Sunday, April 26, 2015

Common Core Bad Kabuki Theater

I am physically nauseous as I write these words, but uber-liberal Max Brantley has a much more honest assessment of Governor Asa Hutchinson's statements and approach to Common Core than some of my conservative friends. It is not that Max is more honest than they are. I have found he is perfectly willing to distort the truth, even to the point of what can realistically be called lying, if that is what it takes to smear Republicans in general and conservatives in particular. The sad thing is that lately he has not had to resort to such tactics to make the Republicans look bad- he can make them look downright awful just by reporting what they are doing and offering the obvious conclusions about what it means.
Nor is Max smarter than my conservative friends. Sure he is clever, but the real difference is that a lot of them want to believe that all of these machinations and "listening tours" and rebrandings are all going to result in Arkansas abandoning Common Core. Brantley, whose powers of observation are in this case unhindered by such desires, can just add up the facts and come to an unemotional conclusion that its all a big show. He is only wrong when he is wrong, he is not wrong just because he is Brantley.
Others media outlets have also noted the obvious, that the elites here as in other states are just going to slap a new name on the program, add a state specific standard here or there, then try to sell the warmed-over product as something "new", just as they did with the "private" option. It is a tactic that is tired and transparent but is still useful because it is able to fool one subset of people - those who wish to be fooled.
Kicking the idea of our approach to Common Core off to this commission is simply a way to add a few Arkansas tweaks and give it a new name while retaining the core program. This is exactly what Hutchinson appears to be doing with Medicaid Expansion now that the Private Option has been unmasked. His commission chair for the Common Core task force is designated "Tea Party Betrayer" Tim Griffin, who came up through the ranks as a protege of Karl Rove. Karl Rove, leader of the group of elitist Republicans making war on the Tea Party, is a Bush guy, and they love centralization of education in all forms, including Common Core.
Hutchinson and the Republicans also went to extraordinary lengths to weaken the requirements for Education Director in order to shoe-horn former state senator Johnny Key into the position. Key is an ardent supporter of Common Core, and would not have been the pick if there was any doubt Hutchinson wanted the global standards implemented. If you watch what Asa Hutchinson does, rather than what he says, it's obvious the intention is to foist Common Core on us. The average person does not want it, but the elites do.
Sure the spin in the recent media reports are that he says he wants an "Arkansas Solution", but when you look into the details that is exactly what I and others have described. When he says there is "no preconceived outcome" I assure you he does not mean that whether or not Arkansas stays in Common Core is up in the air. He means that if we add a few additional standards to the mandated ones our ruling class have ordered us to include, that the content of those is not preconceived.
How can I know all of this? Listen to the man closely. In the link above he says "“I don’t know what the outcome will be,” Hutchinson told the panel Thursday. “It’s not preconceived, but I do expect high standards, high expectations for our students that are transparent, that we can measure where we are in reference to the competitive world, other states.”  Tell me how in the world we can refuse common core and still have results "that we can measure where we are in reference to the competitive world, other states"?  You can't. Its political double-talk.
I tire of listening to it, and I tire of people accepting it at face value when it is delivered at two-faced value. Not that I blame Governor Hutchinson personally. There are simply a lot of people who want to be lied to, and when there is a market for that, the need will be filled. If he did not do it, someone else would. The root problem is a population willing to accept such duplicity, the duplicitous politicians are merely a symptom, not the  cause of our troubles. The root cause is that too many of us have lost our love for the truth. When we love the truth more than the comfort of easy answers and pleasant falsehoods, then we will get it. If we are willing to accept less, we will have less.
That boils over to the way problems are solved. When Hutchinson says in the same article :
“I didn’t mind people on this panel, this task force, that had preconceived ideas. That’s life. That’s a part of our background, and if you’ve studied and thought about it, you have some preconceived ideas, but the most important criteria is that you’re open-minded and you’re willing to listen to the other side and willing to see facts and data and to adjust where you are. That is critically important, because otherwise you’re never going to arrive at a consensus.”
It tells me that he is using the Hegelian Dialectic as the method of "solving" the problem. That is, the purpose of the Commission is not to find the "right" answer. It is to reach "consensus" in an approach that takes the premise that there is no right or wrong answer, only a process of meeting in the middle. If I say 2+2 = 4 and someone else says that 2+2 = 22 what we do is meet in the middle and agree that 2+2 = 12. I am going to give you a link to this short article which describes exactly what is wrong with using this as the default method of problem "solving" and what the outcome must be if we don't change. If you want to understand what is happening to you, big picture, please read it.
I also strongly disagree with the Governor's claim that we can't let local school districts have primary control of setting their own standards because of the Arkansas Constitution. He said, "“We can’t say, ‘Well, we just want to give it all because we believe in local flexibility and local control,’” he said. “The constitution of Arkansas gives that responsibility to the state, and so we’ve got to have standards that are high and high expectations all across the state of Arkansas for every student.” .
You don't care more about those children than their parents Governor. Nor do you know more about what is good for them than their parents. Nor does the Arkansas Constitution mandate any such thing as you are claiming that it does, and if it did, why did we give school districts such wide latitude for the first 100 years after the state constitution was adopted? The only part of the constitution he could be talking about is Article 14 which reads:
"Intelligence and virtue being the safeguards of liberty and the bulwark of a free and good government, the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education."
Is centralized control, micro-management, and 85% or more of our standards being derived from an outside-of Arkansas group consistent with this passage? Are they going to agree with Arkansans as to what constitutes "virtue"? Is this "suitable"? Is centralized micro-management "efficient"? At most, this provision in the state constitution permits Arkansas to set "general" standards, while letting the districts pick their own. It does not mandate Common Core, even if it is renamed "Arkansas Core". If this provision mandates that the state is responsible for school standards then submitting to a Common Core actually violates this provision of the constitution, because it would outsource a function delegated to the state in the constitution to an outside group.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Is Arkansas' Ruling Class Involved in Massive Welfare Fraud?

"It's a scam." concluded Arkansas State Senator Bryan King (R) of Green Forrest when discussing Arkansas' recent Medicaid expansion under the so-called "Private" Option. King was recently featured in a Forbes article discussing the lack of eligibility verification, in violation of federal law, for participants in the program. King is the one who calmly laid out the numbers explaining why the costs of the "Private" Option are going to eat up virtually all projected growth in future state budgets and tie the hands of future legislators, leading to a fiscal train wreck in five years. His reward for actually looking at the numbers was to be removed as chairman of the joint budget committee, I presume so that the looting could continue without a lot of pesky questions.
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 has 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.
What is really going on with this program is a perfect example of what Charles Hughes-Smith has been talking about, where the middle class and the upper middle class are being looted by an alliance between the political class (and the very rich who fund them) and the lower class. Since much of it is being paid for by debt via generational looting, the real bill will come due in their children and grandchildren's days.
In this case, the big players in Arkansas health insurance get a cut when someone signs up for the private option. The owners of the hospitals get a cut when those people come in for care. Hence the insurance and medical care lobbies favor the program. Those who own significant shares in companies in those markets tend to favor those programs. They are willing to give money to politicians who vote for those programs, thus benefiting the political class. DHS benefits when they "grow" the number of people in this program. Every time someone new is added to the program, eligible or not, all of these interests benefit from borrowing money against the credit of the children and grandchildren of today's middle and upper middle classes. It is the very top and the political class strip-mining the wealth of the middle by making a deal to expand welfare benefits to the lower classes.
But we are not here to cast blame on poor people who are in a desperate situation for health care and take what is offered them. Indeed, while individuals in this group may be committing welfare fraud by entering or staying on the program when they are not eligible for it, even those people don't have an incentive to look the other way when more and more ineligible people are enrolled in the program. The other interests I mentioned do have such an incentive. The more people on the rolls, eligible or not, the more money or power they get. They have an incentive to sign up everyone possible, eligible or not, and basically encourage welfare fraud by empowering a system which neglects to perform mandatory eligibility screening. This is what the Senator was referring to, particularly with respect to government officials, when he called the "Private" Option a "scam."
What about the rest of that list? Are various members of what might be called our ruling class encouraging welfare fraud as part of an effort to maximize their profits? Are they scam artists? Well, the Forbes article paints a very bleak picture of the screening process for this handout. It is consistent with the idea that since the (borrowed) money is presently all coming from Washington, they are just signing up everyone they can, eligible or not, so that they can get some of that "free" money that our children will be expected to pay back.
In addition, Wallet Hub has rated Arkansas dead last in the nation when it comes to return in government services for tax dollars spent. That is a sign that our ruling class is more rapacious than the ruling class of other states when it comes to skimming dollars off of government programs for their own benefit. Plus the "Private" Option has had consistent cost over-runs, because of course you can't have Medicaid Expansion with private insurance companies taking a cut for standing in the middle as cheaply as you can just have Medicaid expansion.
All of this circumstantial evidence and more point to an attitude of "Washington is handing out free money, let's go get as much of it as we can any way possible for as long as it lasts" in the ruling class of our state. I mean legislators, Governors, High-level bureaucrats, and certain Big Business interests. This attitude disregards then underlying long term costs or ethics or morality of the cash-grab.
The solution to such a wretched state of affairs is an old-fashioned word that is much out of favor in a post-truth age: repentance. The ruling class of this state, those that may be participating in this particular legalized theft, should repent of their deeds. Those of us who have been sitting on the sidelines letting them do this ought to repent of our complacency and inaction. The alternative is for the looting to continue until the middle and upper middle class in this state has been preyed upon to extinction, and the loot gained thereby enjoyed by each member of the ruling class for perhaps thirty years or so until at last the day comes that they have to explain their actions before a Righteous God.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Arkansas Dead Last in Return of Services for State and Local Taxes Paid

Wallet Hub did a study to determine how much people "get their money's worth" for their state and local taxes paid. That is, how much we get from taxes vs. how much we pay in taxes. The results could be viewed as how "efficient" our state and local governments are at turning tax revenues into government services such as highways. Conversely, they could be a function of how much graft and corruption is costing taxpayers. Arkansas was dead last in the rankings. That is to say, we get the very lowest return in the nation for our taxes paid.
Our taxes are among the worst in the nation. 40th out of 50 according to the chart. If we are in the bottom ten because our taxes are among the ten highest, you would expect that at least our government services would also be among the ten highest- if we pay a lot at least we should get a lot. Sadly, the reverse is true. We are 48th in government services provided. In spite of being in the top ten in what we pay to state and local government, we are in the bottom three in terms of what we get from state and local government.
The liberals at the Arkansas Times tried to make this a red/blue thing, implying that the problem was that we are now a red state. They could be a decent independent news organization if they were not so ridiculously dishonest about things like this. We have only been "red" a short while, and this study measured local governments too, many of which are still blue. This is not a red/blue problem in my view. The problem as I see it is that our present ruling class (red or blue makes no difference) is more rapacious in their looting of the populace compared to the ruling class of other states and/or our populace is more docile and willing to put up with being looted. Until one or both of those things change I don't see it getting better.
Much of our low ranking comes from the poor return we get on highway dollars spent, yet the population recently voted to raise their own sales taxes to give the same highway commission system more money to inefficiently spend. The problem with "democracy" is that we get the government than the average voter deserves. Arkansans are familiar with the idea of repentance as a religious concept. It is essential to the Christian faith.  Maybe it is time we "repented" of giving our consent to be governed by the folks that have brought us here and instead give someone new a chance so that we might leave a better Arkansas to our children.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Judge Shopping Machinations on Homosexual Marriage Case

In a very depressing sign of what our courts have become (bench-legislators separated from all sense of original intent and perfectly willing to use the courts to hammer through their personal feelings on a matter into a quasi-law) here is an Arktimes article on some of the maneuvering to decide who will hear a case on formal recognition of homosexual relationships as marriage. It is hard for me to see how an individual has a "right" to formal public approval for their relationship, especially when such "approval" is mandated by a court instead of passed by referendum or at least legislation from "the people's branch."

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Sorting Through the Noise on Religious Freedom' Bills

“Private property, not democracy, is the great guarantor of prosperity and liberty. And because it decentralizes power, it safeguards us from madmen with utopian hallucinations.”
–Thomas Sowell
“Creating false distinctions between human rights and property rights plays into the hands of Democrat and Republican Party socialists who seek to control our lives. If we buy into the notion that somehow property rights are less important, or are in conflict with, human or civil rights, we give the socialists a freer hand to attack our property.”
Walter E. Williams
Rarely have I seen an issue so misunderstood and misinterpreted by all sides as I have in this struggle over what happened on HB 1228. If you don’t know what is contained in this story, I daresay you do not understand what happened on this issue. Any effort to set the record straight and accurately inform the people of this state of what has really happened to them must start outside the state.
Colorado has a law which treats homosexuals as a “protected class”, meaning that it is not legal to “discriminate” against them on that basis. Many bakeries are small family businesses. In Colorado, some of them were owned by Christians who did not want to bake and design a cake to celebrate a homosexual “marriage.”  The homosexuals have taken to suing such small businesses in Colorado on the basis of discrimination, and courts have supported such suits by fining the bakeries out of business or even threatening prison time for bakers who refuse to serve homosexual “weddings” in violation of their conscience.
In Arkansas there is no such law which makes sexual orientation the basis for a protected civil rights status. Because of that, no such suit could stand here. Late last year though, the city council of Fayetteville passed a city ordinance which would set up a “Civil Rights” commission, just like in Colorado, which would hear claims of “discrimination” based on sexual orientation. The commission could have issued fines, more limited in nature than the Colorado law permitted, but still sizable.
I say “could have” because the people of Fayetteville, both church and business community, petitioned to have the matter put before a vote of the people, as is possible under their city charter. The ordinance was reversed by a vote of the people. In addition, one of the city council spots was filled by a candidate who ran against the ordinance.
So when the legislative session got underway, there was no threat to violation of conscience such as occurred in Colorado. Christian bakeries could refuse to serve homosexual “weddings”, and as far as state law was concerned atheists could refuse to serve Baptist revivals, black-owned bakeries could turn away business for Klan rallies, Muslims could refuse to serve Bar Mitsvahs, and Jews could refuse to cater an event at a Hog Farm. Basically, if you owned a business you had the right to refuse service to anyone.  There was no state law describing the circumstances under which an Arkansan could be forced to violate their religious conscience. We had a state right to free association, a right to freedom of religion, and use of our property as it related to the same, and no state law put any boundaries on that.
People these days, conservative, liberal, or whatever, are so insecure, and so government oriented, that whenever something pops up in the news they think the answer is to pass another law. There was no need for another law. The issue had been handled by the people, where it ought to have been handled. There were only a few towns in the state even willing to consider such a law, and if any of them had tried it the market would have punished them for their idiocy as businesses, citizens and customers gravitated to towns without a bunch of little city commissars handing out fines for not being PC-enough.
Not only that, but as we will see, adding laws such as these often serves as a two-edged sword. Still, the uproar caused by the events surrounding the Colorado and Fayetteville incidents led some legislators to decide that they had to “do something” about the threat to “religious freedom.” Senator Bart Hester filed SB 202 and Representative Bob Ballinger filled HB 1228. Though I don’t doubt their intentions, I saw no reason why either bill was necessary. I saw several reasons why each bill was a risk and those risks are blowing up on us faster than I anticipated.
SB 202 stipulated that counties and cities could not pass civil rights ordinances for any class not protected in state law. That meant that the power to decide who got civil rights protection was centralized. It passed from the cities to the state. I don’t think that is a bad idea because I am a localist, I am a localist because stuff like that is a bad idea.  I am from a very traditional town, Pea Ridge. They would not be partial to recognizing homosexual relationships as marriage. An hour down the road is Eureka Springs, which has an official City Registry to recognize such marriages. Pea Ridge is not like Eureka Springs, and neither of them are like Little Rock. Why try to make the rules the same when the people who live there don’t believe in the same things?
Look, if we are non-neurotic enough to sleep well at night even though people we don’t know in a city we don’t visit are doing things differently, then maybe we have got a chance to be free.  “The bar for everybody should be set by law exactly where I feel it should be” is simply not a rational position. If we just can’t stand it unless distant strangers are forced to live by the rules we want for them, then why exactly should we be free? After all, that attitude is one of a petulant child dictator who does not believe in freedom for anyone else, so why do they deserve it for themselves?
Senator Hester cited ease of commerce in his bill. OK, having a patchwork of laws might slow things down a bit, at least for giant chains. It won’t affect local business. But this raises the question of who decides what our laws are and for whom are they written? Are our laws written to reflect the real beliefs and values of the real persons who have to live under them, or are they written for the benefit of giant corporations which may or may not move to the area? Snatching all the power to make such ordinances from the localities and concentrating that power in Little Rock was, in my opinion, unjustified by the events which transpired in Fayetteville even if they hadn’t quickly fixed their issues themselves.
That brings us to HB 1228, which many mistakenly believed would give Arkansas business owners some kind of new permission to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. It would not have done that and Representative Ballinger said so on national television. The reason it did not grant such permission is that up to that point there was no Arkansas or Federal law that implied that people even needed such permission.They were already able to do what some people think this bill would have “allowed” them to do. They had an undefined amount of freedom of conscience in that area. All HB 1228 did was take that undefined amount of religious freedom property owners had in this area of life and start putting boundaries on it! The bill subjected such previously undefined freedom to freedom that could be removed when it was in “a compelling government interest”, whatever that is, so long as such freedom was removed in the “least restrictive manner.”
In that sense HB 1228 started the process of reducing religious freedom, and that was before the PC-police started jacking with it! Just because a bill is named a “religious freedom” bill does not mean that its content and actual effect would be to increase religious freedom. What this did instead was attempt to define a previously undefined amount of freedom.
Let me stop right here because everyone was tripping over themselves saying that they did not want the bill to be “discriminatory.” That has become one of those poisoned words that you can’t tell the truth about  because the more thoughtless members of our populace have been conditioned to think that it is always bad to be “discriminatory”. The truth is more complicated than such slogans allow for. Sometimes it is good to be “discriminating” and if we did not use our judgement to discriminate between good and bad we really couldn’t even function in everyday life. What matters is not whether one is “discriminating” or not, but whether the basis of one’s discrimination is just or unjust.
I will go farther, discriminating on an unjust basis is wrong, but if the issue is whether you want to use your own property to serve someone, why should it be a matter for the law?  If I refuse to make you a cake for some event to which I have religious objections I have not with-held from you anything to which you have a natural right. This is because I am not your, or the state’s, slave. You don’t have aright to compel my labor. By putting out my shingle, I am just saying I want to engage in voluntarycommercial transactions. Hanging out that shingle does not remove the “voluntary” part. Everyone that walks in that door and asks for a custom cake, the baker has to decide if they want the job and the customer has to decide if they want to pay the price. When both sides agree, a voluntary transaction occurs, and that is what the baker is soliciting when they open their doors to the public. Its not a commitment to take every proposal that walks in the door.
OK, but Mark are you suggesting we allow a business to discriminate based on say, race? I think it is repugnant for a business to refuse to serve on the basis of race. I would want to know who there were so I could boycott them. The thing is, under current law, you can’t tell who the racists are because they “hide in the closet”. They make up some other reason to deny service, or they give shoddy service or resort to some other ploy because they are bound by law for saying what their real motives are for not wanting to do business with, or hire, someone. You and I may be doing business with someone like that right now simply because they are compelled by law to conceal who they are. Nevertheless I don’t have to consider that question here, because this is discrimination based on behavior.
If Starbucks or Apple do not want to do business with me as a traditional, orthodox Christian, then they should not be compelled to. I will just get my over-priced beverages and smart phones elsewhere (note: I am not saying that is the actual policy of these two companies). The right to use my property and my labor as I see fit is also a civil rights issue. The two black guys I quote to start this article agree with me on that (both of those “guys” are also economics professors at two of the most prestigious universities in the country).  I wonder if we did not go so far in our national repulsion with our mistreatment of black Americans that we started down a slippery slope that threatens the property rights and rights of conscience of all Americans of all colors.
But I digress. I was talking about how a previously open-ended and undefined right got bounded by HB 1228. With HB 1228 such rights became subject to “compelling state interest”. I object to this, for there is no state interest more compelling than the individual right of conscience in the use of their labor and property. Still, even that was too much freedom of conscience for the PC-left. They objected that the boundaries set were still too broad precisely because it protected Christians from being dragooned into service of homosexual celebrations by private interests.
To show you what a farce this whole thing is, the federal version of the “Religious Freedom” act only protected you from the government forcing you to violate your conscience on their behalf, unless there was a “compelling state interest” for the government to do so. It did not explicitly protect you from the government forcing you to violate your conscience on the behalf of someone else-for example a member of what the government felt was a “persecuted” group such as homosexuals traumatically denied the services of a Christian baker for their “wedding”. That is why the language in the federal bill by itself was so worthless that Bill Clinton could support it, and Barack Obama could and did support it. The government can simply use some private interest as their surrogate and the protections in the language of the law could be negated.
Some courts had ruled that since the federal Religious Freedom Act barred the government (without a “compelling state interest”) from dragooning you into their service in violation of your conscience, it could not do so to dragoon you into the service of a private individual either, but that point was in dispute and not in the text of the federal law. Ballinger put it into the text of HB 1228. Governor Asa Hutchinson did an about-face and refused to sign the bill over that amount of difference. Hutchinson did not want even that tiny amount of variation of state law language from federal law language, so much has he become a DC-man.
Hutchinson made like it was a family chat with his son Seth that caused him to change his mind on the bill because of the “generation gap” of a measure he called “divisive.” Seth Hutchinson himself has been quoted as saying he only had a small part in changing his father’s mind. Global corporations have taken sides in the American Culture Wars, and for the most part they have sided against traditional American culture (and why not, they are global, not American). Wal-Mart called Hutchinson up and told him not to sign the bill. The people who voted for him were mostly asking him to sign the bill. He did what Wal-Mart asked him to do, not what the people who voted for him told him to do.
If it had stopped there, I would be OK with it. Like I told you, we did not need either of these bills and I did not want either of the bills. We could already do everything HB 1228 said we could do when this thing started. I was worried that once they started regulating it, once they started putting boundaries on it, what was once open and free would shrink to a smaller and smaller area of allowable dissent from the norm (i.e. – a smaller amount of freedom). Sure enough that is what happened, I thought it would take years but HB 1228 did not even have dry ink on it before it happened. Hutchinson said he wanted another bill with the provisions which went beyond the worthless provisions in the federal version of the bill removed.
Unfortunately, Ballinger and most of the rest of the captured Republicans compliantly obliged the Governor. They weakened a bill that was already at the very best only no better than what we already had concerning the controversy which prompted it. I have no idea what Jerry Cox of the Family Council is talking about when he describes this bill (SB 975) as a “victory” or a “Cadillac.” Bills don’t do what their title says they do just because its in the title. The bill was a defeat, a set-back, for people who believe in religious liberty and freedom of conscience and a minor victory for those who want to continue to use government compulsion rather than reason and persuasion, to win the argument over the public recognition of homosexual relationships as “marriage.”