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InsiderOnline Blog: March 2005

Job Security

Want to get an inept teacher fired in New York? Good luck! Check the flow chart first.

Hat tip, Heartland and my helpful intern.

Posted on 03/29/05 10:56 AM by Mary Katherine Ham

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Heritage has your guide to the Kyrgyzstan Tulip Revolution, here.


Posted on 03/24/05 03:54 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Secure in Your Knowledge of Social Security

The Policy Weblogger is all over the Social Security Trustees' report, out today.

Amy Ridenour tells us how to debunk the liberal myths about Social Security.

Social Security Choice has the word on the Trustees' report from Secretary of the Treasury John Snow.

The Independent Women's Forum blasts the Social Security system as a relic from an age "when women’s financial security was completely dependent upon men."

And I have joined the Americans for Prosperity blog alliance for Social Security reform. If you're interested in joining, contact Mark Harris.

Posted on 03/23/05 03:58 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

I'm Punless, But NTU Isn't

Paul Gessing and other NTU-ers are now blogging at the aptly named Government Bytes Blog. (Sometimes I'm sad that mine is the only blog without a play on words, but I push through. Sigh.)

Gessing wonders whether we should even be trying to save Social Security. As he says, the idea of totally dismantling the system is a political non-starter, but it's good for the free-market soul to be reminded that reforms need to move us as far from the social in Social Security as possible.

Posted on 03/22/05 05:25 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

How Much?

The Goldwater Institute released a report today, which finds that:

Arizona taxpayers could have received $4.5 billion in tax refunds since 1992 had Arizona enacted a budget stabilization reform modeled after Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Such budget stabilization measures keep the growth of government in proportion to changes in population and inflation, and automatically refund all surplus revenue to taxpayers. Study author Dr. Michael New, assistant professor at the University of Alabama and Goldwater Institute senior fellow, notes, "an inspection of Arizona's budgetary history indicates the state's persistent budgetary shortfalls are due to high rates of expenditures." He adds, "Managing government growth through a Taxpayer Bill of Rights could effectively end state fiscal crises."

Read about a federal TABOR, here; Wisconsin's TABOR fight, here; and the success of Colorado's TABOR, here. Unfortunately, Colorado's TABOR may shortly become weaker.


Posted on 03/22/05 04:24 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

A Subject for Debate

Two Heritage Foundation allies, in Georgia and Kentucky, sent links to recent townhalls and debates in their states on the subject of Social Security reform.

In Georgia, freshman Senator Johnny Isakson held a townhall. Video here.

In Kentucky, the Bluegrass Institute's fiscal policy analyst Aaron Morris debates the issue on local TV, here.

I'm trying to find transcripts for these. If I find them, I'll update.

Posted on 03/22/05 01:28 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Getting the Lowdown

Heritage's own VP of Government Relations Mike Franc talks about ANWR:

What has free-market energy experts contemplating victory after two decades of trying is the likelihood that congressional leaders will attach the ANWR legislation to so-called "reconciliation" legislation. Reconciliation bills contain a mix of provisions designed to meet the spending and revenue targets set forth in the budget resolution. Reconciliation bills require only a simple majority and are not subject to unlimited debate.

And the upside of the budget:

Gregg convinced his colleagues to turn back, on a nail-biter of a 50-50 vote, an effort by Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.) to restore a Senate budget rule that would make it all but impossible to extend President Bush's tax cuts. Gregg also held the line against efforts to add billions in new spending on veterans, health research, education, first responders and Amtrak.

Franc does a great job every week of making Congress's inside baseball understandable for outsiders.


Posted on 03/22/05 11:42 AM by Mary Katherine Ham

Watch Out, Motel 6.

I just read the transcript of the Kelo vs. New London argument in front of the Supreme Court, which was surprisingly entertaining. It's 57 pages long, but it's fast-paced and isn't very heavy on the legalese.

I've been really interested in Kelo because the decision could affect all of our property rights. If the government has the power to take your property by force and give it to another private party just because that party can produce more tax revenue, then we are all in danger. And where are freedom-loving people without property rights?

In the oral arguments were some really scary passages about property rights and the powers of government. Note this exchange between the Institute for Justice attorney and Justice Breyer who suggests that “virtually every taking is all right,” so why have limits? Yikes.

JUSTICE BREYER: Justice Douglas says there that as long as it's an objective within Congress and legislature's legitimate grant of power, they can do it, I mean, as long as there's a – so why does there have to be a limit within that broad limit?

MR. BULLOCK: Well, Your Honor, the limit is that there cannot be takings for private use.

JUSTICE BREYER: Of course, there can't, purely. But there is no taking for private use that you could imagine in reality that wouldn't also have a public benefit of some kind, whether it's increasing jobs or increasing taxes, et cetera.

That's a fact of the world. And so given that fact of the world, that is law, why shouldn't the law say, okay, virtually every taking is all right, as long as there is some public benefit which there always is and it's up to the legislature.

Later, the City of New London's attorney makes it very clear what his views on eminent domain are, thanks to Scalia’s and O’Connor’s questioning:

JUSTICE SCALIA: No. I just want to take property from people who are paying less taxes and give it to people who are paying more taxes. That would be a public use, wouldn't it?

JUSTICE O'CONNOR: For example, Motel 6 and the city thinks, well, if we had a Ritz-Carlton, we would have higher taxes. Now, is that okay?

MR. HORTON: Yes, Your Honor. That would be okay.

Whoa, watch out Motel 6! Check in with Institute for Justice for updates, here. They expect a ruling before June, and it will be an very important one for conservatives. And, one final excerpt in which Scalia hammers the problem home:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Let me qualify it. You can take from A to give to B if B pays more taxes?

MR. HORTON: If it's a significant amount.

Posted on 03/21/05 04:07 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Some Notables

Policy Weblogger is after the press again on Social Security reform. Things are not as bleak as the press would have us believe.

Amy Ridenour is back from a blog-hiatus. She and the family were fighting a bug but are thankfully feeling better now.

And, all the new Heritage publications are in the InsiderOnline database. Check them out here or at

Posted on 03/21/05 02:18 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Read the New Insider!

Check out the new Insider, highlighted at your right, and available in all its pdf glory in the issue archive. This issue's theme is "Shifting the Balance" of power from government to the American people.

This edition pulls from The Heritage Foundation's "Mandate for Leadership" with essays on limiting federal spending, reforming Social Security, and assuring economic liberty.

Also in this issue, Jane Shaw of the Property and Economic Research Center in Montana, offers a "Mandate for a New Environmentalism"-- a few, practical policy changes that could fix environmental problems without killing businesses.

Institute for Justice attorneys profile the homeowners in the Supreme Court case, Kelo v. New London. The feature puts a human face on the problems caused by eminent domain abuse. Kelo and her neighbors had their property confiscated because the government decided a pharmaceutical company could make better use of it.

And, finally, Marsha Richards of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation offers tips for turning policy ideas into policy.

Hope y'all enjoy! Feel free to print and distribute as you wish.

Posted on 03/18/05 04:13 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Congress Rated

NTU released its Congressional Ratings for the 108th this week. Find out how your Members have been behaving, here.

Andy Roth has the Top 10 for the House and Senate, and the rest of the list is here.

Posted on 03/18/05 01:20 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

PRAs: They Work in Texas

From the NCPA Policy Digest:

Private Social Security accounts are already working in Texas and have been for the past 25 years, say observers.

In 1981, federal law allowed municipal government workers to opt-out of Social Security and replace it with private retirement accounts. Galveston County, Texas, decided overwhelmingly to pursue a locally controlled system of private accounts, called the "Alternate Plan."

Under the plan the county withholds about six percent of each employee's salary for retirement; that money, along with a partial match by the county, is invested in personal accounts for each participating employee. The remaining county match covers the cost of disability and life insurance policies for employees, which also pay benefits much higher than those offered by Social Security. It has had remarkable results:

  • From 1982 through 1997, the rate of return on funds invested in the Galveston plan has averaged 8.6 percent, a return more than four times greater than Social Security.
  • County workers earning slightly more than $17,000 a year can retire at age 65 with a monthly payment of $1,285 compared with $782 a month under Social Security.
  • Workers earning $51,263 a year could retire at age 65 with a monthly benefit of $3,846 compared to $1,540 under Social Security.

Even under the relatively low "guaranteed rate of return" in the Galveston plan gives a yield of 4.24 percent, more than double the return for Social Security.

Along with Galveston County, nearby Brazoria and Matagorda Counties and Texas City also voted to quit Social Security in favor of private accounts. Amid growing enthusiasm for an alternative to Social Security, Congress voted in 1983 to end the provisions that give municipal workers the option to leave the federal system.




Posted on 03/18/05 10:07 AM by Mary Katherine Ham

Committee To Free 527s

Rep. Mike Pence has introduced a bill that deals with 527s by getting rid of regulations instead of adding them. Some of its provisions:

  • removes the aggregate contribution limits on contributions to federal committees and parties.
  • removes the spending limits now imposed on national political parties.
  • allows state and local parties to spend non-federal dollars for voter registration and sample ballots.
  • repeals the Wellstone Amendment for electioneering communications by grassroots organizations.
  • encourages contributions to federal PACs by repealing prior approval for PAC solicitations by trade associations.

Posted on 03/17/05 12:13 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

The State Runs Amok

Joseph Knippenberg at No Left Turns points out government regulation of church potlucks. Lord help us.

Andrew Roth at the Club for Growth blog has a couple humdingers:

In India, tax defaulters have drum corps playing outside their houses until they come out and pay up.

And, a Florida legislator wants to tax toilet paper. Yeah, I'll pay a special tax on toilet paper when my W-2 comes in extra-soft, quilted 2-ply.

Posted on 03/15/05 03:01 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

York Makes Lemonade

Byron York, over at NRO, culls some promising info from a somewhat discouraging Washington Post story, which is burdened with this depressing lead:

Barely a third of the public approves of the way President Bush is dealing with Social Security and a majority says the more they hear about Bush's plan to reform the giant retirement system, the less they like it, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Thanks, Sunshine. But York goes a little deeper and finds this:

Yet inside the same Post poll, there is news that 56 percent of those surveyed say they would support "a plan in which people who chose to could invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market," which is the centerpiece of the president's still-to-be-unveiled Social Security proposal. Forty-one percent say they would oppose such a plan, while three percent have no opinion.

The 56-percent support figure — 60 percent and higher among respondents under 50 years of age — is the highest level of support on that question in the last six Post polls going back before the 2000 election. The 41-percent figure is the lowest level of opposition in the last six Post polls going back before the 2000 election.

York thinks the headline and lead may be the result of a certain amount of wishful thinking by the WaPo copy editors:

Thus, the poll indicates that solid majorities of those surveyed a) accept the president's underlying rationale for reform, and b) support his main proposal for that reform. Yet the Post's reporting of its results — and indeed the generally accepted wisdom on the Social Security debate — clearly suggests that the president is losing (the front-page headline on today's Post is "Skepticism of Bush's Social Security Plan is Growing"). What is going on?

h/t The Corner

Posted on 03/15/05 01:29 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Dates Saved

I've gotten a few save the date cards in the mail, so I'll pass the dates along. First and foremost, block off some time for The Heritage Foundation's Resource Bank, April 28-29 in Miami.

Competitive Enterprise Institute is holding its Annual Dinner and Reception May 11, 2005. The theme is "Mardi Gras in May," and the speaker will be Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana.

SPN is holding its 13th Annual Meeting, September 29- October 1 in Charleston, SC. So, save the date and pack shorts because that's summertime in SC. Also, don't miss the SPN Leadership Development Breakfast, April 28 in Miami, right before the Resource Bank.

And, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options is holding its 2005 Conference, October 13-15 in Dallas, TX. The theme is "Seize the American Dream: Parents Leading the Movement."

Now, that's enough to make a gal feel pretty popular.

Posted on 03/15/05 12:04 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Iceberg Incoming

The Progress for America Voter Fund (which sounds liberal, but isn't) has a new ad out about Social Security reform. Watch "Iceberg," here.

For more on Social Security reform, keep checking the briefing room at The Heritage Foundation site, and InsiderOnline's database.  

Posted on 03/15/05 11:05 AM by Mary Katherine Ham

Very Intellectual

The Heritage Foundation and Defenders of Property Rights are co-hosting a conference tomorrow called: "Government's Role in Protecting Constitutional Rights in Intellectual Property."

The Heritage Foundation's Edwin Meese, III will speak, along with the president of Defenders of Property Rights. There are two panels: "Is the Government Friend or Foe of Intellectual Property RIghts?" and "The High Cost of Intellectual Property Rights Theft." 

See the intenary, here. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas will get a Defenders of Property Rights Award, sponsor of the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act.

Posted on 03/14/05 05:15 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Slicing the Pie

The Heritage Foundation's own Tim Kane does the math on Social Security:

Before we begin talking about ways to reform Social Security, consider: If the system had never existed and was proposed as new legislation in its current form, would it pass?

No way. Liberals would oppose the program as patently unjust – and they would be right...

What has evolved is a system of retirement payments that is generous for the healthy by punishing the unhealthy, and unlucky. What if you die from cancer at age 53? Your family gets far less than if your retirement fund was a personal account, and possibly nothing. The fact that blacks die younger on average than whites means the current system is unabashedly biased against them. And the family of any person of any ethnicity who dies at 63 is likely to get stiffed by the trustees. Nothing personal. No, really: nothing personal.

Check out your piece of the pie using The Heritage Foundation's Social Security calculator, which was awarded the Gold Standard last week by the Political Calculations blog.

Posted on 03/14/05 01:07 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Fatness Figured

I've been reading about this all week. Turns out, according to the BMI (Body Mass Index, and perferred fatness calculator of bureaucrats everywhere), a whole lot of professional athletes are classified as "overweight" and "obese"-- classified being the key word. I'll leave it to you to decide whether it's Donovan McNabb and A-Rod with a problem or the BMI. Hmmm.

The CDC offers a clarification for those who might be BMI-confused:

Overweight refers to increased body weight in relation to height, when compared to some standard of acceptable or desirable weight (NRC p.114; Stunkard p.14). NOTE: Overweight may or may not be due to increases in body fat. It may also be due to an increase in lean muscle. For example, professional athletes may be very lean and muscular, with very little body fat, yet they may weigh more than others of the same height. While they may qualify as "overweight" due to their large muscle mass, they are not necessarily "over fat," regardless of BMI.

And yet, after a week of being proven terribly unreliable, I do a Google search and come up with this. The five top stories are about a new study, which says a child's BMI can predict future fatness. Wow, so let's take an already unreliable measurement and extrapolate it a decade or two? That sounds like a great idea, and great stuff for bureaucrats looking to watch your diet for you. The Center for Consumer Freedom nails the problem with relying on the BMI. It's not just the risk of being called fat.

Unfortunately, the BMI is the only standard the government relies on, and it is the basis for false claims like 400,000 Americans die every year because of obesity. That's a serious problem. Public debates about obesity in America -- including the possibility of lawsuits against restaurants and food companies for making people fat -- are shaped by this unsporting BMI classification.

Visit the Center for Consumer Freedom to figure your own level on the ol' obesity abacus. In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the very high side of normal (as in a couple pounds shy of overweight) according to the BMI. My little brother, at about 6'1" and 190 is officially overweight. Sorry to break it to you, Jon, but at least you're not obese like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sammy Sosa. Man, that would be terrible.

Posted on 03/11/05 05:11 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Unlocking the Secrets of the Lock Box

Policy Weblogger's got the pictures that prove you shouldn't trust the Social Security trust fund.

Posted on 03/10/05 11:47 AM by Mary Katherine Ham

I'd Rather Be...

...Watching Rather Retire. Is that available in a bumper sticker yet? I don't think so, but if you're interested in watching the Dan man's last, somber broadcast with friends who will be anything but sad, there are several opportunities.

The Center of the American Experiment in Minnesota is holding a good riddance party for Dan-- The 61st Minute, featuring Power Line blogger John Hinderaker (part of that no-good, slobbering Internet rabble that brought him down, you know).

And, the Independence Institute in Colorado's invitation to their Dan Rather Retirement Party says it all about their feelings toward Dan (emphasis mine):

Join us for “Happy Hour” on Wednesday, March 9th at 5:00 PM at Jackson’s All American Sports Grill in LoDo as we say a tearful good bye to legendary anchorman Dan Rather. Following Rather’s final farewell, Jay Ambrose, former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, will address the liberal bias in the mainstream media.

RSVP to Rachael by calling 303-279-6536 or

Florida Congressman Tom Feeney clearly knows a cause that rallies conservatives when he sees it. He's holding a fund-raiser at the Capitol Hill Club tonight to commemorate the occasion.

Also, check out the Media Research Center's Notable Quotables to reminisce about some of Dan's better moments. My favorite?

“Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy.”
CBS Evening News, June 17, 1987.

But there are many to choose from. MRC has tons of other Rather-ammo on their home page today. And, Accuracy in Media has: "Myths, Memos and Dan Rather: A Nation Remembers,"  "How Dan Rather was Duped by the KGB," and "Dan Rather's Final Days: Bias Continues to the Bitter End."

Or, you can read me on Rather, in "Welcome to Jesusland Journalism School."

I know this is hard folks, but we can get through it together.


Posted on 03/09/05 02:31 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

Thinking in Tennessee

There's a new kid on the think tank block. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research debuted its Web site this week. TCPR is part of State Policy Network, and its president is Drew Johnson, a former policy analyst for the National Taxpayers Union and American Enterprise Institute. TCPR's mission:

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research promotes personal freedom and limited government through policy solutions that:

  • Generate economic growth through reduced tax and regulatory burdens on individuals and businesses
  • Create unmatched educational opportunity by empowering parents, students and teachers with choices and opportunities
  • Advance healthcare solutions that restore dignity and encourage personal responsibility
  • Identify opportunities to reduce cost and increase efficiency in all levels of government
  • Reflect the Founding Fathers’ vision of a free society grounded in property rights and individual liberty based in personal responsibility

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research generates and encourages public policy remedies grounded in the capacity of private enterprise, the ingenuity of individuals and the foresight of active communities to achieve a freer, more prosperous Tennessee.

TCPR will focus on education, health care, and budget and taxes, as opposed to social issues such as abortion and gambling. Check out TCPR's commentaries, keep an eye out for policy reports in the near future, or sign up for the e-bulletin for updates. The FAQ section gives you answers to all your funding and affiliation questions. Good luck, TCPR!

Posted on 03/08/05 10:05 AM by Mary Katherine Ham

Bienvenido a Miami!

The Heritage Foundation's Resource Bank Meeting will be held April 28-29 in Miami this year at the Hyatt Regency Miami.

If you'd like to extend your stay in Miami, the Atlas Liberty Forum will be April 27-28, also at the Hyatt.

This year’s program will feature: management training sessions on Building and Sustaining an Effective Institute; a Focus on Latin America program co-hosted by the Manhattan Institute; sessions on Think Tanks and Security policy; the announcement of the winners of the 16th Annual Sir Antony Fisher Memorial Awards program, and recognition of the winners of the 2005 Templeton Freedom Awards program.

On the morning of April 28, State Policy Network will hold its Leadership Development Breakfast.

And, For even more public policy fun, the Philadelphia Society will be holding its annual National Meeting April 29- May 1, in Miami. This year's theme is, "What is an American?" and features panels on "Culture and Creed," "Immigration and America," and "What Should It Mean To Be an American Citizen?"

Just some warm thoughts for early March.

Posted on 03/07/05 10:37 AM by Mary Katherine Ham

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