Monday, July 17, 2017

Governor Frustrated that Washington Does Not Keep its Promises

I noticed an article yesterday which chronicled the debate over tweaking Obamacare (you didn't think the Republicans were going to repeal it did you?) prominently featured Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. He complained to Vice President Pence that the new version was "cost shifting to the states".  I found particularly amusing his quote ,“I wish the federal government would keep its bargain,” Hutchinson said. “That’s the frustrating part.”

Governor Washington D.C. is filled with liars from stem to stern, as you well know. Your real concern should be that your bargains with them are making a liar out of you! As it is written,
"What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?"

I do not understand how someone who is supposed to be wise in the ways of the world in general and Washington D.C. in particular could fail to anticipate this outcome. He and others are acting like "nobody could have seen this coming" when in fact the Tea Party right and the Ron Paul types were warning for years that this would be the inevitable outcome. Yet somehow, we have little credibility in the eyes of the media (and therefore the group-thinking members of the public) while the Governor and all the legislators and "experts" who utterly failed to see the obvious somehow still have credibility. Why?

The Governor thinks he has reason to be frustrated? Try being one of those who correctly sees things coming in a place where those who are repeatedly correct in their warnings are dismissed as fringe extremists while those who make titanic and obvious mistakes in judgment are never-the-less accorded great credibility.

For example, in December of 2012 I wrote in this piece in an article aptly called "The Politics of Fiscal Delusion.....
"Some Arkansans are screaming for us to take this "free money." Problem: There is no money. Only the promise of money from the most indebted institution in human history- the federal government of the United States. They cannot keep their past promises, much less this current one...........
..... If Washington reneges on its promise to pay 90% of the bills for eternity then our state can't afford it and again those who became dependent on the system are worse off. We should say "no" to this "free money" from our bankrupt and delusional federal government just as a fish should say "no" to "free food" on the end of a hook. Washington does not have the means to keep its promise. This is going to be a "bait and switch" where states will wind up paying for more and more of this program. If we can't afford that, and we can't, then we should just say "no." 
It really does not matter whether you like the idea of expanding Medicaid or hate it. It does not matter whether you want to help the poor or want to eat the poor. The fiscal reality is, neither the state nor the nation have the money to pay for it, promises to the contrary not-withstanding. A person who says "we can't afford this" is not a heartless person, they are a realistic person. They are a grown-up in a landscape of perpetual adolescents who think prices are evil and only exist to keep people from getting things."
That was in 2012. Here was one I wrote in 2013 that gave much the same warning...
Washington D.C. is isolated from reality and suffers from a bad case of "normalcy bias". They think things will be the same as they've been for years because that's the way things have been for years. It's somewhere between circular reasoning and delusion. It is also a frequent mistake made by persons without a lot of experience or perspective (i.e. adolescents). FEDGOV presses on with lavish promises and massive expansions just like they still have money. They don't, and foreigners will decide when our last national credit card has been maxed out.
 Many of our wiser state legislators are wondering if they should launch major new commitments based on the promise of funding from the most indebted institution in all of human history. Suppose you knew a man who used to be rich, but was now living off of credit in a state of denial about his present financial position. If he offered to fund a joint venture with you, would you re-arrange your life so as to take the offer?
Those wiser leaders were ignored. In some cases, the Governor found primary opponents for them. Others lost plum committee assignments for daring to ask troubling questions.

And in 2014  I wrote this article which said...
This is my prediction for what will happen. We will get into this thing and in a few years FEDGOV will try to shift costs to the states or something else will happen which will cause it to fail. We will then realize that the money to pay for all of these promises does not exist. The money to pay for it never existed, they only said it did in order to gain control over your family's health care. We will have dismantled our existing health care structure for the poor only to see the single federal system the state's leaders pinned all of our hopes on fall apart.  
And I am pretty sure if I dug around enough I could find something from 2015 and 2016 too. My point is that the Governor thinks he has good reason to be frustrated, but I think those of us who have been right from the beginning are the ones whose frustration is most justified. That's my little point.

My big point, and my next prediction, is that a whole lot of people who consider themselves loyal voters for the Republicans and the Democrats are going to wake up one day- a day not far off- and realize that they have been betrayed. Many others will refuse to see that, and get angry with those who point it out to them, but it will still be obvious.

Their problem is that they have surrendered too much of their humanity. Humans are supposed to be social animals, but not herd animals. We are supposed to join together into groups, but not follow our leaders off the cliff like lemmings. Humans have something that animals don't - we have the capacity to love truth. And love of truth can top loyalty to herd leaders. At some point they are going to realize that "their" herd leaders are working for someone else- shearing and eating the flock more than looking out for it. They are going to realize that many of the people they looked up to were not the great men they thought, but just men. Men who made serious lapses in judgement and worse.

My prediction is that very soon, by November of 2018 even, people are going to wish that they had someone else, someone competent, honest, and sane, to vote for.  You may even be one of those people. But you can't wait until November of next year to give yourself a better choice. If you want a better choice then you have to do something about it right now. Go to this link and get a ballot petition to let Neighbors of Arkansas present a slate of candidates in 2018. Sign it and get nine other voters to sign it, and then mail it in to the address given. Encourage others you know to do the same.

That is what you are going to have to do if you want better ballot choices. If you will think back, many of you have been unhappy with a lot of your lack of choices in past elections. Why do nothing and let yourself be put in that position again and again? The time to do something about it is now. But hey, why listen to me?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wal-Mart to Fine Suppliers for Being A Day Early

The Wal-Mart supplier squeeze reaches a new high (or low depending on perspective).

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

A Troubling Lack of Self-Objectivity

Very few legislators craft the bills that they sponsor. The ideas in the bills are usually not their own. Instead, think tanks or similar associations funded by various interests generate support for issues and help craft (or completely write) bills. The idea of concerned citizens sitting down with "their" representative and explaining some problem they have which is addressed by the legislator then crafting a bill themselves is a rare thing (some of us hope to change that). ALEC is the most prominent national example. But there are state versions of these things too, and this story concerns two of the biggest on what is considered "the right" in Arkansas, and some of the biggest names.

Dan Greenberg runs "Advance Arkansas" which is a think-tank for Arkansas public policy that focuses on economic freedom issues. Mr. Greenberg also writes for and runs the website "The Arkansas Project", which gives political voice and commentary on many issues related to those that Advance Arkansas is for or against. In other words, these operations are Dan Greenburg's instruments for advancing public policy as he sees fit. Joe Maynard and Brenda-Vassaur-Taylor run an outfit called Conduit for Commerce which is much like Advance Arkansas. They too have an associated organization which gives political commentary on issues relevant to their think tank- Conduit for Action. The Paul Harrell Program, on which I have sometimes been a guest, is a part of that commentary effort.

Up until a couple of years ago, Conduit and AA worked together on certain things. And when I mean "together" part of what I mean is that the founders of Conduit paid Mr. Greenberg and AA to produce material. That was as recently as 2015. I did not have to FOIA anyone for this interesting tidbit- Mrs. Vassaur-Taylor told me they paid Mr. Greenberg $20,000 to do a legislative scorecard in 2013. That is a heck of a lot of money for a scorecard.

They were not completely satisfied with his work- for example he refused to weight bills. That meant that a bill which spent a billion dollars to restrict our freedom in a big way may get a "-1", and a  largely symbolic bill which saved us $52 could get a "+1". Using that scoring system a legislator could make up for voting for Obamacare in Arkansas by voting for the second bill. They thought that a more fair method would be to subtract more for a bill that was not only negative, but negative over a broad area in a big way. Sounds reasonable to me. They also, at some point, wound up splitting with him over his approach to "tort reform".

At any rate, they recently issued their own scorecard and did it their own way. They were not paying Dan Greenberg anymore. They were not going along with Dan Greenberg on the approach he had (which was basically the nursing-home industry's approach) on tort reform. Dan Greenberg then co-wrote an extremely critical article slamming Conduit's scorecard for their alleged poor methodology and lack of transparency. He failed to mention that a few years before they were paying him a very substantial amount of money to do a scorecard. He failed to mention that they were basically now a competitor for credibility in the niche market of those who care about economic freedom issues. He failed to mention some other very glaring conflicts of interest which I will document in short order.

It is ironic that he did not disclose any of those potential conflicts because the main thing he slammed them on was "transparency".  He said concerning the negative scores of some legislators "nobody has any idea what it means, really, because Conduit’s methodology is completely invisible". Well, some of the details were invisible, but a lot of the main criteria were easily visible, or at least discernible. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what a negative score meant. He said it was "pointless" to rely on the scores in their ranking system. Also "As it stands now, we don’t see much difference between Conduit’s rankings and the random results that you’d get if you called each legislator’s name and then picked a number out of a bingo basket."

I really thought that went too far. I thought he was just bad-mouthing the competition, and very oriented to the nursing-home industry's idea of tort reform for biased reasons. So I went on the radio and said so.

I followed that up with an article, and we went through a dreary session of comments back and forth. I admit that I did not understand the scale of the scoring correctly, but after talking with Vassaur-Taylor I had almost everything about the methodology right. I don't need to know the scale in order to obtain relative values. If you understand the basis of a process having a total grasp of the minutia of the process is not essential to obtaining value from it. But if you want to know how Dan Greenberg works, it is like this: He finds some area where we do not have perfect knowledge or something is said with less than perfect precision, then he greatly exaggerates the significance of that uncertainty or imprecision. He acts as if it invalidates everything you are saying and establishes everything he is saying. That's his m.o.

For an example, his strong statements about how useless conduit's ratings system was were hinged in part on the argument that a few committee votes were counted in the scoring, so that not all legislators had the chance to participate in every vote. He put it like this...
"If we told some legislators to run a hundred-yard dash and other legislators to run a marathon, and we gave them all one score that was based on how long it took for each one to cross the finish line, even a child could see that just judging them all on this one statistic would be unfair. Everybody has to be judged by the same yardstick – if we’re going to give everyone one meaningful rating. "
The truth is they got ranked on 30 floor votes and three committee votes in the senate. Not all of them had a chance to vote on the three committee votes (for good or bad) but that hardly amounts to the difference between a 100 yard dash and a marathon. It does not invalidate the rankings, particularly when comparing two legislators who were not on those committees, or were both on them, or who had a wide gap in their scores. Any lack of precision on the rankings from the decision was compensated for by the increased usefulness of using key committee votes as a rating of overall value, IMHO. Comparing that to the difference between a 100 yard dash and a marathon is hyperbole but this is what Dan Greenberg does. He finds some minor lack of precision and blows it all out of proportion and acts like this distinction (that does not really make much of a difference) is somehow disqualifying. He nitpicks the lack of perfect transparency in others, but exempts himself from anywhere near that same amount of scrutiny.

He then wrote a second piece on Conduit's scorecard controversy, the tone of which made it sound like Conduit started the fight when in fact he did. I am going to give an extended quote from that one so that you can marvel at how this guy operates....
Instead, she replied “Dan is paid by the people who want the tort reform bill passed, and his wife does work for the nursing home association PACs, and that is what it is. And so he has an interest in writing an article like that.” 
Now, I am sure that Brenda knows perfectly well that none of that is true. I am paid – indirectly, I guess – by hundreds of AAI donors, some of whom support tort reform and some of whom don’t. (I admit that, in the past, I have helped draft some proposed tort reform amendments, and I was honored to do so.) My wife doesn’t work for any political action committees at all. My position on tort reform hasn’t changed; every two years, we publish our Action Plan for Arkansas; in 2013, 2015, and 2017 we published almost identical tort reform recommendations in that book. In fact, before its recent move to the left on tort reform, Conduit cosponsored the 2015 edition of our book that contained our tort reform recommendations.
This is a carefully crafted statement worthy of Slick Willy Bill Clinton himself. First, he says he is paid by "hundreds of AAI donors" with various views on the issue- implying that he is not paid by those specifically pushing tort "reform". He then says he was honored to "helped draft some proposed tort reform amendments". Does that mean he did a little volunteer work? One might think so from the phrasing. But it turns out that "honor" was not his only reward. He got paid almost $30,000 by the sponsors. Maybe more, that is just what I can find. Yep. Here is a picture from one of the filings for the group pushing the amendment that was struck down by the courts for confusing or deceptive title language late in is their expenses and it shows Dan Greenberg gets over $18,000 in that reporting period alone...

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Also, he didn't just "help draft" the proposed amendments. He was their lead attorney! Here is shot from a letter from the Attorney General concerning the proposed amendment. It is addressed to him!
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And who is this group? Well I will put their donors list from that same report below this paragraph. They are interests associated with assisted care facilities- old folks homes. These are the people behind the so-called "tort reform". Compare that to his statement in red above, which strongly implies that he was not being paid by tort reform interests but small donors from AAI with various views on the matter. You see what Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky did was not technically sexual "relations" so Bad Boy Bill was telling the "truth". And when Greenberg tells you that his money from AAI is not from the industry he may also be telling you the truth- because they give the Greenbergs money outside of AAI.
In that statement in red Dan Greenberg just says "my wife does not work for a PAC" and leaves it there as if it was a ridiculous lie made up from whole cloth by Brenda Vassaur-Taylor. This is exactly what I said about his M.O. He takes the slightest imprecision in communication and makes it seem like either nothing is there or it proves everything, depending on what he wants at the time. It is like Bill Clinton saying "it depends on what the meaning of is is." Greenberg's wife does not work for a PAC, but the firm she works for (AHCA) has several PACS. It also represents 93% of the assisted living facilities in this state. They employ a number of lobbyists as well as having their own. Here is a pic from their website describing her duties...(correction/clarefication, both of these things, the picture and the description, are under the "About" tab of their website, but the description of  their mission is not next to her picture on the site).
click on image to get a larger view

According to that part of her job is to go before government agencies and provide information on behalf of the clients they represent- which includes almost all assisted care facilities in this state. (Editor's Note: Dan Greenberg says his wife cannot legally go before government agencies herself as she is still subject to a lobbying ban. So perhaps that screen shot from her own company's web site means that she is doing the research and preparing the reports that their people deliver to government entities and that she does not deliver or appear before them directly.) That same circle of people were the donors to the so-called "tort reform" amendment that Greenberg was the lead attorney for. So he has made money from them, and she is making money from them. For all we know he still could be, because for a guy who demands total transparency from others he sure seems reluctant to disclose potential conflicts of interest from himself. Both Greenbergs have made money from the people on the opposite side from Conduit on this particular mutated view of tort reform.

This is not Conduit picking on a wife who has no skin in this game. This is like a miniature version of Bill and Hillary Clinton where they are both making money from the same people and it is connected to what they are advocating for in terms of public policy. The idea that he can just brush off the suggestion that he should disclose that he has a potential conflict of interest here is outrageous. He should have disclosed. Especially if he demands transparency of others.

Not only that, Greenberg is still at it. He put up an article today singing the praises of his version of tort reform. Earlier his site put up an article which chastised a Democrat-Gazette reporter for her coverage of what his site called the "non-scandal" associated with nursing home owner Micheal Morton! I think you would have a hard time finding someone in this state to write defenses of Micheal Morton unless they (or their boss) are paid by or related to Micheal Morton.

I absolutely don't think Dan Greenberg is in position to be neutral on this issue and he is not being neutral on it. Further, he refuses to disclose, or maybe even see, how compromised his position is on it. He and his wife are serving as agents of nursing home interests. She is at least doing it openly because she works directly for a firm which counts them as clients. He is peddling his advocacy as neutral public policy.

Though the amendment he drafted was thrown off the ballot for deceptive/confusing language, the vast influence of this lobby has given us SJR8- which should be on your ballot next year. It is a referred ballot amendment from the legislature and it has a lot in common with the one Greenberg helped write. That is, it is bad tort reform as opposed to good tort reform. To understand why it is bad tort reform, here is an audio of me on the Paul Harrell Program talking about it.

I don't say to put your trust in any group, Conduit or Advance Arkansas. We all go astray and we all need correction from time to time. Some of us know that, others insist on very high standards for others while oblivious to their own failings. It is not falling into error that I object to the most, its the troubling lack of self-objectivity.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Trump Repeals Church Gag Law, But Freedom is the Test

President Trump gave quite a speech yesterday. After suffering for many years listening to the nasal and inarticulate Bushes, it was refreshing to hear someone in clear and powerful language express things that his mostly evangelical Christian audience longed to hear. With the Bushes evangelicals had to strain between the lines to interpret some of the things they said as agreement for their view of the world. Trump put it directly before them. Trump threw a few punches, but mostly stayed above-the-belt and directed praise to others.

I found myself agreeing with the substance of what he said. Yet as much fun as it would be, if I let myself get caught up in that without looking at the big picture I could be led astray. I mean, just to hear them give a speech, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could make you think they had all kinds of good sense. You had to compare what was communicated in the speech with the big picture to get an accurate assessment. When I hear someone give the soaring rhetoric and what they say matches up with the big picture, then I will get downright euphoric and in that case it would be the right thing to be euphoric. In that case being cynical would be the wrong thing. But it would also be wrong to ignore the red flags just so you could get caught up in a euphoria based on a sales job and not reality.

Donald Trump is a master salesman.  It is possible this is the best of salesman giving a pitch to his largest account and telling them exactly what they want to hear. Or he could sound sincere because he is sincere. Again, we have to zoom out to see if there is a red flag there.

There are generally two kinds of people in church. People who go because they feel good about themselves when they do it and who think that this is what good people do, and those who know that they are sinners saved by grace and go pay their respects and rejoice over the grace that they have found. Only the latter group actually understands the gospel. Only the latter group are Christians as the Bible defines it. The former group are religious people, but you can't get to Christianity without coming to grips with the truth about yourself- that you are a sinner in need of grace, that you can't make yourself right in your own power. The truth about yourself leads directly to the good news of the gospel- you don't have to make it right, He did it for you. If you make it right, it is in response to His already doing it for you.

Listen to this response from candidate Trump when asked if he had ever asked God for forgiveness. It is clear that, at least in this point in time, that he is from the former group not the latter. He does not see himself as a sinner saved by grace. He sees himself as a good person who goes to church. He does get communion pretty well, but not the gospel. Without repentance, where is the need for regeneration?

It is hard to avoid the conclusion (never mind the rest of his life, just from the answer in the video) that as much as he is culturally inclined toward the form of the Christian Church, he is not a "new person in Christ" as are believers who have repented and accepted salvation. We attend worship services of the same religion, but he does not have what we have. I prayed for Obama and I am praying for him, but without repentance what he has is not the same as what I have even though it can look the same on the outside.

In the speech yesterday he delivered on a policy position that much of his evangelical base favors. Lyndon Johnson changed IRS rules so that pastors could not endorse candidates for office from the pulpit. They could talk about issues. They could endorse privately as a private person, but they could not do so on behalf of the church. I am glad the rule is going away. It was not enforced even-handedly. It was a violation of free speech if not freedom of religion. So I am glad that churches will have more freedom. My concern is how they will use that freedom.

Certain churches have traded the harsh self-assessments required to preach the gospel in favor of the false allure and excitement of being a "player" in the world of secular politics. They don't want to have to come back each and every Sunday and face the truth about who they are. Like the President, they want to see themselves as some of the "good people" because they attend church and profess a certain moral code. The truth of the gospel is that it is not a case of us "good guys" against the Other Side who are the "bad guys". We are all the bad guys, and we need to scrutinize ourselves at least as often as we cast stones at them. That is not fun, it is not "sexy", it does not lead to a lot of euphoric moments of "winning" in the short term.

My fear is that some of these churches who are teetering on the rails are going to go off the rails if they have this new freedom. They will willingly become wholly owned subsidiaries of a corrupt republican party which really has very little regard for them, even if it has a use for them. They will want to maintain eligibility for federal grants which the government should not even be giving as broke as they are.

The church should be the conscience of the nation, speaking truth to power. It is hard to do that when you are a palace prophet dining at the king's table. Maybe the gospel is too inconvenient to church leaders who want to keep their "access" to the corridors of power -because those in the corridors find its message distasteful. They will instead preach a utilitarian civil religion which has no power to save.

This is the temptation of the church. She can be offered all the kingdoms of the world, if only she will bow down to another besides God. She will wind up exactly what some of her critics maintain- just another interest group which will try to force outward compliance by outward law to standards she favors- standards which rightfully come from a changed heart. I am not even saying that the church should not advocate for better and more just laws. She should. It is all a part of loving our neighbor. But how do you know when it has gone too far? I am not sure where the line is, but I know this, when you leave off preaching the gospel because it is an impediment to efforts to influence government access/policy then you are definitely over it.