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by Tom Pauken    Thu, Jan 26, 2006, 03:29 PM

Sen. John McCain
Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma have sent a letter to all of their fellow members of the U.S. Senators announcing their commitment to challenge each and every "earmark" on the floor of the Senate. Currently, individual Congressmen routinely put in special provisions (known as "earmarks") attached to appropriations bills which are highly sought after by well-heeled lobbyists on behalf of their clients. The earmark usually benefit a narrow interest and often are attached to legislation without any debate or discussion. Coburn and McCain point out in their letter that, by forcing the full 226177-256786-thumbnail.jpg
Sen. Tom Coburn
Senate to consider these provisions, "this will give all Senators the opportunity to learn the merits of earmarked projects and affirm or reject them."

The two Senators put it well when they say: "Decisions about how taxpayer dollars are spent should not be made in the dark."

Perhaps, one good thing that is coming of this Washington lobbyist scandal is that the old way of doing business in Washington by cavaliering spending "other people’s money" (in this case taxpayers’ dollars) at the behest of a variety of special interests may come under increased scrutiny and challenge.

Click here to view a copy of the letter Senators Coburn and McCain sent their fellow Senators.


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by Special to    Thu, Jan 26, 2006, 01:24 PM

IRVINE, CA. – According to RealtyTrac™, December led 2005 with the highest number of foreclosures. The December 2005 Monthly U.S. Foreclosure Market Report, which shows 81,290 properties nationwide entered some stage of foreclosure in December, a 13.5 percent increase from the previous month. The report shows a December national foreclosure rate of one new foreclosure for every 1,422 U.S. households, the highest foreclosure rate reported in 2005.

"December’s higher US foreclosure rates were almost exactly the same foreclosure rates reported in October, which means that the two months with the highest numbers of foreclosures were both in the fourth quarter of 2005," said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. "These rising numbers to finish off the year may indicate that economic factors such as higher interest rates are making it harder for some homeowners stay current on their mortgage payments."

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by Special to    Thu, Jan 26, 2006, 01:18 PM

West Virginia reported a record low in mine deaths during 2005. Sadly, the first month of 2006 has already witnessed a reversal of this achievement, and two tragic mine disasters have unfolded before the anxious eyes of a nation. The latest mining catastrophe occurred last Thursday, when a conveyor belt caught fire at a Melville coal mine. Two miners were lost in the blaze. Their deaths marked the thirteenth and fourteenth 2006 casualties in West Virginia due to a coal mining accident.

The tragedies are heartbreaking, to say the least. The prayers of a nation go out to the new widows and fatherless children who have been left behind.

Unfortunately, the situation already seems to be degenerating in a way that has become typical for our generation. We, the American people, have big hearts for those in trouble, but we are also too quick to entrust problems to the federal government. Such a state of affairs has led to more bureaucracy, diluted voter input, and fewer sensible solutions.

Federal officials, of course, are all too willing to take on any problem that the American people throw their way. Consider the speed with which federal officials took to the airwaves on Saturday afternoon. Congressman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) urged: "The government has responsibility here to step in and to ensure we are vigilant in our protection of the miners’ health and safety." His sentiments were echoed by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va), who stated, "The grief is unbelievable and I don’t think it’s gonna be left alone in legislation." Not to be outdone, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee swiftly scheduled hearings on mine safety.

From all appearances, new government regulations are needed. But why must these regulations be federal ones? Why are local or state laws automatically deemed insufficient?

Instead, many have already assumed—without asking—that federal intervention is needed.

Default reliance on the federal government has become the norm. Few Americans realize that such a mindset would have been considered anathema to our nation’s Founders. To the contrary, the founding generation, by and large, distrusted the centralization of power in a national government. They preferred to leave government power close to home, where citizens could have a greater influence on the legislative process. They deliberately created a "federalist" form of government in which the national government would be delegated certain powers over foreign affairs and interstate commerce, but the states would retain all other authority not expressly delegated to the national government.

The founding generation considered such a division of power between state and local authorities to be an important safeguard for freedom.

Consider the situation in West Virginia. The national government should take responsibility for at least one aspect of the problem. To the degree that Congress has discouraged production of alternative sources of energy such as oil or nuclear power, increased pressure has been placed on coal-producing states such as West Virginia. The federal government bears responsibility for helping to relieve that pressure. One state (or a handful of states) should not be responsible for the energy needs of the entire country.

On the other hand, the federal government can’t efficiently administrate every aspect of the mines—nor should it try to do so. West Virginia is the second-largest producer of coal in America. Its residents are impacted by mine safety (and mine profits) on a daily basis. The voters of that state, as represented by their officials in the state legislature, are thus best equipped to determine what they need. Moreover, as the voters most impacted by the issue, they should be the ones who determine the appropriate balance between cost and safety.

Furthermore, citizens in another coal-producing state, such as Wyoming, might view the safety versus profit equation differently. Those voters should be free to make such choices for themselves. Except to the degree that a national energy policy is reasonably affected, it is hard to image what good can come of giving voters in non-coal-producing states a seat at the table in this particular policy discussion.

In short, we are robbing West Virginia voters of their right to self-governance if we force them to negotiate solutions with citizens in other regions of the country—voters who will know little about the ins and outs of coal mining. Indeed, a few firefighters in West Virginia are already complaining that they were hindered by federal regulations during last week’s rescue effort.

For a country that claims to love democratic principles, local governance should come naturally. It’s a pity that West Virginia voters will be forced to succumb to the solutions dreamt up by a far-away national government when they could probably devise better rules on their own.

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by Tom Pauken    Wed, Jan 25, 2006, 02:55 PM

Ted Cruz
There is a good article in the Houston Chronicle today by Janet Elliott on the Texas education funding issue. A senate panel met yesterday in Austin and heard testimony from Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz that lowering property taxes alone "won’t fix the state’s school finance system."

Right now, the state funds only 38% of public education in Texas, with property owners funding most of the cost of public education in Texas. John Sharp wants to reduce property taxes by a third and increase the state funding percentage. It is estimated that, to accomplish this goal, the Legislature will have to find more than $5 billion in additional taxes. Many believe that the fairest way to do that is through a broad-based, low percentage business activities tax which would replace the existing franchise tax and make sure that all businesses pay their fair share. As John Sharp has pointed out, 15 out of 16 businesses now use loopholes to avoid the Texas franchise tax. What I read from the Texas Solicitor General’s comments is that the legislature needs to give school districts spending discretion for local enrichment programs in order to satisfy the Texas Supreme Court. Surely, there is a way to do that by requiring voter approval anytime a local school district wants to raise taxes beyond a certain cap level. In this way, taxpayers won’t be faced with a situation similar to what occurred back in 1997 when the legislature cut property taxes by $1 billion only to have local districts quickly raise them by more than that without having to go to the voters to approve those increases.

To read the entire Houston Chronicle article, link here.

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THE PAINFUL JOYS OF CAPITALISM by Bill Murchison Print E-mail
by    Wed, Jan 25, 2006, 02:22 PM

The stock market said, salivatingly, it enjoyed Ford Motor Co.’s pain. No sooner had Ford announced the impending demise of 20,000 to 25,000 jobs than the market smiled, nodded, and bid up Ford stock by 5 percent: the underlying assumption being that, for Ford, as for the whole U. S. automotive industry, the old days are over and new ones are commencing.

There’s a lot of that going around right now: cars, airlines, textiles, newspapers. It hurts. And it saddens. As an experience, it seems embedded in our national life. The sooner we get used to it, perhaps, the better for all.

Popular wisdom tells us life has no guarantees. Yet starting in the ‘40s, the workplace seemed to offer at least some strong probabilities. One could go to work for a large company; stay on and on; retire with ample, or anyway adequate, benefits; and coast from there to the, ah, place of final repose.

The tribulations of the U. S. auto industry -- Ford’s plight is merely representative -- call to mind what an atypical period we have been living in. The dream of lifetime employment -- anywhere -- was a fantasy of the post-Depression, post-World War II era. Labor and management in the ‘40s and ‘50s thought people would keep on buying cars (or TV’s or refrigerators, or cameras), and management would pass on the proceeds to stockholders and workers.

All that meant was that technology and native restlessness had yet to create the kind of competitive situation we live in today: new ideas and methods vying for public favor; wresting that favor away from its previous guardians.

Ford, less and less able to make vehicles customers wanted, on the terms for which it wanted to sell them, saw these customers turn to overseas manfacturers. Chrysler and General Motors went down the same bleak street. The old habits held no longer, the most perilous of those being the habit of making large pension and benefit concessions to the unions, then hoping to recover the cost through the customers’ habit of buying Fords, etc. What happens when that doesn’t work -- when the customers, that is -- buy fewer Fords? What happened this week is what happens: a company reorders its priorities, at severe cost to workers who believed for some reason (possibly because the company encouraged such a belief) that, yes, some guarantees life does have.

The pain and the awfulness are real and widespread. And not confined to the automotive industry. The newspaper business, once my own industry, is suffering radical customer withdrawals. The Internet scratches customer itches that, for some, no printed source can hope to address. In response newspapers are desperately reinventing themselves, by downsizing payrolls, redesigning the product, or -- in some sad cases -- dumbing down.

Bad or good? Both, really. Bad for those who see their expectations blunted and their jobs lost. Good for consumers who end up getting -- as is conventionally the case in these revolutionary contexts -- more for less. And good for the quick and ambitious who, seeing the train pulling out of the station, jump aboard. .

For all the pain, we rarely find ourselves living in economic ruins. New skyscrapers are perpetually on their way up. . We call it, following the Austrian-born economist Joseph Schumpeter, creative destruction. An old model dies; a new one rises, Phoenix-like, from the rubble and debris.   Turnover in a dynamic capitalist society is perpetual, like it or not. Perpetual and painful -- one of those paradoxes that life insists on flaunting. Companies that come back have to die a little in order to live again. The dreams, the hopes of ordinary people get slammed; but in time new ways of doing things -- and new things that replace old things -- create new jobs, new opportunities.

A second consolation: If capitalism can hurt -- which it can, unmistakably -- think how slight is that pain compared to the mediocrity, the stupor, the gritty grayness produced by every experiment ever conducted under the gospel of regulated "success."

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