Fanniegate

Walter Russell Mead wrote “Fanniegate: Gamechanger for the GOP?” reviewing a new book (tip to Instapundit):

Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon. By Gretchen Morgenson, one of America’s best business journalists who is currently at The New York Times, and noted financial analyst Joshua Rosner…

We’ve known about corruption at the government-backed mortgage corporation Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Corporation), such as Democrat fatcat Franklin Raines doctoring the books to increase his bonus or Democrat Congressman Barney Frank getting a job for his partner (and then defending Fannie Mae in Congressional hearings) or Democrat Jamie Gorelick (who helped bring on 9/11 and the housing crisis) ‘earning’ $26 million for bundling subprime loans into securitized financial instruments.   As bad as we thought the scandals at Fannie Mae were, nobody went to jail (not even the ‘Friends of Angelo’) and the fines imposed on the corruptocrats (if at all) were a small fraction of the amount looted from the American people.

“Reckless Endangerment” provides more insight into the Democratic Party’s culture of corruption.

The villains?  An unholy alliance between Wall Street, the Democratic establishment, community organizing groups like ACORN and La Raza, and politicians like Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi and Henry Cisneros…

…the American dream didn’t die of old age; it was murdered and most of the fingerprints on the corpse come from Democratic insiders.  Democratic power brokers stoked the housing bubble and turned a blind eye to the increasingly rampant corruption and incompetence at Fannie Mae and the associated predatory lenders who sheltered under its umbrella; core Democratic ideas may well be at fault.

…Big government, affirmative action and influence peddling among Democratic insiders came within inches of smashing the US economy.

…The story illustrates everything the Tea Party thinks about the corrupt Washington establishment and the evils of big government.  It demonstrates the limits on the ability of government programs to help the poor.  It converts a complicated economic story into a simple morality play — with Dems as the villain.  It allows Republicans to capitalize on public fury at the country’s economic problems.  It links the Democrats to Wall Street — the one part of the private sector that the Republican base loathes.  It exposes that mix of incompetence and arrogance that is the hallmark of the modern American liberal establishment and links this condescending cluelessness to the real problems of real American families.  It links President Obama (through appointments, associations and friendships) with the worst elements of the Clinton legacy and it blunts some key Democratic talking points.

Read the whole thing.

Strong may run for Commission Chair

County Commissioner Dale Strong (R) announced this morning that he is thinking about running for Chair of the Madison County Commission, currently held by Mike Gillespie (D).

Strong made the announcement at this morning’s Madison County GOP breakfast, which featured speeches by the three Republican County Commissioners (Strong, Faye Dyer, and Phil Riddick).

Commissioner Riddick spoke first, saying that a FEMA official told him that Madison County was the most organized area in the wake of a disaster that FEMA had ever visited.  Riddick also said that the County was exploring options to improve the delivery of water in the County (two companies are vying to take over the system).

Commissioner Faye Dyer spoke next, detailing the County GOP agenda:  going to a unit system instead of the district system (currently each Commissioner has a budget to spend how they want, as opposed to a unit system where spending decisions are made at the County level) and implementing a time management system for employees.  These initiatives have been blocked by the Democratic majority on the County Commission.  Dyer noted that Phil Riddick has already saved the County a couple of hundred thousand dollars by reviewing some contracts.

Dale Strong spoke to strong applause – Strong showed tremendous leadership following the tornadoes – Strong spoke about the 15 years he and Dyer and former-Commissioner now-Congressman Mo Brooks have worked to keep taxes as low as possible, spend public money appropriately and effectively, and improve services for the people of Madison County.  Strong spoke about the hard work that neighbors and churches and companies performed after the tornado outbreak:  helping people, clearing debris, feeding people, and providing services.  Strong noted that the warden and prisoners at Limestone Prison helped early on by looking for people in the debris.  Strong told how some guy asked him how he could help, and within an hour Gator Technologies had set up satellite communications.

Strong got a standing ovation with his closing remark: “we sucked it up and got it done”.

***

Plenty of officials were on hand, however I’d like to commend Sheriff Blake Dorning for his leadership during the tornadoes (crime went down that week).  Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds was at the breakfast – Reynolds and Mayor Tommy Battle showed great leadership during the crisis.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that a crisis is the crucible through which leadership is recognized.   Some people rise to the challenge, some people don’t, and some people display bad judgment.  Let’s remember that at the polls.  Elections have consequences.

Obama Misery Index

Mitt Romney wrote “Obama Misery Index hits a record high” in the Boston Herald:

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he hung the Misery Index around Jimmy Carter’s neck. It consisted of the sum total of unemployment and inflation. Today, we have a different set of ailments. Instead of unemployment coupled with inflation, we have a toxic blend of unemployment, debt, home foreclosures, and bankruptcies. Their sum total is what we can call the Obama Misery Index. It is at a record high; indeed, it makes even the malaise of the Carter years look like a boom. Unemployment has fallen, but it’s fallen to a level that is still, by any historical marker, a national disaster. To suggest it as an achievement is to engage in what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “defining deviancy down.”

Where should we go from here? Having spent my career in the private sector, I know a thing or two about how jobs are created and how they are lost. The most important lesson I learned is that there are three rules of every successful turnaround: focus, focus, and focus. Turnarounds work when the leader focuses on what’s most important.

…What the occupant of the Oval Office needs to do, and do now, is focus on getting Americans back to work.

Take taxes. Our employers pay the highest rates in the world, tied with Japan, and higher than such societies top-heavy with government as Italy and France. Our small companies are hit particularly hard. If employers are going to start investing and hiring, we must reduce the burden. We can offset the lost revenue by ruthlessly eliminating corporate loopholes and the special deals that reward political influence and punish productivity. We also need to stop taxing companies that make money overseas if they want to bring it home. Encouraging companies to keep money abroad makes zero sense. As much as one trillion dollars kept abroad may be at stake; a sum that size invested here would create hundreds of thousands — or even millions — of good, permanent, private-sector jobs.

Our out-of-control fiscal policies are also impinging directly on the labor market. The failed stimulus program cost around $800 billion. Obamacare is going to cost another trillion. The denizens of the White House appear not to know it, but employers and entrepreneurs worry a good deal about the federal deficit and the federal debt. They look at the future and see that the government’s spending binge will mean higher taxes, higher interest rates, and a much weaker dollar.

IMO Mitt Romney is the best-prepared Republican candidate for President and the only candidate with national reach.  For example Romney’s “PAC sent out yet another wave of contributions to 45 Republicans in Congress who received a total of $93,000 in donations.  These contributions came on top of the $208,000 that was delivered to 90 U.S. Senate and House Republicans since the start of 2011″.  IIRC Romney has corresponded with  just about every GOP State legislator in the USA.

I hear two objections to Romney - Romneycare and Mormonism. Romney’s religion should be a plus from my point of view – my Mormon friends are among the best people I know.  South Park in the “All About the Mormons” episode, after totally ripping on Mormon history, moralized:

I have a great life and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the Church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy.

IMO Romneycare is tougher to address than religion.  The libertarian Cato Institute published “Lessons from the Fall of Romneycare”, noting that when Romneycare was implemented:

…observers on both the Right and Left praised the program. Edmund Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation hailed it as “one of the most promising strategies out there.”

…Today, however, Romney seldom mentions his plan on the campaign trail. If pressed he maintains that he is “proud” of what he accomplished, while criticizing how the Democratic administration that succeeded him has implemented the program.

…Before RomneyCare was enacted, estimates of the number of uninsured in Massachusetts ranged from 372,000 to 618,000. Under the new program, about 219,000 previously uninsured residents have signed up for insurance. Of these, 133,000 are receiving subsidized coverage, proving once again that people are all too happy to accept something “for free,” and let others pay the bill.

…between half and two-thirds of those uninsured before the plan was implemented remain so. That’s a far cry from universal coverage. In fact, whatever progress has been made toward reducing the ranks of the uninsured appears to be almost solely the result of the subsidies.

…Originally, the plan was projected to cost $1.8 billion this year. Now it is expected to exceed those estimates by $150 million. Over the next 10 years, projections suggest that Romney- Care will cost about $2 billion more than was budgeted.

…as Massachusetts has shown us, mandating insurance, restricting individual choice, expanding subsidies, and increasing government control isn’t going to solve those problems. A mandate imposes a substantial cost in terms of individual choice but is almost certainly unenforceable and will not achieve its goal of universal coverage. Subsidies may increase coverage, but will almost always cost more than projected and will impose substantial costs on taxpayers. Increased regulations will drive up costs and limit consumer choice.

The answer to controlling health care costs and increasing access to care lies with giving consumers more control over their health care spending while increasing competition in the health care marketplace- not in mandates, subsidies, and regulation.

Romney needs to develop a consistent narrative for Romneycare (signed into law in 2006 – note that he vetoed much of the legislation but was overridden by Democrats).   Democrats have since made additional changes to the program.  The program appears to be marginally effective at best for bringing in uninsured residents but costs have sky-rocketed.

Huntsville school board: elected or appointed?

Huntsville’s own renaissance man Challen Stephens of  The Huntsville Times wrote “Huntsville school board: elected or appointed?”:

“I yearn for folks with a business background being able to get involved and make these hard decisions,” said Rep. Phil Williams, R-Toney, who is leading the call to do away with the little district elections. “I’m a bit frustrated we’re to this point.”

He said the city board’s failure to plan for anticipated state budget cuts now threatens the economic health of the whole area. Williams said he is speaking to lawmakers about a proposal to place board appointments in the hands of the city council.

…”I haven’t heard an outcry from the people for changing anything,” said Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. “They’ve certainly got problems, but it didn’t happen over night … that’s why the people elected them. They’ve got to find a way forward.”

…Madison residents may apply to serve on the board. Each year the city council screens applicants, holds public interviews, and makes one appointment.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley said the system has worked “extremely well,” as voters hold council members accountable, while “apolitical” board members are freed from the competition between different parts of the city. “We’ve done redistricting four times in the last 11 years,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people who would not feel comfortable in an election process,” said Finley on Wednesday, “but they feel very comfortable in being appointed by a city council.”

The problems with the Huntsville Housing Authority should remind us of the dangers of unelected bureaucrats and appointed boards.

I like elections.  Political Science professor and TV hunk Dr. Jess Brown of Athens State does too (was I indoctrinated during his classes?), from his discussion this morning with the “most interesting man in Alabama” Dale Jackson on WVNN (AM770 / FM92.5).  While the HCS Superintendent’s job is technocratic, I’d be in favor of an elected Superintendent (like Madison County).

I also like partisanship.  I think that municipal offices (Mayor, Council, School Board) should be elected in partisan elections.  The benefits are: cost savings from not having a separate municipal election system, greater turnout, two shots at getting the best candidate (primary and general).

MCGOP – 15 January 2011

Me and a couple of hundred fellow travellers attended the Madison County Republican Club breakfast Saturday morning.  The speakers were area State House Representatives who gave (very) short speeches announcing their committee assignments.  Here’s an even shorter summary of their remarks:

Wayne Johnson (22) is on the Judiciary and Public Safety committees – “right down the line of work I’ve been doing most of my life”.  “We passed ethics laws – I’m proud to be a Republican”.

Jim Patterson (21) is on the Industrial Recruitment and Tourism committees, as well as the Health Board – after “29 years as a pharmaceutical representative” he’ll work for “better care and hold costs down”.  “We’ve got a bright future”.

Phil Williams (6) is on the new Research and Technology committee, plus the Education Policy and Appropriations (Higher Education) committees. “Things are going to get better”.

Mac McCutcheon (25) is on the Transportation and Ways and Means General Fund committees.  “I’ve been beat up, shot at, and had two children, but passing ethics reform was probably the toughest thing in my life”.

Howard Sanderford (20) is on the Boards and Committees committee, where he can “straighten out some State agencies”.  “There’s a new day in Montgomery”.

In addition to the speakers, many elected officials attended the breakfast – eager to discuss issues with their constituents, including  State Senator Clay Scofield, Judge Dick Richardson, newly-appointed County Commissioner Phil Riddick, County Clerk Jane Smith, and County School Board member David Vess.  Non-partisan attendees included Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds, and School Board member David Blair.  Future Judges (IMO) Assistant District Attorney Don Rizzardi and Sam Givhan attended.  Former Congressman Parker Griffith is a regular attendee at the meetings – it will be interesting to see what role he develops for himself in local GOP politics. 

I’ve seen Alabama A&M’s Wendy Kobler (VP for Marketing) at several GOP events, usually with other AAMU leaders.  IMO getting to know local officials is a smart move by AAMU. 

Congratulations to Clinton Carter, who accepted a position with the Bentley administration.  Carter led the Huntsville Governors Forum effort last Spring and is (soon-to-be was) the President of the Young Republicans.

***

After speaking with School Board member David Blair I’m reassured that Huntsville City Schools will emerge from the current crisis stronger than they are now.  Blair plans to cut staff before cutting teachers, develop “objective” merit-based policies for keeping teachers (using student testing performance trends, credentials, &c), and look at creative ways to reduce personnel costs (like using inmates to cut grass).

Bentley keeps a promise

Governor-elect Dr. Robert Bentley partially fulfilled part of the Gas Tax Pledge by appointing John Cooper as Director of the Alabama Department of Transportation.  The Gas Tax Pledge promised to keep at least 80% of Madison County / Huntsville / Madison gas taxes in this area – plus – appoint an ALDOT Director from North Alabama.  Cooper lives near Guntersville, but worked as CEO of Avocent and CFO of Adtran in Huntsville.

Shelly Haskins of The Huntsville Times wrote “Gov.-elect Robert Bentley names retired Huntsville business executive John R. Cooper transportation director”:

“A first-class transportation system is a critical part of my plan for economic growth and bringing good-paying jobs to our citizens,” Bentley said in a news release. “John Cooper has the managerial experience and leadership qualities to ensure that Alabama has the right transportation infrastructure we need to succeed.”

Thanks Dr. Bentley – I hope this is the first of many posts saying “Bentley keeps a promise”!

City Council should boot the boot

The Huntsville City Council reportedly will vote on the “Fightfighter Boot” ordinance at the December 2 meeting.  The Firefighter Boot Ordinance would allow firefighters to collect money from motorists at city intersections to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Let me praise Huntsville’s public safety professionals for a minute.  I was in an accident several months ago and the firefighters who responded were compassionate and professional, as were the police and paramedics.  It is disconcerting to regain consciousness as firefighters are assessing your injuries – the firefighters were calm and thorough – I was in good hands.

Keeping that in mind, I agree with Police Chief Mark Hudson that the Firefighter Boot ordinance endangers public safety:  “I’ve been doing this 30 years and have never seen a pedestrian win a pedestrian-vehicle crash”.

I think that the Firefighter Boot ordinance promotes an unnecessary risk for the volunteers panhandling at intersections.  The firefighters proved that they can raise money for charity without the ordinance ($16,500 for breast cancer equipment).  I urge the Council to vote NO to the Boot.

***

Councilman Mark Russell “says the Rocket City needs a written policy spelling out what incentives it is willing to offer to lure new shopping”:

“It seems that over the past year, many more developers are calling me and asking for the City Council to get involved in their projects,” Russell said recently. “The environment’s changing … and I just want to make sure the city isn’t missing out on any opportunities because we don’t have a (retail incentive) policy.”

His resolution would allow any retailer that spends $30 million-plus building a new store in Huntsville to keep as much as half of the local sales taxes that it generates — up to $2 million a year.

In a rare instance of disagreement with Russell, I don’t like this “retail incentive policy” because it subsidizes only one class of business - major retailers.  I’m not a fan of government interference in the free market.  For example, this policy might reward a WalMart, but not a Star Market or Hibbett’s Sports or Mama Annies.  Note that I like WalMart but I don’t think they need a subsidy.  Also note that if the incentive brings IKEA or Nordstrom to Huntsville, I like it (ack! slippery slope).

Even worse, the policy subsidizes “new construction” while we have numerous empty big box stores.

I am all for City policies (and fairly applied incentives) to encourage and support retail and commercial business – but this doesn’t do it for me (the bike rack requirement didn’t either).

***

James at Huntsville Development News announced that he started working for the City this week as a retail specialist with responsibilities ranging from “mapping out vacant and underused retail properties throughout the city, to locating potential grocery store sites/chains for under served urban areas (like the NW and SW sides).”

Since part of my job is to come up with ideas to improve areas of the city, you may see more “Ideas” posts for general neighborhoods and corridors. My hope is that I will be able to get valuable input from you, the reader, on as many ideas as possible.

I encourage you to add Huntsville Development News to your favorites.  Thanks to Mayor Tommy Battle for making this happen - gathering data to support decision-making - what a concept!

Jane Smith joins GOP

Madison County Circuit Clerk Jane Smith announced today that “I am officially joining the Republican Party… For those of you who know me, this is no surprise… I will be proud of the stand I take here today… We must join together as conservatives and Republicans… Standing on the sidelines is not an option… [we need] change from the Courthouse to the Statehouse to the White House.”

Brian and I attended the Madison County Republican breakfast this morning, along with a couple of hundred officials, members, and fellow travelers.

State Representative Howard Sanderford (R-20) announced that five Democratic Representatives will be joining the GOP, further confirming the rumors that have been floating around since Phil Williams (R-6) mentioned the gains earlier this week.  Sanderford noted that there are just a few white Democrats left in the State Legislature, and not that many more black Democrats.

I think that the national Republican conservative / Democratic liberal realignment rolled into Alabama state politics this year, completing a process that has been building for years.    I think that we will see a GOP realignment at the County level and it won’t take long to realize those gains.  The dam burst in the November elections here in Madison County with every Democrat at the county level being defeated.  There are one or two more local Democrats I’d like to see come over.

To take Sanderford’s point to the next level, I think that we’ll see a realignment in the black community.  The GOP has some work to do to make that happen, but blacks are more conservative than liberal and aren’t being served by corrupt Democrats and liberals.  Some people might be surprised when this happens here in Alabama – but I think black folks will come home to the GOP.

Coroner-elect Craig Whisenant spoke to the crowd for a minute, saying that his plan to reform the Coroner’s office is coming together.  Once he takes office (note that the Democrats and The Times are complaining about him before he’s even been sworn in), I think we’ll see some positive changes in the office.  I chatted with Whisenant after the meeting (first time to talk in real life) and he said that he will send us details of the plan soon.

Jindal – American Rights

National Review Online posted “American Rights, American Responsibilities” by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal:

In America today, we need to trust ourselves not look to others to take care of us. As a society, we bloom when we allow individuals to work hard and enjoy what they can achieve. Economist and Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek rightly credited the “unchaining of individual energies” with creating and sustaining the West’s freedom and prosperity. Only individuals create and dream, something Americans have recognized since the nation’s founding. That is why we Americans reject collectivism. We do not believe that, in the words of one turn-of-the-century German thinker, “The individual is nothing in relation to the course [of time], the species is everything.”

…Today, we have taxpayer dollars going to banks, investment houses, and automakers, and financial firms that are judged “too big to fail.” Our government is supposed to be a “partner” with these businesses. As one businessman told me, that’s like an alligator having a chicken as a partner for dinner. I believe big government should not be picking and choosing which companies we will bail out or rescue. That political competition lets the best lobbyists determine the winner.

…Consider the words of Harry Hopkins, who oversaw both the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the distribution of funds from the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) under FDR during the Great Depression. “I thought at first I could be completely non-political,” Hopkins said (as quoted by Robert E. Sherwood in the definitive Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History). “Then they told me I had to be part non-political and part political. I found out that was impossible, at least for me. I finally realized that there was nothing for it but to be all-political.”

…Yet today there are still some people who want to harp on America’s limits. They still say that our best days are behind us. These big-government advocates tell us their failures are the best Americans can do. Forget cooking up anything new — let’s just divide the old American pie into smaller, equally unsatisfying pieces.

That is all bunk. It’s not a sunset but a sunrise that still starts America’s day.

I hope Bobby Jindal runs for President someday, but Jindal said today “I’m not running for president in 2012. Period. No ifs, ands or buts, no caveats,” Jindal said. “We have made great progress in Louisiana, but we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Public Policy Polling says Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are the leading Republican Presidential candidates for 2012, followed by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.  I Stand with Mitt.

***

BTW – To save you from having to look it up, the “German thinker” Jindal referred to was Ludwig Büchner in The Power of Heredity and Its Influence on the Moral and Mental Progress of Humanity published in 1882.

The rise of civilization

Fair and balanced Fox News wrote “Beer Lubricated the Rise of Civilization” (tip Instapundit):

Signs that people went to great lengths to obtain grains despite the hard work needed to make them edible, plus the knowledge that feasts were important community-building gatherings, support the idea that cereal grains were being turned into beer,  said archaeologist Brian Hayden at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

“Beer is sacred stuff in most traditional societies,” said Hayden, who is planning to submit research on the origins of beer to the journal Current Anthropology.

…”It’s not that drinking and brewing by itself helped start cultivation, it’s this context of feasts that links beer and the emergence of complex societies,” Hayden said.

…”Feasts are essential in traditional societies for… developing more complex kinds of societies,” Hayden explained. “Feasts are reciprocal — if I invite you to my feast, you have the obligation to invite me to yours…”

“In traditional feasts throughout the world, there are three ingredients that are almost universally present,” he said. “One is meat. The second is some kind of cereal grain… The third is alcohol, and because you need surplus grain to put into it, as well as time and effort, it’s produced almost only in traditional societies for special occasions to impress guests, make them happy, and alter their attitudes favorably toward hosts.”

Free the Hops fully supports “the rise of civilization”.

We’re doing our part by supporting the Brewery Modernization Act:

If passed, breweries can sell on-premises like a brewpub, or to wholesalers, or to both. Although the breweries must be licensed, they do not need to be located in an historic building, have no production cap, and can be located in any wet county or city. There is also no requirement for a brewery to operate a restaurant in order to sell beer on-premises, although they certainly can and many probably will.

The passage of the Gourmet Beer Bill led to the start up of three breweries in Huntsville (we have a total of four).   That is new economic activity.  The Brewery Modernization Act has the potential to create an entire new industry in Alabama – and that means JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!