January 21, 2006
We propose fundamentally and radically reforming the way that campaigns are financed. Our proposal combines the fondest dream of liberal reformersâ€”public financing of campaignsâ€”with the fondest dream of conservative and libertarian reformersâ€”no restrictions at all on donations from American citizens. The goal is to put a little distance between power and money. Federal office holders have power but need money. Special interests have money but need power. When the two come together, trading money for power, bad things happen.
Here’s how our plan would work:
First, we raise congressional pay big time. Pay ‘em what we pay the president: $400,000. That’s a huge increase from the $162,000 congressmen and senators currently make. Paul, especially, has been a critic of congressional pay increases. But he is willing to more than double politicians’ pay in order to get some of the corrupt campaign money out of the system. You see, the pay raise comes with a catch. In return, we get a simple piece of legislation that says members of Congress cannot take anything of value from anyone other than a family member. No lunches, no taxi rides. No charter flights. No golf games. No ski trips. No nothing.
And when it is campaign time, incumbents would be under a complete ban on raising money. You read that right. No president or member of Congress could accept a single red cent from individuals, corporations, or special interests. Period.
Challengers, on the other hand, would be allowed to raise money in any amount from any individual American citizen or political action committee. No limits, just as the free-market conservatives have always wanted. But here is the catch: Within 24 hours of receiving a contribution, the challenger would have to report it electronically to the Federal Election Commission, which would post it for the public to see. That way, if you want to accept a million dollars from, say, Paris Hilton, go for it. But be prepared for voters and reporters to ask what you promised her in exchange.
The day after you disclose Paris’s million bucks, the U.S. Treasury would credit the incumbent’s campaign account with a comparable sumâ€”say 80 percent of the contribution to the challenger to take into account the cost of all the canapÃ©s and Chardonnay the challenger had to buy to raise his funds as well as the incumbent’s advantage. So if Paris gave the challenger a mill, the Treasury would wire $800,000 to the incumbent. It couldn’t be much simpler. You might even call it the flat tax of campaign laws.
The penalties for violation would be swift. If an incumbent accepts so much as a postage stamp, he loses his seat. If a challenger doesn’t report contributions, he loses his shot. If you cheat, you are out on your ass.
What if the incumbent wants to spend her own money? After all, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the Constitution does not allow restrictions on how much money a candidateâ€”challenger or incumbentâ€”can spend. No problem. Uncle Sam would write the challenger a check for an equivalent amount. Unlike today, no one would have the upper hand simply because they were loaded.
What if a sitting congressman wants to run for senator, or a senator wants to run for president? Would he be allowed to raise funds? Sure. He’d just have to do what Bob Dole eventually didâ€”resign his Senate seat and hit the campaign trail like a regular citizen. If you want to run for higher office, you have to get off your current pedestal first.
I don’t normally look to Carville & Begala for instructions on how to change one iota of our government. Nor do I have any love for public financing of elections. But I do know a good idea when I see one, and this appears to be a hell of a lot better than our current system. I can see it now… What will XYZ Corporation, who wants to give $1 million to a business-friendly Republican candidate, think when they know $800,000 will automatically go to his opponent, the Democrat incumbent? Do you think Planned Parenthood will offer monetary support to their abortion-friendly Democrat candidate when they know that 80% of their donation will also be given to the Republican incumbent?
This idea came from an unexpected place, but is worth a look. Maybe with a tweak here and there, it might be an idea (like term limits) that would reform our entire system. Of course, that means it will never be enacted (also like term limits), but it’s worth a shot.
Hat Tip: Ezra Klein
Below The Beltway linked with Fixing What's Wrong In Washington
The pipeline is full. In the rear is the Irish Red Ale, which spent 2 weeks in the primary fermenter, and has now been transferred to the secondary fermenter. In the front is the Phat Tyre Amber Ale, which I just started brewing today. In two weeks, I bottle the Irish Red and transfer the Amber to the secondary. Two weeks later, I start drinking the Irish Red while bottling the Amber.
Based on what I learned the first time around, and since I didn’t need to spend as much time reading directions, I managed to cut the time to brew from about 3 hrs 45 min down to under 3 hrs. And that included transferring the Irish Red to the secondary fermenter, as I was able to do that while the Amber was boiling. And despite a bit of water-spray all over the kitchen due to a loose clamp on the wort chiller (note: don’t tell the wife about that!), the Amber seems to be off to a great start. I used the advice in the book I bought, and actually strained the particulate matter out of the wort when putting it into the secondary, so I should get more actual beer when I make the transfer in two weeks.
But the best part of the whole process? When checking the alcohol content of the Irish Red using a hydrometer (it’s around 4%), I took a nice long sniff of it. It’s really starting to smell like a very, very nice beer. I thought about tasting it, but quickly thought better of it.
The most interesting part of the process? Trying to decipher what confusion was occurring in the dogs’ minds… I swear that Guinness, living up to his namesake, told me it smells like beer and he wanted some!
Back in November, I read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. I’ve long been a Crichton fan, largely because he has a history of backing up his books with serious scientific research. But State of Fear was a foray into a minefield: environmental politics. And the research he found all seemed to point to the idea that the threat of global warming was about nothing more than control. As I said in my comments about the book in November:
There are people out there everywhere looking to use you for their own ends. And fear is a way that they can get you to willingly sign up to be their stooge. Politicians want you afraid, because â€œsavingâ€ you earns them votes. Even if what youâ€™re scared of is a chimera, as long as they can make you believe theyâ€™re protecting you, youâ€™ll love them. The media is driven by ratings, and ratings are increased when you think you need the latest â€œupdateâ€ theyâ€™re doling out. People tune in for a crisis, so theyâ€™ll manufacture a crisis out of minor trouble if it makes them money. The lawyers? â€˜Nuff said.
While I am not saying there is some huge, secret conspiracy (there isn’t), I am saying that the politico-legal-media grouping began engaging in groupthink, searching for other things they could use to continue to maintain power, prestige and money. And they found two things that would do the trick. One was crime. The other was the environment. Here’s what’s interesting about both of these topics. There is no objective evidence for the thing that we fear.Just the opposite, in fact. There is plenty of objective evidence that the things we fear are bugaboos. There is plenty of objective evidence that politicians have distorted these things to gain power, the media have distorted these things to maintain a very powerful position as purveyors of information and lawyers have distorted these things in order to increase litigation, which ……. gives them power and wealth.
In fact, since 1991 the crime index in the United States has steadily declines, every single year (source: The Disaster Center). When’s the last time you heard that on television or read it in a newspaper or magazine? Or heard a politician tell you that crime is getting better, not worse? During the years of steady increase in criminal behavior in this country, 1960 – 1991, crime was rarely the lead on the evening news or the front page. It was usually the Vietnam War, or the Cold War, or natural disaster or nuclear missiles, or what have you. Since 1991, violent crime has been a major facet of the media’s news, movies and entertainment, much larger than it was prior to then. The same goes for environmental issues. Starting in the late 1980’s, the media, followed by lawyers and politicians began to give environmentalists much more credence than previously. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the environmental movement was treated by the mainstream as a bunch of crackpots, which most of them are, to be honest. Suddenly, they got treated as serious people, talking about real issues, even when their data was completely suspect pseudoscience of the “everyone knows” variety. The exact same people. It’s not like these are different people, we are talking about folks on the extreme of environmental issues, Hollywood weirdos and such. Yes, these days there are a variety of scientists on board with the idea, but they didn’t get on board until their funding began to come from people who had a vested interest in an outcome that showed that global warming was happening. And now it’s on the evening news every night. With no real evidence to back it up.
And, as Eric’s got a lot more where that came from. Check it out.
Thinking of buying a TV for the bedroom? Think again — it could ruin your sex life.
A study by an Italian sexologist has found that couples who have a TV set in their bedroom have sex half as often as those who don’t.
“If there’s no television in the bedroom, the frequency (of sexual intercourse) doubles,” said Serenella Salomoni whose team of psychologists questioned 523 Italian couples to see what effect television had on their sex lives.
On average, Italians who live without TV in the bedroom have sex twice a week, or eight times a month. This drops to an average of four times a month for those with a TV, the study found.
For the over-50s the effect is even more marked, with the average of seven couplings a month falling to just 1.5 times.
Just how do you get the job “sexologist”? Is it like ‘gynecologist’, or ‘plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills’, in that it sounds a lot more fun than it really is? Would “sexologist” be a part of the ‘hard sciences’? Or does that depend on whether you’re doing it right?
Oh, and I haven’t seen any studies on it, but for all you bloggers out there, I’m sure taking a laptop to bed is probably even worse.
January 20, 2006
Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), the best-known political reformer in Congress, is popular again â€” among Republicans.
Which shows how seriously the GOP takes the political threat posed by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Republican-flavored corruption scandal he has spawned.
Republicans also turned to McCain, the occasional party maverick with the gold-plated reformer’s resume and a demonstrated appeal to independent voters. GOP leaders covet that appeal as they look ahead to fall elections that will test their grip on power.
“Obviously, when you’re looking at the issue of congressional reform, the first person you turn to in the United States Senate is John McCain, and we’ve done so,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.
That was Tuesday, the same day that California Rep. David Dreier walked across the Capitol to see McCain about legislation House Republicans are trying to pull together to curb the influence of lobbyists.
Not that many years ago, Republicans were furious at the Arizona senator for his ceaseless, and ultimately successful, efforts to pass legislation designed to reduce the impact of big money on politics.
None of the Republicans that I know have gained any new respect for McCain, ever since the Bipartisan Incumbent Protection act of 2002. The media has convinced everyone that the legislation was designed to reduce the impact of big money, but anyone with half a brain sees that it’s actual effect is to reduce the competitiveness of elections to those not currently holding office. Not to mention the fact that for all that McCain-Feingold has done, it certainly doesn’t seem to have helped deal with Mr. Abramoff and the politicians he’s purchased.
What really irks most of us who are paying attention is that the act is blatantly unconstitutional, and does much more to limit political speech than actually reform political speech. It has already been used to declare media articles and talk radio “in-kind contributions”, and the jury is still out as to whether that may eventually be applied to blogs. At the same time, it has left a convenient (527) loophole for people with a lot of money who want to still get a message out, but now they’re trying to chop holes in that.
It’s quite obvious that McCain-Feingold is one step closer to ensuring that the only information disseminated in political campaigns is that which is done by the candidate himself. And since incumbents find getting “face time” much easier than non-incumbents, it is quite simple to see who benefits from the suppression of outside political speech.
I admire John McCain for a lot of things. For one thing, even when I disagree with some of his positions, I admire the fact that he goes his own way, however “moderate” that may be. But McCain-Feingold is quite a self-serving reform, and if I want to find someone in the GOP to throw my support behind, it’s not going to be the guy trying to limit my right to freedom of speech.
The only folks jumping on the McCain bandwagon want to hang on the coat-tails of someone with a reformer’s image, not a true reformer. If they wanted honest debate and truth to reign in political campaigns, they’d stay as far away from McCain as possible.
January 18, 2006
As I mentioned yesterday, our company does a poker tournament each time we have a sales meeting. It’s an unofficial event that I coordinate, and we’ve now had 4 tournaments. In typical fashion, I’ve found myself always able to progress late into these tournaments, but watching chips slowly dwindle until I am forced all-in on a mediocre hand. Somehow I typically end up starting with the best hand when going all-in, but find myself knocked out anyway.
Until last night. I finally won one! It’s about a $30 buy-in, and we had 19 players, so my take was $225. Not bad for a night. For once, I didn’t catch any bad beats. In fact, I managed to watch luck fall in my favor once or twice!
The night really started for me about 15 hands in. I held AJo, raised, and quickly found myself heads-up against a fairly difficult player. He’s particularly difficult in that he’ll call on absolutely nothing, and he’ll bet on the feeling of weakness in his opponent. But I had position on him. The flop comes 10-6-8, two spades. He checks to me, I bet a decent amount, he calls. Turn is a queen (non-spade). He checks to me, but based on his call on the flop, I’m not prepared to bet into him again on high-card. He’s too unpredictable for that, and I don’t want to watch him come over the top, so I check right behind him. River is the 9 of spades, making me a straight (8 to queen), but leaving a flush possibility open. He leads out betting $5000 in chips (half the initial stack) into me. I really don’t figure him for the spades, so I call. He has two pair, I have the straight, I win a nice pot. This really started my night off, because I now had enough chips to play a little bit more aggressively.
Throughout the night, I later found myself winning small pots, usually without seeing a hand to a showdown, slowly increasing my stack. This is how I prefer to play, because I’d almost rather win blinds and wait for a great opportunity than risk large amounts of chips on any marginal hands, so things were going well.
A hand comes around, I’m dealt QsJs in late position. I raise a decent amount, one player (the big blind) calls. Flop comes A-8-8 rainbow. The big blind moves all-in. Now I’m confused, because he either has an ace and I’m in trouble, or he’s trying to steal the pot. And to call this bet is a large amount of my chips. I really think this one through, and I don’t think he’s got an ace or 8, and I’ve got enough chips in the pot to care about this one. I call. He’s got pocket 5’s. Classic race situation, because a queen or jack wins the pot for me, catching nothing loses the pot, and if I lose this pot, I’m nearly dead in the tourney. Turn is a 7. River is a 7. Meaning the best hand is the board, (two pair w/ ace kicker), and we split the pot. Bullet successfully dodged.
A short while later, I’m in the big blind, and the same player raises pre-flop. Everyone folds around to me, and I look at my hand. Pocket kings. I nearly soil myself, and immediately move all-in. He calls so quickly I have to think he’s got pocket aces. But alas, he turns over A-T suited. My hand holds up, and I’m starting to build a big stack in front of me.
About 5 hands later, I’m again in the big blind. The player I had just beat had won some hands in between to replenish his chips, but he and another player (small blind) call the blind. I look down at my cards, and see pocket aces. I try not to get wide-eyed and start shaking uncontrollably, and raise the pot $20,000 (big blind was $8000 at this point in the tourney). He calls, leaving him with about $10,500 in front of him. Before the flop is dealt I tell him I’m putting him all in blind after the flop, but at that point he has no choice but to call. Truthfully, I have no recollection of his cards or what came up on the board, except to know that I survived it and built a commanding chip lead over the rest of the table.
We’re down now to four players. The very next hand, our VP, who had watched his own chips dwindle, decides to go all-in (for $19K) before the flop without even seeing cards. I think he knew it was time to either make a big move or go bust, and he chose that. I had plenty of chips, so I called with A7o. Then the big blind goes all-in (another $13K to me). At that point, I’m pot-committed, and call the bet, to see him turn over A4o. Feeling better, I watch as the flop comes with an Ace, followed by high cards on the turn and river. We knocked out the VP (which is always nice!), but ended up splitting the pot, as our kickers had been beaten by the board. Down to three.
Third-place guy gets knocked out on a full-house. I’m now in a good (about 2-1) chip lead over 2nd place. He’s one of the sales guys who I discuss poker with on a regular basis, and have played with on many occasions. He comments on the fact that we’ve never actually gotten to play heads-up in this sort of situation before, despite the number of times we’ve played poker. We’re both looking forward to a long, protracted battle between two poker aficionadoes.
Too bad it only lasted one hand!
I’m dealt 5-8 in the big blind, he simply calls the blind ($10K). I check my crap hand, and we’re off to see a flop. Flop comes Q-6-7, giving me an open-ended straight draw. I bet $15K into him, which he calls and moves all-in. There’s $50K in the pot now plus his raise of $41K. So I’ve got to call $41K on the hopes of either catching a pair or some other out to beat him, or making my straight. I know I’ve got odds about 2:1 against making the straight by the river, plus a few other miracle outs, and I call. He turns over a jack and a seven, giving him a made pair. At this point, an 8, 9, or 4 wins me the pot with my straight. Turn is a 4, I got the straight, and it’s all over.
My god, that felt damn good. Especially after organizing tournament after tournament, only to get knocked out usually just into or just out of the money. All of a sudden I felt like I played well enough to win, my cards held up well enough to win (a true rarity), and I have six months of gloating until the next time we all do this.
January 17, 2006
Well folks, I’m in California at the moment, and between being bored to death at sales meetings and imbibing large quantities of Miller Lite with the sales guys afterwards, I’ve not had any chance to post. Today will be no different, as we have another fun-filled day of PowerPoint presentations, followed by our semi-annual company poker tournament (which I plan to win, of course), and thus I’m sure there won’t be any further posting today.
But I have good news! Someone has gone to all the trouble of putting together a collection of great liberty-oriented posts. It’s the Carnival of Liberty XXVIII, and it’s up at Below the Beltway. Head on over and check it out.
In a play on the old joke…
Q: What do you call it when lightning strikes the US Capitol building?
A: A good start.
January 15, 2006
Until recently, I worked as a freelance editor for a college application consulting firm. A friend had told me that online essay editing provided her with a flexible schedule and decent earnings, so I thought I’d give it a shot. A quick Google search produced a lengthy list of potential employers. I chose one at random, e-mailed my rÃ©sumÃ© with a writing sample and was hired as a freelance editor the following day.
Then my employer suggested that I could earn more money working as a “comprehensive” editor. The pricier and very popular Comprehensive Package, I was told, provided students with a more thorough form of assistance, including the “model essay” option. It sounded like a promotion to me.
My instructions were to call the clients and get a better understanding of their expectations. After a few days of e-mail correspondence, I would churn out the model compositions, which the students were instructed to use for “inspiration” during the process of writing their own. I didn’t question why a student (or, rather, a parent) might be willing to pay as much as $399 for a service that provided nothing more than inspiration. I was optimistic that my creativity and enthusiasm would rouse the undiscovered essayist within my clients.
Several weeks into the process, I found out that my first comprehensive client had in fact included my essay with his application — verbatim. (I asked him about it after discovering that the submission deadline for his top college choice was less than an hour after he received my “model.”)
I wasn’t helping these kids, I was faking it for them.
I should probably be more upset about this sort of thing than I am. When one of these fakers take a spot away from a kid who does his own work, it is tremendously unfair. When you’re a high school senior, you’re told over and over and over and over that you have to get into college, you have to get into a good college, you need to pad your resume with “extracurricular activities”, and if you don’t get in where you want, your life is ruined.
So the level of competition built into this admissions process is absolutely insane. For kids following the rules, to see other less-capable kids cheating and possibly getting in to schools that deny their own application must reduce their faith in the system in general. Given that the entire world makes it seem that your entire future rests in that system, it’s got to be quite disheartening.
But I have one ingrained belief that makes me think this isn’t as big of a problem as it is made out to be: The cream will rise to the top. I’ve met a great deal of successful people in my life. Some of them went to college. Some did not. Some went to big-name schools, and some went to 2nd-tier colleges or night school. Being admitted to a college doesn’t make you successful, nor does graduating from the “right” college. When these fakers finally get into the real world, they’ll realize that the real world doesn’t take to fakers very well. In the real world, results matter. Talent and hard work bring results, it can’t be faked.
For those high school seniors working their butts off and trying to get into college, I only have one bit of advice: keep at it. Don’t worry about the fakers, because they’ll get their comeuppance in a couple of years. School and college admissions is a fake world that rewards fake acheivement. You’ll be the one that is successful in the real world, and that’s where it matters.
January 14, 2006
From Doug at Below The Beltway, we finally are seeing someone with libertarian principles making the push within the Republican party to become House Majority Leader. John Shadegg (R-AZ), a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus, recently chose to toss his hat in the ring:
Shadegg came to Congress as part of the firebrand freshman class of 1994, which brought Republicans control of the House for the first time in 40 years. He said he doesn’t have confidence that the other contenders for the position would help the House bring about enough change.
He cast himself as a Republican in the tradition of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
“I believe in the power of Republican ideas, and I believe that we need a clean break from the scandals of the recent past,” Shadegg said.
The Club for Growth, which raises money for conservative candidates and often weighs in on GOP primary races, endorsed Shadegg on Friday.
“There is no member of the House of Representatives more committed to the idea of limited government and economic freedom than John Shadegg,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey.
If you’re a Libertarian who sometimes votes Republican, or a Republican with libertarian leanings, it’s time to take note of this. Government is large and generally impossible for individuals, even in a grassroots movement, to influence. Too often, our voices are discarded in favor of the voices carrying big checkbooks, and there’s often little we can do about that. Voting in particular has become one of the more pointless events a single individual can take, although many of us (myself included) choose to believe that we can make a difference and do it anyway.
Now is our chance to make a difference. The Republican party has a specific, important choice to make; one that will affect the party for years to come. Our elected officials are reeling from this scandal and may just be ready for someone outside the Republican “establishment”. And all we need is 116 votes out of 231 Republican congressmen. I think there is a growing resentment from the Republican grassroots at the rot that has occurred since the party came to power in 1994. It is time to make that sentiment heard.
I have an assignment for every single person who reads this blog, is a libertarian or Republican, and lives in a Republican-held congressional district. Write a letter to your congressman asking him to support Shadegg. Fax it to both his local and D.C. offices. That’s crucial. Don’t call, and don’t email (or do so in addition to sending a fax). Congressional staff pay far more attention to letters (especially those that are not form letters) than phone calls or emails, and due to security concerns with congressional mail, sending by fax is the best way to get a letter through.
I’m planning on sending a letter to Tom Price, my congressman here in the 6th District of Georgia. Tom is a freshman congressman, and seems to be very friendly to libertarian interests. My personal goal is to make sure that he supports Shadegg, even if the Republican “establishment” around him pulls for Blunt or Boehner.
A concerted push and grassroots movement now, if successful, could result in a long-term change in the tenor and tone of legislation coming from the Republican party. If you’re ever going to be more politically active than just pulling the lever in November, this is the time to do it.
But Caposela said he would not hold back the remainder of Kaiser’s sentence: a 10-year loss of his driver’s license and a $1,000 fine.
If an appeal is not filed, Kaiser will have to turn himself in. Kaiser, 42, has past convictions for driving under the influence, and Caposela determined that this incident should count as his third offense.
Pocket bikes are small motorcycles that buzz like chainsaws and can go up to 45 mph. Most models are under 2 feet high and typically sell for $200 to $500.
Kaiser had purchased the bike in 2004 for his 13-year-old nephew. The $150 gift is less than 3 feet long, and Kaiser asserted that it doesn’t exceed 20 mph.
On Aug. 29, 2004, Kaiser and some friends were at a barbecue in Pompton Lakes. They were taking turns riding the pocket bike when one of his friends injured his collarbone.
Kaiser, a slight man under 5-foot-5, took off on the bike to pick up cigarettes for the injured friend, when a police officer pulled him over for drunken driving.
It turned out that the policeman had been responding to the call for help at the barbecue.
In his written opinion, Caposela pointed to cases from other states where drivers who drove golf carts drunk were subject to DWI penalties.
When I read this, I got the same initial reaction as WindyPundit… WTF?
I realize a redneck’s last words are usually “Hey y’all, watch this!”, and in this case I’m sure the guy with the injured collarbone escaped lightly. I wouldn’t be surprised if some point in my life, I find myself screwing around on a pocketbike in a cul-de-sac after a few too many. After all, it’s just a toy, right? So immediately I thought a DWI charge for riding a pocketbike is far too severe.
But I re-read the story, and I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore. If it’s just a couple of drunken idiots screwing around in a cul-de-sac (a semi-controlled environment), any cop who gives them a DWI is completely overreacting. But in the story, they say this guy “took off on the bike to pick up cigarettes for friend”. How far was the store? Was he riding the bike down the street or the sidewalk? Were there other cars around?
Thinking about it, I can think of quite a few scenarios in which a DWI would make sense. Not that I would pull someone’s license for 10 years and give them a fine of $1,000 for it, but I think getting a ticket and a decent fine would be reasonable. This story doesn’t give nearly enough information to determine whether or not this scenario would fall into what I would consider reasonable, but I can’t get riled up over this without further information.
For those of you who know me in the meatspace world, this is no surprise. I’ve got about as much fashion sense as a homeless man: if it fits, I’ll probably wear it. But this has nothing to do with that. Lately, it seems that I can’t even physically dress myself.
I surveyed my T-shirt this morning, made sure everything was ready to go, and put it on inside out. I had another shirt this past week that I put on backwards. I’ve had boxers and a pair of gym shorts that I’ve put on backwards 2-3 times in as many weeks.
Am I losing my mind? Wait, don’t answer that…..
January 12, 2006
Samuel Alito coasted toward confirmation as the 110th Supreme Court justice Thursday, ending 18 grueling hours of Senate interrogation with Democrats showing little appetite for a last-ditch filibuster attempt on the Senate floor.
From the little bit I’ve seen, this really has been a very boring confirmation. At least Roberts made a concerted effort to show the Senate that he was far, far above them. For the most part, here’s what I’ve seen from Alito:
Senator: What do you think about [insert constitutional question here]?
Alito: Well, [insert constitutional question here] is a very tricky question, from a constitutional standpoint. There are a lot of hard issues to be worked out. The precedent in the area gives us some hints on how to rule, but beyond that, I plan to approach the issue with an open mind.
Senator: Do you have any opinion on [constitutional issue] at this time?
Alito: I can’t offer any indication on how I might think about [constitutional issue] without knowing the specific facts of the case, and wouldn’t be able to offer my own opinion at this time.
Senator: What about [Attorney General] v. [Plaintiff]? Do you agree with the way the court decided in that case?
Alito: Well, the court made a decision in that case based upon the facts of that case and the relevant precedent involved. As a justice, I would make sure that I made decisions based upon the facts of the case and the relevant precedents involved.
I like watching congressional debates on C-SPAN, and that’s darn close to the most boring thing you may ever find on television. Even I can’t stomach these confirmation hearings. I think Alito should be given a Purple Heart simply for sitting through it for three days (as his wife left the room crying) without beating Teddy Kennedy to a pulp.
It’s disappointing that confirmation hearings have become political events. There are serious issues to be discussed when confirming a Supreme Court justice, but the system has become so politicized that no serious discussion can be had. Every issue must be skirted so that nobody has a single clear idea what the nominee actually thinks. The longer we avoid this debate on nominees, the longer we avoid this debate in the general public, and it’s a debate we need to have.
Below The Beltway linked with Avoiding The Real Debate
Unborn children don’t count when it comes to carpool lanes, according to a judge’s ruling.
Even after being fined $367 for improper use of a High Occupancy Vehicle lane, Ahwatukee Foothills resident Candace Dickinson stood by her contention that Arizona traffic laws don’t define what a person is, so the child inside her womb justified her use of the lane.
“To follow her philosophy would require officers to carry guns, radios and pregnancy testers, and I don’t think we want to go there,” said Sgt. Dave Norton, the Phoenix police officer who cited Dickinson on Nov. 8.
Yeah, that’s not going to work in Phoenix. Try that one in Mississippi; you might have a shot. But this does bring up an interesting question:
Sole occupant vehicles aren’t allowed to use the carpool lanes during morning and evening rush hours Monday through Friday.
The idea is to lessen traffic congestion, Norton said, citing federal guidelines for creating the lanes.
Norton said when he stopped Dickinson’s car on Interstate 10, only one person was visible in the car.
When he asked Dickinson how many people were in the car, “she said two as she pointed to her obvious pregnancy,” Norton said.
The case set off a firestorm of opinion but Phoenix Municipal Court Judge Dennis Freeman used a “common sense” definition in which an individual occupies a “separate and distinct” space in a vehicle.
“The law is meant to fill empty space in a vehicle,” Freeman said.
Is this law intended to reduce congestion, or fill empty space? The idea of carpool lanes, at least as I understand it, is to encourage people to carpool to and from work. If reducing congestion is the goal, shouldn’t we only allow people to drive in the carpool lane if there are two licensed drivers in the car? After all, a mother with her four-year-old son can drive in the carpool lane, but unless Arizona has started allowing four-year-olds to drive, it won’t reduce congestion one whit.
Good thing this judge decided to use “common sense”.
PS – I just wanted to thank Doug for a very helpful shout-out in this interview. Knowing that anyone reads my blog that readily makes this just that much more rewarding of a hobby. Likewise, in my RSS reader, I have a folder designated for “Friends”, the people I hold in high esteem as friends in the blogosphere. Doug’s blog is in that group.
January 11, 2006
IBM isn’t alone: Large employers are increasingly freezing their traditional pension plans and automating 401(k) features to nudge workers to save in these do-it-yourself accounts, new research shows.
In 2005, 67% of large employers offered a traditional pension – a payout in retirement based on years of service and final pay – down from 91% two decades earlier, Hewitt Associates says.
IBM last week became the latest big U.S. employer to say it would freeze its traditional pension plan. At the same time, IBM said it would sweeten its 401(k) plan for 125,000 U.S. workers.
IBM’s sweeteners include an automatic company contribution of 1% to 4% of pay – even if workers don’t save anything themselves. And for those who do save in a 401(k), IBM will also match 100%, up from 50%, of the employee’s contribution up to 6% of pay.
The pension system is outmoded and unable to handle modern worker-employer relationships. As with all changes, change causes some pain, especially as companies learn they can default on their pensions and let the government pick up the slack. But the pension system is based on a lifestyle where workers stay with a company for long periods of time, and that is simply not the case in the modern world.
In addition, a pension system has a few serious problems. Pensions defer costs for companies, and when faced with immediate compensation increases demanded by unions and pension benefit increases by unions, companies choose the pension increase. This backloads the cost of employment until workers start to retire, at which time a company pension plan starts to collapse under its own weight. At the same time, pension plans create an added level of dependency of an employee on his employer, as an employee two or three years shy of the maturation of his pension will lose an enormous financial windfall by leaving the company. No matter how badly that employee may want to leave, he’s nearly forced to endure whatever conditions the company offers, as losing his pension would be far too costly to move.
The 401k system is a great solution. It is a defined-contribution plan which the individual employee owns. It is based upon appreciating assets (stocks), it is portable, and it is the epitome of a free transaction. The employee is completely free to set his own level of contribution, based on the amount of money he expects he will need to retire.
But therein also lies the problem. Despite the incentives employers offer to participate in 401k programs, nearly a third of eligible employees don’t participate. This is one of those natural features of most people, because when you’re 23 years old, you’re probably not thinking very hard about retirement. You’re usually stressing about how you’re going to pay rent & bills, buy groceries, and have money to entertain yourself in the standard to which you are accustomed; all on an entry-level salary. In too many cases, that lifestyle is subsidized by credit card debt, building debt which must be paid off (with interest) out of future earnings. It’s very easy to get yourself into a pattern of contributing nothing or far too little into your 401k, planning later in life to make up for it. Due to the wonders of compounding interest, however, those workers are making it harder and harder for themselves to recover, because the funds saved early in life will appreciate much more than anything saved later.
Oddly, I see most financial-planning commercials aimed at people in their 40s and 50s, and I’m constantly worried. If you’ve reached that age and you don’t already have a nice nest egg built, you’re probably in very bad shape when it comes to planning for your retirement. And if you’ve got the nest egg built, you probably already understand finances well enough to get yourself where you are that you don’t need a financial planner to “fix” your situation.
I’m not one to advocate government-mandated forced employee contributions, or Congress getting involved in the form of their “privatized” Social Security. As I’ve pointed out in the past, the last thing I want to see is Congress getting even more involved in the stock market, because I’m quite certain it will result in countless negative unintended consequences, including but not limited to lower returns for everybody.
But I applaud companies like IBM. 100% matching up to 6% of income, combined with an automatic company contribution of 1-4% of income is definitely a pretty sweet deal. I always tell friends that you should always put in as much of your income as your employer will match (after all, that’s just free money). But a company like IBM is really pushing to make the transition from a pension-based system to a 401k-based system a positive change for their workers. It is a very good move, and IBM and any other companies which choose to adopt similar policies deserve to be lauded for their actions.
Below The Beltway linked with The Changing Retirement Landscape
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