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Friday, April 14, 2006

Nebraska Unicameral

The Nebraska Unicameral, our 1-house legislature, wrapped up this year's 60-day session yesterday. Due to the term limits amendment it was the last day of the last session for 20 of the 49 senators. According to observers quoted by the session was special:
Productive. Incredible. That was the mantra as senators themselves and those around them looked back over the short session. "They didn't waiver. They wrestled with almost all the major issues," said Larry Ruth, a veteran lobbyist. "It's one of the more extraordinary sessions."

"This was a mature Legislature that wasn't afraid to deal with things," said lobbyist Walt Radcliffe. "It was the antithesis of inaction."
We're not so sure the opinions of two lobbyists should be taken as the definitive word on the quality of a legislative session. Nor do we think the number of new laws is a measure of quality. It's true, however, that this session did accomplish quite a lot, as detailed in the full article.

One example is the legalization of "concealed carry" of guns. This modest step, already legal in 48 other states, has evoked much wailing and gnashing of teeth as Gunscribe reports. Apparently, some feel that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry guns, as criminals already do, will somehow increase crime.

Accepting the idea that this was a particularly good Unicameral session, let's ask why that might be. Could term limits be a factor? Arguably, the minds of 40% of the senators may have become concentrated by the knowledge that they won't be back next year. It's indisputable that this knowledge would make one less averse to tackling "controversial" issues. It's those senators' last chance to make a mark, to get their pet bill passed, to moderate the effects of a bill they don't support, but see as inevitable...

The next Unicameral will have the most new faces of any in our memory. Since half come up for election to a 4-year term every 2 years, no more than 5/25 (or 4/24) of this group have been there less than 6 years (1.5 terms). The Journal Star article states that 20 term-limited senators have a total of 244 years in the Unicameral, with Lincoln's Dave Landis the longest resident at 28 years. The mean time in power for the 20 is then just over 12 years. It would be interesting to see a histogram, the median, and the mode for the whole legislature.

We can't help but think that, on the whole, having 20 new senators next year will be A Good Thing. The outgoing group can run again in another 4 years (2 years, if they move to another district), or run for any other office.

Update: Fixed an embarassing reference to Gunscribe as "Gunsmith" in the link above.
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Monday, April 10, 2006

Worst Ex-President Ever

Being President of the US is certainly a tough job, and there is no shortage of men who have performed poorly in the role. James Buchanan is widely considered the worst President of US history, but Jimmy Carter seems determined to supplant him. Arguably Buchanan was dealt the worse hand, "leading" a nation torn apart by the slavery issue and on the brink of the Civil War.

Certainly Carter built a record of ineptitude that is unmatched in modern times. Foreign policy highlights include promoting the ascendancy of militant Islam in Iran. The Iranians then created the "hostage crisis," marked by 444 days of impotent handwringing gestures from the White House. Meanwhile, the Russians took advantage of Jimmy's preoccupation with the hostages to launch their invasion of Afghanistan. Jimmy was stunned that Breshnev could be so untrustworthy, but Carter was determined not to let that interfere with negotiations for an absurd arms control agreement.

Domestic policies were no better. Economists had previously believed that it was impossible to have both high inflation and high unemployment at the same time, but Jimmy proved them wrong. During his last year in office inflation was 11.3%, and we remember the monthly inflation rate hitting 1.5% (i.e. 18% annualized, the credit card rate). Unemployment was also significantly worse throughout the Carter term than the current, "terrible" economy.

Ronald Reagan famously asked the public, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" The resounding "No!" swept Carter from office.

Rejected, one-term presidents take it in different ways, generally trying to rehabilitate their images. Grover Cleveland remained in national politics and ultimately won a second term. William Howard Taft later became Chief Justice. Buchanan concentrated mainly on keeping a low profile, retiring and dying 7 years later. If only Carter would have followed Buchanan's lead.

For awhile it seemed Carter would be able to rebuild his image through quiet, good works like building houses for poor people. Unfortunately, he never learned the difference between good and evil. He continued to embrace brutal dictators like Hugo Chavez (and certify Chavez's election fraud) and Yasser Arafat (still in stable condition). More unfortunately, Carter has continued to talk.

In an admiring piece at John Sugg (H/T BotW) touts Jimmy as the best ex-president. We can't come close to endorsing that view, although we were absolutely thrilled when he became an ex-president. Sugg writes:
Carter and I talked about the recent Palestinian elections ("practically perfect" in their fairness, Carter says, adding that America can't say the same about our voting).
So candidates and voters fearing for their lives and Fatah control of the media are what makes a "practically perfect" election, and any disputes about procedures in the US make our elections much worse. What can you say to someone who "thinks" like this except, "Earth to Jimmy."

He's alert to the biggest danger facing the nation today, though:
"There are certainly weird religious concepts," Carter says of the fundamentalists.
Not Islamic jihadism, of course. He means American Christians:
He decries the religious right's campaign "to break down the wall between church and state."

Carter fittingly used a parable to illustrate how he'd like to see the political/religious debate unfold.

"I was teaching a Sunday school class two weeks ago," he recalls. "A girl, she was about 16 years old from Panama City [Fla.], asked me about the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

"I asked her, 'Are you for peace, or do you want more war?' Then I asked her, 'Do you favor government helping the rich, or should it seek to help the poorest members of society? Do you want to preserve the environment, or do you want to destroy it? Do you believe this nation should engage in torture, or should we condemn it? Do you think each child today should start life responsible for $28,000 in [federal government] debt, or do you think we should be fiscally responsible?'

"I told her that if she answered all of those questions, that she believed in peace, aiding the poor and weak, saving the environment, opposing torture ... then I told her, 'You should be a Democrat.'"
Way to maintain that Wall of Separation, Jimmy. This is a perfect example of the phenomenon Dennis Prager pointed out recently: the way "tolerant" liberals demonize conservatives into something it's OK to hate in the name of tolerance.

Carter is proud to have never ordered an execution as President or Governor:
Similarly, Carter acknowledges the moral thorniness of capital punishment. The United States, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran account for 90 percent of the world's executions, hardly a good club for our nation, Carter says.
Amnesty International says that in 2004, "97% of all known exectutions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA," so Jimmy seems to be a bit off here. According to the Amnesty site 3,797 known excecutions took place. China is the runaway leader ("at least 3,000" and perhaps as many as 10,000). Iran (159) and Viet Nam (64) were far behind, as was the US (59). This totals 86% of the listed total, which doesn't square with Amnesty's 97% or Carter's 90% number.

How dishonest (or plain stupid) of Carter to list the US first in his group when US executions represent just 1.6% of the confirmed executions.

A huge problem with these statistics is that these are just the known executions. As Amnesty says, China's real numbers may be more than three-fold higher. North Korea and Myanmar (Burma) aren't even mentioned. Clearly the real, total number of executions is far higher than the 3,797 confirmed, as Amnesty itself is arguing. That makes the US percentage much smaller, since there are no secret excecutions here. We won't even get into "due process" issues here vs. elsewhere and the nature of the underlying "crimes."

How dishonest of both Amnesty and Carter to present this statistical lie to smear the US. One could make a principled case against the death penalty in America, but this is nothing but a deliberate distortion.

There's more:
"The death penalty is not a deterrent," says Carter, whose book notes that states with the most executions -- Southern states -- also have the highest murder rates. "And it is applied in a way that discriminates against the poor and minorities. That is not moral. Jesus taught us mercy. What would Jesus do?"
What a paradox! The states with the highest murder rates also have the most executions? How can this be? We're baffled.

So there it is. Jimmy Carter, Second Worst President and Worst Ex-President of All Time. James Buchanan watch out.

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