Monday, February 23, 2009

States Rights?

Do states have any rights anymore? I heard this morning that the stimulus bill has a provision that the legislatures of the state can accept conditional "aid" from the Fed even if that particular State's law or constitution says the governor needs to approve it. I knew the Congress felt that Federalism might not be that great of an idea since state governments couldn't fund their programs so they need to take money from other states to even things out, but this is a ridiculous intrusion into the workings of the state governments and I sincerely hope that some Governor challenges it and gets it overturned in the Supreme Court (though that's probably political suicide) just to keep the office out of the fed's hands.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A great idea

I, sadly, don't know where the post was because I wasn't thinking about blogging on it when it happened, but sometime this week there was a note about how Gov. Jindal was saying he would have to evaluate the conditions on the money given to the states in the Obama spending bill. (I refuse to refer to it as a "stimulus package" because I don't think that was even its intent. Certainly there were progressives, Obama likely among them, who think that huge amounts of spending on liberal priorities will help the economy, but as Podhoretz brilliantly illustrates, the reason they wanted the spending bill was that they wanted the spending. They just happened to also think it would help stimulate the economy.) This is a wise move because frequently Federal grants are something like a dealer offering $5000 off on a new car. This doesn't help much if you spend $20,000 and don't need a new car.

My real interest, though, came in one of the commenters, who got so mad he stated that Jindal shouldn't get any of the money, and neither should any state represented by a Senator who "obstructed" the bill. I'll leave aside for a second the possibility that one might vote against something where they had no hand in the writing and nearly every attempt to modify it was rejected because of a belief in deleterious effects of the bill and not mere political obstruction. My thought is that this is a terrific idea. If I could speak for my state I would say "terrific!" Like most conservatives, I think this bill is going to be a disaster. I think it's going to practically double the baseline budget, inflate the currency, add massively to the debt, and still not create nearly the 2.5 million jobs (that's $250k per job, assuming it works) that Obama claims. If you're giving me an opt-out, I'm in. Just don't make me or my kids pay for it, either.

In fact, why don't we develop a system of governance based on that. Here's what we could do: We could set up a limited central government (We'll call it "federal" to distinguish it from a true "national" government that can do anything) that has limits on its power to only do those things that are needed to keep the nation together: They could put together an army and a navy, keep the coast and sea lanes free, declare war when needed, regulate commerce with other nations (we tried regulating commerce independently as states during the early days of the nation; it was a disaster), create a standard currency, regulate interstate trade, and only tax enough to carry out those powers. Then if the states disagreed on how to deal with an issue they could each come up with their own solution. Liberals like California might want to give lots of money for Green Cars for government employees and monorails and increases in welfare in the hopes that giving away lots of money increases the economy enough to offset the taxes or bonds they had to have to pay for it. Conservatives like Georgia might want to cut taxes on businesses in the belief that they would create enough jobs to increase the actual revenue.

I think this is a brilliant idea. I'm surprised nobody thought of it 200 years ago.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Facebook's new Terms of Service

There's evidently a big hullabaloo about Facebook changing their Terms of Service. It's a big enough deal that I heard it mentioned on the radio this morning, which means it's gotten past the .000001% of us who actually read such things. For reference here are the old terms:

When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

The new terms scratch that last sentence. Big deal.

Under the new terms you give Facebook the right to relicense (at a profit) your video of your kids to be part of a porn shoot without telling you, even after you close your account. Under the old terms they could still sell it to the porn industry before you close your account, and because they relicensed it you can't do anything about sales they made prior to your account closure, but once you close that account they have to find somebody else to make new sales with.

The change even makes sense. Previously if you closed your account they technically had to go through everybody else's pages and make sure that no mention of anything you did appeared anymore. Now they can keep that stuff up.

The broader license, however, doesn't. Facebook claims they need such far reaching rights so that they can share your stuff with other Facebook users. I once knew an FCC investigator into two way radios (which are legally required to use as little power as needed) and he said he wasn't really interested in the guy running at 2000W; it was the guy talking to him with 2W that was interesting. Similarly, Flickr/Yahoo! is an interesting point of reference here. Flickr seems to do just fine allowing people to share their pictures, and this is the license they use for it:

However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:
With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services other than Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo! Services solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo! Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Yahoo! Services.

Some of the text here is similar (in particular the standard right to "use, distributed, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform, and publicly display" content) but there is an enormous gulf between Facebook's perpetual, irrevocable, and transferable license and right to sublicense with Yahoo!'s license to use solely for the purpose for with such content was submitted for as long as you elect to continue to include such content.

Working well with others

I just read a report that the Obama State Department is, to our nations great discredit, working with the second Durbin conference on racism. The US and Israel walked out of the first conference when it (predictably) became a forum for Arab nations that put Christians in jail for keeping stores open during Ramadan, even if it isn't actually illegal, to officiously declare racist the policies of one of the two countries in the middle east where a Muslim can vote and members of all Islamic sects can build mosques.

In the Jerusalem Post it is said "Jewish leaders were told that Washington's decision to participate in the conference was being coordinated with the Israeli government." Like Obama's reaching out to conservatives on the massive-increase-in-government-spending bill, this meant not that he would actually take input from them, but rather informed them of the time he was going to go sell out to the UN.

I see a growing pattern of working well with others, so long as they go along with what was already decided.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why amending the so called stimulus is a lost cause.

There are over 300 outstanding amendments on the Senate version of the massive-increase-in-government-spending bill that had bipartisan opposition in the house earlier. I think Republicans are wasting their time. Even if they could get every one of their amendments agreed to (and they won't) I don't trust the conference process to leave them in.

McCain for instance had a fantastic amendment that made the government curtail spending following two quarters of consecutive growth (to show that it's a temporary stimulus and not just a grab bag of pork). This was, of course, rejected by the Democrat controlled Senate, but even if it were accepted there's no reason to think it would make it into the final bill.

Just reject this bag of pork and get the House working on a real stimulus bill. At the same time the RSC or RCC leadership should arrange to meet with the House Democrats complaining about this bill and come up with a decent stimulus bill that has a chance of getting all of them plus some more Democrats and propose it to Obama as a bipartisan way out of this. He has already claimed that there is bipartisan agreement that we need to push something through fast, that he wants a bipartisan bill, and that the differences in position between him and the Republicans is minor. It would be politically devastating for him to take a bill written by Republicans with the support of 20 Democrats in the House and say he wouldn't support it.

Executive Pay Caps

I've only heard one person (and he was a relative nobody) say that Obama's proposal to cap executive pay or companies that take TARP money is socialism. First off I disagree: it's fascism. Socialism is an economic system where the government owns the means of production. Fascism is an economic system where the government controls corporations (or, at the very least, gives corporations special favors in exchange for going along with the government).

Having said that, though, Obama isn't moving us toward fascism by setting executive pay caps. When Bush bought huge stakes in private companies in exchange for guarantees on how they would run their business he moved us pretty much all the way to fascism with respect to the financial industry. (Odd that after 7 years of stupid accusations that Bush's involvement in Iraq or warrantless monitoring of international cell phone calls with suspected terrorists made him a fascist, he finally went and did something actually fascist, but nobody called him on it.) Once we've moved to intervene in the markets and determine who the winners and losers are (and how our chosen winners will behave) we're not operating under capitalism anymore.

Given that we're going to be fascist, I'd rather not give huge bonuses to the heads of failing companies the government has decided are going to be corporate winners, so I'm all for Obama's action. (I would, of course, be more for stopping the insanity and letting companies who can't produce a successful business model fail, but that's not on the table.)

Update: PowerLine has an analogous post, which points out that TARP isn't the only federally controlled corporation out there. I think his suggestion is great. I would also guess that the head of FannieMae/FreddieMac are probably getting more than $500k in salary plus bonuses.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Minor Differences

I heard yesterday that Obama was quoted as saying that Republicans and Democrats agree on the need of a quick stimulus and the differences in their positions are relatively minor. I assume this means in the interest of expediency Obama will agree to the Republican plan.

While I'm on the subject, Katie Couric, in a fashion that seems to be fairly typical of big media, states that "The President went up to the Hill to personally appeal to Republicans already, what more can he do?" He could try actually compromising. The House accepted no amendments to the porkapalousa that they're trying to pass off as a stimulus package. We can imagine Walmart having meetings with Union leaders and keeping their current stance of doing virtually anything to keep unions out of Walmart. Surely the Unions would be happy with them reaching out like that, what more could Walmart do?

It has seemed to me for years that calls for "bipartisanship" or "compromise" in Washington generally mean "the other side should agree with me" and not "I'm willing to compromise with the other side." I think this is especially true of Democrats, but that could be bias. Certainly it is quite clearly true of the current circumstance. Obama may think the differences between Republican positions and his own are fairly minor, but I'll give sizable odds that he doesn't urge Democrats to support a bill authored by Mike Pence.