Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black Friday

Once a term that simply denoted the fact that the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, the day after Thanksgiving, marked the point in the calendar year that most retailers broke even on their expenses for the year and moved "into the black", Black Friday has gained a much more notorious reputation.  This year was, unfortunately, no exception.

Forget the idiots camping out in front of the local mall overnight (or longer) for the "privilege" of being first in line.  I'm talking about supposedly rational, mature adults fistfighting (and worse) over consumer goods of sometimes questionable value.

This past Friday, there were multiple reports of violence at malls around the country, including one report of a shopper using a taser against another bargain hunter, a shooting, a knife attack, people injured in stampedes and the crush of a mob converging upon the announcement of an "unadvertised special".

Could someone, anyone, please explain this phenomenon to me?  With small words and pictures?  I just don't get it.  We are opening a season intended to foster "Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Men" with a celebration of over-aggressive consumerism.  People willingly commit violence against one another in order to obtain that must-have gift necessary to show a loved one just how much they care.

Philosophically and morally, it's no different than a mugger assaulting someone on the street to finance his Christmas shopping.  Or, if I were to be political, government showing how much they care about the poor by confiscating someone's property in order to "spread the wealth around". 

Maybe that's where this kind of behavior got it's start?  If it's OK for government to rob Peter to pay Paul, why shouldn't these people feel justified in using any means necessary to get what they feel they "deserve"?  It's a philosophical disease.  One that destroys people's inborn desire and ability to achieve and to provide for themselves and their families and replaces it with a belief that no one should be allowed to have anything better or more than they do.

Not that this is anything new.  Remember the Cabbage Patch Kids(tm) back in the 80's?  Parents were pummeling each other to grab a stuffed doll for little Susie.  Nice role modeling, folks.  The biggest difference then was that news reports were near universally condemnatory, asking the question "What's wrong with these people?"  Now it's just an unremarked item on the evening news, no more important than the weather report.

As bad as these incidents are, more troubling still is the increasing acceptance by the general population that it's more or less expected behavior.  In fact, I'd wager that a Black Friday that went off without violence would be the real news maker.  It would certainly be the exception to the rule.  Which is perhaps the most discouraging news of all.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Death of the Republic

This past week, the Progressive Democrats in the Senate, in an unprecedented, nakedly partisan power grab, voted to upend more than 220 years of tradition, change the rules and effectively end the right of dissent for the minority party in the Senate by eliminating the filibuster for Executive appointments.  Using procedural motion, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led his majority to vote to allow debate to be cut off with a bare majority vote, instead of the 60 vote threshold the rules usually require when confirming Presidential appointees.  With that vote, they have set the stage for the end of the Republic, in favor of a Democracy.

As is typical, the Progressives/Statists shrug off as irrelevant the blatant hypocrisy of their actions.  It was just a few years ago, during the term of George W. Bush that they were all up in arms over the possibility that the Republican might do what they just did (here's the difference, the Republicans never even proposed to vote on, much less pass, such a rules change). 

Sen. Reid: The filibuster encourages moderation and consensus. It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail. It also separates us from the House of Representatives -- where the majority rules.  And it is very much in keeping with the spirit of the government established by the Framers of our Constitution: Limited Government...Separation of Powers...Checks and Balances. 

Mr. President, the filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check.  This central fact has been acknowledged and even praised by Senators from both parties.

Mr. President, the right to extended debate is never more important than when one party controls the Congress and the White House.  In these cases, the filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government.

Right now, the only check on President Bush is the Democrats ability to voice their concern in the Senate.

If Republicans rollback our rights in this Chamber, there will be no check on their power. The radical, right wing will be free to pursue any agenda they want. And not just on judges. Their power will be unchecked on Supreme Court nominees...the President's nominees in general...and legislation like Social Security privatization.

And that is why the White House has been aggressively lobbying Senate Republicans to change Senate rules in a way that would hand dangerous new powers to the President over two separate branches -- the Congress and the Judiciary.

Unfortunately, this is part of a disturbing pattern of behavior by this White House and Republicans in Washington.

Then-Senator Obama: Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to think about the implications of what has been called the nuclear option and what effect that might have on this Chamber and on this country... I urge all of us to think not just about winning every debate but about protecting free and democratic debate.

If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party, and the millions of Americans who asked us to be their voice, I fear that the already partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That doesn't serve anyone's best interests, and it certainly isn't what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.

I recognize that the filibuster can be used for unfortunate purposes. However, I am also aware that the Founding Fathers established the filibuster as a means of protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority -- and that protection, with some changes, has been in place for over 200 years.

Then-Senator Joe Biden: We should make no mistake. This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power. It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party, propelled by its extreme right and designed to change the reading of the Constitution, particularly as it relates to individual rights and property rights. It is nothing more or nothing less.

The nuclear option abandons America's sense of fair play ... tilting the playing field on the side of those who control and own the field. I say to my friends on the Republican side: You may own the field right now, but you won't own it forever. I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don't make the kind of naked power grab you are doing." [emphasis added]

Apparently, all that has changed with the change in occupancy of the White House.,

Like spoiled children and other incompetents, when they can't win the game playing by the rules, their answer is always to change the rules so they can win.  Preferably unopposed.

As justification for this naked partisan power grab, Sen. Reid and Pres. Obama claimed it was necessary to combat "obstructionist" tactics from the Republicans.  Apparently, when they were busily holding up Bush's nominees they weren't being obstructionist, they were just being good stewards of the people who elected them to office.  Here are the facts:  according to the Congressional Research Service, the average number of days from nomination to confirmation for first-term circuit court nominees (including the D.C. Circuit at the heart of the Nuclear option), was 277 days for George W. Bush. For Obama it has been 240 days. Republicans have confirmed 215 of Obama's court appointments. They rejected two

Mr. Reid also bemoaned the lack of business being done by the Congress, saying that "the American people deserve more".  If Harry Reid wants to find obstructionism, he need look no further than his lectern, where bi-partisan passed House bills have gone to die for the last 5 and a half years.

What this means for us regular folks is this: there is now de-facto one party rule in Washington.  There is absolutely nothing the Republicans can do to slow down Obama's great march forward into Socialism/Marxism/Communism/Collectivism.  Nothing.  Obama now has a free hand to nominate whomever he will for the District and Appellate Courts, as well as Cabinet appointments and Department heads.  Even the most extreme nominees will get a pass, unless they are even too far outside the mainstream for your run-of-the-mill liberal (don't count on it).

When it comes to anything meaningful, the opposition may as well call in sick.

Does Obama want to nominate a Socialist union organizer to the NLRB?  No problem.

Does Obama want to nominate someone who thinks businesses are evil and that all coal & nuclear power plants should be shut down in favor of "green energy" to head the EPA?  Done.

Does Obama want to nominate out-spoken collectivists who believe that the Constitution should be discarded in favor of a "more modern document that reflects the realities of today".  Nothing to stop him.

He is now free to pack the courts and the bureaucracy to an extent that FDR could only dream of.  Keep in mind that once these appointments are made, they can't be unmade.  I know of no way, short of impeachment, to remove  a sitting judge from the Federal court.  As for the bureaucracy, yeah, a different President could, I suppose, replace the head of the EPA, the DOJ, etc. and every President is entitled to name his own Cabinet, but what about the mid-level bureaucrats that will be installed throughout all levels of government by those who get appointed in the interim?  Very little of what happens in the regulatory arena originates from the top.  The EPA has many "environmentalists" in it's ranks working below the surface.  Even if the President nominates and installs a head of the EPA who has a reasonable opinion of businesses and businessmen, his/her underlings are the ones who make sure directives are followed (or not).  There are many things that originate from the top that never see the light of day because of opposition by the liberal rank and file.

The impact on the court system is even more troubling.  If Obama is able to appoint even a handful of Progressive, "social-justice" judges to lifetime appointments, we'll never get back to a court system based on an equally and impartially applied set of objective laws.  Everything will be eventually decided with a lean towards what's deemed "fair".  Legal matters concerning monetary awards will no longer be decided according to the letter of the law or contract and the individual merits of the claimants.  Judges will feel empowered to decided based on their individual notion(s) of "social-" and "economic justice".

For now, nominees to the Supreme Court are untouched by the change in filibuster rules.  Look for that to change, should Ginsburg or one of the other liberal justices signal their readiness to retire.  Also, legislative filibusters still require 60 votes to bring and end to debate.  Given the long list of legislative complaints listed by both Pres. Obama and Sen. Reid, look for that to change, should they face opposition to some favorite piece of liberal claptrap legislation designed to extend federal control over our lives even further.

What's perhaps most troubling is the lack of real outrage from the Republican leadership.  Both Sen. McConnell and Speaker Boehner have been more than a little tepid in their remarks so far.  Perhaps they both see eventual advantage for themselves in what the Democrats have done?  I have actually heard so-called conservative Republican pundits opining that this could actually be to their advantage, that it could make it easier for them to repeal Obamacare and to pursue their agenda when (if) they gain control of the Senate in the next election.

Let me get this straight.  This could actually be a good thing for the country because, when the Republicans get in power they can break the rules even worse???  Aside from the fact that there is little, if any difference between a Progressive Democrat and a Progressive Republican, we are supposed to be "a nation of laws, not of men".  If rules and customs that have near the sanctity of law after having stood since the establishment of the institution of Congress can be waived at whim by a simple majority of 50%+1, there is no rule of law.  There is no protection for the minority against the tyranny of the majority.  There is nothing to stop the 50.1% from voting to take anything they want from the 49.9%.  That's what "Democracy" is.  Limitless power for the majority.  Mob rule backed by the power of government.

We have one last chance to pull the ashes of America out of the Progressive inferno:  Republicans must get mobilized for the 2014 mid-term elections.  Obama and the Progressive Dems (as well as some Progressive Republicans) will have nearly 12 months to impose their will on the rest of us, but we can limit the damage by taking back control of the Senate and keeping control of the House of Representatives.  Regardless of what you may think of "RINO's", this may very well be a time to hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils.  Should the Democrats hold the Senate, or worse, should they both hold the Senate and gain seats in the House due to conservatives sitting out, America as founded will cease to exist.  It's entirely possible that the Senate will never be the same as it once was.  If it is to have any chance of being restored to it's rightful place in the balance of power, the first action taken by the Republicans upon gaining control of the Senate should not be to immediately push for their agenda, to "get some of their own back", but to immediately vote to  restore the super-majority threshold for Presidential nominees.  If they are the statesmen they pretend, if they have the honor and integrity we should demand of all of our representatives, they will do this.  If they don't, they will have shown that what many have thought for years is true; that there is no difference between the Republican and Democrat parties, we are all just grist for their power mills.

So goes the Republic.  It was a nice dream while it lasted.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Property Rights and Government

This is going to be a short one today (the boss changed my schedule at the last minute, so I don't have as much time as usual to post. I'll try to get more into it later, if I have 'net access.)

I just found out that the EPA has been sued by 7 states' Atty General, not to protest the imposition of some new mandate, to protest the lack of administrative ruling.  Apparently, they have decided the EPA has been remiss in their duties by not taking steps to regulate the burning of wood for home heating.

The use of wood (a completely "renewable resource") for home heating has been on the rise in recent years as the cost of heating with fuel oil has gone up and using natural gas is impractical for rural areas.  Saying that the EPA must act to regulate the emissions of these wood-fired boilers because of the particulates they put out in wood smoke, they are suing the department to create standards similar to those proposed for new coal-fired power plants.

The proposal would directly impact lower-income Americans in rural areas financially by requiring them to either spend money they don't have on expensive retro-fits to existing stoves and furnaces or on the purchase of new, hi-tech systems.  People are already having a hard enough time making ends meet in this economy, now individual states are actually suing the federal government to make things even harder???

The most disturbing part of this to me is that one of these AG's is Bill Sorrell, the Attorney General of my home state of Vermont.  Imagine!  We who are living in a rural state where heating with wood is as much a tradition as tapping maple trees for sap to turn into syrup for breakfast and raising cattle, a state where a majority of the population relies on wood heat as an economical alternative to oil, have a member of our government demanding that the Obama administration levy new costs on a populace already treading water.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Land of the Free?

If you are planning a family getaway, vacation, or golf outing you may want to cross the state of New Mexico off your list.  If you do decide to travel to, or through the state, I'd advise using public transportation.  Driving yourself may result in dire, unforeseen consequences.

I don't know what's in the air/water in the town of Deming,NM, but the police have gone insane.  Or perhaps it's something worse; racial discrimination resulting in police brutality w/homosexual overtones.

What follows are the stories of two men, Timothy Young and David Eckert, and the unbelievable ordeals they endured at the hands of the local police.  63 year old David Eckert's day of torture and sexual assault began when he allegedly "rolled through" a stop sign in Deming on Jan 2, 2013.  Officers pulled him over, ordering him to get out of the vehicle.  One of the officers asked to physically search Mr. Eckert's person and he refused to consent, since he had done nothing wrong.  The officers then applied to a county judge to approve a search warrant and authority for a body cavity search, alleging that Mr. Eckert appeared to have "clenched his butt cheeks" and that their K9 "hit" on his car seat (the dog is not certified in drug detection), leading them to believe he could be concealing drugs in his anal cavity.  Based on such a weak standard of "probable cause" the judge approved the warrant.

The officers transported their victim to a local hospital, where the ER doctor refused to perform the procedure, saying it was "unethical".  Undeterred, they then went to the Gila Regional Medical Center, in the process crossing the county line, rendering the warrant invalid.  While at the facility, Mr. Eckert underwent a 12 hour ordeal during which he was forced to undergo 2 x-rays, 2 "digital" anal searches (think, prostate exam), 3 forced enemas & bowel movements, and forced colonoscopy under anesthetic.  NO EVIDENCE OF DRUGS WERE EVER FOUND.

Pouring salt in the wound, he later received a bill from the medical center for $6,000 for the cost of medical procedures he never consented to.  The medical center has also threatened to  take him into collections.  They may sue him for the cost of his humiliation and assault!

Timothy Young's mis-adventure began when he allegedly failed to use his signal when making a turn on October 13, 2013 in Lordsburg, NM.  In the course of working this traffic stop Leo, the same K9 that "hit" on Mr. Eckert's vehicle in January, triggering a search for non-existent drugs, also "hit" on his vehicle.  As in the case with Mr. Eckert, the police "armed with 'probable cause' and a search warrant" took Mr. Young to, again, the Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City, NM where he was subjected to repeated x-rays and anal cavity searches.  As in the previous case, no evidence of drugs were found and no valid search warrant was in effect.  Both men have filed lawsuits against the police departments, the  judge approving the warrants, and the medical center and it's staff. 

Mr. Eckert's attorney, Albuquerque civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy, has raised the spectre of racial discrimination in his case, saying "Maybe the officers who did this don't like him living in their community," said Kennedy. "He's a white boy, a scraggly white boy, and all these officers are Hispanic. It's a New Mexico thing."  Atty Kennedy is also representing Mr. Young.

I don't know enough, none of us do, to paint these officers and the department with the racist tar brush; has to wonder if there would be such a suspension of judgment if the ethnicity was the reverse, with white officers allegedly mistreating a Hispanic.  Somehow, I have to believe that, if such were the case, there would've been much more national attention brought to bear and the condemnation would've been immediate and widespread.

Lest you believe that you'll be ok on your vacation as long as you avoid Deming, NM, there's this companion story out of El Paso, TX detailing the story of  a New Mexico woman who was allegedly stripped-searched, vaginally probed and then taken to a hospital for more invasive examinations after crossing back into El Paso from Mexico in December.  The biggest difference between this case and the cases in Deming, NM is that the Border Patrol never bothered to seek and obtain a search warrant before taking this woman to the hospital in El Paso, TX where, "after being stripped and vaginally probed, the woman was allegedly subjected to X-rays, scans and a forced bowel movement."  As with the other incidents, NO EVIDENCE OF DRUGS WAS EVER FOUND.

A spokesman for the Border Patrol in El Paso did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case or on its policies for conducting such searches.

Travelling in the southwest any time soon?  Drive carefully, obey all traffic laws, remember to ALWAYS use your turn signal, and no day trips into Mexico for souvenirs. 


Sunday, November 3, 2013

In Obamacare We Trust (Not so much)

The slow motion train wreck which is the roll out of the mis-named "Affordable Care Act" continues.

At the time I'm writing this, the entire site has "gone dark" in order to effect repairs to the more than 500 million lines of code.  Not to worry, though.  Obama promises that his administration will have everything up and running by the end of November, the fact they've been working on the site for more than three years already notwithstanding......

It's clear to most (other than the usual statist cheerleaders) that Obamacare can never work as advertised; that perhaps it was never intended to.  Many have begun to join the "conspiracy theorists" in positing that the failure of Obamacare and the resulting chaos is fully intended, that it was designed to engender such outrage, consternation and fear in those who rely on health insurance that the country would clamor for the creation of "single-payer", government-run insurance (Medicare for all).  Even the heretofore reliably enthusiastic mainstream press has begun to report stories on the debacle that is the ACA; from hugely increasing premiums and deductibles, to doctors and entire healthcare organizations deciding to forego participation, to states declining Obama's "generous" offer of 100% federal funding (for the first three years) if they will only agree to a massive expansion of Medicaid rolls.

Many outlets (not just Fox News) are reporting on and highlighting the many lies of Obamacare.  From the promises "If you like your current health plan you can keep it." to "My plan will lower premiums $2500/yr for the average family." to "This plan will not affect anyone who currently gets their insurance through their employer.", the President is finally being called on his "misstatements".

When chief Obama advisor (who many say is the true "power behind the throne") Valerie Jarrett made the outrageous claim that the fault lied with the insurance companies, that nothing in the ACA forced them to cancel policies and increase premiums, she was quickly called on her lie.  It was pointed out that the ACA actually forces insurance companies to cancel policies it deems "inadequate", regardless of whether the subscriber who chose that particular plan was happy with it or not, and requires them to offer so-called "comprehensive" care plans which are much more expensive to run and administer.  I guess Obama and his followers think that the insurance companies should take it upon themselves to underwrite the increased costs of the Obamacare-required plans out of the goodness of their hearts?  (Wait a minute!  Obama, and others, have gone on record decrying what "greedy insurance companies" have done to American healthcare.  According to them, insurance companies don't have a heart.)

Obama, himself has had to address his past statements and has attempted to "walk back" what he said.  He and his spokespeople have taken to saying that the plans that are being cancelled are "substandard" and that what he meant was that if you had adequate insurance that you liked you could keep that plan.  What has only gotten limited play so far in the media is the fact that, less than six months after the passage of the ACA, achieved through the promises of the administration, there was a small alteration made through the regulatory process of HHS that severely reinterpreted the clause that allowed for the grandfathering of existing healthcare plans.  This new regulation that wasn't subject to congressional review specified that such grandfathering would only apply as long as the plans remained "unaltered".   Any alteration (apparently even those required by Obamacare) would void the grandfathering provision.  Under the definitions of alterations, ANY change in the plan would void their protections.  Any change in coverages, coverage limits, premiums, co-pays, or insurance providers will invalidate "grandfathered" status even if such changes amounted to improvements and would be beneficial to subscribers!

However, there is ONE segment of the health insurance industry that will be largely unaffected by the change in the grandfathering provisions of Obamacare:  UNIONS.  Yep, that's right.  Buried deep in the legalese is a provision included in the HHS rulemaking that specifically excludes from potential loss of grandfathered status "plans that are the result of collective bargaining".  If you are a member of a union and changes to your healthcare coverage are negotiated as part of your overall package in collective bargaining agreements, the legal requirement that such a change force participation in the Obamacare exchange doesn't apply.  It appears that all the fuss earlier this year by unions, complaining that they should be exempted from Obamacare taxes and surcharges and that their earlier exemption, obtained in return for their support of Obamacare, should be made permanent, along with the "big news" that they were denied any extension of their waiver was largely a smokescreen.

Here's a pull quote from an article sent out to HR officers in June of 2010:

"Unlike the normal grandfathering rules that apply to other group health plans, changing the insurance issuer during the period of a collective bargaining agreement will not cause an insured union-negotiated health plan to lose it's grandfathered status."

So.  If you like your current plan, you can keep it.  Not so much.
If you like your doctor, you can keep seeing him.  Not so much.
Your premiums will be reduced by about $2500 per year.  Not so much.
If you get your insurance through your employer, nothing will change.  Not so much.
The ACA will lower costs by fostering competition.  Not so much.

Obamacare:  an improvement in management and delivery of American healthcare.  Not so much.