Monday, November 18, 2013

Reluctant Take on Milligan-Baird Dispute

"Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." - attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt
Uggghhh! This is the kind of story I really don't like writing.   Usually I will wait a few days to see if a story like this either goes away on its own or someone else says what I was thinking and saves me the trouble of writing it out.  Usually young Nick Horton over on the Arkansas Project gets close, and he is giving the story extensive coverage, but on this one I think we have somewhat different takes on the matter.  Talk Business also has the story.   Reluctantly, I am going to weigh in on it, but I am going to try to make this story as much about ideas as it is about people.

For those not familiar with the back-story, Rep. Duncan Baird of Rogers and Dennis Milligan, former state Chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, are running against each other for the Republican nomination for state Treasurer.   During the early most recent special session, after visiting a local tavern, Baird took an early-morning (as in 2 AM) tour of the capitol with several other legislators, Davy Carter, John Burris, and Micah Neal, and a couple of females.  They wanted to go on the roof of the capitol building, but the guard would not let them.  Someone in the group threatened to complain to the Secretary of State.

Milligan got video of the events of the night, and emails relating to it, via a FOIA request.   He then met with Baird and threatened to go public with whatever he thought he had unless Baird dropped out of the race.  I am not sure that the things which Milligan tired to make into a mountain even rose to the level of a mole hill.  Milligan asked Baird how his wife would feel about it if she knew he was out drinking and wandering around the capitol building in a group with other women present in the wee hours.  Milligan disputes that he asked Baird to leave the race, but Baird was secretly recording the meeting and it is hard to get any other other meaning of what Milligan was trying to convey from those words.

The natural human reaction, and the training of our culture, is that when something like this happens we want to find out who the "good guy" is and who the "bad guy" is.   Who is the "criminal" and who is the "victim"?  I have learned to look past the binary thinking that the system is attempting to condition us all to accept.  If I have anything of value to offer on this story it will be on that basis.

This story is simply a symptom of a much larger problem- a broken candidate selection system.   There is not a good guy and a bad guy in this story- there are two guys who should not be considered the best this state has to offer for Treasurer of State.    There is not a criminal and a victim here- unless the people of Arkansas are the victims of the two-party system which has brought candidate selection to this low place.

What we have here is not the story of a flawed candidate, but two flawed candidates. That is easier to see with Dennis Milligan.   Most of the reaction to Milligan's antics in this matter has been negative- and it should be.   His actions in this situation were neither smart nor honorable.   But then, this is nothing new.    He frequently sounded like a buffoon during his brief tenure as party chairman, such as the time he suggested that America needed another 9-11 in order to bolster support for Bush the Younger's mis-adventures at home and abroad.   He also said that grassroots republicans should quit using the term "RINO" to describe other Republicans.  I agree with him, but not for the same reasons he had for saying that.

But while everyone else is jumping on the "let's tar and feather Milligan" lynch mob, they are missing something really important here. Like Milligan, they missed the real scandal.   Baird does not appear to be a good candidate for the Treasurer's office either.   I don't mean because he was out partying with women not-his-wife in the wee hours.  If Mrs. Baird does not have a problem with it then who am I to object?   This episode is a scandal, but not because Baird was out partying, to all appearances innocently, with these women.

The scandal should be that Baird was caught out partying with House Speaker Davy Carter and Majority Leader John Burris.   These two men have already shown themselves to be less than honest- which is the same thing people are jumping all over Milligan about.   Duncan Baird was an honest man, and perhaps he still is one, although not one that I would want to have a private conversation with, given his predilection to record them.  But even if he is still an honest man, it now seems that he prefers the company of dishonest ones, and I notice that scripture admonishes us "do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals."

Davy Carter said that "A vote for the private option is a vote against Obamacare."   Carter was attempting "The Big Lie Theory."    In the internet age though, Big Lies are harder to pull off, and when Carter was called on it, his response was not facts or reason, but rather a Twitter Tantrum.

John Burris was Carter's right-hand man in imposing Obamacare on the state- the worst possible version of Obamacare because it combines the worst of socialized medicine and crony-capitalism.   And he too was willing to make bold yet false statements to help implement this disaster.  "Nothing could be further from the truth" than to say the private option was Obamacare, Burris proclaimed from the House floor.   Well, turns out that anything that was in the least untrue could be further from the truth.  The "Private Option" is Obamacare in a hat and sunglasses, and after 2016 even those are set to come off.

So Baird, the one-time champion of ethics legislation, is now running buddies with the two house members most responsible for imposing Obamacare on the state.  This after the people gave the Republicans a legislative majority for the first time in our lives based on the idea that they would resist the implementation of Obamacare to the maximum extent possible under the law.  Bad company corrupts good morals.

And come to think of it, Baird was among those who voted for implementing Obamacare after running against it too.  In fact, a lot of the Republican candidates for state-wide office are among those who flipped on the defining issue of the previous campaign.:   Baird for Treasurer, Collins for Lt. Governor, Lea for Auditor.    If the party system was working correctly, the grassroots could retaliate by getting their own credible opponents for these races.   Lea may have one in Ken Yang, but Milligan is not grassroots opposition, he is just a party operative trying ham-fisted insider tactics to eliminate the opposition.

The special interests (insurance and hospital lobbies) which stand to gain from Obamacare can reward the sell-outs by donating to their campaigns a small fraction of the loot they will get from the taxpayers under this program.   So in this state we have a completely crooked and dishonest Democratic party, and a Republican party run by the likes of Milligan and Carter.

We have a system which funds those politicians who sell out to special interests, and the insiders of both sides seem to like each other more than they do the honest members of their own party.   When Sec. of State Mark Martin was slandered by Gov. Mike Beebe and the Democratic Party of Arkansas recently, the state GOP did not even put up a press release on their website to defend him.   The Republican Majority Leader of the Senate could not be bothered to defend Martin either, but did defend felonious Democrat Paul Bookout, who was forced to resign in disgrace anyway.

We have problems with the candidate selection system in this state which cannot be fixed by simply seeing who shows up for a party primary, then designating one of them the "good guy" and the other the "bad guy."   The first critical step to fixing it, IMO, starts at or something like it.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Benton County Election's Continued Improprieties

Benton County has long been a sore spot in the state when it came to election irregularities. Several election employees were fired subsequent to 2011, and the County Judge attempted a re-organization in 2012.

It did not help. The 2012 November elections were a fiasco in Benton County. Due to an anticipated shortage of voting machine and a refusal of the County Clerk's office and the election commissions to provide a significant and reasonable number of paper ballots, voters were stuck in poll lines until after midnight, and official results were not announced for many days after the election. The locations of the worst voting lines were areas of the county where two independent candidates, me one of them, would be expected to do well. That raises the question of whether the fiasco was due to simple incompetence on the part of election officials or something more sinister.

Embarrassing information continues to come out about the 2012 election. I had a young lady who was a poll worker contact me. She said that she and her friends early-voted on the Friday before the election, but when she opened the poll book for her precinct it showed her as "not voting." She could have voted twice, once early and once on election day. On election day at least, it would not have been caught. This opens up the door to huge election fraud, because it means that a group of insiders could vote twice and there would be no way for poll workers to stop them. It creates the appearance of impropriety because only a small inner circle at the County Clerk's office would be able to spot it.

The Election Sheriff told my friend that they print the books early "to get a jump on the paperwork" and that we have to let people vote if they come to vote. My friend was so concerned about this that she called the Clerk's office up on a school tax election, one with small turnout whose fate could easily be decided by a few double-voters. They basically blew her off and said they did not know what she was talking about.

Well, I had an informal chat with an employee of the Secretary of State's Office not long after my friend's report. The employee confirmed that if people early vote on Monday, the day before the election, there will be no record of their vote on the voter books because they are printed up the day before. This is well known to political insiders. The employee said that the County Clerks do not like Monday voting for that reason, and asked the legislature to ban it, but the legislature was in no mood to shorten early voting time. When I told Employee that the people I was talking about early-voted not on Monday, but on the Friday before the election, Employee was taken aback and described that as improper election procedure that needed to be corrected.

Employee further said that the County Clerks were supposed to refer double-voters to the Prosecuting Attorney for felony prosecution. I strenuously protested that protection of the integrity of the process then relied on a small group of insiders doing the right thing in secret. What I meant was, say a single party dominated a county, like it does in Benton County, and say 100 prominent citizens, or even non-prominent, voted for the person of the same party as the Clerk.

It would be up to the Clerk's office to go back and see if any early voters double-voted. If they were corrupt, or even just lazy, they would simply not report the double-voters. And even if they were both competent and honest, all they would do would be to refer charges to the prosecutor, who is also an insider and could quietly drop the charges (as happened in Eureka Springs about a decade ago when the Mayor double-voted in his own primary run-off). So this "protection" of the integrity of the system would rely on not one but two political offices acting with them utmost competence and integrity.

Sadly, we live in a state where much of the ruling class has a skewed idea of morality where instead of impartiality being the standard of justice, people in the club are supposed to "take care of one another" when they act against the interests of the public at large. That mind set has kept our state down when it should be among the most prosperous in the union, but I digress.

Employee agreed that this was a problem and said that their office wanted to start using electronic election books that were not susceptible to this problem. I am a fan of paper ballots, but since the current voter books are just print offs of a data base anyway, I think the idea of electric voter books would be an effective way to close the door on this potential way to abuse the process. I feel a lot differently about using electronic voting to count the votes though.

Maybe some "real journalist" and not a blogger, could FOIA Benton County Prosecutor Vann Stone and ask if the County Clerk has ever referred anyone for prosecution for double voting like that, and if so how were those cases disposed of? Perhaps they can ask the County Clerk who in her office is responsible for checking for double-voters from early voting? Where did they sign off saying that none were detected, or if some were detected, how many were referred to the prosecutor as is required by state law?

And regardless of any of that, elections in Benton County need to be conducted in a more transparent manner than they have been the last few cycles. If they can't get and master electronic voter books, at least the printouts for voter books should be done on Monday, and not the previous Thursday or Friday. In addition, media should be invited in the room when the check is done (if a check has even been done) for double-voters from early voting on Monday and election day.

In a civilized society we resolve our differences with ballots not bullets. That's why people must have the utmost confidence that our elections are being conducted honestly and transparently. People who would cheat on elections are therefore the most dangerous kind of criminal in our society, and should face the harshest possible civil penalties. If we only had one rope and a choice between a crooked election judge and a meth dealer, we should hang the crooked judge. It's that important.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Same Conversation Every Two Years

Ken Cuccinelli was the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia. He narrowly lost to Democratic Clintonian insider Terry McAuliffe. Many feel this was because a third candidate, "Libertarian" Robert Sarvis, "split the vote". McAuliffe won with less than a 2% margin, while Sarvis pulled in over 6% of the vote.

It also turns out that Sarvis is not really much of a Libertarian, and his campaign was bank-rolled by prominent Obama supporters. Sarvis may have been put in the race to split the anti-Democrat vote so that McAuliffe could sneak in, as he did, with less than a majority of the voter's approval.

Regardless of the dynamics of this particular race, every two years activists have the same conversation. One side wants to vote for someone besides one of the two establishment parties. The other side tries to badger them into getting back on the plantation even though the major party candidates are "less than perfect" (i.e. awful) because "this election is too important". Every two years we get mad at each other. It is perfectly predictable, and unnecessary. Whichever side of that debate you are on, one we should agree on one thing- that we will push for election reform which ends the need for that conversation ever occurring again.

We should have run-off elections for all offices. What forces people into this terrible choice where you can't vote your conscience without fear of splitting the vote and electing your least preferred alternative? It is a consequence of our over-lords in both parties cramming this "first past the post" method of determining the winner down our throats. That is where whoever gets the most votes wins, even if they don't have a majority of votes. If you think about it, that is kind of a weird system. Why do they impose it on us? Well, such a method of determining winners artificially props up the two-party system. I believe they do it in order to pressure people to keep voting for Republicans and Democrats no matter how disgusted we are with both of them.

Notice that the parties do not use the "first past the post" method in their own party primaries. They have run offs. Nor do they use it to elect their own officers. They have run-offs. And they even have run-offs for local offices. Why don't they have them for the higher offices? Because they want them for themselves, they want to scare the voters into only voting Red Team or Blue Team.

Listen, people are not happy with the two parties right now, and they should not be, and no amount of badgering people to keep voting for the sorry candidates they offer is going to change that. Republicans and Democrats designed this system. They could change it whenever they want. If a race threatens to become a train wreck because a third candidate is splitting the vote then Republicans and Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for it.

Why should someone who wants to vote for another option have to violate their conscience to vote for a Republican or a Democrat? Why should an independent or alternative candidate be pressured to drop out of the race because the system designed by Republicans and Democrats could cause a train wreck if they stay in? Let the Republican or Democrat drop out if they are so afraid of splitting the vote, it was their party that imposed this scheme on us!

This is not going away. There will continue to be train wrecks like this until we get run-offs and its nobodies fault but the Republicans and Democrats who built the current system. Unless you want the McAuliffs of this world to continue gaming our first past the post election system with phony libertarian candidates, you should demand run-offs for all elections. Unless you want to have this same conversation every two years for the rest of your life, you should demand adding run-offs, preferably instant-run off voting, for all offices.

Term Limits Only Help When...

Term limits only help when the elected officials are the ones actually running things. If the danger is that politicians get drunk with power and get corrupt when they are in office too long, term limits can help. If a regulatory bureaucracy is running things and the legislature cannot check them, then term limits don't help. In such a case it scarcely matters if the elected officials are corrupt or not, they are but the masthead on a ship of state steered by others.

The same is true if one or two political parties are really running things. If the candidates owe their election to a party label, it does not matter whether they are personally corrupt or not, nor does it matter that they get switched out from time to time. What matters in that case is whether or not the people who run the parties are corrupt, since they are the constant whose influence remains as the faces come and go.

Term limits is either an effective way to restrain the corrupting influence of power or it is a feel-good non-solution. Sadly, it currently appears to be more the latter than the former. The reason is simple. It currently barely matters who you elect. The regulators go on regulating and those who run the parties want it that way. They seem to be running things, and most politicians go along with what they want even if the folks back home want the opposite. The few who don't get punished by those who are really running things.

This will have to be solved in at least two steps. First we must separate "your" representative from a political party HQed in DC and funded by global corporations so that they will actually represent you again. Then they can take on the regulatory state without fear of a shiv in the back from the party. On the state level, some of us are making a modest start toward this goal at Neighbors of Arkansas.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Establishment's War on the Middle Class, By the Numbers

Demagogues who get elected to office promising to "tax the rich" to provide government goodies invariably wind up turning their guns on the middle class in order to fund their vote-buying schemes.  The rich after all, have options.  They can hire lobbyists to create loopholes, fund credible opponents, and if it comes right to it, simply leave.  They have the economic means to change jurisdictions which most middle class folks lack.

Like most predators, big-government politicians look for those who are easiest to victimize. The middle class have assets to pillage, but not so much that they can easily escape predation, so they are high on the list.    And let's not forget another favorite target- the next generation, who have no vote with which to defend themselves. They have no way to vote against being made into debt slaves by today's politicians who fund their big ideas by promising the earnings of tomorrow's children.

By some manner of cognitive dissonance, a large segment of our population considers them heroes for doing this.  I consider them moral degenerates, swindlers of children.  Those voters who support such villainy in the hopes of gaining some share of the loot are no better.  Let's hope they repent, because not even the best health care in the world (which they won't get anyway) can prolong life on earth indefinitely.   One day, we will all have to stand before the Strongest Child Advocate in the Universe.

If you just look at the math though, demagogues have to know that they cannot get the money to fund their larceny by "taxing the rich".   There simply are not enough rich to do the job.  That is why, to the extent they don't use debt, they must rob the middle class.   This scam has been going on for at least a generation, and in that generation the middle class has collapsed to a fraction of its former size.   And unless they wake up to the fact that class warfare is occurring, and take effective measures to fight back, the American Middle Class will soon be all but extinct.

I am drawing heavily from this Bruce Krasting article for my numbers.   His point was that there are not enough rich, that America is not a rich enough country, to pay for all of this socialism.

1) The "top 1%" of earners ($200K+ or $250K + for a couple) have about 14% of the income. Most of those are on the lower end of the scale, only 166 Americans make more than $50 million a year.   If we doubled the top 1%'s tax rates to 75% we would garner $150 billion extra- if they hung around and continued to work in order to have 3/4ths of their earnings confiscated for the sake of strangers.  Would you?   Nevertheless, our current debt is near $1 trillion dollars, so even if we did this it would only cover about a sixth of our debt, and that's before Obamacare really gets rolling.    The bottom line is "taxing the rich" to pay for the government we have now, much any less expansions, is a slogan, not an option.

2) About 46% of income earners earn 138% of the federal poverty level or less, and thus will be eligible for Medicaid under the new health care guidelines.   In dollar figures that represents about $16,000, for a couple $22,000, and around $33,000 for a family of four.   And of course the non-income earners are already eligible.  So the plan is to have half the country eligible for Medicaid.

3) In addition, families who make up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level will be eligible for "subsidies" on the exchanges.   That goes up to $90,000 a year, but the subsidies taper off to next to nothing as you approach that figure.  Realistically, everyone under $50,000 a year is slated to get significant subsidies for health insurance.     73% of earners make under $50,000.

So 73% will be "takers" under the new system.   So let me ask you, who is going to be paying for all this government?  On whose backs will the burden be laid?   Not the rich, for they don't have to take it and there are too few of them at any rate.  No friends, it will be the 26% of the households in this nation who make more than $50,000 a year but less than $250,000, who will be expected to pay for all of this.  It might not all be in direct taxes either. By forcing healthy people who take care of themselves to pay higher premiums to cover someone else who made poor choices and whose premium is subsidized at any rate the government has in effect increased the taxes of the first person.   They just did it by mandate.

4) Because of the hidden tax of inflation, $50,000 is not very much money.  It is about the minimum a household needs to stay in the middle class in much of the country.   For example, this Inflation Calculator shows that an income of $50,000 in 2012 had the same buying power as an income of $16,396 in 1980. In 1980 a number of dollars that would put a man in the middle class would today make him eligible for Medicaid!    Yet so pernicious has been the theft by inflation via the Federal Reserve that a family making $50,000 today only has the buying power of $16,396 dollars based on their value the year I graduated high school.   The middle class is getting eaten alive from both ends as the high tax rates reach lower and lower into the earnings levels, while inflation means that the purchasing power of their dollars vanishes.


Our shrinking middle and upper middle class will be virtual hostages.  26% of the population is supposed to pay for all of this.   One out of four people are expected to pull the wagon that everyone else is sitting in.   That does not count the large amount of debt which will be pushed into the future and made into our kid's problem.   All because we refuse to accept fiscal reality.  We can't afford the wagon.  We can't afford the government that we have.   It would be wonderful if government could somehow pay for all the health care that we think we should have, but mathematical reality proves beyond any reasonable doubt that it can't.  It is not a realistic option, yet it is what we are presently trying to do because our ruling class does not want to face the reality that the party is over and we are out of money. Desperate voters sure don't want to face this reality either.   But it is still reality.

Facing reality is something that grown-ups are supposed to do, verses the escapism of perpetual adolescents and the mentally ill..  If we can't afford what we have now, we surely cannot afford the major expansion that is Obamacare.  We can't pay for all these things, we can't achieve utopia by means of government, but we can bankrupt ourselves trying.  This program will kill what is left of the middle class and keep those who have recently fallen out of it from ever re-entering.

Both parties want to expand government.   The Republican party has sometimes posed as the "alternative" which wants to shrink, or at least stop the expansion of, government.  It has absorbed the votes, money, and energy of those who want to stop the expansion of government on the basis of its posturing.   However, whenever it's supporters expect the Republican party to actually do something to stop the expansion of government, the people who run it become belligerent, hateful, and angry with the people who supported it on that basis.

Obviously it is past time that people who believe that government has gotten too big quit putting 100% of their political eggs in the Republican basket.   Local, organic, de-centralized, and hard to capture or corrupt alternatives should be pursued by any citizens who wants to actually defend their interests rather than ineffectually rail at the red team or put groundless hope in a party system which turns hostile when reminded of its recent promises.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Reform Amendment Deceptively Weakens Term Limits

It seems our legislature will agree to enact reform measures that they should have already agreed to- but only if joined to an amendment which will weaken our state's present term limits provision.  What a joke that any referendum ever gets thrown back by McDaniel because of "deceptive wording" when this one (HJR 1009) gets through without a word of protest.     And some of them are being called on it.

Pryor Cites Golden Rule as Reason to Support Obamacare

Sen. Pryor has cited "The Golden Rule" as a reason someone should support Obamacare. This is a perversion of scripture which turn's Christ's call for individual kindness into a demand that we fund a "Federal Department of Kindness" which will be anything but.   If you have not had your bible lesson for today, here is my talk on "What Would Jesus Cut". Starts a bit slow, but give it a chance...

What Would Jesus Cut?