Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bad Students, Not Bad Schools

Pat Buchanan writes:


Which brings us to "Bad Students, Not Bad Schools," a new book in which Dr. Robert Weissberg contends that U.S. educational experts deliberately "refuse to confront the obvious truth."

        "America's educational woes reflect our demographic mix of students. Today's schools are filled with millions of youngsters, many of whom are Hispanic immigrants struggling with English plus millions of others of mediocre intellectual ability disdaining academic achievement."

        In the public and parochial schools of the 1940s and 1950s, kids were pushed to the limits of their ability, then pushed harder. And when they stopped learning, they were pushed out the door.

        Writes Weissberg: "To be grossly politically incorrect, most of America's educational woes vanish if these indifferent, troublesome students left when they had absorbed as much as they were going to learn and were replaced by learning-hungry students from Korea, Japan, India, Russia, Africa and the Caribbean."

        Weissberg contends that 80 percent of a school's success depends on two factors: the cognitive ability of the child and the disposition he brings to class -- not on texts, teachers or classroom size.

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Economic Optimism? Yes, I’ll Take That Bet

John Tierney wins his five-year bet on oil prices:


It’s true that the real price of oil is slightly higher now than it was in 2005, and it’s always possible that oil prices will spike again in the future. But the overall energy situation today looks a lot like a Cornucopian feast, as my colleagues Matt Wald and Cliff Krauss have recently reported. Giant new oil fields have been discovered off the coasts of Africa and Brazil. The new oil sands projects in Canada now supply more oil to the United States than Saudi Arabia does. Oil production in the United States increased last year, and the Department of Energy projects further increases over the next two decades.

The really good news is the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas. It’s now selling for less than half of what it was five years ago. There’s so much available that the Energy Department is predicting low prices for gas and electricity for the next quarter-century. Lobbyists for wind farms, once again, have been telling Washington that the “sustainable energy” industry can’t sustain itself without further subsidies.

Maybe something unexpected will change these happy trends, but for now I’d say that Julian Simon’s advice remains as good as ever. You can always make news with doomsday predictions, but you can usually make money betting against them.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

George F. Will - A remedy for beggar states


Less candor, realism and pre-funding are required of state and municipal governments regarding their pension plans. Nunes's bill would require them to disclose the size of their pension liabilities - and the often-dreamy assumptions behind the calculations. Noncompliant governments would be ineligible for issuing bonds exempt from federal taxation. Furthermore, the bill would stipulate that state and local governments are entirely responsible for their pension obligations and the federal government will provide no bailouts.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A California Bankruptcy, Dictatorship, and the Guarantee Clause


It got me thinking about what would happen if California went bankrupt.

In the absence of a statute, presumably the federal government would conduct some sort of bailout combined with a restructuring. If so, however, who would run the state during the proceeding?

Interesting discussion at ProfessorBainbridge.com, especially in the comments.  Personally, I don't think a state can go bankrupt.  As a sovereign entity, it can simply default on its debts and claim sovereign immunity to deflect any law suits.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Challenging the Constitutionality of the Health Care Law

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II is the Attorney General for the state of Virginia.


Virginia's lawsuit challenging the act rests on two basic arguments.  One:  The government's attempt to stretch the Commerce Clause to force individuals to buy a private product - private health insurance - fails, as the Constitution does not grant Congress such a power.  Two:  The penalty the government charges if one does not comply with the mandate cannot be redefined after the fact as a tax, justified by the government's taxing power.  Congress and the president insisted the penalty was not a tax, they passed it as a penalty, and it operates as a penalty as a matter of law.  They cannot simply change the meaning of words now that they realize their first legal argument is on shaky ground.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holder and Sebelius on Obamacare


In the wake of Judge Hudson’s decision striking down the individual mandate in the health-care law as unconstitutional, Attorney General Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have an op-ed in today’s Washington Post making the case for the law.

Holder and Sebelius’s case rests on an assertion and two implicit assumptions. The assertion is that the law does things we should want to do, and the assumptions are, first, that there are not other ways to achieve these ends and, second, that the means the law employs should therefore be constitutional. If you don’t think that sounds like much of an argument, you’re right.

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Obamacare’s Individual Mandate Exceeds Congress’ Commerce Clause Power


My initial impression is that, while this ruling will widely be viewed as a victory for opponents of Obamacare, there are some potential problems with the opinion that may result in this opinion being a net loss down the road (where it will inevitably be decided by the Supreme Court in any case).

To begin with, Judge Hudson specifically refused to enjoin the Act’s enforcement pending appeal (a decision which will likely not be revisited by the Fourth Circuit whenever they get around to hearing the appeals). More importantly, Judge Hudson - improperly, in my view - severed the individual mandate from the Act as a whole.  If that decision stands, it could well result in the wholesale destruction of private health insurance companies in the United States. It is also worth noting that this lawsuit did not address the potential capitation problems being litigated in the Florida lawsuit.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Virginia Challenge to Health Care Law


Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled Monday for the state's claim that the requirement for people to purchase health care exceeds the power of Congress under the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

Hudson's eagerly awaited decision invalidates the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a federal fine. Hudson's decision is the first striking down part of the controversial legislation.

"It is not the effect on individuals that is presently at issue -- it is the authority of Congress to compel anyone to purchase health insurance," wrote Hudson who was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush. "An enactment that exceeds the power of Congress to adopt adversely affects everyone in every application."

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

DeMint comes out against tax deal, says GOP must do ‘better than this’


> Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who bucked his party leadership during the midterm elections, was back at it again Tuesday night, saying he would not vote for the tax cut deal brokered between the GOP and President Obama because it increases the deficit.

Jim DeMint (talking to Hugh Hewitt):

>> I’m glad the President recognizes that tax increases hurt the economy. I mean, I guess that’s progress. But frankly, Hugh, most of us who ran this election said we were not going to vote for anything that increased the deficit. This does. It raises taxes, it raises the death tax. I don’t think we needed to negotiate that aspect of this thing away. I don’t think we need to extend unemployment any further without paying for it, and without making some modifications such as turning it into a loan at some point. It then encourages people to go back to work. So there’s a lot of problems with it. I mean, and frankly, the biggest problem I have, Hugh, is we don’t need a temporary economy, which means we don’t need a temporary tax rate. A permanent extension of our currenttax rates would allow businesses to plan five and ten years in advance, and that’s how you build an economy.

DeMint is of course correct on the specifics. I wish he had been in on the negotiations. It's good that there's criticism from the right. Maybe we make some changes after the new Congress is seated. But at this late date, I think we have to take the deal.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Obama, GOP Reach Deal on Taxes


President Barack Obama reached agreement Monday with Republican leaders in Congress on a broad tax package that would extend the Bush-era income tax cuts for two years, reduce worker payroll taxes for one year and give more favorable treatment to business investments.

Jennifer Rubin comments on the news:

There really is no other way to say it: the Republicans won, the liberal Democrats lost, and the president sided with the Republicans. The subject, of course, is an agreement to extend all the Bush tax cuts. The president tonight announced a "bipartisan framework" for agreement on, among other things, to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years. A Republican House aide tells me tonight it is "a damn good deal." And so it is, from the perspective of conservatives.

My comments: If they had not extended the capital gains rates, there would have been a huge stock crash in the next couple of weeks as everyone sold off.  This was a reasonably good deal for the Republicans, made to look better by the gnashing of teeth on the left.  The truth is that it merely avoids making things worse, it doesn't necessarily help much.  But it's probably the best we could hope for from the Lame-Pelosi congress.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Haley: Obama might let S.C. opt out of health care


Haley says she told Obama that South Carolina could not afford the health care mandate, and that it would cripple small businesses.

"I respectfully asked him to consider repealing the bill," she said, to which he clearly stated he would not. "I pushed him further and said if that's the case, because of states' rights, would you at least consider South Carolina opting out of the program?"

Obama told her he would consider letting South Carolina opt out, she said, if the state could find its own solution that included a state exchange, preventing companies from bumping people for preexisting conditions and allowing insurance pooling.

Haley said she also asked the president if he would honor the federal government's commitment on developing a nuclear waste repository. When he said he would not revisit opening Nevada's Yucca Mountain, "I said, 'Then give us our money back.' "

The site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas was proposed to house more than 4,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste from South Carolina's Savannah River Site. The state and Washington have sued over Obama's attempt to kill plans for the storage site after decades of study.

"SRS has done a good job, but that was a temporary solution. It was never meant to be a permanent solution," Haley said she told him. "The federal government has reneged on its promise, and the people of South Carolina want their money back."

South Carolina's power plants and its customers have contributed more than $1 billion over nearly 30 years to a permanent repository.

She says Obama pledged that he would have Energy secretary Steven Chu call her promptly.

I doubt anyone believes that Obama would actually let a state opt-out, but it's worth a try.  I give Haley credit for standing up to the president and putting him on notice that he's got a fight on his hands.

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Democrats Give Charlie Rangel Standing Ovation


The 111th Congress was far from “the most honest, most open, and most ethical” in history.  

House Democrats proved it by openly applauding the concept of a ruling class completely above the law, able to break both House rules and federal tax law with impunity.  Their applause was a frank declaration of war by the Democrat Party against the law-abiding American citizen.  The only penalty Rangel ever faced was a tiny measure of humiliation.  The standing ovation was an attempt to erase even that.

Rangel and some of his defenders characterized his tax cheating as a “mistake,” thus assuming their listeners are complete imbeciles.  Rangel chaired the panel that writes tax laws.  He under-reported his income by hundreds of thousands of dollars for a decade.  He was eventually compelled to pay federal and state treasuries $16,000 in back taxes, with absolutely no penalty or interest.  Republican John Carter of Texas introduced a bill called the “Rangel Rule” to extend this penalty-free privilege to all taxpayers in 2009, but of course it went nowhere.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

House censures Rangel for ethics violations on 333-79 vote


The House has voted to censure Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the once-powerful chairman of the Ways and Means panel, for a string of ethics violations.

Nothing to see here, time to move on...

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Zuckerman: The Danger of a Global Double Dip Recession Is Real


> But now we are running annual deficits of $1.4 trillion, about 10 > percent of the total economy. We have compounded the deficits we > accumulated over the last decade, so they now reach 61 percent of > GDP. Only once before has the ratio of federal debt to GDP come in > above 60 percent. That was after World War II. And our federal debt > ratio today doesn't even take into account Social Security and > Medicare. Total liabilities and unfunded promises for Medicare and > Social Security were about $62 trillion at the end of the last > fiscal year, tripling from the year 2000, according to the > calculations of former Comptroller General David Walker. Sixty-two > trillion dollars is $200,000 per person and $500,000-plus for the > average household. As Walker put it, the problem with these trust > funds is "you can't trust them [and] they're not funded." Therefore, > he asserts, we ought to count them as a liability, which would bring > the debt-to-GDP ratio to 91 percent.

> In the United States, gloom has spread to our policymakers on how to > deal with our economic dilemmas. Monetary policy is relatively > ineffective because we are in, or near, liquidity trap conditions. > Our economy is so weak that lower interest rates and other monetary > tools are not working. In the liquidity trap, no matter how much > money is thrown into the system, people have so little confidence > that they tend to hoard it. Similarly, fiscal policy is beginning to > reach its limits. High debt levels can raise concerns about the > creditworthiness of our government. This in turn could lead to > higher long-term interest rates that would aggravate the economic > contraction.

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