Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columnist Attacks the Character of Gun Rights Advocates

This morning Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columnist Philip Martin attacked the character of Arkansans who support the Constitutional (from both state and federal constitutions) right to keep and bear arms without further violations. He did this in a column entitled "Where are the Good Guys?" He suggests that if you don't support more restrictions on gun ownership then you are not one of "The good guys". "Good guys" in his view are those who want us to enact more restrictions on gun ownership and in so doing move us closer to a government monopoly on firepower. And the Democrat-Gazette gives platform and place to his views in preference to the views of someone such as you or I.

His column represents an attempt to drive a wedge between gun owners who are insistent that the government respect the Rule of Law concerning our gun rights and those who are open to some "minor" infringement on those rights so that they won't be called out as a bad person by establishment media hacks like Phillip Martin. His column dismissed out of hand the idea that the gun owners who want no further restrictions on firearms could be "good guys." He writes, though I added bold font to some of the quote:

I don't care how many times you saved the lives of others and yourself because you had steely courage and a fast draw. I don't find you credible. Maybe if one of you had told me a story about how once having access to a gun came in handy, I might think, "OK, these things happen. There's that side of it." But all of you guys are superheroes? All of you are so calm and collected (and yet so intemperate in your response to what are, after all, only words)? All of you are so brave (and humble)?
All you sheepdogs, with nothing but scorn for us sheep.

You see, not only are you not one of the "good guys" who will consent to further restrictions on the right you inherited from your forefathers, you have no "credibility". He rejects your credibility, and apparently so do his Patrons at this state's flagship establishment newspaper since they provide him the platform to disseminate his contempt for you.. If you have personal information contrary to what Phillip Martin chooses to believe then he just waives his hand and decides you are all lying and that is that.

To be sure he spends plenty of print beating around the bush, and making carefully measured statements before his invective leaks out, but he can't hide what he is trying to do. He admits we have the right to bear arms, but wants to divide us into those who will volunteer to give some of those up (the good guys) to the government and those who insist that the government infringe no further than they have already (who are not the good guys). Divide and conquer.

I see it very differently than Mr. Martin because I am not just looking at last week's headlines. I am looking at the last one hundred years of history. When I do I see very clearly that those in power use that power to kill the citizens they govern in order to keep power. Places where the citizens are well-armed are exceptions to this bloody pattern. In the 20th century over 262 million persons were killed by their own government. That is equal to fifteen Orlando massacres each and every day for one hundred years! I see most of the Bill of Rights have been greatly whittled away and I am convinced that were it not for the second amendment that process would be much further along. Gun owners, in particular those who own military-style guns, serve us all as a insurance policy to keep Americans off the list of the 262 million people murdered by their own government. They are heroes whether they stop a rapist or not, because they deter tyranny.

Rocker Frank Zappa once said “The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.

I would only add to his words that the ruling class would strongly prefer that the rest of us be separated from our guns before this happens. No wonder the lesson they want us to get from a situation where they let in a million Muslims of violent disposition from around the world, and when the son of one of them goes insane and kills 50 people; after the FBI interviews him twice and clears him; after he works for a Federal contractor providing "security"; after his ex-wife says he is violent and beat her; after one gun store refused to sell him stuff and another immediately called the local police after they sold him stuff to warn them; after all that I say- the ruling class and the media has determined that the problem is that We the People have too much access to guns. The system failed at every level yet their diagnosis is not that they are incompetent and should be replaced or change their policies. They think the problem is that we have too much freedom. We have too much access to the guns necessary to protect our loved ones from both ordinary criminals and those who come in the name of the state.

If Phillip Martin wants to know where the "good guys" are he should look at the patriots that he is trying to browbeat into surrendering their birthright to an increasingly morally and fiscally bankrupt Total-State. The ones resisting him and his employers are the ones doing the most to restrain the evil of government run amuck, as well as lessor criminals from time to time. The ones resisting the pressure to cave are the good guys, the brave ones, the ones who will keep us freer from oppression than we would be if we listened to the pleas of guys like Phillip Martin. His blandishments are for the weak, the cowardly, the easily cowed and intimidated, those who move in herds rather than think for themselves. In short, for those who do not deserve to be free and who will not be free unless they are made so by the sacrifices of men and women who resist ignorant verbal abuse such as Martin's column and hang onto their arms.

Judges Should be Elected Not Selected

After a long and happy abstinence I had occasion this morning to read a John Brummett column advocating that our State Supreme Court Justices be selected, not elected. This is an absolutely terrible idea, as are so many of those which emanate from the mind and keyboard of Mr. Brummett. But unfortunately, the idea is not his alone. He raised the subject because the state bar association is about to suggest that our legislature refer an amendment to the voters to end elections for our State Supreme Court Justices. Instead, the Governor would "choose" between one of three candidates offered up by a panel of lawyers. Unfortunately the same legislature that gave us last cycle's phony "ethics reform" bill might send this one up too.

Do we have problems with our judiciary in this state? Yes. Special interests with money have disproportionate influence with the Judicial branch, just as they do with the other two branches. But this "cure" will be worse than the disease. We the People would have less responsibility for our own government as this would be passed off to a small group of unaccountable experts. It is a solution for slaves, and an "answer" only for the slothful who groan at the burden of living as a free person responsible for their own governance.

He writes that they should ask people to "be smart enough to accept the premise that they aren't informed enough to vote for state Supreme Court justices." I do accept that premise. What I don't accept is that this idiotic proposal is the cure to that problem. The replacement process suggested by Brummett and these lawyers is very similar to, but even less accountable to the people than, that process which has given us our present federal Supreme Court. That is, the same court which does not even understand what marriage is, but is so confident enough in their ignorance that they impose their trendy prejudices on the rest of us at the point of a federal bayonet. If you want judges to be more arrogant and over-reaching than they presently are, then support the plan which Brummett suggests.

As I said at the first, I agree with his premise. We don't have the information necessary to make good choices about our state supreme court justice candidates. But the solution to this problem is not to take the decision out of the hands of those of us who must live under their rulings. The solution is to remove the very deliberate obstacles which have been erected to prevent us from obtaining this necessary information. When the government calls something "ethics" in Arkansas, you better look out. In this case the "Arkansas Code for Judicial Ethics" does not allow a candidate for the state supreme court to talk about anything related to how they might have ruled on any case, past, present, or future. About all they can do is give you their credentials and say they will try to be fair. Anything else is a violation of the "Code of Ethics" which can get them fined and disbarred.

It's no wonder we "aren't informed enough to vote for state Supreme Court justices". The candidates are banned by law from informing us! That is what needs to change, not the method by which they are put in office. Brummett himself endorsed Courtney Henry based on who her family was- which family she divorced out of the moment she was elected, because under our system we have nothing else to go on. I actually agree with Brummett on the root problem. Regarding solutions, we are utterly opposed.

I understand why a judge cannot talk about how they might rule on a future case, but there is no reason why they can't write an opinion on the legal reasoning from a ruling from the past. I have one savvy friend who asks candidates about their "world view" as a substitute for asking their opinions on past cases, but we should know what they thought of the legal reasoning in past cases. Someone might argue that this would prejudice them in future cases if the same case from the past was a part of the proceedings. I find such arguments disingenuous. These people have viewpoints whether they tell us in advance or not. As the people who will have to live under their rulings, I demand to know what those viewpoints are before we elevate them to high office. My solution is to repeal the section in the constitution on "Judicial Ethics" so that candidates for Judge can talk about their view of the legal reasoning in past cases.

The other thing which must be done is to get an honest and thoughtful media in the state of Arkansas. We are mis-informed about judges just as we are mis-informed about all candidates for all offices in this state by an establishment media which insists on giving us voices like John Brummett instead of letting us hear from people who actually understand things. Fortunately, bloggers are becoming the real media in this state and the old media is starting to fade. That process must continue or we will never have good government in this state. We can't improve things by listening to the same media which has kept us backwards for so long- and in parts of the state which are doing well, we mostly don't!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Medicaid Expansion: When Numbers Collide with Narrative

Please click on pic to get a larger view

State Senator Bryan King is passing around an interesting chart which he asked the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research to prepare. Please click on the image to get a larger view. Proponents of the state's Medicaid Expansion under Obamacare, whatever they are calling it these days, keep directing our attention to the spending line items that have been lowered by the program.  They then demand that the critics of the program tell them where they would get the money to replace these "missing" savings from the state budget if we end it. This chart shows that there would be no missing savings from the state budget. Line items that have been reduced are off-set by line items that have been increased in order to implement and administer the program.

Total Medicaid related spending, using both federal and state money, shows explosive growth. In 2013 this spending was about $4.6 billion dollars. This year, three years later, around $7.2 billion dollars of taxpayer money will be spent in this category. That is an increase in excess of 50%! They disguised this growth by taking spending that was in one program and divided it between the old and the new program. Yes it looks like spending on the old program went down, because a lot of that spending has moved over to the new one. Total spending is way up.

Once you zoom out past the shell games and sleight of hand, all of this program does on net is pass out a whole lot of federal money, much of it borrowed, to a sliver of our own population. That is a good deal for them but a bad deal for everyone else- especially the next generation who are also expected to pay for this.

Notice on the top half of the chart that total state funds spent (for Medicaid related spending) does not go down from 2012, when we had not expanded Medicaid, to the present year. Instead, total spending trends up. We are not spending less state money because we expanded Medicaid. We are spending more. Spending for "Traditional Medicaid" went down but total state spending for Medicaid related stuff went up. The drop in traditional Medicaid came from starting a second Medicaid program called "the Private Option" or "Arkansas Works" and shunting a lot of people from the old to the new program. The feds were paying for 100% of the premium costs for the second program during the first three years.  In theory that was supposed to save state government money, at the expense of the federal budget.

The theory did not work out in practice as you can see from the chart. Sure state dollars spent on one line item went down, and a new federal budget line showed up with many more dollars being spent. But other state budget lines increased even while the "traditional Medicaid" number went down. The reason is simple. Even if the feds were paying 100% of the cost of benefits for the first three years of the new program, there are a lot of other expenses involved with administering a new program. Adding 250,000 people to the government rolls costs serious money beyond the cost of benefits paid. Administering the program is costly, even if FEDGOV is paying the non-administrative costs.

This year is the "high-water mark" for the program in terms of benefits to the state budget. Starting next year, Arkansas is going to have to shoulder 5% of the cost of paying benefits while retaining the burden of administering the program. That is why the chart shows the total state spending for Medicaid related stuff will be $120,000,000 higher in 2017 than it is this year. And its only going to get worse through 2021 because our share increases each year.

The bottom line is, not only did the state's ruling class have to commit welfare fraud on a massive scale in order to make the numbers look as good as they did, the fact is that the total numbers don't look good. Proponents have to play a shell game with the accounting in order to make it seem like the program is saving the state money. When you factor in all costs, it is a bad deal for the state as a whole and it is getting worse. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Universe is Expanding Faster than Expected.

According to this study. I found it interesting because it fits into some ideas I have about a Unified Field Theory. If you are a physicist who can do the math, contact me and let's split the Noble Prize!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Arkansas Works" Has Only Been Sustained By Welfare Fraud

Last year I asked the question "Is Arkansas' Ruling Class Committing Welfare Fraud on a Massive Scale?" The subject was the way the Beebe administration, and the Hutchinson Administration for that matter, was operating Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. While I may have asked questions, there was no doubt in the mind of State Senator Bryan King. "It's a scam." King said flatly.

New information strongly suggests that he was correct. We don't think of elected officials who we may know socially, or business leaders operating some of the most trusted brands in our state, of being scam artists. Yet the evidence suggests something like that has been going on here for years. The main difference is that instead of just a single operator committing welfare fraud, this was a large number of people who all acted together to do so. Its harder to pin the blame on any one person this way. Attempts to hold people responsible can be met with an endless circle of pointed fingers.
We have contempt on the person who scams the system to collect a welfare check when they have a job on the side. They are welfare cheats. But it turns out that some of the most admired and respected people in our state are also welfare cheats, doing things that in principle normal people would and do go to prison for.
Arkansas' program, call it the "Private" Option or "Arkansas Works",  handles the money differently than most state's Medicaid Expansions. Instead of paying medial providers directly when they render services, this plan pays premiums to a private insurer whether there is any service provided or not. The insurer then uses most but not all of those premium dollars to pay medical service providers. 
A recent Andy Davis article from the Demo-Zette, if you read between the lines, shows how fraud is essential to maintaining this program. The subject was the proposed 14.7% premium increase the providers were asking for. And that was just the average. QualChoice had more "Private" Option enrollees by percent and so they were asking for a bigger increase in premiums by percent. United Healthcare, one of the largest providers in the nation, recently announced that they were leaving the state and would no longer offer an Arkansas Works insurance plan.
I have to admit that I did not put the scam together until King recently pointed me in the right direction. The large premium increases should have tipped me off, but I was misled by the fact that ten other states are seeing even larger premium increases as Obamacare continues to do what central planning always does, every time, without exception- fail. It fails because people find ways to game the system, and are more nimble than the system. They can exploit new rules faster than the system can enforce them.
In this case, the political establishment in this state, Republican and Democrat, broke the law to game the system. This was not some high-school dropout in Forrest City doing it, this was the upper crust doing it. They also violated federal law in the process because they failed to vet the eligibility of people in the program. They auto-enrolled everyone they could, accepted the rest, and basically never checked anything. Then they bragged about how many people were in the program. And the Federal Government was paying premiums to Arkansas insurers for each and every one of them. If someone was dead, they were still paying. If they were in prison, they were still paying. If they were an illegal alien who moved back to Mexico, they were still paying. If they won the lottery or got a job with health insurance, they were still paying. If someone was ineligible for the program, they did not want to know because they got "free" money from Washington for every enrollee.
Arkansas insurers were getting premium payments from Washington (actually from the next generation because this thing is largely funded by generational looting). The state was getting a share of it because the premium dollars were taxed as income. This was, and is, welfare fraud on a massive scale.
Once they were finally forced to look, the state discovered that 25,000 enrollees in the Arkansas Blue Cross Plan were not eligible. That was ten percent of the total number in the "Private" Option and it does not even count the ineligible ones in the United Health Care and QualChoice plans! Further, they have not even looked at the eligibility of all of the enrollees, only those who have been in the program for more than a year. The odds are very strong that they will find thousands, or even tens of thousands, more who are ineligible once they bother to look at the eligibility of those who have enrolled in the past year.
Arkansas Works cannot work without defrauding the Federal Government. It needs the premium dollars from all those ineligible people who are enrolled in the program but not making any claims because they are dead, moved out of the country, found a job with health care etc.... That must have been what United Health Care realized. They are a national outfit, so they had the option of fleeing the state. Arkansas Blue Cross and QualChoice are neck deep in revenues obtained by fraud, but they are Arkansas companies who have no place else to go. 
The reason these companies need a 14.7%, or 23% in the case of QualChoice, increase in their premiums is because they are no longer getting premium payments for dead people, prisoners, those who have left the state, and those who have obtained health coverage from their job. These insurance companies were getting money for this huge pool of people who never used their services and who in fact were not eligible for them.. It was pure profit- albeit profit obtained by illicit means. Now that many of those people have been taken off the roles the insurance companies find they can't cover the persons who are actually using the program with the premium dollars allotted. Combine this with the underlying inflation in health care costs, and the numbers don't add up.
The article said that the average monthly cost of a person on the "Private" Option/ Arkansas Works was $528.97 vs. $548.19 for those on traditional medicaid. This statistic, like almost everything else about this program, is deceptive. For one thing, when someone applied for the "Private" Option that was really sick, we sent them to traditional Medicaid instead. So for the past four years traditional Medicaid has been getting the high cost people that they did not want on the Scam Program. In addition, the traditional Medicaid rolls still have some fraud in them, but the state actually cared about rooting it out of that program, so the level of fraud is far from the massive levels present in the scam program. 
That fraud held the overall cost per person down because it included premiums from dead people who never filed a claim, prisoners who never filed a claim, and the like. If the numbers corrected for those two factors, the "Private" Option / Arkansas Works would be much more expensive per person. It just stands to reason that you can't build a new Medicaid Program with a private facade in front of it as inexpensively as you can just build  the program without the facade.
Look, I am a Localist. I am not a fan of an intrusive federal government at all. But what has been done here, by some very prominent people in this state, is defrauding a federal program. People go to prison for that sort of thing, and they should go to prison. I don't want the FBI to come to Arkansas and start cuffing people. I don't want that. But I accept that it will be a necessary consequence of our political class committing massive fraud. They should end the fraud. Immediately. And since Arkansas Works won't work without the dollars from the fraud to prop it up, they should end that too.

Evidence Macro Evolution is Wrong Post #1842

OK, so I made up the number of posts, but scientists are making up stories about what the evidence suggests regarding macro evolution. The latest example involves the shockingly fast diversification of animal life in the seas after the great extinction at the Cambrian-Triassic boundary.

What happened was they found a fossil of an early Triassic creature called an Ichthyosaur. It had extremely derived features. What that means, in evolution-speak, is that a new sort of generalized type of creature comes along, and as it fills into niches it develops features more suited for that niche. Those are "derived" features. This one had such features, but it showed up too early in the fossil record. Within a million years of the explosion of the type. There is just no way such large complex animals are supposed to come on the scene and diversify that fast. OR as they put it..

Its discovery suggests that early ichthyosaurs evolved rapidly within the first million years of their evolution, during the early Triassic, the researchers wrote in the study. This is in contrast to the millions of years that researchers originally thought it took for these sea creatures to evolve

I think its another case of their finding the fingerprints of the Creator in action, but their naturalistic world view won't let them do science- they won't follow the evidence wherever it leads. They can only consider naturalistic evolution as an explanation no matter how poorly it fits the facts.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Hole in the Budget Apparently Meant the Budget for New Highway Spending

A few months back Governor Asa Hutchinson said that if the state did not keep taking Obamacare money that it would "blow a $200 million dollar hole in the budget." The legislature voted to stay in Obamacare so as to continue taking money from the deeply troubled program.

That was a few months ago. We now learn from a Demo-Zette article that the Governor plans to budget 25% of the state's budget "surplus" into aggressive new spending on highways. He estimates that amount to be $48 million dollars annually.  So we go from panicked cries of a $200 million dollar hole in the budget if we don't agree to stay on Obamacare, to a few months later the Governor talking about a "surplus" of such a magnitude that 25% of it equals $48 million. That means it would be about $192 million per year.

So while he was complaining about dire fiscal shortcomings if Arkansas did not continue the generational looting that is Obamacare, the truth of the matter was that Arkansas was collecting far more taxes than it needed to fund current operations. The Governor just wanted extra money, general revenue money, for his highway plan. Traditionally, highways have been financed by economic activity related to highways, such as fuel taxes and licence fees.

I used to complain when Governor Mike Beebe did things like this. He would claim there was a lack of money when he wanted to raise taxes, or claim there was plenty of money when he wanted to spend some. Then months or even weeks later legislators would discover the opposite was true. They had based their votes on information from the Governor's office- and that information was deceptive. Now it appears that the legislators cannot trust the budget information which comes from Governor Hutchinson's office. Neither can we. It is a shame, but it would be a bigger shame if I complained when Beebe acted in an under-handed manner but then said nothing when Hutchinson did the same thing. I should point out that many of these legislators wanted to be lied to and repeated the party line with gusto.

Look, the Highway Commission in this state is a deeply flawed way to allocate highway dollars. We should not put any additional money into this system until it undergoes fundamental reform. Remember we just (2012) gave them an additional half cent sales tax on top of their other funds, and now they want much more. Read this article from 2012 over that issue and to describe in more detail why our Highway Commission should be scrapped.

The bottom line is that if building more highways was the path to prosperity, we should already be prosperous because we over-spend on highways relative to our size and GDP. Instead we are struggling. Our growth engines are government (Little Rock) and Northwest Arkansas. Northwest Arkansas did not become a growth engine due to highways. Quite the opposite. First private business generated destinations worth going to, and eventually some highways followed.

So I do have some complaints about the system that the Governor is suggesting we pour this surplus into- its a wasteful system. But my biggest complaint is that he mislead the people and the legislature of this state by implying that we could not afford to leave Obamacare.  Now it turns out we have a huge surplus. He wants to spend it on highways. The legislators may have wanted him to lie to them, but I didn't. A lot of us didn't. My complaint is that we can no longer trust what he says about the budget.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

ADE Defies Legislature, Law on Requiring American Government To Be Taught in HS

I got a letter from a fellow we shall call "Brutus". You may recall his article saying that the ADE's new education standards "eviscerate" U.S. History standards. Partially in response to his article, the legislature passed a law reversing the bureaucracy's decision and requiring American Government to be taught in High School. It looks like the schools are ignoring the law, and the ADE is letting them, or maybe even encouraging them. 
My ultimate view on the matter is that this is a local decision which each district should decide on their own. I think if they did, schools would mostly teach American Government in High School. Instead, the ADE tried to push them to drop the class before the legislature over-rode them and said to keep it. Is this just that ADE is not doing its job, or is ADE encouraging schools to drop the course despite the law? 

Dear Arkansas legislators. 
In 2015 you sponsored or co-sponsored the bill that is now known as Act 1284.  Act 1284 restored stronger high school social studies graduation requirements that the State Board of Education had plan to reduce as of July 1, 2015.  Since Act 1284 became law on April 8, 2015, it does not appear that the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) has made changes in regulations to comport with the new law nor is ADE enforcing the law.  School districts are either unaware of the new law, or they are ignoring it. 
Reference text of Act 1284:
Here is a sample of Arkansas high schools that no longer require the teaching of American Government despite the passage of Act 1284:
Example #1: 
Fayetteville High School’s posted current graduation requirements do not include a course in American Government. (See handbook, page 7)
Example #2:
Springdale High School’s posted current graduation requirements do not include a course in American Government. (See Career Action Planning catalog, page 3)
Example #3:
Van Buren High School’s posted current graduation requirements do not include a course in American Government. (See district handbook, page 94)
Example #4:
Fort Smith North Side High School’s current graduation requirements do not mandate a course in American Government.  See webpage: http://www.fortsmithschools.org/nside/CounselingOffice/GraduationRequirements.aspx
Example #5:
Little Rock high schools’ posted current graduation requirements do not include American Government.  See webpage:http://www.lrsd.org/sites/default/files/graduation_requirements/High%20School%20Graduation%20Requirements%20-%20one%20page.pdf 
Example #6:
Texarkana High School catalog does not list American Government as a graduation requirement – and does not even list American Government as a course offering.  See page 23 of course descriptions:
I am keenly aware of this issue because I teach American Government and United States History to high school students.  What we see is a profound dumbing down of Arkansas students –  students who can no longer be expected to understand the structure and functioning of American government.  
I am hesitant to sign my name to this letter because as an Arkansas licensed teacher I can get my certification revoked as payback by the ADE over some made-up issue.  Nevertheless, truth is still truth. 
The bottom-line question is whether or not the rule of law applies in Arkansas. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Boozman Votes to Spend More Money than Obama Asks For

Frank Gilbert is running for U.S. Senate against the incumbent, John Boozman. Gilbert is not shying away from a fight to put it mildly. He has issued one press release after another which shows, with devastating precision and undeniable facts, Boozman's record to be the furthest thing from conservative. Gilbert is making the case that no thinking conservative could justify a vote for Boozman.

Unfortunately for him, there are a very large number of unthinking voters who consider themselves conservative. And while the facts may be undeniable, they are not un-ignorable to those voters who have what I call "invincible ignorance". I expect them to pull the lever for Boozman because they have heard his name before and there is an "R" after it. Those are idiotic reasons for a conservative to vote for someone with Boozman's actual record, but if voters paid any attention to what guys like Boozman were actually doing in Washington, we would not be in this ridiculous mess now would we?

Here is the release...

“The U.S. Senate’s first spending bill of 2016 allocates $261 million more than President Barack Obama requested and lacks significant conservative amendments, but it still sailed to passage Thursday in the Republican-led chamber.” The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal reported this bit of bad news for taxpayers earlier this month.

Arkansas Senator John Boozman voted with the majority to spend more than even our leftist president wanted.

Frank Gilbert, the Libertarian Party nominee for U. S. Senate, criticized the vote and his opponent.

“John Boozman and the GOP leadership are every bit as much a part of the spending problem in Washington as our lame-duck president,” he said. “Boozman lacks the leadership and courage to say ‘no’ to the president and his party leadership. He may have come to congress as a conservative all those years ago, but he has now sold out taxpayers.”

Even an attempt to add an amendment by Arkansas’ other senator was sabotaged by his fellow Republicans.Tom Cotton proposed an amendment that would have prohibited the U. S. from purchasing heavy water from Iran. The amendment would have hampered Iran’s stated goal of developing a nuclear weapon. However, the amendment was opposed by President Obama so it was handled in such a way by the Republicans that required it to get 60 votes for passage. Democrats easily defeated Cotton’s amendment under that circumstance.

“To say that John Boozman is a sell-out is not too harsh,” Gilbert concluded. “He has sold out taxpayers and even the defense of our country to please his real bosses, the GOP leadership.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What I Said to the Tea Party - The Way Forward

There is a quote. I don’t know if he ever really said it, but it’s attributed to the great Winston Churchill. It goes

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

To be fair, I think it says more about humanity in general than it does about Americans in particular. It is so like us humans to try and cut corners and look for easy answers. But have you ever noticed how the easy way and the right way are almost never the same thing? I believe that is not by accident, that the universe is designed to test our character. It is built to see if we care about what is true and right enough to follow that path, even though at first it seems the much harder road.

This life is designed to test our character. If we are honest, we are going to realize that we regularly fail the test. Ultimately the honest soul will concede that we need to reach up to God for help rather than rely on our own insight and virtue. You are meeting in a church building, so I hope that it is OK if I go there.

It is simply a fact of history that in the long term, without the Gospel there will be tyranny. This was the norm for humanity before the Gospel arrived, it is still the norm in places where the Gospel never took wide root, and it is once again becoming the norm in societies where the influence of the Gospel has waned. We are increasingly without the Gospel, so we are increasingly under tyranny.

What was it about the gospel which produced so much human liberty? I think a big part of the answer is its brutal honesty. What does it say about us? It says that we are sinners. That we need to repent. That we have been kidding ourselves about who we are and the nobility of our motivations and actions and how much those of our sort can be trusted. It informs us that even what we imagine to be our most righteous acts are tainted by our mixed motives. They are rubbish.

We could never face such a harsh assessment about ourselves, even if it’s the truth, if not for the good news of the gospel. Yes, we are sinners, but God has provided forgiveness for that sin. We are not right, but we don’t have to be right. We just have to be willing to believe the truth instead of whatever lies we had previously comforted ourselves with. When you get a nation of people who are able to accept change in this manner, when you get people who are willing to trade even comforting lies away in return for truth, even when it hurts, then you get a society which is in tune with reality. It only hurts for a while but once adjusted we find the truth we painfully accepted actually leaves us better off than the false comfort of unreality we once clung to.

Our founders were keenly aware of human nature and its moral shortcomings. They did not create for us a system of government based on the idea that the right people could be trusted with power. Quite the opposite, they assumed that power corrupts even the very best of us, or even reveals the corruption present all along. They started with the premise that no one, not even their group, not even Holy Joe on the Front Row and not even our favorite candidate could be trusted with unchecked power.

They did not trust even Washington, Jefferson, or Madison with unrestrained power. Those men did not even trust themselves with it, and the Presidency in the early Republic did not have one percent of the power of the Presidency today. FEDGOV itself was only a thin shadow of its present vastness. Instead they very deliberately implemented a complicated system of checks and balances so that power might be decentralized and divided.

Given that this is true, can any among us truly say that electing anyone on our ballots to the Presidency is any kind of way to restore the republic? Then why should we be so upset about it? Why should we gnaw at one another over it?

We find ourselves in this particular place of which perhaps Lord Churchill spoke, where we have tried everything else, and it is now time for us to do the right thing. We have been trying to give power to the right person, when the Founders designed for us a Republic founded on the idea that when it comes to political power there is no right person. We have been trying to gather up political power when our heritage is to divide it. After years of taking the so-called easy way, we find ourselves lost. We have out-sourced the job of looking out for our interests to a political machine headquartered in Washington D.C. and funded by global corporations, and then are shocked to discover that they worked for their own interests and not ours.

National political parties are not in our constitution but they spontaneously formed early on in our nation. As two of them gained power they kept altering the rules so that they got more of it. It is only natural that we should seek to drink from the well which they had already dug. It was convenient to believe that much of our nation’s ills would go away if only “our” side of the equation was able to heap up more and more power. We believed this only to find out that the Scriptures and the Founders were correct all along- power corrupts. Giving “our” side more of it did not make America better, it only made what we though was our side more corrupt.

We have been trying national political parties, but they have never been the right way to do things. They were always a short-cut, they were always an easy way out. And they were always contrary to the vision of the Founders who devised for us a government with separation of powers. National political parties are in fact an informal end-run around the formal checks and balances which the Founders intended in order to protect us from what both they and we know about human nature.

Listen to me friends, listen. It was never right for the states governments and the federal government to be stocked by members of the same political club. The states and the federal government were meant to be a check and a balance on one another. When public officials from both are drawn from the same club the tendency over time will be for them to advance the interests of their club, and that means centralizing all power to Washington. In the same way, how can we expect the legislative branch to really be the People’s Branch, as it was intended, when they are elected by the same club which elects the Governor? Is it not clear that, with exceptions from time to time, that the rule will be that they will represent their Governor rather than their constituents?

This has happened, this is still happening today, and this will continue to happen, so long as we refuse to change our candidate selection system from one which undermines the Founder’s intent on separation of powers and instead build one which supports it. Can we select a President like that? No. But the answer is not to make the right person President. It’s to go back to an America where it was a lot less important who the President was. Unless you have fought harder for that goal than you have fought electing your preferred choice President, you are quite frankly doing it wrong.

You should take that as good news because you can now understand why our efforts have been so futile. We have been working the problem the wrong way so it is no wonder things have been getting worse not better. God in His Mercy was not going to let us “win” the wrong way, by taking a shortcut which denies what He has said about human nature. But His blessing of defeat does not end there. It also means that if we repent, if we change, if we are willing to start working the right way, the way that is in accord with what He says about Man, then we can win. We don’t have to keep losing. We just have to lose the tactics that have not worked for us and in the long run cannot work. They can only make the problem worse and here is why- the more power the other side wins the more corrupt it gets. The more power our side wins the more corrupt it gets. This is why we should seek to disperse government power more than we love accumulating it.

What specifically am I suggesting? I am suggesting a network- a network not a hierarchy, of citizens of a single state, not a part of a national centralized group. This loose coalition of citizen groups (which I shall call “houses”) would work together to provide ballot access for candidates local office and the state legislature, as well as Congress- but not Governor or President. There will be no hierarchy to capture or corrupt. Each “house” in this network will be a self-contained unit. If they go bad, they can be excluded next time around, so the contagion is contained. But most importantly, it brings what the Founders intended in government to the political process- decentralization. Checks and balances. A separation of powers.

It is too late for 2016, but we can hit the ground running in 2017. What I am asking of you tonight is if some among you in this County Tea Party wish to be a part of a “House” to gather signatures in the Spring of 2017 to put this new coalition on the ballot. In exchange, your group will have the responsibility of naming candidates for all county offices, and a say in who we nominate for state legislative offices. Those who do the work pick the candidates. The voters will decide if you picked the ones they wanted or not, but you will have until November to make that case. It is not like running candidates in a stacked primary where the Governor is endorsing the other guy and there is no time for sweat equity to counter big money.

If you are ready to change the way we elect candidates, if you are ready to align your political action with what both God and the Founder’s believed about human nature and political power, I ask you to connect not with me, but with one another. When you think you have enough serious workers to commit, let Jeff know. He will visit with me and we will go from there.

I thank you for your attention. Those of you who managed to listen on through, even though it was not an easy word to hear, I do salute you and if you wish to scrutinize me with questions I make myself answerable to you at this time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jonesboro Goes Bananas as Battle Over Expansive Property Code Reaches Climax

Today is election day in Jonesboro. On the ballot is not only a City-Council race to fill in the term of a departed Councilman, but whether the city will repeal its recently and controversially adopted "2012 International Property Maintenance Code".  The fight over the code has been emotional, and as you read on you will see why.

The code was originally adopted after a head-fake from Mayor Harold Perrin and a City Council which contained a member who lived outside the city. When discussions began on whether to adopt the IPMC it was so controversial that they passed the question to a "Blue Ribbon Commission". Even though those Commissions are typically used to provide cover for something that the powers-that-be want done anyway, the decision was still contentious within the Commission. Eventually the Commission passed a resolution (6-3) that the City Council adopt the IPMC with allowable special provisions.

In the city itself the code was much more controversial. People were showing up at every city council meeting to protest. This led the City Council to pass a resolution to suspend "indefinitely" consideration of implementing the IPMC. Mayor Perrin said that the suspension of consideration applied to the IPMC, but that the city could continue to discuss developing their own code. He prefaced that with conciliatory statements like "maybe this wasn't the right code" and gave every indication that the crisis was over.

As soon as the concerned citizens went away, Perrin rammed through the IPMC. Not that the city Council was comfortable with the plan. The city council vote was tied 6-6, so Perrin broke the tie with his own vote (Mayors are allowed to vote to break ties). One of the city councilmen who voted to ram through the IPMC was later found to be living outside the city limits of Jonesboro, and thus ineligible for the office in which he served. His replacement will also be selected in today's voting.

The citizens who were against the code were outraged by the Mayor's head-fake. Many of them were part of the area Tea Party who were practiced at turning anger into action. They organized a petition drive to put a repeal effort on the ballot. In addition, they recruited James Bowman to run for the vacated city council seat. Those two items are what is being voted on today.

What the IPMC does is essentially criminalize poverty. Not just poverty, but it would run out working class people who can't afford all the property improvements that the more Toni sections of the city enjoy. For example, my house in Pea Ridge is one of many which does not have a paved driveway. There are even a few businesses in town without a paved driveway. Under the code, they would all have to be paved. Dan and Cheryl Lakey of Jonesboro were cited under the code for failure to have dog houses for each of their two dogs- even though they bring them in every night. According to Mark Pillow, one of the more active supporters of the repeal movement, Code Enforcement Officials have asked neighbors of those who favor the repeal for access to their backyard so that they can spy on opponents in order to discover violations.

The fine for failing to have your property up to code starts at $150, but there is no upper limit on the amount one may be fined for the third offense. People with working class homes would have no choice but to sell out to a developer cheap in order to get out from under the fines. The code can be used to run poor people out of town and send them as economic refugees to surrounding areas. Its effect will be the forced gentrification of the city.

The code would is not limited to the exterior of homes. The interior of homes are also required to meet the new code. It applies to residential and commercial properties. Pillow says that many businesses are secretly helping the repeal effort. They are doing so secretly because they don't want to lose the business of the wealthy folks in town who are tired of their upper-class eyes being forced to gaze upon disorder within the property lines of their poorer neighbors. Helping their neighbors out, or buying the property at a fair market value and fixing it up, seems to be beneath them. The solution they have hit upon is to use the city government to run those miserable working class peasants out of town.

Pillow says that Fort Smith adopted a much gentler version of the code with a hardship clause, and which did not apply to all structures, and had a maximum fine of $500. Even still, Pillow says they had 10,000 "violations" in year one. Pillow speculates that after a Tea Party group with which he is associated helped defeat a sales tax increase within the city, that the Mayor is looking to replace that "lost" revenue with money from code violations. It is also easier to apply for certain grants if a community has enacted the code, so the rich get richer.

Pillow has complained of despicable tactics by some supporters of the code. This is beyond the usual tearing up of yard signs, though he reports a very high incidence of "Repeal" signs being removed and destroyed. He says that real estate companies have been threatened with being blacklisted by two tony property owner's associations in the city. There have been incidents like the one I described with the Lakeys.

Pillow says that, just before he was scheduled to appear in a debate with code proponent Teresa Beck,  someone called the Department of Human Services and reported that his nephew was in a house which was without electric power and should be investigated by DHS. He was without power- for a few hours while maintenance was being conducted down the street. Pillow said he had a visit with DHS investigator Gary Robertson, who was sent to see if the state needed to intervene due to this teenager having to go without power for a few hours!

Even worse, someone called the boy's grandmother (Mark Pillow's mother) who has dementia. and threatened to have the boy removed from the home and placed in state custody. She did not understand the call, but handed the phone to Pillow's brother. He kept the threats from his mother because he figured it was all about shaking up Mark Pillow just before a big debate. Pillow suspected something was up because the opposition went from firmly opposing a debate to demanding one immediately. Pillow had arranged for a stand-in to replace him the day before- a move that he says sent the other side into a frenzy when they found out.

Proponents of the code want to make Jonesboro into a gentrified community. They often cite Auburn Alabama as their model. Auburn used the IPMC to push all of their working class and below outside the city limits to surrounding communities. They of course live in somewhat of a bubble because Auburn University is located there. Tons of money pour into the city from around the state even if they have no manufacturing or normal economy. The vision is for Arkansas State University to do the same for Jonesboro. Even if it was morally right to use government force to push out the less fortunate, I don't think their model is economically feasible for a number of reasons.

First of all, Auburn had its success as the higher education bubble was swelling. Jonesboro is trying to pull this stunt just as the higher ed bubble is starting to burst. Auburn rode the wave of federal money and lottery money thrown at higher ed over the last 20 years. Jonesboro is trying to buy into that market just as it has peaked. I think they are going to have to find another path to prosperity besides counting on the rest of the state handing them money and fining their own citizens for being poor.

Secondly, Jonesboro is somewhat larger than the town of Auburn, at least it is now before all the have-nots have been purged by this new code.  Jonesboro has over 71,000 people. Auburn has barely 60,000. If higher ed growth was just starting a 20 year run, instead of winding one down, then the plan might work- if ASU and Auburn were equal in terms of financial cash cows. They are not close. ASU is a fine mid-size university in a pleasant small city. It's not Auburn and that should be OK.

Auburn's main campus has a budget of $942 million dollars a year. ASU has a budget of only $153 million. Auburn also has over 27,000 students. ASU has 14,000 in Jonesboro and its my guess that on average they come from less affluent households than that of the Auburn student body. The private business potential from servicing them is simply nowhere near as great in Jonesboro compared to Auburn. ASU has endowments of 55 million dollars. This is dwarfed by Auburn's $642 million in endowments.

My take is that some among the upper class in the city have gotten pretentious. They imagine themselves as being something more than they are. This hubris and ambition actually makes them less than what they ought to be- benevolent and generous leading citizens of what is after all a nice Arkansas small city.  Instead, they are willing to run over those less fortunate than themselves in what I believe will be a futile attempt to turn their grand illusions about themselves into reality.


The code was repealed by a vote of very nearly 2-1. It was a giant defeat for Mayor Harold Perrin, but guys like that don't give up just because the hoi peloi don't like what they are up to. On the city Council Seat side, there will be a run-off, but James Bowman won't be in it as he finished third in a six man race. It turns out the repeal effort was split on who they wanted to fill that seat. Some business interests in the coalition like the idea of a code that steps on other people's toes, just not theirs.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Just Happened Here (Obamacare Funding Vote)?

The Magnificent Seven

Almost all appropriation items in Arkansas outside of a few categories require a 3/4ths majority in each house of the legislature to pass. That is in the state constitution. This should have the effect of making sure the state only spends money on things for which there is broad public support. Unfortunately, it doesn't work in practice. There may be 35 Senators, but they represent only two political parties. If the leadership of both of them want something, they can normally find a way to herd enough Senators together to do it even if an idea is extremely controversial with taxpayers. 
Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is very controversial. If it were put to a referendum on the November ballot, there is a good chance it would be voted down, and it is highly probably that it would be voted down in Senate Districts represented by Republicans. But legislators don't just represent their constituents, they also represent one of two parties (and the Governor runs one of those). This fact has basically short-circuited a process which was supposed to insure than the state does not spend tax dollars on most things unless they have broad public support. That is one reason why I think we should start sending independents and/or people from new grassroots parties to the state legislature, but I digress.
Ten Senators had stood their ground and refused to pass a budget which included Obamacare Medicaid expansion in it, which in this state is now called "Arkansas Works".  It was previously called "The Private Option." If people are so sold on it, one wonders why they have to keep changing what they call it? Senators were under tremendous pressure from both sides. If Governor Hutchinson wanted D.C. to send him some more money to pass out, he had to find a way to split two of the ten off and get them to vote for the appropriation.
Rumors had been circulating that not all of the ten were solid opponents of the plan. The idea was that some of them were just making a show for the folks back home. If there was some symbolic gesture they could use to flip their vote, they would.

That may have been the impetus behind the Governor's plan, which sounded too convoluted to be a plausible "House of Cards" script. By combining a bill which funded Medicaid Expansion with an amendment which ended funding of Medicaid Expansion, a couple of Senators looking for a way out could vote for the bill, arguing that the bill "defunded" the program. This was even though the Governor said in advance he intended to line-item veto the part that revoked the funding and thus leave the bill with the funding intact.

The two Senators who accepted that deal were Bart Hester and Blake Johnson. The rest did not. In one way or another they refused to fund it, whether by voting "no" or "present". You see their names above, in red and yellow. Bledsoe, Clark, Collins-Smith, Flippo, King, Rice, Stubblefield. I call them "The Magnificent Seven".  In Missy Irvin's case, she went to a funeral instead of showing up to vote so count her as a sort of "no" as well.

By flipping their vote for something that was such an obvious gimmick, Hester and Johnson put themselves in an awkward position. Sure, voting for it is bad, but putting on a big show and then flipping over such an obvious token gesture is even worse. It would have been better to have come out in favor of the bill all along than to make a big show of being against it and then abandon your position in exchange for the barest of fig leaves.

Hester made a statement to explain why he went for the deal, saying that he just could not keep voting "no" because he did not want all of Medicaid to go unfunded. But President Pro Tem Dismang had already said he was ready to separate out the "Arkansas Works" money from the rest of the DHS budget. If so, they could have had a "clean" vote on the funding of Arkansas Works without holding the rest of the people on Medicaid hostage. A lot of us see the folks on traditional Medicaid as becoming the victims of Obamacare/Arkansas Works anyway as funding for that program crowds out the Medicaid funding for them.

Hester also explained his switch by saying in effect he voted for a bill that defunded Medicaid Expansion and if the Governor comes along later and makes it into a bill which funds it instead then that's on the Governor, not him.

Look, legislators have tough jobs. I know that. They are voted into office to make some hard calls. Still, I think his statement is, by itself, an abdication of his responsibility as a legislator. The legislature is supposed to decide what is funded and what is not. That is not really what this bill does. The language in this bill was written, if what the Governor is doing is really legal, so that Medicaid Expansion can either be funded, or not funded as the Governor may decide. Sure the legislature could technically over-ride his veto with a majority, but the whole intent in the Arkansas Constitution is that a super-majority is required to appropriate state money. The legislative super-majority requirement for an appropriation is being skirted by this measure. That power was put into the Constitution to give legislators the ability to make some hard decisions, to hold out and stop spending they thought was wrong.  In this case that power, and the buck, is being passed to the Governor.

Now, there is a big caveat to all of this, for both Johnson and Hester. You see I don't think what the Governor and the legislature just did is legal, for reasons outlined here. Yes, they changed the language some, probably because they were worried about just the kind of thing I wrote about in the link, but the changes they made don't alter the fundamentals. Not that you can't count on judges to rule according to the text of the law or the constitution anymore, but they are supposed to and they have been know to do so. If it is taken to court, the Governor's action may be ruled unconstitutional. If the judges rule on the text of the state constitution it very likely will be ruled so.

What I am saying is that maybe Hester and Johnson have given the Governor enough rope to hang his Medicaid Expansion scheme. Did they mean to? I don't know, but we will see if they are at the forefront of the legal fight to show that what he did is a violation of Separation of Powers. A court ruling saying so will cast even more dubious actions at the feet of a program which already has a history of plenty. It will set things up even more for real victory on the issue in the next fiscal session. If they do it will go a long way toward showing that they were not just trying to score points or mollify some powerful supporters with a show of a fight. Instead, they are willing to fight when a fight is called for, they just had a slightly disagreement on tactics.

Look, each year that goes by the more of a burden this program is going to be, not just from the perspective of a taxpayer, or someone on traditional Medicaid getting their program cut, but even from the perspective of the state.  The state's share goes up each year. Insurers are leaving the state. Premiums are set to increase significantly in 2017. The feds will one day tire of the state taxing their Medicaid money and demand we end the practice. Each year that goes by will show more and more that The Magnificent Seven had it right, and the rest of them had it wrong. I know we have seen a lot of defeats, mostly of stubbornly clinging to old habits. Example: people insist on relying on the Republican party to vet their candidates instead of bypassing it and getting candidates of their own choosing directly onto the general election ballot. But on this one, we can win. We are on the right side of history, and fiscal reality. So we should keep doing what we are doing, only smarter.