Friday, November 28, 2008

Talking back to "This American Life" - episode #367, "Ground Game"

Shorter TAL:

  • Abortion good.
  • Unions good.
  • Capital gains tax good.
  • Obama believes all of the above, therefore, Obama good.

Anyone who doesn't believe these things is a fool, and anyone who advocates against these things (i.e., anyone who supported McCain) is a naïve robot. Lather, rinse, repeat, until everyone is singing along ...

Luckily, the Democrats will implement the Fairness Doctrine, and NPR will be forced to allocate an hour to respond to Ira Glass and his snarky producers for every hour of TAL.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hottest October on record!

Global Warming is Proven At Last! Right? Well, upon further review, what we really have is ...


How do any of these Chicken Littles on the subject of global warming (Goddard Institute for Space Studies / International Panel on Climate Change) have credibility at this point?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Income Tax VII - The Aftermath

Couple of articles poking at the corpse of the Pataskala income tax.

This article, in the Newark Advocate, confirms what I believe -- the supporters of the income tax include retirees, because each of the seven failed proposals would have levied the income tax only on earned income, not on retirement income. (I guess you stop using civic services in Pataskala when you retire.)

Rolling back the snark a little bit on that last sentence, I'm not totally unsympathetic to retirees -- they're likely living in homes that are paid off, so there's no monthly mortgage payment any more. Thus, the property taxes come straight out of the retirees' cash flow. However, on my house, only 11.95% of the property tax goes to the city (vice 13.37% to fire, and 59.14% to school). Even if you zero out the Pataskala share of the property tax, you'd still be left with 88% of your total tax bill.

Also, since "fairness" always comes up when taxes are discussed, do retirees use more, less, or the same amount of the services and infrastructure provided by the city of Pataskala? If the answer is either the same, or more, then it is patently unfair that their income should not also be taxed.

I didn't know that Pataskala is one of only two cities in Ohio that doesn't levy an income tax -- I'm actually kind of happy about that. (Do I hear a theme for the Pataskala Convention and Visitors Bureau?)

And this article, by Lori Wince (never will get tired of that name ...) surfaces the idea that Pataskalians (Pataskaloids?) don't trust their government. Ya think? They've run the same issue at us seven times, and been rebuffed each time. Each time this issue comes up on the ballot, the mayor and council members come around to tell us why we need this tax, why we're going down the drain if it doesn't pass, etc., etc..

But -- I never hear from them before the income tax proposal goes on the ballot. I never see them barnstorming the subdivisions, in a donated RV, to ask what the citizens' priorities are. I never get to vote on a full and irrevocable repudiation of the Pataskala property tax (a necessary precondition to an income tax to me). I just hear what I'm going to lose if I don't vote the right way.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pataskala income tax fails, 65.82% - 34.18%


November 2001 (1.00% income tax):Against: 71.02%For: 28.98%
November 2002 (0.75% income tax):Against: 68.61%For: 38.39%
November 2004 (1.25% income tax, ??? credit):Against: 66.46%For: 33.54%
May 2006 (1.50% income tax, ??? credit):Against: 58.95%For: 41.05%
November 2006 (1.50% tax, 100% credit):Against: 62.43%For: 37.57%
November 2007 :Against: 57.59%For: 42.41%
November 2008 (2.00% tax, 50% credit):Against: 65.82%For: 34.18%

Moral: In a sluggish economy, never, ever f*ck with another man's livelihood (Risky Business, 1983) -- or in this case, don't try to take more money out of the pockets of income earners who have already been nailed by the stock market and lower property values.

Can we stop now, Pataskala City Council? Would you please throw a new street levy on the next ballot, and renew the police levy? If you let us choose which taxes we want to pay, rather than asking for a big (and unaccountable) lump of money, I think you'll get a better reaction next time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Face time with Joe the Plumber

My wife submitted a "Joe the Plumber" story to the McCain campaign awhile back (read it at Last night, we received a call from the campaign, inviting us to their rally in Columbus, Ohio tomorrow afternoon. We have been given seats in the VIP section, and the call indicated that we will be seated with Joe Wurzelbacher and possibly have an opportunity to meet him, as well as Senator McCain, Governor Schwarzenegger, and possibly some of the other dignitaries in attendance.

I'm new to the world of campaign events, so I don't know if we will get much time at all with Joe and/or anyone else in attendance. However, we're intending to show up early and spend time there, so I suspect we will get a chance to do more than the typical "grip 'n grin".

So, assuming we get the opportunity to ask, what would you like to ask Joe the Plumber? (I have dibs on "For how much are you planning on suing the State of Ohio and Helen Jones-Kelley, and can I help?" 8^)

FWIW, I will be Twittering as much as I can from the event from my BlackBerry ( We may even attempt to get video with our camera if the opportunity presents itself. I'll be blogging afterwards and posting pictures here.

Update: Joe wasn't there, but it was still worthwhile to be in the "Joe the Plumber" line, which was a lot shorter ... 8^)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pataskala income tax FUD

(That's Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt -- a term of art in the computer software industry, often pertaining to established vendors' attitude toward new technology. The established vendor will attempt to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about the new technology in an attempt to maintain their established customers.)

Today's FUD is $500K-plus in cuts ready if Pataskala's income-tax issue fails, by the aptly-named Lori Wince. Our leaders have already determined what muscle will be cut if they don't get their income tax the seventh time around:
  • No parks and recreation department;
  • Personnel cuts in planning and zoning; public-service; and street departments;
  • Suspending road resurfacing;
  • No capital improvements unless funded by other grants.
Already cut:
  • Snow removal, except on major streets;
  • Streetlight repair
(The article doesn't state whether we'll get those last two back if we knuckle under to the income tax. I suspect not, but I'm not going to look it up right now -- it's a moot point if the tax issue fails anyway.)

The timing of this issue is unfortunate, due to increases in overall property taxes (about 10%) in 2008, plus the financial panic and drop in the stock market that has reduced our 401(k) and retirement balances. Now, Pataskala wants another 1-2% of our paycheck, without repudiating their ability to also collect municipal property taxes. Anybody else besides me thinking that it's a really bad idea?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A systemic take-down of all the mass transit myths

can be found here, entitled The Bankruptcy of Mass Transit, by Bill Steigerwald, with significant input from Wendell Cox. Here are just a few of the nuggets that can be found within:

You have a situation now where, believe it or not, 60 to 65 percent of the movement of people in the Tokyo area and the Osaka area is by transit -- a stunning figure. When you figure that in the Pittsburgh area the number is less than 2 percent. By the way, it only exceeds 4 percent in the U.S.A. in New York, which is 9 percent.

I keep arguing in my own mind, who is more responsible for the abject failure of transit in the United States? And mind you -- transit expenditures have gone up more than 300 percent adjusted for inflation since 1970 and ridership has gone up less than 20 percent. There is no other sector of the economy, including health care, where I can find escalation even close to that. Transit holds the record. It is a damned outrage how bad transit has been.

and finally, the coup de grace:

All that being said, there is no hope whatsoever for transit.

As they say, read the whole thing ...

Friday, May 23, 2008

No! No! A Thousand Seven Times No!

Like a zombie that just refuses to stay dead, the Pataskala income tax issue is coming back this November for a seventh time:

The Pataskala City Council on Monday placed an income-tax issue on the November general election ballot.

The move marked a reversal of sorts for the council, which had spent weeks debating whether to place an income tax on the August special election ballot. The council even voted twice -- once in late April and once in early May -- to place a 2-percent income tax with a 1-percent credit on the August special election ballot. Both votes ended in deadlocks, so the issue did not make it on the ballot.

No deadlocks occurred Monday.

The council voted 5-1 to place the same 2-percent income tax with a 1-percent credit on the November ballot.

The good news, if there is any, is that it took two months to get the issue on the ballot, and it will be on the general-election ballot, not a special August election. With the interest in the Presidential election, lots of voters will get a chance to weigh in on this tax issue -- an August special election wouldn't attract the same turnout.

As a reminder, here are the previous six failures for this issue:

November 2001 (Pataskala - 1.00% income tax): Against: 71.02% For: 28.98%
November 2002 (Pataskala - 0.75% income tax): Against: 68.61% For: 38.39%
November 2004 (Pataskala - 1.25% income tax, ??? credit): Against: 66.46% For: 33.54%
May 2006 (Pataskala - 1.50% income tax, ??? credit): Against: 58.95% For: 41.05%
November 2006 (1.50% tax, 100% credit): Against: 62.43% For: 37.57%
November 2007 (0.50% tax, no credit): Against: 57.59% For: 42.41%

At 2% / 1% credit, this is the highest proposal yet.

I suggested earlier that this issue would be easier to pass if the Pataskala City Council would simultaneously renounce their ability to collect property tax. I see they chose not to do that.

More analysis later ...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ohio village implements a windfall-profits income tax

Or they'd like to, anyway.

A small Ohio town is proposing a retroactive income tax, to ensure they get a share of a winning lottery ticket sold in that town, presumably to a resident:

Officials in the southwest Ohio village of Amelia say they are resisting the urge to quickly pass a local income tax to get a share of the $196 million lottery ticket that was sold there.

The windfall could mean more than $1 million to the struggling village of about 4,000 people east of Cincinnati.

Pathetic. Had they considered just asking the winner to endow a civic-improvement foundation with some of his/her money?

If the NRA is for it ...

... then the local rag is agin' it, no matter what it is. Today's example is about a small (but NRA-favored, and thus, eeeeeevil) tweak in Ohio laws regarding how firearms can be carried in a vehicle, which would ...

...allow anyone to carry a gun in a motor vehicle as long as it is in a case and unloaded. The case, however, would not have to be locked and the ammunition could be close by and at the ready, so the gun could be loaded quickly. Although the gun clearly would be concealed, no concealed-carry permit would be required to carry a gun in this way.

Although the NRA claims this is a needed boost in Ohioans' self-defense rights, it might just as easily be called the traffic-stop-nightmare bill for police or the drive-by-shooters' helper.

I know this is going to cause shock waves to ripple through the editorial suite of the Dispatch, but most folks heading out to do a drive-by are probably not going to take the time to familiarize themselves with the finer points of Ohio Revised Code. Most responsible citizens don't need a "drive-by-shooters' helper" -- because they don't ever intend to execute a drive-by shooting.

The rest of the editorial is just as silly. Here's another elitist statement:

Landlords who believe banning handguns on their property improves safety should be allowed to impose such bans.

Tenants have freedom of choice of where to live. A renter's wish to own a handgun is a personal preference that cannot be allowed to take precedence over the rights of a property owner.

So those poor unfortunates who have been kicked out of their homes due to predatory mortgage lenders, and are now forced to rent in a high-crime neighborhood as their last, desperate step before homelessness, can't protect themselves if their landlord is a gun-fearing weenie. Protecting your family is not a "personal preference" to these folks -- it is a responsibility that is part of their daily reality. And by the way, their less law-abiding neighbors -- who don't concern themselves with the finer points of Ohio Revised Code, either -- probably are armed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pickerington and Westerville asking for income-tax increases

Story in the Columbus Dispatch this morning. Pickerington is at 1%, going to 2%; Westerville is at 1.25%, also going to 2%. Here's the part I just love:

In both cities, officials plan to sell the tax as an increase that a majority of residents would not pay.

Pickerington estimates that 87 percent of its residents work outside the city, while 67 percent of Westerville's workers earn wages outside the suburb. Both cities give partial credit for taxes paid elsewhere.

So, in other words, the tax burden will fall hardest on small-business owners within Westerville and Pickerington, who have no credits to other cities; or on the workers within those two towns, some of whom won't even get to vote on this or benefit from the tax revenue to any significant degree. Yet these same towns have economic-development initiatives to encourage businesses to relocate or expand in their cities, bringing jobs with them -- as long as they pay up.

If you're wondering why I'm not crazy about allowing Pataskala to join the city income-tax cattle drive, maybe the examples of Pickerington and Westerville wil prove instructive.

Monday, May 19, 2008

More weather radio nonsense

Spook86 at In From The Cold highlights a tiny moment of sanity in the mandatory, subsidized weather-radio debate, courtesy of Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO).

As noted in the comments, once the federally-subsidized weather radios have been distributed, the concerns for public safety are only beginning:

  • Who will inspect the houses in tornado-susceptible areas to ensure the radios are plugged in?
  • Who will subsidize the purchase of batteries for these radios?
  • Most important, who will ensure that people are actually listening to the radio during periods of severe weather?

And why stop at weather radios? Why not build federal tornado shelters out of rebar and concrete on every block? It's not useful to know that a tornado is coming if you don't have a basement, after all.

And then, after someone gets struck by lightning en route to their federal tornado shelter, we can build federal lightning tunnels from each residence to the shelter. And then, federal lightning tunnel security gates that close automatically during floods, so nobody drowns in the tunnel during a flood. But then we'd need a blue-ribbon commission to recommend what to do about tornadoes accompanied by lightning that occur during floods ...

Friday, February 08, 2008

I bow to Lileks, not for the first time

Oh that I could write as well as James Lileks does. The Thursday Bleat nails nanny-state liberals and anti-American snarkers to the wall, with big honkin' spikes:

But. Someone somewhere is a practicing Baptist and someone somewhere else is eating a hamburger larger than you’d prefer, and other people are watching cars go around a track at high speed. As your skinny unhappy friend said the other night: people are just too fat and happy.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Your federal set-asides at work

In most US Government purchases, a certain percentage is set aside (by Congressional order) for small, minority, women-owned, and other "disadvantaged" businesses. The NY Times had a story yesterday on what the Department of Defense has received in exchange for their set-aside dollars.

Surprisingly, it's not good news. (But if it were good news, the NY Times wouldn't cover it, would they?) Registration required, but is a fine, fine Web site that you should visit.

A North Dakota manufacturer has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a suit saying it had repeatedly shortchanged the armor in up to 2.2 million helmets for the military, including those for the first troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

A buck apiece (actually, 91 cents) for defective helmets that endanger soldiers in combat -- not a bad deal. But in government contracting, you get the occasional mulligan, and this case is no exception:

Twelve days before the settlement with the Justice Department was announced, the company, Sioux Manufacturing of Fort Totten, was given a new contract of up to $74 million to make more armor for helmets to replace the old ones, which were made from the late 1980s to last year.

So, Sioux Manufacturing only needs to make 3% profit on the new contract to repay their fine. Moderately talented accountants can make that happen with rounding errors.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention the name of the case: "United States v. Spirit Lake Tribe". Yep, it's not just a company, it's a tribe, which is how they got the contract.

The article points out that the manufacturing process employed by the company/tribe didn't meet specifications, could never have met specifications given their equipment, and nobody caught it until this had been going on for almost 20 years. So, an entire generation of soldiers has potentially been wearing non-spec Kevlar helmets, and the company suffers the incredible indignity of a $2.2 million fine -- and a $74 million new contract.

And it's not as though it was inadvertent, either:

In the evidence in the suit were hundreds of daily inspection records showing repeated violations of the weaving standards, as well as tape recordings of six managers and employees’ admitting covering up violations.

In a conversation Mr. Kenner secretly taped, Rhea Crane, quality assurance officer, worried “if we ever had someone get killed, and they decided to investigate because they thought maybe the helmet wasn’t any good.”

“If we ever got audited,” she said, “you know what they would do to us. Shut us down and fine us big time. Probably never see another government contract.”

Brilliant observation, Rhea. It's called debarment, and it is the very minimum that your company/tribe should suffer. You've been screwing the government for 20 years, so a minimum 20-year debarment seems reasonable.

But here's the delightful part, right at the end of the article:

Soldiers generally cannot sue the government. And Sioux is owned by an Indian tribe, the Spirit Lake Nation, that can, he said, assert sovereign immunity against private suits.

Note that the Evil $600 Hammer Government Contractors are not immune from lawsuits and cannot invoke sovereign immunity, because they're companies, not "nations". So much for the untouchability of the military/industrial complex ...

The company also benefits from a 5 percent federal incentive program for Indian contractors and preferences for disadvantaged small businesses.

The company benefits. Our guys in combat suffer. The set-aside rules are still in place. And the beat just goes on ...

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sticking up for the wrong constituents, Sherrod

Oh, how nice. Senator(-because-he-was-an-Ohio-Democrat-at-exactly-the-right-time) Sherrod "I'm White, Dammit" Brown is now telling the Department of Defense just who is a security risk, or more importantly, who is not:

10 Investigates took the concerns to Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

"I just don't think the whole situation makes sense," Brown said. "I think the government is overreached and the government should change its mind."

Brown said that he sent a letter to DFAS, complaining about the situation and demanded an explanation.

"The government is overreached" because negative information (such as bad credit, the example cited in the piece I linked to) causes some people not to qualify for security clearances? "The government should change its mind" about allowing people subject to bribery to hold sensitive positions?

Senator Brown, are you serious about what you're saying here, or is this just demagoguery for public consumption? If you're serious, then step up and hire these folks (who in some cases owe thousands of dollars to creditors, but refuse to pay) to handle your campaign contributions.

Edit: Nah, we don't need to check the financial background of federal employees.

Also, Senator Brown, talk to Congressman Mike Pence's office about the proper response in this situation. You might want to start with the last sentence and read backward:

It is very important that the employees are able to pass continuing security clearances to make sure that the people who have access to our national defense secrets are not in any way compromised.

Senator Specter has a lot of time on his hands ...

... because he has time to pen a very sensible op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about judicial nominations, but at the same time, he's literally making a federal case about the New England Patriots' "Tape-Gate" scandal, in which the Pats and Bill Belichick were accused of videotaping on the sidelines to steal opponents' defensive signals:

"I am very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in a Thursday letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Senator, the Steelers and the Eagles (his two constituent NFL teams) either lost in the first round of, or didn't make, the playoffs. Is it really necessary to call this out the week of the Super Bowl? Maybe Specter has a large amount of campaign funds behind the Giants this Sunday, and he just needed to rattle the Patriots' chain to guarantee a payoff.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Your tax dollars are coming back to you

Your Federal government is hard at work, making sure you have the right equipment to watch TV when they turn off analog broadcasting next February. From the WSJ:

Consumers can buy set-top converter boxes to make old televisions play digital signals, and Congress has set aside $1.5 billion to help consumers pay for the converters. Consumers who subscribe to cable or satellite services don't have to do anything. Earlier this month, U.S. residents could begin applying for two $40 coupons to help pay for converter boxes, which are expected to sell for about $50 to $70 each. The coupons can be ordered at or (888) DTV-2009.

I would only change one sentence:
Congress has taken $10,000 each from 150,000 taxpayers to ensure continued audiences for soap operas, Oprah!, and American Idol.
which is, of course, one of the enumerated powers of Congress dictated by the Constitution. I'm quite sure it's in there somewhere, if you just look hard enough.

Edit: Those converter boxes might be arriving just in time to sit atop unused TV sets, if this article's prediction is correct:

American TV networks have lost almost a quarter of their audiences because of the Hollywood writers' strike, according to new figures, and executives fear that “orphaned” viewers may never return.

The Nielsen ratings organisation found that US viewership for last week's opening of the 2008 TV season was down 21 per cent compared with the same week last year, when new episodes of hit shows such as Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy were aired.

The article goes on to document the lingering effect of the last writers' strike -- it is estimated that 10% of the network TV audience just never came back. The long-term effect of this idiotic strike will be fewer dollars for everybody -- the networks, the production companies, and, yes, the sainted, long-suffering writers. The writers may or may not get their additional portion, but the pie will undoubtedly be smaller.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bad news from Iraq

Guess what the recent bad news from Iraq was:

Widespread sectarian violence -- nope;
Infiltration by foreign fighters -- sorry;
Lack of a de-Baathification law -- been done;
Roaming death squads -- oops, not that either.

No, the pressing problem harshing Iraqi mellow is ... high housing prices in certain neighborhoods. Headline: Baghdad's housing boom; subhead: With violence down, home prices are up as displaced Iraqis flock back home. For many, however, the cost is too steep.

The horror ... the horror. Some Iraqis cannot live where they want to, due to economic considerations. Others are forced, due to scarcity, to hurry up and make offers on houses in which they're interested. Still others, unable to afford the down payment, actually have to wait and save money before they buy.

(If you're a renter, you may not understand the last paragraph, but if you've bought a home, chances are that you're familiar with some or all of the above. Home buying is a tradeoff in so many areas -- location, timing, price, mortgage rate, condition, neighborhood -- and that's true in the US as well as Iraq. Why the LA Times thinks this is newsworthy at all is beyond me ...)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Uh, Governor Schwarzenegger?

Whenever once and future President Clinton (male) calls, and wants to work on something with you, it may be not such a fine idea.

Today's NSaFI: Getting people out from under the thumb of those nasty payday lenders and check cashers, co-authored by the Governator and President Bill. The check-cashing firms charge fees to turn paychecks into cash, and the payday lenders charge confiscatory interest rates for short-term loans. These are apparently profitable businesses, because there are a lot of them, and therefore they must be destroyed. (Although I do have to give Bill Clinton credit -- he's proposing incentives to get people to use banks, rather than just outlawing the paycheck firms. Hillary would just try to take 'em out with legislation.)

The article cites lots of studies that make ridiculous assumptions -- here's a howler:

And consider that, according to a new Brookings Institution report, as much as $360,000 in pre-tax wealth could be created if the average, full-time unbanked worker invested in the stock market what he will spend over his lifetime paying to cash his paychecks. That would allow one of those workers to finance about 25 years of retirement at his current standard of living.

Yeah, like that's going to happen. That $360,000 will never see the stock market -- it'll go for cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets. (Not all bad, as the cigarette and beer manufacturers, distributors, and convenience-store clerks need income too. The lottery is just a tax on the poor, which goes into the state treasury to be mostly wasted, but that's another post.)

These businesses serve several legitimate purposes, other than just fleecing the poor as the article contends:
  • The presence of a lot of check cashers and payday loan places means that you're probably in a bad neighborhood, and should not stick around, nor even consider living there. They are everywhere, of course, but they seem to be much more numerous in crime-ridden neighborhoods. If you can see inside the store, and the cashiers are protected by bulletproof glass, then you're probably in a really bad neighborhood.
  • Banks and other financial institutions require lots of steps to open accounts (due, in part, to the post-9/11 USA Patriot rules to prevent money laundering). It's a hassle. There's something to be said for paying the check-cashers' fees just to avoid that hassle. Give the people what they want, and all that.
  • Financial institutions also require valid photo IDs for cash transactions, new accounts, etc. Those who don't have photo IDs which would pass inspection at a bank (hint, illegal aliens undocumented-Americans) have to use the check cashers, who are in effect levying a fee for not having a valid ID. Seems like a win-win situation to me.
I'd never use one of these places myself, but it just doesn't make sense to try to put them out of business.

Edit: El Rushbo talked about this issue in the first hour of the program today, and he got a call from a gentleman who has apparently been blacklisted for 10 years from opening accounts banks, because his ex-wife had bounced too many checks on their (presumably) joint account before his divorce. I'd read about this before, but forgot until I heard this call on the Rush 24-7 podcast. Apparently there is an organization called ChexSystems that acts as a clearinghouse for serial bank-account abusers -- but according to this page, which has information on ChexSystems, the lockout period is supposed to be only five years from the last incident. (In fairness to Rush's caller, if banks told me to FOAD when trying to open an account, I probably wouldn't go back again either.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Peters for President juggernaut thunders on ...

... in today's WSJ (free link): Gas Taxes are High Enough, by Mary E. Peters, US Secretary of Transportation. I'm already behind her run for office, so she didn't need to convince me, but I'm glad to see this kind of reasoned opinion get a broader audience.

One initiative I didn't know about is an attempt to fix I-495, at least in the Virginia section:

Just last month, Virginia announced that it had reached agreement with private investors to construct some of the most sophisticated, variably priced lanes in the world on the Capital Beltway. The symbolism of that project's location should be lost on no one.

Indeed, it is not lost, especially in light of the epic traffic failures endemic to the DC area. Never having lived there, I can only imagine the daily horror of driving there. I've been in the area enough to see two idiocies up close: the HOV-only restriction on Interstate 66 (not some of the lanes -- the whole publicly-funded Interstate highway is restricted to carpools at times); and the enviro-wackiness regarding the Potomac River, specifically the fact that no new bridges can be built across it between Point of Rocks, MD and the Beltway, which just forces ever more Maryland traffic onto the Beltway.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Reading Mark Steyn's America Alone, I came upon the following reference to a topic that never fails to depress me [link added, not in original]:
Photographed from above, the body bags look empty. They seem to lie flat on the ground, and it's only when you peer closer that you realize that that's because the bodies in them are too small to fill the length of the bags. They're children. Row upon row of dead children, over a hundred of them, 150, more, many of them shot in the back as they tried to flee.

It was a picture from the Beslan massacre -- the pupils of a Russian schoolhouse, taken hostage and slaughtered in September 2004.
It's been over three years since this atrocity, and it still occupies a large place in the dark, ugly part of my brain. I can't enter an elementary school gym without thinking about explosives wired to the basketball hoops, all hooked up to a dead-man's switch held by a terrorist. To attack adults is bad enough -- but to intentionally target elementary-school children by the hundreds is evil beyond words. Why any part of the rogue Chechnya province still exists, starting five minutes after their "leader" claimed responsibility for the massacre, is a mystery to me.

I suspect this reaction is due to the fact that I have kids in elementary school. I'm amazed at the amount of security designed into the new elementary school near me. Locked doors are the rule, not the exception, and normal entry to the building is possible only through the front office. The hallways with classrooms can be further isolated from the main building, using alarmed doors. This isn't my old school, for sure -- but then again, when I was in elementary school, the worst thing adults could imagine in an elementary school was chewing gum, not plastic explosives.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I can't find anything I disagree with in John Stossel's column today. He cites the systems that government has created -- in both transportation and organ transplants -- and shows why they don't work. Instead of an outcry against the failed systems, though, all we get is hand-wringing and jealous sniping from the command-and-control types who are inherently suspicious of free-market solutions.

Government is doing such a poor job in so many areas (Social Security, education, energy policy, etc.), but yet there are always those who want to give over more aspects of their lives to government control. I'd seriously appreciate hearing from people who think government is always the best answer -- I just can't wrap my mind around that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Useless Bureaucrats Want You -- To Pay 13% More For The Privilege Of Driving

Transit panel urges 40 cent gas-tax hike

Can't say I'm surprised. A bunch of government "transit experts" sit around in meetings for months, and wind up advocating ... wait for it ... tax increases:

Under the recommendation, the current tax of 18.4 cents per gallon for unleaded gasoline would be increased annually for five years - by anywhere from 5 cents to 8 cents each year - and then indexed to inflation afterward ...

And what do they want to buy with this? Let's critique their wish list:

... to help fix the infrastructure,
Sorry, too generic. We need more details here.
expand public transit
NO! More empty buses, paid for by the drivers who have to sit behind them in traffic, are not the solution! Public transit systems that cannot self-support should be shut down.

and highways
YEAH! That's what I'm talking about. Remember, folks, that freeway lane miles are the most efficient form of transit that exists. Not light rail. Not empty buses. Not van pools. Just miles and miles of beautiful, wide-open concrete!

as well as broaden railway and rural access, ...
BZZZT! Rural areas don't have traffic problems, by definition -- if they had traffic problems, they'd be urban areas.

The report also calls for rebuilding and expanding the national rail network to meet a growing demand for alternatives to congested highways.

Partial credit here. I agree with the idea of offloading freight transport from trucks to rail where it makes sense to do so. If you're transporting stuff from the ship to the warehouse, rail makes some sense -- but how do you get the stuff from the warehouse to each individual store?

Passenger rail, on the other hand ... meh. Just look at Amtrak, which loses money serving beer, and you know all you need to know about the viability of passenger rail in the US.
But the 12-member commission's proposals, which are expected to cost $225 billion each year for the next 50 years, face internal division. The commission's chairwoman, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, and two other members oppose gas tax increases and were issuing a dissenting opinion to the report calling instead for private-sector investment and tolls.
Mrs. Peters, you and your fellow dissidents have my vote in any election in which you choose to run. This is (finally) the right solution -- if a particular piece of road is too congested, then you need to crank the price up on that road at peak times until that congestion is alleviated. That forces each individual driver to make the economic decision as to whether it's worth it to pay that toll; or pick an alternate route, make the trip earlier or later when the toll is less, or change plans to avoid the trip altogether. The toll revenue can then be applied locally, where it can do the most good.

The full commission's recommendation -- a broad, nationwide tax, dumped into the various Federal slush funds, to be allocated to each Congresscritter's pet project back home -- is a non-starter.

Workers of California, rejoice!

Your government has saved you from those mean employers who wouldn't let you take lunch or smoke breaks. The Man can no longer keep you down. The following urgent memo popped up in our time recording system recently:

Effective immediately, all salaried non-exempt and hourly employees in California should be confirming (certifying) that they have taken or waived (if applicable) their meal and rest breaks prior to entering their attendance hours ...

I love the "waived (if applicable)" language -- to save you from The Man, your California government can force you to be at work 9 or 10 hours, so that you get all your breaks in, even if you wanted to work through lunch, take no breaks, and bail 8 hours after you arrive.

The free market, which apparently has just closed up shop in CA, has an elegant solution for this. If you don't like your employer's break policies, find another job; if you don't want to find another job, then you must by definition like your employer's break policy. Either way, there is no role for government here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Car Talk

While researching the links for the previous post, I noticed that Car Talk has entire shows now available for free podcast download; previously, they only made about 10 minutes of their "call of the week" available for free; the full-show download required payment ($2 / month or thereabouts).

And on the subject, in case you didn't notice, the Car Talk guys Tom and Ray provide the voices for the Rust-Eze company representatives in the Disney/Pixar movie Cars. Which I've seen (partially) dozens of times, since I have kids, and they must be entertained at all times ... 8^)

Talking back to "This American Life" - episode #322, Shouting Across the Divide

Over the weekend, I spoke with my pastor about podcasts. He recommended NPR's This American Life (the RSS feed for which can be found here), hosted by Ira Glass. I thought I'd give it a shot, and what follows below is my reaction to it.

I should state up front that I'm not a huge NPR fan, although I do enjoy Car Talk and Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! Both of these programs tilt a bit leftward for my tastes -- although nowhere near as far left as the NPR "news" programs -- but they're mainly entertainment (and as often as not, also educational). I think it's a disgrace that there are still taxpayer subsidies for NPR and PBS at all, in the age of Internet podcasts and streaming audio; satellite radio; and digital radio and TV broadcast, none of which are subsidized to the extent that NPR and PBS are. Left to compete on a level playing field -- and yes, that includes those icky advertisements, not just insufferable pledge drives -- I believe that the left-leaning programs on NPR would be gone in short order, as was Air America. With dozens of choices in the media, I don't believe Americans will pay to hear how much America sucks and is unfair.

Which brings me 'round to the subject of this post. Episode #322 is the story of an American Muslim woman ("Sari") and her family, including 12-year-old daughter "Chloe". "Sari" grew up in the US, married a Palestinian immigrant from the West Bank, lived in New York for a while, and eventually settled in some unnamed East Coast town where the kids could play outside. Life was wonderful.

And then came September 11, 2001. "Sari" and her family started to experience anti-Muslim backlash. People gave her the bird while she was driving in her hijab. Neighbors started looking askance at her. Her car was vandalized, and a note left in it indicating that the family should leave the country. "Sari" tucked the note away in her purse, got the car fixed, and went on with her life as though nothing had happened.


Um, "Sari", some redneck asshat breaks into my ride, I'm on the phone with The Man right now. You know what I'm sayin? The heat? The Five-O? Oh, never mind. Call the frickin' police, dear. That's why they get paid. At the very least, you'll need the police report number to file an insurance claim -- and maybe they'll knock on a few doors and scare the bejeeezus out of whichever redneck neighbor did the deed.

Anyway, after that, life in Unnamed Town settled back down for a few years -- until a few years later, on the anniversary of September 11th. "Chloe's" class was handed a book on the 9/11 attacks, in which it was intimated that Muslims were responsible for the attacks, and that Muslims hated Christians and Jews. (That first bit was also in the 9/11 commission report, BTW, though maybe not stated in a way that fourth-graders could grasp.) When "Sari" complained to the principal about the book, she was told that it was a district-wide reading assignment, and that there was nothing that could be done.


You should have been at the next school board meeting with that book in hand, "Sari". If it turns out that it wasn't a district-wide policy, then the principal is a liar and should lose his Christmas turkey for the year. If it is a district-wide policy, then you casually mention that you're a Muslim, that you've never been to flight school, and that you had no wish to harm any of the Christians and/or Jews in the meeting, and would they please knock off purchasing this kind of crappy book in the future? KTHX. Maybe you win, maybe you lose, but at least you get it out on the table.

Of course, that's the only bad thing that happened, right? Oh, my, no, the rabbit hole deepens ...

"Chloe" starts to take abuse from her classmates, who call her a "Nasty Muslim" and tell her to go back where she came from, etc., etc. In the emo manner of all fourth-grade girls throughout history, "Chloe" decides that long-held beliefs must give way to popularity with the mean girls, and renounces Islam. (It should be noted that such apostasy is grounds for death in a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan, but not in Unnamed Town, and in any event, probably not for 9-year-olds -- yet.) The family declines to celebrate Ramadan that year, and keeps the whole Muslim thing on the down-low. Problem solved, right?

Wrong. The 4th grade teacher, who we'll call Mr. Ned Flanders, declares that the class will read one Christmas book per day in December. "Chloe" is particularly disturbed by the candy cane lesson, in which Mr. Flanders states that the J-shape represents Jesus, and the white and red symbolize Jesus' purity and blood, respectively. (Mr. Flanders apparently does not spend a lot of time on Snopes, but he's probably too pious to let facts stand in the way of a good Christian urban legend.) Net effect of the lesson is that only Christians who believe in the power of Jeeeee-zus will be saved, and all others shall be cast out into the Pit of HELL to BURN!!!

Of course, this does not sit well with "Chloe", who tells "Sari" about it, resulting in a meeting with the principal. The principal agrees, and presumably tells Flanders to tone it down, and we all have a happy Christmas (void where prohibited, your results may vary).

First day back from Christmas Winter Solstice Break, Flanders tells "Chloe" that she needs to transfer to another class, since this one apparently makes her uncomfortable. She runs from the school, gets home, buries herself in her bed, and won't come out. The next day, she returns to school


Why the hell did you let her go back the next day, "Sari"? Obviously, something was wrong, and it probably had to do with school, since that's the place from which "Chloe" fled in such a funk. Think, woman!

Anyway, the next day, "Chloe" heads back into class -- only Flanders has already told the class that "Chloe" is gone, so now everybody's wondering WTF "Chloe" is doing there. "Chloe's" BFF comes to explain the situation, and comfort her, and everything is sorted out.

In the meantime, "Chloe's" siblings reveal that they have been teased by their classmates as well. Shortly thereafter, "Chloe", having transferred to another classroom, tries to hook up with her BFF in the hallway. BFF pretends not to notice "Chloe". Then, in the lunchroom, "Chloe" talks directly with BFF, who, in a gesture of Islamophobic rage ...


"Chloe" is devastated. She drops out of school. The district pays for a tutor for "Chloe" for the rest of the year. The Justice Department (!) gets called in, spanks the district hard on the backside (diversity training! performance goals and oversight of Mr. Flanders!), and the school is once again declared safe for humanity.

Well, that just wasn't good enough. "Sari" sought a transfer to another school in the district, but, though they searched every building, officials were unable to absolutely guarantee that no elementary school child in any building would not act like elementary school children do, and that "Chloe" would never be teased again. That left just one choice -- they had to move. They were forced to leave.


Uh, "Sari", you're a stay-at-home mom -- ever heard of homeschooling? Or maybe you could get a job, and pay for private school tuition? The public schools do not yet have the sole right to educate your children, dear. This is America. Nobody forces you to do anything (except pay taxes upon fear of imprisonment or confiscation of property, but that's a different post.)

But the move didn't come without a cost. The husband, Mr. Wonderful West Bank, wanted to move the family back to the garden spot from which he had barely escaped with his life. "Sari" called bullshit, so Mr. WB took off, leaving her as a single mother with five kids, and presumably no child support checks with a Palestinian return address.

So the story ends with "Sari" working two jobs, never seeing her five (!) kids, and asking them to write her letters about their day, which she reads late at night through a puddle of tears.

OBTW, in one quote, "Sari" says "I have to believe this [how the family was treated] was a fluke.". Then she turns around and says "It's a sign of our times. It's happening all across America ... We hear stories of different things going on, in schools and places of employment ..."


No, dear. You are alive, and you are still free to make your own choices, and your kids are healthy. Just because your life sucked for a while, it does not mean that America sucks.

Oh, and Ira, and NPR in general, just because you can find one sob story, caused by public school idiocy and kids being cruel, does not mean that America sucks.