Partisanship, Who Needs It?

Partisanship, Who Needs It?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Slipping into Capitalism

The Washington Post reports:

Faced with the smothering inefficiencies of a state-run economy and unable to feed his people without massive imports of food, Cuban leader Raúl Castro has put his faith in compatriots like Esther Fuentes and his little farm out in the sticks.

If Cuba is searching for its New New Man, then Fuentes might be him. The Cuban government, in its most dramatic reform since Castro took over for his ailing older brother Fidel three years ago, is offering private farmers such as Fuentes the use of fallow state lands to grow crops -- for a profit.

Quite a change for the island nation. Of course the rhetoric must be applied to justify this:

Raúl Castro prefers to call it "a new socialist model."

The "new socialist model" can be summed up in two words...... profit motive.

What brought this on?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of subsidies from Moscow and Eastern Europe, Cuba abandoned its huge farms devoted to sugar cane -- and that land was quickly taken over by marabu, a tenacious, thorny weed that now covers vast tracts of Cuba the way kudzu blankets the American South.

Guess they decided that its actually better to allow some capitalism than let the land sit useless under their previous policies. But what do the people of Cuba think:

Fuentes pointed to his new fields of sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, cassava and beans. He's also growing flowers to sell. Chickens were running around, and trees bore monster avocados. The future looks better.

"This is big change," he said. "Everyone wants in."

How far will it go? Who knows but one academic has an idea for them:

"If they really wanted to solve their problem, they could solve it in a minute, with the stroke of a pen," by allowing private ownership and free markets, said José Alvarez, a professor emeritus and authority on Cuban agriculture at the University of Florida.

Is Cuba likely to turn into a capitalist state? Not likely, but they are begging to face at least the reality that the profit motive will help them to feed their people.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Don't buy healthcare? pay $25,000. can't afford the fine? spend a year in jail.

Policio reports:

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) received a handwritten note Thursday from Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Tom Barthold confirming the penalty for failing to pay the up to $1,900 fee for not buying health insurance.
Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail or a $25,000 penalty, Barthold wrote on JCT letterhead. He signed it "Sincerely, Thomas A. Barthold.

Two thoughts occur to me.

First, not everyone will have an easy time scraping up the money to pay, although I know some assistance is planned to be made available.

Secondly, if they can't pay $1,900 what are the chances they can pay $25,000, can our overcrowded penal system handle the increased traffic? Should people who couldn't afford to pay be grouped with thieves, drug dealers, and worse?

To me this type of penalty makes this less appealing than a fully paid public option (as much as I oppose that). What they should do instead in my option, if they must do this at all, is to freely cover everyone with catastrophic insurance and let individuals buy their own other than catastrophic insurance on the proposed markets without threat of legal penalty but with any assistance having the cost of the catastrophic coverage taken out of it. Fining and imprisoning people for not buying into health care strikes me as against the principles of our nation.

Its time for Justice in Honduras

The Congressional Reasearch Service (CRS) has released a new report on the ousting of former President Manuel Zelaya.

Among its findings:

Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.

However, removal of President Zelaya from the country by the military is in direct
violation of the Article 102 of the Constitution, and apparently this action is currently under investigation by the Honduran authorities.50

So his removal from the Presidency was Constitutional, but his removal from the country was not.

Yet the Obama administration has still failed to recognize the government of Honduras is the rightful legal government of the Country, and the administration has cut aid by $30 million and threatened to cut another $200 million. This is about 2% of the Honduran GDP.

Furthermore the Washington Examiner reports:

Do the facts matter? Fat chance. The administration is standing by its "coup" charge and 10 days ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to sanction the country's independent judiciary. The U.S. won't say why, but its clear the court's sin is rejecting a U.S.-backed proposal to restore Mr. Zelaya to power.

The upshot is that the U.S. is trying to force Honduras to violate its own constitution and is also using its international political heft to try to interfere with the country's independent judiciary.

Hondurans are worried about what this pressure is doing to their country. Mr. Zelaya's violent supporters are emboldened by the U.S. position. They deface some homes and shops with graffiti and throw stones and home-made bombs into others, and whenever the police try to stop them, they howl about their "human rights."

But it may be that Americans should be even more concerned about the heavy-handedness, without legal justification, emanating from the executive branch in Washington. What does it say about Mr. Obama's respect for the separation of powers that he would instruct Mrs. Clinton to punish an independent court because it did not issue the ruling he wanted?

Its time the Obama administration correct its failed position, and show a respect for the Rule of Law in other nations and their independent judiciaries.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Obama's transparancy problem

When President Obama was campaigning for the Presidency,government transparancy was one of his rallying cries. His speeches were full of such gems as:

"When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as a president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing.”

"To achieve health care reform, "I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We'll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies -- they'll get a seat at the table, they just won't be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, we'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies. And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process."

" "No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration."
Now you might ask, what has that last one have to do with transparancy, so I'll explain. On January 8, 2009, President-elect Barack Obama nominated lobbyist William Lynn as his Deputy Secretary of Defense. Objections were of course raised but lynn ended up being given a waiver by the administration and confirmed by the Senate. However other lobbyists followed and received their own wavers, some of whom were appointments not requiring Senate approval. Some other appointments don't even require waivers just "recusals" where the former lobbyist just voluntarily excuses himself from areas that he once lobbied for. But without the confirmation process little is know about the appointments, and even who all of them are. According to Polifact:
* Recusals appear to have even less documentation than waivers. We have yet to see a recusal "order," despite having asked the White House for them. We know there are at least two recusals; there may be more. We're not sure how recusals specifically differ from waivers because the White House has said little about the policy.

* The White House is not prompt about releasing the waivers. For two nominees who didn't require Senate approval, waivers were released weeks after they were signed and after the people took their positions. These two waivers were also substantially less detailed than the waiver issued for Lynn.

We haven't seen anything to make us change our ruling. But there's been a new development: Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa recently sent a letter asking for accountability about the recusals and waivers. (Grassley is one of four senators who voted against the nomination of William Lynn as a deputy secretary for defense; Lynn was a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon.)

Grassley has asked Robert Cusick, director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, to require the Obama administration to release all waivers and recusals as they are issued and post the documentation to the Internet. Grassley said Cusick has that authority under the Ethics in Government Act.

Well, so much for transpaancy on that. I could go into his appointment of over 30 "Czars" but I think the point has already been made, now to the other items.

That healthcare reform on C-Span pledge, well it just never happened.

Of course the Presidnet spins this in this way:

Not one has bought this line except for his most ardent cheerleaders.

Sources as varied as Salon, The Huffington Post,CNBC, Air America, Slate,The National Review, Glenn Greenwald, etc. are all critical of the backroom deals the Obama administration made. Where was C-Span then?

Now on to the first item mentioned, the 5 day pledge. The Cato institute details the lack of compliance with this promise back in April.

Of the eleven bills President Obama has signed, only six have been posted on None have been posted for a full five days after presentment from Congress.

Several times the White House has posted a bill while it remains in Congress, attempting to satisfy the five-day rule. But this doesn’t give the public an opportunity to review the final legislation – especially any last minute amendments. Versions of the children’s health insurance legislation, the omnibus spending bill, and the omnibus public land management bill were linked to from while making their ways through Congress, but not posted in final form.

In some areas Obama has actually moved forward on transparency, but sometimes only due due to political pressure. For example the releasing of White House logs, which were in answer to lawsuits by watchdog groups and court rulings. Even after release the logs aren't easily acessable for previous periods before the turnaround and detailed requests for time and visitors must be made before the information is released, hardly transparant.

It seems to me that the way to transparancy in the Executive branch is still via watchdogs, investigative reporting by the media, and lawsuits. On its own, the Obama administration does not seem very transparent at all.