“Plato O Plomo” – Washington’s Gangster Way
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Posted by Howard Rich | Columns
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| Wednesday 30 December 2009 10:59 AM

During the 1980’s, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar built a global cocaine cartel of unrivaled power and influence based on a simple philosophy, Plato O Plomo.

Translated literally that means “silver or lead,” but every Colombian knew what it really meant – “money or bullets.” Either you took Escobar’s bribe, or you dealt with Escobar’s wrath.

Today, these thuggish tactics are alive and well in – of all places – Washington, D.C., a city where two decades ago officials were busy hunting down criminals like Escobar. Meanwhile elsewhere in the United States, stealing from Medicaid has replaced cocaine dealing as the most practiced, most profitable form of white collar crime – another reason Barack Obama and his Congressional allies should think long and hard before they expand governmental “control” of this industry.

Yet as another unprecedented Washington power grab takes shape, Plato O Plomo indeed appears to have been adopted by Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate President Harry Reid as their modus operandi for passing an un-American socialized medicine proposal that America doesn’t want and cannot afford.

In fact, these so-called “leaders” are perpetrating the ultimate in “white collar” Medicaid fraud – dipping into this taxpayer-funded slush fund to pad the pockets of lawmakers whose votes they need for the larger, $2.5 trillion heist.

Take the proposed $300 million Medicaid payout offered to the state of Louisiana in a (successful) effort to secure the vote of Sen. Mary Landrieu. This provision was inserted into the 2,700-page bill as Landrieu was waffling on whether or not to bring the legislation to the floor for debate.

“After a thorough review of the bill, I have decided there are enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward …” Landrieu said from the Senate floor shortly after accepting this glorified bribe.

And while Landrieu claimed at the time that there was “more work to be done” on the legislation, she has since changed her tune and voted to shut down debate on further amendments.

Next in line was another fence-sitter, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who was offered millions of dollars in Medicaid payments for his home state beginning in 2017 and extending forever.

That’s right – the federal government is offering to pay 100% of Nebraska’s Medicaid cost increases from here to eternity, a deal no other state is getting but one which every other state must finance.

Of course there have been sticks associated with these carrots, too.

At every stage of socialized medicine’s march through the legislative process, these taxpayer-funded bribes have been accompanied by

Sen. Nelson, for example, was reportedly told that Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha would be placed on a base closure list if he didn’t take the deal he was being offered.

That’s vintage Plato O Plomo.

Similarly in the U.S. House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly received more requests for “passes” on the socialized medicine vote from House Democrats than she could handle, which is said to have prompted a massive behind-the-scenes Plato O Plomo campaign in which everything – pork barrel spending, committee chairmanships, electoral support – was placed on the table in an effort to move a sufficient number of votes into the “Yes” column.

Even then, the legislation was just three votes away from being defeated.

Fortunately, these despicable tactics are no longer hidden behind closed doors. The Landrieu and Nelson payoffs in particular have attracted substantial media attention and public outrage, and states which are being forced to pay for these bribes are demanding investigations.

Already leery of this massive government power-grab, Americans are now keenly aware of the Gangland tactics that are being used to drag it kicking and screaming across the finish line.

And that’s the ultimate lesson of Plato O Plomo – the plan falls apart as soon as people realize they can stand up to the gangsters.

Let’s finish the job on eminent domain
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Tuesday 29 December 2009 4:30 PM

From The Texas Farm Bureau

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There is an ancient Chinese curse that sounds harmless until you think about it: “May you live in interesting times.”

Interesting times are challenging times. They can bring hardship. They can dash hopes and destroy dreams. Sometimes, however, lying right in the same ditch with all of our tough problems, are opportunities.

There’s no doubt about it. We live in interesting times. But as Farm Bureau members—as Texas farmers and ranchers—we refuse to be boxed in, and limited, by these “interesting times.”

We are completing a year of remarkable achievement. We meet here today and reflect on an all-time membership high. Our service programs continue to meet the needs of our members. Our programs are nationally recognized for excellence.

This year also included the 81st Session of the Texas Legislature. It was, in most respects, an okay session for Farm Bureau and agriculture, one in which we achieved several policy goals. Unfortunately, it was also defined by frustration on the issue of eminent domain reform, our top goal.

We’ve talked about eminent domain reform many times over the last three years. Today, I just want to thank you for the remarkable job you did in making sure Proposition 11 was passed in November.

Pass it did, by an overwhelming margin. Even as a poorly worded, bottom-of-the-ballot initiative, it was the top vote getter among them all.

That, my fellow Farm Bureau members, makes this vote a mandate for finishing the job on eminent domain reform.

There’s an old saying: “The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” We’ve carried away a bunch of stones on this issue, but we still have work to do.

We know Proposition 11 does not “fix” Texas’ terrible eminent domain law, as some of its opponents said. It does, however, set the stage for going forward.

There’s no question that some politicians running for office next year will try to hide behind Proposition 11. They will try to claim that it’s more than it really is. They will try to hide their own record and say that eminent domain is “fixed” in Texas.

We know it is not. They know it is not. And before we are done, all of Texas will know the job is not yet finished.

Farm Bureau members and leaders have kept this issue alive for more than two years. Now, we have to do so yet again. We’ve heard all the empty promises, and it’s time to hold some folks accountable for that.

Very soon now, the race for Texas governor will begin in earnest. You will hear much lip service paid to property rights. The heroes of the Alamo will be mentioned. Texas’ so called tradition of property rights will be held up as an example.

Andrew Carnegie once said: “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” It is very easy to talk about property rights, but “watch what they do.”

We’ve heard all the talk. We’ve listened to all the rhetoric. If you take the time to examine the record, you will discover the truth.

We have many friends running for office in 2010 who need our help. We must be there for them. The issues we care about depend on it. With our work in the election season next year, we’ll set the stage for meeting our objectives in the next legislative session.

Texas Farm Bureau members are being called upon once again to make a difference. We live in interesting times, as the old curse says. But rather than view it that way, I see it as a challenge.

With your continued commitment, dedication and hard work, we will meet the challenges of these interesting times—confident that we can make them the best of times, a future of promise, hope and accomplishment for the rural families of Texas.

Time to resurrect the term limits movement
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Tuesday 29 December 2009 1:34 PM

From American Thinker

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Tom Endicott


The current issues involving our Congress are debated endlessly in the media, but ultimately they become framed in the context of what they mean to the re-election efforts of our senators and representatives. We watch our congressmen deftly balance their positions on the issues in front of the cameras, dodging and feinting as they seek to determine the safest path to re-election.

Why must the importance of issues that impact our daily lives, and what they portend for our progeny, be degraded by relating them to the personal desires of our duly elected representatives to retain their access to cushy benefits and the perks of power? Are not the ramifications to our collective interests of national fiscal responsibility, defense of our country, energy independence, and health care policy more important than the career longevity of our congressmen?

It seems we elect serious and sincere individuals to go to Washington on our behalf and tend to our national interests. And for the most part, they are that. But once they become accustomed to the special benefits self-endowed by themselves and their antecedents, their interest turns from the merits of the issues to how their positions on the issues will impact their ability to retain the accouterments of power and representation. In this context, the issues become “all about them.” The quest to maintain membership among the favored few becomes a barrier to voting their conscience and tending to what is in the best interests of those who sent them there.

Therefore, if we expect our representatives to deal with national issues without the risk of subordinating the importance these issues have to the populace to the temptations of power, this risk needs to be eliminated. And this can be achieved with the implementation of term limits.

Americans understand this intuitively, and it is the understanding of the potential structural conflict between responsible representation and the corruptive capabilities of power that have caused 37 states to impose term limits on their elected state officials . The provision, of course, also exists for our President as a result of the Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution and it needs to be extended to Congress for all the same reasons. And because the depth and breadth of the impact Congress has on our lives is greater than state officials, the reasons are even more compelling.

Since it would be naive to expect those in the position of power to adopt provisions that would constitute a self-imposed date for their return home, we must do it for them. This movement needs to be resurrected at the grass-roots level so that the associated relevance of the importance of national issues can be returned to what each means to our collective interests and not theirs.

LETTER: Dodd an example of need for term limits in Senate
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Monday 21 December 2009 4:23 PM

From The New Haven Register

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I give John Carusone a lot of credit for his letter breaking from the party line. U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd has worn out his welcome and it is time for him to go.

He is a perfect example why we need term limits in the Senate. He has been part of the best club in the world, the Senate, for too long.

His poor judgment is good reason to be up in arms. Was he supporting Connecticut when he moved his family to Iowa for his feeble run for president?

He was a leading member, now chairman, of the Banking Committee when the country went through the worst banking and housing crisis since the Depression. If he was running a company, he would have been terminated for cause. Instead, he got a raise like all members of Congress.

What about all the special interest donations to his campaigns from companies like Countrywide and AIG?

The debacle of the AIG affair had to be the icing on the cake. AIG has been one of his largest campaign supporters. He supported the bonus payments to the AIG executives and lied about it on national television. How stupid does he think we are?

I have been a registered Democrat my entire life and I strongly support dumping Dodd.

Mike Carbray

Hamden

Stephen A. Nardelli: Public charter schools no threat to district public schools
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Thursday 17 December 2009 4:30 PM

From The Providence Journal

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The Rhode Island Board of Regents recently approved its 2010-11 budget, which includes an additional $7.3 million in aid for public charter schools.

That action, along with numerous stories in the print and broadcast media detailing the education opportunities offered at any one of Rhode Island’s 13 public charter schools, have once again resurrected myths about public charter schools — how they are financed and who they serve. Public charter schools are an integral and important part of the public-education system in Rhode Island, providing necessary public-school choice options for students and their families.

Public charter schools show much promise for the future of education — they are here to stay! It is important for all Rhode Island’s students, educators, policy makers and families that we move beyond myth to fact.

Here are the facts:

Fact: Public charter schools do not “drain” money from the district public schools. First and foremost, public charter schools are public schools, open to the public, funded by the public and accountable to the public. The total amount of money spent on public education in communities with public charter schools or with students attending public charter schools in another district does not change.

In Rhode Island, while local and state aid for public charter school students does go to the public charter school, the state aid part also goes to the traditional school district where the student resides, resulting in a “double” payment of the state share! While the public charter school educates the student, the sending district still gets the state aid part of the per-student allotment! Our charter funding formula is “flawed” in favor of traditional school districts. A true, “money follows the student” education-aid formula would end that double payment.

Fact: Public charter schools do not “cream” the best students. Public charter schools are open to any student who resides in the city or town identified in the school’s target population. Public charter schools have “open admissions” and to apply, families need only to fill out a short application requesting basic information. Public charter schools are open to every student regardless of race, religion, disability or academic ability. They are open to all students on a space-available basis and cannot select students on the basis of skills, ability or past performance.

By statute, if the total number of students who apply to a public charter school is greater than the number of openings available, the public charter school must conduct a blind lottery to determine which students are admitted. The lottery and overall charter-admission process are conducted under the authority of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Fact: Public charter schools are held accountable for performance. While public charter schools do operate independently of the local school system, they are held to even higher standards by the Board of Regents and state Department of Education. The state’s rigorous charter-application process results in only strong, viable applications being approved. Public charter schools must follow all state educational standards, participate in all mandated assessments, and comply with federal No Child Left Behind requirements. Public charter schools must demonstrate fiscal responsibility by providing and participating in all financial reporting requirements, which include all revenue/expenditure reports as well as providing quarterly budget reports to the auditor general and the Department of Administration’s Office of Municipal Affairs. Rhode Island public charter schools provide an annual report to the Board of Regents and are comprehensively reviewed and renewed after an initial five-year period and in successive five-year periods thereafter.

If the charter public school fails to meet objectives outlined in its charter, the charter can be revoked and the school closed.

Fact: Every one of Rhode Island’s children deserves a good educational experience. Public charter schools are an important part of building and sustaining a public education system that works for all of our state’s families. The demand continues to be high — with just over 3,400 enrolled in public charter schools and another 3,600 on waiting lists, public charter schools are a school-choice option that Rhode Islanders have embraced. It is time for us to put aside the “us against them” mindset, focus on the facts, and work together to improve the state’s overall public-education system.

Stephen A. Nardelli is executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.

Insanity, Defined
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Posted by Howard Rich | Columns
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| Thursday 17 December 2009 2:48 PM

One of the oldest clichés in the book defines insanity as doing the same thing “over and over again” and expecting a different result.

In that case, it’s a pity we can’t give our federal and state governments long-overdue lobotomies.

In spite of overwhelming evidence that the $787 billion bureaucratic bailout passed in February has failed to “stimulate” the economy, President Barack Obama is now proposing that Congress pass a “second stimulus.”

After months of record unemployment and signs pointing to an unprecedented holiday retail disaster, Obama still doesn’t get it.

America must “spend our way out of this recession,” Obama said in a recent speech to the Brookings Institution, reiterating his commitment to a failed interventionist approach that has consumed America policy-making for the last two years – and consumed American prosperity along with it.

In January 2008, the American economy employed 138.1 million people and our nation’s unemployment rate was 4.9%. That’s when a “bipartisan stimulus” totaling $170 billion was passed, one comprised largely of increased mortgage guarantees for government-backed (now government-run) mortgage behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

By January of this year, 3.5 million Americans had lost their jobs and the unemployment rate stood at 7.6%.

That’s when the forces of “change” in Washington decided to put the interventionist policies of the Bush era on steroids, passing the massive bureaucratic bailout and handing out government cash and loan guarantees to favored special interests like candy.

Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, the federal government has spent, lent or pledged nearly $13 trillion – which equates to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

The result of all that taxpayer-funded largesse? Since January of this year, another 3.5 million Americans have lost their jobs, and the unemployment rate has soared to 10%.

Meanwhile, Obama is proposing fresh tax increases on high income-earners (i.e. job creators) to pay for his socialized medicine proposal, and his campaign promise to provide middle class tax relief has evaporated. In fact, with the national debt fast approaching $13 trillion (twice what it was six years ago) and a record budget deficit of $1.5 trillion on tap for the coming fiscal year, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Obama will have to resort to a middle class tax hike in order to cover government’s escalating tab.

Then there’s “Cap & Trade,” a massive new energy tax passed earlier this year by the U.S. House. Disguised as an “emissions marketplace,” this backdoor tax hike does nothing but exploit demonstrably fuzzy science in an effort to deprive American families of as much as $4,000 a year in increased energy costs.

With so much oxygen being sucked out of the American economy (and more deprivation on the way from Washington), it’s amazing that anyone has a job. Anyone not on Uncle Sam’s payroll, at least.

Still, in spite of the unambiguous failure of these interventionist policies, Obama and his allies are now proposing yet another “stimulus” – this one to be funded essentially by loan repayments from the TARP bailout that are legislatively-mandated to go toward deficit reduction.

Where does Obama want to put this money instead?

“State and local government — first,” says former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich, a participant in one of Obama’s recent economic development-themed photo opportunities.

In other words, Obama’s plan is to continue pouring taxpayer money into the same old unsustainable bureaucracies.

“What needs to be said is that there is no reason that we as a nation have to accept 10 percent unemployment or 18 percent underemployment,” Reich says. “We have the ability to bring that number down.”

On this point, Reich is absolutely right.

We don’t have to accept it – and we certainly can bring that number down.

Of course, doing so would require a complete reversal – not a continuation – of our government’s failed interventionist policies.

No Ceiling… And the Sky Is Falling
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Posted by Howard Rich | Columns
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| Thursday 10 December 2009 1:12 PM

The irony of the United States’ current financial situation is that it would be absolutely impossible for any business or private citizen to ever wind up in such dire straits. It literally couldn’t happen, as there are far too many safeguards that would kick in to prevent the sort of uncontrolled, addictive descent into unprecedented debt (and deficit spending) that we currently see gripping Washington D.C.

If companies spent this way they would go bankrupt – their assets auctioned off to repay investors. Private citizens? Their credit scores would be ruined, and no financial institution would ever lend them money again.

Yet as is so often the case, the U.S. Congress is not governed by the fiscal realities the rest of us must face. In fact, whenever Congress needs to borrow more money to fund bureaucratic bailouts, soaring entitlement obligations or new deficit spending, it simply raises its credit limit (or “debt ceiling”) to make these new unnecessary line items appear to be legitimate.

Of course, words like “out-of-control” or “unsustainable” don’t really cut it these days when it comes to Washington’s impending budget disaster.

We are looking at nothing short of catastrophic recklessness – as well as an unmitigated contempt for future generations that is likely to cripple our nation’s economy for decades.

Our leaders are manipulating the nation’s credit limit so that they are able to spend taxpayer money with impunity on a nonexistent “recovery” – or in the case of the latest (and largest) proposed manipulation, money that they have already spent on a nonexistent “recovery.”

Rather than coming to grips with this crisis by cutting spending obligations and working toward paying down the deficit, the U.S. Congress is instead moving toward the largest-ever increase of its debt ceiling – less than a year after raising the ceiling to its current level of $12.1 trillion.

“We ought to pass a debt limit extension that gets us through next year,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said recently.

Actually, the House thought it had already done that, which goes to show just how quickly these politicians are blowing through borrowed money.

At the request of President Barack Obama’s administration, the House voted earlier this year to raise the debt ceiling to $13 trillion, but it now appears that even this stratospheric number will prove incapable of containing the coming year’s spend-fest – complete with its record $1.5 trillion deficit.

In fact, the national debt is expected to charge past the $13 trillion threshold by the middle of next summer, which assumes that the federal government incurs no new obligations – like, for example, a massive socialized medicine proposal.

So how high will Congress raise the ceiling? And here’s an even more frightening question – what happens when that credit limit is surpassed?

Obviously we don’t need a crystal ball to answer the second question. Congress will raise the debt ceiling as often as it wants – by as much as it wants.

For example, after holding steady at $5.9 billion from 1997-2002, the debt ceiling has more than doubled over the last seven years according to data released by the White House Budget Office. Of course these automatic votes rarely receive much – if any – publicity. In fact, the provision authorizing the jump to the current $12.1 trillion limit was buried deep within the federal “stimulus” bill.

As for the size of the forthcoming increase, most estimates put the number at around $1.5 trillion – which is nearly twice the size of the previous record increase.

That is truly the definition of a limitless reserve – but the unavoidable reality is that every dime of that skyrocketing tab must be paid back by the American taxpayers, who can simply no longer afford to finance Washington’s reckless credit card spree.

Time to unload Albany incumbents
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Thursday 10 December 2009 1:09 PM

From LoHud.com

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Re "Ex-GOP leader guilty of fraud," Tuesday article:

OK, so Joe Bruno has been convicted. Let’s see now if his sentence is something meaningful or just a slap on the wrist.

There has existed a need for ethics reform in Albany for years, if not for decades. So, while our state’s lawmakers pontificate, ponder, cogitate, discuss and debate ethics, we, the citizens of New York, should enact our own ethics reform. At the next election, let’s vote all the incumbents out. Let’s forget about voting for our favorite party and vote against all those serving in Albany at the time. And keep voting them out until they get the message that they represent us, the voters, not their business partners or corporations.

To those formulating the ethics reform, I suggest that term limits (no more than two terms) be incorporated. Term limits will not allow our lawmakers the time to acquire the power and cultivate the friendships needed to become corrupt; or if they are already corrupt, will not allow them to do too much damage. There are those who would object to term limits on the premise that we need experienced lawmakers in Albany. Let me remind them that Mr. Bruno has more than 30 years’ worth of experience. Many other politicians convicted of ethics violations, such as Guy Velella, also had many years of experience. Do we need or want that kind of experience? Can we afford that kind of experience?

Chris Malek

Lake Peekskill

US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison makes it official, files to run for Texas governor
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Tuesday 8 December 2009 4:16 PM

From LA Times

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison formally entered the Texas governor’s race Monday, taking on two-term incumbent Gov. Rick Perry in the March primary.

Hutchison, filing her paperwork at the state Republican Party headquarters, threw jabs at Perry by suggesting he isn’t as popular as she is with voters and chastising him for what she said is “cronyism and mismanagement” in his office. Perry filed last week to run for an unprecedented third term.

Hutchison said there is a revolving door between Perry’s office and lobbyists and said she would push for ethics reform if elected.

“I think it’s time for us to have term limits for governor,” Hutchison said. “It is time that we have limits on campaign contributions so that people know that you’re not going to be able to buy access with millions of dollars in campaign contributions.”

Hutchison has co-sponsored legislation that would limit U.S. senators to no more than two six-year terms, but she is now in her third full term. Hutchison has said she will remain in the Senate while running.

Perry and Hutchison have been squaring off for months, even before both were officially in the race. Party activist Debra Medina also is running. The winner of the March 2 primary will face the Democratic nominee in November 2010.

Responding to Hutchison’s filing, Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the senator has spent 16 years in Washington and has lost touch with Texans through her “record of voting for bailouts, earmarks and record deficits.” Miner said Texas is better off economically because of Perry’s leadership in job creation and limiting spending.

Hutchison repeated her familiar campaign themes of protecting private property rights and improving education and the transportation system.

Speaking later Monday to about 1,200 people at the Texas Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Fort Worth, Hutchison said that if she is elected governor, the government won’t be able to take property for private purposes, underpay farmers and then turn it over to a foreign company. She said among her first acts as governor would be ensuring that lawmakers can consider private property legislation early in their 2011 session.

Hutchison also said that if she’s elected, the Trans-Texas Corridor project will “really be dead.” The farm bureau, which endorsed Hutchison, has opposed Perry’s toll road network plan that threatens to take farm and ranch land.

Hutchison also said Monday she wants to work with Texas law enforcement officers to get them federally authorized training that could help them learn to properly question and handle suspects who may be illegal immigrants and to work with federal authorities in the deportation process.

That may have been a reference to the new Democratic candidate in the race, Houston Mayor Bill White, who supported local policies restricting police officers’ ability to inquire about immigration status until a suspect has been arrested on a criminal charge.

Hutchison called White a credible candidate, and said she is the one who can triumph in the 2010 election.

“I am the conservative who can win this race,” Hutchison said.

Asked about her strategy for defeating Perry in a Republican primary where social conservatives who tend to back him reliably show up to vote, Hutchison pointed to her record of winning general elections for Senate with more than 60 percent of the vote, compared with Perry’s 39 percent in 2006 when he had three well-known competitors for governor.

“I think Republicans will look at winning, they will look at strengthening the Republican Party and they will see that I am the candidate who can win,” Hutchison said.

Meanwhile, Perry’s camp chided Hutchison for skipping an event at a World War II museum and campaigning instead. Hutchison’s campaign said foggy weather prevented her plane from reaching the event in Fredericksburg.

Eminent domain
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Monday 7 December 2009 4:13 PM

From Fort Worth Business Press

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In an overwhelming show of support for property rights, Texans voted 81 per cent on Nov. 3 for Proposition 11, which will place more restrictions on government entities that use eminent domain to take private property.

Considering this vote by four fifths of the electorate, were I promoting $909 million Trinity Uptown, I would now ask for a vote by local taxpayers to be sure this project had solid community support.

The November 3 vote, Gov. Rick Perry said, sent a clear message: “Don’t mess with private property rights.” More than 200 years ago, William Pitt the Elder put it in the King’s English:

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake—the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter – all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.”

Now only three Tuesdays after the Nov. 3 vote, the first three cases where the Tarrant Regional Water District used its eminent domain authority for the Trinity Uptown project [were] heard Nov. 24 by a group of special commissioners in the Tarrant County Administration Building.

Come hell or high water, the Grangerites push on. The public and the Governor and the Constitition be damned!

– Don Woodard, Fort Worth

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