Monday, May 27, 2013

Will Ex-Major Conference Have Best QB?

The "Big East Conference" conference has become "The American Athletic Conference", at least as far as football is concerned.   The small private basketball schools have split from the rest of the conference and kept the "Big East" name.  The Big East was always the weakest football conference, only the fact that they were one of the conferences with an automatic BCS bid propped them up, and that is going away.   Some of their best members have been raided by the true major conferences and the league's plan for a coast-to-coast conference pretty much fell through.

"The American" still has Louisville though, at least until next season is over when they will jump to the ACC.   And Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater at QB.    Bridgewater was a five-star recruit and has shown himself to be a five-star player for coach Charlie Strong.  As a sophomore last season, he passed for 3,718 yards with a remarkable 68.5% completion percentage.   The Cardinal's QB passed for 27 touchdowns last season, verses only eight interceptions, a truly astounding ratio.

The critics who might have said that Bridgewater accumulated those statistics against weaker Big-East competition were silenced when the Cardinals went bowling and put a 33-23 whipping on the vaunted Florida Gators of the SEC.   He passed for 266 yards and two touchdowns in that game, despite playing hurt.

Quarterbacks have become so important in college football that a mediocre team with a great QB can play about as well as a great team with a mediocre QB.  Witness the mixed results mighty Texas has had of late- they have been a good team, but they traditionally finish near the top of the nation in recruiting.   They have lots of talent, but have had trouble finding a great QB to go with it.

That brings me to the "sleeper" for a great QB in "The American"- Garret Gilbert of SMU.  Gilbert, like Bridgewater, was a five-star recruit.  He was supposed to be the great quarterback to go with the great team that Texas had, but the young man played hurt and appeared shell-shocked during his time in Austin.   After his early failures, the negative energy was so strong that he transferred to the Mustangs.

Last season Gilbert passed for 2932 yards for a 53% completion average with 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.     Those stats alone would not justify a prediction of great things for Gilbert's senior year, but a closer look reveals two seasons.   In the first six games, Gilbert tossed only seven touchdowns versus eleven interceptions.   In the last seven he threw for eight touchdowns and only four interceptions, including a five game run with zero turnovers.   The Gilbert that finally started clicking is the one to watch for.

While Bridgewater is a pure passer, Gilbert found ways to beat people with his feet as well as his arm.  But even that did not show on the field until his mid-season transformation.   In the first six games he rushed for a net negative yardage total and had zero rushing touchdowns.  In the last six games he rushed for over 300 yards and scored eight rushing touchdowns.    Add that to the passing touchdowns and the G.G. of the first half of the season had seven touchdowns, the G. G. of the second half had sixteen.  

If Gilbert picks up where he left off and fulfills the big expectations of his days as a recruit, Bridgewater could get some competition for top QB in the American, even as he is one of the top in the nation.    Of course, Gilbert had Zac Line as a RB to help take the heat off of him.  Traylon Shead has the potential to step into that role, but the offensive line is a big question mark.   Another question is whether or not Gilbert and Shead will get enough time on the field- SMU's defense might not be able to make enough stops to give a high-powered Pony offense a chance to shine.  Top defensive player Margus Hunt is now in the NFL.

The Cincinnati Bearcats may also have a surprise entry in the top QB competition, with former top-recruit Gunner Keil.  Keil transferred from Notre Dame recently when it appeared he lost the battle for QB to Everett Golson.  Golson might have been Bridgewater's top competition for best college QB, but immediately after Keil left Golson was dismissed from the team over academic issues.   Still, Keil says he is a Bearcat.   If Keil fits in at Cincinnati, look for the Bearcats to have a strong season.

Brantley Suggests Tea Party Groups Deserved IRS Scrutiny, then suggests Hobbs Heartless

Leftists are statists, like big-government conservatives, and as such they are scary.   They represent a group of people who are a threat to the property and freedom of their neighbors when they are anywhere near government power and influence.  Sadly, they are in possession of such power and influence.  Thus our freedom and our property have indeed become increasingly threatened.

In reaction to the statists both left and right who were and are giving trillions of dollars worth of subsidies to the world's financial elites, a bunch of regular Americans got together and formed Tea Parties.   Many Tea Party groups have since been co-opted and become mere appendages of one half of the system whose outrages precipitated their development in the first place.  Still, the roots of the movement itself sprung from an instinctive understanding that neither D.C. based political club was listening to them.

When people learned that the IRS was singling out groups with "Patriot" and "Tea Party" type names for special scrutiny/intrusive harassment, people across the political spectrum were outraged.    And they should have been, even though the IRS has been used by both halves of the cabal in a similar fashion since the 1970s.   That broad outrage shows us just how extreme, how far outside the boundaries of respectful civil discourse, that Max Brantley is when he suggested that Tea Party groups deserved the special scrutiny/harassment they got from the IRS.

According to Max, they had it coming because they were "overtly political", and of course we would not want groups that are overtly political to be out from under the thumb of the IRS, because then the system could not use the threat of the IRS as a tool to keep such groups from threatening the system!   In Max's twisted view of the world, only leftist action groups are entitled to be untaxed because only they really promote "the social welfare" by promoting left wing policies and candidates.   Promoting limited government policies is his mind is by definition against the "social welfare" so groups which form to limit the role of government in our lives should be forced to be at the mercy of that government's IRS.

Do the Republicans and Democrats pay taxes on the donations they get?   Do the donors get to write off contributions on their taxes?   Then Tea Party groups, and their counterparts on the left, should be able to as well.    Justice John Marshall spelled it early in our history when he wrote "the power to tax involves the power to destroy."  The system should not have the power to destroy groups whose purpose is to reform it, regardless of their vision.  

Of course, as a localist, I realize the ultimate solution is for individuals and groups of individuals should not be directly taxable by the federal government, but that's for another day.  The main point here is to call out leftists for their anti-freedom agenda and heartless suggestion that somehow their political opponents "had it coming."  Barbaric.

But Max does not think he is a bad person for suggesting they deserved IRS targeting.   Rather, he thinks that State Representative Debra Hobbs of Rogers is a bad person.  Incredibly, on the same day that he revealed his ample backside on the IRS story, he declared Hobbs the winner of a "Worst Person in the World Award."

What did Hobbs do to earn such scorn?   The company who runs the testing for the GED program has upped their fees from $20 a person to $120 a person.   The state has always picked up the cost for people who want to take the GED, but Hobbs was among the majority of legislators who balked at paying the sharp increase.  She suggested that the test-takers share in the cost.  

I have an even better suggestion which Hobbs might agree with.  Let's dump the company that is laying the massive cost increase on us and keep the old test for the GED which only costs about $20 to administer.   The extra costs involve computerizing the test and aligning it to the federal education standards called "Common Core."   This is a scam.  We are being charged six times the price for a dumbed-down test.  I approve of the legislature's decision, led by Hobbs, not to roll over for the massive increase, and hope it leads to Arkansas adopting their own non-Common Core GED test which they can administer for a much more reasonable price.   That way everyone wins except the crony capitalists overcharging for their tests and the educrats trying to impose globalized, inferior standards on our education system.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Bigger Problem in Womack Bribe Story

Freshman Republican State Representative Richard Womack of Arkadelphia claims that lobbyists offered him inducements to change his vote and support the "Private Option" - I.E. Obamacare for crony capitalists. Since the passage of the so-called "Private" Option will result in a special interest windfall worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually, transferred from our pockets to those of the hospitals and insurance industries in this state, strong motive does exist to offer such inducements.

One debate that rages around this issue is whether on not Richard Womack should file a crime report.  While the language that the lobbyist used indicated that the lobbyist may have believed their actions were legal (though crass and sleazy) the Arkansas Constitution's description of a bribe sounds a lot like what went down here.   The main difference, and this may be why no crime was attempted, was that the lobbyist did not offer to give anything to Womack for his personal use, but only to his re-election campaign fund.

Let me hasten to add that eight legislators changed their votes in the space of about twenty hours around this time.   If you are wondering if any other legislators took the money that Womack refused, an excellent place to look would be the names that voted AGAINST funding the "private option" of Obamacare on the afternoon of April 15th, but then voted FOR the "private option" of Obamacare on the morning of the 16th!  Whether it technically fits the legal definition of a bribe or not, morally, this was a bribe.  It looks from here like some people took it.

But let me quote to you what Rep. Womack told intrepid reporter Nicolas Horton and see if you can spot the most disturbing part of the whole story....

"A lobbyist asked me if I would consider changing my vote [on the private option] for $20,000-$30,000 in my campaign account, as soon as they could put it in there legally, and two elections unopposed."

That is right friends, even more disturbing than the bribe attempt with money, was the bribe attempt with respect to offering two elections unopposed.   Womack was shocked by that too, and told them that they could not stop someone from running against him.   He said the lobbyist replied "we can see that it’s not a good opponent and that he’s not well funded.”

The most disturbing part of this whole highly disturbing story is that the big lobbies feel that they have their hooks so deep into the two parties that they can go around promising legislators that they will have no serious opponent for two election cycles!   The Democrat Party will not seek out opposition to Republicans who play ball, and of course the Republican Party will not seek out a primary challenger for those who play ball.  Any candidate who challenges one of the bribe-takers will be an "outsider" without support and fund raising help from the party hierarchy.   That is the clear implication of what Womack claims that the lobbyist told him.

This is one of the major problems with relying on a "party" to represent your interests and protect your freedom.   They are a centralized power structure which can be bought off at the top.  Bribe money can be "leveraged" by buying off the top of the pyramid.   Regardless of whether the individual legislator takes the bribes, the party takes the bribes that these lobbyists are offering.  That's how lobbyists can add the inducement of "no quality opponent for two election cycles" to the direct monetary contribution.  This is why conservatives who really want to limit government always wind up as party outsiders.

This can't be fixed by "taking back" a party.  It is an inherent flaw of outsourcing your responsibilities as citizens to a distant power-structure.   The structure is not going to keep representing your interests, they are going to represent their own.    The only solution is that we citizens are going to have to take back the responsibility we have out-sourced to these power structures and directly select and elect our own legislators through local groups only loosely networked to those in other localities.   I hope to have more to say about this in the near future.  For now-  If you are trusting a political party to select your candidates for you, its not self-government.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vaccine Court's Deck Gets Stacked Some More

Before I get to the main story, for no extra charge here is a fascinating article which shows that children with Autism and Children with ADHD have a genetic mutation in the same genes. This fits in well with something I reported on three years ago......ADHD and Autism seem to be a spectrum of the same underlying condition, and the rates in both exploded at the same time.

Other research gives clues that our immune systems are more complex than the government bureaucrats can understand. Take for example this study which shows that people who get certain childhood diseases, including measles and chick pox, are significantly less likely to have heart problems later in life. By vaccinating against non-fatal childhood diseases, it could raise the risk of heart disease later in life.

But the main vaccine-related story that has my undies in a bundle is this one. It is told in a way to spin it as positively as possible for the vaccine court judge, or "Special Master" Laura Millman. The case they cover is a heartbreaking one. The DPT vaccine caused a young man to be horribly disabled- at least under the old rules. The cases got so numerous that the government changed the rules to make it even harder for a special master to rule that a vaccine caused a disability.

The way the fund is run lessens the financial pain vaccine makers feel when they let a bad vaccine stay on the market, since expenses are shared. In addition, the tougher standards of the vaccine courts now mean that more are turned down for payment from the vaccine-makers fund- and dumped on the taxpayers via Medicaid Disability payments. The article quotes "Special Master" Millman as saying "When I have to refuse an award, it's hard. But I know these children's basic needs are going to be taken care of either way. It's not like the ancient days, when they threw you off a cliff."

In other words, the costs for the vaccine-maker's mistakes are shifted unto the backs of the taxpayers while they keep the profits. Classic corporatism, but the circumstances of the young man in this story and the knowledge that there are others like him make it even more morally repugnant that normal.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Arkansas Watch vs. Talk Business Top Legislators Lists

The second edition of the Arkansas Watch "Ten Best Legislators" list (along with the "Ten Worst") has gotten quite a bit of attention.  But we are not the only ones to offer a top ten list.   We are not even the only ones to offer a top ten list that most people consider a "conservative" source.   TalkNow Business is considered by some to be conservative.   And they do have a staff member or two with conservative bonifides, such as Steve Brawner.  But TalkBusisness is not a limited-government conservative ('conservatarian') site.   It is a business site.

In this day and age of crony-capitalism, almost by definition a business site can't be a limited-government site.  Big business has learned that instead of spending money marketing products and services to customers, it is more profitable to lobby government to get them to subsidize purchases of your product, or mandate that citizens purchase more of your product than they would of their own free will.

In this case, big hospitals and insurance companies both wanted the so-called "private option" to pass.   Those are two powerful, well-funded lobbies that make up much of the talk when people "talk business."   They wanted it to pass because it, like every form of Obamacare, it does what I described in the paragraph above.  

Hospitals will now get paid by the government so that they don't have to write off any costs from people who don't pay or quit paying.  They have a guaranteed income stream from the taxpayers.  Of course, hospitals are already compensating for the non-payers by charging the rest of us a little more, but don't count on those prices going down just because they will now get over $200 million additional taxpayer dollars a year.   We have seen that with both health care and higher education, and anything government throws money at really, that the more money that is thrown at something the higher its "costs" go.  

The only way to control costs is with true free-market incentives.   Since the hospital lobby made no promises to reduce the charges to the rest of us in exchange for the $200 million extra taxpayer dollars a year, and since we are moving even further away from a free market that could quickly force such price reductions, this bill represents a $200 million dollar special interest windfall from your pockets to theirs.

Insurance companies like the way that Arkansas' Obamacare legislation both subsidizes the purchase of their products and mandates the purchase of more of their products than people would choose to buy of their own free will.   The Waltons don't need to purchase health insurance, but they are mandated to.  I may feel like a $10,000 deductible is OK, but the regulations might say that a policy like that does not meet the requirements and I must purchase a more expensive one with a lower deductible.   They are counting on "lowering" costs by forcing lots of healthy people into purchasing their products against their will.

This is what the astute reader should bear in mind when they compare the Arkansas Watch top ten list with the Talk Business Arkansas list.   We rated people by how honest they were, by how hard they fought to limit the growth of government spending and control over our lives, and by how well they communicated with the people they were supposed to be serving.   Talk Business ranked people by who could keep the crony-capitalist party going for one more session. They ranked people based on who could "get things done" - by which they meant spend public money and grow government.     Consider that they had uber-lib Joyce Elliot as one of the top ten, along with many Republicans who said and did whatever they had to do to implement Obamacare (and Big River Steel too).

Which list is better?  Of course we are partial to ours, but it all depends on what you are looking for.   You have to decide for yourself whose lists have the most credibility.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Junk Evolutionary Science on Junk DNA

When scientists first discovered that the genome (the collection of genes) of living creatures contained a great many genes that did not code for proteins, they dubbed it "junk DNA".   The vast majority of human DNA fell into this category, and not just humans, but in virtually all living things.   They heralded this as strong evidence that macro-evolution occurred.   After all the reasoned, the extra genes that are just sitting around not doing anything have to be either evolutionary leftovers, or construction areas for the next evolutionary great leap forward.

It turned out that "Junk DNA" was not junk at all.  Rather, the non-coding regions regulated gene expression in the genes that did code.  Such DNA turned out to be "highly conserved" among similar groups, such as mammals.   That strongly indicated that such genes were important.    When evolutionist discover a finding that is contrary to the theory, they never question the theory, they just cobble the new finding unto the theory somehow.

A Common Designer could fit the evidence just as well as a common ancestor for conserved non-coding DNA in similar groups.    And conserved non-coding DNA shut another potential door for evolutionary adaptation.  These non-coding genes were not just sitting around with no function for generations until by some miracle the right mutations resulted in a genes that assembled into a useful new adaptation.   No, they needed to stay pretty close to what they were to properly perform the original regulatory function.

But just in case that door needs nailing shut, here comes the genome of the humped bladderwort, a strange carnivorous plant.  If any plant has done a lot of evolving, it ought to be that one, based not only on its morphology but also its genes- it has triple the chromosomes of most plants.  But what it does not have is non-coding DNA, at least not to any respectable degree.  

The tone of the article is one of near shock.   Apparently non-coding DNA is not necessary for complex life forms, even forms that seemed to have undergone a lot of adaptations.    They speculate that the plant has some mechanism that strips non-coding DNA from the genome, though how it does this while still undergoing all the adaptations they think it underwent, and still functioning it a mystery to them.

Scientists are clearly missing something important.  Chalking up every unexpected finding to the wonders of evolution, an "evolution of the gaps" as it were, becomes increasingly incredulous to the honest mind.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Ten Worst Legislators in the State of Arkansas

On a positive note, be pleased to view our choice of the "Ten Best Legislators" here.

 The rankings were determined by a confidential panel of five activists- me and one chosen from each congressional district in the state.  More details about the selection process can be found here.   The votes from the 2011 session can be found here.

This was an unusual session, and realistically, there was a lot to be negative about.  The specter of Obamacare loomed large over the state.  It was the defining issue of the previous election campaign and the defining issue of the session.  And most Republicans blinked.  The deceptively-named "private option" is nothing more than Obamacare in a hat and sunglasses, no matter how hard they try to spin it.  What also won't fly are attempts to redirect attention to other "accomplishments".    Twenty bills about flag-waiving, or abortion bans that will most likely never be implemented, or back-loaded tax cuts which will be overwhelmed by new spending mandated by Obamacare, don't cancel out the tremendous blunder to implement the program in this state.  
Attempts to mis-direct attention to those measures to cover for this disaster amount to someone asking "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"  Calling Obamacare by some other name simply because the government money passes through an extra set of private hands does not make the situation any better- it makes it worse because it introduces the factor of dishonesty into what would otherwise be simply a disagreement about policy.  
With that being said, here is the 2013 edition of the Arkansas Watch "Ten Worst Legislators" in the state of Arkansas.

#1 Worst- All Democratic Legislators.
If the Democratic legislators want to be evaluated as individual persons, they should act and vote that way.  If they are all going to march in lock-step with Mike Beebe, then there is no point in seeing or rating them as individuals.  Since they acted as a unit they should be judged as one.   The tribalism among the Democrat caucus was always strong, but this session, with them circling up the wagons in a minority status, it was ridiculous.   There would be a committee meeting scheduled on the re-hearing of a given bill, a bill to which many Democrats on the committee had already expressed objections.   If the Republicans made a deal with Beebe concerning the bill, then the next time the committee meeting re-opened they would all be for it, with no changes.   Citizens of Arkansas, if your state representative was a Democrat, then you had no state representative, and Mike Beebe had 46 representatives.   It was much the same in the senate.

Party politics destroys the Founder's intent with regard to the legislative branch acting as a check and a balance on the Executive Branch.  That truth is rarely clearer than it was this session.   For not representing their constituents  for abandoning whatever individuality or principles they might have had, for checking their brains and integrity at the door and just following orders like a suspect at Nuremberg, the Democratic Caucus ranks as the #1 Worst legislator.

#2 Worst - House Speaker Davy Carter of Cabot. 
There are two main ways to get high on the "worst" list.  One is to be an incompetent buffoon, the other is to be very effective at advancing the wrong policy by any means necessary.  Davy Carter is an example of the latter category.    He was forced on the slim GOP majority by a handful of Republican legislators and the unanimous support of our #1 on the worst list- the entire democratic caucus.      Without Carter willing to say and do just about anything to get it passed, Arkansas would probably not have implemented Obamacare.  Exhibit "A" for Carter's willingness to say anything was his claim that "a vote for the Private Option is a vote against Obamacare."    Of course the claim is an example of "The Big Lie".  Just make a claim so outrageously false that the average person will accept it as true simply because they can't believe that someone in a position of authority would maintain such a brazen falsehood.  All of the Democrats voted for the so-called "Private Option", and you know they are not all going to vote against Obamacare.  Still, that's his story and he's sticking to it- even though its false.

Carter is also anti-gun rights, while posing as a good 'ole boy conservative.   He helped kill a very timid bill that would allow those already permitted to carry concealed handguns to carry them openly.  Even government-permitted gun freedom seems to be too much gun freedom for Carter.    And when Denny Altes slipped a gun bill by them that granted more leeway than they thought it did, rumors started floating that Carter and company would abuse the codification process to materially change what the legislature actually passed  on its way to the law books.    Let's hope that's just a rumor, but the sources sound confident and at the least Carter has tried to claim the bill said less than what it said.

The Republican party in this state, in particular the other legislators, are now placed in the unfortunate position of either granting consent to his untruthfulness, whether by silence or by affirmation, or coming out against it and bringing the real split that already exists in the party out into the open.  The Democrats who put Carter in office must be laughing all the way home.

#3 Worst- Senator David Sanders of Little Rock. 
David Sanders checks in at #3 on the worst list for being the opposite kind of bad- the clownish kind.   He was the ramrod for getting many state legislators to endorse Texas Gov. Rick Perry early on in the process.  Perry promptly self-destructed with an embarrassing series of gaffes and miss-statements and left the race early.    Shortly thereafter, Sanders organized what he called a "listening tour" for state legislators, which actually turned out to be a series of fund raising events with corporate big-wigs.   He even lured Congressman Steve Womack into the process, unfortunately in a way that violated election campaign finance law. Womack asked them to return the money they raised at the event he attended.

Sanders has led his colleagues into one blunder after another.  Sooner or later you would think they would start to notice it.  At any rate, his support for Obamacare via the miss-named "Private Option" is no exception to his tendency to make the wrong calls.

#4 Worst- Senator Jason Rappert of Conway. 

Our panelists tend to be sincere Christian people, which is why guys like Jason Rappert bother them so much.   He is the kind of guy who will bite the hand that feeds him clean off by doing the opposite of what he said he would do, then accuse the owner of the new stump of being un-spiritual because they are upset.   There is no kind of arrogant like the kind of arrogant who thinks that they are holier-than-thou.    My guess is that he is going to have to run for Lt. Governor, both to feed is desire for self-aggrandizement and also because he may not be able to win another local race in Conway, so many people has he offended- but of course, they are all wrong for that!  This was the guy who wanted to risk a Con-Con for an idea that would not solve the problem of government overspending even if it passed and the Con-Con could somehow be limited.   A man who thinks he is God's point man does not mind taking big risks, too bad he is using our chips.

#5 Worst- Representative John Burris of Harrison.

 Is the so-called "Private Option" Medicaid Expansion?  "Nothing could be further from the truth" said John Burris from the floor of the house.  But in reality lots of things could be further from the truth.  Any thing that is the least bit untrue could be further from the truth, because the Private Option itself is a Medicaid program, just not the one we are most accustomed to.   John Burris was instrumental in pushing for the idea that the PO wasn't what it was.   He was Davy Carter's tag-team partner in the whole thing.  We warned early on that if Carter sent the Obamacare bills to Public Health (which Burris got to chair in exchange for being one of a handful of Republicans to join with the Democrats and impose Carter) rather than State Agencies, then Carter was pushing for Obamacare to pass.  That is what happened, with Burris his right-hand man and assistant spin-doctor.

#6 Worst- Senator Missy Irvin of Mountain View. 
Missy Irvin was one of the worst legislators in the state.  Several activists had expressed concerns about her privately, but the session results highlighted some of the issues.   She was the deciding vote on the implementation of Obamacare in the Senate.  And while Arkansas Times gets a whole lot wrong, one thing they did right was describing her illogical thought processes and slim grasp of public policy in an area that should have been a strength for her.   The changes she insisted on before she flipped were fig leaves at best, they did not change the substance of the bill at all.  And by the time she flipped it was more obvious than ever that the GOP had been taken on this deal.    The ArkTimes description of her poor grasp of policy rings true as well.  She is probably very personable, but unfortunately it takes a different skill set to be a good campaigner than it does to be a good legislator.

#7 Worst, State Representative Charlie Collins of Fayetteville.
When you are supremely confident, cocky even, you had better be almost always right.   Unfortunately his confidence does not match with his correctness.  Confident, personable, wrong.   For example, he was instrumental in the coup that put Carter in power.   There has to be some accountability for that disaster.  He never would come right out and plainly admit that the so-called "Private Option" would in fact increase the total number of persons in the state on some kind of Medicaid program.   And he assured me personally that the income tax cuts that were his baby played no role in his decision to back the mis-named "Private Option."    His colleagues don't appear to know that, one legislator told another member of the panel that Collins indicated to them the opposite.  Of course, after the first two years or three years those "savings" under the PO turn into new costs which will crush any reasonable hope of the tax cuts being sustained, but hey, at least there was a tax cut on paper that someone can put their name on.

#8 Worst- Senator Bill Sample from Hot Springs. 
One might be tempted to think that Bill Sample was just another turn-coat who ran on opposing the implementation of Obamacare in the state but then voted the opposite.  But we had a legislature full of such turn-coats, yet Senator sample earned more ire around the state than almost all of the others.  He got a lot of bills passed, but some of them were bills to float tax increases and make it easier for local governments to incur debt.   What I am getting at here is that many legislators were turn-coats on the defining issue of the session, but were typically conservative with the rest of their record.  What sets Sample apart is that he is going "full turncoat" on limited government issues.   He doesn't just want government health care to expand (so long as a couple of GOP lobbies get a cut) he seems to want government expansion in general, the reverse of his campaign rhetoric.   This Republican went to the legislature and fell in love with big government.

#9 Worst- Senator Johnathan Dismang. 
We don't know what happened.   He had a decent record up until the last session.  There were some tax cuts that he wanted to get through, and those were good, but we do have to wonder if there was not some sort of deal made to get them, because Dismang was one of those pushing for the PO hard.  Again, those tax cuts have been back-loaded.   They are very tiny at first, and by the time they are big we won't be able to keep them because the increased costs of the PO will demand tremendous amounts of tax revenues.  In order to claim credit for cutting taxes now, Dismang and others have signed onto something that will tie the hand of future legislatures, perhaps for decades.   We will be fortunate if we can avoid a tax increase in four or five years from now, never mind keeping this tax cuts on the books.  They got "took".  Dismang got took.  He could have been a contender.  Unlike these others that we have long been hesitant about, he was doing well. If he had used his great ability to block Obamacare he would have been a hero- that is a part of what makes it so bad.

#10 Worst is a three-way tie between Micheal Lamoureux of Russellville, Mark Biviano of Searcy, and Ken Bragg of Sheridan.  Each of the three were tied at minus nine points each.     I questioned one of the five who ranked Bragg strongly negative.  Why single Bragg out when so many of the Republican legislators basically lied when they campaigned on how hard they would fight Obamacare?  "I know a lot of them lied, but he was the one that lied to me." was the answer.

When it came to the other two, I did not have to ask.  Lamoureux did not just vote wrong, he was working hard for the spin machine on it, he just did not get quite as rash in his statements as Carter and Burris.  He was also in a leadership position in the Senate, so when the late cavers caved, we understand that some of the pressure to do so came from him.

Biviano has always been an embarrassment to the legislature and we find it odd that the people of Searcy can't find better representation.   He ran as a Tea Party conservative then legislated like a crony-capitalist.  Not content to help pass the Medicaid Expansion half of Obamacare, he actually sponsored a bill to officially implement the other half- a state exchange.  Previously Beebe had been using policy and regulation to take steps towards an Arkansas exchange, but Biviano's bill now gives him legislative authority to proceed.

Dishonorable Mention
Sadly, there were far more than the dirty dozen we list here who deserve to be called out for their violations of the public trust.    Below is a list of the legislators who our panel of activists gave at least -5 points...

Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson- a caver with an unfortunate private life.  One has to wonder if he would be a state senator if he had another last name.
Sen. Jon Woods- after the grassroots helped him upset Sen. Bill Pritchard in the primary, he dissed them repeatedly.
Rep. Ann Clemmer- there are worse things in the world than sucking a few lemons.
Rep. Mary Lou Slinkard- snuck out of the committee room to kill a gun bill.  
Rep. Les Carnine - has always been one of the more liberal Republicans.
Rep. Robert Dale- if there was a bigger squish of a Republican than Carnine, it was Dale.
Rep. Andy Mayberry - is not funny anymore.
Sen. Jimmy Hickey - could learn something from Richard Womack.
Rep. Nate Bell- voted AGAINST funding the PO and is STILL on this list, if that gives you any idea of how obnoxious he can be.   Credit his wife more than him for that vote anyway.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Ten Best State Legislators in the State of Arkansas

Sometimes we tend to focus on the negative too much when discussing the goings-on of Arkansas government.   It is too easy to forget that there are a lot of good public office-holders too.   That is why the Arkansas Watch semi-annual ranking of the Ten Best Legislators in the state of Arkansas has become one of my favorite columns to write.    The rankings were determined by a confidential panel of five activists- me and one chosen from each congressional district in the state.  More details about the selection process can be found here.   The votes from the 2011 session can be found here.

This was an unusual session, and realistically, there was a lot to be negative about.  The specter of Obamacare loomed large over the state.  It was the defining issue of the previous election campaign and the defining issue of the session.  And most Republicans blinked.  The deceptively-named "private option" is nothing more than Obamacare in a hat and sunglasses, no matter how hard they try to spin it.  What also won't fly are attempts to redirect attention to other "accomplishments".    Twenty bills about flag-waiving, or abortion bans that will most likely never be implemented, or back-loaded tax cuts which will be overwhelmed by new spending mandated by Obamacare, don't cancel out the tremendous blunder to implement the program in this state.  

Attempts to mis-direct attention to those measures to cover for this disaster amount to someone asking "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"  Calling Obamacare by some other name simply because the government money passes through an extra set of private hands does not make the situation any better- it makes it worse because it introduces the factor of dishonesty into what would otherwise be simply a disagreement about policy.  

But that being said, not every legislator succumbed to the intense pressure to break their word to the people who elected them.   Not every legislator rationalized and spun their way out of their campaign promises.   When there is an environment where the tendency is to go bad, it is just that much more impressive that many remained true.   Among these worthy statesmen and stateswomen, we present to you our bi-annual Hall of Heroes, the Ten Best Legislators in the State of Arkansas.....

#1 Senator Bart Hester of Cave Springs.
We knew that Hester had a lot of grit when he came out of nowhere to upset the establishment pick for this state senate seat, but even knowing that he exceeded expectations.   Hester not only stood strong against the public option with his vote, but with his voice.   One of the many failings of the party system of candidate selection is that when the majority of one's own chums start spinning, even the non-spinners feel pressure to defend them, or at least fall silent on an issue.  Not Hester.  He was a straight-shooter in a blizzard of spin.   He voted against Obamacare, he tried to convince others in his party to do the same, and when they did it anyway he told the truth about what they did.   He even loudly and publicly pointed out what we had been saying about the back-loaded tax cuts.  Time will tell, but from what we have seen so far, the people of Benton County have elected a treasure in Bart Hester.

#2 Senator Bryan King of Green Forest 
Bryan King is a repeat member of our Hall of Heroes.   He checked in at number two on the 2011 list as well, but this year there was an even stronger group of legislators that he was being compared against.   While he is often quiet and does the right thing without having a lot of ego about it, he can also be passionate when the situation calls for it.    
He successfully got the Church Concealed Carry bill through- taking the decision of whether or not people can conceal carry in Church away from the state and placing it the hands of the church where it belongs.     We even like his vote against a "tort reform" bill that would have made it too hard too seek significant damages against corporate malfeasance.    We are people-first limited-government conservatives, not corporate tool conservatives, and it appears that so is Bryan King.   One weak spot was killing a voter-turnout bill in committee, but his overall performance was so strong we almost feel embarrassed mentioning it.

#3 Representative Justin Harris of West Fork.
Justin Harris is also a repeat member of our Hall of Heroes, and he actually moved up from the #7 spot in 2011 despite the stiffer competition.  He just got that much stronger, and has been described as having "a humble servant attitude while still refusing to be intimidated."  Like Hester, he not only voted against the deceptively-named "Private Option", but he refused to be a cog in the spin machine his colleagues were building to sell it.   Justin Harris sponsored some good bills, and voted mostly right.   He didn't get them all right.  He had a temporary lapse in judgement on the "Big River Steel" bill- a lapse that he owned up to and attempted to correct.  In these days of spin, just telling us the truth is worth a lot.  That candor, and humility and honesty, which ought to be so common in public servants but is in fact so valuable and rare, is enough to combine with his solid record and surprising grit to earn him the #3 spot on our "Best" list.

#4 Senator Alan Clark of Lonsdale. 
Alan Clark not only proposed a lot of solid bills, he got an impressive number of them passed.  A lot of them had to do with cleaning up election law to keep a political party which shall remain nameless from gaming the system.     Even though our panel was selected on a regional basis, Clark got a lot of respect even from panelists outside his region, despite the fact he is not as prone to media-seeking behavior as are some.    Somehow, they knew about Clark and his production.   And of course, Clark was staunchly against Obamacare-by-another-name, even when his party and the hospital and insurance lobbies were for it.

#5 Representative Bob Ballinger of Hindsville. 
Bob Ballinger is an attorney, and we think he knows more than his critics when it comes to some of the more controversial bills he sponsored.  For example, the bill which would exempt all firearms made and sold only in the state from federal gun laws.   It's based on sound logic, Kansas, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Montana currently have similar laws, and at some point we are going to have to confront the federal government's abuse of the commerce clause to end-run the Bill of Rights.    Ballinger was willing to take the heat on that and other solid pro-freedom causes, and of course he voted against the Obamacare Private Option.      He communicated well with the grass-roots too.   If there was one concern it would be that he did not continue to call the party leadership out what they did with the same frankness of those ranked a bit higher on the list.   Some of us feel that the fight is not over, and the time to let by-gones be by-gones is after some of them are gone!

#6 Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs. 
Bruce Westerman is another repeat to the "Ten Best" list, and like Justin Harris, he actually moved up in a strong field.   This was despite the fact that at first he was sucked into the spin over the mis-named "Private Option."   One important difference between Westerman and the rest-o-them is that he kept an open mind, looked at the facts, and had the humility and honesty to do an about-face and fight hard against the travesty that is the "Private" Option.   A politician would have retreated into tribalism and the political consultant's handbook which says you never admit to a mistake.   Westerman reacted like a statesman.   A rare principle-over party guy.  The rest of his record was sterling as well.

#7 Representative David Meeks of Conway.
David Meeks is another repeat on our "Ten Best Legislators" list, and if anyone here ought to be ranked higher it should be Meeks.   This writer for one should have listened to him on at least one occasion I can think of.    Meeks was among the pioneers in the use of social media to stay in touch with the grassroots in this state.  Since then, some others have closed the gap with him on it, but none do it better.   All of that staying in touch with the grassroots results in an excellent voting record.   He took on a very tough job of being a sort of intermediary between the bulk of his party and the grassroots.  While he did not waiver in his vote, this role may have tempered verbal and written criticism of the Obamacare bills at a time when having one foot on one side and one on the other was a difficult position.  Sometimes this is a place where humility and tact are not always appreciated as much as they should be.    Still, Meeks is an exemplary legislator, and fully worthy of another top-ten finish.

#8 Representative Richard Womack of Arkadelphia. 
Richard Womack made a strong splash as a freshman legislator.  He sponsored the right bills, he voted the right way, and he resisted tremendous inducements to switch his vote to support Obamacare.  To give you some idea, we have it on good authority that he was promised $30,000 to his re-election campaign if he would change his vote. That is more money than most state reps raise for their races over an entire two-year cycle.   He refused, now that $30,000 is liable to wind up in the campaign coffers of some puppet the offended lobbies will recruit to run against him.  They were not trying to get his vote based on policy, or principle, but a straight-up purchase.   I guess they thought they could get Womack to follow the dollars instead of keep his campaign promises.   They figured wrong.

#9 Representative Jim Dotson of Bentonville. 
Jim Dotson was another fantastic freshman legislator who hit the ground running.   Dotson ran on the SIMPLE plan, which included opposition to implementing Obamacare (no matter what they call it), and he stuck with the platform he was elected on.   That was harder than it seemed in a lot of places because many key people of a prominent grassroots group in his county got "turned" and became defacto supporters of the mis-named "Private Option" model of Obamacare.  He wasn't quiet in his opposition either.   He was more like an amen corner to Bart Hester.     While we can't vouch for all of the many bills he sponsored, he is who he claims to be, he is generally on the right track, and like Justin Harris and some of the other top performers, he is accessible and manages to radiate a nice-guy attitude while actually being strong as an oak.

#10 Representative Debra Hobbs of Rogers. 
Debra Hobbs made the "Ten Best" last time too, one of only five legislators to make the list twice and the only female to ever do so.   She showed great adaptability.  In previous sessions when their were few Republican legislators with the sand to file far-reaching conservative bills, she filed them.   This session, there were quite a few who were willing to file such bills, and she switched to quietly helping others get those bills passed while she worked on passing an array of smaller measures.   It is amazing what people can accomplish when they don't care who gets the credit, but we are watching and we choose to give her credit anyway.   Of course, she voted against Obamacare, even when it was deceptively called the "Private Option".    I don't even think she got much pressure on it because the wolves know who they can prey on and who it is a waste of time to try to flip.  It's a waste of time trying to flip Debra Hobbs on something like that.

Honorable Mention

There were far more than ten legislators who deserved honor and praise for their service.   The "Honorable Mention" category is for all the legislators who accumulated at least five points from our panel of activists.

Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton - good candidate for "most improved."
Rep. Lane Jean of Magnolia - a beautiful town finally gets some strong representation.
Rep. Terry Rice of Waldron - I regret that this man was not the Speaker of the House
Rep. Charlene Fite of Van Buren - appears to be another Debra Hobbs type.
Rep. John Payton of Wilburn - for a guy from Wilburn, he got noticed a lot.
Rep. Bruce Cozart of Hot Springs - a solid performer who deserves more recognition.
Rep. Joe Farrer of Austin - No, not that Austin.    The Lonoke County one.
Rep. Bill Gossage of Ozark- A pleasant surprise.  Stronger than we expected.
Rep. Jane English of North Little Rock - if there was one legislator who deserved to be on the top ten list but did not quite make it, it would be the hard-working and high performing Senator Jane English.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Time for Ten Best / Worst Legislators

As a public service, Arkansas Watch has a tradition of releasing a post-session list of the "Ten Best" and "Ten Worst" state legislators in Arkansas.     We should have at least one of these articles ready for your evaluation by Monday, May 13th.  

The selections were made by a panel of five activists.  Since these individuals often work with the legislature, their identities will remain confidential.   I am the only one who knows who all five of these people are.    There is one from each congressional district in the state, plus me.   I feel that this makes it a more valid poll than some of these other "Best/Worst" lists that are done by a single individual or by people who all work together at the same place.  The main thing that sets it apart though, is the quality and outlook of the judges (except for me, they have to take me because I am running the poll!)   These are people who believe in freedom.  They are people who believe that government should be much more limited than it is, and where government power is necessary to maintain order then its power should be dispersed rather than centralized.

Participants were asked to rank the "Ten Best" and the "Ten Worst" choices, with one little twist I will save for later.   Their top "Best" pick got 10 points, with their next best pick getting nine points and so on until their last "Best" pick got one point.  The "Worst" list was constructed much the same way, but the numbers were negative numbers.    At the end, I total all the rankings and the ten highest scores are the "Best" and the ten lowest are the "Worst".

Please see this link for last sessions "Ten Best Legislators List" (which also contains a link to the "Ten Worst Legislators").   I hope you will check out the results from this session, which will be available in a couple of days.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Federal Gun Grabbers Aren't In Kansas Anymore

Or at least if they are, they are subject to prosecution if they exceed the bounds of the Constitution.    And I mean the real bounds of the Constitution, the ones that can be discerned by anyone with a high school reading level, not the imaginary powers that federal employees called judges have ascribed to their employer via court rulings.

The new Kansas Law specifies that guns and ammunition produced within the state and sold within the state are not subject to the various federal gun laws which have been passed based on Congress's power to "regulate interstate commerce."   You see back when Congress pretended to honor their oaths to uphold the constitution, they knew that they could not regulate guns because of the Second Amendment.   In an effort to end-run the intent of that amendment, they claimed that they had the power to regulate guns under the "interstate commerce clause".   That is to say, Congress has the power under the constitution to regulate commerce between the states.   They claimed the Commerce Clause permitted them to pass all of the laws they have made regulating guns.

What Kansas has done is say "as long as the gun is made here, and is only sold here, then there is no interstate commerce to regulate, therefore your laws are not constitutionally valid."  They are not the only state to do this.   Wyoming has passed a similar law based on similar reasoning.   So has Tennessee and the dispute with the feds on that one seems ongoing.

The story has an Arkansas angle.  Oh, not from anything our legislature has done.  The single piece of significant pro-2nd amendment legislation passed by them this session was done by mistake- they did not understand the consequences of the bill they passed.  Rather, I want to point out that before any of these states passed something like this, an Arkansas resident named Wayne Fincher made a machine guns and kept it within the state of Arkansas to challenge the law on the same legal basis.   Judge Jimm Hendren refused to let him put on a defense, and acted otherwise outrageously in the case.  Fincher lived 60 years as a law abiding citizen.  He is still rotting in prison because he made the major mistake of thinking that words on paper would protect him from the capricious and self-serving use of power on the part of our elites.  So far, Tennessee, Wyoming and Kansas are getting away with it, because states are a lot harder to arrest than individual people.

So Kansas wants this taken to court.  I wish Kansas the best in their efforts to advance freedom and limit the power of the federal government.  Unfortunately,  I don't have a lot of faith that a court case will result in a just verdict.   The Founders left an unfortunate gap in the system.  There is a fundamental problem with the way disputes between states and the federal government are adjudicated- all cases are decided by federal employees.   Even a brief look at the history of the question confirms the obvious- in the long run federal judges will favor the federal view of things regarding disputes between states and the federal government.  And why not, their employer is a party to the case?  

It is obvious that FEDGOV should not be able to use the "interstate commerce" clause as an end-run on the 2nd amendment, but I am afraid that the federal judges will imagine some fiction by which they rule it can.  Such "creative" rulings fly in the face of original intent and the plain meaning of words.  For federal judges to concoct such things it helps if they make their rulings while under the influence of a strong hallucinagenic- such as unchecked power.

If states are to be anything other than administrative units of an all-powerful central government, then at some point they are going to have to nullify such laws even when the "unbiased" judges in these cases rule that their employer is correct.    The best solution to this problem is the one suggested in "Localism, A Philosophy of Government" (I am a Localist and I own the rights to this work).  In the book, one of the many things advised to avoid the unfortunate tendency of power to centralize is that when a state has a dispute with the federal government, the judges hearing the case will be drawn from other states which are not a party to the case rather than federal judges.    Federal judges only rule on cases where two states have a controversy among themselves.

Best of luck Kansas, I hope the day comes when we have a legislature and Governor more like yours.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Constable Positions on the Chopping Block

Washington County is floating a proposal to reduce the number of elected Constable positions from the current fifteen to three.    If passed, townships would be combined so that only three constable positions would be on the ballot for the 2014 election.

I am not sure that the proposal would pass constitutional muster if challenged in court.  A plain reading of Article 7, section 47 of the Arkansas Constitution says that the voters of each township shall elect a constable.   I don't see how they could do that without reducing the whole county to three townships.  If they left that policy in place until the next redistricting, it would probably make it hard to fairly allocate voters using township information.

Separate from the question of can they slash the number of constables by 80% is the issue of should they do so?   It doesn't cost much money- they only get paid something like $7.50 a year.   Based on the principle of getting what you pay for, I'd say that is too low.   Unless they can leverage the position into some extra security work on the side, I can see why it would be hard to get good candidates.  Still, I know a few and we do have some good ones who serve because they are public spirited.  To tell you the truth, a lot of our legislators are not very good either, and for a lot of the same reason- the pay is too low considering what is asked of them.   If people think it is a good idea to slash constable positions because too many bad ones get elected, then I would have to say by the same logic we should slash legislators as well.

Maybe we should slash some county sheriffs too, if that reason stands.    If Washington County is re-configured to have only three townships then each third will be larger in population than many Arkansas Counties.   It doesn't make sense to have a constable covering a population base larger than half of the counties in the state.   Of course I don't favor that, but then again I don't think we ought to slash the number of constables either.

It has been said that the position is archaic, that it is a holdover from a time before we had automobiles and good roads.   County Sheriffs usually have enmity towards Constables because they are a separate elected official whose responsibilities overlap with their own.  

I think that is unfortunate.   The men who wrote the state Constitution were very sharp- and they were big on dividing power.  For example, on paper our Governor is one of the weakest in the nation.   Many executive offices that a Governor might appoint in other states are separately elected by the people and operate independently of the Governor.  They liked the idea of power being divided.    I don't see a problem in theory with having local constables operating con-currently with the Sheriff.  If there are bad constables, then that is the problem, not the existence of the office itself.   There are bad sheriffs and deputies as well.

Frankly, too many sheriffs are acting as if they are local administrative units of the federal government rather than locally elected, independent law enforcement units.   Oh sure the feds have more money to throw at crime.  They may even have more training and equipment.  In other words, every argument the sheriffs use against the existence of an independent constabulary could be used by the feds against them.    But in spite of those arguments, I believe most voters want sheriffs that are independent and answer to the local people rather than sheriffs who see themselves as mostly administrative units of the central government.

There is also a political party aspect to this move.   Constables tend to be free spirits.  If they file as a party candidate though, they are delegates to the Republican or Democrat District Conventions by virtue of the fact that they are serving in an elected office.    If there are ten Republican Constables in Washington County then in all likely-hood that is ten more "Tea Party" type Republican votes at district conventions.  Multiply that by the number of counties in each of the four districts and you can see that they would actually tilt the scales away from the establishment side of their party.   And the same is true of Democrats.  No wonder there is a move to reduce the number of Constables coming from the upper echelons of both parties.  They want the power to remain in hands that are both reliable to them and also few in number.   Maybe that is part of what is really behind this move.