35,000 Earmark Requests — Just 50 Reps to Go

WashingtonWatch.com’s project to collect congressional earmark data continues to make great strides. Over 35,000 earmark requests are in the database, and fewer than 50 representatives remain on the “wanted” list.

It’s not all good news. Even some appropriations committee members published their earmark disclosures as scanned PDFs. That’s transparency in name, but not in spirit. Cato’s December policy forum on government transparency was titled “Just Give Us the Data!”, and scanned PDFs are not data … .

On the WashingtonWatch.com earmarks home page, the earmark requests collected so far are mapped by state and sortable by member of Congress and senator. Visitors can vote and comment on earmark requests, or edit a wiki article about requests, adding personal knowledge about projects they are familiar with.

Argentina Decriminalizes Personal Drug Consumption

Following in Mexico’s footsteps last week, the Supreme Court of Argentina has unanimously ruled today on decriminalizing the possession of drugs for personal consumption.

For those who might be concerned with the idea of an “activist judiciary,” the Court’s decision was based on a case brought by a 19 year-old who was arrested in the street for possession of two grams of marijuana. He was convicted and sentenced to a month and a half in prison, but challenged the constitutionality of the drug law based on Article 19 of the Argentine Constitution:

The private actions of men which in no way offend public order or morality, nor injure a third party, are only reserved to God and are exempted from the authority of judges. No inhabitant of the Nation shall be obliged to perform what the law does not demand nor deprived of what it does not prohibit.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that personal drug consumption is covered by that privacy clause stipulated in Article 19 of the Constitution since it doesn’t affect third parties. Questions still remain, though, on the extent of the ruling. However, the government of President Cristina Fernández has fully endorsed the Court’s decision and has vowed to promptly submit a bill to Congress that would define the details of the decriminalization policies.

According to some reports, Brazil and Ecuador are considering similar steps. They would be wise to follow suit.

Embracing Bushonomics, Obama Re-appoints Bernanke

bernanke1In re-appointing Bernanke to another four year term as Fed chairman, President Obama completes his embrace of bailouts, easy money and deficits as the defining characteristics of his economic agenda.

Bernanke, along with Secretary Geithner (then New York Fed president) were the prime movers behind the bailouts of AIG and Bear Stearns. Rather than “saving capitalism,” these bailouts only spread panic at considerable cost to the taxpayer. As evidenced in his “financial reform” proposal, Obama does not see bailouts as the problem, but instead believes an expanded Fed is the solution to all that is wrong with the financial sector. Bernanke also played a central role as the Fed governor most in favor of easy money in the aftermath of the dot-com bubble – a policy that directly contributed to the housing bubble. And rather than take steps to offset the “global savings glut” forcing down rates, Bernanke used it as a rationale for inaction.

Perhaps worse than Bush and Obama’s rewarding of failure in the private sector via bailouts is the continued rewarding of failure in the public sector. The actors at institutions such as the Federal Reserve bear considerable responsibility for the current state of the economy. Re-appointing Bernanke sends the worst possible message to both the American public and to government in general: not only will failure be tolerated, it will be rewarded.

The Cost of Getting Out of Iraq

Getting into Iraq was easy.  Fighting the war was expensive in lives and money.  Getting out will cost more cash.

In fact, the Pentagon figures that taxpayers will have to spend tens of billions of dollars to bring home or transfer the equipment strewn about Iraq.  According to Jason Ditz:

A lot of the cost is going to depend on what the military decides to do with the various items it required to occupy the nation and then fight an insurgency for several years with well over 100,000 US troops. Some of the gear will be shipped back to the US, others will be sent to Afghanistan for the ongoing war there. Still others will just be given to the Iraqi government so they don’t have to deal with the other two options.

The US has spent over two thirds of a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq so far (and this is only figuring the direct costs), but while President Obama has already started projecting dramatically lower costs in the near future as the war “winds down” (which so far hasn’t translated to actually removing serious numbers of troops from the nation), the costs just of hauling “mountains of equipment” out of Iraq show that nothing the military does is done on the cheap, not even ending a war.

So much for the occupation that was supposed to pay for itself!

A Transparent Inquiry: The Only Way Forward

How could a country that claims to abide by principles like constitutional government and the rule of law do anything other than investigate credible claims of official abuse?

News that Attorney General Holder will appoint a prosecutor to investigate such claims will only surprise or upset people who have lost track of our national values.

CIA Director Leon Panetta doesn’t help the cause by issuing a statement to the CIA staff saying, “America is a nation at war.” Whether we are or not, that lullaby-in-reverse – reassuring CIA staff with a poke at the panic button – would seem to ratify expediency over professionalism.

Virginia Bureaucrats Look to Extort Yoga Instructors

Last month I blogged about attempts by various state governments to regulate yoga instructors by forcing them to obtain a costly government license.  Today the Washington Post has a story on Virginia’s efforts to place the government boot on the necks of its yogis:

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia recently declared that studios offering yoga teacher instruction must be certified. That involves a $2,500 fee, audits, annual charges of at least $500 and a pile of paperwork.

Let’s call this what it is: extortion.  And if you still harbor the illusion that bureaucrats don’t sit around thinking up ways to pilfer more money from productive members of society, think again:

In Virginia, yoga teacher training first hit the state’s radar late last year after a state employee conducting school audits happened upon an advertisement, said Linda Woodley, the higher education council’s director of private and out-of-state postsecondary education.  Before that, Woodley said, ‘I was not aware they existed, and they were not aware we existed.’

Well congratulations, Ms. Woodley – the yogi community now knows you exist.

Studios can teach lotus poses to as many clients as they like, state officials said. But teacher training programs, which the state views as similar to dog grooming, massage therapy or other classes intended to prepare someone for a job, must be certified under state law. (For instance, Simply Ballroom Dance Teachers Academy, Danny Ward Horseshoeing School and Jiggers Bartending School are certified.)

Virginia citizens should sleep sound at night knowing ballroom dance teachers, horseshoers, and bartenders are government certified.

Woodley said it’s also about ensuring that students who plunk down cash for training programs that can run a few thousand dollars are getting their money’s worth. Plus, she said, being listed on the government registry will give schools a marketing tool, like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Good Housekeeping seal of approval?  Ladies and gentleman, this is the mentality of the state bureaucrats that the federal government has tasked with “stimulating” the economy with YOUR money.