Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The Emotional

With the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, President Obama has reignited an old controversy over how judges should decide cases.

This debate has occupied legal theorists for two hundred years. For instance, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes thought that the law should be separate from any ethics system. He famously stated that the law should be formulated so that it points a bad man, with no sense of right or wrong, in the right direction. To arrive at that kind of decision, judges must look no further than to the facts before them in rendering decisions and not to their own worldviews or precepts for "general propositions do not decide concrete cases", as Justice Holmes said in Lochner v. New York.

On the opposite side of the spectrum was Judge Jerome Frank who unlike Holmes, believed that a judge's emotions will always influence their decisions and that it is impossible for any judge to decide a case solely on the facts. According to Frank, judges make decisions based on their personal emotive experiences, or empathy as President Obama recently put it - even when they're not aware of it. According to Frank, the worldview of each judge guides their approach to every case, but only a few have attained the enlightened state of awareness of their unawareness.

And yet, every Supreme Court Justice takes an oath promising to "administer justice without respect to persons...faithfully and impartially." Those who subscribe to the Frank school of thought would have you believe that this pledge is nothing but a naïve goal and that cases can never be decided by a truly neutral decision-maker. Aside from the depressingly fatalistic aspect to this line of thinking, it also eliminates all personal responsibility from the judges making the calls. After all, if so few of us have reached that nirvana stage of awareness of our unawareness, how can we hold judges accountable for their decisions?

The answer is that the best approach to judging lies somewhere in between these two views. While we are all influenced by our emotions and our pasts, judges put aside their personal feelings and make decisions rooted in precedent every day. While the law may change as the world around us does, surely we can all agree that there should be some fundamental principles to guide us. These principles should be rooted in our Constitution, our legal process and traditions - it is a respect for these principles that Presidents should seek in Supreme Court Justices, not a vague, subjective quality like empathy.

Originally published on the American Issues Project Blog May 26, 2009.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cap & Trade: Climate Change Solver or Economy Killer?

Originally published May 24, 2009 on the American Issues Project Blog.

Climate change solver or economy killer - these are the two sides to the debate on a cap-and-trade system. While it might be easy for many to get on board with reducing emissions, swallowing the costs of doing so is a different story.

While the latest version of the bill eliminates permit auctions and has the government handing out 2/3 of permits for free, the basic concept of the system remains unchanged. The plan is for the government to set a cap on emissions output for the country and issue permits to companies allowing them to release a certain amount of CO2.

Proponents of cap-and-trade say the system will cut emissions by 83% below 2005 levels while "keeping consumers whole". Unfortunately, the facts are not on their side.

On May 7, Douglas Elmendorf, a Director at the Congressional Budget Office, testified that a 15% cut in emissions via a cap-and-trade system would cost the average family $1,600 a year.

A study by The Heritage Foundation found that cap-and-trade would:

  • Reduce aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) by $ 550 billion in 2030;
  • Destroy 1,105,000 jobs on average, with peak years seeing unemployment rise by over 2,479,000 jobs;
  • Reduce an average household's disposable income by $879 in 2030;
  • Raise electricity rates 90 percent after adjusting for inflation;
  • Raise inflation-adjusted gasoline prices by 74 percent;
  • Raise residential natural gas prices by 55 percent;
  • Raise an average family's annual energy bill by $1,500;and
  • Increase inflation-adjusted federal debt by 26 percent, or $29,150 additional federal debt per person, again after adjusting for inflation.

Indeed, all signs point to increased taxes as a result of a cap-and-trade system for every individual and family that owns and drives a car, takes public transportation, consumes electricity or buys a product or engages in an activity that releases CO2 emissions.

Given the economic climate and the lack of a consensus on global warming, these facts should give us pause. After all, the facts indicate that cap-and-trade is just a convoluted phrase behind which lies another massive tax program - one that will affect all Americans. But, it seems that the administration's flawed reasoning that we are facing an economic downturn because we have ignored health care and environmental problems has become fully entrenched in D.C. and in the American populace. And given that the President's budget counts on incoming revenue from the sale of permits, it seems likely that some version of this bill will pass -- unless conservatives manage to pull together in a campaign to call this bill what it really is, a tax hike for all.

Morning Conservative Reading List - May 24, 2009

Originally published May 24, 2009 on the American Issues Project Blog.

Today's conservative blogs and articles from around the web.

  • Pres. Obama says we're out of money because of the economic crisis and our failure to make good decisions on health care.

Have a comment or suggestion? Post below or find me on Twitter (@despinakarras).

Morning Conservative Reading List - May 23, 2009

Originally published May 23, 2009 on the American Issues Project Blog.

Today's conservative blogs and articles from around the web.

Have a comment or suggestion? Post below or find me on Twitter (@despinakarras).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Little Sunshine After the Rain for Illinois

Originally published May 19, 2009 on the American Issues Project Blog.

"Transparent government is good government, and good government has nothing to hide from the taxpayers who fund it."

So said Joe Calomino, Illinois State Director for Americans for Prosperity, in response to the Illinois legislature passing House Bill 35 last week, also known as the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal (ITAP).

In a state plagued by endemic corruption, this little bit of sunshine is long overdue. ITAP, which is now on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn for signature, will require state agencies to maintain a central database that provides easy access to information regarding state spending, state contracts, employee salaries and tax credits.

Lawmakers hope that this measure will put a stop to wasteful spending and corrupt pay-to-play scandals.

Illinois currently faces an $11.5 billion deficit. And the cost of living in Illinois is only increasing. Individual and corporate tax rates are on the rise, and Chicago residents pay the highest sales tax in the country at 10.25%.

Illinois is widely known for its corrupt politicians and its one-party rule. Its progressive policies have created a high tax, anti-business environment. It is no surprise that a recent study by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce found that "too many state and local taxes, an anti-business image and lack of available incentives are driving businesses out of Illinois".

With this new transparency, come new responsibilities for the citizens of Illinois. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's antics recently put Illinois in the national spotlight for its inept and double-dealing leaders. If signed by Gov. Quinn, the new system is expected to be in place in less than a year. Some of the information that will be aggregated into one centralized database was already available to citizens via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests prior to ITAP being passed. However, the creation and maintenance of an electronic database will provide citizens with greater ability to sift through information and, hopefully, to hold politicians in Illinois accountable.

ITAP alone cannot make up for 10 straight years of governors accused or convicted of corruption or for the anti-growth and anti-business policies that have been put in place in Illinois. But with knowledge comes power, and the implementation of ITAP will arm concerned citizens with the facts so that they can fight out of control spending and duplicitous Illinois bureaucrats who put their interest ahead of their constituents'.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I'm back up!

After mysteriously being flagged as a 'spam blog' (what does that even mean?!), the Blogger powers that be got my blog back up and running just in time for me to not explore Wordpress as an option...

Morning Conservative Reading List - May 17, 2009

Originally published May 17, 2009 on the American Issues Project Blog.

Today's must-read blogs and articles from around the web.

  • How will the economy affect the class of '09 as they enter the workforce? Find out here.
  • Appointing Huntsman is only part of the equation according to Walter Lohman, who is taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether China's words start matching up with its actions.
  • Veronique de Rugy on the President's broken promises and failure to deliver fiscal discipline.

For comments or suggestions, please post below or find me on Twitter (@despinakarras).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Morning Conservative Reading List - May 16, 2009

Originally published on May 16, 2009 on the American Issues Project Blog at http://www.americanissuesproject.org/.

Good morning! Here are todays must-read blogs and articles from around the web.

  • Nancy Pelosi shifts her criticism from the CIA to the Bush administration.
  • George Will analyzes greed and concludes that with the help of an informed citizenry, free markets and transparency, it generates its own punishment.

Have a comment or suggestion? Post below, or you can find me on Twitter (@despinakarras).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Obama's Change of Heart

"The Obama administration's adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president's stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government."

And so went the ACLU's outraged reaction to the President's announcement that he has decided to reverse course and fight the release of pictures depicting the abuse of detainees. What struck me as interesting is the fact that the administration had no problems releasing Office of Legal Counsel memos detailing the interrogation methods employed during the previous administration, but it drew the line at this group of pictures.

In his statement on the subject yesterday, President Obama identified the pictures as "associated with closed investigations of the alleged abuse of detainees in our ongoing war effort." In other words, he was quick to point out that these pictures are different than what was disclosed in the memos in that the behavior exhibited in these pictures is now being investigated as being improper. But then he went on to say that the photos "are not particularly sensational".

It's a big jump from 'these photos depict alleged abuses' to 'they're not that sensational'. Obama then proceeded to inform us that the pictures do not conform to the Army Field Manual's standards. Is this because of the abuse or because the behavior depicted was acceptable under Bush but not Obama? If the latter is the case, one would think that President Obama would be as quick to release these photos as he was the memos in an effort to distance himself from the former President and what was acceptable during his term.

Also, if the pictures would put our troops and people in great danger, why was the administration scheduled to release the pictures up until yesterday? Just a few weeks ago on April 23rd, the Justice Department wrote a letter to Judge Allen K. Hellerstein, the judge in the Southern District of NY handling the case, explaining their intention to fully cooperate with the previous judgment in the case and release the pictures by May 28th.

What explains the change of heart? And, why release the memos but not the pictures? Last month, we were told that the administration had resigned itself to releasing the pictures because it did not believe the Supreme Court would hear the case and reverse the appellate court's judgment. Nothing other than the administration's position has changed since then. As a matter of fact, the new grounds that the administration intends to argue to keep the pictures from the public won't work for a number of reasons, as Politico reports. First, the administration will not be allowed to present new arguments on national security grounds as Robert Gibbs suggested because only matters of law may be brought up on appeal, not matters of fact or new arguments. Second, according to an ACLU lawyer, the Bush administration already made the national security arguments that Gibbs referred to.

Finally, as Andrew C. McCarthy of National Review points out, Pres. Obama could have kept these pictures out of the limelight by either issuing an executive order or having Congress pass a statute to that effect, rather than proceeding with the matter through the legal process where there are no guarantees. And if Obama has been forthcoming about his reason for choosing not to release the pictures, namely because they would put our people in even more danger than they already face, then why wouldn't he exercise one of these options and put an end to this issue?

One possibility for why the President chose to reverse course and keep these pictures hidden may be because of the power of these images - particularly given this administration's focus on remaking the White House brand. In order for the President to reconcile releasing the memos but not the pictures, he had to make the case for why the pictures are different. The President failed in reconciling his actions. By doing so, he earned the displeasure of his supporters on the left and also left his more skeptical constituents once against wondering what his true intentions are and whether this was just another distraction since it is more likely than not that the appellate court's decision will ultimately be upheld and the pictures released in time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yours truly on the Ed Morrissey show

Ed Morrissey of Hot Air graciously invited me on his radio show today to discuss the American Issues Project and my newest blog post on yesterday's healthcare announcement. I'm a novice in the political blogosphere, but Ed kindly walked me first my such appearance! I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation which you can find here -- thanks Ed!

Healthcare companies to cut costs: what's in it for them?

"An unrivaled set of abstractions and posturing," is how a Boston University Professor of Health Policy described the announcement that health companies (insurers, providers and drug companies) have promised to enact $2 trillion in cost-cutting measures over the next 10 years.

This ceremonial commitment came on the heels of Democrat's revealing their willingness to use reconciliation to push universal healthcare legislation through soon. While the announcement was a nice gesture, it left many of us wondering, where's the beef? First, with no enforcement mechanism, the government cannot force the companies to follow through on their promises. And secondly, if realized, these savings wouldn't benefit the government alone, but would also accrue to the consumers of health services. In other words, the money saved won't be put in a big pot that the government can reach into to fund their healthcare initiatives.

So what did this announcement really mean? For example, might the President be willing to explore reforming healthcare without instituting socialized healthcare? That seems unlikely. The more likely explanation is that up until now, the major road block to providing a public, government-run health insurance has been finding a way to pay the ever increasing bill for such a Medicare-style entitlement, and the President believes that "lowering the costs of health care will complement the overall reform of the health-care system" that Congress is getting ready to take up soon.

What about the insurance companies? Why would they be willing to get on board with an administration and Congress that is set to pass legislation that could devastate, if not eliminate, their industry? The New York News Blog provides a rundown of opinions on this issue that range from believing that this group has accepted what's coming down the pipeline and is now ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with this administration to suspecting that the industry hopes that universal healthcare will "give them a huge revenue boost in the short term - and then every lobbyist ... will fight those spending reductions over the long term".

Some examples of the cost-cutting measures offered up include making payment systems more effective, reducing administrative costs and improving technology. However, similar efforts have failed in the past, and experts say it will be difficult to squeeze that kind of savings out of these kinds of proposals.

So, the question remains, did these health companies come to the table because they wanted to be players that would help reshape healthcare as we've known it? One person suggested they wanted a seat at the table so as to avoid being on the menu. Yesterday's announcement may have been long on admirable goals and short on the details as to how we get there, but one thing is for sure: this administration and Congress is intent on passing healthcare reform and soon. Yesterday's announcement may have been unclear and may not have seemed like the game changer we expected on the surface, but with even the health companies seeming to accept government-run healthcare as inevitable, it was the first symbolic step toward socializing healthcare in America.

This was originally published on http://www.americanissuesproject.org/ on May 12, 2009.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Now is not the time to play hardball with America, Mr. Zardari.

Bloomberg reports that the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, said his country "doesn't have to disclose the location of its weapons to the U.S.." This is in response to a U.S. inquiry as to the location of the weapons for strategic reasons, namely for their and our security and in an effort to keep them out of the wrong hands, i.e. al qaeda.

On the issue of non-military aid, Zardari complains that the $1.5 billion a year in non-military aid (for 5 years) that the U.S. has offered to help Pakistan is not enough. The U.S. offer comes as part of the administration's plan to make extremism a less desirable option to Pakistanis. Said Zardari, "this aid package is not even one-tenth of what you give AIG." And on the conditions in the legislation passed by the House in exchange for giving, not lending Pakistan this money, Zardari likened this to "doubting an ally".

This sounds just a little pushy for the leader of a country where the Taliban recently made its way to within one hour of the capital, Islamabad. Mr. Zardari may have been democratically elected, but his approval ratings are dismal, and Pakistan's government has yet to become stabilized. There is even talk of the U.S. backing Nawaz Sharif, a former political opponent of Mr. Zardari who is viewed by some as being too close to extreme Islamists to lead Pakistan. Bringing stability to Pakistan is critical, but Mr. Zardari would be smart to cooperate with the U.S. and avoid playing hardball at a time when his country needs us both for their economic development and more imporantly, to lend in a hand in keeping them safe.

Congress Should Tread Lightly in Implementing Credit Card Reform

This was originally published on May 10, 2009 the American Issues Project Blog at www.americanissuesproject.org.

Yesterday, President Obama urged Congress to pass credit-card reform legislation by Memorial Day. In his weekly address, he stated, "There is no time for delay...We need a durable and successful flow of credit in our economy, but we can't tolerate profits that depend upon misleading working families."

The House passed the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights back in April. Under the legislation:

"Card companies will no longer be able to retroactively raise the interest rate on existing balances--except under limited circumstances, such as a 30-day delinquency. When the credit card companies do increase an interest rate, they will be required to give customers 45 days' notice. In addition, interest may only be tallied on balances in the current billing cycle, statements will be mailed earlier in the billing cycle, payments will always be allocated to the portion of the balance with the highest interest rate, and hefty fees for over-limit transactions will be banned unless cardholders explicitly permit it ahead of time."

The bill is now back in the Senate's hands where it awaits action, and the President intends to campaign for the reform at a townhall forum in New Mexico this week.

Our current crisis is a crisis of confidence by both consumers and lenders. When regulating the extension of credit, our Congress must be mindful of the potential unintended consequences that could result from this kind of reform. This administration has gone to great lengths to get credit flowing and to encourage consumer spending. Regulating the credit card industry could very easily result in a drawing down of credit lines -- negatively impacting consumer spending despite its good intentions. Erecting obstacles to the extension of credit is no way to get yourself out of a credit crunch.

Morning Conservative Reading List - May 10, 2009

This was originally published on May 10, 2009 on the American Issues Project Blog at www.americanissuesproject.org.

Good morning, and happy mother's day to all! Here are today's conservative articles and blog posts from around the web.

  • Moira Herbst of BusinessWeek offers input on signs that could indicate an economic recovery has begun.
  • Steven Malanga of the City Journal looks back in time to how a century of efforts to expand home ownership produced one disaster after another.
  • Out with the old, in with the new? George Will wonders whether this is happening to capitalism as we know it today.

Have an idea for tomorrow's list? Send it to me via Twitter @despinakarras or post a comment below.

Morning Conservative Reading List - May 9, 2009

This was originally published on May 9, 2009 on the American Issues Project Blog, www.americanissuesproject.org.

Good morning AIP readers! Starting today, I will be bringing you your weekend must-read list. Here are today's conservative articles and blog posts from around the web.

  • Kevin Hall explains why this week's better than expected unemployment numbers may have been misleading.
  • The WSJ calculates that this week's budget cuts will save less than 1 penny of every dollar spent by Uncle Sam.
  • David Freddoso explores the consequences of saving newspapers by making them non-profits.
  • Bloomberg reports on three influential Obama supporters now fighting against card check legislation.
  • After facing heat from the administration, the Chyrsler holdout group disbands.

Have an idea for tomorrow's list? Send it to me via Twitter @despinakarras or post a comment below!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Chrysler Holdouts: Setting The Record Straight

Last week, when President Obama announced Chrysler’s impending bankruptcy, he lambasted “a group of investment firms and hedge funds that held out” by refusing to go along with the government’s proposal. The President could not have been clearer about his ire toward the group, stating that he “did not stand with them”.

Who are these holdouts? Well, by the time a bankruptcy judge ordered the disclosure of their identities this week, the list had shrunk to just five investment firms.

The revealing of the group’s identities still leaves many of us troubled by the fact that last week, we witnessed the executive branch use their bully pulpit to castigate a group of investors that refused to submit to the administration’s plans for them.

These investors represented none other than pension funds of all kinds of workers, teachers unions' funds, mutual funds and endowments among others. In other words, the investors represented millions of Americans who have worked hard, played by the rules and invested their money for retirement.

To put it simply, the investors ‘held out’ because the proposed deal was not good enough for them. They held secured bonds in Chrysler which is a fancy way of saying they lent money to Chrysler under the agreement that if Chrysler entered bankruptcy, those lenders would be the first in line to be repaid from any funds available.

During the negotiations, the government offered them 29 cents for each dollar they were owed. In total, the government asked the 46 lenders, who were owed $6.9 billion in secured debt, to accept $2 billion and wipe out the remaining $4.9 billion owed to them.

In the same deal, the government offered the United Auto Workers (UAW), an unsecured lender, 50 cents on the dollar and a 55% stake in Chrysler.

Unhappy with the proposal, some investors rejected the government’s offer. Understandably, they rejected a proposal that would have sent them to the back of the line behind the UAW, despite their contractual agreement to the contrary. Also, as the keepers of other people’s money, investors have an obligation to act in the best interest of the parties they represent – in other words, to get the best deal for their clients. In legal terms, the investors have a fiduciary duty to act with the highest standard of care to minimize losses to their clients.

So there you have it. During this time of financial uncertainty when we have all watched our investments dwindling, this group of investors, knowing that they could certainly do no worse in bankruptcy, stood up for their clients and said no to the government. And for that, the President himself vilified them. Not surprisingly, he was able to do so without much of a backlash given the anti-Wall Street mood that has become so popular recently. And despite the rhetoric and emphasis on these supposedly greedy investors, in reality, the people who stood to lose the most are people like you and me.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My new post on Breaking Down Card Check

At the American Issues Project, here.

Reposted below...

With democrats quickly approaching that magic number 60 in the Senate, there’s been lots of talk about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) or card check, particularly surrounding whether Sen. Specter will make good on his previous statements and vote against it. If passed, the EFCA would (1) eliminate the secret ballot, (2) give the government power to manage the relationship between unions and employers, and (3) increase membership in unions at the risk of increasing job losses in the US. Card check would have a profound effect on businesses in the US, so it’s important to understand it and its potential consequences.

Under the current system, there are two steps to forming a union: a petition process and a secret election. The petition phase requires 30% of employees to publicly sign a petition card in favor of unionizing. The cards are submitted to the National Labor Relations Board for review and approval, and upon approval, a secret election is scheduled. The employees vote privately, and if over 50% vote ‘yes’ to form a union, a union is formed. The two-step system operates under the assumption that voting privately allows employees to vote without facing pressure from co-workers or employers to vote a certain way.

If passed, the Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate the secret election if over 50% of employees sign the public petition cards. In other words, the petition would hold the same weight as the ‘yes’ votes if a secret election were to be held. So, the EFCA legislation essentially turns the secret election into a public one.

Card check opponents point out that employees might vote ‘no’ in private but may be less courageous if pressured in public. In fact, union organizers are aware of this trend, and accordingly, they delay calling for elections until they have 60% to 75% support for unionizing.

In addition to eliminating the right to secret ballots, the EFCA legislation would place a great deal of power in the hands of federal arbitrators. If unions and employers cannot reach agreement as to wages, benefits, etc., within 120 days of the vote, a federal arbitrator decides for them and binds both parties to those decisions for two years. This gives government great authority to step in and take on a managing role in business.

Finally, given the economic climate we face, an increase in union membership will certainly be at the cost of losing jobs. One study puts the potential job losses for 2010 alone at 600,000.

What is the intention behind eliminating the secret ballot -- if not to put pressure on employees to unionize? After all, secret ballots are a basic political right in America, and the burden lies with card check supporters to provide a convincing argument as to why that presumption should be overturned. They have yet to do that.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Who I am and what this blog is all about...

I’m a 28 year old politicophile (I like to make everything sound Greek), all around political/news junkie, aspiring political writer, first-generation Greek and a (recovering) lawyer. When I’m not begrudgingly practicing law (hopefully my clients won’t find this blog?), I spend my time writing for the Sam Adams Alliance, the Lucy Burns Institute and starting soon, the American Issues Project’s blog which I’m very excited to join.

I’m a researcher and perfectionist by nature, and I’ve spent the last couple years shocked at how much bad information is out there and how misinformed people are. When I worked on my first political campaign, our campaign manager sat us down at a strategy session to drive it into our heads that we (our team) were not normal…because as you might imagine, people who VOLUNTEER to work night and day on campaigns are extreeeemly passionate about politics. He went on to say that most people watch a few minutes of their local news a day and get all the political information they need there to form their political opinions. That.is.sad. No doubt about it. Whose fault is it that people are not informed? That’s a whole other story…the days of the citizen-politician are looooong gone. Everyone’s at fault. People are at fault for not educating themselves. But I believe the story is deeper than that. People are FRUSTRATED by their politicians. They feel disconnected. They are jaded by corruption which we now assume just comes along with the territory. And the politicians, well, it’s not necessarily in their interest to have an informed constituency, is it?

These are the kinds of question I hope to explore on this blog along with commentary on the big news of the day. All (civil and respectful) comments are welcome.