December 15, 2005

Boston Globe’s New Standard for Current Office-Holding Presidential Aspirants: Quit If You’re Even Thinking About It

(Cross-posted under a different title at Newbusters with the front-page items [woo-hoo!])
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One of two things must be happening at The Boston Globe:

  • It must really be gnawing at the editorial writers at The Globe that the GOP has controlled the governor’s mansion in Massachusetts, nearly the bluest of all blue states, for over a decade, and they just couldn’t take it any more.
  • The Editorial Board has raised the standards of conduct for presidential aspirants to dizzying heights.

How else to explain The Globe’s December 15 editorial (HT to James Taranto of Best of the Web) demanding that current Governor Mitt Romney, who recently announced that he will not run for reelection in 2006, resign immediately?:

OUR NEW YEAR’S wish: a governor who wouldn’t rather be elsewhere.

By thumbing his nose at Massachusetts after less than three-quarters of one term as its chief executive, Mitt Romney, yesterday surrendered his clout and squandered his legitimacy. If, as it appears, his heart and mind are no longer in Massachusetts, he should resign.

Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is inexperienced. But the state would be far better off in the hands of someone focused on state problems, rather than someone touring the country ridiculing the people he was elected to serve.

Keep in mind that Mr. Romney has not declared that he will run for president, has not even formed an exploratory committee, and that it is 2 years before the Iowa caucuses and the early primaries. The Globe’s 2005 standards for continuing in the Governor’s Mansion now include a total lack of presidential ambitions.

This has to a new standard at The Globe, as they failed to demand the resignations of at least these past governors:

  • Democrat Michael Dukakis, who stayed on as Massachusetts governor during and after his unsuccessful 1984 presidential campaign.
  • Democrat Bill Clinton, who stayed on as Arkansas Governor during his successful 1992 presidential run.
  • Then-Texas GOP Governor George W. Bush, who stayed in office until he won in 2000.

But why stop at governor? By the new Globe standard, surely a United States Senator or Congressperson can’t focus on his or her job if presidential ambition has reared its ugly head.

To be consistent, The Globe in the past would have demanded the resignations of at least the following during the past two presidential election cycles:

  • 2004 Presidential candidate John Kerry.
  • 2004 Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards.
  • 2004 Democrat aspirants Bob Graham, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich, and Richard Gephardt.
  • 2000 GOP candidate John McCain.

Readers can certainly provide many more examples from previous campaigns.

And of course, if we go back far enough, Massachusetts favorite son and then-Senator John F. Kennedy would have been required by 2005 Globe standards to resign before he ran and won in 1960.

Now that The Globe has raised the bar, I am looking forward to its future editorial demands on 2008 presidential aspirants:

  • The Globe will of course demand that Hillary Clinton not run for reelection as senator from New York unless she renounces any presidential ambitions. Failing that, they will surely demand that she resign as soon as she forms an exploratory committee.
  • The Globe will require the resignation of Senator John McCain, and any other senator or congressperson from either side of the aisle, once they indicate that they are setting their sights on, or even a furtive glance at, The White House.

I’ll be watching The Globe to ensure that they continue to insist on their new standard.

Wait. It couldn’t be that The Editorial Board is merely taking gratuitous shots at Mitt Romney, could it?

Passage of the Day: Walter Williams on Rosa Parks, Black Progress, Those Left Behind, and Why

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:44 pm

From Townhall.com (“Betrayal of the struggle”; bolds mine):

Last month, when Rosa Parks was laid to rest in Detroit, her eulogy contained well-deserved praise for her brave defiance of segregation laws that led to the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and later the 1956 Supreme Court ruling that banned public transportation segregation. The passing and remembrance of her generation of blacks, who made sacrifices to deliver today’s opportunities, might also be an occasion for condemnation of what’s no less than a gross betrayal of that generation’s struggle.

….. While not every vestige of racial discrimination has been eliminated, it is nowhere near the barrier it was yesteryear, but you’d think discrimination is everywhere listening to some of today’s black politicians and civil rights leaders. One wonders what those blacks, who lived during the era of gross discrimination and are now deceased, would think about so much of today’s behavior, rhetoric and excuses.

What would they think about black neighborhoods, once thriving economic centers that have been turned into economic wastelands by a level of criminal activity previously unknown? During my youth, walking through some of Philadelphia’s predominantly white neighborhoods, one felt a sense of relief as we approached a black neighborhood. Today, it might be the other way around. What would they think about predominantly black schools where violence and intimidation are the order of the day, with police cars outside and metal detectors inside? What would they think about black students who seek academic excellence being mocked, intimidated and assaulted by their peers for “acting white”?

By any assessment, black Americans have made the greatest progress, over some of the highest hurdles and in the shortest span of time than any other racial group in the history of mankind. If one added the earnings of black Americans and thought of us as a nation, we’d be the 14th richest nation.

….. For a large segment of the black community, these gains remain elusive. The gains will remain elusive so long as black civil rights and political leadership blame and focus their energies on discrimination. While discrimination exists, the relevant question is how much of what we see can be explained by it. A 70 percent illegitimacy rate, 60 percent of black children raised in female-headed households, high crime and poor school performance have devastating consequences. This level of pathology cannot be attributed to discrimination, considering that much of it was absent in earlier times when there was far more discrimination, greater poverty and fewer opportunities.

It’s time that black people hold fellow blacks accountable for squandering opportunities won at a high cost by our ancestors. Failing to do so makes all blacks complicit in the betrayal.

The Klan could not have done more damage to the black underclass than so-called civil rights leaders and their welfare-state enablers have.
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Dec. 15: Outside the Beltway Jammer.

Knock Me Over with a Feather (Credible Claim That Saddam Transferred Chem Weapons to Syria)

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:39 pm

The New York Sun Story (HT Atlas Shrugs):

Saddam’s WMD Moved to Syria, An Israeli Says

Saddam Hussein moved his chemical weapons to Syria six weeks before the war started, Israel’s top general during Operation Iraqi Freedom says.

The assertion comes as President Bush said yesterday that much of the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was incorrect.

The Israeli officer, Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon, asserted that Saddam spirited his chemical weapons out of the country on the eve of the war. “He transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria,” General Yaalon told The New York Sun over dinner in New York on Tuesday night. “No one went to Syria to find it.”

Two responses:
1. If true, will the president retract the asertion that “much of the intelligence ….. was incorrect”? (as he should)
2. Plenty of WMDs have been found (ignored by the WORMs [Worn Out Reactionary Media, known to most as The Mainstream Media] except in isolated reports, but gathered together along with many other nuggets of truth is a book called “Disinformation“).

Public Retirement Systems: Another ‘Small’ Peek, and a Growing Recognition of the Huge Problem

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:12 pm

The New York Times on December 11 had a very good article (in terms of information, but not for solutions) about the coming public pension and retiree healthcare crises (HT Porkopolis, who also has a related post).

It starts by looking at Duluth, Minnesota:

SINCE 1983, the city of Duluth, Minn., has been promising free lifetime health care to all of its retired workers, their spouses and their children up to age 26. No one really knew how much it would cost. Three years ago, the city decided to find out.

It took an actuary about three months to identify all the past and current city workers who qualified for the benefits. She tallied their data by age, sex, previous insurance claims and other factors. Then she estimated how much it would cost to provide free lifetime care to such a group.

The total came to about $178 million, or more than double the city’s operating budget. And the bill was growing.

“Then we knew we were looking down the barrel of a pretty high-caliber weapon,” said Gary Meier, Duluth’s human resources manager, who attended the meeting where the actuary presented her findings.

Mayor Herb Bergson was more direct. “We can’t pay for it,” he said in a recent interview. “The city isn’t going to function because it’s just going to be in the health care business.”

Duluth’s doleful discovery is about to be repeated across the country. Thousands of government bodies, including states, cities, towns, school districts and water authorities, are in for the same kind of shock in the next year or so. For years, governments have been promising generous medical benefits to millions of schoolteachers, firefighters and other employees when they retire, yet experts say that virtually none of these governments have kept track of the mounting price tag. The usual practice is to budget for health care a year at a time, and to leave the rest for the future.

Off the government balance sheets – out of sight and out of mind – those obligations have been ballooning as health care costs have spiraled and as the baby-boom generation has approached retirement. And now the accounting rulemaker for the public sector, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, says it is time for every government to do what Duluth has done: to come to grips with the total value of its promises, and to report it to their taxpayers and bondholders.

The idea that states, cities and counties could make these promises without having an idea of their ultimate cost is a disgrace.

Since we can’t pull the people who made those decisions out of their coffins and nursing homes and flog them, what can be done? Well, for starters, new rules are going into place that will force the recognition of the problem:

The new accounting rule is to be phased in over three years, with all 50 states and hundreds of large cities and counties required to comply first. Those governments are beginning to do the necessary research to determine the current costs and the future obligations of their longstanding promises to help pay for retirees’ health care. Local health plans vary widely and have to be analyzed one by one. No one is sure what the total will be, only that it will be big.

Stephen T. McElhaney, an actuary and principal at Mercer Human Resources, a benefits consulting firm that advises states and local governments, estimated that the national total could be $1 trillion. “This is a huge liability,” said Jan Lazar, an independent benefits consultant in Lansing, Mich. “If anybody understands it, they’ll freak out.”

Recognition of the problem is a step, but beyond that, The Times offers us only a tug of war between taxpayers and public-sector unions.

There is a better idea: private accounts. That isn’t to say there isn’t going to be pain. The people we can’t flog caused that. But private accounts at least have a light at the end of the tunnel after a couple of generations of implementation wash the current liabilities away. Sticking with or just tweaking the current system is guaranteed to lead to state and municipal insolvency on a grand scale.
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Previous Post:
August 9: Public Retirement Systems: A “Small” Peek at a Huge Problem (Cincinnati)

Kelo and Property Rights Update: Kimberley Strassel on Oregon’s M37 and Judicial Tyranny

Filed under: Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:22 am

Original post on M37: Judicial Tyranny in Oregon

OpinionJournal.com’s Kimberley Strassel pens a timely review today of judicial outrages (“In Oregon this land isn’t your land”) and reversals of the voters’ will on property rights in Oregon:

PORTLAND, Ore.–Reformers, take note. There’s a big lesson to be learned from this state’s ongoing, bare-knuckle fight over property rights. Ballot initiatives are all well and good, but they are only half the equation. First, voters must boot judges who legislate from the bench.

….. Two separate judges struck down the property measures on embarrassing legal grounds. And voters can’t count on a state Supreme Court that revels in meritless decisions to right things on appeal.

This is a bitter pill to swallow, especially given how hard Oregonians have fought to get this far. Oregon’s property regime traces back to the 1970s, when elites worried that all the rednecks in the pretty parts of the state might get the uppity idea of developing their land and ruining urbanites’ weekend playground. A new law gave the state control of land use, stripping power from counties that were far better positioned to respond to local needs. The law was also behind “urban growth boundaries,” within which development was fair game. Anything outside was labeled “forest” or “farming” or “open” land and frozen in time.

In addition to its abuse of constitutionally protected property rights, the law has also had devastating economic effects. Property prices inside the boundary artificially skyrocketed, while rural areas were barred from development that would create new jobs. No other state has been foolish enough to pass a copy of the law.

….. In 2000, in the face of this dysfunction, voters took over. A group called Oregonians in Action got a measure on the ballot that would require the state to pay landowners for the value of property they “took” via regulation. Not everyone understood what it would do, and many undecideds were worried about the dollar-cost it would impose on the state, yet “Measure 7″ passed with 53% of the vote.

Opponents soon filed suit in Marion County, home to the state capital and at least a few judges hostile to citizens’ rights. They found just such a soul in the circuit’s presiding judge, Paul Lipscomb. He quickly struck down Measure 7 on a technicality, arguing it was improperly presented to voters.

Oregonians in Action started over and drew up a new initiative, Measure 37, designed to satisfy Judge Lipscomb’s complaints. The new language also solved the money concern, by offering government a choice between compensating property owners and simply exempting them from restrictions. And last year, despite being outspent four-to-one by national green groups, and overwhelming opposition from the press and Democrats, Measure 37 passed by 61%–among the most popular citizen-initiatives in state history.

Not that it mattered. Even as the state moved ahead, receiving thousands of Measure 37 claims and granting exemptions, environmental critics went back to court. And this October, Judge Mary James, also of Marion County, came up with five objections to the law–most insurmountable. At the top of this piece of creative writing was her argument that the law was unconstitutional because it limited the power of the state government over private land. Put another way, Oregonians have absolutely no right to defend against any state use of their property.

The price effects of development restrictions were noted here yesterday.

Okay, what to do? Strassel suggests that voters need to recall the worst judicial offenders and pay much closer attention to judicial elections:

Oregon judges can operate this way because they have near-foolproof job protection. The state still allows its judges to put an “i” (for “incumbent”) next to their names on the ballot, which gives them a huge advantage in elections. Combine this with voters’ traditionally apathetic approach to judicial elections, and it is no surprise that no judge in Oregon has lost a re-election for at least a decade, if not longer.

This may change. Already a local group is collecting signatures to recall Judge James. But more important, voters are pledging to make the judiciary their top priority in upcoming elections. In doing so, they join reformers across the country who in the past year have begun tossing out court incumbents, encouraging real judicial races, and demanding judicial elections be more fair.

In fact, 39 states hold some form of judicial elections. Good-governance types are already arguing that the new partisan focus on judicial candidates threatens the integrity of the courts, and that may be a debate worth having. But for now, the fact remains that it is voters who are tasked with filling the bench. And to that extent, they have a right to choose candidates who respect the law–and the wishes of citizens.

One other thing: Rules about judicial conduct during campaigns, which effectively cause these contests to turn on personality instead of substance, need to be loosened so that judges can tell voters where they stand on core judicial principles.
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Other Previous Property Rights Posts:

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ Links (121505)

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Economy,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:02 am

Loan Standards for Mortgages May Get Tougher

Unspecified “regulators” are concerned about risky mortgages:

Qualifying for a low-payment, high-risk mortgage is getting harder.

Federal regulators plan to issue a notice this month that could make lenders more hesitant to offer “non-traditional” mortgages — such as interest-only loans and option adjustable-rate mortgages — to people with weak credit or finances.

In the third quarter, 33% of first mortgages approved by lenders were non-traditional loans, compared with 1% five years ago, according to LoanPerformance, a research firm.

Interest-only and option ARMs are fairly complex mortgages. Typically, borrowers make artificially low payments for a period, such as five years. Afterward, payments shoot up to reflect current interest rates and the principal owed. Regulators worry that some borrowers lured by these mortgages’ initial low payments won’t be able to handle higher payments later. Lenders would then be at risk for loan defaults.

Though it’s not at all clear from the article, it appears that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will bring pressure to bear on the national banks under its jurisdiction.

A better answer would be to have the securitizers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, either tighten their standards or simply buy fewer mortgage loans. The more lenders are forced to keep loans on their books, and thus retain the risk of default, the more careful they will be in their lending decisions.

Institutional Investors Say Exec Pay Is Too High

Per MarketWatch (registration required):

Ninety percent of institutional investors said U.S. firms’ current pay model results in some executives being “dramatically overpaid,” according to the survey of 55 institutions which manage a total of $800 billion in assets.

Sixty-three percent said the current pay model is an example of poor corporate governance, and 64% said companies should do a better job disclosing pay packages, the survey found.

Institutional investors “don’t like the executive pay model,” said Ira Kay, an executive compensation consultant with Watson Wyatt. Kay is in New York, and Watson Wyatt is based in Washington.

These investors are particularly bothered by the steep severance packages firms award to many business leaders, and they’d like to see pay more closely tied to specific financial measures, such as earnings-per-share growth or revenue growth, Kay said.

Most of the institutional investors approve of companies awarding stock based on the executive’s performance. While about a third of the investors don’t mind stock options that simply vest over time, 65% support stock options that vest based on performance, and 70% approve of performance-based restricted stock grants.

Still, overall, institutional investors believe executives “are just paid too much … and that management has too much influence over its own pay,” Kay said.

What a hoot. The institutions have to start exercising their powers as shareholders and stop whining. Outsized executive pay, especially the golden parachutes that get triggered when companies change hands, and the outrageous severance packages of those who fail, represents one of only a few unfortunately valid indictments of the American capitalist system.

Text Message Stock Scams

This seems dreadfully obvious, but apparently people are falling for it. If you get a text message saying that a stock is a hot buy, ignore it.

Better idea: TheStreet.com columnist, talk show host, and CNBC commentator Jim Cramer recommends at least a few of hours of research and several weeks of following a company before investing in an individual stock. Hard to argue with that. Cramer further states that if you don’t have the time for that, as well as an hour a week to dedicate to tracking a stock and monitoring the company once you buy it, you should not own individual stocks.

Positivity: N.C. Marine barracks helps wounded troops

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:11 am

The team concept is uniquely brought into the recovery process:

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