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Monday, August 31, 2009

A Threat to the New Hampshire Economic Development Coaltion

We've spent a lot of time covering efforts by our neighboring states to boost the New Hampshire economy by continually raising their tax rates. They've certainly done more to create jobs in the Granite State than our own spendthrift Legislature.

Now comes word from the Portsmouth Herald that a group of citizens in Maine is trying to lower its tax rate through the petition process.
The voices of these men and women have convinced us that a petition drive currently under way to repeal a new tax reform law has merit. The law, passed in the waning days of the legislative session last in June, reduces the state income tax on all but the wealthiest Mainers, by instituting a flat tax of 6.5 percent. Currently, income taxes top out at 8.5 percent.

Petitioners must get 55,087 verified signatures to the secretary of state by Sept. 11. If they are successful, the law will be put in abeyance and voters will decide whether to repeal it next June.
The Herald editorial page comes out in favor of the effort, which is fine for Maine taxpayers. But what about us? How will New Hampshire be able to keep raising its taxes, fees, and budgets if our neighboring states start lowering theirs?

A funny thing happened at the DMV

The Concord Monitor kindly reprints my experience at the Division of Motor Vehicles in the Sunday Monitor Viewpoints section.
The Division of Motor Vehicles has become a parody of itself these days, ranking behind perhaps only the Post Office as a symbol of bureaucratic cluelessness. The very name conjures up images of long lines, endless paperwork and bleary-eyed government drones immune to your pleas to be treated with a little courtesy.

It was with these stereotypes in mind that I drove up to the DMV headquarters in Concord. I'm moving into a new apartment this week, and I needed to update the address on my license. I have 10 days to notify the DMV, but I was feeling proactive, so I went online to find out how I could go about the arduous process of changing my address.

Trains in NH? No Way.

The Concord Monitor has put yesterday's Viewpoints section online. We're happy to link to the many interesting articles in that section. First, Dick Lemieux argues that new passenger rail service makes little or no sense in New Hampshire.
First, New Hampshire lacks the critical mass of riders or the population density to support rail.

Transit advocates have a long history of overestimating ridership. And federal authorities have a long history of accepting them without question. (Check out the trolleys.) The suggestion that 1,000 to 1,500 riders per day would board in Concord alone is laughable. According to Census figures, 165 commuters made the daily trip between Concord and Boston in 2000.

History tells us that new train passengers are former bus passengers, not former car drivers. Thus, trains would not remove very many cars from the road. They would remove buses. Nowhere in America has rail reduced intercity highway congestion.

Second, rail would cost money the state simply doesn't have. At a time when the state is laying off employees, raising taxes and fees, cutting services and cutting critical support to municipalities, it is irresponsible to propose a new $300 million project of any kind, let alone one that would benefit between one tenth and one half of 1 percent of New Hampshire's residents.

Based on reasonable estimates of cost and ridership, the startup cost would be between $45,000 and $300,000 per daily passenger. Looking forward, U.S. Department of Transportation data show that rail operating subsidies average 21 cents per passenger mile, compared with 4.7 cents for buses.

Cold Cash: Freezes Save Money

The Union Leader praises Governor John Lynch for saving far more than expected through his spending freezes, but finds some of the waivers debatable.
Gov. John Lynch's executive orders freezing hires, travel and equipment purchases saved $5 million more than expected, for a total of $13 million. That's great news. It's also evidence that there is fat to be trimmed from the state budget.

Gov. Lynch approved some exceptions to the freezes, including hiring a historian for the department of cultural resources ($43,073) and six recliners for the state veterans' home ($11,579).

A historian is an emergency hire? We can't get a furniture store to donate six recliners for veterans?

Governor Lynch deserves credit for instituting the Executive Order that led to this savings. State departments have been far more careful with General Fund dollars since February 2008 because of it. We are looking forward to seeing how the Department of Administrative Services calculated the $13 million savings estimate, and would love to see similar restraint applied to the areas of the budget outside of the General Fund. But for now, we'll simply echo the Union Leader's praise for the Governor's actions.

Union drafts furlough pact

The Concord Monitor runs an AP story that the State Employees Assocation has reached a tentative forlough deal to take 18 days off, without pay, over the next two years.
If ratified by State Employees Association of New Hampshire members, the deal would avoid 750 layoffs in state government.

The first of 12 state government shutdowns would occur Oct. 12, according to the union.

The tentative shutdown dates were agreed upon Friday evening during talks between the union and the governor's office, said union spokeswoman Diana Lacey. The union agreed to the dates for the shutdowns after examining how they would affect public services and the employees who would have to absorb the loss of pay, she said.

Nothing to do with public policy

Okay, this will likely have no impact whatsoever on the New Hampshire budget or anything else we cover here at NH Watchdog, but I've been hit with three pieces of awful news.

First, Dartmouth is losing my favorite philosophy professor, to Duke.

Second, the Patriots are losing my favorite linebacker, to retirement.

And finally, on a more serious note, New Hampshire has lost one of its best Congressional staff members, Dan Wihby.
For many years, Dan served as an assistant to U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg in the senator's Manchester office. In the political seasons, he was field director for the senator's election campaigns. He also played key advisory and hands-on roles in many other campaigns -- national, state, and local. Prior to his full-time association with Sen. Gregg, he was also for a time employed with the N.H. Crime Commission and the N.H. Office of Emergency Management.

Dan was a friend and a role model. He will be missed.

Please buy the dead tree edition of the Sunday Monitor

The print version of the Sunday Monitor features the always-indepensible Capital Beat column, an op-ed from Dick Lemieux on why new passenger rail projects are wrong for New Hampshire, and my column about my positive experience at the DMV.

Of course, I wish we had an online version that I could link to. When I take the time to praise state government, there really should be a permanent record kept.

On the bright side, I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed leafing through the Sunday paper.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Selling out to socialists in a shiny new car

Rick Fabrizio, Managing Editor of the Portsmouth Herald, has a tongue in cheek (we think) article about buying a new car through the Cash for Clunkers program.
August 30, 2009 2:00 AM

I am the proud driver of a shiny new car, purchased with $4,500 of government aid through its "Cash for Clunkers" program.

My purchase was quick and easy. So, I drive happily along as a big fan of the economic/environmental stimulus package. When I see other shiny new cars on the road proudly adorning temporary license plates, I give the drivers a thumbs-up, maybe even a wink depending on the driver.

It's like the 1990s when everyone was making scads of cash and were buying SUVs and German sports cars. Well, it's not exactly like the '90s in that there were no public dollars for those rides, but if you think about it, the '90s cash was just as fake as the federal dollars being churned out today. (more)

Let there be light

In his weekly column in the Nashua Telegraph, Kevin Landrigan looks into some of the purchases that required a waiver to the Governor's Executive Order.
We price checked some of the equipment items that raised eyebrows before the Legislative Fiscal Committee last week. They were among the $2.9 million in expenses that Lynch agreed to waive from a freeze on equipment purchases.

The now infamous SigPro pistols cost the Liquor Commission $900 apiece for its investigators. We found the same model gun on ableammo.com on sale for $531; however, this doesn't include the grip, which costs another $269.

The $110 flashlights that probation and parole officers use at the Department of Corrections stood up even better. The Pelican 7060 LED dual-switch, self-charging light was on sale for $115 on opticsplanet.net.

Budget oversight members pounced on one trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, that a health and human services aide had taken last Nov. 21. Before you picture the image of a state bureaucrat sipping an umbrella drink while lounging on the sand, it was noted the one-day trip was to collar a New Hampshire runaway who headed for his former homeland.

The trip-taking winner goes to the business-seeking Department of Resources and Economic Development, which racked up $38,000 in expenses on multi-day trade shows or business visits to Germany; Ontario, Canada; Orlando, Fla.; Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; and Pittsburgh.

Landrigan also has some valuable insights into the computer fiasco at the Department of Employment Security, and the state's apparant inability to get the Enterprise Resource Planning program off the ground.

Parties duel over Lynch Waivers

In his Under the Sate House Dome Column in the Union Leader, Tom Fahey includes reaction to the report on the Governor's 352 waivers to his Executive Order on spending freezes.

The waivers for 17 flashlights (at $110 each) given to parole and probation officers got a lot of attention. But GOP spokesman Ryan Williams focused on waivers that allowed government to hire 162 new people.

"If he'd stuck to his original order, we may not have needed 38 new taxes," Williams said. "This should remind voters that the governor has not been public about the details of his disastrous budget. There are more cuts to be made and more savings to be made."

The executive orders were supposed to save $8 million, but Lynch's staff was happy to point out they actually saved $13.3 million. Williams said if the executive orders had been followed strictly, the state would have saved nearly $20 million.
We're pleased to see people talking about this Executive Order, and its impact on the state budget. We're glad Governor Lynch has apparantly saved the state over $13 million because of it. And we're heartened that his Administration has finally reported the waivers it has issues in FY09. We will continue to monitor how the hiring freeze, as well as the travel and equipment freezes, impact New Hampshire's finances.

New Hampshire gets high marks for stimulus transparency

The Union Leaders leads the front page of the print edition with a story of New Hampshire getting good reviews from a federal watchdog group for the way it has been sharing information on how it spends stimulus cash.

I'd be happy to link to it, but it's only printed on dead trees.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Don't Exhale: EPA Expected to Declare Carbon Dioxide a Dangerous Pollutant

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected in the next few weeks to declare that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are pollutants, a move that would require the federal government to regulate them. For those of you who slept through High School science class, people breath in air and breath out carbon dioxide. Lots of carbon dioxide. Human breathing is estimated to produce around 9% of the CO2 released into the atmosphere each year. And now according to the EPA our breathing equals polluting.

It's not just people who breath/pollute. It's all animals - from those cute tap dancing penguins to the endangered pandas to the very fish in the sea. Has anyone calculated the carbon flipperprint of whales? Their lungs are huge. Just think of all the pollution coming out of their blow holes.

And let's not forget cows. They're doubly bad. Sure they give us milk and cheese and Big Yogurt. But in addition to breathing out carbon dioxide they emit methane from the other end too. Is the EPA going to ban cows to help save the planet?

What about insects? They may be small but there are a lot more of them than there are of us. Will the EPA regulate insects? By some calculations the CO2 exhaled from insects around the world is twice as much as the CO2 released from all human activity. Granted having the government rid us of mosquitos and black flies doesn't sound all that bad. Especially if it fights global warming. But do we have to eliminate lightening bugs and butterflies too?

And it's not just breathing that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. What about the tens of billions of carbonated beverages Americans consume every year. To the EPA those fizzy bubbles in your soft drink, sparkling water, or adult malt beverage are dangerous greenhouse gasses that must be regulated. Somehow celebrating the founding of our country at a Fourth of July picnic just won't be the same if the EPA mandates flat soda and beer.
Friday, August 28, 2009

Don't exhale.

That advice may need heeding if the Environmental Protection Agency declares carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases dangerous pollutants, a move -- expected in the next couple weeks -- that would require the federal government to impose new rules limiting emissions.

But some skeptics say regulating carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, may be a difficult task, especially since people emit carbon dioxide with every breath.

"The EPA doesn't have the manpower to implement the regulations the way they would have to be," said David Kreutzer, senior policy analyst in energy economics and climate change at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Kreutzer said new regulations would trigger a flood of lawsuits, would create massive paperwork and the EPA should have no reasonable expectation that people would comply. (more)

Defending the New Hampshire Advantage

The New Hampshire Advantage Coalition is hosting the "Defending the New Hampshire Advantage" Pork Roast today at the Rochester Fair Grounds, starting at 11am, rain or more rain. They've anticipated the elements, and are moving the event into the fair buildings on site, so the show will go on.

I've been asked to speak for a few minutes about the current state budget, and the 41 tax and fee increases since the first of the year. I expect to be on sometime between 12 and 12:30. I hope to see you there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

TGIFriedman- Immigration

As with many of Milton Friedman's videos from the 70's and 80's, it's remarkable how we are still facing the same questions today.

Leishman Lease Investigation- Part 3

Railroad Lease Investigative File Part 3

Leishman Lease Investigation- Part 2

Railroad Lease Investigative File- Part 2

Leishman Lease Investigation- Part 1

Railroad Lease Investigation File- Part 1

Many object to spending during freeze

Kevin Landrigan covers the large number of waivers to the Governor's spending freeze in the Nashua Telegraph.
Despite saving more than expected on an 18-month spending freeze, legislators questioned why some exceptions were made, including hiring 162 new state employees and expenses like $106 flashlights at the state prison and $900 pistols for liquor investigators.

All told, the freeze over the past year saved $13.3 million or $5 million more than had been expected.

"The freeze brought in more than we could have imagined and that's great news as we look to finish the last budget year in good shape,'' said Colin Manning, Gov. John Lynch's spokesman.
Landrigan also mentions our efforts to get this information out to the public.
The waivers were worth $6 million in state dollars and $7.7 million when you count spending from federal grants and other sources.

Grant Bosse is a researcher for the fiscally conservative Josiah Bartlett Center that had been seeking this detailed report and posted the entire list on its Web site at http://www.jbartlett.org/

"This amounts to the governor approving one waiver every single day over the past year,'' Bosse said. "We compliment the governor for achieving savings that exceed expectations, but the public has a right to examine every single waiver from these freezes and appreciate the state releasing that information.''

James Adams: Congress will do to health care what it did to the post office

James Adams pens a column in the Union Leader recounting Congressional efforts to "reform" the Post Office into backruptcy.
During this same period, the Internet was thriving. Yet in spite of that, mail volume increased by more than 2 billion pieces a year until 2006. Then came Congress to the rescue.

Congress created the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. Its intent was to help the Postal Service continue to grow and be more competitive. The result, as so often happens when Congress gets involved, was disaster.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., made sure the bill included a requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund its retirees' health benefits to the tune of $5.4 billion a year over a 10-year period, for a cost of $54 billion in a decade.

In 2006, the Postal Service had a $900 million profit. In just a little over two years, the $5.4 billion a year -- or $385 million a month -- has put the Postal Service in a free fall from which it may not be able to recover. The Postal Service is scheduled to lose $7 billion this year. Factor out the $10.8 billion the service has paid to the government, and it had a profit during this difficult economic time.

State panel eyes buying

Tom Fahey reports on yesterday's Fiscal Committee meeting in the Union Leader.
Bullet-proof vests and handguns for Liquor Commission inspectors and $110 flashlights for the Department of Corrections came under scrutiny yesterday as a legislative committee reviewed ways to limit state spending in 2009.

The Legislative Fiscal Committee was told that the state has saved $5 million more than it expected under executive orders from Gov. Lynch.

The series of four orders saved a total of $13.3 million, a report to the committee said. The orders were meant to cut spending on travel, and to limit hiring and equipment purchases However, committee members yesterday closely questioned Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon about waivers that were given state agencies. Some focused on hiring, others on equipment; Committee chair Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, asked about 17 $110 flashlights the Department of Corrections bought, and bullet-proof vests and handguns the Liquor Commission bought for liquor inspectors.

Fiscal Committee examines Lynch waivers

(CONCORD) The Legislative Fiscal Committee yesterday got its first look at the 352 waivers that Governor John Lynch made to his own Executive Orders instituting a hiring freeze, a ban on out of state travel, and limits of equipment purchases.

Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgden answered the Committee's questions about the report, which shows 352 exceptions to the Governor's budget controls in Fiscal Year 2009, totaling $6.2 million in spending. Hodgden says her office estimates that Executive Order 2008-01 resulted in $13.3 million in savings since Lynch issued it in February 2008.

Under the Order, Lynch retained the power to waive any of the three spending restraints if Department heads requested an exception in writing. Hodgden says she's headed up a Waiver Committee at the Department of Administrative Services which carefully reviews each request before singing off. She credits her fellow Commissioners for limiting their waiver requests to only their most pressing needs, but says not all requests were granted.

The Josiah Bartlett Center has asked to see all department requests for budget waivers. At Hodgden's suggestion, we will submit a formal request under RSA 91-A, the New Hampshire Right to Know Law. Hodgden says that her committee has worked diligently to make sure only the most urgent staffing and equipment needs receive waivers, and that she tries to delay filling vacant positions as long as possible in order to maximize savings in the budget.

Committee Chair Marjorie Smith (D-Durham) took issue with several waivers granted for expensive equipment purchases, including 17 flashlights for the Department of Corrections costing $110 each, bullet-proof vests for the Liquor Commission, and five fax machines each costing $350. Representative Neal Kurk (R-Weare) thanked Hodgden for complying with the reporting requirements of the Order, but asked why it took nearly 18 months for Fiscal to receive its first Exceptions Report.

Hodgden responded that her office reported on exception granted in FY08 last year, and has submitted three separate updates on the impact of the Governor's Executive Orders since March.

Senate Minority Leader Peter Bragdon (R-Milford) asked about one trip that caught his eye, a one-day journey to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Hodgden explained that a state worker had been dispatched to retrieve a juvenile runaway, and not on a long Caribbean vacation.

The Committee also questioned a discrepancy between two DAS reports relating to the Executive Orders. The 60-day report, issued in July, stated that Administrative Services had processed $7.1 million in savings, and was on track for the original estimate of $8 million. But the waiver report, written two weeks ago, showed $13.3 million in savings.

Hodgden explained that the two estimates were generated by separate teams within her own office using different methods. She claimed the August report, with the higher savings figure, was more accurate as it was compiled using more recent and detailed data. The report itself did not describe how DAS arrived at its estimate. The Josiah Bartlett Center has asked for more information on the Department's methodology.

While the report includes $6.2 million in waivers granted by the Governor, Hodgden told the Committee that the full cost has not yet been felt. Several positions were filled by waivers late in the year, so no paychecks have yet been issued. Those costs will show up in FY10.

Earlier in the meeting, the Fiscal Committee officially accepted over $100 million in federal funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The bulk of the funding is directed at the Department of Health and Human Services. These funds were anticipated in the budget adopted by the Legislature in June.

On several items, Kurk questions state officials on whether the federal money would expand benefits and services to individuals not currently receiving them. He worried that the "free" money would boost the state's budget baseline, and put "tremendous pressure on the Legislature" to replace the federal funds with state dollars once the ARRA funding expires in 2011.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Victory for Right To Know

While we're in the mood to praise state government, we would like to thank the Attorney General's Office for their swift cooperation in releasing the full investigative file in the complaint by Pan Am Systems against the Milford/Bennington Railroad, simply known as the Leishman Railroad Lease.

Associate Attorney General Ann Rice followed through on her promise to provide the entire file in an electronic format within a week. Today, I picked up a CD with the over 200 pages of correspondence and notes, with only two cell phone numbers redacted. The AG's Office charged us $1.00. This is how public information requests should be handled by state government, and we thank Attorney Rice for her diligence in exceeding the standards of New Hampshire's Right to Know Law.

We will upload the entire file shortly, and make it available for review online. Analyzing the investigation will take longer, as there is a lot of source material to examine.

On a side note, Attorney Rice added a cover letter to the file. It was on Kelly Ayotte's letterhead, with her name blacked out and Micahel Delaney's typed neatly in its place. We salute the Attorney General's Office for its frugality.

Using web techniques to fight terrorism

The Washington Post reports on an innovative and controversial way for intelligence agencies to share information- interactive wikis.

"There were a number of things posted that were ahead of what was being reported in the press," said Sean Dennehy, a CIA officer who helped establish the site.

Intellipedia is a collaborative online intelligence repository, and it runs counter to traditional reluctance in the intelligence community to the sharing of classified information. Indeed, it still meets with formidable resistance from many quarters of the 16 agencies that have access to the system.

But the site, which is available only to users with proper government clearance, has grown markedly since its formal launch in 2006 and now averages more than 15,000 edits per day. It's home to 900,000 pages and 100,000 user accounts.

Traditional bureaucracies treat information as currency to be hoarded and traded only for something else of value. But in truth, information becomes more valuable when it is shared.

Several years ago, DARPA proposed terrorism futures contracts as a way to gain distributed knowledge of impending terrorist attacks. It probably would have worked, but politicians slammed the idea for fear that someone, somewhere would profit by predicting and then carrying out an act of terrorism. The concern was appropriate but could have been addressed. Let's hope this effort to harness the power of distributive knowledge gets a more open-minded reception.

Following Fiscal

The secretly most powerful Committee in Concord meets this morning at 9:00am, as select members of the House and Senate convene this morning in the Fiscal Committee.

Click here to preview today's Fiscal Committee agenda. Most of the items deal with spending that free money that the federal government has been nice enough to send us.

Monitor- Lynch aids unemployment offices

Daniel Barrack reports in the Concord Monitor on the problems the Department of Employment Security is having with its new computer system.
The problems have been numerous: Hundreds of people did not receive their regular unemployment checks last week because of a printing glitch. Many others received duplicate checks. Some benefit recipients had trouble logging into the online unemployment system over the past week and could not file their weekly unemployment claims.

The result has been long lines of frustrated people at many of the state's regional unemployment offices.
The following item was approved by the Executive Council 0n June 3rd.
#42 Authorized to amend a contract with Deloitte Consulting LLP, Boston, MA (previously amended by G&C on 4-15-09, item #22), for additional enhancements of Unemployment Insurance processes and systems, by increasing the amount from $13,088,647 to $13,510,497. Effective upon G&C approval through December 31, 2010. 100% Federal Funds.

$13.5 million doesn't go as far as it used to.

Lynch: Online system for jobless isn't working

Tom Fahey reports in the Union Leader that Governor Lynch is unhappy with the way the Department of Employment Security is serving New Hampshire's unemployed.
Gov. John Lynch will extend hours, fix computers and more than double the number of people answering phones at "overwhelmed" DES offices.

Gov. John Lynch said he will take action this week to cut into waiting lines and frustration at unemployment offices.

Lynch said he plans to extend hours, fix computers and more than double the number of people answering phones at the Department of Employment Security offices to move claims along more quickly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Note to mainstream media

This is how you publish a retraction. From Denis Goddard at Free State Blogs.
I posted here yesterday a pretty vicious "hit piece" on Concord Mayor Jim Bouley, based on information posted here by a disarmament organization, "Mayors Against Illegal Guns"

This morning I got a call from Mr. Bouley himself. He was nice, good-natured, and generally just a pleasant guy to talk to -- certainly nicer than I would have been, had the tables been turned! Mr. Bouley thanked me for pointing out the "Mayors Against Illegal Guns". He said he was unaware of the organization, that he we not a member of that organization, and that he certainly had not given them permission to include him on their list of supporters. He informed me that it was his policy not to be involved in any such organizations, and that he had contacted them and asked that they remove his name from their lists.

Jim, I apologize for the blog post. I am sorry this organization used your name without your knowledge, and that I took the word of an anonymous website for truth. You handled a potentially awkward situation with grace and dignity.
No qualifications or yeah-buts. Just a straight forward admission of error, a statement of the facts, and sincere apology. If more newspapers addressed and corrected their mistakes this way, they might still have some readers.

AP IMPACT: Politics can drive stimulus priorities

Earlier the month public officials in northern New Hampshire spoke out publicly against spending $14 Million to upgrade the US border crossing in Pittsburg. Coos County Commissioner Bing Judd put it this way:
"There are roads and bridges up here that desperately need to be fixed. Among them is a bridge over the Connecticut River that is so bad off that fire trucks can no longer cross it. That bridge could be fixed for a lot less than $14 million, but instead Obama's "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" is going to spend that much on a new facility at one of the least-used border crossings we have." (more)
At the time people couldn't understand why the government was throwing money at a problem that didn't exist. Now Yahoo News has an article that may explain what's really going on.
By EILEEN SULLIVAN and MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON – A sleepy Montana checkpoint along the Canadian border that sees about three travelers a day will get $15 million under President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan. A government priority list ranked the project as marginal, but two powerful Democratic senators persuaded the administration to make it happen.

Despite Obama's promises that the stimulus plan would be transparent and free of politics, the government is handing out $720 million for border upgrades under a process that is both secretive and susceptible to political influence. This allowed low-priority projects such as the checkpoint in Whitetail, Mont., to skip ahead of more pressing concerns, according to documents revealed to The Associated Press.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. In 2004, Congress ordered Homeland Security to create a list, updated annually, of the most important repairs at checkpoints nationwide. But the Obama administration continued a Bush administration practice of considering other, more subjective factors when deciding which projects get money. (more)

Cash for Convicts?

The Boston Herald continues to lead the story on their investigation of federal stimulus money going to convicts.
One day after the Herald reported some surprised Bay State inmates - including murderers and rapists - were cashing in $250 stimulus checks, federal officials revealed the same behind-bars bonus was mailed to nearly 4,000 cons nationwide.

A federal watchdog is now probing how the cons were cut the checks. The same cash also may have been sent to fugitive felons, people kicked out of the country and even individuals now deceased.

Sending tax dollars to convicted criminals? At least Congress has finally gotten around to reforming its pension system.

Remembering Rose Friedman- Chicago Boyz

Chicago Boyz remembers a Chicago girl, via Ukraine.
One reason these times are as bad as they are is that even good people are terribly ignorant about freedom, including economic freedom, and what it means, and how it works, and what it means to lose it. Revisiting the popular work of Milton and Rose Friedman, and introducing other people to it who were not even born when Free to Choose was on television, could do a lot of good.

Eric Holder wants the American people, a nation of cowards, as he calls us, to have a national conversation about race.

I propose instead that the American people have a national conversation about freedom.

352 Exceptions to EO 2008-01

DAS 2008-01 Report 08-11-09

Lynch Executive Order 2008-01

Lynch Executive Order 2008-01

Josiah Bartlett Center: 352 exceptions cost $6.2 Million so far

Government Data shows hiring and purchase freeze not draconian

(CONCORD) Government data shows that Governor John Lynch issued 352 exceptions to his Executive Order 2008-01 instituting a hiring freeze, a ban on out of state travel, and certain equipment purchases. The 352 exceptions cost a total of $6.2 million during the twelve months of fiscal year 2009. These totals are only for the months from July 1, 2008 through June 30 of this year and do not include the first four months of the executive order or the most recent two months.

In February 2008, Lynch issued Executive Order 2008-01, barring the use of the state's General Fund to hire new employees or fill vacancies, pay for out-of-state travel, or purchase Class 30 equipment. Health care, prisons, and law enforcement were specifically exempted by the executive order and are not included in the list of 352 exceptions granted. The order also gave the governor the authority to grant exceptions requested in writing by a department and required he notify the Legislative Fiscal Committee of any such approvals.

The 352 exceptions that were granted during fiscal year 2009 are in a report from the Department of Administrative Services to the Legislative Fiscal Committee, as required by the Executive Order. The DAS report shows Lynch has approved hiring 162 employees using General Fund dollars, along with six blanket waivers to state departments. Salaries and benefits for these positions cost $4.6 million in FY09. He also approved 140 equipment purchases totaling $1.4 million, and 40 out of state trips and four blanket travel waivers costing $153,000.

“Some people worried that a freeze would be draconian. Issuing 352 exceptions in 12 months shows just how flexible and perhaps misnamed a freeze really is,” said Center President Charlie Arlinghaus. “With exceptions being granted almost once a day, it's vital that this data be made more readily available.”

The center’s Lead Investigator Grant Bosse began looking at the impact of the Executive Orders on the budget two months ago. “When we first started investigating how state agencies were dealing with the hiring freeze, neither the Governor's Office nor DAS had a list of exceptions" said Bosse. "It's important to know where the Governor felt waiving the hiring freeze was justified, and we'll continue to gather this information as long as these Executive Orders remain in effect."

Arlinghaus added, “This is the kind of information that could be made available as it happens instead of in bulk after the fact. This data is at the center of the current budget crisis and some of it is fourteen months old. If the state releases this data weekly or monthly, we’ll be glad to post it online.

The complete list of exceptions to Executive Order 2008-01 and the text of the order itself can be viewed at JBartlett.org.

Charlie Arlinghaus- Public officials no longer keep their own scorecards


In just 20 years, we've moved from a political culture in which elites preferred that the peasants trust them to do the right thing to one of transparency in which there is a widespread presumption that every file and process should be open and accessible to anyone.

Twenty years ago, Vinnie Palumbo, the Republican majority leader of the state House of Representatives, famously opposed adopting a legislative ethics system by saying that everyone in the House was a gentleman, and "gentlemen keep their own scorecards." For a time, he was right. Neither gentlemen nor gentlewomen in the Legislature were subject to plebian ethics rules. The people's business was at least an arm's length away from the people, and ethics was based on the honor system.

But then, convicted of seven counts of bank fraud and three of tax evasion, Rep. Palumbo went off to spend 15 months in federal prison. His snobby witticism became the sarcastic rallying cry of those who were more inclined to the Reagan philosophy of "trust but verify."

As New Hampshire entered the Internet age, a bias toward more open government developed. Even as political watchers forgo and open government became the watchword.

Twenty years ago, representatives were constantly reminded that recorded votes cost money and they should refrain as much as possible from putting everyone on record, ostensibly because it cost too much (printing costs, largely). Today, roll call votes are commonplace and accepted.

In some states, outside groups have to post votes and compile voting records. In New Hampshire, roll call votes are posted often by the afternoon of the morning vote. There is also a database searchable by elected official. Today, the scorecard is kept and maintained on the Internet, not in the hip pocket of canary yellow golf pants.

This presumption for disclosure colors the thinking on many of the summer's thorny issues. As the state closes its books on the fiscal year that ended in June, there are a number of unresolved issues, such as the Joint Underwriting Association lawsuit, which put holes in the budget. The state's numbers chief, Linda Hodgdon, explained to Union Leader reporter Tom Fahey that the key to maintaining confidence is to completely disclose the situation. Hodgdon is commissioner of Administrative Services, which for more than a decade has completely disclosed the state's revenue picture each and every month in good times and bad.

Two recent complaints over state contract awards are unresolved, but they are signs of the transparent culture. When the transportation commissioner decided against putting a railroad contract out to bid and instead renewed it for a railroad owned by a state representative who sits on the appropriations committee, the Executive Council was forced to ask for an investigation.

An associate attorney general found no criminal conduct, but referred the matter to the Legislative Ethics Committee. The AG did not issue a report, but open government has progressed to the point where the entire file will be made public (and organizations like mine will put it online) so people can follow all the details and reach their own conclusions.

Similarly, some apparent irregularities in the process of awarding a $31 million contract for an online lottery have generated heated allegations between a vendor and the attorney general. Decades ago, a few inches in a column on state government was all most of us might expect to see. Today, we all anticipate that every document, including the report of the contract review panel, will be made public and put online.

In each case, someone will still be annoyed, and some of us may disagree with the final ruling. Yet we will all be able to see everything and read everything that led to the final decision. What the reporter saw or the Executive Council saw, we expect to see, too -- no hidden contracts or reviews.

Even in recent years, contracts were a way to hide government from the public and sometimes from the Legislature. In times of hiring and equipment freezes, contract spending details were (and still are) out of sight so quasi-employees could escape the scrutiny regular state employees did: There's a freeze on, so we'll have to pay for that with contract money. It's time to break down that wall.

Today, the people expect to know every dollar and to be able to review it themselves regardless of the payment mechanism. We trust the decisions made by officials, but we want to verify them. We expect every wall that might shield some government activity from scrutiny to be broken down. Gentlemen keeping their own scorecards seems like the embarrassing joke that it was.

Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.

Krugman meets Math like Bug meets Windshield

Stop the fight.

Let's destroy a perfectly good truck

It's painful to watch your tax dollars going into the destruction of a perfectly good truck.

This video cost us between $3500 to $4500. Did you get your money's worth?

And if you're a Corvette fan, you'd better leave now.

Hattip: Carpe Diem

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Canadian scientist aims to turn chickens into dinosaurs

I saw this movie. It didn't end well for the scientist.
After years spent hunting for the buried remains of prehistoric animals, a Canadian paleontologist now plans to manipulate chicken embryos to show he can create a dinosaur.

Hans Larsson, the Canada Research Chair in Macro Evolution at Montreal's McGill University, said he aims to develop dinosaur traits that disappeared millions of years ago in birds.

Larsson believes by flipping certain genetic levers during a chicken embryo's development, he can reproduce the dinosaur anatomy, he told AFP. (more)

Paging Dr. Evil- Obama ups deficit by $2 trillion

Word leaked out with the trash last Friday, but today the Obama Administration had officially increased its projected deficit for the next ten years.
The federal government faces exploding deficits and mounting debt over the next decade, White House officials predicted Tuesday in a fiscal assessment far bleaker than what the Obama administration had estimated just a few months ago.

Figures released by the White House budget office foresee a cumulative $9 trillion deficit from 2010-2019, $2 trillion more than the administration estimated in May. Moreover, the figures show the public debt doubling by 2019 and reaching three-quarters the size of the entire national economy.
These numbers don't sound real anymore:

New Hampshire remains tax free to Bay State shoppers

Great news for southern New Hampshire retailers and Massachusetts shoppers, as the Boston Herald reports that the state Supreme Court rules against automatically collecting sales taxes on goods bought out of state.
A ruling by the state’s highest court today means that tax-free New Hampshire will remain tax free – even for Massachusetts residents.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court found that the state Department of Revenue had no right to collect a “use” tax – in lieu of a direct sales tax – on purchases of tires made at a New Hampshire store, but by people whose case were registered in Massachusetts.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice Margaret Marshall said, “There is no Massachusetts statutory presumption of use in the Commonwealth, where personal property is sold to a Massachusetts resident outside the commonwealth, even where the goods purchased out of state may be affixed to property registered in Massachusetts.

Transparency Chic

Here's a little known Transparency fact, "The dream of state-provided transparency goes back as least as far as Abraham Lincoln, who established the Government Printing Office, which disseminates documents like the Congressional Record, on his first day in office in 1861." Printing and distributing for free a printed record may have been a novel idea at the time. But times and technology have changed. Sadly much of our government has been stuck in 1860's thinking and hasn't kept up with the possibilities of the digital age.
Someday your government may have as little privacy as you do.

Katherine Mangu-Ward
AUGUST 21, 2009, 1:03 P.M. ET

Newborn babies have their own blogs and grandmothers are on Facebook. We Google potential dates. Privacy is dead. But one kind of information is still cozily locked away, safe from prying eyes: the law. President Obama may have come to Washington promising greater transparency, but progress has been less than impressive.

While the feds stumble toward openness, geeks and developers who made oversharing a way of life are bringing their can-do attitude to government transparency. Can't find what you're looking for on Regulation.gov? Try the new, user-friendlier OpenRegs.com. Frustrated by the terrible interface of Obama's Recovery.gov? Check out the easily-searchable Recovery.org. (more)

Bernanke to Be Reappointed as Fed Chairman

Since it worked out so well the first time.

Sen. Judd Gregg- There is Time for Change

Senator Judd Gregg shares his thoughts on health care reform in the pages of the Union Leader.
According to Census data, more than 170 million Americans get their insurance through their employer, and most folks want to keep what they already have and not risk losing it by moving to a government-run system. We should build off the success of the private market, employer-based system to provide insurance options to all. However, the Democratic proposals could cause employees to lose their insurance, or worse, their jobs. Under the new pay-or-play mandate in the Kennedy-Dodd proposal, many companies will find it cheaper to pay an annual fine of $750 per employee than to offer health insurance to their workers. The result? Fewer employers will offer health insurance, disrupting the health insurance coverage many families currently have.

Tales of Government Efficiency

NH Watchdog lives by a fairly simple motto; live in the truth. Report the facts as fairly and completely and trust that the evidence will support freedom.

It is in that spirit that I would like to recount my experience yesterday with the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles. The DMV has become a parody of itself these days, ranking behind perhaps only the Post Office as a symbol of bureaucratic cluelessness. The very name conjures up images of long lines, endless paperwork, and bleary-eyed government drones immune to your pleas to be treated with a little courtesy.

So it was with these stereotypes in mind that I drove up the DMV headquarters in Concord. I'm moving into a new apartment this week, and I needed to update the address on my license. I have ten days to notify the DMV, but I was feeling proactive this morning, so I went online to find out how I could go about the arduous process of changing my address.

There is no link to the Change of Address form on the Department of Safety home page; at least none I could find. Nor is there a link on the Division of Motor Vehicles page. So I checked the FAQs link, figuring that this would be a question that would be asked frequently. Given that I already knew where the office was located, knew how to get there, didn't need to call them, nor was seeking employment with the Department of Safety, I concluded that my question was not one of the most frequently asked after all. Yet the good folks at Safety must have realized that I and other like me had other questions on our minds, so they helpfully added one more link, optimistically labeled "more".

And more if that it provided; a cornucopia of curiosity ranging from amusement ride safety to the state sex offender registry. And amidst that list was a link to Motor Vehicles, and from there Driver Licensing, and last one that list of questions, the only question I really cared about; How can I notify the DMV of a change of address?

Heart pounding with anticipation, I clicked the link, and was whisked to the bottom of that very page, where I was given the opportunity to download a RECORD CHANGE REQUEST as a PDF.

Praise be, this was exactly what I needed. I filled out the form and was prepared to send it back, only to find out that the DMV doesn't accept these document electronically. They put the form online, but then you have to print it out and put in the mail. Someone should really tell them that the Internet is not best used for one-way communication.

I was getting ready to print out the form and look for a stamp when I realized that I had an appointment that afternoon at the State Office Park in Concord. I could walk into the DMV myself and have an personal horror story to exceed the poor design of the state's web page.

So, it was with expectations set low that I walked into the Steve Merrill Building on Hazen Drive at 3:30 Monday afternoon. The relatively new building has a two-stage waiting area. There's an information desk up front, and then you take your paperwork down the hall to the main waiting area to get your license issued or renewed. I noticed that the information desk had blank copies of the very form I had downloaded in the morning. So I started to fill one out while the staff at the desk helped the two people ahead of me in line. Before I had completed the short one-page form, both folks ahead of me had been helped, and I was the only one waiting. A very polite gentlemen looked over my form, and double-checked to make sure I was filling in the necessary boxes, but not duplicating information that didn't need to be changed.

When I finished a few seconds later, he whisked the paperwork away, asked for license, and said, "Let me put that into the computer right now." A minute later, he was done, and he handed my license back. I didn't need to go down the hall. I didn't need to wait in line. And I didn't need to wait two weeks to confirm that the DMV has actually entered by change of address into the system.

I walked out of the Steve Merrill Building within five minutes of walking in, and accomplished everything I needed to do. Not only did the staff exceed my expectations for the DMV. They would have exceeded my expectations for a private business.

Now I've waited in some long lines. I've dealt with some state employees who seemed more interested in their next break than in helping me out. But yesterday, they were the model of courtesy and efficiency. State employees are on the whole just as friendly and hard-working as the rest of us. And they can be as lazy and surly as the rest of us. There is nothing in working for the state or federal government that draws better or worse people to those jobs. I've done both.

So when we report on the inefficiency of government, don't take it as an attack of state or federal employees. Most of them try to do a good job. But they work in a system that provides far to little positive feedback when they do; and far too little negative feedback when they don't.

The people who served me yesterday did an outstanding job, and I'm happy to provide a little positive feedback. Now, if we can just get that website working just as well...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Amendment X: Freedom of Information in Texas

Congratulations to our friends at Texas Watchdog, no relation, and reporter Jennifer Peebles.
Capitolbeat’s 2009 John Aubuchon Freedom of Information Award went to Jennifer Peebles of TexasWatchDog.org, for pursuing ethics disclosures from state legislators and then posting them online with an interactive map.
Texas Watchdog, and other independant investigative reporters like us, is founded on the radical principle that when the public has good information, government makes better policy decisions. Congratulations to Jennifer and company. You continue to be an inspiration to us all.

Latest in Stimulus: 'Cash for Refrigerators'

It's almost too incredible to believe. But since Congress is involved we know that nothing is too far fetched. Here's an idea, let's borrow money from the Chinese government so we can give rebates to Americans who buy electronic products made in China. And just to make it fun let's have each state come up with its own rules for what people can and can't buy.
By Matthew Boyle
Mon Aug 24, 8:08 am ET

A $300 million cash-for-clunkers-type federal program to boost sales of energy-efficient home appliances provides a glimmer of hope for beleaguered makers of washing machines and dishwashers, but it's probably not enough to lift companies such as Whirlpool and Electrolux out of the worst down cycle in the sector's history.

Beginning late this fall, the program authorizes rebates of $50 to $200 for purchases of high-efficiency household appliances. The money is part of the broader economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. Program details will vary by state, and the Energy Dept. has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for states to file formal applications. The Energy Dept. expects the bulk of the $300 million to be awarded by the end of November. (Unlike the clunkers auto program, consumers won't have to trade in their old appliances.)


The Cap-and-Trade Bait and Switch

I've spoken in the past on how cap-and-trade can be an effective, market-based way to limit unwanted emissions. If done properly, cap-and-trade is a powerful tool that imposes a proper price on externalities, and solves the ever-vexing "Tragedy of the Commons".

Regardless of your opinion of cap-and-trade schemes generally, David Schoenbrod and Richard Stewart write in the Wall Street Journal that the Waxman-Markey bill moving through Congress isn't it.
Waxman-Markey is largely top-down regulation dressed in cap-and-trade clothing. It purports to set a cap on greenhouse gases, but the cap is so loose in the early years that through the use of cheap offsets the U.S. need not significantly reduce its fossil-fuel emissions until about 2025. Then the bill would require a nosedive in fossil-fuel emissions. This balloon mortgage pledge of big cuts later is unlikely to be kept.

The top-down directives come in three forms. First, electric utilities, auto makers and states get free allowances on the condition that they comply with regulations requiring coal sequestration, alternative energy sources, energy conservation, advanced auto technology and more. Second, many other provisions of the 1,428 page bill mandate outright regulation on subjects ranging from how electricity is generated to off-road vehicles and household lighting. Third, still other provisions provide subsidies for government-chosen technology "winners" such as alternate energy sources, plug-in vehicles and weatherization of old buildings.
Hattip: Volokh Conspiracy

A Rail Boondoggle, Moving at High Speed

In the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson writes about the President's obsession with trains; an obessession which could cost taxpayers billions.
The Obama administration's enthusiasm for high-speed rail is a dispiriting example of government's inability to learn from past mistakes. Since 1971, the federal government has poured almost $35 billion in subsidies into Amtrak with few public benefits. At most, we've gotten negligible reductions -- invisible and statistically insignificant -- in congestion, oil use or greenhouse gases. What's mainly being provided is subsidized transportation for a small sliver of the population. In a country where 140 million people go to work every day, Amtrak has 78,000 daily passengers. A typical trip is subsidized by about $50...

The mythology of high-speed rail is not just misinformed; it's antisocial. Governments at all levels are already overburdened. Compounding the burdens with new wasteful subsidies would squeeze spending for more vital needs -- schools, police and (ironically) mass transit. High-speed rail could divert funds from mass-transit systems that, according to a study by Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute, have huge maintenance backlogs: $16 billion in Chicago; $17 billion in New York; $12.2 billion in Washington; $5.8 billion in San Francisco. Any high-speed rail system should be financed locally; states should decide their transportation priorities.
In New Hampshire, state bureaucrats are pushing to get as much high-speed rail money as possible, thinking that thousands of Granite Staters will take the train from Concord to Nashua and Boston every morning and evening. Building this boondoggle would put New Hampshire taxpayers on the hook for millions in annual subsidies, meaning we would be responsible for paying a huge price for our neighbor's commute.

A Clunker of a Government Program

Guest Post by Jason Bedrick
Former State Representative

Almost three years after the passing of the great economist, Milton Friedman, the pooh-bahs who run our government have all but forgotten his exhortation to judge government programs by their outcomes, not the intentions of their designers.

The "Cash for Clunkers" program, which ends today, is a classic example of a well-intentioned program rife with unintended consequences. Proponents of the program argue that it will stimulate the economy and reduce the "carbon footprint" of America's automobiles. However, the actual outcome of the program is far from what was intended.

There are three groups of people who utilized the program:

1) Those who were going to buy a car anyway.

2) Those who can afford a new car, but weren't going to buy one because their car works well.

3) Those who can't afford a new car without the program.

Those who were already going to purchase a new car received some "free" money from their neighbors, often to purchase a more expensive model. That doesn't stimulate the economy, it merely robs some citizens of their hard-earned income to pay for their neighbor's new automobile.

Moreover, by persuading some to purchase a car who otherwise would not have, the government harmed other industries. As Jonah Goldberg has noted, this is the "unseen" aspect of the program. While the program encouraged car sales, it slowed sales in other industries in a way that's all but impossible to quantify. Those in the second group would have otherwise purchased electronics, home furnishings, or any number of other products. In this sense, "Cash for Clunkers" is really a handout to Obama's friends at United Auto Workers. Obama stole General Motors away from the bondholders who put their own money at risk to keep it afloat, violated their contracts, and gave a majority ownership to the UAW. Now Obama is favoring the UAW and the entire auto industry (including foreign manufacturers) at the expense of other industries. When politicians interfere with the economy, they ultimately make political, not economic decisions.

Finally, there are those who couldn't afford a new automobile, yet chose to buy one using taxpayer money. How short is the memory of our political class? The program is creating a bubble just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did for houses. What happens when, years later, those in the third group can't afford to pay off their car loans? Answer: The same thing that happened when the government gave people an incentive to purchase homes they couldn't afford. The bubble will burst and there will be an outcry for another government handout (i.e. -- wealth redistribution from the responsible to the irresponsible).

But at least we're saving energy, right? Well, not quite. Aside from being wasteful, the government policy to destroy all automobiles traded in through the "Cash for Clunkers" program -- whether or not they are serviceable -- consumes a lot of energy. So does producing new ones. Millions of people who might have purchased fuel-efficient used cars instead had their vehicles destroyed and purchased a new ones. As the editors of National Review noted, "a 1994 Geo Metro gets mileage as good as the Prius’s without incurring the 13 million BTUs of energy necessary to build a new one."

In short, the "Cash for Clunkers" program failed to meet either of its goals. Instead, we're left with wealth transfers, market distortions, more citizens in debt, and the wasteful destruction of serviceable vehicles. We can take some measure of solace in the fact that it was one of few "temporary government programs" which actually turned out to be temporary, but it's still a shame that it was ever given an opportunity to wreak so much havoc in the first place.

A promise broken: Lobbyists remain unchecked

The Union Leader editorializes that the Obama Administration has failed to live up to its promise to drain the swamp of undue lobbyist influence.
Just a few hours after being sworn in last January, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner promised to draft rules preventing outside lobbyists from seeking the hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money for their client banks. As of this week, those rules have not been adopted.

Thus, all this time, when we thought lobbyist influence was limited, there were no limits on lobbyists coming in and out of federal buildings, asking for their large banks and institutions to get billions in bailout money.

Bernadette Malone: Remembering political junkie Bob Novak

Former Union Leader editorial page writer Bernadette Malone remembers a reporter who happened to publish on the editorial pages.

Even in my 20s, I didn't have the stamina to follow Bob Novak around. He read every national newspaper by 8 a.m. -- in the days before the Internet! He would have breakfast at the Army-Navy Club in downtown Washington with a source. By 9:30 a.m., he would be at his Pennsylvania Avenue office, making phone calls to nail down his story. For lunch, another source, another meal at the Army-Navy Club . . . or maybe on Capitol Hill.

His staff would hear typing all afternoon from behind his closed door -- and then, without warning -- the sound of the printer! The column was finished! He would race out the door by 6 p.m., jump in his black convertible Corvette, and -- during the years I worked for him -- speed off to CNN to appear on Inside Politics, or Crossfire, or Evans & Novak or The Capital Gang. He'd perhaps pick up a new story idea in the makeup room from one of his high-powered television guests. And the cycle would begin again.

He once told me that he and his late partner, Rowland Evans Jr., endeavored to give their readers five new bits of information in every column. As someone who has tried column writing on this very page, I can tell you it's difficult to give readers even one fact they haven't already learned in the paper's news section.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cash for Clunkers: Success is a matter of perspective

It would be nice to think that we've finally heard the last of the Cash for Clunkers program. Unfortunately it seems like every day yet another story emerges to remind us why Congress should resist the temptation to meddle in the free market. Maybe politicians, like doctors, should take an oath to first do no harm ...
Program became 'nightmare' for dealers, customers
By Michael McCord
August 23, 2009 6:00 AM

When FS Gilbert of Rollinsford went to a local dealer in Dover to take advantage of the "Cash for Clunkers" program, he was quickly approved to trade in his 2000 Windstar van for a more fuel-efficient automobile.

Nearly a month later, Gilbert will take possession of his new ride today. According to Gilbert, the Dover dealership said it had still not received approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration but was going to release the car to him. Gilbert is not alone in his frustration on the bumpy road to a new car — as of Thursday, 90 to 95 percent of applications nationwide had yet to get either NHTSA approval for their deals or been paid the $3,500 to $4,500 rebate. (more)

An unconventional approach to criminal justice

Joe Arpaio is the elected Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, the 4th most populous county in the nation. With nearly 4 million people, including the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale, it encompasses more than half of Arizona's residents. Sheriff Joe can be unconventional. He can be controversial. He is also very popular because he works hard to provide government services in a cost effective manner. Imagine that!
Editorial: Sheriff Joe Is At It Again!
By wordpress.com
Published: 05/29/2009

Oh, there’s MUCH more to know about Sheriff Joe!

Maricopa County was spending approx. $18 million dollars a year on stray animals, like cats and dogs. Sheriff Joe offered to take the department over, and the County Supervisors said okay.

The animal shelters are now all staffed and operated by prisoners. They feed and care for the strays. Every animal in his care is taken out and walked twice daily. He now has prisoners who are experts in animal nutrition and behavior. They give great classes for anyone who’d like to adopt an animal. He has literally taken stray dogs off the street, given them to the care of prisoners, and had them place in dog shows.

The best part? His budget for the entire department is now under $3 million. Teresa and I adopted a Weimaraner from a Maricopa County shelter two years ago. He was neutered, and current on all shots, in great health, and even had a microchip inserted the day we got him. Cost us $78.

The prisoners get the benefit of about $0.28 an hour for working, but most would work for free, just to be out of their cells for the day. Most of his budget is for utilities, building maintenance, etc. He pays the prisoners out of the fees collected for adopted animals.

I have long wondered when the rest of the country would take a look at the way he runs the jail system, and copy some of his ideas. (more)

Gregg's 5 points on health care

The Portsmourh Herald praises Sen. Judd Gregg and his contribution to the health care debate with this week's events in Salem and Portsmouth.
Gregg's work in the Senate has focused on four areas: prevention, a better structure for managing the chronic ailments that drive up costs, tort reform and a shift from paying for procedures to paying for the quality of outcomes. He has been part of the health care debate from the start. But regardless of his "Rx" versus the House and competing Senate bills, he made five important points for all of us to bear in mind as the five bills out of House and Senate committees are reconciled later this year.

Sunday Book Review- Shakedown

In the Weekly Standard, Michael Taube takes a look at Shakedown: How Own Democracy is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, and the story of author Ezra Levant.
In February 2006, Levant was the publisher of a conservative magazine, the Western Standard. After some consideration, he decided to reprint the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed "to show our readers what all the fuss was about." It was a gutsy move. Whereas most Canadian publications decided against publishing them, Levant thought people should be free to look at these cartoons in print and judge for themselves.

This decision changed the course of his life, especially after a heated radio interview about the cartoons with Syed Soharwardy, a Calgary imam. Described in Shakedown as a "Pakistani-born, madrassah-trained preacher popular on the Saudi lecture circuit who is the president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada," Soharwardy launched a complaint with a human rights commission (HRC) in Alberta following a failed attempt to get Levant arrested by the Calgary police.

What's an HRC? It was originally supposed to deal with a relatively mundane issue: helping poor Canadians deal with landlords and employers who, they felt, were
infringing on their civil rights. Plaintiffs acquired the pro bono service of a government lawyer, and the ultimate goal was to settle through mediation or (in worst-case scenarios) set up a tribunal. As Levant writes, HRCs "were a beautiful idea--that failed."
We've been critical of Canada's Star Chamber in the past. Read more about the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Lottery contract now in question

The company that lost its bid to run the state lottery for the next six years says the deck was stacked against them. Tom Fahey leads his Under the State House Dome column in the Union Leader with that story.
Scientific Games International, the Lottery's current system provider, was on the losing end of the bid. Its price was $11 million over the Intralot price of $31 million for six years.

But SGI lawyer Robert Dunn cried foul for several reasons, including a complaint that the review panel improperly allowed Intralot to change some of the specifics in its bid, and improperly withheld documents that SGI needed to file a protest.

Lottery Commission Executive Director Ric Wisler handed SGI's complaint to the Attorney General's Office. He contends the commission followed all the rules.

Pan Am complains about rail lease investigation

In the Union Leader, John DiStaso reports that Pan Am is not happy with the results of an investigation into a controversial rail lease given to State Representative Peter Leishman.
Culliford said Pan Am remains concerned "with the appearance of a conflict created by the Office of the Attorney General investigating the actions of another public agency which it also represents."

He charged that "the real travesty is that the allegations that have been raised not only by Pan Am but also by others are extremely serious, and the failure of your office to fully investigate these claims" shows that "the transparency and integrity that is required of all public officials is being undermined in New Hampshire by these recent events."

Rice's investigative report consisted of a three-page letter to David Fink, Pan Am Railway's president, concluding that there had been no criminal conduct by public officials, but that she had forwarded Pan Am's complaint to the Legislative Ethics Committee.
Rice has promised us an electronic copy of the entire investigative file later this week, once she redacts any non-public information. We will post the complete file as soon as its available.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wait until the books are closed

As the latest Obama wealth redistribution program - Cash for Clunkers - stumbles to an end the Foster's Daily Democrat wonders about the program's long-term impact on the economy.
Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Obama administration's Cash for Clunkers program comes to an end Monday, but there are auto dealers throughout America who are wondering when they will be reimbursed.

It is not a case of "the check is the mail," but the president has pledged the dealers will "get their money."

Some dealers are worried they won't get their money, but Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood has pledged that dealers will get paid for the incentives.

Through Thursday, auto dealers have made deals worth $1.9 billion and there are expectations the program will exhaust the $3 billion Congress approved for it.

President Obama said in an interview Thursday, the program has been "successful beyond anybody's imagination." It's no wonder. The way in which the program was hyped by the administration, it was like saying the streets are lined with gold. (more)

Freedom of Speech in the Internet Age

Interesting post over at BlueHampshire regarding a defamation case involving a Vogue cover model, Google, and a sharp-tounged blogger. Here's the original story at Media Bistro.
Under court order, Google has just handed over the IP address of the user of Blogger (a Google service) who had posted some very unkind things about Vogue cover model Liskula Cohen on a blog called "Skanks in NYC," including photo captions referring to her as the "Skankiest in NYC" and a "psychotic, lying, whoring ... skank."

Cohen had asked Google for the information, so she could sue the author for defamation. Google had refused, citing the company's privacy policy (though it did take down the blog). Cohen's attorney's brought the matter to court. On Monday, a New York Supreme Court justice batted down the anonymous blogger's contention that the bons mot were mere opinion and instead, according to the Guardian (UK), "found Cohen may insist in a suit that the statements are factually inaccurate." (more)
BlueHampshire poster JimC paints the story as an attack on press freedom and slams Google for turning over the blogger's information, rather than appealing the court order. Google initially fought the disclosure, citing its privacy policy. The real issue here is the New York Supreme Court's decision that calling someone names in not a matter of opinion, but a fact that can be refuted in court. How would one go about proving one is not a "skank"?

In fact, Cohen hasn't even filed a libel or defamation suit yet. So what grounds does she have to force this disclosure? I've been called plenty of names in the past, often by anonymous web posters. I never thought of going to court.

Burling lays out vision for new train in NH

Shira Schoenberg reports in the Concord Monitor on efforts by Rail Transportation Authority Chairman Peter Burling to bring a new commuter train to New Hampshire, using hundreds of millions in federal money.
Burling is convinced that it is possible, but it will not be easy. He faces several major obstacles: a clash with Pan Am, the railway company that owns the tracks; opposition from some backers of the state's bus system; and $8 billion in a pot of federal funding that has $101 billion in requests this year.

And Burling must convince the public that rail is a realistic goal. "New Hampshire is 25 years missing in action when it comes to rail transit," Burling said in a meeting with the Monitor's editorial board this week.
Trains are something we all agree on. We all think other people should ride them more so that our lane on the highway will be less crowded. Even the most "successful" commuter trains are massively subsidized, far more than other modes of transportation. A few inter-city links on the East Coast turn a slight profit, not counting the deferred maintainence costs that Amtrak can't afford. Long-distance lines are notoriously wasteful.

I remember during a Senate debate on Amtrak funding, Senator Sununu asked me to research the cost of a cross-country ticket on several Amtrak lines, and the cost of a one-way airline ticket. In each case, Amtrak charged far more than the airline, but still lost money on the seat. In fact, it would have been cheaper for Amtrak to buy each customer the airline ticket than to accept their fare.

Burling is seeking $154 million of federal stimulus money to get the train started, but that's just a fraction of the overall start-up costs that were budgeted at $300 million in the Department of Transportation's Wish List earlier this year. This would not include the annual operating subsidy borne by New Hampshire taxpayers.

Meanwhile, Pan Am Rail hasn't agreed to give up the right of way for the tracks the state wants to use. Burling is now threatening to use eminent domain to seize the tracks to further this railroad boondoogle.


We're running out of digits to describe the staggering debt being accumulated by the Obama Administration.

The Obama administration will raise its 10-year budget deficit projection to approximately $9 trillion from $7.108 trillion in a report next week, a senior administration official told Reuters on Friday.

The higher deficit figure, based on updated economic data, brings the White House budget office into line with outside estimates and gives further fuel to President Barack Obama's opponents, who say his spending plans are too expensive in light of budget shortfalls. (Emphasis added)
In other words, the Obama budget is just as bad as its critics have claimed all along.

Death by Government- African Drought

The Washington Post reports on the drought in East Africa, and the role of incompetent governments in making it worse.
But the situation has become especially politicized in Kenya, where people say that the effects of recurrent droughts are exacerbated by systematic government failings. The government currently has 500,000 metric tons of maize in strategic reserves, for instance, but the monthly requirement to feed the population is 300,000 tons, and the crisis is expected to continue for at least two months. The government is also being blamed for the systematic destruction of the country's primary water catchment area, the vast Mau Forest. Despite repeated warnings by environmental agencies, the area has been devastated over the years by politically motivated land grabs by Kenyan elites and settlements of people who have chopped down trees to make and sell charcoal.

As a result, rivers that feed lakes, water farms and hydroelectric power plants are drying up. Though the government has pledged to stop the destruction of the forest, it has not yet taken any action. And other conservation efforts, such as promoting drip irrigation and drought-resistant crops in arid areas and diversifying power sources, have not progressed much.
Africa has been plagued for the last century by corrupt and violent governments that steal their people's wealth, and in far too many cases murder their own citizens. This failure of government, far more than any natural disaster, is why Africa has been largely left behind as freedom, prosperity, and democracy spread elsewhere around the globe.