Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quick Hits - March 25, 2012

Former Vice President Dick Cheney received a heart transplant yesterday - after spending 20 months waiting on the transplant list.  The 71 year old has suffered from severe cardiovascular problems for several decades, including 5 heart attacks. 

Unsurprisingly, the hard left is demonstrating their 'compassion' with their commentary regarding the former VP. 

I sincerely wish the former VP a quick and full recovery.

Rick Santorum scored a decisive win in the Republican Presidential primary in Louisiana - with a very strong 22 point margin of victory over Mitt Romney (49% to 27%).  Newt Gingrich finished in third with 16% support and Ron Paul polled only 6% support.  This was the follow-up to Santorum's wins earlier in the month in Mississippi and Alabama. 

Polls going into the contest were telegraphing a Santorum win, but the margin was larger than many had expected.  As expected, Santorum considered the results another 'rebound' by his campaign - boosted by extremely strong support from the evangelicals and those who call themselves 'very conservative'.

Also unsurprisingly, the candidate also continued his caustic rhetoric regarding the frontrunner, Mitt Romney saying in a fundraising email sent out late yesterday...
“In spite of Romney heavily spending and campaigning there, the people of Louisiana saw through the lies and negative campaigning to vote for the authentic conservative,” Mr. Santorum said in the email. “The reason why our campaign is winning in state after state is because people want an authentic, strong conservative leader to take on Barack Obama and not someone who just talks a good conservative game.”
Rick Santorum is also expected to renew calls for Newt Gingrich to withdraw from the race.

The real effect of this primary on the nomination race is not as dramatic as the candidate is presenting.  Going into the race, Santorum trailed Mitt Romney by 300 delegates.  Louisiana only awarded 20 delegates on the basis of yesterday's results - with another 26 delegates to be assigned after the State GOP convention in June.  Mitt Romney remains just under the halfway point for the 1,144 needed to receive the GOP Presidential nomination.

The race is now moving to the next series of primaries on April 3rd in Wisconsin (where Romney has a double digit lead in the latest polls), Maryland, and Washington DC with 98 delegates to be awarded in these 'winner take all' states.  Rick Santorum already is unable to gain any of the DC delegates as he failed to qualify for the DC ballot.

The New York Times has an article today that highlights the 'long road' to media attention on the case involving the death of Trayvon Martin. 
It was not until mid-March, after word spread on Facebook and Twitter, that the shooting of Mr. Martin by George Zimmerman, 26, was widely reported by the national media, highlighting the complex ways that news does and does not travel in the Internet age.

That Mr. Martin’s name is known at all is a testament to his family, which hired a tenacious attorney to pursue legal action and persuade sympathetic members of the media to cover the case. Just as importantly, the family members were willing to answer the same painful questions over and over at news conferences and in TV interviews.

Notably, many of the national media figures who initially devoted time to the shooting are black, which to some is a case study in the need for diversity in newsrooms. The racial and ethnic makeup of newsrooms, where minorities tend to be underrepresented, has long been a source of tension for the news industry.
As I read this article, I noted in particular the call to address the apparent racism in the newsrooms where minorities are underrepresented...yet credit is being given by the article to national media figures who are black who were the earliest to push this case mainly at the behest of the attorney representing Mr. Martin's family.

I could wonder about the sudden concern for 'fairness' in the news industry and the call being made in the article to address those who are underrepresented in the media.   I think back to another case that developed into a media storm around racial issues in a similar manner - including the actions of the usual race baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson back in 2006.  Just as in the Duke Lacrosse case, there was a rush to try the case in the court of the media - where false claims of rape were made by a 27 year old stripper / escort who was black against 3 white members of the Duke University lacrosse team.  But for months, this was a the big story - and it's focus was on race.

Did the media learn anything from that case?

Apparently not as they continue to seek to try the Martin / Zimmerman case in the media.  At the same time they heighten racial tensions once again not only where the crime was committed - but across the country.  This is coming from the usual people who have made their careers around perpetuating racial tension.  The New Black Panther Party, for example, is now offering a $10,000 bounty on George Zimmerman - Dead or Alive.  Where is the outrage over this?  I recall the media hyperventilating when President George W. Bush said he wanted Osama Bin Laden 'dead or alive' over the 9/11 terror attack on the United States.

This is a tragic case.  A young man, Trayvon Martin was shot dead by another man named George Zimmerman.  An eyewitness says that Mr. Martin was attacking Mr. Zimmerman - having the latter on the ground and hitting him around the head.  But then, Mr. Zimmerman was in the area against the advice and recommendations of the police force - following Mr. Martin because he 'looked' suspicious.  A confrontation took place which resulted in the death of Mr. Martin at the hands of Mr. Zimmerman.  Self-defense?  Racially based execution? 

The facts are still being determined - and ultimately there will be a grand jury hearing these facts to determine if charges are warranted for the actions that resulted in the death of Mr. Martin.  Was Mr. Zimmerman directly or irresponsibly culpable in the death because he disregarded the instructions of the police to not follow or confront Mr. Martin?  Or did Mr. Martin force a situation where the armed Mr. Zimmerman felt he had no recourse except to apply deadly force?  A grand jury needs to hear the evidence and facts - and if charges are to be applied, a jury needs to determine if the results were because of a criminal act.  These are the steps that the process has to complete.

But that is not the only reflection and consideration that needs to be taken about this case.  The other one that still needs to be done is on the basis of race and racial tensions.  But not on the basis of the viewpoints of groups like the New Black Panther Party or people like Charles Blow, Al Sharpton, or Jesse Jackson to name just a few.

Powerline's Scott Johnson drives home a point that is all too forgotten in the matter of race and racial tensions in his post today titled, 'No Justice, No Agitation'...
Murder is the crime which has the greatest “clearance rate,” i.e., it is the crime most frequently resolved and prosecuted. We know a lot about the victims and perpetrators of the crime of murder.

Murder is largely an intraracial crime. Almost all murders of blacks are committed by other blacks.

Blacks as a group commit murder at a rate astronomically higher than other groups. The rate of murder committed by blacks exceeds that committed by whites by approximately seven times. See, e.g., Heather Mac Donald’s essay “Is the criminal-justice system racist?”

If race hustlers like Al Sharpton really had the interests of the black community at heart, they would devote themselves to doing everything in their power to have violent black criminals separated from the community of law-abiding black citizens. The criminals are serial tormentors of law-abiding members of the black community.

Read it all...

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of the United States will begin to hear oral arguments regarding Obamacare.  This case is getting an unprecedented three days of oral arguments - which will have the SCOTUS considering four main questions about the Obamacare legislation that was passed 2 years ago.  How it answers these questions will determine if all, some, or none of the legislation will remain in effect after the decision.
Issues the Court Will Decide:

1. The justices will decide if the Anti-Injunction Act will prohibit states and other parties from challenging the individual mandate.

2. The Court will determine if the individual mandate that requires all Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

3. The Court will decide if the mandate, if ruled unconstitutional, can be severed from the Affordable Care Act.

4. The Court will rule if Congress exceeded its enumerated powers under the Spending Clause and violated basic federalism principles by placing heavy regulations on states that receive Medicaid funding.

The first item revolves around the fact that the individual mandate, the crux legal challenges, does not take effect until 2014.  Can a lawsuit be filed against the mandate before it has taken effect and someone directly impacted by not purchasing insurance and being required to pay the penalty they are subject to under the law? 

I suspect that by agreeing to take the case now, the Court has already addressed this - but it is a legal point that they need to decide on.

The case for the individual mandate has its basis on the Commerce Clause which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.  The individual mandate is a big expansion of power - and that expansion of power by the federal government to require citizens to purchase a particular product or pay a penalty is what is driving those who argue against expanding the Commerce Clause to this level.

But there is another argument against the individual mandate that was covered in a brief filed against the individual mandate that was highlighted by columnist George Will in Friday's Washington Post.  This one addresses the challenge of the individual mandate in that the individual mandate forces a rewrite of basic contract law...
Now the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian public interest law firm, has focused on this fact: The individual mandate is incompatible with centuries of contract law. This is so because a compulsory contract is an oxymoron.

The brief, the primary authors of which are the IJ’s Elizabeth Price Foley and Steve Simpson, says that Obamacare is the first time Congress has used its power to regulate commerce to produce a law “from which there is no escape.” And “coercing commercial transactions” — compelling individuals to sign contracts with insurance companies — “is antithetical to the foundational principle of mutual assent that permeated the common law of contracts at the time of the founding and continues to do so today.”

The IJ argues: The 10th Amendment forbids Congress from exercising its commerce power to compel states to enter into contractual relations by effectively forcing states to “buy” radioactive waste. Hence “the power to regulate commerce does not include the power to compel a party to take title to goods or services against its will.” And if it is beyond Congress’s power to commandeer the states by compelling them to enter into contracts, it must likewise be beyond Congress’s power to commandeer individuals by requiring them to purchase insurance. Again, the 10th Amendment declares that any powers not given to the federal government are reserved to the states or to the people.

Furthermore, although the Constitution permits Congress to make laws “necessary and proper” for executing its enumerated powers, such as the power to regulate interstate commerce, it cannot, IJ argues, be proper to exercise that regulatory power in ways that eviscerate “the very essence of legally binding contracts.” Under Obamacare, Congress asserted the improper power to compel commercial contracts. It did so on the spurious ground that this power is necessary to solve a problem Congress created when, by forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage to individuals because of preexisting conditions, it produced the problem of “adverse selection” — people not buying insurance until they need medical care.

To me, a layman, this makes a compelling common sense argument against the individual mandate because it is a 'coercing commercial transaction'.

I hope that the SCOTUS will rule that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and unseverable from the rest of the legislation - which will strike down the entire law.  We do need reform to address the challenges we face with our health care system - but this was the wrong approach.  There are some good ideas in those 2700 pages - it would be far better to take smaller incremental steps to improve the system than this massive seizure of 1/6th of the economy by the federal government.

Speaking of massive malfeasance by the federal government - and of our state government here in California, we can turn to our major boondoggle, the California High Speed Rail project which can be seen as 'Solyndra Times Seven' with the level of federal money that will be wasted in the effort to benefit political friends - not improve conditions in California...
The bullet train’s “reasonableness of financial estimates” is questionable, beginning with the project’s revenue forecasts. The LAO noted a projection of 44 million riders a year when the L.A.-Bay Area line is complete. That’s down from the hallucinatory claim of 117 million passengers that proponents of Prop. 1A offered in 2008, but it’s still ridiculous. In reality, 44 million passengers would be 50 percent higher than the number of people Amtrak carries to and from more than 500 stations in 46 states and three Canadian provinces each year.

How was the estimate derived? Elizabeth Alexis, a Palo Alto finance expert and co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, delved into the methodology and discovered, among other things, that the rail authority assumed that the future cost of gasoline would top $40 a gallon. Alexis also noted that the public-opinion polls that bullet-train backers crafted to gauge potential passenger interest were heavily biased. For example, 96 percent of commuters surveyed were already train riders. But unlike commuters in other states, only a tiny percentage of Californians rides the train.

As I've noted - there is no viable business plan behind this project - still slated to cost at the present time nearly $120 billion dollars if we proceed down this foolhardy path. Just as the outrage seems muted about the Administration's wasteful projects to make alternative energy economically viable - there is little outrage over this partnership between the Feds and California to do it on an even more expensive scale.

Thinking about buying gold in these trying times?  Remember buyer beware.

A tungsten filled 1 kilo gold bar was found in the UK.  30-40% of the total weight of the bar consisted of tungsten rods that were inserted into the gold bar.  This is the second documented case of this happening in the last 2 years.  Is this an isolated effort or something that will become more commonplace as gold prices continue to increase?

On This Day in History

1306 - Robert the Bruce crowned King of Scotland

1634 - Lord Baltimore founded the Catholic colony of Maryland

1774 - The British Parliament passes the Boston Port Act - closing the port of Boston and demanding that the resident's of Boston pay for the tea that was dumped into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party.

1911 - The Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in NYC burns down - killing 145 workers - all women working in the sweatshop.  The majority died leaping from the factory on the 8th thru 10th floors of the building - the only working elevator broke down, stairways were blocked to prevent theft, and the fire escape unsafe.  The tragedy led to the development of a series of laws and regulations to better protect the safety of factory workers.

1957 - The Common Market is founded as France, West Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg sign a treaty establishing the European Economic Community.

1975 - Saudi Arabian King Faisal was assassinated by his nephew, Prince Faisal.

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