Monday, March 30, 2009

Pushing the Agenda

In the classic movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart plays the naive Jefferson Smith, who is appointed a U.S. Senator. Lacking any political experience, he goes to Washington and is rudely confronted by machine politics and a culture of corruption, with other senators, including one of Smith's heroes, passing legislation to pay off their backers.

Here in Michigan, we are either accustomed to this culture or worn down by its relentlessness or simply unable to keep up with it all. As a public service, therefore, let's look at one state representative pushing the agenda for those who are responsible for her election, rather than looking out for the people of her district and the state.

Shanelle Jackson is the representative for the 9th District in northwest Detroit. This is the district in which I grew up. On March 26, Jackson introduced House Bill 4712, which amends the school code by imposing a new requirement if a school is not meeting expectations:

If the school is an elementary school, the superintendent of public instruction shall issue an order requiring that the maximum class size in the school for grades K to 3 shall not exceed 17 pupils per classroom.

There it is -- the payoff to the teacher unions, who advocate for smaller class size so that districts will be forced to hire more unionized teachers. This has nothing to do with student performance, since numerous studies (and just about every Catholic school) have debunked the notion that smaller class size is necessary for improved academic performance.

There are other examples of this agenda-pushing in Jackson's recent history. She has sponsored bills to revise the Cobo regional facility along the lines of Monica Conyers' desires (HB 4602) and to reestablish Recorder's Court in Detroit (HB 4140). The latter bill addresses a longstanding sore point with the judicial revisions accomplished during Governor Engler's tenure and is little more than a paean to the criminal defense bar and liberal judicial interests.

Fortunately, Rep. Jackson is not a complete lost cause. During the 2007-2008 session, she and eight other representatives sponsored HB 4762, that would have required first class school districts to "provide pupils with a moment of silence, not to exceed 5 minutes, at the beginning of each school day to allow time for optional meditation before instruction begins." While Detroit is (I think) the only "first class school district" (more than 100,000 students) in Michigan, and I can't think of a reason why a moment of silence would not be good for all school districts, at least that bill would have been a start. A start, that is, until the rest of Jackson's constituents challenged the law as unconstitutional.

Jefferson Smith prevailed when he single-handedly filibustered the corrupt legislative centerpiece his opponents were pushing. We don't have that same opportunity, since liberals push their agenda continuously, on all fronts. We must remain vigilant and energetic if we are going to preserve our liberty and stop the continuing encroachment of big government.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Grab the Napkins, Honey, We're Heading to the Ballpark!

In the midst of all the dreary news emanating from the One's administration and his confederacy of dunces -- oops, I mean team of rivals -- there is good news today! According to the Associated Press:

The West Michigan Whitecaps, a minor league baseball team, will be offering up major league cholesterol, carbohydrates and calories in an enormous hamburger being added to the menu this year at the Fifth Third Ballpark. The 4-pound, $20 burger features five beef patties, five slices of cheese, nearly a cup of chili and liberal doses of salsa and corn chips, all on an 8-inch sesame-seed bun. That's a lot of dough!

This work of art weighs in at a trim 4,800 calories.

I know what you're thinking -- "Finally, I can get a 4-pound burger at a ballgame! Oh, and a Diet Coke, please!"

For you skeptics and communists out there, apparently the friendly concessionaires will provide a pizza cutter so you can share your culinary investment with your friends. (Do you have that many friends?)

I might ask them to hold the corn chips and salsa -- that seems like overkill.

See you at the ballpark -- I'll bring the drop cloth!

This is the burger. That is not me.

We Might Be Gonna Miss Him


George Kell.

For 39 years, he called Tiger baseball, most memorably the last 20 with Al Kaline. Two Hall of Famers, thoroughly schooled in the game, and terrifically nice guys. Even when the Tigers lost, it was reassuring to hear George's voice and familiar, soothing twang.

Detroit sports has and has had its share of tremendous announcers in my lifetime. Van Patrick for the Lions, George Blaha for the Pistons, Bruce Martyn and Sid Abel for the Red Wings (I include Mickey Redmond in there, too), but none compares to the Tiger greats -- Ernie Harwell, Paul Carey, Al Kaline, and George Kell. Perhaps it's the fact that the Tigers broadcast twice as many games as the Pistons or Wings, or the fact that baseball is the greatest sport ever contrived by man, but for me the Tigers' announcers stand apart from the others.

I have such indelible memories of Tiger baseball, bound up in the images and sounds created by the announcers. My grandfather, always smoking his cigars, with his transistor ear plug planted firmly in his ear so he could listen to the game while he watched something else on television. My grandmother, whom I took to a game every year at Tiger Stadium, who absolutely delighted in seeing the games in person. My mother, who was as rabid a fan as I've ever known, who, along with my father, taught -- no, trained -- me to never, ever leave a game before the last out, a lesson I have now passed on -- no, imposed -- on my son.

Through it all, Ernie, Paul, George, and Al were constants. As much as I loved listening to Ernie, Paul, and Al, though, George Kell was my favorite. He played my favorite position, third base, was a 10-time all star, was a great hitter and a great fielder, and he never had a cross word. In fact, the words he did speak were legendary.

George had such a great twang, his simplest statements were poetry. Things like, "Back to you, Eli (pronounced Ee-lah)," "he might be gonna make a pitching change," and "you are so right, Al (pronounced "you are so rahht, Al") were so real, so human, so right for baseball, that you thought, "This is what a baseball announcer is supposed to sound like."

George's twang was a source of amusement of course, as we often joked about his pronunciation -- "Joe-ah-kwin Ann-doo-jar" for Joaquin Andujar -- and I think he was aware of it to some extent, since he often spelled the names of the players, perhaps a habit from his radio days, but a courtesy nonetheless.

I enjoy most baseball announcers, but George and Ernie represent the end of an era. Two southern boys who wound up in Detroit, in the booth, and in the Hall of Fame.

George Kell. I might be gonna miss him.

Rest in Peace, George. You were a dandy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yeah! And Where Are My Lottery Winnings?

Just when you thought every ridiculous lawsuit had already been filed, along comes Luther D. McCaskill with his attorney, Tracie Gittleman.

Apparently, McCaskill came unglued when he learned that his children had not been selected in the lottery used to select the incoming 2009-10 kindergarten class at Highmeadow Common Campus Elementary School in the Farmington Public Schools. His claim, according to the Detroit News, is that the ballots were never shaken (or stirred, presumably), and that all selections were made "off the top" without reaching into the middle or the bottom.

McCaskill and Gittleman want the Oakland County Circuit Court to issue an injunction voiding the previous lottery and requiring the school district to have a do-over.

Let's all applaud this noble effort and ponder the lessons Mr. McCaskill and his lawyer are teaching the McCaskill children:

1. Never accept any decision you don't like.

2. If you lose at a random drawing or a competition, it's not chance -- the fix was in!

3. If you experience adversity, don't try to make the best of things.

4. Always make sure your first resort is a lawsuit! (Okay, as a lawyer, I actually sort of agree with this one).

I once represented a couple that tried to raffle their house. The tickets clearly said, "X tickets must be sold or there will be no raffle" or words to that effect. Well, X tickets were not sold, so they refunded everyone's money. One ticket buyer didn't want his money back, however; he wanted the house. So he sued, asking the court to require the couple to have the raffle, even if his was the only ticket in it.

The court rightly threw that guy out on his ear, which is exactly what should happen with McCaskill. As for Ms. Gittleman, she should spend some time learning why attorneys are referred to as "counselors."

And oh yeah, I want the last lottery drawing done over!

Holy Cow, Laurence Tribe Agrees With Me!

I wrote last week about the AIG bonus mess, opining, "Any attempt now to write a law that attacks these specific bonuses will likely be challenged on the grounds that it violated the Constitution's prohibition on bills of attainder."

Today, Hah-vard's Laurence Tribe, the standard bearer for all things liberal in the law, has apparently come to the same conclusion:

Tribe had previously said that he thought the measure — which would slap a 90% tax on bonuses for executives whose family incomes exceed $250,000 — would pass constitutional muster. But now, after taking a closer look, he’s not so sure.

Tribe says the problem with the bill is that the Constitution forbids Congress from enacting a “bill of attainder,” which would essentially “legislate punishment of an identifiable class,” as he put it. Tribe noted that the Supreme Court had used that clause to slap down other laws.

Tribe says the main problem is that it’s hard to make the case that the law isn’t “punitive.”
“Its punitive intent is increasingly transparent,” Tribe says. “when you have Chuck Grassley calling on [executives] to commit suicide, and people responding to pitch fork sentiment, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t an attempt to punish an identifiable set of individuals who are the subject of understandable outrage.”

The whole point of opposing bills of attainder, Tribe says, is to prevent what some have called “trial by legislature.” Tribe concludes: “That’s the primary vulnerability.”

Thank you, Professor Tribe. Frankly, I'm feeling a little faint right now, but I appreciate the fact that you have accidentally careened into the right conclusion. Let's do this again sometime.

Why Judges Matter, Part 1

Many people are aware when the U.S. Supreme Court issues a landmark opinion. Think Roe v Wade or Brown v Board of Education. These decisions are of transcending importance to our national fabric.

What most people are not aware of are the thousands of decisions made every day by lower courts. These decisions have a profound impact on our courts, our businesses, our institutions, and our own responsibility and accountability. These decisions magnify the critical nature of selecting judges to sit on the bench. One such case was recently decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which covers Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.

In Gass v Marriott Hotel Services, the Sixth Circuit reinstated a lawsuit filed by two women against Marriott and an exterminating company, in which the women claimed that they were injured by pesticides sprayed in their Maui hotel room after they complained about seeing a dead cockroach.

This case is especially troubling because of the following:
  • The two plaintiffs did not seek treatment from a physician specializing in environmental medicine until a month and a half after they returned to Michigan from Hawaii (they did see a general practitioner -- the husband of one of the plaintiffs -- when they got home);

  • The specialist tested the plaintiffs for -- but could not find -- any detectable levels of the chemical compounds found in the pesticide used, and he did not test for any others;

  • An expert toxicologist testified that there has never been any peer review study linking the one pesticide admittedly used to any toxic effect in humans;

  • A renowned clinical psychiatrist testified that the physical symptoms of the two plaintiffs were likely a psychological reaction to stress, and that the plaintiffs had "demonstrated a tendency to react to stress in the past with physical symptoms";

  • There was no evidence that any of the pesticides that potentially could have caused the plaintiffs' problems were used in the hotel room;

  • There was no evidence that the pesticide admittedly used in the hotel room was used in sufficient quantity to cause any problems, nor was there any evidence about the length or intensity of the plaintiffs' exposure, the ventilation, etc., all factors that bear on whether the defendants caused the plaintiffs' alleged injuries.

Thus, there was no evidence that the plaintiffs were actually exposed to any harmful chemicals or that the exposure was at a level that is harmful. As a result, there is no way the plaintiffs could establish that exposure to a chemical actually caused them any harm. Nevertheless, in a 2-1 decision, the Sixth Circuit found there was enough to send the case to trial.

Of course, this result was a foregone conclusion. The majority consisted of Judges Eric Clay and Karen Nelson Moore, both appointed by Bill Clinton, while the dissenter, Chief Judge Danny Boggs, was appointed by President Reagan.

This case and others like it weaken evidentiary requirements, making it easier to file and pursue marginal, even frivolous, lawsuits. This increases the expense of doing business, will drive up insurance costs and prices, and further burden our courts while making it more difficult to get rid of groundless claims.

This is nothing new, of course -- read The Litigation Explosion or anything else by Walter Olson. It illustrates, however, the continuing crisis in our courts, driven by the tension between the rule of law and the political desire to bend (or ignore) the rules to promote a social agenda.

Just another reason why judges -- and votes -- matter.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lt. Gov. Cherry -- You're Kidding, Right?

Somehow, somebody somewhere put me on a list to get emails from the Democrats. They are a joy. Consider this one I got today from something called "People for Cherry":

Today, a group of municipal officials became the latest to join "A Whole Lot of People Supporting John Cherry."

"Local elected officials know that we need to make changes in how we operate here in Michigan," Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes said. "Cherry is the most appropriate individual to institute those changes and make them work.

"As a retired teacher, I have been impressed by John Cherry's focus on improving education," said Berkley Mayor Marilyn Stephan. "He has made a difference by helping to increase our number of college graduates."

I love the comment that "we need to make changes in how we operate here in Michigan" and that Cherry is "the most appropriate individual to institute those changes and make them work."

What? You're kidding, right?

Exactly what has our bold Lt. Guv been doing for the past seven years? Oh yeah -- NOTHING! And what changes need to be made? Not specified.

And why haven't these necessary changes been made over the last seven years? Good question.

These empty endorsements are so meaningless they're laughable. Unspecified changes. Increasing numbers of college graduates who promptly leave the state. Higher taxes, bigger deficits, dumber policies.

Remember the days when, if you called something "cherry" it was cool?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AIG Bonuses Expose Hypocrisy and Incompetence All Around

The news, the blogs, and the nation's water coolers are abuzz with outrage over the AIG bonus payments -- $165 million to various executives -- after AIG took about $180 billion in government bailout money.

I have mixed feelings about this. We certainly should not reward incompetence, but as someone who would like a million dollar bonus one day, I don't think we should discourage dreaming either!

As is usually the case with issues of this sort, the outrage exploded before the facts were known or contemplated (not that facts make much difference in Washington). Consider:

1. The AIG bonuses represent less than 1/1000 of the bailout money, or less than 0.10 percent. During the presidential debates, the One dismissed McCain's concerns about earmarks because, the One claimed, they involved less than 0.5 percent of the federal budget. Even at 0.5 percent, the earmarks compared to the budget are more than 5 times the relative size of the bonuses compared to the bailout. As a percentage of the federal budget, the bonuses are less than 0.005 percent, or about 100 times smaller than the earmarks the One felt were not really a problem. So, it can't be the money itself that has everyone outraged.

2. Perhaps it is the perception of greed that has everyone upset. What has been lost, however, is a fact revealed today by the New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in a letter to Barney Frank -- the AIG executives who got the bonuses did so pursuant to renegotiated contracts in which they agreed to take the grand sum of $1.00 -- that's one dollar -- in salary for 2009, provided they got their 2008 bonuses. That surely makes things sound a little less greedy. You don't see the One, Frank, Dodd, Reid, or Pelosi agreeing to work for $1.00.

3. You want to talk incompetence? Also revealed in Cuomo's letter is the fact that while AIG agreed with Cuomo that it would not pay bonuses out of its Financial Products deferred compensation plan (and it honored that agreement), the brilliant attorneys in the New York AG's office neglected to obtain the same agreement regarding the Financial Products retention plan from which the bonuses -- which were retention bonuses! -- were paid. If you lock up the savings account, you'd better make sure the checking account is covered; if you don't, you can hardly blame AIG for writing checks.

4. Ah, but you say AIG has broken the law because the $787 billion stimulus plan puts limits on executive compensation, right? Well, sort of. There are limits, but they do not apply to the AIG bonuses. Why not? Because of a little provision inserted by Democrats (remember, Republicans had nothing to do with writing this thing) in the next-to-last section of the bill, specifically section 7001(b)(3)(D)(iii), which says:

The prohibition required under clause (i) shall not be construed to prohibit any bonus payment required to be paid pursuant to a written employment contract executed on or before February 11, 2009, as such valid employment contracts are determined by the Secretary or the designee of the Secretary.

Since the AIG contracts were signed before February 11, the limits in the stimulus don't apply.

5. So we should change the law, right? Here comes the hypocrisy, by the bushel. The Enchanted Mitten's own Gary Peters has introduced a bill that he claims will effectively tax the bonuses at 100 percent. Who voted for the bill with its carve out for pre-February 11 bonus agreements? Gary Peters. Chris Dodd called the bonuses an "outrageous example" of executives "enriching themselves at the expense of taxpayers.” Yet it apparently was Dodd himself who inserted the pre-February 11 bonus language and, of course, championed the bill. Any attempt now to write a law that attacks these specific bonuses will likely be challenged on the grounds that it violated the Constitution's prohibition on bills of attainder.

6. What about the renegotiated contracts between the UAW and GM? Why shouldn't AIG executives be held to the same standard? They are! They renegotiated their contracts to take their salaries down to $1.00, which in many cases means a 50 percent cut in compensation. Sure the numbers are much larger than auto worker wages, but don't tell me they didn't negotiate.

I am not saying I approve of the AIG bonuses. Frankly, I haven't decided how I feel about them. But we should be able to discuss them without all of the misinformation and hypocrisy flying around.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Living (and Suing) on a Prayer

The penultimate sentence in one of my recent posts was "Never underestimate the creativity of a plaintiff's lawyer and a desperate debtor." As if on cue, enter the City of Detroit's former mayor and leading debtor, Kwame Kilpatrick, and his attorney, Florida's well-known Willie Gary. [If you've been preoccupied during the last several years, there's a timeline of Kilpatrick's scandals here.]

On March 10, in a Mississippi circuit court, Gary and Kilpatrick sued SkyTel, reportedly for the nice round sum of $100 million, for allegedly violating the federal Electronic Stored Communications Act. The gist of the lawsuit, which can be viewed here, is that by releasing text messages between Kilpatrick and others, principally his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, SkyTel invaded Kilpatrick's privacy and violated federal law.

Willie Gary has a record of getting big verdicts, but this lawsuit is ridiculous. Under the Detroit policy in effect at the time the text messages were sent -- a policy implemented by Kilpatrick himself -- any messages sent over city-owned phones/pagers/messaging devices are expressly not private and the property of the city.

These are standard provisions in the electronic media policies of any public institution or private corporation (at least those who have the foresight to retain The Wiz).

Here's the importance of that policy for Kwame's lawsuit: if the texts belong to the city, only the city can sue for their release (if such a lawsuit is even possible). And, since the city's policy stated that users of city-owned devices had no expectation of privacy in the emails or texts sent using those devices, I don't think Kilpatrick can even claim he is entitled to assert the city's rights or that he has derivative rights based on the city's contract with SkyTel.

These are theoretical questions, for the most part, because Kilpatrick's lawsuit does not assert that his rights are derivative in any way. The theory of the lawsuit is capsulized in paragraph 10 of the complaint, which alleges:

As part of its contract obligations, and because the pagers were for use both in pursuit of business for the City and for employees’ personal use, SkyTel had a duty to protect the privacy rights of these employees of the City. Defendant SkyTel carried or maintained the contents of the wire or electronic communications on behalf of, and received by means of electronic transmission from (or created by means of computer processing of communications received by means of electronic transmission from), subscribers or customers of such service solely for the purpose of providing storage or computer processing services to such subscribers or customers.

So, the theory goes, because the city allowed the pagers to be used for personal business, SkyTel is required to protect each user's private text messages, regardless of the facts that (1) SkyTel's contract is with the city, not with the individual users; and (2) Kwame's own policy contradicts his lawsuit.

The Kwame/Gary theory also directly contradicts other allegations in the lawsuit, e.g., the allegation in paragraph 35 that "SkyTel is not authorized to access the contents of any such communications for the purposes of providing any services other than storage or computer processing." If SkyTel cannot access the contents, how can it distinguish between public and private messages for the purpose of responding to subpoenas as authorized by federal law?

Moreover, there is no allegation that SkyTel ever did "access the contents" of the texts at issue. It is surely possible to respond to a subpoena for all messages between Christine Beatty and Kwame Kilpatrick without reading them.

Kilpatrick has been extraordinarily lucky during his public life. Twice elected mayor, he dodged numerous scandals and controversies until being tripped up by his own indiscretions and text messages. Even then, he was able to cut a good deal with the prosecutor and had a job waiting for him in Texas when he got out of jail. Will his luck continue to run with this lawsuit? I don't think so.

Predicting litigation results is risky. Ask Sharon McPhail, who predicted that Kilpatrick would not be charged with a crime in the text message scandal. This lawsuit against SkyTel looks like a last second Hail Mary pass, but if you've been living on a prayer, why not sue on one?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

First, Do No Harm -- Revisited

Last month, I posted on some of the problems with the foreclosure moratorium legislation pending in the Michigan House. The House has now passed this bill, so I thought it would be timely to re-post my comments on this poorly conceived law. We should note that the bill passed the House 73-34, reportedly on a mostly party line vote.
Liberals just don't get it.

When government does something, it has an impact. Tax something? You get less of it. Subsidize X? You get more of it. Similarly, when government imposes additional costs on an economic activity, the activity dries up or becomes more expensive.

Such is the case with the state legislature here in the Enchanted Mitten. As reported in today's Macomb Daily, House Democrats are drafting a bill that would impose a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures:

"The state legislation would provide a 90-day redemption period for those facing imminent foreclosure. If the homeowner submits to financial counseling offered by state or federal housing experts, they would then enter into negotiations with their lender. The mortgage company would be required to attempt to seek some middle ground — a loan modification that could prevent the impending mortgage default."

Ah, the genius of our elected officials. Take a contract between two willing parties in which one of them is not performing and force the other -- the one who put up the money in the first place! -- not to utilize its contractual remedies for at least 90 days, while the balance due continues to grow. As I said, genius.

Let's say that foreclosure proceedings don't begin until someone has missed two mortgage payments (it's usually longer than that, but, true to our ideology, we are being conservative). After two months, the lender notifies the borrower that it intends to foreclose, at which point the borrower invokes the new 90-day moratorium. Negotiations fail to produce a solution, so the lender commences foreclosure. Under Michigan law, this takes about 6 weeks, so we are now six and a half months since the last payment. After the foreclosure sale, Michigan law already provides for a redemption period, most often six months long. The lender thus waits six months after the foreclosure sale to see if there will be a redemption, which brings us to 12 and 1/2 months now since the last payment. If the lender then wants to recover possession of the property, it must begin summary proceedings in court, which could add a month or more to the waiting period, putting the lender at 13 and 1/2 months since the last payment.

Where is the borrower during this process? Living in the house, of course, without making any payments at all.

Under current law, the borrower would be in the house for about 10 and 1/2 months without a payment, during which time the borrower can always negotiate with the lender. Why add three more months to the process? This question is even more appropriate when you consider the lender is only required to negotiate during those 90 days, not to come to an agreement. The only effect of this law will be to impose additional costs on lenders, which will in turn cause lenders to raise mortgage interest rates or decline marginal borrowers even more frequently.

On a more sinister note, since this is a government-sponsored negotiation program, the government will no doubt keep track of lender negotiation records, visiting all kinds of mischief on those who are deemed intransigent or unwilling to capitulate to borrowers. Might this affect their licensing or other government largesse in the future? Who knows? And what if a borrower claims the lender isn't negotiating in good faith? Does this provide a basis on which to enjoin the foreclosure altogether? We'll see. Never underestimate the creativity of a plaintiff's lawyer and a desperate debtor.

Our hope at this point is that more sensible heads prevail in the Michigan Senate.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Wonderful Young Woman

My niece, Rebecca, is nationally ranked in an equestrian sport called reining. The subtleties of the sport elude me, but it is quite elegant and impressive. The video below is of a special performance she gave to honor one of her friends who passed away.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not Walking The Walk

Well, so much for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit.

Today's Detroit Free Press published a searchable database of the salaries paid our governor's appointees. Of the top 25 positions by salary, only seven are held by women, and men occupy the top four spots. Seven out of 25 -- that's a paltry 28 percent.

In terms of salaries for the top 25, the average is $139,671, but the seven women in the top 25 average less, at $137,074. The highest paid women are the directors of the Community Health and the Corrections Departments, at $140,000 each, barely above the average for the top 25. The top four men average $164,844, which is approximately 18 percent higher than the top women.

The highest paid appointee is the Superintendent of Public Instruction, who is paid $182,173, or over 30 percent more than the highest paid woman.

It would be interesting to hear the explanation for these disparities, particularly in light of the Democratic Party's platform position:

On the average, women in Michigan are paid substantially lower than men for performing the same work. Michigan Democrats continue to support equal access to employment and pay.

Apparently, they mean that others should provide equal access to employment and pay, since the Governor has shown these admonitions don't apply to her.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Never Let Facts Get In The Way Of "Science," -- Update

As previously written here, the One would like us to believe that politics will no longer play a role in any scientific issues in his administration. He has even gone so far as to issue a memorandum to that effect! Egads, what a commitment. As he described it in his embryonic stem cell statement today:

That is why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals – to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.

Question: why exactly does this require a "strategy?" Just do it! The scientific method is well-established and, except where politics intrudes, ordinarily followed by the scientific community, in which the ability to replicate results is all-important. It is only where politics interferes -- such as in the case of so-called man-made global warming -- that the scientific method is cast aside.

Still think you need a strategy? Okay, here's one for you -- stop appointing political hacks and Clinton retreads. Look for people who have been successful in their fields, have private sector experience (and I mean real private sector experience; lobbying for Greenpeace doesn't count), and pay their taxes.

I thought the One was putting together a "Team of Rivals," but show me one Cabinet appointment who is more conservative or who has voiced an opinion different from the One's in a good way (going wacky radical, ala the miles-traveled tax or we-are-a-nation-of-cowards rant doesn't count, since those are more extreme positions). It's impossible, because there isn't one. Even those who made us think they might be more conservative (Mrs. Clinton) were just kidding, as it turns out, as their performances have demonstrated.

While the One is fretting over memoranda to restore science to its rightful place, how about doing something to restore honesty and candor to the left wing? I know that's a wild suggestion, but after all, we are in a crisis, and with every crisis comes opportunity.

Never Let Facts Get In The Way Of "Science," Part 2

Some, including most members of Congress, will be surprised to learn that the stimulus package so desperately needed to create jobs includes a cool $400 million for a NASA program to study climate change (read, "global warming") from space. That seems appropriate, because outer space is where most global warming alarmists are from.

Yesterday's Boston Globe has a nice article by Jeff Jacoby, in which he details a number of facts contrary to the global warming hypothesis. His last paragraph includes this beauty:

But for many people, the science of climate change is not nearly as important as the religion of climate change. When Al Gore insisted yet again at a conference last Thursday that there can be no debate about global warming, he was speaking not with the authority of a man of science, but with the closed-minded dogmatism of a religious zealot.

Of course, comparing Al Gore to a religious zealot impugns religious zealots everywhere. Still, Jacoby makes his point -- there is no science here, only ideology; no real concern for human welfare, only the desire to use the government to destroy our way of life and replace it with a spartan misery that Gore, the One, and their ilk will not share.

Never Let Facts Get In The Way Of "Science," Part 1

At its best, science involves the search for truth. At its worst, science is used as just another trick, a sham, to fool an unsuspecting victim, as when a con man promises that his magic elixir will cure your worst disease or condition.

The One has assumed the presidency, promising to "restore science" to its rightful place in government. But exactly which science is he talking about -- social science, as in economics? Or "hard" science, as in biology? Or junk science, as in human-induced global warming?

The latest priority in the One's crusade is to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research involving more than the stem cell lines specifically approved by President Bush. Why lift this ban? Well, it was implemented by President Bush, so it must be presumptively wrong, or at least that's how the One thinks (see Gitmo).

According to the Associated Press, the One's announcement later today will "include a broad declaration that science — not political ideology — would guide his administration." If people didn't believe this, it would actually be laughable. Political ideology is the only thing that guides decision making in this administration and this Congress.

What about the danger that this new approach to stem cell research will incentivize abortion and the destruction of human life in the form of embryos and fetuses? The One's supporters don't care. Here is Dr. Curt Civin, director of the University of Maryland Center for Stem Cell Biology:

"This was already life that was going to be destroyed," he said. "The choice is throw them away or use them for research."

At least he admits that the embryos and fetuses are human lives, but this cavalier attitude about life has no limit on it -- why not do death row prisoner experimentation or sacrifice the terminally ill for the sake of "science"? After all, their lives are going to be destroyed soon, what difference does it make if the destruction is natural or man-made? Why do prisoners, the terminally ill, and the elderly rank above the unborn?

Civin's acknowledgment that embryos and fetuses are "life" is telling. If they constitute lives, innocent lives, what right do we have to end them? And why should I be forced to pay for it with my federal tax dollars?

Embryonic stem cell research has always been possible, but for the last 8 years, there has not been federal funding for most of it. According to my research, there has never been a clinical trial of any embryonic stem cell therapy, let alone a significant discovery or cure from embryonic stem cells. At the same time, adult stem cells are already being used to treat over 73 human diseases and conditions. There are over 1400 FDA approved clinical trials underway involving adult stem cell therapy. These trials focus on conditions ranging from heart disease to diabetes.

So don't kid yourself. The announcement today has precious little to do with science. Science is just a cover story for another step in the One's abortion agenda, as I previously described.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Well, Look Who's Catching Up

One of the most disturbing things about the current administration and those who rule the Congress is their continuing, unfettered use of bogus statistics. The problem is that, like the so-called "global warming" crisis, their statistics and conclusions are often completely untrue, but their continued repetition with media complicity causes them to be accepted as gospel.

So it is with the One's claim that medical costs cause a bankruptcy "every thirty seconds.' Put simply, this is absolutely untrue, a fact discussed at length by Gary Langer, who is the director of polling for . . . wait for it . . . ABC! As Langer recounts:

The figure comes from a 2005 Harvard University study saying that 54 percent of bankruptcies in 2001 were caused by health expenses. We reviewed it internally and knocked it down at the time; an academic reviewer did the same in 2006. Recalculating Harvard’s own data, he came up with a far lower figure – 17 percent. A more recent study by another group, approaching it another way, indicates that in 2007 about eight-tenths of one percent of Americans lived in families that filed for bankruptcy as a result of medical costs. That rings a little less loudly than “one every 30 seconds.”

How is this error possible? As usual, it's all in the definitions:

A good part of the problem is definitional. The Harvard report claims to measure the extent to which medical costs are “the cause” of bankruptcies. In reality its survey asked if these costs were “a reason” – potentially one of many – for such bankruptcies. Beyond those who gave medical costs as “a reason,” the Harvard researchers chose to add in any bankruptcy filers who had at least $1,000 in unreimbursed medical expenses in the previous two years. Given deductibles and copays, that’s a heck of a lot of people. Moreover, Harvard’s definition of “medical” expenses includes situations that aren’t necessarily medical in common parlance, e.g., a gambling problem, or the death of a family member. If your main wage-earning spouse gets hit by a bus and dies, and you have to file, that’s included as a “medical bankruptcy.”

Just so it's clear -- if you (a) have $1000 in unreimbursed medical expenses (not necessarily unpaid), (b) listed medical costs as one of the reasons -- not the sole reason or even a primary reason -- for filing, (c) filed because of a gambling problem, or (d) filed because your spouse, the primary wage earner, died suddenly, you filed because of our health care system!

If you define "medical" as "related to human life," everything is medical.

These definitional issues are recurring problems with government generally and Democrats specifically. Few people will read or hear Mr. Langer's dissection of the One's distortions, but many have heard and will repeat the One's ludicrous assertions. As long as he gets to define the terms of the debate and cherry pick the data, the media will march with him in lockstep and we will all suffer the dire consequences, starting with a "down payment" of $640 billion toward socialized medicine.

Still, it's nice to see someone from the media catching up to something we used to refer to as "the truth."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

They Are Officially Nuts

Blogging from the courthouse:

Our"indispensable" Treasury Secretary has proven (again) that he is unworthy of belief in any context, attacking oil and gas companies for contributing to "climate change." See the story here.

I have had it! The Democrats in power are anti-business, anti-free enterprise, and anti-American. Nothing else can explain this all-out offensive on our largest, most important, private institutions, charity, and private property. This administration is already a disaster of unprecedented proportions, and it's going to get much, much worse.

God help us.

Okay, now I'm ready for court. I pity the fools!

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.