Thursday, January 29, 2009

Business as usual and worse. STD funding in stimulus bill.

The $800 billion plus stimulus bill flying through Congress contains hundreds of millions of dollars for sexually transmitted disease prevention. What that actually means is more money for Planned Parenthood and its friends and lots of condoms.

Many rightfully ask how this is supposed to stimulus the economy as opposed to just being pork spending on a grand scale. It's hard to defend it's relevance to stimulating the economy with a straight face or a reasonable argument though Speaker Pelosi unsuccessfully tries to. Frankly, efforts to reduce birth rates via increased condom usage is not the way to expand an economy; having more workers in the economy does.

Sexually transmitted disease prevention programs have been an abysmal failure even for reducing STDs. An epidemic of STDs continues across our nation, because the problem isn't lack of condom use but people having sex when they shouldn't -- outside of a faithful, lifelong marriage relationship. A quaint notion in our "enlightened, postmodern" society but one affirmed throughout history and no doubt will be again long after we are gone.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pawlenty's budget: cuts, increases, shifts and no tax increases

Governor Pawlenty released his 2009-11 budget yesterday. It deals with the projected $4.8 billion deficit by cutting projected spending by $2.4 billion, accounting shifts of $1.3 billion, selling bonds for nearly $1 billion and expecting about $990 million from federal government stimulus bill. The budget actually increases K-12 education spending and doesn't raise taxes.

I'm sure there will be things everyone will disagree with. Cuts in health care coverage will mean 55,000 Minnesotans will be cut from state programs this year and 29,000 next year. University of Minnesota faces cuts of $153 million over the next two years and the other public colleges and universities face $145 million in cuts. Local government aid was cut while the governor proposes cutting the business tax rate for six years.

It proposes a 2.2% cut in the size of the state's budget; the first decline in size since 1986 when it dropped 1.5%

One question I have is does this address the projected $4.6 billion deficit in the next biennium. Or will we start over again in two years.

It's amazing how big government has become and all the things it's involved in. The current debate will force people, implicitly and explicitly to decide what government should and should not be doing - or at least less of.

Overall, his commitment to not raise taxes and getting our financial house in order is critical. Failure to do the latter will make future decisions even more difficult. Will this cause people to not always look to government as the first recourse for assistance? I hope so.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is it de ja vu all over again regarding state budget deficit? I certainly hope not.

An interesting article by Mitch Pearlstein of the Center of the American Experiment was written in April 2008 six months before our financial meltdown. It compared the then projected state deficit of $925 million dollars as child's play compared to the 1981 deficit. Of course, things have changed a lot since that was written. The article does a good job of showing how the 1981 crisis dragged on and on. That shouldn't be allowed to happen this time around.
On April 2, 1981, a headline in the Minneapolis Star sounded an increasingly familiar refrain: "Revenues fall short, set Quie scrambling." A week later, a headline in the Daily Journal in Fergus Falls made the new damage explicit: "Quie must cut $503 million."

And a week after that, a headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press a described the governor's new attempt to stop the bleeding: "Quie asks tax hike, more cuts, curbs on city-county spending."

Six weeks later the Pioneer Press was able to announce: "Quie, DFL agree on sales, income tax hikes." The number, more precisely, was $555 million worth.

"Quie likely to call 3rd special session," read a headline in an October edition of the Star.

A November headline in the Star blared: "Deficit put at $860 million; Quie calls for special session."

A little under three weeks after that, a story in the Dispatch opened: "Gov. Al Quie today recommended reductions of more than $775 million in state spending... ." The year ended with Lori Sturdevant writing in the Tribune that the governor's "hard-line opposition to an increase in state income taxes appeared to soften a bit Monday. ..."
I think this budget crisis is an opportunity to get somethings right if spending isn't increased. It's the only way to force the legislature to do things differently. For instance, many state education mandates on public schools should be eliminated and school choice initiatives instituted which will give parents additional options and reduce public costs by enabling some kids to attend nonpublic/government schools.

Revamping our health care programs so participants have more responsibility for controlling costs. And cutting back social programs which simply hand out condoms or pay other people to take care of people's children, e.g. early childhood programs.

These will be extremely difficult decisions to make and will mean the support some people have grown to expect from government won't be there. But it's vital we change the way things are done so people's expectations are changed and the community, friends and family step to the plate instead of simply passing on these problems to the state.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Will history repeat regarding our state's budget deficit? I hope not and don't think it will.

There are a lot of parallels between our current budget deficit crisis and the 1981 deficit crisis. Then and now the deficit was about 14% of current budget and there was a Republican governor and a DFL legislature.

In 1981, the crisis wasn't dealt with up front and was pushed off to the second year of the biennium. That meant 60% of the state budget was already spent so significant tax increases were instituted to resolve the problem. This lesson I trust won't be lost on Governor Pawlenty who knows that if things don't happen in the first year things will become far worse in the second year of the biennium.

One person told me that the current legislative leadership is highly unlikely to aggressively address the problem. For one, some of them may have higher political aspirations and won't want to come out of the session looking too bad. Also, it's doubtful that legislative leaders will have the stomach to deeply cut into government programs, programs which exist for their key constituencies.

This means the Governor will have to drive the process, keep the legislature's collective feet to the fire and look at a possible government shut down to insure things get done. And if worst comes to worse, use his "unallotment" power to unilaterally make cuts. I'm told this isn't an attractive option because it's more of a hacking process than a scalpel approach. Yet that maybe what needs to happen if they don't reach an agreement. According the Minnesota Budget Project of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, this is what unallotment is all about:

State statutes (section 16A.152) says that if the Commissioner of Finance determines that there is a deficit, then “the commissioner shall, with the approval of the governor, and after consulting the legislative advisory commission, reduce the amount of the budget reserve account as needed to balance expenditures with revenues.” It goes on to say that any “additional deficit shall, with the approval of the governor, and after consulting the legislative advisory commission, be made up by reducing unexpended allotments of any prior appropriation or transfer.”

Because unallotment is infrequently used, there are many uncertainties about what precisely the law does and doesn’t permit - read the House Research issue brief for all the details, but here are some of the major points:

  • The Governor probably has to spend down the entire budget reserve (currently $653 million) before cutting spending, although this is not totally clear.
  • While the Governor needs to consult with the Legislative Advisory Commission (made up of the Senate Majority Leader, Speaker of the House, Senate Finance chair, House Ways & Means Chair and certain other committee chairs), the legislature does not have to approve the Governor’s unallotment actions.
  • There is not a specific deadline by which the Governor must take unallotment action.
  • No programs are exempt from unallotment. The Governor probably cannot unallot funding for the legislature and judicial branch, but probably can cut appropriations to the constitutional officers (Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor and Attorney General).
  • It is not required that cuts be taken “across the board”.
  • There’s no limit on how much can be unalloted from any one program.
  • The Governor can unallot a transfer from the general fund to another fund.
  • The Governor can unallot from funds other than the general fund, but only to resolve a deficit in that other fund. It does not appear that the Governor can re-allocate dedicated funding sources to the general fund to resolve a general fund deficit.

The bottom line: the Governor’s authority under unallotment provides a much more limited set of choices than legislative budget activity. The only two tools are use of the reserves and cutting spending.

Dealing with Global Warming is Last in Public's Priority List.

A Pew Poll says global warming is last in the public's list of priorities. People's top concerns are, not surprisingly, strengthening the economy, jobs, and fighting terrorism.

With all the hoopla surrounding global warming, it's interesting that the public doesn't share the concern. Certainly the economy is central in everybody's mind but I think the issue of global warming has been driven more by media hype and activists than reality. Recently, more voices in the scientific community are questioning it s attribution to human activity. And I think unusually cold temperatures and the observation by some that our climate is now cooling is further discrediting global warming.

The question is how far Obama and liberals in Congress will still push it despite the growing evidence against it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Solve our state $5 billion budget deficit by raising taxes? That's $1,000 per man, woman and child.

Looking at and talking to people about our projected state $5 billion budget deficit will be an enormous challenge. The simple math says it would mean raising taxes $1,000 per man, woman and child to eliminate it for this biennium, 2009-10. And then it's projected to be another $4.6 billion for the 2011-12 biennium. Or about $900 per person all over again. For the average family would mean a tax increase of $4,000 per family or a 30% increase in the average family's state tax bill.

That's an enormous amount of money and shows how our state expenditures have gotten out of control. We were expecting a $950 million deficit even before the economy went into a deep recession and sent it to nearly $5 billion.

Of course, there's no talk of just raising taxes but from conversations with DFL legislators, there's an expectation there will or should be a tax increase.

I think that would be a mistake. For one, any tax increase will be passed along to individuals and families in one form or another; a bad idea during a recession. Second, government is doing far more than its capable of handling effectively. And third, we need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that government is the solution to all our societal problems. Currently, the thinking is -- there's a problem let's have government spend more money to solve it.

What needs to be done is change the way the state/government does business and scale back expectations. Government needs to do things differently and smarter. Instead of looking to government to solve social problems other institutions and groups in society need to step into the gap. That can and I believe will happen but not immediately because people have become conditioned to looking to government to do it.

That has to change and I believe will change whatever happens with our state budget deficit this session. That will be painful and difficult but necessary and in the long run in the best interest of Minnesotans.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The tale of two inaugural prayers by Robinson and Warren -- they were worlds apart.

The inaugural prayers delivered by Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson and evangelical pastor Rick Warren couldn't have been more different. They highlight the gulf between evangelicals, orthodox Christians of all strips and the liberal wing of mainline protestantism which is spinning off into the orbit of universalism.

Robinson prayed at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18; an invitation extended, I suspect, in response to homosexual outrage over the invitation of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inaugural ceremony on the 20th.

Their prayers highlight two irreconcilable two worldviews. If nothing else it highlights why religious liberals like Robinson confuse the uninformed about what Christianity actually is.

Robinson begins with "O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will …" What is that? For Christians, God isn't a figment of our imaginations or understandings. He has clearly revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures. There aren't multiple God's. There is the one God who reveals Himself in the persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Robinson then, typically delivers a political exposition in the form a prayer:
"Bless us with tears — for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
"Bless us with anger — at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

"Bless us with discomfort — at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

"Bless us with patience — and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

"Bless us with humility — open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

"Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance — replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger..."
He couldn't help but inject the homosexual controversy into his remarks.

Warren on the other hand delivered a prayer consonant with Christian sensibilities found in past national prayer proclamations and statements.

He prayed to God as Father and acknowledges He is supreme and sovereign, merciful and loving, and just.

Almighty God, our Father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you. It all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory.

History is your story. The Scripture tells us, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

He draws on the need for individual and corporate forgiveness and our ultimate accountability to God.

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you. We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

And Warren closes praying as Jesus taught Christians to pray -- in the name of Jesus and according to the Lord's prayer.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."

Robinson's prayer exemplifies the confusion among people who claim to be Christian but really don't believe it anymore.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It isn't going to be cheap -- $150 million for Obama inauguration.

With tough times upon us our incoming president is looking at a record inauguration bill.

According to an AP story:
Unemployment is up. The stock market is down. Let's party.

The price tag for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration gala is expected to break records, with some estimates reaching as high as $150 million. Despite the bleak economy, however, Democrats who called on President George W. Bush to be frugal four years ago are issuing no such demands now that an inaugural weekend of rock concerts and star-studded parties has begun.

Obama's inaugural committee has raised more than $41 million to cover events ranging from a Philadelphia-to-Washington train ride to a megastar concert with Beyonce, U2 and Bruce Springsteen to 10 official inaugural balls. Add to that the massive costs of security and transportation — costs absorbed by U.S. taxpayers — and the historic inauguration will produce an equally historic bill.

In 2005, Reps. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., asked Bush to show a little less pomp and be a little more circumspect at his party.

"President Roosevelt held his 1945 inaugural at the White House, making a short speech and serving guests cold chicken salad and plain pound cake," the two lawmakers wrote in a letter. "During World War I, President Wilson did not have any parties at his 1917 inaugural, saying that such festivities would be undignified."

The thinking was that, with the nation at war, excessive celebration was inappropriate. Four years later, the nation is still at war. Unemployment has risen sharply. And Obama pressed Congress to release the second half of a $700 billion bailout package in hopes of rescuing a faltering banking industry.

Celebration of 'common values'
Obama's inauguration committee says it is mindful of the times and is not worried people will see the four days of festivities as excessive.

"That is probably not the way the country is going to be looking at it," said committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass. "It is not a celebration of an election. It is a celebration of our common values."

Douglass said the campaign sought to keep costs down by having the same decorations at each of the 10 balls, eliminating floral arrangements and negotiating prices on food.

"Those at the Obama administration are trying to be reflective of the climate," McDermott's spokesman, Mike DeCeasar, said Saturday.

The festivities began Saturday with a speech at Philadelphia's historic 30th Street train as Obama's trip began.

Sunday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial includes performances by Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Garth Brooks and others. Denzel Washington and Queen Latifah will read historic passages. HBO paid $2.5 million for the exclusive rights to broadcast the concert.

Monday, the inaugural committee is hosting a national day of service, followed by three "bipartisan dinners" and a concert at the Verizon Center honoring military families. The Disney Channel will broadcast the concert, which includes performances by teen stars Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, as part of a $2 million deal that also gave ABC the exclusive rights to broadcast one inaugural ball.

The television deals allowed the committee to recoup about $5 million of the $15 million production costs for the televised events, Douglass said.

Security and transportation costs are being paid by taxpayers. And with millions of tourists expected to descend on Washington for Tuesday's inauguration ceremony, Bush declared a state of emergency, allowing the district to recover some costs for the event.

No shortage of toilets
The inauguration committee is paying for 10 stadium-style screens to broadcast the inauguration ceremony on the National Mall. It is also hiring garbage and recycling services and renting thousands of portable toilets for what one supplier called "the largest temporary restroom event in the history of the United States."

One way of looking at it is the Obama folks are being consistent. His $750 billion stimulus bill looks like it's throwing caution to the wind so too the cost of his inauguration.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Liberal news blog article highlights mindset of liberals who support marginalizing and privatizing religious liberties over homosexual marriage.

Andy Birkey with the Minnesota Independent a left/liberal news blog, takes issue with my assertion that religious liberties will invariably be attacked once homosexual marriage is legalized. He takes issue specifically with my recent blog post analogizing attacks to come from legalizing homosexual marriage with a recent New Jersey state discrimination ruling against a Methodist church group which refused to allow it's facility to be used for a homosexual civil union ceremony.

Rather than rebutting my concerns Birkey actually confirms them and provides an excellent example of the liberal mindset regarding privatization of religious faith and belief.

He begins by saying that these doomsday scenarios don't jive with the facts and the issue with the Methodist group in New Jersey is simply about getting tax breaks and benefits from the state not religious freedom.

But what’s missing from the story is that the church in question, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, got tax breaks from the state of New Jersey because it has for years allowed the public to use its Boardwalk Pavilion for secular and religious events. The church also received state funding to improve the infrastructure around the pavilion. Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster requested to have their civil union ceremony at that pavilion and paid taxes that went to the church to pay for the pavilion.

In other words, if the public endorses recognition of homosexual relationships, religious groups which operate in the public should recognize and endorse such relationships through the use of their facilities which are made available to the public. Yet that's the point concerning threats to religious liberties -- religious groups which operate in the public must sacrifice their religious beliefs and convictions in order to continue operating in the public.

He points to the decision by the New Jersey civil rights division which ruled that if a religious group wants to operate in public it has to sacrifice it's publicly expressed, religiously based convictions to do so.

But the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights was pretty clear when it handed down its ruling against the church on Dec. 29: “When it invites the public at large to use it, the Association is subject to the Law Against Discrimination, and enforcement of that law in this context does not affect the Association’s constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”

Birkey concludes by saying:

It’s another case of the religious right’s wanting its cake (taxpayer funds) and eating it too (denying rights to gays and lesbians).

So if religious groups want to operate in public they should expect to sacrifice their religious convictions or accept being treated as second class citizens, e.g. don't expect to participate as a tax exempt organization. But that's an example of the loss of religious liberties I'm talking about. The choice is either shut up about your religious convictions and be involved publicly or withdraw from public life. And of course, one can expect to face punitive fines under discrimination laws to insure you toe the line.

A good analogy for what will happen if marriage is redefined can be drawn from the treatment of organizations which opposed inter-racial marriage. (It's a faulty comparison because both practices are in fact anti-marriage -- the interracial marriage ban because it artificially kept some men and women from marrying due to their skin color and homosexual marriage because it eliminated the need for a man and a woman. But just the same homosexual marriage advocates love to make.) In the 1980s the US Supreme Court revoked the tax exempt status of a group which banned interracial marriage because the practice violated public policy. Well, if homosexual marriage is recognized as the law of the land then we should similarly expect churches refusing to recognize homosexual marriages to lose their tax exempt status.

I suspect Mr. Birkey would say churches should lose their tax exemption, because they're taking part in a public tax benefit. However, the founders viewed the power to tax as the power to destroy and the impetus for tax exemption was in part to encourage the public benefit churches and other religious groups provide, but also because they didn't want the state encroaching upon or controlling religious groups through the power to tax. Under Birkey's line of thinking it would seem reasonable to also limit a religious groups use of police, fire, sewer, water and other public services if they oppose homosexual marriage. Aren't these public benefits going to organizations which discriminate against homosexuals? And most churches welcome all of the public to attend their religious services.

Thus religious groups will be forced to sacrifice their religious convictions if they want to stay clear of governmental control through taxation, being fined or ultimately having their activities completely shut down.

Mr. Birkey's thinking logically reflects the privatized view of religious exemplified by the former Soviet Union. They had a clause in Soviet Constitution guaranteeing the separation of church and state and thus ostensibly guaranteeing religious freedom. Russians were free to practice their faith as long as it was totally privatized -- religious services and praying in their heads. But if they dared to act on their religious beliefs then they were in trouble with the state.

So too, today, in Mr. Birkey's world, you can practice your religious beliefs as long as it's done in private. But if you seek to practice your faith by helping the public through building a Boardwalk pavilion which can be of service for not only religious events but for the broader public then you will likely run into trouble with the state for acting on your beliefs.

In essence, if you step outside your private, cloistered religious world, be sure to leave your religious beliefs about public issues behind. Of course, that's impossible for the Christian believer to do. Faith without works is dead. The believer knows there is a higher authority than the state to which he or she owes allegiance. Martin Luther King articulated this view in his letter written in his Birmingham, Alabama jail cell during the battle for black civil rights.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Marty unveils his promised homosexual marriage bill.

The ruse that homosexuals just want to be left alone is finally over. Back in 1993 the late Senator Alan Spear was adamant that adding sexual orientation to the state's Human Rights Act had nothing to do with homosexual marriage. All homosexuals really wanted was to be left alone. They didn't want to lose their job because they were homosexual. Tolerance was the mantra.

Well, in 15 years the cats out of the bag. Tolerance is no longer the goal but rather endorsement and legally enforced acceptance of homosexuality is the goal through homosexual marriage recognition.

Yesterday, Senator John Marty introduced SF 120 which is misleadingly called the "Marriage and Family Protection Act." (But who's surprised?) In fact it has nothing to do with protecting marriage and family and everything to do with undermining the foundations of marriage. It would repeal our state's DOMA or Defense of Marriage Act or Law and redefine marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two persons."

The stepping stone of civil unions is being shunted aside as unacceptable and they're after the whole enchilada -- marriage.

Frankly, I welcome the debate. If it's truly a debate then the truth will win out sooner rather than later. I believe, however, what the proponents will offer up is more emotion than substance. Why? Because the facts aren't on their side and homosexual marriage is about desire and want not need.

STD Chlamydia hits record high; spread through nonintercourse sexual activity which means condoms won't prevent it.

It was recently reported that chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, has reached record highs. It was estimated that there were 1.1 million cases in 2007. Chlamydia can lead to infertility among women.

According to an AP story
Sexually transmitted diseases - for years on the decline - are on the rise, with reported chlamydia cases setting a record, government health officials said yesterday.

The increase in chlamydia, a sometimes symptomless infection that can lead to infertility in women, is likely because of better screening, experts said. In 2007, there were 1.1 million cases, the most ever reported, said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thousands of women become infertile each year because of untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, said Dr. John M. Douglas Jr., director of CDC's Division of STD Prevention.

Syphilis cases, which number only in the thousands, also rose modestly, while the number of gonorrhea cases remained roughly the same. Syphilis can kill, if left untreated, but chlamydia and gonorrhea are not life-threatening.

Chlamydia can infect men as well as women, but rates are nearly three times higher for women. That's at least partly due to 1993 federal recommendations that emphasize testing for sexually active women age 25 and under. That emphasized screening in recent years is no doubt driving the record numbers, said Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, a professor of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "The issue with chlamydia is the more [you] test, the more you'll find," Zenilman said.

The latest numbers translate to a rate of 370 cases per 100,000 people in 2007, up 7.5 percent from 2006.

The reported cases are just part of the picture. Health officials believe as many as 2.8 million Americans may have chlamydia. Many men and women have no symptoms from it. Some women experience pain in their lower abdomen or notice a burning sensation or a pus-like discharge when they urinate. Some men may also feel a burning during urination or have a discharge.

Gonorrhea cases appear to have plateaued and are currently at about 356,000 cases. Syphilis was on the verge of being eliminated in the United States about 10 years ago, but lately has been inching up. More than 11,000 new cases of the most contagious form of the disease were reported in 2007.

Syphilis is relatively rare but has become a growing threat, particularly for gay and bisexual men, who accounted for about 65 percent of the 2007 cases.
What's interesting about chlamydia is it can be spread through non-intercourse sexual activity. This of course means condoms aren't the answer from a prevention standpoint and are dangerous because they provide people with a false sense of security.

Of course, I'm sure condom advocates are already saying abstinence won't work we need more condoms. This view is an excellent example of ideology overriding reality. The problem is reality always wins.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"The Minnesota Recount Was Unconstitutional"

That's the title of St. Thomas Law Professor Michael Paulsen's Wall Street Journal article today.

He writes that the approach taken by the state in counting and not counting votes is a violation of the Constitution as interpreted by the US Supreme Court in its famous 2000 7-2 decision in Bush v. Gore.

He says "For now, the only thing certain is that the present "certified" result -- which is that Mr. Franken won by 225 votes out of more than 2.9 million cast -- is an obvious, embarrassing violation of the Constitution."

He begins by saying, "You would think people would learn. The recount in the contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franken for a seat in the U.S. Senate isn't just embarrassing. It is unconstitutional."
[Commentary] AP

He makes the humorous observation that this is Florida 2000 but with colder weather. Certainly true today with this morning's temperature minus 22 degrees with a minus 38 degree wind chill.

This is Florida 2000 all over again, but with colder weather. Like that fiasco, Minnesota's muck of a process violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, the controlling Supreme Court decision is none other than Bush v. Gore.

He reminds us of all the problems with a recount when the stakes were much higher -- the presidency.

Remember Florida? Local officials conducting recounts could not decide what counted as a legal vote. Hanging chads? Dimpled chads? Should "undervotes" count (where a machine failed to read an incompletely-punched card)? What about "overvotes" (where voters punched more than one hole)? Different counties used different standards; different precincts within counties were inconsistent.

The Florida Supreme Court intervened and made things worse, ordering a statewide recount of some types of rejected ballots but not others. It specified no standards for what should count as a valid vote, leaving the judgment to each county. And it ordered partial recounts already conducted in some counties (but not others) included in the final tabulation. The result was chaos.

By a vote of 7-2, Bush v. Gore (2000) ruled that Florida's recount violated the principle that all votes must be treated uniformly. Applying precedents dating to the 1960s, the Court found that the Equal Protection Clause meant that ballots must be treated so as to give every vote equal weight. A state may not, by "arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person's vote over that of another." Florida's lack of standards produced "unequal evaluation of ballots in several respects." The state's supreme court "ratified this uneven treatment" and created more of its own, and was unconstitutional.

Bush v. Gore is rightly regarded as controversial -- but not because of its holding regarding the Equal Protection Clause, which commanded broad agreement among the justices. The controversy arose because of the remedy the Court chose for Florida's violation, which was to end the recount entirely. The majority thought that time was up under Florida law requiring that its results be submitted in time to be included in the Electoral College count. That aspect of Bush v. Gore commanded only five votes. Two justices thought Florida should get more time and another chance.

The nub of the problem then as now is not all votes were treated equally. He points out the problems in the Minnesota recount.

Minnesota is Bush v. Gore reloaded. The details differ, but not in terms of arbitrariness, lack of uniform standards, inconsistency in how local recounts were conducted and counted, and strange state court decisions.

Consider the inconsistencies: One county "found" 100 new votes for Mr. Franken, due to an asserted clerical error. Decision? Add them. Ramsey County (St. Paul) ended up with 177 more votes than were recorded election day. Decision? Count them. Hennepin County (Minneapolis, where I voted -- once, to my knowledge) came up with 133 fewer votes than were recorded by the machines. Decision? Go with the machines' tally. All told, the recount in 25 precincts ended up producing more votes than voters who signed in that day.

Then there's Minnesota's (first, so far) state Supreme Court decision, Coleman v. Ritchie, decided by a vote of 3-2 on Dec. 18. (Two justices recused themselves because they were members of the state canvassing board.) While not as bad as Florida's interventions, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered local boards to count some previously excluded absentee ballots but not others. Astonishingly, the court left the decision as to which votes to count to the two competing campaigns and forbade local election officials to correct errors on their own.

If Messrs. Franken and Coleman agreed, an absentee ballot could be counted. Either campaign could veto a vote. Dean Barkley of the Independence Party, who ran third, was not included in this process.

Thus, citizens' right to vote -- the right to vote! -- was made subject to political parties' gaming strategies. Insiders agree that Mr. Franken's team played a far more savvy game than Mr. Coleman's. The margin of Mr. Franken's current lead is partly the product of a successful what's-mine-is-mine-what's-yours-is-vetoed strategy, and of the Coleman team's failure to counter it.

Paulsen, interestingly, not only points out the problem but also a remedy for the problem: a temporary appointment and another election. Interestingly, a lot of people I've talked to say they should have another election.

The Constitution's answer is a do-over. The 17th Amendment provides: "When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct."

In a sense, a vacancy has already "happened." The U.S. Senate convened on Jan. 6 with only one senator from Minnesota. Still, the seat is perhaps not "vacant," just unfilled. But if the contest proceeding does not produce a clear winner that passes constitutional muster, a special election -- and a temporary appointment by Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- may be the only answer.

This is a very insightful, well written article. It will be interesting seeing whether the "powers that be" in Minnesota respond to Professor Paulsen's advice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Obama caves in. Funny way to bring people together by inviting most divisive religious figure in Protestantism.

Barack Obama announced that he was inviting practicing homosexual Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to pray at an inaugural event at the Lincoln Memorial. This was no doubt a response to attacks on him for inviting evangelical pastor Rick Warren to speak at his inaugural ceremony. Warren incurred the wrath of homosexual activists for having the tumidity to support traditional marriage efforts in California.

Robinson is facilitating a split within the Episcopal by thumbing his nose at basic Christian morality through his homosexual behavior which will no doubt lead to the eventual disintegration of the Episcopal Church in America.

Robinson issued a statement expressing his “great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.” Here he's rubbing the noses of people of New Hampshire and the Episcopal Church who don't agree with his views or behavior in the dirt by saying he represents them.

And of course he took at a shot at religious conservatives and orthodox believers who value the Christian heritage our nation and culture when he told the New York Times that “he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was ‘horrified’ at how ‘specifically and aggressively Christian they were.’”

Bishop Robinson said, “I am very clear that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer.”

Obama, I suspect, wants to be the president of all Americans and he recognizes that America doesn't reflect the leftist values of portions of his political constituency. For daring to stray too far from liberal "orthodoxy" even symbolically he's getting hammered from the left.

As Pat Buchanan observed around Election Day, Barack Obama will end up at war with significant portions of his own party or the American people. His attempts to walk that fine line before he's even inaugurated is increasingly difficult.

Monday, January 12, 2009

That's what we're afraid - somebody who wants to slow down our economy in the name of protecting the environment.

Barack Obama has appointed Carol Browner to be his global warming czar. It looks like he's appointed a true believer.

According to a story in the Washington Times, Mrs. Browner was:
one of 14 leaders of a socialist group's Commission for a Sustainable World Society, which calls for "global governance" and says rich countries must shrink their economies to address climate change.

By Thursday, Mrs. Browner's name and biography had been removed from Socialist International's Web page, though a photo of her speaking June 30 to the group's congress in Greece was still available.

Socialist International, an umbrella group for many of the world's social democratic political parties such as Britain's Labor Party, says it supports socialism and is harshly critical of U.S. policies.

The group's Commission for a Sustainable World Society, the organization's action arm on climate change, says the developed world must reduce consumption and commit to binding and punitive limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

People view the socialist label as somewhat of a pejorative, except of course if you are proud of being a socialist. In this case the overseeing group she was a part of calls itself "Socialist International."

An effort to deliberately slow down economies to address greenhouse gases will make people poorer which will cost lives and I wonder if it will really reduce the greenhouse gas emission problem because poorer countries are usually worse polluters than advanced, economically developed countries. Again, ideas have consequences; one's we often don't want.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What we'll have in store if civil unions much less homosexual marriage becomes the law of the land -- attacks on religious liberties.

A recent decision in New Jersey found a Methodist church group, which refused to rent out its property for a civil union ceremony, guilty of discrimination which will mean either fines or a requirement that they rent out the facility for civil union ceremonies. No doubt similar actions will be taken against churches once homosexual marriage becomes the law.

This decision merely highlights where society is headed if homosexual marriage becomes the law of the land. There's no doubt in my mind that homosexual activists and their kindred spirits will impose acceptance on those who disagree with them.

Again, supposed claims of "tolerance" and "respect for diversity" are only a way one way street.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Beware of reports that government funded early childhood programs are THE answer to education and youth problems.

There are perpetual calls for more money for early childhood programs. This year will be no different. However, the looming $4.8 billion budget deficit makes it highly likely they'll get big dollars and in fact will face cuts.

Of course there will be claims that we're putting children at risk and the only way to prevent it is more money for more government programs.

The only problem is this approach is the myopic view that government has the answer for all social ills. If we just spent more money, we'd be able to solve the problems.

Of course, that's what President Johnson said in the 1960s with his War on Poverty and Great Society initiatives. The result forty years later? Trillions of dollars spent and poverty rates aren't much better while the family is in much worse shape -- about one third of children born out of wedlock which usually means without a dad in their lives.

The latest effort to promote early childhood programs is a research study by the Wilder Research study reported on in a Star Tribune story "Kids not ready for kindergarten costs schools $113 million a year." The story assumes that early childhood programs are the answer to youth education problems.

The bias of the story is found in the sub-headline which reads, "A Wilder Research study adds to the argument for more early childhood education." But when you read the story and the summary of the research there's no basis for that assertion. The study says that student drop outs, teacher absentees and turnover, special education needs, teaching English and delinquency problems cost over $100 million a year.

Why is early childhood the answer? Based on a vague assertion from some unnamed research studies saying early childhood programs save money.

In fact, the studies I've seen suggest these early childhood programs don't have lasting effects and can even be harmful. But let's not let the facts get in the way of what we want to do.

Of course, the answer, according to the story, for the $113 million costs is a statewide, two year early childhood program costing $377 million a year for at risk 3 year olds. So let's spend three times the amount addressing a problem with a program which actually doesn't have long lasting benefits and can be harmful to kids.

According to the story writer, "The moral of the story?" is having folks other than schools foot some of the bill. Why have anybody foot the bill if the programs don't deliver and cost three times the problem? Where is logic in this?

Of course guess what the per year cost of the quality two year program for at risk kids is? $13,00 annually. What you have here is a proposal to pay people to babysit and supervise somebody else's children on a part-time basis.

The real culprit and source of the education problem costs is the breakdown of the family and the fraying of the moral fabric in the lives of kids.

What should the state do? First, realize the answer doesn't ultimately reside in government. Government needs to realize it should do no harm and attempts to take over the responsibility for raising children is not the answer. Second, an easy first step is reforming our no fault divorce system which encourages marriage break-up. (This is an issue of justice which the government has a responsibility to promote.) Third, place marriage strengthening as the center piece of all existing government social initiatives. Fourth, empower parents to take responsibility for educating children via school choice initiatives. Fifth, government officials should use their moral bully pulpits to encourage churches and private groups need to pick up the stack in promoting marriage and intact families.

I think these initiatives will have better results and get to the heart of the matter.