Archive for March, 2009

Washington, on cue, is outraged

The nation is outraged that insurance giant AIG, 80 percent owned by taxpayers, paid out $165 million in bonuses to executives while drawing down $173 billion in public money. 

The public’s outrage is a signal to President Barack Obama and to Congress that they, too, should be outraged. And they are.   House Democrats directed three committees to come up with legislation to recover bonus money paid to beggar-companies.  Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) thought suicide would be an honorable way to show remorse and accept responsibility, though he backed off that suggestion on Tuesday.

Among the thundering herd of the outraged is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.).  Yet, Dodd himself may have played a large role in preventing any recovery of the bonus money.  Fox News reports that Dodd amended the $787 billion stimulus bill to include language that restricted executive compensation, but the final bill contained an “exception for …

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House GOP is now getting it right

It’s no secret. Watching Republicans under the Gold Dome try to be more creative and clever than Democrats were in planting little tax bomblets throughout government has been frustrating.

It’s been frustrating because each came with a cock-and-bull story about how the imposition of a “fee” or “add-on fine” would achieve a social good. A $200 fine on “superspeeders,” for example, would subsidize a proposed statewide trauma network. The connection is that speed leads to wrecks and wrecks lead to injuries and injuries require trauma centers, so therefore …

Truth is, however, that ladders, guns, knives and broken pavement can fill emergency rooms, too. A $10 “fee” on auto tags, a hidden “fee” on hospitals and health-insurance plans, and a $1 “fee” on telephones — all proposed as a funding source for the estimated $75 million trauma network advocates wanted, are specialty taxes.

The state has 15 trauma-care hospitals. A million Georgians live 50 miles …

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Red-light cameras, good riddance

Five Gwinnett cities — Duluth, Lilburn, Norcross, Snellville and Suwanee -  have either thrown in the towel on red-light cameras at high-traffic intersections or plan to drastically curtail their use.

To which I say, hallelujah!

For this, credit should go to State Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cartersville), who introduced legislation last year that put reasonable restrictions on their use.  His legislation, passed into law, took the regulation of red-light cameras from the cities that were using them as ATMs and put them under the Georgia Department of Transportation.

It also required the cities that employed them to “provide  demonstrable evidence that there is a genuine safety need.”  Safety and not the revenue to be generated had to be the deciding factor. “The only consideration shall be the increased lifesaving value,” the bill stipulated

  Importantly, too, local governments couldn’t tinker with the signal timing to gin up dollars.  “The minimal yellow light change …

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It’s wrong to base spending on dirt

Dirt has no soul. It does not hunger. It is without memory. Its meaning is no more than we assign.

Urban Fellow Peter Bluestone, a researcher at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, has brought forth an exhaustive study that should probably be the last of its kind funded with public money.

“Claims have been made,” he notes, “regarding the potential geographic imbalance between the revenues generated in an area and the public expenditures received.” His research, therefore, is an “attempt to document these flows.”
To what purpose?

That is clear. To establish conclusively and finally that metro Atlanta is entitled to more state money. This is, after all, the dirt that accounts for 61 percent of state revenues, while it receives 47 percent.

Those 28 counties — metro Atlanta as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau — hold 54 percent of Georgia’s population. The counties run from Bartow and Pickens on the north, out to Newton and Walton …

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Chevys, Fords and clodhoppers

Thinking Right’s weekend free-for-all. Pick a topic:

  • Billionaire Warren Buffett advises Congress to stop using the economic downturn as an excuse to push through other policy changes. The nation’s engaged in economic war, he said. “What is required is a commander in chief that’s looked at like a commander in chief in a time of war.” But where would we find one?
  • President Obama is the front man radicals have long needed. In putting the nation on the slippery slope, where life is created for the purpose of destroying it, he declares that reversing the existing constraints on the use of taxpayer money for embryonic stem cell research is essential. “It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda — and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” Unless, of course, it’s the ideology of global warming.
  • A tax that has grocery shoppers saving their sales slips for tax-rebate purposes is far too …

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Employee Free Choice Act: How to kill jobs

The American business community, reeling from a recession that Congress and the Obama Administration may stretch into a depression, is making a last-ditch fight to save manufacturing in this country.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced the jobs-killing Employee Free Choice Act. A study sponsored by the Associated Builders and Contractors and conducted by economist Anne Layne-Farrar of LECG Consulting finds this:

“For every 3 percentage points gained in union membership through card checks and mandatory arbitration, the following year’s unemployment rate is predicted to increase by 1 percentage point and job creation is predicted to fall by around 1.5 million jobs. Thus, if EFCA passed today and resulted in an increase in unionization from the current rate of about 12% to 15%, then unionized workers would increase from 15.5 to 19.6 million while unemployment a year …

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What earmarks? Don’t see any.

Barack Obama is amazing.  Today he signs a massive $410 billion spending bill containing thousands of earmarks with hundreds of millions for pet projects and President Obama simply sits on the sidelines, dismissing these earmarks as last year’s business.  He, of course, swore during the campaign to keep them out of budgets he signed. This one contains 7,991 earmarks totaling $5.5 billion, about 40 percent of them requested by Republicans.

 This 1,132-page document — which of, course, everybody who’s voting has read – gives generous boosts to programs popular with Democrats.  The Agriculture Department, for example, gets a 13 percent increase in spending while the money-losing Amtrak passenger rail system gets 10 percent more.  Congress gave itself a 10 percent increase, as well.  Congress now costs us $4.4 billion, more than 20 percent of what it costs to run Georgia.

“With the stock market plunging, unemployment at a 25-year high, and millions struggling just to …

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Lawmakers should live by rules they impose on us

Most of the Georgia General Assembly’s debate consists of politicians “speaking for Buncombe.”

Speaking for Buncombe, a phrase that gave us “speaking bunk,” had its origins in an 1845 floor speech by Buncombe County, N.C., Congressman Felix Walter, who spoke at length with no expectation that his words would matter to the gathered assembly. It was “for Buncombe.”

Rare are the moments when all activity ceases, when legislators are transfixed by the speaker in the well. Such was the case Thursday with state Sen. Robert Brown of Macon, thin, almost frail after a bout with a long-mysterious illness that has been the talk of the Capitol for more than a year.

Brown, the Senate minority leader, rose to oppose a proposed rule change by the Senate Ethics Committee that would have added a failure to pay state income taxes as a reason members of that body could be sanctioned. The penalties for tax deadbeats could include, after a vote by the full Senate, expulsion.

That is a fair …

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Change is good

Morning all.  Four months before retirement, the Thinking Right blog has the new look.  It’s a tribute to the new president.  This change is superficial; the look is different, but the core convictions (and the way we do business in Washington) aren’t changed in the least.  The radicals stay radical; the conseratives stay conservative.

The launch here of the new look prompts an update on the search for a replacement. As you may have read, about 200 people expressed interest, most of them amply qualified by education and experience.  That group was narrowed to about 60, then to about 25 and finally to 10. 

Most aren’t trained as journalists.  Before blogs, that would have concerned me — concerned me in the sense that there are some skills acquired in the process of writing news on deadline that are invaluable in writing opinion.  Writing quickly on deadline is one of those.  Learning where to go for information – reporting the story — is another.  

Reading your …

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Prove citizenship to vote

Here we go again. Another of those political disputes accompanied by excess drama about voting eligibility looms.

This drama surrounds a bill passed Tuesday by the Georgia State Senate requiring proof of U.S. citizenship — birth certificates, passports, naturalization document or driver’s license — when first registering to vote. Now new registrants simply swear they’re citizens.

As with the photo ID law, which was resisted by advocacy groups like the League of Women Voters, the hand-wringers are in high dudgeon, insisting that somewhere there’s an elderly would-be voter so intimidated by having to prove eligibility that he’ll just not register.

At issue here is the one that played out with ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) in states with close contests, including Minnesota, which has a still-undecided U.S. Senate race. The activist group sweeps the streets for potential voters, eligible or not, and submits registration forms, many of …

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