Friday, April 29, 2005

Interstate Abortion

The US House passed a bill yesterday that would make it illegal to transport a minor across state boundaries to get an abortion.
The Volokh conspiracy has a discussion in the comments sections, which seems to be honest discussion and not rantings, about whether this is constitutional and how it would be implemented in different circumstances, considering that many state laws are different.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Iran and WMD

It appears that European diplomats, as well as the EU, agree with the US that Iran is most likely trying to build nuclear weapons, and trying to get the EU to just accept that fact.
I'll be curious to see, after some sort of confrontation (if that ever happens) how the left treats this reality. If we go into Iran and take down the Mullahs, and then, say, find no working weapons, will the left say that we lied as to our reasons for going in there? Is it all about the oil?
Hat tip to WindsofChange.

NYT Opposes Filibusters!

Or, at least that's the position they took in 1995, when Clinton was president and the Senate enjoyed a momentary Democratic majority.
Senator Cornyn noticed.
From the NYT, circa 1995:
One unpleasant and unforeseen consequence has been to make the filibuster easy to invoke and painless to pursue. Once a rarely used tactic reserved for issues on which senators held passionate convictions, the filibuster has become the tool of the sore loser, dooming any measure that cannot command the 60 required votes.
The Harkin plan, along with some of Mr. Mitchell's proposals, would go a long way toward making the Senate a more productive place to conduct the nation's business. Republicans surely dread the kind of obstructionism they themselves practiced during the last Congress. Now is the perfect moment for them to unite with like-minded Democrats to get rid of an archaic rule that frustrates democracy and serves no useful purpose.
The "tool of the sore loser?" An "archaic rule that frustrates democracy?" Say it ain't so.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Portland Business Tax

The city of Portland has a really harsh business licensing tax. Small businesses have been screaming about it for a long time. The perception here is that many small businesses leave or don't set up shop here at all because of the way the license tax is figured.
councilman Sam Adams, the frosh on the council, has been hounding the other councilmen for weeks with an idea he has to offer some relief to businesses in the city. But he still lacks the votes to get it done.

Call him politically stubborn if you'd like, but City Commissioner Sam Adams
plans to keep pushing his colleagues to reduce Portland's business license fee
even though he doesn't have the votes.
Adams and Commissioner Dan Saltzman
want to raise the minimum deduction business owners can claim on the city's
business license fee. They're one big vote short of what they need to pass the
change. But Adams says he's bringing the idea before the City Council today to
send a message.

City commissioners have been debating a way to reduce business taxes in Portland for years, and business owners have been clamoring for tax breaks for even longer.
Almost 42,000 businesses pay the license fee, an annual charge of 2.2 percent of their net, pretax income on transactions within the city. Under city policy, all businesses affected can deduct a minimum of $57,000 from their income. Adams' plan would gradually raise that deduction to $125,000.

The rest of the council is unsure how the lost funding will be replaced. They complain that Adams hasn't figured in the cost of what he is proposing.
The change would cost the city at least $4.3 million annually of the $40
million or so the business license fee generates. Adams wants to pay for those
losses using future revenues above those predicted by city economists and
already factored into the city's spending plans. He would tie the increase in
the minimum deduction to revenue increases over the next few years, meaning if
revenues don't outpace expectations, the deduction wouldn't grow.
Mayor Tom
Potter and Commissioners Erik Sten and Randy Leonard say they're not comfortable
with that financing plan, especially with the City Council facing a potential
gap between projected revenue and planned spending that could reach $16 million
-- and could rise more, depending on how a variety of uncertainties, including
health care costs, play out over the next five years.
"I need to make sure
that we know what the impact is on our revenue stream, and I don't think we know
that right now," said Leonard, who last year suggested using a proposed cell
phone tax to reduce the business license fee. "The idea is right, but the
follow-through isn't there yet."
Adams says he'd happily set aside $4.3
million in the pot of one-time 2005-06 revenue that the City Council is in the
process of divvying up. But everyone in City Hall has different preferences for
how to use that money, including proposals to spend more fighting homelessness
and drug abuse.

Oh, fine. Everyone has different preferences for how to use the money. Even local governments can't control spending. Can anyone in government balance their budget these days?
The Bureau of Licenses analyzed his plan and reported that 62 percent of the
tax reduction would benefit businesses with 50 or fewer employees.
At the
same time, more than half of the money saved by businesses would go to those
earning more than $1 million annually. The biggest category of beneficiaries
would be in the financial, insurance and real estate industries.
"Some say
this doesn't go far enough or doesn't affect a wide enough range of businesses,
but keep in mind that many of the businesses that would be included are very
mobile. They can pick up and go anywhere," said Patrick Donaldson, president of
the Hollywood Boosters and co-owner of a three-person security consulting
company. "Perception is reality on this one. This is the kind of the thing that
can help cut off those who say Portland isn't a good place to do business."
That's the crux of it, isn't it. Whether business stay or go. I wonder if the council has considered that lowering the impact of a harsh business tax will encourage more businesses to locate here, and thus increase the amount of taxes they collect overall.
But that would be too much long term thinking.

China, the time bomb

I have been hearing a lot lately about how much of a problem, and how big of a threat, China is going to be in the new millennium. They are positioning themselves as the newest super-power nation in the vacuum left by the Soviet Union dissolving.
There is a lot of evidence to this effect. One is that the economy has been growing at an astounding 8-10% over the past few years. Another is that, due to this influx of wealth, the government has been spending about as much or more on their military than any other nation on earth.
However, China also has some major obstacles to overcome. Can they do it?
Dave Schuler has an analysis of some of these challenges and why they might just explode any chance China has to becoming a 1st world power instead of a 3rd world nation.
Environmental Degradation
Graying Population and Pension problems
Banking Industry issues

Revisionist History

Glenn Reynolds has been getting on the left's, and the NYT's, case for revising history to suit their message.
The New York Times is still using the leftish diatribe that "The only plausible reason for keeping American Troops in Iraq is to protect the democratic transformation that President Bush seized upon as a rational for the invasion after his claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be fictitious."
Reynolds points out that this line of thinking has been thoroughly debunked.

Update: Captain Ed says that the Duelfer report on WMD is being mis-represented by the press as proof that there were no WMD transfered to Syria before or during the war.

Another Update: Glenn has more on the revisionism.

Is the President's approval falling?

Well, that's what you would expect after hearing that when polled about Social Security accounts, when asked by the Washington Post/ABC pollsters, only 45 percent were for it, as opposed to over 50 a few weeks ago.

David Sarasohn tried to highlight this point in his article titled, "For private accounts, it's a down market." Other than using the ABC poll data, which I'll get to below, the article is not that off base. I'm not saying I agree with him, or that I think private accounts are a bad idea, but Bush and the Republicans are trying their hardest to drop the ball on this one. Why aren't they separating this from real SS reform? Private accounts are a good idea, but not designed to reform SS.
Republicans need to separate this because they can embarrass the Democrats on this issue. They have generated enough buzz around the fact that SS does need to be tweaked in order to keep it flush for the foreseeable future, that if they put concrete ideas regarding just that, like tying benefits to prices or something, then they can snare any democrats who says something like "Just say no to reform of SS", as they did out in front of the Capital yesterday.

Otherwise, I agree that Bush is falling down by not pushing something more specific and Republicans are having to deal with a Wall Street that knows while private accounts might be a good thing, it's just a re-distribution of funding. The existing SS is still in trouble.
But it doesn't look like he is going to back down on separating the issue.

On a slightly separate note regarding this poll...
Bush has historically not guided his presidency by using poll data, and I think that he should continue that. One reason is the polls themselves might be biased or have a bad statistical sample. The wording of the questions often produces the poll numbers that the pollsters desire.
Take for instance this poll about the Terri Schiavo issue.
Mickey Kaus, no conservative he, was miffed:
The Shame of ABC: I hadn't realized that the surprising ABC poll about the
Schiavo case--showing overwhelming anti-tube sentiment--was so badly worded and
biased. (For one thing, it
deceptively tells pollees that Terri Schiavo is on "life
* For another, it leads with the
flat assertion that "Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition
is irreversible."**)
Michelle Malkin and "Captain Ed" Morrissey are onto the ABC
poll. ...
Malkin, Morrissey and Powerline also raise doubts about that clumsy Republican talking points memo that
ABC's Linda Douglass first trumpeted.

Powerline shines some light on this poll by ABC regarding the filibuster debate.
Sounds bad. But here is the question the pollsters asked: "Would you support
or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm
Bush's judicial nominees?" That is an absurd question, to which I would probably
answer "No," too. The way the question is framed, it makes it sound like a
one-way street, as though the Republicans wanted to change the rules to benefit
only Republican nominees. If they asked a question like, "Do you think that if a
majority of Senators support confirmation of a particular nominee, that nominee
should be confirmed?" the percentages would probably reverse.

It turns out that this, as well as the data that Mr. Sarasohn is using, is all based on the same poll done by ABC. One thing that powerline noticed was the political orientation of the sample set.
Dem: 32, Rep:28, Ind:32. With a seven point swing in political party, do you think you are going to get a representative sample of opinions using that sample in a country where more republicans voted than democrats?
I didn't think so either.

Redstate noticed that the Democrats stance on this has been in a state of flux lately.

Dissing OregonLive

I was looking for OregonLive, the Oregonian's on line news site, and waded into a sea of complaints concerning the usability of the site. Generally, the complaints are that it's complicated to read, the important links are not prominent on the page, searching for things is difficult, and the links to articles only last 14 days.
I hadn't heard that last one, but I do know I've had trouble searching for articles that aren't in today's Oregonian.
I looked back at some of my posts that have OregonLive links and found that, in fact, the links lead to an empty page at the site. That really reflects poorly on the Oregonian.
Here is BlueOregon's list of demands from the OregonLive (web manager to make it more user friendly:
* Lose the 14-day kill zone. Listen, beancounters, you'll get MORE traffic
that way. More people will link and the links will live forever. That's ad
revenue... think about it. Lots of folks I know don't even bother linking to
OregonLive because the link will die in 14 days. And that hurts your Google rank
(the key to even MORE revenue).
* Photos. You don't really intend to suggest
that your photojournalists suck so bad that their work should be in hiding, do
* Post all the articles. Yes, even the Metro section stuff. If I want
the front page wire-service stuff, I'll go to the source anyway.
* Use 21st
century HTML. The internet has improved the lives of millions of blind people;
how about showing a little courtesy and making your HTML accessible to them? Oh,
and Google's a blind person too -- do the right thing, and your Google Rank will
* Put a comments/discussion forum on every single article. More
traffic, more revenue... (see, the internet can make money, too!)
* For the
love of god, call the sections the same thing as you call them in print. There's
nothing more frustrating than trying to find the "Commentary" link... Oh yeah,
on the internet, it's "Opinion".
* Pull the news closer to the front. Put
actual content on the home page, and actual content on the section home pages.
Seriously, is the little weather box the most important content you've got under
* Improve the jobs and classifieds
search. It's damn near unusable.
* Add text-only contextual advertising,
rather than all those meaningless animated banner ads. Contextual ads are
actually of interest to readers - and thus generate higher click-thrus and more
revenue. Google AdSense can get you up and running in under 10 minutes.


I just got another comment on an post I made last week. I'm skipping in my boots. As always, it makes me simultaneously excited and daunted that people other than friends are reading my posts. I wonder how they find me, as I'm not linked to much (the only blog roll that I'm aware I'm on is RoguePundit's). If I could ask one thing of commenters, that until I know there are lots of people who read my site, I wonder if some of you could include a bit about how you found my blog. I'm just curious, in a little boyish sort of way.

Also, I thought I would mention that, after my rant about how the Supreme Court paid too much attention to the legal systems of other countries in formulating their opinions about things, like they did in the juvenile death penalty case, they semi-redeemed themselves this week.
Justice Breyer wrote the decision, indicating that laws that restrict gun ownership for those who have been convicted of a felony apply only to convictions under US laws, not foreign convictions.
Justice Breyer said the gun law would create anomalies if applied to foreign
convictions, because foreign legal systems have made different choices of what
conduct to regard as criminal. Citing the Russian criminal code as an example,
he said that someone might be regarded as a felon "for engaging in economic
conduct that our society might encourage." A foreign conviction does not
necessarily indicate that a person is dangerous, Justice Breyer said.

Good for them.
Hat tip to Instapundit.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Interview with a Marine

One criticism of Blogs is that they don't do any original reporting, just comment and rant about news that's picked up by the main stream media(msm). This is often in the context of MSMs getting defensive when blogs start to go after them as corrupt, and often use words like "outdated" and "old media" and "new media."
But it's also true that there is some original reporting in the blogosphere. Some blogs, like Powerline, call people up and check things out. Some even do interviews. This is one of those.
Gringo Unleashed does a fabulous interview with a Marine just back from Iraq. He asks him how guarding election posts was, how the marines are dealing with Iraqi perception of them has been difficult and how things are going in general. It's a pretty good interview.
Check it out.

Contract with Blue America

The Democrats have this new-fangled thing called a "Contract with America." How fresh! No one has ever thought of that before.
Amidst accusations that Democrats have no alternatives to Republican ideas and philosophies, they have come up with this nifty Nine Point Plan indicating their new and improved platform.
Hat tip to JustOneMinute.

Here is part of the opening statement:
“Across the country, people are worried about things that matter to their families – the health of their loved ones, their child’s performance in schools, and those sky high gas prices,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. “But what is the number one priority for Senate Republicans? Doing away with the last check on one-party rule in Washington to allow President Bush, Senator Frist and Tom Delay to stack the courts with radical judges. If Republicans proceed to pull the trigger on the nuclear option, Democrats will respond by employing existing Senate rules to push forward our agenda for America.”
OK, actually I'm more worried about terrorism and national security, and as it happens, democracy promotion world-wide. But you go on thinking what you want about what my worries are. Really, much of that stuff I would rather be handled by other entities, like states or private concerns, than the federal government.
Oh.... My.... I'm not even going anywhere with that paranoid, freak out statement about Republican's drive for "one-party rule."
And what the heck does Reid mean by that last sentence? "..will respond by employing existing Senate rules to push forward our agenda..." What rules would you use that you already haven't to push your agenda? You mean you haven't been doing that already? How useful of a senator are you if you have an agenda that you aren't pursuing already? Reid: "If the Republicans try to end our shameless stalling of judicial appointments, then we might actually do our JOBS!"

Anyway, here are the nine points. You can get them from either link above, but I have comments to make:
1. Women’s Health Care. “The Prevention First Act of 2005” will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions by increasing funding for family planning and ending health insurance discrimination against women.
OK, sort of with you so far. But what does the federal government have to do with this? I would work on convincing insurance companies to offer more family planning stuff. Insurance companies should understand that they should fully cover office visits and health maintenance stuff, as it is cheaper than paying for the hospital visit once you are really sick.
As giving birth costs a whole lot, I would think that planning devices (read: contraception) should be a no brainer. Some insurance companies might not want to do this for various reasons (morals, religious values) and it will do the government no good to try and restrict the right of people to not offer that kind of coverage.
I don't even know what Reid means by "insurance Discrimination against women." But then, I'm not a woman.
2. Veterans’ Benefits. “The Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2005” will assist disabled veterans who, under current law, must choose to either receive their retirement pay or disability compensation.
I didn't know they couldn't have both. I'm not really sure I disagree with this, but I don't know anything about it.
3. Fiscal Responsibility. Democrats will move to restore fiscal discipline to government spending and extend the pay-as-you-go requirement.
Whatever. I agree that the Republicans, now in power, have been pretty crappy about fiscal responsibility, while crying about it back in the 80s and early 90s. But the Dems are going to be no better, and even some of the other things in these points of theirs are going to cost the taxpayers extra piles of cashola. Right now these are just words, and really funny ones at that.
4. Relief at the Pump. Democrats plan to halt the diversion of oil from the markets to the strategic petroleum reserve. By releasing oil from the reserve through a swap program, the plan will bring down prices at the pump.
As the JustOneMinute guy points out, Democrats are the party of Conservation and Higher gas prices. Just accept it. This reeks of a party just saying something because they know people want to hear it.
It's also pretty short sighted to start draining the SPR just to bring down gas prices, as Bush has pointed out he won't do. Draining the reserve won't be the golden answer to all our gas problems either. There are other answers to this, to which the Democrats offer no real alternatives for.
5. Education. Democrats have a bill that will: strengthen head start and child care programs, improve elementary and secondary education, provide a roadmap for first generation and low-income college students, provide college tuition relief for students and their families, address the need for math, science and special education teachers, and make college affordable for all students .
Here's one of those issues that is going to cost more, and thereby nullifies point number 3. Basically this is the Democrat's version of No Child Left Behind, right? So where was this as an alternative when Bush unveiled his grand education vision?
We'll leave this for later whether their bill is worth anything more than the paper it's printed on. It might have some good ideas in it. But for now lets say that I am cynical that the federal government can do anything for education that doesn't cost way too much and offer way too little. For this reason I'm still a little cynical that NCLB is really all that beneficial, considering all the money the feds are currently shovelling into that program.
6. Jobs. Democrats will work in support of legislation that guarantees overtime pay for workers and sets a fair minimum wage.
Oh, man, here it comes. I new what number 8 was before I even got there.
Isn't overtime pay guaranteed for hourly workers now? If you aren't an hourly worker, i.e. you are on salary, typically that means that you have to work more hours sometimes, and you can take off early when you need to on others. If you have a job where the boss makes you work over tons, but doesn't let you go when you want to, or need to (and you aren't abusing the system) then find another job. Really.
I'm also against the minimum wage for various reasons. I realize that you want to set it at something so undereducated people don't get totally screwed, but my question is what's a "fair" wage? What minimum is fair? When I hear liberals say "fair minimum wage" that means they want to raise it again. Global minimums are actually not fair, because if you are using cost of living in cities, then the rate is too high for rural areas, and vice versa. Different cities have different needs too.
Minimum wages are a starting point, also. No one expects that you'll be able to completely support yourself and a family indefinitely earning that much, but if you aren't looking to improve yourself and continue to look for promotion or higher paying jobs, then you are earning the wage you are making.
I could rant all day.
7. Energy Markets. Democrats work to prevent Enron-style market manipulation of electricity.
Could you do more than make market manipulation illegal? Cause it is, you know. And Enron executives are going to jail. So what more are you going to do?
JustOneMinute's comments sections has a good statement on this, to the effect that the Government of California itself must take blame for manipulating markets, and Enron might not have been able to hide behind the auditors for as long as they did had that not happened. And if the state is able to manipulate markets, why should we trust the federal government?
8. Corporate Taxation. Democrats make sure companies pay their fair share of taxes to the U.S. government instead of keeping profits overseas.
You see, I was wondering if there would be any "out-sourcing" paranoia in this little list. Logic: companies keep their profits overseas because they are afraid of being over taxed. So you are going to try to tax them more, why?
Keeping profits overseas isn't good for the company's bottom line as far as profit for the stock holders. What it's good for is having a little extra money for improvements and reinvestment in the factories at those locations. They are improving the productivity and offering more jobs for people in those locations, not generating more bonuses for the CEO.
Want more money in the federal coffers? Spend less.
9. Standing with our troops. Democrats believe that putting America’s security first means standing up for our troops and their families.
How cute and fuzzy. Like we're not doing this now. Really I don't want to criticize a statement like this, as I agree. We should be standing up for our troops and their families. But a statement like that, coupled with "putting America's security first" sounds like they want to talk like they are tough on national security. But there's no ideas here, just a statement of intent. I won't be holding my breath waiting for anything concrete and inventive.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Minutemen

For those of you not keeping up with just about everything under the sun, here we have a delightful story of a group (a large group, if the article gives any indication) of patriotic Americans who decided that the Border Patrol wasn't getting enough illegal aliens coming over the border in Arizona, so they decided to assemble and form a militia of their own and patrol one of the most porous sections.
They call themselves the Minuteman Project.
It has seemed from some of the press they have gotten that they are disrupting border agents from doing their job, and in the article below, it mentions a statement by the mayor of a border town saying, "All they accomplished was being a hindrance to the Border Patrol and creating international hard feelings."
The article also mentions several Border Higher ups making statements that sound like they don't want them there and that the cause for decreased arrests has been the presence of the Mexican army in that area. Which could be true.
It's also true that the Border Patrol local released this statement:
We want to make it clear because we've had a lot of questions about this.....we have not had one single complaint from a rank-and-file agent in this Sector about the Minutemen. Every report we've received indicates these people are very supportive of the rank-and-file agents, they're courteous, many of them are retired firefighters, cops, and other professionals, and they're not causing us any problems whatsoever. Reports of them causing "ground sensors" to go off are exaggerated because most of those are being set off by the ACLU sneaking around trying to find the Minutemen doing something wrong. The Minutemen have succeeded in shifting the bulk of the illegal alien traffic out of the Naco corridor. If only President Bush were so supportive of the rank-and-file agents... The Minutemen have made it very clear that they fully support rank-and-file Border Patrol agents. If only we had such support from the politicians we have to work for (aren't we really supposed to be working for the citizens of this country anyway?)
Nice. So the article from the LA Times is possibly being disingenuous about the Border Patrol quotes. And it also appears that the ACLU has been far more of a nuisance than the Minutemen have been.
Now it appears they are ceasing their vigilante patrols to pursue a more protestant phase of their existance, wherein the will protest businesses that use illegals and pushing for more government action.
This article got some quotes from Jim Gilchrist, one of the founders of the Minuteman Project, but also has lots of quotes from people who are antagonistic toward the Minutemen. This article is clearly against what they are doing. The types of quotes they use and the language clearly indicate that.
There's more of that too. Here's an undercover report of a reporter from KOLD in Tucson volunteering for the Project, with a hidden camera, revealing secrets of the patrols.
But the stories we get from our fellow volunteers when they don't know they're on camera give an uncensored version.
The article keeps saying things like that, but I didn't find anything REALLY scary about the group. Basically what's uncovered here is that the group tries really hard to control what information gets to the press (and from the tone of these two articles, I can see why), that some members have personal experience with illegal immigrants and didn't like what they experienced, and that controlling whackos who are not members of the Project running around out there can cause problems.

Tax Confusion at the Oregonian

Rogue pundit wonders about the Oregonian Editorial staff's inability to pierce the fortification of Oregon citizens' obstinance toward raising taxes. The Oregonian decries the Legislature's latest move, which is to put the money out there and let various programs and functions of state government fight for it, instead of just allocating the money themselves.
Basically, all these programs, like public safety and child welfare, have to fight for the last 150 million in the budget, and convince the powers that be that they need it more than the schools, who would get it otherwise, do.

There are other choices. Oregon could choose between more school cuts, or raising its indefensible $10 minimum corporate income tax. It could decide whether to reduce alcohol and drug treatment services, or maintain one of the nation's lowest taxes on beer. It could debate reinstating a 10-cent per pack cigarette tax, or slashing health care for the poor.

If we just paid more, Salem could do more. Duh, that's always the case. But, why don't we look at all the trade-offs before defaulting to the usual answer, seeking more taxes.

Our government employees (including teachers) make salaries and receive benefits that are above the national average, funded by taxpayers that make below the national average. Few states cover as much of the health insurance costs for state employees as Oregon does. Many employees and retirees are guaranteed PERS pension increases of a whopping 8 percent per year--better than the stock market historically returns and higher than inflation has been since 1982.

Why are we cutting schools, seniors, prisons, rural healthcare, etc. but continuing to compensate state employees so well? They get more while the needy get does that make sense?
The Rogue man points out that some of the arguments the editorial staff is making have been refuted by articles in the news section of their own paper.
And we finish with that dishonest BS about our tax burden, something The Oregonian itself has recently exposed. The measure that matters is what we pay for government...taxes, fees, and other charges. Using the full bottom line, we pay above the national average for government in Oregon, and Salem spends it all and borrows to spend more...and they're still cutting services.
He also notes that there wasn't a word about the power of unions and how it relates to the mess that we're in, but that was also covered by an article in the Oregonian.

The Oregonian's solution is to have taxpayers spend more for the same amount of government. About the unions, not a peep...again, not long after the paper ran a story on the power of unions (in this case, the OEA) in Salem. It notes that Oregon's teachers have the 14th best salaries and the top benefits in the nation.

Maybe the editorial staff needs to start reading the news section of the paper.


Time Zone Map

Here's a neat map of world time zones that will tell you exactly what time it is in any of those zones. Quite interesting, although it still doesn't explain the whackiness of all those zones in Asia.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Mongol Rally

Via Oxblog.
If crossing the United States on a rickety 3 speed bicycle sounds fun, or if hitchhiking through South America with 100 bucks and a knapsack sounds more your speed, then this is for you.
The Mongol Rally is a newer anual trek started by some crazy Brits that starts in London and finishes in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
The mother of all adventures, the Mongol Rally is an 8000 mile dash across ¼ of the earth's surface in cars that most people consider underpowered for doing the shopping. We have no entourage of support vehicles, there is no carefully marked course, there are no professional drivers, fast cars, or even good cars. It's just you, your shite-mobile and thousands of miles of adventure. Not only do we provide the world's most extreme car challenge, you get to save the world at the same time. The Mongol rally is a charity event that raises money for an awesome charity with a slightly ridiculous name 'Send a Cow'.
Actually, there is one real rule on this trip, and that is that your car must have an engine smaller than 1 liter, power-wise. That's your Ford Fiesta or Fiat Panda, or something to that effect. After all, what would be the fun if the only thing you had to worry about was finding a gas station.
These guys are truly nuts, as one of the routes you can take sends you through the mountains of Turkey and Iran, up through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Siberia and Mongolia. I'm sure the scenery is wonderful.
Anyone speak Turkic? Russian?

Parental notification

The Oregon state house is expected to pass a bill that mandates parental notification for minors attempting to have an abortion. The bill mandates that parents be notified at least 48 hours prior to the procedure. It passed Judiciary committee along partisan lines, and since the house is Republican controlled, it should pass. But the Senate is Democrat controlled.
Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland, said HB 605 would die in her chamber.

"The focus of our efforts should be on reducing the need for abortion and preventing unintended pregnancies," she said.

Great, Ms. Brown. And what exactly have you done to reduce the need for abortion or unintended pregnancies?
I imagine the same people that are against this bill are the people who would agree with the Supreme Court decision that minors don't have the sense of responsibility to be punished as an adult where the death penalty is concerned. Do you think, in this case, that minors have the capacity to understand how significant an abortion will be to their lives and the lives of those who care about them? Heck, I don't think I had the moral or emotional aptitude to understand the consequence of my actions at the age of 21, let alone 18.
In our society minors are responsible to their parents, and their parents are responsible for them. Not giving parents critical information about them, such as this, is irresponsible. I have a daughter myself, and I would be devistated if I learned she had an abortion behind my back, without giving me any opportunity to councel her.
House Bill 2605 would require that parents be notified at least 48 hours before their minor daughter undergoes an abortion. The bill has exceptions for medical emergencies and allows a teenager who does not want to tell her parents about her pregnancy to make her case to a Department of Human Services administrative judge.
I think that the Republicans have forged significant ground in the area of concessions here. It reduces the argument that the minor's parents sometimes aren't responsible enough for their children, or the child is on their own before they are 18, or there isn't time to contact the parent due to complications. It's more than the left got at the federal level regarding the late-term abortion bill.
Contact your state Senator. There's no reason I can think of not to sign this bill.

Popus Irritatus

Well, we have a new Pope for the Catholic Church. Incidentally, I think that "Benedict" was a name that betting houses all over the world were predicting. It's nice to know that cardinal decided to go with the high percentage name, rather than something bold and new.
It shouldn't really be any surprise that Benedict will continue the policies of John Paul II (JP3), as he was the right hand man and one of the only Cardinals left who selected JP2 26 years ago. The only reason that the guy didn't choose to be John Paul III was obvious: who wants to be referred to in the history books as John Paul the Lesser. I mean this guy is 78 years old. How long has he got? He certainly isn't going to last 25 years, or travel as much as JP2 did, so his term and effect are going to be quite a bit less than his predecessor.

I'm glad they chose someone so quickly. If for nothing else so the story would pass from the media faster. I was getting a bit tired of the headline: "Cardinals fail yet again to elect a new Pope!" Good gracious, give these guys a break. This isn't like picking the harvest queen for the local high school. This guy could be in there for a few years, appoint a few cardinals and set the direction for the largest religious body on the planet. The process has taken over a year in some cases. We live in a sound bite society.

Ok, so Joseph Ratzinger is now Benedict XVI. And the complaints are already coming in. The best roundup I've seen is from Joe Gandelman of TheModerateVoice. The barking from the left side of the sphere, and even some of the moderate voices, like Glen Reynolds, signify the problem people have with religion in this world. It doesn't bend to their idea of what God should be like.
Take this statement from Andrew Sullivan:
It would be hard to over-state the radicalism of this decision. It's not simply a continuation of John Paul II. It's a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church. The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct. And the attack on individual political freedom is just beginning.
And this one from the center of all that's left, Daily Kos:
There are many reasons to criticize the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, like his stances on women and gays in the church, social issues, his work in crushing liberation theology, his comments in regards to the priest sexual abuse scandals, and his generally conservative views.
Come on people. This is religion, not government or politics. It takes its rules and doctrine from the Bible, not you. I have many reasons for criticizing the Catholic Church for doctrine and traditional rules that don't jive with Biblical teaching, but the left in this country would have the church conform to their views on how the world works. Are they even Catholics themselves? Why do they care? American Catholics have this tendency to do whatever they want anyway. Having the church conform to their ideology is just their way of not feeling guilty for things they should be feeling guilty for.
It's not the job of the Pope to look at the world, decide what the moral consensus is and try to steer the church in that direction. It's the job of any religious leader to look at God's word and decide what God's moral decrees are and steer the church in THAT direction.
Good show by the Cardinals.

More quotes:
Tom Crow - First and foremost, he has been a strong defender of the Truth. No mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy, “let’s dialogue.” There are places for dialogue. Dialogue can happen on the way to best promote the Truth. But not on whether something is TRUE or “subject to interpretation.” The “Spirit of Vatican II” cannot resemble Blackmun’s “emanations from penumbra.” Ratzinger didn’t – and Benedict XVI likely won’t – let “dialogue” cloud Truth.

The Anchoress - Basically the press seems to be saying, “Oh, no! They elected a CATHOLIC! Liberals are doomed! DOOMED!”

TheGlitteringEye - Benedict XV was the pope during World War I and struggled, unsuccessfully, to bring peace (Woodrow Wilson was the only world leader who paid any attention and adopted a number of his suggestions). Benedict XV's first encyclical was a condemnation of modern philosophical systems. I haven't read Benedict XVI's statement, yet, but my preliminary take is that the College of Cardinals have decided that modernity is the most serious problem that's facing the Church right now.

Fact Checker: Insurance lawsuits has a post about a couple of ads from the insurance industry and trial lawyers battling the claims that out of control lawsuits are or are not driving up costs, and the claim from lawyers that insurance companies are still making huge profits despite the lawsuits.
FactChecker calls BS on both counts.
For the insurance ad:

Tillinghast-Towers Perrin released an annual report titled "U.S. Tort Costs," which put the direct cost of malpractice claims for 2003 at $26.5 billion. Tillinghast said that the overall cost of medical malpractice "translates to $91 per person." So for an average U.S. household, which the Census Bureau reported was 2.57 persons in 2003, that figures to $243.

But it turns out, even that $234 figure is too high for measuring "lawsuit abuse" as the ad claims. In fact, the study acknowledges that it includes all claims -- including those in which real malpractice occurred, and those that were settled before they ever resulted in a lawsuit. The introduction states that the costs " include far more than just the claims that are litigated" and "are not a reflection of the litigated claims or the legal system."

And for the trial lawyer ad:
We smell a rat when the ad claims "record profits" for the industry. In fact, the malpractice insurance industry has been losing money for the three most recent years on record.
And that's for the record.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Gas prices and hybrids

Gas prices. Ew. The latest here in Portland Oregon is that regular unleaded gas costs about 2.40 a gallon. Now that's not very much compared to bottled water, but how much bottled water do you buy a month (those from Cali, don't answer that)? Needless to say that I don't get premium or plus much any more.
I would like to reduce the amount of gas we use as a family, but we as a society have build social patterns, literally into the design of our cities, that require us to drive at least part of the time. Those of you who don't think so obviously don't have kids.
I would like to buy a hybrid car some time. I have heard that they aren't that bad. They drive OK, have generally enough power to do everything you might need in today's urban life. But they don't have everything yet. First of all, they are still new enough that there isn't a really good used car market. They are pretty expensive (for the size) when they are new, and there aren't many available on used lots yet.
The other thing is the lack of companies making them and the lack of styles. It just may be that I'm an American, but I want my next vehicle to be a pickup truck. I'm not talking about getting a truck or SUV as status symbol, I plan on actually using it as a truck. Since we bough a house I have recognized the need for such things. We have six trees around the yard, and they produce a litter of leaves that requires too many yard debris bags to manage. It would be nice if I could just haul it out. It would be nice if I could just haul in materials I need for projects from Home Depot. It would be nice if I could just throw camping equipment or my skis into the bed and drive off instead of the damage that does to the interior of my car.
Would it really hurt the auto companies in the world to make a hybrid truck? The technology has obviously been there for years. I'm not going to be hauling large trailers or anything like that.
Rant over.

Same Sex Marriage Fails

The Oregon Supreme Court rejected the 3000 gay marriages that were registered by Multnomah County last year, saying that counties have no authority to do that kind of thing. Finally a decision that I can agree with. Not because I am for or against gay marriage (although my friends know where I stand), but because neither the courts or the counties had the legal authority to do that sort of thing. By this decision the courts recognized that it is not them, but the legislature that is supposed to take care of this sort of thing.
And with the constitutional amendment passed by voters last year mandating that marriage be considered a union between a man and woman only, the legislature is going to be limited to just creating some sort of civil union.
And once again the debate is going to boil down to how many rights do you give gay couples, in that if you give them ALL the rights of married couples, what's the difference? Why are we fighting this in the first place?


One wonders what people are thinking when they let people get away with things. Think Sandy Berger risking national security and getting away with a slap on the hand. We have this warped sense of wanting to forgive people, but not holding them accountable.
Here's a Northwest version of that.
From RoguePundit, we hear of an indian tribe in the Puget Sound area that was allocated a certain Salmon haul by the state. All salmon fishers are constrained by this rule, as Chinook are an endangered species.
Washington's Makah Tribe [took] about 20,000 chinook from the ocean north of the Olympic Peninsula when their allocation for the winter troll catch was just 1,600.
So what's the punishment?
Yesterday we found out that the Makah's winter troll allocation has been raised considerably for 2006, and to make up for this, the fishing seasons for other fishermen--excluding other tribes--have been restricted.
Nice accountability. Apparently not everyone suffers equally when there is a shortage of certain resources.

UN Scam Arrests!

Two oil executives in Houston were indicted, accused of paying Saddam's government for oil contracts under the table. They face up to 60 years and $1 million in fines.
Here in America we have criminals too. It's just that when we find them, we tend to put them behind bars.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Justice term limits

I have not been very receptive to the idea that Supreme Court Justices should be limited by term limits, as it is a life term in the original Consitution of the USA. I generally think those guys knew what they were doing, and I've been hoping that there was some other solution we could come up with that would solve some of the problems we have been having with the judiciary as of late.
However, this opinion by a couple of law profs at Northwestern gives me pause, and I'm willing to consider that option.

Afghanistan, update

Oxblog's roving Afghan reporter is back. He gives a thorough treatment on the situation there, and has opimism about the future and how it's going.
Meanwhile, the prospect of permanent US bases in the country is greeted with tremendous relief by most Afghans I talk to, whose primary fear at the moment is that America "will abandon us again as they did in the 1990s." And the international military presence throughout the country is becoming ever more international, as US Provincial Reconstruction Teams retire and are replaced by Canadians, Italians, Brits. The securing and rebuilding of Afghanistan is not the simple act of American empire perceived by many critics.
He also talks about the drug economy, which right now is a concern, but not a crisis. And President Karzai is seen as a growing national power, and not just the "Mayor of Kabul."
Read the whole thing.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Red Light Cameras and Web news

Liked this nice note on how cameras installed to catch people running red lights has suffered defeat in Virginia this week. The legislature refused to re-fund the program and it will be discontinued this summer.
New Hampshire and Indiana voted overwhelmingly against similar programs after a Department of Transportation study found that injury accidents actually increased when red light cameras were used., which focuses on driving issues, is an interesting web site. It's a small news site totally devoted to this narrow issue. Without the web, this kind of thing wouldn't be possible.

The Importance of Judicial Nominees

The Standard has an article that sums up my opinion over the battle to appoint federal judges to a tee.
The controversy pivots not just on whether abortion should be legal, but on whether judges should be deciding such questions in the first place. Prior to Roe, an organized pro-life movement didn't exist. Post-Roe, it's become one of the most effective lobbying forces in U.S. politics. Thus the chief lesson of Roe: When citizens lose at the ballot box, they feel defeated. When they lose by judicial fiat, they feel cheated.
Currie points to Roe v. Wade as the crux from which all this judicial activism has spread. At this point I'm resisting just copying the whole article, which isn't too long, but won't.
A showdown over the judicial branch was a long time coming. After all, if judges begin wielding de facto legislative powers--a phenomenon that has mushroomed ever since Roe--and Congress blithely acquiesces, then judicial confirmation hearings become almost like Senate campaigns. In such an environment, vetting a nominee's partisan credentials seems only logical.
But each [ideological side] tends to overlook the crux of the problem. The underlying threat to American self-government is not merely "right-wing" or "left-wing" judges--but the imperial judiciary itself. Yes, most judicial activism these days occurs on the social left. Conservatives are wholly justified in their high dudgeon. But when they base their arguments on a narrow critique of "liberal" judges, rather than a critique of usurping judges generally, conservatives unintentionally concede a vital point: namely, that American courts should be reaching a sociopolitical consensus for the American people.

In fact, the Founders intended no such role for the courts. Divining and defining the popular will on, say, abortion, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty is properly the duty of the U.S. Congress and state legislators. But for several decades now, American politicians have shirked that duty. Congress has also ducked its constitutional obligation to lasso a renegade judiciary. The result: an unchecked court system with metastasizing powers and an insatiable appetite for legislating.

No wonder the U.S. bench is littered with so many partisan hacks. And no wonder both parties are willing to go to the mats over Bush's nominees.

Conservatives have crossed this line as well, but do so less often. Just as it's inappropriate to use the judicial system to decide social issues such as abortion, juvinile capital punishment, and environmental issues, it's borderline judicial abuse to work the system the way the conservatives did trying to interfere with Michael Schiavo's right to end his wife's life. I get really nervous when the federal government tries to overrule existing law and precident in the heat of the moment, and based on a single case, in which the right of a spouse to make decisions for his or her other is threatened. No thought get's put into it, and judicial precident is harder to overcome than legislation. Don't get me started.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

NY Times' scruples

Powerline has a post on a subject they have been following lately. Namely the anti-Semitism on the Columbia University campus by certain professors, and the school's flat out refusal to do anything about it. In fact the school investigated it and let all the professors off the hook.
But that's not the true jaw dropper in the post. It's this:
A front-page article on Thursday described a report by a committee at Columbia University formed to investigate complaints that pro-Israel Jewish students were harassed by pro-Palestinian professors. The report found "no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic," but it did say that one professor "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" of behavior when he became angry at a student who he believed was defending Israel's conduct toward Palestinians.

The article did not disclose The Times's source for the document, but Columbia officials have since confirmed publicly that they provided it, a day before its formal release, on the condition that the writer not seek reaction from other interested parties.

Under The Times's policy on unidentified sources, writers are not permitted to forgo follow-up reporting in exchange for information. In this case, editors and the writer did not recall the policy and agreed to delay additional reporting until the document had become public. The Times insisted, however, on getting a response from the professor accused of unacceptable behavior, and Columbia agreed.

So hear that? Contrary to any journalistic ethics and the Times' own policy, the New York Times decided to be a patsy for a school that is trying to protect an anti-semitic teaching staff.

The Real UN Mandate

Mary Madigan is guest blogging for Michael Totten while he is in Lebanon (blogging on Spirit of America).
While talking about the UN she makes this interesting evaluation of the world body.
The question is, what are the core priorities of the UN? Cain believes that saving lives and preventing genocides are core priorities, but if that were true, Annan would have been fired a long time ago. In fact, preserving peace and stability is the UN’s goal. The tolerance of genocidal regimes and the massive casualties that result is in line with that goal. If ensuring worldwide stability and preventing or avoiding involvement in any military action against a sovereign nation requires a passive capitulation to evil, Kofi Annan is more than willing to passively capitulate. He’s doing the job he’s being paid to do - as will the person who replaces him.
If that's true then I am fully, 100%, on board to oppose US involvement in that body until such time as it reforms itself. Severely reforms itself.
Kofi made a speech this week vocalizing his intent to reform the Human Rights Commission, which is great. He actually said that there should be standards when determining who could be on the commission, which has been the main problem with it all along. I'll believe it when I see it, though. It's not just the Human Rights Commission anyway.

Scandal Update, Eh

Instapundit notes that the judge overseeing the sponsorship scandal in Canada has lifted the media ban on the testimony during the trial.
Credit blogger Ed Morrissey for showing the Canadians what they are lacking up there in the way of rights of the press.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Willamette Week

Hat tip to Rogue Pundit.
The Willamette Week is a news and entertainment info magazine that has been around for 30 years. It has gripping and very long investigative articles, music and band listings, and best of all it's free. All it's income comes from advertisers, and it's distribution method is simple: it is only available on the street or at selected businesses around town. No home delivery.
More-so than the Oregonian (and most other big-money news organizations) the paper encourages hard investigative journalism. Some people shy away from it because of it's big city/small paper liberalism. Not surprising here in Portland. However I have come to appreciate it for articles that are not just sound bites, but try to get every angle on it.
That philosophy sometimes pays off, and this time it has big time.
Journalist Nigel Jaquiss wrote an article on former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt's elicit relationship with a 14 year old in the 70s. This week he was awarded journalism's highest honor: a Pulitzer Prize.
Only five Pulitzers (at three papers) have ever been given to a journalist at an alternative newspaper.

Squeeze every last drop.

There is another bill in Salem, OR trying to change the way voters approve of tax increases. What it would do is end the double majority requirement for approving a property tax increase. So right now at least 50% of registered voters must turn out and 50% of them must vote yes on the ballot.
The Oregonian complains that this means that couch potatoes and disinterested people have more power than people who actually get out and vote.
Rogue Pundit has a few things to say about that.
As I've noted many times, most Oregonians are not anti-tax, but anti-tax increase. There's a huge difference...that too many tax advocates are unwilling to admit or unable to perceive. Voters remain sick of the dishonest pretense that voting against a tax increase results in a tax cut, and are tired of being called stupid and/or uncaring when they vote against such increases. And, they've learned to expect the state's larger newspapers to advocate for tax increases.
I agree, as I'm not anti-tax, but would like to see the government improve the way it spends before I OK any more increases.

Most of our tax advocates think that Oregon's resistance to tax increases is a marketing, not a product issue. This proposal is a bit would lower the bar regarding how many people the advocates have to sell to gain a tax increase. We "deserve" the chance to relax the requirements--to make their job easier to increase our taxes.

What we deserve is honest, efficient government that we can trust to spend our money wisely. Why are we discussing double majorities when we still don't have, for instance, a rainy day fund? You can't market your way out of that one.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Scandal: Canadian style.

Joe Katzman over at Winds of Change has a great entry on what's going on up in the great white north. It seems that Paul Martin is playing a very dangerous game, hoping to root out all his enemies within the Liberal party, while staying in power himself.
Martin has called for an investigation in something called the Sponsorship Scandal, costing the government $100 million dollars. If it were the US it would be something like $1 Billion, considering the differences in the relative economies.
Back to Martin, who now had the job he had always wanted. He also had a LOT of enemies within his own party, however... and an ace card, of sorts. You see, most of his high profile party enemies and flacks were very close to PM Chretien. Which meant they were eyes-deep in the $100+ million Sponsorship Scandal.
What's interesting is all the possible things that can happen, including a "Snap Election" where the government can call an election to re-elect legislators any time they want. It's kind of a chaotic mess sometimes.
The other issue is the media ban on certain information.

So far, the publication ban has muted coverage of the scandal, and given the Liberal Party of Canada the ability to "create their own trial scene". They even had the power to call a snap election before any reports could be released with the juicy details - something they recently threatened to do over the gay marriage issue.

Now, all that is changing. Enter the blogosphere.

Enter Captain's Quarters, a Minnestoa-based blog with a friend in the right place. The Captain has just published the gist of a key witness' testimony re: the Liberal Party of Canada's massive political corruption operation, payoffs, rumoured Mob ties, and all. Captain's Quarters is under no obligation to respect a Canadian legal ruling about Brault's testimony, and once it's out, anyone can link to it.
I've heard that one Canadian blog is being sued. But really, does the government really think it can keep this under wraps?

China in the Middle East

Dan Blumenthal has an essay about what China is doing in the Middle East, and how that relates the United States and the UN.
The Chinese government's Middle East policy is a winning gambit for Beijing. China can not only quench its thirst for oil but, at least in the short-term, also undercut external Islamist incitement aimed at its own Muslim population. By cultivating ties with Middle Eastern countries that have antagonistic relations with Washington, Beijing can undermine U.S. policy in the region. The more countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Syria have ballistic missile capability and weapons of mass destruction, the more difficult it becomes for Washington to intervene in the Middle East in support of U.S. goals or in defense of its allies.
It is, he points out, that while the US looks to the Middle east for reform as a means of fighting terror, China looks to our invasive behavior into the region as a means of encircling China and moving NATO further east. In other words, our actions are interpreted as a challenge as China's only serious threat in the world, and our democratizing behavior is a threat to their one party system.
Think about it. What's the most crucial piece in why the UN has not been able to get involved with the Iranian Nuclear issue and the genocide in Darfur? China's veto on the Security Council.
Hat tip: Winds of Change.

Friday, April 01, 2005

50 years of protection.

This is a press release regarding the timber industry and state officials in Washington. I'll let it speak for itself.

Federal and Wash. state officials are considering a plan called the Forests and Fish plan that calls for setting aside 5% of the state's forestland from logging in exchange for protecting the timber industry for 50 years against Endangered Species Act prosecutions for killing or harming endangered salmon.

The plan covers more than 9 million acres, about one-fifth of the state. It would be the largest such deal in the West, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Hailed by the timber industry, government officials, and some tribes, the plan was criticized by independent scientists, environmentalists and other tribes when it was unveiled five years ago.

In the months ahead, federal officials will decide how to transform it into a "habitat conservation" plan, a way to legally allow industries to kill and harm protected animals in exchange for taking specified steps to help the species in other ways.

Those steps include major increases in the size of streamside tree buffers that shade and cool waterways, fixing some logging roads that bleed stream-smothering silt, and more-careful reviews when loggers turn their attention to landslide-prone mountainsides.

Critics of the plan say the pact has to be made better for fish and wildlife if the timber industry is to get a half-century of legal protection, the newspaper reported. Environmentalists who panned the pact originally now are trying to make its provisions more protective. They and independent scientists have criticized the plan because it relies on an ongoing series of studies to justify its scientific basis.

The industry has indicated it is willing to accept even tighter restrictions if scientists say it is necessary to protect fish.

"Part of the real benefit of this agreement is that there is going to be a serious scientific process that dictates whether changes on the ground are necessary," said Bill Wilkerson, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association. "We can live with the fact that that may occur, as long as it's serious science."

Backers of the plan point out that although one of its goals is to protect fish, another is to protect Washington's timber industry.

Wow. That would be a major shift in policy. Actually relying on hard science before implementing restrictions on timber harvesting. I can understand environmentalists getting nervous about a move like this. It severely reduces their influence into the timber harvesting process for the next few decades.
As a member of the timber industry myself I would have to say that this is a welcome development. My only fear is that, like so many other things, this could politically morph into something that's not good for the industry OR the environment. We'll have to wait and see.
Also, I'm wondering who "independent scientists" are? Aren't you?