Free Markets, Free People

Politics


Bloomberg’s NYC soda ban ruled “unconstitutional” by court

I love it when petty tyrants are struck down:

New York City’s crackdown on big, sugary sodas is staying on ice.

An appeals court ruled Tuesday that the city’s Board of Health exceeded its legal authority and acted unconstitutionally when it tried to put a size limit on soft drinks served in city restaurants.

In a unanimous opinion, the four-judge panel of the state Supreme Court Appellate Division said that the health board was acting too much like a legislature when it created the limit, which would have stopped sales of non-diet soda and other sugar-laden beverages in containers bigger than 16 ounces.

The judges wrote that while the board had the power to ban “inherently harmful” foodstuffs from being served to the public, sweetened beverages didn’t fall into that category. They also said the board appeared to have crafted much of the new rules based on political or economic considerations, rather than health concerns.

Bingo.  In fact, they were instrumental in carrying out the wishes of one man – Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  His is a personal agenda that has little to do with health and much to do with what he perceives as his duty to stop people from using substances that he deems harmful.

Thankfully the court said he doesn’t get to do that – at least not without substantial evidence to support his use of a ban.  If ever there was an example of “arbitrary and capricious”, Bloomberg’s ban defines it.

But as a rule, petty tyrants don’t like getting their hands slapped.  So, instead of seeing the handwriting on the wall, this one will spend more of NY taxpayers money pursuing a loss in a higher court:

The city’s law department promised a quick appeal.

“Today’s decision is a temporary setback, and we plan to appeal this decision as we continue the fight against the obesity epidemic,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

And if you ever wanted to understand why these busy-body do-gooders exist, here’s a fine statement to illustrate the point and the problem:

“We have a responsibility, as human beings, to do something, to save each other. … So while other people will wring their hands over the problem of sugary drinks, in New York City, we’re doing something about it,” Bloomberg said at a news conference after the measure was struck down in March.

Uh no, you don’t “have a responsibility” to “do something”.  It’s none of your freaking business, sir.  What you are doing is interfering in the life of people who haven’t asked you to do so and are therefore violating their right to do as they wish as long and they don’t violate the rights of others.  That’s something petty tyrants can’t seem to get through there heads.

Freedom means the right to be fat, unhealthy and to fail.  You may not like those things personally, but that indeed is the cost of freedom.  If you’d prefer to be free to make your own choices rather than have some nanny make them for you, then you believe in freedom.  Mayor Bloomberg does not.

~McQ


Why is Detroit bankrupt?

Well there are a lot of contributing reasons, but Brad Plumer hits on the major one:

Detroit is sagging under decades of bad governance. “The city’s operations have become dysfunctional and wasteful after years of budgetary restrictions, mismanagement, crippling operational practices and, in some cases, indifference or corruption,” Orr wrote in May. “Outdated policies, work practices, procedures and systems must be improved consistent with best practices of 21st-century government.” (Detroit has been a one-party city run by Democrats since 1962.)

Now I didn’t write that or suggest that.  In fact, it comes from Ezra Klein’s “Wonk Blog” in the WaPo.  Some things just can’t be denied or spun.  Detroit is and has been the exemplar of the blue model city for decades.  And this is the result.

Of course, Detroit isn’t the only blue city in dire straits.  It’s simply the one in the worst shape of all.  It has literally imploded.  It’s population dropped as people fled the exploding crime and high taxes.  78,000 buildings have been abandoned or have become blighted. Unemployment is rampant.  And, uncooperative unions and huge pension debt doomed any recovery.

Over the past few months, Orr has tried to convince the city’s various creditors, including the city’s unions and pension boards, to take far less than they were owed in order to restructure the city’s finances (in some cases, pennies on the dollar). But he was unsuccessful, so now the city is filing for bankruptcy protection.

So now they’re all at the mercy of the bankruptcy court, assuming the Obama Administration’s misnamed “Department of Justice” doesn’t try to take a hand in the restructuring as it did in the auto bankruptcy proceedings.

Looking back at the first cite,  Kevyn Orr, the city’s temporary emergency manager makes an interesting point – he claims it is time to move government into the 21st century.  Doing so would also include much less power for unions and much less generous payouts for pensions, if a city is to have a chance at fiscal solvency.  Not that Detroit is going to get there easily:

“But city retirees, facing the prospect of sharply reduced benefits whether in bankruptcy or under Detroit’s restructuring proposal, think they stand squarely on the moral high ground because despite the poverty of many current and retired members, they have already offered big concessions.”

You can stand on the highest “moral ground” you can find, but reality says if there’s no money, it really doesn’t matter, does it?

That is, of course, unless the fed tries to involve itself in the mess and subsidize pensions and unions – something not at all far fetched. 

Detroit is the canary in the coal mine of blue model governance.  How many other cities will fold before it is finally kicked to the curb?

~McQ


IRS scandal cover-up begins to unravel

The IRS scandal took on new impetus today with a interesting revelation:

Top IRS officials in Washington, D.C. planned and oversaw the agency’s improper targeting of conservative groups, according to the 72-year old retiring IRS lawyer who will testify Thursday before the House Oversight Committee.

Retiring IRS lawyer Carter C. Hull implicated the IRS Chief Counsel’s office, headed by Obama appointee William J. Wilkins, and Lois Lerner, the embattled head of the IRS’ exempt organizations office, in the IRS targeting scandal and made clear that the targeting started in Washington, according to leaked interviews that Hull granted to the Oversight Committee in advance of Thursday’s hearing.

Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George will return to Republican chairman Darrell Issa’s committee Thursday along with two central characters in the IRS saga: Hull and Cincinnati-based IRS employee Elizabeth Hofacre, who previously gave Hull’s name to congressional investigators, fingering him as her Washington-based supervisor.

Yup, the rats are deserting the sinking ship.  They are certainly not willing to go down with it and so they’re naming names.  And contrary to all the claims previously, it seems that Washington D.C. was indeed involved and not just a “couple of rogue agents in Cincinnati” as we were told in the beginning.

It’s usually never the crime itself that hangs politicians, but the attempted (and ham-fisted) cover-up.  And that’s precisely what this is beginning to look like.  As for being “ham-fisted”, is there anything this administration does that isn’t ham-fisted?

~McQ


Did Republicans cave to avoid the “nuclear option” in the Senate?

Jonathan Chait certainly thinks so:

Unlike the last time Democrats threatened to change the Senate rules, and backed down without winning anything, this time they won something important: They broke Senate Republicans’ ability to hold presidential appointments hostage. It’s a total victory for the Democrats.

In fact, Chait says the bottom line is this:

Democrats had proposed to change the Senate’s rules to prevent filibusters on executive branch nominations (but not to ban filibusters of legislation or judicial nominees). They’ve won.

However:

Republicans got one face-saving concession: Democrats have to pick new names for the NLRB. This became an issue because Obama tried to execute an end-run around Congress by appointing them to their positions when Congress was functionally, though not technically, in recess, and was struck down by the Republican-controlled D.C. circuit court.

You can obviously tell which side Chait comes down on if you didn’t know before.   The D.C. circuit court struck it down not because it is “Republican-controlled” but because the appointments were Constitutionally illegal. By the way, so did the Third circuit court.

But it leaves us with a very interesting question.  If the Democrats agreed to have two new appointments made to the NLRB, aren’t they at least tacitly admitting the current two appointments are illegal?  And if so, what does that make any rulings the current NLRB made during that time it was illegally constituted?  Common sense says those rulings should be invalidated, don’t you think?  And that’s what Cablevision is still asking.  It was one of the companies this illegally constituted board issued a ruling against:

“The role of Congress is to ensure a balanced NLRB and the Obama Administration bypassed Congress in order to stack the NLRB in favor of Big Labor. Two different federal courts — the D.C. Circuit and the Third Circuit — have established that the NLRB is illegally constituted and has no authority to take action. The NLRB continues to ignore these rulings, and we ask the Supreme Court to compel the NLRB to immediately halt its unlawful proceedings against Cablevision.”

Will anyone address this?  Will anyone actually take action to annul these rulings from an illegally constituted board? Or, as usual, will we see it ignored, the injustice shrugged off and the usual lack of accountability further enshrined in our political culture?

~McQ


Today’s GOP: Proud of going to the left of Obama with the Farm Bill

I told you a while back how I get email from politicians that I never asked for and from which I can’t opt out because they don’t give any mechanism for that. I got a real doozy yesterday.

It’s from Marlin Stutzman, Congressman from Indiana, bragging about separating the Farm Bill out from a bunch of other Ag Department stuff: 

Transparent government won an important victory today. Conservatives seized an opportunity to split the Farm Bill, a landmark reform that breaks the unholy alliance between food stamps and agriculture policy. For the first time since the 1970’s taxpayers will have an honest look at how Washington spends their money on agriculture and food stamp policy.

At first I thought that sounded pretty good. Then I read what Heritage had to say about this “landmark reform” (found via Instapundit and Megan McArdle):

Supporters of this farm-only farm bill wasted the golden opportunity that separation could have provided: the ability to promote policies that benefit taxpayers, farmers, and consumers in a fiscally responsible way. With the passage of this bill, the House has gone even further to the left than the Senate bill. It would spend more money than Obama on the largest farm program, crop insurance [emphasis mine].

On top of all this, the process House Republicans used to get this 600-plus-page bill to the floor in a mere 10 hours essentially violates their own promise to conduct business in an open and transparent manner [emphasis mine]. They prohibited legislators from introducing amendments. And, they played a game of bait and switch by claiming this bill was the same text from the failed House farm bill of a few weeks ago.

In fact, they made this new bill even worse—by making sneaky changes to the bill text so that some of the costliest and most indefensible programs no longer expire after five years, but live on indefinitely. This means the sugar program that drives up food prices will be harder to change, because it doesn’t automatically expire. It also means the new and radical shallow loss program that covers even minor losses for farmers will indefinitely be a part of the law.

Note the sleazy irony. Congressman Stutzman starts by bragging about transparency in a bill that was passed in a process that was about as transparent as toxic sludge.

This is today’s GOP – paying off their corporate cronies and bragging about how transparently they did it. 


Accountability? Not requiring it or enforcing it leads to corruption

It really is that simple. And you don’t need a PhD to figure that out. It is a “Human Nature 101″ course. If there’s no incentive for you to behave correctly and every incentive not to (i.e. no punishment), then why behave correctly?

Now, consider the government we have today and all the various scandals. Who is the last person who blatantly violated the public trust that you’ve seen frog-marched to jail? Hmmm. But it takes a bunch of academics to again remind us that human nature still rules:

In a new study, Stern School of Business assistant professor of economics Vasiliki Skreta and co-authors, Karthik Reddy of Harvard Law School and Moritz Schularick of the University of Bonn, examine statutory immunity provisions that obstruct or limit the criminal liability of politicians, and which exist throughout much of the modern democratic world.

…The researchers quantified the strength of immunity protection in 74 democracies and verified that immunity is strongly associated with corruption on an aggregate level. They also developed a theoretical model that demonstrated how stronger immunity protection can lead to higher corruption. The model suggested that unaccountable politicians under immunity protection can enhance their chance of re-election by using illegal means, namely supporting interest groups through lax law enforcement, non-collection of taxes, and other forms of favoritism that will go unpunished.

Where’s Charley Rangel? Chris Dodd? Barney Frank? Oh, enjoying retirement. Turbo Tax Tim Geithner? Well, not in jail.

And how about Lois Lerner? From what does she want immunity? Well in reality, she wants immunity from accountability.  There’s no other reason to seek immunity otherwise.

Unfortunately, she’ll probably get it and we’ll watch the level of corruption within government continue to grow, and grow and grow.

You want to know why people don’t trust government?

That’s why.

~McQ


Obama probably didn’t overtly order the IRS Tea Party targeting–and that makes it worse

Obama’s shills have settled in on a long-term talking point concerning the IRS scandal. They say something along the lines of “Obama didn’t tell the IRS to target anyone for political reasons. That’s just crazy. And, since you can’t pin anything on Obama, there’s no scandal here.”

There are two clear logical fallacies in this position.

First, it’s a strawman argument. I don’t know anyone anywhere on the political spectrum who is saying that Obama actually issued any directives to anyone to start the targeting. In one of my previous posts about it, I explicitly said

Even if Obama isn’t directly involved (and he would have to be sand-poundingly stupid to have issued actual directives that resulted in this) his rhetoric towards these groups was a contributing factor, so he bears some responsibility.

Along the same lines, one of our commenters (jpm100) wrote this morning:

…these orders didn’t necessarily have to come from the Whitehouse.  The organization is corrupted by years democratic nepotism and recent leadership influenced by Team Obama and the tone of non-accountability set by the Whitehouse.  Team Obama knew the kind of people they were appointing.  These people knew what Team Obama wants.  And they knew the worst consequence for them would be a job change to some Democrat Party position or some job with a Democrat benefactor.  So they just did it.

The Whitehouse could be involved, but other than ensuring no serious consequences after the fact, it doesn’t have to be.

These comments also point up the second logical fallacy. Big-government fanciers really don’t want to face up to the possibility that the federal government is just as out of control as those on the right have been saying for years (or decades). They would very much like to pretend that there’s no scandal here.

So they use a complete non sequitur. “Obama didn’t give the directive” –> “There’s no scandal.”

This is stupid even by standards of leftist argument. Political targeting by the IRS is a serious and scandalous problem no matter how it started.

We know the political targeting is there. The attempted leftist misdirection that it wasn’t politically motivated and that “progressive groups were targeted too” failed just as badly as the “doctored emails” Benghazi talking point.

Two senior IRS bureaucrats have now taken the 5th. The FBI is stonewalling an investigation that Congress ordered. It’s possible, or even likely, that the targeting affected the outcome of the 2012 elections.

So we have a serious, serious scandal. I said in the earlier post that

The IRS scandal is bigger than Watergate, bigger than Benghazi, bigger than Fast and Furious, bigger than Iran-Contra, bigger than Monicagate – bigger than any other scandal for the federal government in my lifetime.

The reason I believe that is what the scandal says about the federal bureaucracy. The one agency that is supposed to be scrupulously non-partisan is revealed as having chosen sides in the partisan debate.

It doesn’t matter if Obama ordered it.* All he had to to was put forth enough “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” rhetoric for the IRS bureaucracy to know they likely would not be punished by him for doing it.**

It would only take one other essential ingredient – an IRS bureaucracy sympathetic to the Obama administration and hostile to his political opponents. That’s what the scandal shows us – that the supposedly non-partisan bureaucracy, the one we all have to deal with whether we like it or not, is now a de facto arm of political leftism.

We have additional evidence for this. We know that the IRS favors Obama in political contributions:

While IRS employees generally donated to Obama by a 4-to-1 ratio, the lawyers for that particular federal agency donated to Obama by an astounding 20-to-1 ratio, according to Robert Anderson, associate professor of law at Pepperdine University School of Law.

Lawyers are relevant because they are the ones taking the lead in writing regulations, litigating cases, and making delicate legal judgment calls in borderline cases.

The result is a solvent that is eating away at our civil society. Once half the country no longer trusts the government bureaucracy to even carry out it’s most basic functions in a non-partisan way, the seeds are sown for a terrible reckoning.

That’s what makes it even worse that the targeting probably was not ordered by Obama. Assuming he didn’t overtly order it, and the IRS bureaucrats came up with it on their own, means we are getting much closer to that reckoning that we thought.

* I’m not completely dismissing the possibility that someone in the White House did start the ball rolling. Probably not Obama, though – at most his role might have been some casual musing about how those Tea Party groups were getting pretty uppity, and someone should check into them. I’d be flabbergasted if any hard evidence turned up that he directly ordered the targeting.

** There is ample evidence that the Obama administration will cover for its allies reflexively. See the Black Panther voter intimidation case for an example. 


IRS investigation still lags–I’m guessing they can’t find anyone who wants the job

Via Instapundit, I see that an attorney representing Tea Party groups says:

"I have no reason to believe there is an investigation. It appears to me the Obama administration is only talking to itself," Mitchell stated in an e-mail.

The FBI announced the supposed investigation over six weeks ago. Three weeks later, FBI Director Robert Mueller said he didn’t know who the lead investigator is or how many agents are assigned.

Unlike most of the misdirection and obfuscation in the IRS scandal, I think he was telling the truth, and I think the reason is simple: at that point, and maybe even up to now, there may not be a lead investigator.

The FBI clearly doesn’t want to do this investigation. If the IRS targeting scandal is as bad as it appears so far, the investigation is going to be long and messy, and possibly end up sending some federal bureaucrats to jail. I doubt this outcome has much appeal to other federal bureaucrats. 

I don’t know much about how the FBI operates. I don’t know how much influence investigators have over the work that is assigned to them. But if they have any influence at all, even informal influence, then it’s quite possible that assignments to the investigative team are being passed around inside the FBI like a hot potato.

Put yourself inside the head of someone at the FBI being assigned to investigate the IRS. Here are some of the thoughts I imagine you could have:

  • “If I find something really bad, the Obama administration isn’t going to like it. Or me, for bringing it out. Will they torpedo me? Will I find myself being smeared?”
  • “What if I find some real wrongdoing, and someone at the IRS decides to retaliate?”
  • “Taking down the IRS could mean the FBI is next. We’ve had our own share of messes over the years.”
  • “No matter how this thing turns out, my career is probably going to take a hit.”

Given the realities of the situation, if you worked at the FBI, would you want to be on the investigative team? And if you get stuck on it, are you more interested in getting to the bottom of the mess or mollifying the political class to minimize the impact on you personally?

The FBI has been cruising on a reputation of professionalism that I think vanished in fact long ago. From their incompetent labs to suppressing information to protect Obama, they are far more political and far less professional than they would like to pretend.

Given that problem, will the FBI be motivated and capable enough to get to the bottom of the scandal? I doubt it. Oh, we’ll have a pro-forma investigation at some point. But I’m betting we’ll find out a lot more through the lawsuits launched by Tea Party groups. We might find even more with a special prosecutor if the Democrats would allow one to be appointed, but in their own craven political interests, they probably won’t.

Somewhere on the federal side, a scapegoat will eventually be found, possibly two or three. They will be fired, and the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party will work overtime selling the “Nothing more to see, time to move along” narrative.

They have to. The left-leaning political class recognizes the possible damage if they can’t contain this scandal. It was bad enough when the media chose sides in the left-vs-right political battle. If those on the right also become convinced that the entire federal bureaucracy has similarly chosen sides, then they will likely conclude that our current political differences can’t possibly be decided through normal political means. They will feel, rightly, that the system is rigged against them.

Which would mean that they come to the same conclusion many of us came to a while back.


Conservatives ruin things, sometimes

Tonight was the big night for the big Muslim/Diversity seminar where the US Attorney for the Eastern district of Tennessee, Bill Killian, and FBI Knoxville SAC Kenneth Moore were gonna explain to us how we might be prosecuted for saying nasty things about Islam or Muslims on the interwebs.

Taking a play from the book of liberals who shout down speakers like Ann Coulter, however, some conservatives showed up and apparently ruined the event by constant heckling.

So, to all you hecklers who ruined the seminar by being disruptive: Now none of us know what Killian meant when he said Facebook postings might be criminal. We don’t know how he thought he could prosecute such postings. That would’ve been interesting to know. Now we don’t know, because you effed it up. So, the next time Coulter gets shouted down by Lefties, you can have nice big cup of STFU. You’re no better than they are.

Oh, and pro tip: When a US Attorney may be willing to go to a dark place when talking about free speech, the best thing you can do is LET HIM. If he’s gonna just hand you his own head on a plate, don’t stop him. Let him drone on about it as much as he wants, and record it. Now, he can do the whole "more in sadness than anger" shtick and whine about how he’s just a poor misunderstood boy.

Jeebus, some people on the Right are utter dolts.

~
Dale Franks
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