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True North Archives - January 29, 2008
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Featured Articles

Fighting Fiscal Obesity in Montpelier
By John McClaughry

On January 16, five days after the Governor's state of the state message, the Emergency Board got a rude shock. The consensus projection of state economist Jeff Carr and legislative economist Tom Kavet contained the bad news. Although Vermont ought to weather Fiscal Year 2008 (ending in June), FY09 is likely to see a $25 million reduction in expected revenues. At the same time, there is a 52% probability of a recession, inflation will continue its upward march, and legislators and agencies are clamoring as always for more spending on their favorite programs and interests.

Because Even A Little Is A Lot
By James Ehlers

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) tells us that "because even a little bit is a lot" when it comes to mercury, it needs to be managed carefully and its use reduced. ... The Vermont Legislature and the Vermont Public Service Board created Efficiency Vermont, an organization funded by a surcharge on our electric bills that promotes the use and distribution, even offering subsidies, of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL)—a product whose essential ingredient, mercury, is the same toxin that another state department, DEC, exists, in part, to reduce because of its poisonous nature. But even a little bit is a lot, right? ... The US Environmental Protection Agency tells us a little may be a lot but there will be more so be safe:

"As energy-efficient lighting becomes more popular, it is important that we dispose of the products safely and responsibly. Mercury is released into our environment when products with mercury are broken, disposed of improperly, or incinerated. If you break a CFL, clean it up safely. And always dispose of it properly to keep CFLs working for the environment."

Of course, there will be more mercury, our government is making it so, with our own money. Efficiency Vermont boasts, "Participation among appliance retailers and outlets that carry compact fluorescent light bulbs was nearly universal. Vermont recorded the highest level of compact fluorescent bulb sales per household of any state for which sales data was available." What is DEC doing?

"Scribblings": An Occasional Newsletter from the Legislature
By Rep. Thomas F. Koch Barre Town

The new year starts with financial red flags flying all over the place. The Emergency Board held its regular January meeting last week and emerged with its consensus fiscal forecast. Briefly summarized, the economic conditions being seen around the nation and the world are not leaving Vermont unscathed. When Fiscal Year 2008 ends on June 30, there may be a general fund surplus of $15 million or so. But after that, general fund revenues level off for the next several years. Unfortunately, the state’s obligations do not level off, and we are quickly looking at a deficit for FY 2009 of proportions yet unknown. Furthermore, these projections relate only to the general fund; the transportation fund is in far worse shape, and the fish and wildlife fund has suffered from declining revenues for several years.

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"If I were seriously ill and in desperate need of a physician, and if by some miracle I could secure either Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, or a young doctor fresh from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, with his equipment comprising the latest developments in the technologies and techniques of medicine, I should, of course, take the young doctor. On the other hand, if I were commissioned to find a teacher for a group of adolescent boys and if, by some miracle, I could secure either Socrates or the latest Ph.D. from Teachers College, with his equipment of the latest technologies and techniques of teaching, with all due respect to the College that employs me and to my students, I am fairly certain that I would jump at the chance to get Socrates." --Educator, William Bagley. 

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Vermont Weekly News Round-Up

Talking Tough
From January 23, 2008

We can confidently expect to hear much more talk from Montpelier, in the next few weeks,  about how "tough" things are and about the need to make "hard choices."  To which, anyone with a little seasoning will say:

a) Tell me something I don't already know.
b) So ... shuddup and make them.  Didn't you campaign on how you had the virtues needed for the the job?  Time to walk the walk.

What experience also teaches is that the notion of "shared sacrifice" is chimerical and that we can be certain that the  logrolling skills of the usual suspects will be on full display until sometime in Spring when the legislature decides it has done enough damage and goes home. 

The Campaign Finance Bill: An Expensive Mistake
Caledonian Record Editorial, 1/26/2008

The campaign finance bill, S.278, is bad news, indeed. Not only does it reek of partisan politics, but, if it passes, it promises to cost Vermont taxpayers a lot of money defending the rat hole of a losing cause. 

Spending Other Peoples' Money ... Compassionately
From January 23, 2008

At some point in history, a creative non-profit thought it wise to solicit Vermont towns for donations directly from the town budget, thus bypassing the individual charities that non-profits typically rely on to exist. Since that fateful day, we have watched countless towns disperse tens of thousands -- and even hundreds of thousands -- of dollars to non-profits. Unsurprisingly, these are often the pet projects of some board member. Even when voted on by Australian ballot, these appropriations are rarely defeated, simply because voters struggle to make the distinction that voting in favor will have a direct impact on their tax rate.

Gov. Douglas Announces Proposed Budget
By Louis Porter,Vermont Press Bureau, January 22, 2008

…Tough economic times nationally will result in less state revenue than had been predicted last year while Vermonters will still need just as much help, Douglas warned. Current predictions put state revenues in fiscal year 2009 virtually flat compared to the current fiscal year, 2008….

You Can't Get There From Here
From, January 25, 2008

By law, the state cannot force people who are on Medicare, in IBM's health care system, or enjoy the benefits of one of the gold-plated plans negotiated by the teachers' union to enroll in a health care system it administers.  And even if the law were no obstacle, does anyone believe that the teachers would agree to join a plan with benefits substantially inferior to those they now enjoy?  Or that a "comprehensive and inclusive" state program could afford to offer such lavish benefits to everyone?

Before the state can even begin to get a handle on  health care, the people who make policy and laws must ... well, get real.  They could start here and follow the links.

Economic Slowdown Demands Hard Choices
Editorial, Burlington Free Press, January 20, 2008

…When it comes to dealing with a recession, waiting for the official word of a downturn before acting is too late. That's because the official only comes after the fact. If we know a recession is likely, the prudent thing to do is to act as though we are already in one…. Every budget item must be able to meet the test of, "Can we really afford this?"... What Vermont clearly needs is restraint when it comes to spending in the next fiscal year.

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Freedom Under Fire:
The Global War on Terrorism

Iraqi Police Arrest Warrants Up 79 Percent
By Lt. Col. Bradley Link, Operation Iraqi Freedom, January 26, 2008

The Iraqi National Police issued 158 arrest warrants in the fourth quarter of 2007 for crimes of terrorism including murder, kidnapping and stolen property, a 79 percent increase from the third quarter. 

The quality of investigations has improved because of a maturing judicial process, a respect for the law that is taking hold within Iraq and a developing relationship of mutual respect and trust between the police and the Ministry of Justice, said Lt. Col. Maher, officer in charge of National Police HQ Investigations Section.

Have Iraqi Forces Grown A Tail?
From Captain’s Quarters, January 24, 2008

A new agreement between Iraq and the US will curtail American military operations and confine our troops to primarily support and logistics efforts. NBC News reports that the long-simmering bilateral security agreement would keep American bases in operation but with substantially reduced troop levels. Iraqis want their own forces in lead roles for security operations:

… Can Iraq handle it? NBC says that American military commanders have considered the Iraqi forces as "all teeth and no tail", meaning that they lack the equipment and reserve capacity needed to maintain control of the borders and internal security. An extended American presence can provide that, while reducing the aggressive nature of the US troops in Iraqi lives. With the Iraqi Army built to a more competent level, the two countries have better options than existed a year ago, when only a heavier American presence could tamp down the violence that raged throughout Iraq in 2006.

First They Came for Piglet
By Mark Steyn, National Review, January 26, 2008

My favorite headline of the year so far comes from The Daily Mail in Britain: "Government Renames Islamic Terrorism As ‘Anti-Islamic Activity’ To Woo Muslims."

Her Majesty’s government is not alone in feeling it’s not always helpful to link Islam and the, ah, various unpleasantnesses with suicide bombers and whatnot. Even in his cowboy Crusader heyday, President Bush liked to cool down the crowd with a lot of religion-of-peace stuff. But the British have now decided that kind of mealy-mouthed "respect" is no longer sufficient. So, henceforth, any terrorism perpetrated by persons of an Islamic persuasion will be designated "anti-Islamic activity" Britain’s home secretary, Jacqui Smith, unveiled the new brand name in a speech a few days ago. "There is nothing Islamic about the wish to terrorize, nothing Islamic about plotting murder, pain and grief," she told her audience. "Indeed, if anything, these actions are anti-Islamic."

…You remember the Three Little Pigs? One builds a house of straw, and another of sticks, and both get blown down by the Big Bad Wolf. Western civilization is a mighty house of bricks, but who needs a Big Bad Wolf when the pig’s so eager to demolish it himself?

Islamists Planned Attacks Across Europe: Report 
From Reuters, January 26, 2008

Islamist extremists were planning attacks across Europe, especially against public transport, before their arrests in Barcelona last weekend, a Spanish paper reported on Saturday, citing a would-be attacker's testimony.

Iraq Still in Al Qaeda’s Grip, Admiral Says
By Kristen Noel, Special to American Forces Press Service, January 24, 2008

The coalition’s success securing Baghdad and Iraq’s Anbar province from al Qaeda will need to be repeated in other parts of Iraq, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq said yesterday. 

"There are still villages and towns and regions that are completely under the thumb of terrorism," Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith said. … Last year, al Qaeda was driven out of every major city in Iraq except Mosul, he said, which has affected the terrorist organization’s ability to raise funds inside Iraq through corruption and criminal activity. "Much of their economic base, in terms of how they would intimidate, kidnap, extort, and all the rest of it, is less successful to them," Smith explained. 

The coalition’s removal of al Qaeda from Iraq’s economic centers also cut off many of the terror organization’s most significant communication avenues, Smith said. In 2006, al Qaeda had free-flowing lines of communication from Mosul through Baghdad and virtually all the way through the Syrian border, he said. 

Smith added that, ultimately, the continued success of localized efforts by coalition and Iraqi security forces and concerned citizens groups to rebuild infrastructure, restart the economy and bring back jobs will lead to the demise of insurgency in Iraq. 

"Al Qaeda brought nothing in a positive, constructive way," he said. "What the people are looking for is a change in a positive direction. Beyond just the reduction of violence, they’re also looking for an opportunity to get their lives back."

Iran's New Purge
By Amir Taheri, The New York Post, January 26, 2008

Opponents of taking a tough line on Iran have always claimed that imposing sanctions (not to mention threatening military action) would strengthen the Islamic Republic's most radical elements. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looks to have bought that argument. Last week, she agreed to water down the new sanctions that her advisers had devised against the Islamic Republic. Waving an olive branch, Rice also called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Tehran's illicit nuclear ambitions. 

Events inside Iran, however, provide a different picture. The Council of the Guardians of the Constitution, a 12-man committee of mullahs and their legal advisers, this week rejected applications from nearly 4,000 men and women to run in the March 14 general election. Nearly all the denied applicants belong to the 21 groups designated by Western observers as "reformist" opponents of the ultra-radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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From Elsewhere

Capitalism Doesn’t Work, Mr. Gates?
By Larry Kudlow, National Review, January 24, 2008

"A guy without a college degree who invented a new technology process in his garage that literally changed the entire world, a guy who took advantage of all the great opportunities that a free and capitalist society has to offer and got filthy rich in the process, is now trashing capitalism and telling us it doesn’t work. What chutzpah. 

For all his do-good preaching, Mr. Gates is ignoring the global spread of free-market capitalism that has successfully lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class over the last decade. Think China. Think India. Think Eastern Europe. (Maybe even think France under Sarkozy.) Mr. Gates wants business leaders to dedicate more time to fighting poverty. But the reality is that economic freedom is the best path to prosperity. Period.

Toppling the Times: Rupert Takes On Pinch
By Ed Lasky, The American Thinker, January 21, 2008

The American mediascape is about to experience an earthquake, Rupert Murdoch is preparing to topple the New York Times from its position as the pre-eminent general interest daily newspaper, generating severe financial pressure on a struggling media company reeling from mismanagement. There is every indication he will succeed.

5 Myths About Breaking Our Foreign Oil Habit
By Robert Bryce, The Washington Post

With oil prices still flirting with $100 a barrel, everyone is talking about the need for "energy independence." Late last year, President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007; Sen. John McCain has declared, "We need energy independence"; and Sen. Barack Obama has called for "serious leadership to get us started down the path of energy independence." 

This may all be good politics. But the idea that the United States, the world's single largest energy consumer, can be independent of the $5 trillion-per-year energy business -- the world's single biggest industry -- is ludicrous on its face. The push for energy independence is based on a series of false premises. 

Bush Called It Macaroni
By Quin Hillyer, The American Spectator, January 24, 2008

The presidential campaign trail is not the only place where conservatism is being routed this month. We're also being shoved under the desk in the Oval Office. President George W. Bush has begun his final year in office by moving sharply leftward. It's as if he is finally vying for the Strange New Respect Award from the liberal East Coast elites. The effort, of course, is futile -- not to mention wrongheaded and potentially disastrous for the country. How doth the president shaft us? Let us count the ways.

French PM Eyes Five-Year Spending Freeze
By Ben Hall, John Thornhill & Peggy Hollinger, The Financial Times, January 23, 2008 

France is planning to freeze public spending for five years under its biggest programme of social and economic reform since the late 1960s, according to François Fillon, the prime minister.

The Senate GOP Leadership Embraces the Minority

The Senate GOP has been having its retreat. This is the first retreat since Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was named Chairman of the Conference. In this position, Alexander is charged with developing the GOP agenda and controlling the message.

Today, the Republican Senators are at a retreat and they are getting their first taste of Lamar Alexander's leadership. His message: embrace being in the minority.

According to Senate staff familiar with the conversations, Senators have been hearing from multiple pollsters including Dave Winston. Winston has consistently been presenting polling to the GOP caucus over the last year that has shown that the war, spending, and corruption were three major issues leading to GOP defeat. You can get a sense of Winston's thinking here. …

As if orchestrated, other "experts" who were invited by Republican leadership gave reports downplaying the GOP's struggle with spending and pork and focusing mainly on the war in Iraq as the problem. Senators were told that what the American people want most is cooperation in Congress and to see lawmakers get things done: Read -- Pass Democrat legislation. In fact, by the time it was over, I'm told you would have thought the Appropriators themselves had arranged the presentation to completely undermine Winston's assertion that waste and earmarks had anything at all to do with the GOP loss in 2006.

Listening to the Enemy
By Roger Pilon, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2008

Today the Senate takes up a bipartisan surveillance authorization measure that's already passed the Intelligence Committee. The clock is ticking. This Friday a temporary law called the Protect America Act will expire. If Congress does not act before then, the president's statutory power to prevent terrorist attacks will be seriously compromised. This dangerous situation should never have arisen. ...

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