Law Professor Says Palin Was Ridiculed for Being Right on VP Duties

University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds agrees with Sarah Palin’s views on the constitutional role of the Vice President:

(p. A23) The presidential campaign has taken a detour into a dispute over the constitutional status of the vice presidency. It all started when Sarah Palin asserted in her debate with Joe Biden that the vice president should play an important role in the legislative branch.
Ms. Palin has been roundly mocked for her claim. But she was probably right.
. . .
The Constitution and the best interests of the country suggest that the best place for the vice president is in the Senate.

For the full commentary, see:
GLENN HARLAN REYNOLDS. “Where Does the Vice President Belong? Palin Was Right. The Office is Legislative.” The New York Times (Mon., October 27, 2008): A23.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Fewer Jobs Under Obama’s High-Cost Health Plan

RatnerDavePetStore.jpg “Dave Ratner, owner of four pet stores in Western Massachusetts, is worried about being able to pay into a state health benefits plan.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) AGAWAM, Mass. — Dave Ratner, owner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City, is pretty sure he is about to get “whacked” by the new state law that requires employers to contribute to health care benefits for their workers or pay a $295-per-employee penalty. In order to avoid thousands of dollars in fines, Mr. Ratner is considering not adding part-time workers at his four pet supply stores in Western Massachusetts.

But the penalty in Massachusetts is picayune compared with what some health experts believe Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, might impose as part of his plan to provide affordable coverage for the uninsured. Though Mr. Obama has not released details, economists believe he might require large and medium companies to contribute as much as 6 percent of their payrolls.
That, Mr. Ratner said, would be catastrophic to a low-margin business like his, which has 90 employees, 29 of them full-time workers who are offered health benefits.
“To all of a sudden whack 6 to 7 percent of payroll costs, forget it,” he said. “If they do that, prices go up and employment goes down because nobody can absorb that.”

For the full story, see:

KEVIN SACK. “Businesses Wary of Details in Obama Health Plan.” The New York Times (Mon., October 27, 2008): A16.

“The Real Economic Heroes of Capitalism: the Self-Made Entrepreneurs”

(p. A19) Much of the resentment felt by citizens toward the massive investment companies . . . stems from the perception that capitalism is rigged toward the most powerful. When the owner of a small retail outlet or medium-sized service firm gets into financial trouble — who steps in to help? Why are the rules to start a business so onerous, why is the bureaucratic process so lengthy, why are the requirements for hiring employees so burdensome? When does the entrepreneur receive the respect and cooperation he deserves for making a genuine contribution to the productive capacity of the economy? Equal access to credit is sacrificed to the overwhelming appetite of big business — especially when government skews the terms in favor of its friends. It is time to pay deference to the real economic heroes of capitalism: the self-made entrepreneurs who have the courage to start a business from scratch, the fidelity to pay their taxes, and the dedication to provide real goods and services to their fellow man.
. . .
Who would have guessed that it would take a Frenchman to remind us that hope is the limitless source of power that drives the human spirit to create, to improve, to achieve its dreams; it is the greatest civilizing influence in our culture. Yet it was Mr. Sarkozy, speaking before Congress last November, who offered the most profound assessment of our nation’s gift to the world. “What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind,” he said. “America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who — with their hands, their intelligence and their heart — built the greatest nation in the world: ‘Come, and everything will be given to you.’ She said: ‘Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.'”

For the full commentary, see:
JUDY SHELTON. “A Capitalist Manifesto; Markets remain our best hope for a better future.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 13, 2008): A19.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Democratic Housing Secretary Cisneros Aided Irresponsible House Buying

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“Henry G. Cisneros, secretary of housing and urban development, speaking to President Bill Clinton on Dec. 19, 1994, in Washington.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the 2006 NYT article cited below.

(p. 1) SAN ANTONIO — A grandson of Mexican immigrants and a former mayor of this town, Henry G. Cisneros has spent years trying to make the dream of homeownership come true for low-income families.

As the Clinton administration’s top housing official in the mid-1990s, Mr. Cisneros loosened mortgage restrictions so first-time buyers could qualify for loans they could never get before.
Then, capitalizing on a housing expansion he helped unleash, he joined the boards of a major builder, KB Home, and the largest mortgage lender in the nation, Countrywide Financial — two companies that rode the housing boom, drawing criticism along the way for abusive business practices.
And Mr. Cisneros became a developer himself. The Lago Vista development here in his hometown once stood as a testament to his life’s work.
Joining with KB, he built 428 homes for low-income buyers in what was a neglected, industrial neighborhood. He often made the trip from downtown to ask residents if they were happy.
“People bought here because of Cisneros,” says Celia Morales, a Lago Vista resident. “There was a feeling of, ‘He’s got our back.’ ”
But Mr. Cisneros rarely comes around anymore. Lago Vista, like many communities born in the housing boom, is now under stress. Scores of homes have been foreclosed, including one in five over the last six years on the community’s longest street, Sunbend Falls, according to property records.
While Mr. Cisneros says he remains proud of his work, he has misgivings over what his passion has wrought. He insists that the worst problems developed only after “bad actors” hijacked his good intentions but acknowledges that “people came to homeownership who should not have been homeowners.”

For the full story, see:
DAVID STREITFELD and GRETCHEN MORGENSON. “The Reckoning; Man in the Middle; Building Flawed American Dreams; Helping Low-Income Families Buy Homes and Watching the Failures.” The New York Times, Section 1 (Sun., October 19, 2008): 1 & 23.

See also:
DAVID JOHNSTON and NEIL A. LEWIS. “Inquiry on Clinton Official Ends With Accusations of Cover-Up.” The New York Times (Thurs., January 19, 2006).

CisnerosDeveloper.jpg “THE DEVELOPER Henry Cisneros in his office in San Antonio with Sylvia Arce-Garcia, an executive assistant. He is the head of CityView, a developer.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the 2008 NYT article cited above.

“Ill-Conceived Regulation Poisoned the System”

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Source of formula title and of formula: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) Here’s how ill-conceived regulation poisoned the system. Until recently, bank CEOs and regulators slept well at night thanks to a financial model developed in the 1990s called “value at risk” or VaR. It assesses historical variances and covariances among different securities, informing financial institutions of the risks they’re taking. By assessing risk factors across all securities, VaR can compare historical levels of risk for given portfolios, usually up to a 99% probability that banks would not lose more than a certain amount of money. In normal times, banks compare the VaR worst case with their capital to make sure their reserves can cover losses.

But VaR can’t account for extreme unprecedented events — the collapse of Barings in 1995 due to a rogue trader in Singapore, or today’s government-mandated bad mortgages bundled into securities that are hard to value and unwind. The “1% likely” happened. And because the 1% literally didn’t compute, there was no estimate of the stunning losses that have occurred.
Yale mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot pointed out the shortcomings of the VaR model in his “The (Mis)behavior of Markets,” published in 2004. He noted that bell curves work for, say, disparities in the height of people. In markets, instead of flat tails of rare events at either end of the bell curve, there are “fat tails” of huge upsides and huge downsides. Markets are more complex than the neat shape of bell curves.
Last year’s bestselling nonfiction book had a similar theme. In “The Black Swan,” former trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out that extreme outcomes are actually common, warning that financial engineers — “scientists,” as he calls them — ignore these unlikely outcomes at their peril. But today’s credit panic was not entirely unpredictable. Mr. Taleb was prescient in writing, “The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at their risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: Their large staffs of scientists deemed these events ‘unlikely.'”

For the full commentary, see:
L. GORDON CROVITZ. “The 1% Panic.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 13, 2008): A17.
(Note: the online version of the article had the following added subtitle: “Our financial models were only meant to work 99% of the time.”)

For the Taleb book mentioned in the commentary, see:
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York: Random House, 2007.

For an insightful review of the Taleb book, see:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. “Review of the Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” Journal of Scientific Exploration 22, no. 3 (2008): 419-22.

Dem’s Acorn Group Registers Mickey Mouse to Vote for Obama

MickeyMouseVoterRegistration.jpg “Suspicious voter registration applications in recent months include this one for Mickey Mouse, of Orlando, Fla.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) WASHINGTON — Thousands of suspicious voter registrations collected by the housing-advocacy group known as Acorn have become a rallying point for Republicans, who claim left-leaning activists may be trying to rig votes in the 2008 elections.

Many of the potentially faulty registrations were flagged to election officials as a result of the group’s own internal controls.
Democrats say the Republicans are attempting to whip up fear as a way of discouraging some newly registered voters from going to the polls. If past elections are an indication, such claims also may serve as a way to set up potential legal challenges should close election results produce disputed counts and recounts.
Faulty registrations in recent months include those in the names of Mickey Mouse in Florida, Batman in New Mexico and Dallas Cowboys football players in Nevada. State and federal authorities have opened investigations in about a dozen states; as many as 16,000 registrations in Pennsylvania are under suspicion. The Michigan attorney general’s office Tuesday said it arrested and filed felony charges against a former Acorn canvasser for allegedly forging six voter applications.

For the full story, see:
EVAN PEREZ. “Probes Focus on Advocacy Group’s Voter Registration.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCTOBER 15, 2008): A13.

Lawyer for Obama’s Acorn Group Is Concerned About Group’s Embezzlement and Possible Violations of Federal Laws

(p. A15) An internal report by a lawyer for the community organizing group Acorn raises questions about whether the web of relationships among its 174 affiliates may have led to violations of federal laws.

The group, formally known as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has been in the news over accusations that it is involved in voter registration fraud, charges it says are overblown and politically motivated.
Republicans have tried to make an issue of Senator Barack Obama’s ties to the group, which he represented in a lawsuit in 1995. The Obama campaign has denied any connection with Acorn’s voter registration drives.
The June 18 report, written by Elizabeth Kingsley, a Washington lawyer, spells out her concerns about potentially improper use of charitable dollars for political purposes; money transfers among the affiliates; and potential conflicts created by employees working for multiple affiliates, among other things.
It also offers a different account of the embezzlement of almost $1 million by the brother of Acorn’s founder, Wade Rathke, than the one the organization gave in July, when word of the theft became public.
“A full analysis of potential liability will require consultation with a knowledgeable white-collar criminal attorney,” Ms. Kingsley wrote of the embezzlement, which occurred in 2000 but was not disclosed until this summer.

For the full story, see:
STEPHANIE STROM. “Acorn Report Raises Issues of Legality.” The New York Times (Weds., October 22, 2008): A15.