistic decision taken piecemeal by individuals rather than a holistic response to family life, Nietzsche’s madman and his offspring, secularization theory, appear to present an incomplete version of how some considerable portion of human beings actually come to think and behave about things religious — not one by one and all on their own, but rather mediated through the elemental connections of husband, wife, child, aunt, great-grandfather, and the rest.

And later she goes on: To argue by analogy, it appears that the natural family as a whole has been the human symphony through which God has historically been heard by many people — not the prophets, not the philosophers, but a great many of the rest. That is why the conventional story of secularization seems to be missing something: because it makes its cases by and to atomized individuals without reference to the totality of family and children through which many people derive their deepest opinions and impressions of life — including religious opinions and impressions.

In sum, and given what we know now about the religious and familial situation in Western Europe some 125 years later, Nietzsche was right to declare that the great Christian cathedrals of Europe had become tombs. But he may have been wrong about what exactly had been buried in them. It was not so much God as the European natural family that has been largely laid to rest — an interment already well underway in some countries long before his madman entered the square and one that is surely an overlooked and critical part of the full story of how Christian Europe went secular.

The article has totally changed my thinking and my mistaken acceptance of the common theory of why large families and religion go hand in hand. I also think that both theories are correct but as to which one is quantitatively more correct is still, perhaps ironically, open to one's own beliefs. Eberstadt discusses the influence of community in her analysis and I also think that community and tradition perhaps compose the third leg of the discussion; hence the inherent interrelatedness of family, community, and God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Quotes From Our Enemies

From Cal Thomas today: Those still in doubt or denial about what Israel's (and America's) enemies are planning might benefit from reading Jed Babbin's new book, "In the Words of Our Enemies" (Regnery Publishing). In it, Babbin assembles what the Islamic terrorists, Chinese and North Korean communists and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez are saying they want to do to us. This quote from the al-Qaida training manual leaves no room for diplomacy: "The confrontation that Islam calls for with these godless and apostate regimes, does not know Socratic debates, Platonic ideals nor Aristotelian diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun."

Anyone who questions the sincerity of such a statement is a fool. Apparently enough fools remain in leadership in Israel, the United States and Europe to encourage the killers to fight on until victory is attained.

Monday, June 18, 2007

When Rules Trump Common Sense

Posted by Picasa Zero tolerance strikes again in California: "A fifth-grade promotion ceremony in Rancho Palos Verdes turned into a free-speech battleground Thursday, when students were asked to remove weapons from toys that had been placed on mortarboard caps because of the school's zero-tolerance policy for weapons on campus....
"Each year, students decorate wide caps with princesses, football goal posts, zebras, guitars and other items to express their personalities and career goals. Cornerstone at Pedregal School is the only Palos Verdes Peninsula public school to practice the tradition.

"On Thursday, before the ceremony, one boy was told he couldn't participate unless he agreed to clip off the tips of the plastic guns carried by the minuscule GIs on his cap. Ten others complied with the order before the event.
"In enforcing the decision, the district cited its Safe Schools policy and the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, a federal law designed to remove firearms from schools.

"Susan Liberati, an assistant superintendent, said she believes 'the principal has interpreted district policy accurately, and we support her in that.'

"A copy of the district's Safe Schools policy obtained by the Daily Breeze includes no mention of toy army men. Students found to be "possessing, selling or otherwise furnishing a firearm" are expelled for one year, the policy states.

"Weapons are also mentioned in the board's "weapons and dangerous instruments" policy that allows only authorized law enforcement or security personnel to possess "weapons, imitation firearms or dangerous instruments of any kind" on school grounds."
We have all read many cases like this where minimal judgment is thrown out the window based on one policy or another. And given the quality of the decisions made by these teachers of America's children is it any wonder results are so under par.
I am also reminded of the fact that even our judges are so hand-cuffed by mandatory sentence statutes that judgement is taken away from good judges. Onerous sentences are imposed for offensives committed under varying circumstances that often require and demand creative, and yes, sometimes lenient, sentences. Drug cases clearly fall into this trap many times given the number of incarcerations for minor drug offenses.
Andy McCarthy referred to this in a recent post in The Corner:
"With lots of support from conservatives, Congress several years ago was determined to make sure convicted felons were taken off the street. (Based on similar concerns that weak liberal judges were not cracking down hard enough on crooks, law-and-order conservatives similarly supported the very same draconian sentencing guidelines that resulted in Libby's 30-month sentence.) Basically, congress — with broad public support — has removed judicial discretion because we no longer trust judges to be judges.

I hate this new system (which came into being in 1984 and has gotten worse since). Yes, judges occasionally make outrageous rulings (those are the small percentage of rulings we hear about). But, most of the time, left to their own judgment, they act pretty reasonably. Our statutes, however, no longer leave them to their own judgment. "

I'm Back

After being away from blogging for a nice long while doing totally different things, I am now back to blogging and will resume some posting. I missed the catharsis of blogging and I was beginning to drive my friends crazy sending out random opinions and saying read this please. I intend to focus more at present on economics and business with my own twists on how current politics and cultural trends are impacting our world both today and in the future. I look forward to meeting new friends and hearing again from old friends and foes alike in this space.