Did you hear the surprising news? Oh, but you will. You will hear the lapdog media repeat this news over and over and gush about how great this news is.

President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, citing his outreach to the Muslim world and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.

The stunning choice made Obama the third sitting U.S. president to win the Nobel Peace Prize and shocked Nobel observers because Obama took office less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline. Obama’s name had been mentioned in speculation before the award but many Nobel watchers believed it was too early to award the president.

Too early? Ya think? Talk about the audacity of hope, he was nominated after having been President for less than two weeks. So what was he nominated for? To give you an idea of the monumental work Obama accomplished to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize, here is a list of his actions as President as listed by Wikipedia:

  • January 20 – Minutes after the administration of the Oath of Office, Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, issues an order suspending last-minute federal regulations pushed through by outgoing President George W. Bush, planning to review everything still pending. In one of his first official acts, President Obama issues a proclamation declaring January 20, 2009 a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation. Obama enacts a pay freeze for Senior White House Staff making more than $100,000 per year, as well as announces stricter guidelines regarding lobbyists in an effort to raise the ethical standards of the White House.
  • January 21 – Obama revokes Executive Order 13233, which had been initiated by the Bush administration to limit access to the records of former presidents. At 7:35 EST on January 21, Obama retakes the Presidential Oath of Office, again administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, before four print journalists. Obama issues instructions to all agencies and departments in his administration to “adopt a presumption in favor” of Freedom of Information Act requests, reversing earlier policy set by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
  • January 22 – President Obama signs an executive order announcing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year, and signs a prohibition on using torture and other illegal coercive techniques, such as waterboarding, during interrogations and detentions, requiring the Army field manual to be used as a guide. He issues an executive order entitled “Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel”, governing the limitations on hiring of employees by the executive branch to qualified individuals only, and placing very tight restrictions on lobbying in the White House.
  • January 23 – Obama ends the funding ban for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, also known as the “gag rule” or the Mexico City Policy. He orders the first two Predator airstrikes of his presidency.
  • January 24 – Obama produces his first weekly Saturday morning video address available on whitehouse.gov and YouTube, a policy compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats.
  • January 26 – Obama signs his first two Presidential Memoranda concerning energy independence, directing the Department of Transportation to establish higher fuel efficiency standards before 2011 models are released and the allowing states to raise their emissions standards above the national standard. That night he gives his first formal interview as president to Al Arabiya.
  • January 28 – Obama makes his first visit to The Pentagon as President, meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • January 29 – Obama signs his first bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which promotes fair pay regardless of sex, race, or age. Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in the employment discrimination case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. joined Barack and Michelle Obama at the signing ceremony.
  • January 30 – Obama signs a presidential memorandum launching the Middle Class Working Families Task Force to be led by Vice President Joe Biden.
  • January 31 – Obama speaks at the Alfalfa Club annual banquet.

So, did you spot the monumental accomplishments that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize? No, neither did I. This prize isn’t about actually having done something, it’s the hope that he will do something worthy of the prize.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee said. “In the past year Obama has been a key person for important initiatives in the U.N. for nuclear disarmament and to set a completely new agenda for the Muslim world and East-West relations.”

I must admit that Obama is able to give a good speech when the teleprompter is present, and yet talking is not the same as doing. Looking at the two other sitting U.S. Presidents to get the same prize, I don’t see much of a comparison. President Theodore Roosevelt got the prize for mediating the peace between Russa and Japan after their war in 1904-1905. And President Woodrow Wilson got his in 1919 for creating the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. And now in 2009, President Obama gets his for talking.

Somehow it doesn’t quite seem to measure up.

UPDATE (10/9/2009 10:01:20 AM): I have thought about it some more, and I believe this prize should be awarded not just to President Obama, but to both who have made it possible. The prize should be awarded to both Obama and his teleprompter.

Last time I wrote about countries with single or multiple political parties. The American political system, however, is geared toward two major political parties.

George Washington decried political parties, but even before he left office, two parties had formed. To the right, I have outlined how the two major parties have shifted over the years. The first two to form were the Democrat-Republicans, centered around Thomas Jefferson, and the Federalists, centered around John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Other than the election of John Adams after Washington, the Federalists failed to elect another president from their party. By the 1820s the Federalists had atrophied and disappeared. In fact, all four candidates for president in 1824 were Democrat-Republicans. The Democrat-Republican name was awkward and often shortened to either Democrat or Republican. At the time, the name Democrat brought to mind the mob rule of revolutionary France; it was sometimes used by the Federalists in a derogatory manner. Since the Constitution guarantees a republican form of government, this term was a neutral and vague title, and was generally preferred for use by the party. However, after his election in 1824, Andrew Jackson officially shortened the name of the party to Democrat. At this time, the remaining Federalists and the Democrats who opposed Andrew Jackson banded together to form the Whig party. The Whigs were strongest from 1824 to 1856, and they succeeded in electing four presidents during that time: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore.

The modern Republican party was formed in 1856 with a strong anti-slavery plank, and John Frémont, the first Republican candidate for president, ran on the platform of “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Frémont.” This party incorporated many former Whigs, and as the Republican party ascended, the Whig party ceased to exist. With the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to be elected president. Since this time, the American presidency has passed between the Democrat and Republican parties. There have been numerous third-party candidates, mostly formed around a specific person (the “Bull Moose” party around Theodore Roosevelt, the Reform party around Ross Perot) or an idea or philosophy (Anti-Masonic, Free Soil, Greenback, Socialist), but none of these parties has succeeded in electing a candidate to the presidency or generating long-term support.

The American system works best with two large political parties. This is caused by ballot laws that promote the major parties, but also by the “winner-take-all” method of votes. Basically, winner-take-all means that in an election for a position like mayor, the candidate with the most votes will “take all” — being elected to the mayorship, while the rest get to make concession speeches. This is known as “Single-Member District Plurality” in political science, but other than poli-sci majors and Jeopardy contestants, who really cares? OK, I like Jeopardy, so here’s a great Final Jeopardy answer: “This principle asserts that a winner-take-all election system naturally leads to a two-party system.” If you said, “What is Duverger’s Law?”, you should look at competing against current Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings.

People have made a big deal over Vice President Al Gore getting more votes than President George W. Bush in the 2000 election, but Americans do not elect their president based on the popular vote. The Founding Fathers of the United States were hesitant to create a true democracy, where the majority vote wins, since they knew that system is inherently unstable. Once a democracy learns it can vote itself goodies from the public coffers, the people quickly vote themselves into bankruptcy. It is also susceptible to the tyranny of the majority, where the rights of the few are trampled by the mob.

Rather than the popular vote, the president is chosen by the Electoral College. The individuals in a state are not really voting for a president; they are voting for an Elector who will then vote for the candidate. Each state has the same number of Electors as it has people in Congress. So Wyoming has three Electors for its one Representative and two Senators, while California has 55 for its 53 Representatives and two Senators. In our “winner-take-all” system, the political party whose candidate gathers the most votes gets to select all the Electors for that state, except in Maine and Nebraska where the winner gets two votes (for the Senators) and the rest of the votes are distributed according to the winner of each congressional district. Confused? You can read all the trivia and history about this that your poor eyes can stand at the Electoral College’s website.

With the closely-contested election of 2000, and in pretty much every election cycle, people have discussed getting rid of the Electoral College and shifting to a nationwide election for president based on the majority of votes. While we now have the technology to do this, I believe it isn’t a good idea. First, it would require changing the Constitution, an act not easily achieved. Second, it would negatively affect states with smaller populations. Let’s pick on Wyoming with its sparse population to illustrate this. In our current system, Wyoming’s 3 electoral votes out of 538 is more than three times the percentage of Wyoming’s population divided by America’s population. In an election determined by popular vote, the candidates would only need to campaign in the most populous states and kiss off the smaller ones. But since the president represents all Americans, it’s a good idea to all states from populous California down to meager Wyoming.

Since 270 electoral votes or more are necessary to elect a president, it is critical that a presidential hopeful have the greatest number of votes in each state. In our two-party system, the voters may chose to elect either a Democrat or a Republican for president. A commonly seen corollary of Duverger’s law (and you thought I wouldn’t bring it up again) is the spoiler effect of a third-party candidate, effectively siphoning votes away from one of the two leading candidates. You could make the argument that Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential run pulled enough votes away from George Bush to push Bill Clinton into the lead. This was definitely the case in the 1912 election. Theodore Roosevelt pulled enough Republican voters away to his “Bull Moose” party (officially called the Progressive party) that Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected. You can spend some time (as I did) at Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections site and look at elections such as 1884, 1888, and 1892 when third-party candidates had more votes than the difference between the first two candidates. Had these third-party candidates not run, the numbers had pulled could have thrown the election either way.

My wife asked if there had ever been a third party that managed to get a president elected. In a word, no, and for a tautologous reason: once a third party succeeds in placing one of its candidates in the presidency, it has become a majority party. This last happened 144 years ago when the then four-year-old Republican party succeeded in putting Abraham Lincoln into the White House.

If I were to walk up to you and take your wallet at gunpoint, that would be stealing. If I were to take your things with the mere threat of violence, that would be stealing. If I forced you to sell your $100 item to me for only $10, that would also be stealing. None of these examples of theft should be all that hard to identify, but the government doesn’t play by the same rules you and I do.

The right of eminent domain allows the government to take your property if there is a pressing public need for it. If the government is building a new highway, it can force the landowners along the route to sell, but it must pay fair market value for the land. This holds true for creating or expanding airports, public transportation networks, or any other valid public use. A strip of land near my home is owned by the city, and nothing can be built on it since the city needs full access to this land to work on the utility pipes that lie buried underneath it. The Fifth Amendment outlines the government’s power of eminent domain: “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” But the government doesn’t always pay much attention to the Constitution.

In 1996, then-President Clinton staged a photo op in Arizona as he signed an executive order to establish the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. He mouthed some words about the monument being necessary to protect the cryptobiotic crust and other buzzwords by the environmental left. Never mind that the EPA didn’t see any need for this land to be set off-limits by the government. So why did this land grab happen? I can see two reasons: first, grabbing this land allowed Clinton to boost his popularity with environmental leftists while simultaneously sticking it to Utah – the only state where President Clinton had finished third in the 1992 Presidential election. The second reason is more conspiratorial. At the last minute, the Kaiparowits Plateau was included as part of the Monument. There is nothing on the plateau that warrants its being added, but it effectively blocked a multi-year deal to extract the low-sulfur coal beneath that plateau. Kaiparowits is the only known U.S.-based location where this low-sulfur, low-polluting coal can be found. The only other known location is in Indonesia and is owned by the Lippo Group, run by the Riady family – the same family implicated in the Chinese money scandals during President Clinton’s terms in office. Ignoring the possibly conspiratorial nature of this land grab, however, the order by President Clinton effectively stole the land and its use from the state of Utah. The profits from the sale of coal would have funded Utah’s already drastically underfunded public schools.

“Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool,” said Clinton presidential aide Paul Begala. Not really. With a stroke of the pen, President Clinton stole the land from Utah.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also guilty of stealing from the American people. Rather than just taking the land outright, the EPA will simply deny landowners the full use of their land. People have been denied the use of their property because standing water is somewhere on the land, and the EPA swoops in and declares it a wetland. Once a piece of property is declared a wetland, the landowner is not allowed to drain the land or build anything there. Stroke of some bureaucrat’s pen, and the owner loses control of his land without “just compensation.” The farmers in the Klamath basin in Oregon have seen this theft in action. In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt declared that the inhabitants of the Klamath basin would be guaranteed their water rights “forever,” but the promise of a President doesn’t matter as far as the EPA is concerned. EPA bureaucrats decided the needs of the endangered bottom-feeding suckerfish were more important than the rights of the Klamath farmers, so they descended on the Klamath basin and shut off the farmers’ water supply, diverting it to keep the rivers full and the suckerfish happy. But why does a river need to be kept running high when the “endangered” fish is a bottom-feeder? However, questions like this don’t matter when the greater good of protecting a fish is at stake. Do you imagine the EPA was in the least concerned about the endangered livelihood of the Klamath farmers? The EPA has shown itself over and over again to have far more interest in the welfare of a frog or a fish over a human being. Call me a species-ist, but I am more concerned with the welfare of my fellow humans over some bird, amphibian or insect.

North of Oregon is the beautiful state of Washington, where again we see governmental theft in action. King County is the largest county in Washington, incorporating the major metropolis of Seattle and more rural areas to the east of Lake Washington. King County Executive Ron Sims has proposed a new property plan, termed “65-10″ in some circles. Basically, the proposal would mandate that land owners in rural King County must leave 65% of their property untouched and undeveloped. 35% of the property could be cleared, but only 10% could be built on. If Executive Sims has his way, over half of the county’s rural acreage will be mandated by law to lie perpetually fallow. Do you think King County will compensate the owners for 65% of the total value of their land? Not bloody likely. This proposed governmental theft is being justified by the environmentalists living in urban Seattle because of the need to keep the watershed in place. It’s telling that these urban greenies are targeting only the areas where they do not live. Jill Boccla recently asked in a community forum, “Are you managing my property for me, or are you managing my land for you?” Of course King County sees the property as being its own to manage, rather than belonging to the people whose names are on the land titles, but this is pretty much the way bureaucrats always see private property. Last year California was ravaged by intense forest fires, fueled by fallen trees that had lain unharvested because the environmentalist bureaucrats felt it was better to let the forests lie untouched rather than cleaning out debris. When the fires came – and the fires always do come – the abundance of dry fuel ensured the fires would rage out of control for a long time. This King County plan would essentially do the same in Washington, since people would be kept from clearing fallen trees off their own property.

“Just compensation” would mean paying the King County landowners at least 65% of the value of their property, since the proposed law would effectively take away their rights of ownership. “Just compensation” would be paying the farmers in the Klamath basin for their lost livelihoods, or better yet, letting them keep their promised water. “Just compensation” would be paying the state of Utah for the billions of dollars it lost to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But though it would be called stealing if it were done by private citizens, this is just another case of “government business.”