Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oregon Ballot Measure 43

More local blogging. Only one week until ballots are due!

Ok, I've been very slow about all this ballot measure blogging, as the time to vote is nae and considering that here in Oregon we all vote by mail, many of you have probably already voted, rendering this commentary mute.
Well, I'm trudging on anyway.

I knew how I felt about this measure from the moment I read the title. I think it's probably no surprise to folks to read this blog to know that I am most adamantly anti-abortion. However, I'm also quite pragmatic when it comes down to it, and realize that pro-abortion folks have a solid base of legal defense in the original Roe v. Wade decision more than 30 years ago. However, the original decision, rendered by Justice Blackmun, never gave the woman absolute right to her body and pregnancy throughout the entire term of her pregnancy.
Although the results are divided, most of these courts have agreed that the right of privacy, however based, is broad enough to cover the abortion decision; that the right, nonetheless, is not absolute and is subject to some limitations; and that at some point the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards, and prenatal life, become dominant. We agree with this approach.
Blackmun says this in a number of ways. The entire decision is quite a read, and gives a tedious history of abortion, from ancient Greek times (which I thought pointless) to the last couple hundred years, including English common law, which influenced the state laws in question. One of the interesting battles was the concept of the "quickening," which determined at time when the baby first moves in the womb, and was the separation between misdemeanors and much tougher laws. But you don't want to hear my opinion on Bush's anti-Dialation and Extraction bill now, do you.

What I'm trying to get at is that from the very start of this controversy, the judges gifting the woman the right to terminate pregnancy seemed to think that it wasn't an absolute right, but most pro-abortion folks are loath to give even the slightest inch in law from their absolute abortion-under-any-circumstance position.

Measure 43, is one of those instances where I think that it's in the State's interest to maintain the responsible relationships between daughters and their parents until some legal age, like 18. Parents are typically responsible for their children until then, so I think this makes sense.
The only things I would expect to be in this bill as exceptions to this rule are 1. If there's a medical emergency and there's no time to contact the parents or guardians and 2. If there's some unhealthy relationship with the parents or guardian (abuse or some such). Both of these instances are taken care of by the measure.

I'm not going to spend much time with the Arguments in Favor. I stand in the same place, and most of them I don't need to comment on. Some of the arguments are dumb, like the "44 other states have this, why can't we," which can't be seriously applied to the benefit of any law on its own merits. The arguments are worth reading though, as they give a stirring picture of what some parents (and children) have gone through because of the unwise decisions of girls not ready to make them on their own.
But there are a lot of them, so skim.

Arguments against are many.
1. Many of the arguments still claim that it would be unsafe for girls with abusive parents, as if they haven't really read the entire measure. One of the opponents stated that, although there are exceptions, the legal mess would create hardship on the teen. Which I find unconvincing considering the Dept of Human Services empathy and Plan Parenthood's support, I'm sure they would do most of the footwork.

2. You shouldn't mandate family communication. I found this one interesting considering, as the proponents of this measure remind us, that state regulations require minors to get ears pierced. You would think this was a no-brainer.

3. Doctors who don't do this will be subject to lawsuits and might lose their licenses. Yes? Is there a point there?

To cut this short, I believe the concern that the opponents have for this, and I'm sure that you're going to have an occasional case where the teen is subject to a family that abuses here, but I think that the fears, and actual cases, of teens who would have been put into a better position had their parents known about it are far more compelling, and in my opinion more serious.
What I can imagine here is that when a majority of girls are not telling their parents, it's not because they're afraid of being beaten. It's because they're afraid of being rejected by the parents.
I have a daughter myself. If this happened to my family, I would hope that she would tell me. But if she felt like I wouldn't understand, or that I would hate her because of my value system, I would want that check in place. I remember being 15 years old. 16 years old. Do you? Do you really think that kids that age can make life altering decisions for themselves without the council of their parents?

I'm voting: YES

In defense of the Defense

Almost forgot to pass this one along. Noted that the Department of Defense has finally got a site (it's a blog by any other name) defending themselves from bad reporting by the regular media.
It's called For the Record, and includes some interesting exchanges between them and the NY Times and Newsweek, where some letters from the DOD to the editor are not getting printed for some reason.
Via Strategy Page. And as important as a site like this is, it's the first many of us have heard of it. Which again can probably be blamed on the government's poor job of marketing itself.

Americans and Muslims

CBS thinks it would be alright to do a show on how ordinary Americans are "nervous" around Muslims.  I wonder what they're getting at here.  Is there some reason to paint Americans as racists to prove that the current war effort is projecting badly on the American people?
The thing that strikes me about this whole thing is that they are advertising on CraigsList instead of just walking around on the street and asking people what they think.  It implies that there aren't that many people who are unnerved by Muslims in their community that they would have to PAY people to be on the show.  How many deadbeats do you think would accept money from CBS just for saying that they feel a bit "queer" around middle eastern folk?

Agnostic Founders? NO!

There has been speculation about the religious tendencies of the country's founders for decades now. The questions have been, that despite their profession of faith in the public, were they the religious men they claimed to be, and considering the heavy influence of the Enlightenment in philosophic circles, how much did their faith really have to do with the creation of the country and our constitution?
Instapundit points to this new book by Brook Allen titled Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers. It's their intention to paint the framers of the nations beginnings in terms of skeptical men who were considered 'Deists' and not Christians.
And yet, Michael Novak points out that intellectuals attempting to do this are looking at the 18th century through the wrong lens.

Just the same, the 18th century was so very much more religious than our own that historians of the last hundred years, far more secular in education, have developed a project of their own, which is (to appropriate George Will’s words) “an intellectual hijacking” itself — one every bit “as audacious as the attempt to present America’s principal Founders as devout [read “evangelical”] Christians.” They want to show that these six principals were “skeptics,” at best Deists, certainly not real Christians, and that they privately held quite different religious views from those they displayed in public.

However, the terms Deist, Skeptic and "not Christian" are not equivalent, as the article points out. This article is the definitive argument for conservatives that the concepts behind our country's freedoms are based on Christian ideals.

Oregon Measure 42

Most of us get pretty creeped out when we've heard that our credit rating is being used for this and that, and that just about anyone can get it and make judgments about our lives. This year some people thought that they would change the state statutes by putting before voters a measure that would make it illegal for Insurance companies to use your credit report when trying to calculate your premium, or the amount you pay per month or year for the coverage.

Before I get going, I must say that this was tougher than I thought it would be. I guess you might say that the underlying issue here is just how private we expect our credit history to be. I'll admit that it does bug me that it's so available, and I have to admit that it seems like credit history would be a poor indicator of how bad a driver someone is, or how likely they are to get hurt or have their house burn down.

But you would also like insurance companies to charge a little as possible, and to do that they do their best to figure out who is a more risky customer. Now the obvious way they do this is to look at your absolute history. How many times have you made claims against insurance companies. How is your driving record, and do you have pre-existing health conditions.
But another way that they do it is to look at your place amongst a list of statistical measures that determine how likely you are to file a claim. Your age is one thing, for health insurance. The older you get, the more likely you are to require medical attention and services. The younger you are, the more likely you are to drive like a crazy person (just in case you think I'm being an older crotchety driver, I'd like to remind you that I was a crazy person behind the wheel when I was 19).
Now insurance companies will tell us that people with bad credit tend to be the type that will make poor judgments in their lives and are more likely to come into situations where they need to file insurance claims. This is a pretty interesting correlation, but not one that any of us can either argue with or against based on facts. Why is it that poor credit equates to higher rates of insurance claims? Is it the poor decisions, or is there something else?
I would like to see more research in this area to figure out exactly what the correlation is, because it seems to me that credit would be a crude metric for this sort of thing.
In their letters opposing the use of credit scoring, insurance agent associations made it clear that negative credit scores often stay with people long after they have revitalized their credit, artificially increasing their insurance costs. Often people with excellent credit do not qualify for preferred insurance rates, for such reasons as having "too many credit cards", even though the client carries low balances on their accounts and have never been late.
Now it's important to recall that credit is just one of the many things that insurance companies use to develop your insurance score that guides them in setting your premiums.

However, I can't help but look at this measure's text and wonder how long they took to think about it. One of the arguments against that caught my eye (among those arguments that provided me no information and were just taking up space) was how this affects the use of business credit.
A business' credit worthiness is a proven, accurate predictor of risk. More than an insured's ability to pay insurance bills, it predicts the likelihood that the insured will file an insurance claim.
Now I would believe that credit scores of businesses are a more likely measure of how risky an insurance policy would be for that particular business. Moreso than credit scores of individuals. What bugs me about the measure, then, is it's refusal to take this into account. Why not treat businesses differently than individuals when determining whether or not credit information can be used to determine insurance premiums.

One area that did cause some thought on my part was that proponents of the measure decry the current statues in that they force people with bad credit into the insurance company that they are currently with. It works out that way because insurance companies cannot raise or lower rates based on the credit information of individuals, only when they are applying for a new policy. In that way, proponents claim, they "build a moat around the companies and keep existing customers from shopping for lower rates. This is clearly anti-competition."
Well, I can see how that would appear to be anti-competition. However, the regulations in place to create that "moat" were put into place, and without the government "meddling" in the industry there would be no "discouraging of price comparison or shopping for lower rates", as the proponent put it.
I would think that this grace of having the company you are currently getting insurance from not be able to raise rates on you would allow you the time to work on your credit scores. However, as noted above, it's an enigma how the credit information is used to determine that insurance score, as some people with cleaned up credit can still fail the test.

However, I'm not at all sure that this measure passes the test in too many ways. The lack of exceptions and detail, the apparent ill-thought out absoluteness of the text scares me a bit more than the insurance companies do.
Voting: NO

Jack Bogdanski: No "I think insurance companies should use credit ratings in deciding whom to insure and how much to charge."
Mike the Actuary points out that sometimes life's little tragedies creates bad credit situations.

In other words, assume that you’ve missed a few bills because you’ve lost a job, but you want to shop your insurance coverage. You’re quoted a higher premium because of those delinquencies. In a few states, you have the right to contact an official with the insurance company, and explain your case. If your credit report reflects your situation, the insurer is required to make an exception.
If memory serves, Oregon is not one of those states.

But that's a case for creating exceptions in the law, not outlawing the use of credit history.

The Eugene Register Guard notes the strange bedfellows involved with this one. It's interesting that organizations like OSPIRG and the Pacific Green Party have decided to look past the shortcomings of the measure's sponsor, Bill Sizemore, in order to support this one.
Couple of barks over at Blue Oregon, one is trashing Sizemore and the other is voting for it despite Sizemore.
Tryan Hartill wants desperately to vote for this, but in the end can't bring himself to do it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Oregon Ballot Measure 41

Back in the 1980s, during the first couple of years of the Reagan administration, the United States faced a short recession.  Now, this was nothing like the recession that Bush Sr. faced during his administration, nor is it any pale cousin of the big recession we had at the beginning of this decade.  Which is why political opponents of Reagan howled when he proposed across the board 25% tax cuts.  They complained endlessly that the reduction in tax revenues would cripple government programs and that it would benefit the rich primarily.
Well, looking back on that era, we can see that all that didn't happen.  What did happen is that revenues increased monumentally, the recession ended and the percentage of federal taxes paid for by the top 10% of income earners increased.  Even Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors said in 1994, "It is undeniable that the sharp reduction in taxes in the early 1980s was a strong impetus to economic growth."
Additionally, subsequent to the Bush and Clinton tax increases of 1990 and 1993, there was a reverse in the willingness of wealthy tax payers to expose their income to taxation, and the tax burden began to shift again.  Now, why did the national deficit soar during this period if federal revenue was also up significantly?  The same could be said for the last 4 years under Bush Jr.    It's the spending.   In fact the rise of spending, and thereby the deficit, put tremendous pressure on Bush and Clinton to raise taxes once again.

Forward now to the year 2001.  The tech boom was finally on it's way down, after years of growth and upward movement.  This wasn't unexpected, as many economists thought that the industry had too much fat or air or whatever you'd like to call it.  The surprise  was the events of 9/11.  Whatever recession we were going to experience, this event magnified it and sent the economy, and Wall Street spiraling.  Now while this wasn't anywhere near the devistation that the Great Depression proved to be, it was still disheartening.
However, contrary to the screams of Democrats all over the nation, Bush pushed hard for a series of tax cuts.  Some of those advertised were designed to help working class families by eradicating the marriage penalty and increasing deductions for children.  Not that it was any salve to the liberal sentiment.  However, if you hadn't noticed, the economy is surging again, the DOW is hitting new heights, job growth over the last two years has been immense and we've already surpassed the job market of the pre-9/11 time period.  Tax revenue is soaring as well, and the deficit (the annual deficit) has been cut in half over the last 3 years.   Why hasn't it been eradicated, you ask?  It's the spending.

Why am I going over all this ad-nausium?  Well, because most of what you'll read in the opposition to ballot Measure 41 in Oregon this year sounds exactly the same as the complaints about all the federal tax cuts of the last 25 years.
There's very little that I have to say about the arguments in Favor for this measure, as they don't say much and what they do say I find hard to dispute.  I'm not a tax activist, but I believe in smaller government and tax relief for All Americans and Oregonians (rich people included). 

The text of this measure is short, but what you need to know about it is that it allows people to exchange the deduction on their taxes that they get for every exemption on thier taxes (which is about $160 per exemption) and replace it with a deduction against your income equal to that which you take on your federal taxes, which is about $3,200.  Now not many of us will be able to figure out what the difference in taxes would be for us until we get all our forms for the next year and calculate all that out.  However the Statement of Financial Impact and the Arguments in Favor tend to think there will be a definite tax reduction of about $140 per exemption.

Now the what I see over and over again is that
"More than 90% of the Oregon state general fund covers education, health
care, and public safety. If Measure 41 passes, it will mean deep and
immediate cuts to these services. There is no other place for the money
to come from."
Well, that's not entirely true, as there are fees, property taxes and many others.  But it's true that we don't want to raise those taxes to make up for the loss in other areas, right?  In fact you won't see any discussion (on either side by the way) of predictions that the economy will improve enough to lift the tax revenues back up to current levels anyway, so this argument, countered by my history above, sounds pretty alarmist and hollow.

Another complaint issued frequently is that the tax cut is "retroactive."  Don't be confused by this.  No one is going to see the benefit of this measure until they file their 2007 tax returns in 15 months or so.  The problem for all these poor government folks is that they make budgets into the far future, which is not a bad thing.  Planning 2 years in advance is prudent, but sticking to that plan as if it's hardwired into the system and can't be changed to account for changes in the tax base is unrealistic.  Remember, the reason the economy is back on it's feet at all is because of the federal tax cuts, so roll with this punch and things might just be peachy come 2008.

This one caught me off guard.

Most seniors will receive no benefit from Measure 41 – 98% of all low-income seniors will get no relief from the Measure.  Instead, they may lose prescription drug coverage and access to
valuable programs like Oregon Project Independence that keep seniors in
their homes

Really?  Seniors can't take a single exemption on their tax returns?  Not even for themselves?  Well, buck up.  Perhaps Measure 44 will pass.
I noticed that the opposition spends some time trying to convince you to vote no on the bill because of the people who wrote it and support it, like Bill Sizemore and Russ Walker.  There's an argument here, as Sizemore probably isn't the most trusted person you'll find, and cheated a bit on past elections to try and get measures on the ballot.   But I'm not voting for him, I'm evaluating the measure.  I'm sure you all wouldn't want people evaluating a measure or bill just because the League of Women Voters or the ACLU was behind it, but on the substance of the measure itself.  So this is just another scare tactic.

When it comes down to it, most Oregonian's have seen little or no increase in income over the past few years.  That's changing, which is encouraging, but in that same period of time the state government grew by 7% each year on average for the last 15 years.  The state should be able to support this.  However, with increased growth in tax revenue, the natural response of legislators and bureaucrats is to find things to spend it on.  Don't let people fool you, the state does NOT need to be as big as it is.
By the way, the change is voluntary on your tax forms, and you can still take the $160 off you tax payment instead of the federal deduction, so if you want to pay the extra, you sure can.  Did the statements of financial impact take that into account?

My vote:  YES

Final notes:
It looks like people really don't get what this bill is about.  I don't think that it should be voted down just because people don't understand what the cut is about.  Check this comment out.
Horus, by raising the exception to $3200 from $154, Oregon's tax
revenue will decline, drastically. It would be like simply giving all
Oregonians an acorss-the-board tax cut (but a sneaky way to do it) that
would drain the state coffers.
Think about that.  This person thinks that your taxes will be reduced by $3200 instead of $154, when both numbers represent reductions of two very different things.  It's apples to oranges.  If the above is what you thought this measure was doing, take some more time to really read the measure.

This person is against it, but there's some good thought there and in the comments.
Jack Bogdanski doesn't like it.  "Measure 41 (tax deduction vs. credit) is preposterous -- let's start micromanaging the tax code at the ballot box."  Sorry, Jack, I disagree.  This isn't micro-managing, it's relief.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Map of the universe

Here at The Grich, we love maps.  Actually, since it’s just me here, I love maps.  So it thrills me to see that astronomers have mapped the known universe in 3D!

Now, if they could just put it online with 3D animation so we could peruse the universe at our leisure!

Geographer of the United States

Most of you probably don’t know that there’s a position within the U.S. State Department called the Office of Geography and Global Issues (GGI).  It used to just be the department of Geography, but was changed in the 80s.  The head of that office is informally known as the Geographer of the United States.  Talk about a geographer’s dream job (except that you’d have to live in the DC area).

Until recently that position was taken up by Bill Wood, who passed away recently. I’m not sure who mans it now.  The web site is not responding, so I can’t find out. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oregon Measure 40

More Local Blogging

Most of the initiatives, or measures, that voters face from year to year are an enigma to the majority of people faced with choosing whether or not to enact them. They have origins in good intentions that start with some gripe or idea to make government better or more responsive to the people, or perhaps protect people a bit more from government. However, those good intentions end up morphed into language only suited for law books, which confuses the heck out of all of us, and in the end you can’t really tell whether a measure will enact the good it purports or not.
This is made doubly confusing by the litany of arguments for and against that litter the voter’s guide that comes out a month before each election. As I was perusing this year’s guide (2006 for archive searching purposes) the one thing that really stood out to me was the terrible arguments made by both sides of the arguments of many of the ballot measures. A friend of mine suggested that perhaps it was amateur hour down in Salem. Perhaps that’s the case in all elections. However, unfortunately it’s left up to us to mire through the resulting arguments and figure out what’s the best course of action.

My first impressions of Measure 40, which sets up voting districts for each of the 10 appeals court and 7 Supreme court justices in Oregon, was that it would set up a situation where you might not get as good a justice as would be possible if you were selecting from the pool of all justices in the state, and you would be doing so just for the sake of having some guy from Baker or Medford on the bench in Salem. The problem with this, as I see it is the motivation of the proponents of the measure. Allow me to go through the arguments in favor of the initiative.

Note: Once again, I don’t think anyone has a gripe with the explanatory statement, so if you are not fond of wading through the text of the measure, don’t bother.

In Favor

OK, like many ballot measures there is just a few sources for the arguments, or just one person or organization paying for all of them, so when you look at a measure like this one, note that someone named Russ Walker paid for almost all the arguments in favor. He also is usually a member of the team writing the explanatory statement as well. It’s hard to know when the opinions are his alone or the work of others that are sometimes listed as the true writers of the opinion, but you make the call there.

“By requiring our appellate judges to be elected by district, Ballot Measure 40 will guarantee that our courts will reflect the broad range of viewpoints and opinions which make Oregon so special and unique.”

As a corollary to this, you get it stated this way too:

“Oregon's appellate courts routinely make new laws, and yet only a small segment of Oregon is represented on these courts. Ballot Measure 40 will guarantee a diversity of views on the courts that have the biggest impacts on our lives, the appellate courts.”

As you can see the main thrust here is going to be that there is a certain constituency within the state that feels like the decisions made by the state courts are fairly ideologically one sided, and that the culprit here is the liberal Willamette valley dominating the bench. The proponents feel like we need a wider range of viewpoints judging cases in Oregon. If you don’t think that this is a Conservative vs. Liberal or Republican vs. Democrat issue, then take a gander at who supports this measure and who opposes it.

The other sentiment behind this, although to a lesser extent, is that a wider range of experience can help a judge in areas where the issue is more obscure. Knowing the details of farming and rural issues might sometimes make the facts of a case more clear to the panel of judges. I think this is valid, but how often does this happen, and when it does shouldn’t it really be the job of the counsel arguing the case to present these facts to judges that otherwise wouldn’t understand the issue. There’s always going to be something judges don’t understand about the issues they are judging.

The place where I feel this falls apart is the “diversity of views” argument. Ironically, the liberals opposed to this measure argue that judges should be impartial arbiters of the law and not make decisions based on their viewpoints on issues. It’s been my beef for a long time that judges tend to side with their ideal of the world instead of just apply the law as it’s written. Judges do this all the time, and it’s the reason this measure is here in the first place. But the answer to this is not simply to try and put “your boy” on the bench instead of trying to solve the problem of judges who have an activist judicial philosophy.

Another way of stating the above is that the peoples of this state should be “represented” equally, and their issues should be represented on the bench like they are in congress. You can only take this equivalency so far, though. Once again, judges aren’t in Salem (or Washington) in order to solve local issues but to try cases that affect all Oregonians. Which means knowing and applying state law, which is the same whether you live in Bandon or Portland.

Another argument for the measure is that the judges on the appeals or supreme court are in trial lawyer’s pockets.

“The members of these special interest lawyer associations have invested over $400,000 in the judges currently sitting on the bench, and Ballot Measure 40 threatens their investment.”

This might be the case (pun not intended), and if there is a chance the judges in Salem are beholden to certain trial lawyer organizations, or if they tend to vote in their favor knowing that their money helps keep them on the bench, then there truly is a serious problem. But this isn’t the way to solve it. You think changing the voting method is going to keep special interest money out of the process?

Proponents cite that measure 40 would help “voters know the judges they elect and to understand the character of the person they put in office.” Really. Do we know the character of ANYONE we put into office with certainty? The argument asks you to name any one or two appeals court justices off the top of your head, as proof that we don’t “know our justices” now. But do you really think separating this into districts is going to change that? How many people could name their state representative off the top of their head? Probably not many.

If anyone is reading this instead of the ballot guide, I’m saving you from a litany of stupidity, such as the eight opinions that basically say “if you live in such and such a county, you are not represented” yadda yadda. Or the ones that basically accuse the Oregon judicial election process of being Stalinist.


The first thing that frightened me when I figured that I didn’t like this bill was the list of people who also opposed this bill. The ACLU, Democratic candidates, AFSCME, the League of Women Voters, Oregon Education Association, AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood. Holy Cow! I’m hardly ever seeing eye to eye with all these groups at the same time. But I do suppose it happens.

Many of these arguments mirror some things that I said above about state level judges needing to apply the state law, not local law, and judges shouldn’t bring their political views into the court room. Which I would agree with. However I really don’t think that the arguments presented here are all that altruistic, considering the people and organizations writing opinions in opposition are probably just happy as punch with the results most of the time, they have no reason to change how things are done in Salem, and in the state. I would disagree, but I’ll explain later what I think of all this.


Well, no, that’s now what it’s about, and if they really cared about considering what the proponents are saying they wouldn’t mislead voters this way. It’s one thing to say that personal views shouldn’t be brought into the court room, and another to say that the opposition thinks the actual law should be different.

“Constitutional Amendment 40 would force MOST of the judges of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court to live outside Salem where the appellate courts are located. Measure 40 requires each elected judge remain a resident of the district for the entire term of office. Oregon taxpayers would have to foot the bill for the gross inefficiencies and extra costs that would result -- for no good purpose.”

This is an OK argument. On the one hand it’s not a great argument because legislators do this all the time. They have to rent apartments or get second homes in Salem because they spend much of their time there. However, I think the restrictions on residency might be a bit much, and might make the transition for an elected judge difficult, but won't stop jurists making just over 6 figures from living in Salem for the duration of their term while keeping residence in their hometown.

“Constitutional Amendment 40 would limit our ability to choose the most qualified judges from across the state to serve on the Supreme and Appellate Courts.”

This isn’t a bad argument. It’s a little condescending, which the proponents point out more than a few times, but consider that most of the appeals court lawyers live and work in the Portland and Salem area, and the evidence will be that the experience is in the valley. Not withstanding that most of the states law schools are in the Portland and Salem area as well (although I’m not sure how much that plays in the mix).

This is not to say that there’s aren’t some really good judges in east Oregon, some of who have served for years and decades. The other side of things is that, considering this is an electoral process and you have to want to be elected to the bench, perhaps the best candidates for the Supreme Court and Appeals court aren’t even on the ballot from year to year anyway. However, it’s still not a false statement to say that most of the best candidates are probably in the valley.

Which is what they’re saying, if you didn’t get the hint.

Let me just say at this point that I don’t think the opposition to Measure 40 is being altruistic here (just acting like it). Do you think for a moment that they wouldn’t be making the same arguments as the proponents if the majority of state level jurists were conservative and the best candidates (for some reason) came from more conservative eastern Oregon and made decisions that conservatives agreed with more often? I wonder.

“Constitutional Amendment 40 would radically change all that, instead electing judges in a way that would be more political, and more open to the influence of special interests.”

Really? More than they are now? Frankly I think that electing judges at all is to put them into a political environment at the influence of special interests. That’s what the proponents of the measure are arguing too.

I’m not even going to touch on the stupid scare tactics and the ludicrous equivalency baiting, like the faux job interview by SEIU local 503.

But, while I sympathize with the anger over the ideology of some of the court’s decisions (and there haven’t been that many that have irked me), let me say that I don’t think this is the answer. This just strikes me as turning the tables in the political battle for ideological control of the bench.

I have a better solution than this measure OR keeping the status quo. Why not model the state’s political triumvirate after the federal structure? Have the state level court appointments be made by the governor and have terms that would have governors choosing one or two for each term they are in office. I also think that the Senate should be structured like the Federal model too, in that the districts be more geographically evenly spread over the state, so that the rural districts have a fair shot at influencing state policy, and the Senate would have to ratify Governor’s appointments to the bench.

I know it doesn’t completely take politics out of it all. But this way the judges aren’t wrapped up in having to satisfy some special interest just to maintain their job.

Note: By the way, the idea of limits on Supreme court appointments so that each President has the opportunity to choose two per term has been floated on the federal level by many people, so I didn’t think that one up myself.

Measure 40: NO

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tracking David Thompson

I just finished reading a great book called Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America.  If you are into reading such books about early American explorers (and I use American in the North American sense) such as Lewis and Clark, I would recommend this book.  Nisbet is a good storyteller, and without going into 500 pages of detail, gives you a good picture of what life was like for Thompson in a land that no white man had ever seen.

David Thompson came to America as a 14 year old in 1784, to begin an internship for the Hudson Bay trading company.  He learned to operate trading posts and the transport of furs up and down the Saskatchewan river.  He had a knack for mathematics and turned out to be a fantastic navigator.  His surveys and notes of the upper Missouri region were used by Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the Pacific Ocean after the turn of the century.

By the time he was 30, Thompson was leading the way for fur trappers over the Rockies.  Just a few years after Lewis and Clark found their way back to the Mississippi, Thompson led an expedition to chart the entire course of the Columbia River in an attempt to find an avenue for the fur trade to the Pacific (going over the Continental Divide was a right pain).  Upon retiring, he drew up some of the best maps of the Northwest from that time period, utilizing his measurements and notes, Lewis and Clark’s notes, and information from the native tribes.

You also get an interesting look into the native tribes in that region.  Thompson and the fur trappers spent considerable time (years) interacting and trading with native Americans on both sides of the mountains. 

Give yourself a look-see into the life of men who never walked down city streets, or rarely saw another white man for months on end.

Undaunted Courage, the story of Meriwether Lewis by Stephen Ambrose, is also a great book detailing the life of an explorer we’re more familiar with.  I would recommend both, side by side, as they complement each other.

Blogging Sudan

The top UN envoy to Sudan was just kicked out of the country, apparently for his criticism of the military.  Apparently the envoy is among us in the blogging generation in that he has his own blog, and was noting that some of the military was losing morale, and also some about the government not implementing the Darfur peace agreement.

Check out his blog, and you’ll gain far more knowledge about happenings over there than you could get in a month of Sunday papers.

Hat tip to Instapundit.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Oregon Ballot Measure 39

Covering some local issues until the election.

More than 200 years ago, a large group of the more powerful among the people (of European descent) populating the colonies governed by the British crown decided that they had had enough of what the King was dishing out. Specifically they wanted the freedom to live the way they deemed fit, but few today get that the major driver behind status and success, the prime indicator of wealth and security, was land. The high rollers were land owners, and like industrialists or railroad magnates later in the history of the United States, they were the movers and the shakers. Recall that land was the primary resource in colonial America. There was plenty of it and it seemed to be unlimited in scope.

But that sentiment translated down to the common man too. The spirit that thrived in the American colonists was that freedom equated to owning your own little plot of land, where no one could tell you what to do and you could make what you could with it. And, of course, the primary desire was that there would be nothing the government could do to deprive you of that land, and that defined freedom for them in a tangible way. Would this have been a more understandable aspect of freedom than freedom of political expression?

You and I today are pretty far removed from that. Land isn’t an unlimited resource any more. Far from it, trying to acquire land in the United States can be an expensive purchase, the market recognizing the limited nature of the resource. Most of us count our freedom in this country in terms of how we can express ourselves, or how we can reach our economic potential without interference from the powers that be.

However, I think that we would be mistaken to forget how important the right to own land free from government power truly is. There has been a tendency to interpret the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, the protection of just compensation when eminent domain is used, in the context that “public use” is not just public transportation, public buildings, parks and the like, but for anything that contributes to the “public good.” And in the case of modern land use and urban planning that includes economic rehabilitation of an area by creating a zone of new commercial use in order to create jobs and attract people and businesses.

This has been going on for a long time, but most people really didn’t get what the true meaning of what was going on until last year, when a land owner decided that the founders of our great nation really didn’t have just any abstract “public good” in mind when they crafted the Fifth Amendment. The case eventually made it’s way into the Supreme Court and into our public consciousness as Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the Supreme Court decided that a city or local government could take a property and give the property to a private party, in this case a developer, if what the developer was going to do constituted a “public good,” as opposed to a more direct public use, such as a power plant or public office building.

The backlash from that has yielded at least 23 states passing laws or changing their own constitutions to outlaw this sort of eminent domain use in land use planning. And now this trend has come before Oregon voters in the form of Ballot Measure 39.

I’m not sure that you need to read the language of the entire measure, as I thought the shorter explanation was adequate and didn’t leave anything important out. Any controversy around this measure is probably not about how it is worded or unseen future issues arising from it’s language, but more about the philosophies of those who are for or against it.

I expected that there would be tons of arguments for and against and this would take up considerable space in the ballot guide, but truly there were only three contributors to the FOR arguments and two contributors to the AGAINST arguments.

The arguments for this measure included much of what I stated above, namely that people hold to the right of property and were shocked at the result of Kelo v. New London. I think people were under the impression that most of the time people were fine with the government buying their land for altruistic purposes, or that government possibly just tried elsewhere when they couldn’t buy up all the property they needed. Basically the arguments are that government should only take land by eminent domain if the end result is publicly owned public use.

I think it’s generally understood that the motivation for trying to use this tool for planning in order to re-invigorate neighborhoods or regions and improve the lives of those people living there, perhaps benefiting people living in the larger region as well. Generally the motivation is a good one. I think the point we are all trying to make is that the potential for corruption here is great, and there is significant argument to be made (at some other time) about whether this type of land use planning is the government’s job in the first place.

Interesting that unlikely partners like conservatives and the Green Party and real estate organizations are all seemingly for this measure.

For the most part, I have no beef with the arguments for, and as you can tell by my article so far, I tend to agree with them. But I wanted the arguments against, and any other arguments I heard from newspaper opinions and blogs, try to convince me otherwise. So first I’ll look at the arguments made by the contributors to the voter’s guide.

1. It will be more expensive to redevelop areas and create jobs. Basically both arguments against talked about the millions of dollars extra that taxpayers would be on the hook for using this type of land use planning.

Again, I would argue that government should be limited in how it uses land use tools to re-arrange the economy and the environment, but the real squirrelly thing about this is that the grip is about the other part of this measure that’s designed to make the compensation for land owners part of eminent domain for fair for the land owners (yes, I’m sure this will be taken to court when it passes for having “two” issues instead of the required one issue per measure rule). However, despite the estimation of cost from the “un”-partisan committee describing the measure, I think that the extra cost involved here would only result because the government was being penalized for not putting up a fair offer for compensation. That’s the way I read the language.

2. “If your community wants to develop a business park to create jobs, the measure would require the government to own it.” Well, yes. That’s the point of the bill. The authors don’t want eminent domain to be used for economic redevelopment. Big shock there.

3. Much support for this measure has come from out of state. Basically this is a scare tactic. The threat here is that since someone from out of state wants this to happen, there can’t possibly be any reason for us to want it and there must be some terrible underhanded purpose behind the “outsider’s” desire to pass this measure.

Which, of course, is a terrible reason to shoot the thing down all by itself. Just because some support is out of state doesn’t mean the measure has no value to Oregonians. And by the way, the League of Women Voter’s argument against was inaccurate and deceptive in this regard (at best) and was criticized by Willamette Week for this very thing.

The American Planning Association also paid for an argument against. They say much of the same, adding several times that if a community wants to develop this or that measure 39 “may not allow it.” Which is misleading, because if the community can arrange for the land without forcing any landowner to sell (I.E. voluntary land acquisition) and create the incentive for businesses to build themselves this would be no problem. The measure is designed to discourage the abuse of private property. It’s not anti-redevelopment or anti planning.

I love the way they say, “Hidden in the middle is fine print that would cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars when condemnation is used to buy property for public purposes…” Funny thing. It’s not hidden. And I address it above.

Also I found it funny that the argument states that the proponents can’t bring up a single instance of abuse, right after the arguments in favor list a few instances of abuse within the state within recent times.

Now I’ve ragged on community planners for a bit here, but I think I should be fair and point out that eminent domain can be an effective tool when trying to encourage redevelopment in an area that needs it, or invite businesses in and creates jobs where they are sometimes needed. This Oregonian editorial lays that argument out pretty good.

Typically, as in the city of Hillsboro's creation of Intel's Ronler Acres campus, the public purpose behind such partnerships is to attract industry and create thousands of new jobs. Few Oregonians would argue today that Ronler Acres should not have gone forward because the city of Hillsboro used the threat of condemnation to make the project happen. "It was very clear that the private sector couldn't do it," Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes said Tuesday. "The public sector could, and the difference was (the power of) eminent domain."

I also understand that the public sector is often very reluctant to use this unless they feel they have to.

However, the way I see this measure, it’s an argument between those who believe that good planning of the local economy and lifestyle of communities trumps the right of individuals to command their own piece of land, vs. those who believe that the right of citizens of this country to property of their own without interference from government is foundational to the freedoms of this country. I believe that governments need to get more creative about planning without stomping on the rights of the people.

This guy seems to agree.

OPB did a piece on this. Randy Leonard argues with the Hogan Electric situation (which is one of the arguments for in the guide), stating that the business doesn’t actually occupy the site any more, that it’s currently vacant.

Which is food for thought. But so is this: the lot is in Lents, which Leonard and the city are trying to redevelop. But what the article doesn’t tell you is that Lents used to be a vibrant neighborhood center. But then eminent domain came in and split the neighborhood in two for the sake of what is now I-205. The decline of Lents began there. What serves to improve one community affects another, yes?

Here’s some more opinions. For. Against. For (this one rags the Oregonian and Medford opinions for their apparent lack of reason on this issue).

Jack Bogdanski is, well, I think, pretty much for it. Sort of. In a way.

While I'm on the subject, let me weigh in on upcoming state Ballot Measure 39: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I'm no property rights nut, but having watched Portland's future -- its financial destiny and its character as a place to live -- handed over to The Usual Suspects, I'm through with Portland-style condo tower ripoffs. The government should not be able to appropriate your homestead to satisfy some political crony's greed.

Yeah. Just maybe.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why I'm voting Republican

There’s been endless babble about how if the Republicans lose the House or the Senate in Washington, they will have deserved it and caused it. This is, I presume, because not many people feel that the Democrats truly deserve to actually “win” the majority position back (except for die hard Democrats I’m sure).

Instapundit recently outlined this in a “Post-Mortem” that has become kind of infamous, even to the point of securing wrath from Rush Limbaugh. Sufficed to say that many conservatives and libertarians are walking around with their heads in their armpits for want of reasons to vote out the Republicans, because although they have proven themselves to be clumsy, inept and in some cases downright corrupt, the alternative is the Democrats. Not much of a choice.

My first impression is to just stay with the Republican and hope that they get it eventually, as I have no confidence that booting them out of office will really correct their behavior or improve their focus on their moral compass anyway (did it improve the Democrat's behavior?).

And just as I’m reconsidering that and voting for some Independents, I link to this article by Paul Krugman, whom I hardly ever find myself in the same ballpark with, and he makes a very horrifying point.

      [W]hile the Democrats won't gain the ability to pass laws, if they win they will gain the ability to carry out investigations, and the legal right to compel testimony... Those who think it's a good idea to investigate, say, allegations of cronyism and corruption in Iraq contracting should be aware that any vote cast for a Republican makes Congressional investigations less likely. Those who believe that the administration should be left alone to do its job should be aware that any vote for a Democrat makes investigations more likely.

Hat tip to TigerHawk on that quote.
And that sealed my vote.

Bad Eggs

The court-martials of four US soldiers begin this week accused of rape and murder of Iraqi civilians.  Two of the soldier face the death penalty!

The crime has, of course, enraged Iraqis and there have been calls for a review of foreign troop immunity from Iraqi prosecution.

However, at this point I would still trust the US judicial system (even the military one) over the Iraqi one.  At some point perhaps this would be a viable alternative.  If you commit a crime over there you should face their system of justice, whatever that may be.  However, considering the circumstances I understand why the US military is still trying their own soldiers.

As for Iraqi outrage, I have a couple things to say.  One is the penalty for guilt.  If the men are found guilty, and by now there is considerable evidence that they are (else why the court martial?),  The penalty is death.  How could Iraq impose anything stronger or extract more justice?

Second, I predict that we’ll start hearing a lot of moral equivalence rhetoric from the left about this in an attempt to show that we’re not so perfect either so why are we invading countries and trying to impose our moral systems on them (yadda yadda, you get the point).  This should be easily deflected, if anyone bothers to try, by pointing out that due to the variability of human behavior and the inevitable bad eggs in any basket you pick, it’s inevitable (and unfortunate) that some American soldiers are going to commit crimes against the Iraqi people.  You’re going to get this in any army in the world, so the differences in how you judge those nations of people are how we react to the crimes.

In the USA the crimes are not part of regular operating procedure, they are aberrations.  When they happen, leaders and citizens of the USA are visibly and righteously mortified, enough to truly want to get to the bottom of the case.  The people responsible are rooted out and prosecuted.  If the crime is vile enough, we will commit that person to death (in some countries “vile” seems to be switching religions from the state-sanctioned one, or speaking out against the leaders of said country).  That IS standard operating procedure.  How many countries can you say that about?  Are there really that many?

Rand McNally Anniversary

Rand McNally, the map and atlas making company, is 150 years old.  Happy birthday, guys!

Earthquake blog

Via the Cartography blog, visit the USGS Earthquake map site.  Earthquakes worldwide are updated constantly, and you can view information on any earthquake that’s happened within the last hour or the last week.  Check out the Hawaii earthquakes (initial 6.6 and the subsequent aftershocks).

Also, here in the Northwest, it’s notable to see that Mt. Saint Helens is still rumbling.  2.9 yesterday.

Geographic Literacy

National Geographic does it’s survey of geographic literacy, and again people in the USA between the ages of 18 and 24 have a very limited sense of their place in the world (literally).

There is some good, like the ability of most tested to use a map and navigate well, but knowing countries of the world and their context in current events leaves a lot to be desired.

      Six in ten (63%) cannot find Iraq on a map of
      the Middle East, despite near-constant news coverage since the U.S. invasion of March 2003.
      Three-quarters cannot find Indonesia on a map . even after images of the tsunami and the
      damage it caused to this region of the world played prominently across televisions screens and in
      the pages of print media over many months in 2005. Three-quarters (75%) of young men and
      women do not know that a majority of Indonesia’s population is Muslim (making it the largest
      Muslim country in the world), despite the prominence of this religion in global news today.
      Majorities overestimate the total size of the U.S. population and fail to understand how much
      larger the population of China is. Three-quarters (74%) believe English is the most commonly
      spoken native language in the world, rather than Mandarin Chinese. Although 73% know the
      U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of oil, nearly as many (71%) do not know the U.S. is the
      World’s largest exporter of goods and services . half think it’s China.
      Such lack of geographic literacy shows up closer to home, as well. Half or fewer of young men
      and women 18-24 can identify the states of New York or Ohio on a map (50% and 43%,

There’s hope, though, because the report notes that young people have the most powerful learning tool the world has ever created in the internet, and use of internet was associated with young American’s performance in the quiz.

I’m going to take the quiz and I’ll tell you how I do.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Lancet body count critique

Instapundit links to the Iraq Body Count site, where there’s an article describing what you would have to accept and believe is true in order to buy the death count proposed by the Lancet medical journal study.  The Lancet tried to estimate the total number of violent deaths in Iraq since the invasion.

      1. On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms;

There’s more, so link up.  Glenn notes that the IBC site has often been criticized for over-estimating the body count itself, so if they’re upset by the Lancet study…

Chinese view of N. Korea

China is visibly changing it’s stance on North Korea.

      The Chinese Government has been ultra-cautious in its reaction. However, since Monday, Foreign Ministry officials have started to make a point of distinguishing between the North Korean people and their Government in conversations with diplomats.

The Chinese recognize two groups of peoples in the closed off state.  One is sinophiles, who want Chinese-like reform and to remove the royalty, i.e. Kim Jong-il.  The other is the  Royalists, who support the current regime. 

And the signs are that China has given up on the North Koreans and might support an internal coup.

      Xin Cheng, an estate agent in the high-rise district of Wang Jing, which is popular with resident South Korean businessmen, said many high-ranking North Koreans were buying property there.

Even the Koreans are starting to bug out, meaning that the signs are on the wall inside of North Korea as well.
Hat tip to Instapundit.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

GPS Navigation goofs

The Map Room rounds up stories where people ended up in stuck or otherwise nasty situations because they followed the directions on their car’s GPS navigation systems, and in many cases plainly ignored the evidence gathered by their own eyes.

German man crashes into a pile of sand.
Caravan of people get stuck in a narrow lane in Wales.
English man drives straight into a river.
And along a 100 foot cliff.
“Because my car told me to.”   It’s an easy lesson that technology is an AID to us in our daily lives, and should never replace our brains as the primary guide.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Vinland Map controversy

According to Wikipedia, the Vinland Map is a 15th century world map drawn from a 13th century original depicting all that was known in the world at the time.  A very valuable map indeed, as it depicts not only the African subcontinent and east Asia (as early as the 1200s!) but also an island labeled as “Vinland.”  The island, as well as what is thought to be Greenland and Iceland, would have been information that only the Vikings new, as they were the first to areas of the new world, Newfoundland in particular.

The map was discovered, apparently bound with a series of manuscripts called Historia Tartorum, which was a description of the Tartar empire by Giovanni Carpine, which was done in the 13th century also.

Now, the map has been called a forgery, and a severe dispute has taken place in the map world.  NOVA has a series on this, which you can find here.  The evidences that it is a fake range from the features, some of which appear too detailed to have originated in a map drawn this early in time, the ink used and the handwriting, which is arguably 19th century, not 15th.

This kind of stuff interests us geographers, but doesn’t really dispute the evidence that Vikings were indeed in North America as early as the 11th century, as several excavations have determined that they were.

Hat tip to the Map Room.

Defending Bush's Korea policy

Another link from Glenn, this one is to Thomas Barnett criticizing Bush on the North Korea issue.

      This administration keeps hedging its bets, sort of treating China like a military enemy, sort of treating it like a diplomatic ally, sometimes demonizing it and sometimes indulging it. Our 'separate lanes' policy of trying to compartmentalize our relationship with China has been a disaster in my opinion, keeping us trapped in an immature strategic relationship with Beijing that makes it harder for us to deal with rogues like Iran and North Korea. . . . We tolerate Russia and India and China instead of embracing them as key allies, and we indulge the Japanese and Europeans, when neither has shown much inclination to grow up strategically any time soon (although I have my hopes for Abe as the next iteration in Tokyo). Bush and Co. define the new era all right. They just don't seem to recognize that a lot of players have changed sides in the meantime.

While I agree that we need these countries to get involved and join us in putting pressure on regimes that are potential problems, like N. Korea and Iran, I think Barnett is wrong here and not seeing the bigger picture.  Reading the entire article, I note that he talks about the post-cold war world as if Russia and China have done only positive moves in the direction of democracy and freedom for it’s own people and the nations surrounding it.

In Russia’s case one can only point to the frequent meddling with nations around it, like Georgia and the Ukraine, along with oppression inside the country in the case of Chechnya.  As of late international observers note how Putin’s Russia is starting to look like KGB controlled Soviet Russia of the past.  Should we just cuddle up to Russia like they’re our best friend?

China, despite their definite positive capitalistic movement and economic liberalizations, are still an oppressive communist autocracy, and they prove it time and time again.  This is in addition to their constant threatening of Taiwan, who we’ve pledged to defend in the past.  Does Barnett think that’s a poor excuse for maintaining our military strength?

Even India, who we could arguably have the best relationship with of all the others, is not without it’s human rights problems.  Christians and Muslims (yes, Muslims) get routinely discriminated against, and although the government is democratic, it’s still primarily a Hindu state (note here that I’m not labeling Hindus as bigots.  Bad apples in all groups of people and such.  It’s just that there’s a lot of discriminatory behavior in India that doesn’t get reported in the west very often).

So what’s Bush to do here.  If he snuggles up to any of these countries he gets criticized for coddling a country with pretty bad human rights issues.  But he does need them for diplomacy’s sake.  I’m just saying that there’s more to foreign policy than just choosing sides over one or two issues, like N. Korea, and I think Barnett is being unfair here.

Federal Spending Tracker

Instapundit introduces the new FedSpending.org site, showing how all the discretionary spending is dished out.  Although this site is going to be helpful to those watch-dogging the spending, for the rest of us it’s going to be a bit overwhelming and less than informative.  I’ll tell you why.

I went to the site and chose all the companies and agencies that received federal contracts in 2005.  First of all the number is staggering, as there was 3,711 of them.  The site pulls up the first 500 for your perusal. 

But all you are given there is a parent company name and the dollar amount.   Each parent has a list of contractors or agencies that received the dollars, but there’s no explanation for what the money was for.

Some of these I can understand.  Blackstone Dredging is probably for work on the Columbia or some other site for shipping.  Evergreen Aviation is an international aviation company that does work for the feds.  These I can understand.

When you start scrolling down the list your thoughts will probably wander, as mine did, to companies like Chevron, Enron, Columbia Grain, Peter Pan Seafoods, and the Oregon Potato Company.  Wonder what they’re getting millions for? 

You can click on the parent company name and get a breakdown of projects and whether or not they had to compete to get them.  For instance the Oregon Potato company got two million dollars for what amounts to fruits and vegetables.  Wonder why the feds needed all that produce.

I’m glad this exists now, but it’s going to take some considerable time on someone’s part to parse all this out and figure out exactly what our congressmen and women are dishing out our tax dollars for.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Korean earth-shaker

Discussing just what that big boom was on the Korean peninsula. Was it a nuke? Was it a suitcase nuke? Was it a whole lotta dynamite designed to look like a nuke? Was it a failed experiment, or is it a step on the way to N. Korea developing a larger nuclear device?

It's the economy, silly

Via Instapundit we learn that Bush and Co. have been very efficient on the fiscal side of things.  We know that the economy is back up to pre-2000 standards, given that the stock market has surged and the Dow is at a new record level.

But one of those things that Bush-critics have railed about is that jobs hadn’t been keeping up with the economic surge.  Ignoring the history of the job market to follow market surges after they happen, not during.  So how are the jobs?

      So instead of 5.8 million new jobs over the past three years, the U.S. economy has created 6.6 million. That's a lot more than a rounding error, more than the number of workers in the entire state of New Hampshire. What's going on here?

      Our hypothesis has been that, due to the changing nature of the U.S. economy, the Labor Department's business establishment survey has been undercounting job creation from small businesses and self-employed entrepreneurs. That job growth has been better captured in Labor's companion household survey, which reported 271,000 new jobs in September after 250,000 new jobs in August, and a very healthy total of 2.54 million new jobs in the past year.

      Most of the media has ignored all this and instead focused on the disappointing 51,000 "new jobs" number from the establishment survey for September. But even in that survey, the jobs number for August was revised upward by 62,000 and the U.S. jobs machine continues to roll out an average of about 150,000 additional hires each month. Even the loss of residential construction jobs in September, due to the housing market slowdown, was nearly matched by payroll gains in commercial construction.

Also, the unemployment rate has now fallen to 4.6%, or about as low as it was in the days just before 9/11.   Glenn Reynolds comments, “You'd think that all this good economic news would get more attention, but it seems that "It's the economy, stupid!" was a 1990s phenomenon.”

Which is true at least for my local paper, as I’ve seen nothing.

But also, did anyone know that Bush’s fiscal promise of cutting the budget deficit by half is coming true?

      A huge point has been virtually if not totally ignored since the announcement on Friday that the reported federal deficit for the fiscal year that ended a week ago was $250 billion The Bush Administration has done what it said it would do about the deficit three years ago, and has done it a full three years early, i.e., in half the time predicted.

This is because of the tax receipts that Washington has been getting primarily because of the resurgent marketplace, mainly jumpstarted by the Bush tax cuts earlier in his term.  Blummer points out that at the current rate of growth the deficit could be eliminated by the end of Bush’s term, despite the outrageous spending and the war effort.

However he lists several caveats that shouldn’t be ignored if we all want that to happen, namely 1. our congressmen need to learn how not to spend, as they could make this good thing a really bad thing pretty fast.  2. Bush’s tax cuts are due to end in 2010, and the market will treat that as a tax INCREASE and respond accordingly (i.e. the growth will slow down a lot).

Just for fun, click over to this site, which provides a graph of the federal budget in easy to read format.

Parking meter Disneyland

Little bit of local business here.  The city council is proposing to add parking meters to a non-downtown section of Portland, and the locals aren’t too thrilled with it.

      When Hawthorne businesses fire back with concerns that meters would drive shoppers to areas such as Lloyd Center with free parking, Adams says the meter revenue could help them fight off bigger competitors. His premise: Meters would help to manage increasingly tight parking and generate cash for programs that could benefit the neighborhood.

Commissioner Sam Adams claims that this worked in a section Pasadena, California.  To which we say:  “Where’s the good in being just like California?”

      Old Pasadena's longtime business owners agree that meters have significantly boosted business by funding revitalization programs and better managing parking. But they also say the area's commercial success forced out nearly every independent store in the area, making it into an eight-square-block commercial wonderland.

The Disneyland-ification of neighborhoods.  One of the critical arguments here is that Hawthorne is exactly where people go when they want to escape from the Starbucks/Pier One/Gap type of shopping world.  It’s exactly what people don’t want.  You should have seen how hard they fought the installation of a McDonalds in that area.

      Despite what's happened in Old Pasadena, Adams still believes parking meters are worth considering in Portland along Hawthorne, especially if neighborhood groups use the meter revenue to fund programs that directly combat gentrification. For example, he says, Hawthorne groups could start a land trust, in which land owned by the city or business association could be leased at below-market rates to businesses the community considers appropriate and constructive for the area. Additionally, they could advertise the area and feature independent businesses.

OK, here’s where Adams starts freaking me out.  Managed urban landscapes are what you make of them.  I’m not really sure what he’s after here.  The only reason he has for putting the meters in is to create funds to improve the area, but the residents aren’t too thrilled about that.  So is there something else? 

I really disagree with commerce being this controlled by the city or a group of high minded individuals deciding what is “appropriate and constructive.”  It’s artificial and has just the same potential to be as fake as that street in Pasadena.

Dissention in Iran

In Iran, things aren’t always what the Mullahcracy wants us to believe, and all Muslim leaders aren’t exactly with the leadership on what Islam’s role in governing should be.

      The news has finally caught up with the ongoing saga of the Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi, who has been challenging the legitimacy of the Iranian mullahcracy for many years. Both he and his father–who died 4 years ago, and whose grave has been desecrated–refused to embrace the Khomeinist doctrine that only a Shi’ite sage was fit to govern the Islamic Republic. The Boroujerdis retained the traditional Shi’ite view–the one famously held by Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq–that clerics should stay out of government and tend to their flock.

Well, Boroujerdi has been arrested again, and in order to do it, the government thugs apparently had to mow down hundreds of his supporters to get to him.

      Boroujerdi was dragged off to his destiny on Sunday, in a dramatic confrontation that involved thousands of demonstrators, some in Tehran, and some on the road to Qom, where many of the country’s most prestigious religious schools and scholars are located. The official news media reported that more than two hundred supporters were arrested at the house in Tehran, but this is the least of it. Two Iranian friends in Europe, and one in the United States, have received reports that speak of more than seven hundred people murdered on the road to Qom. If that, or anything approaching it, is true, it testifies to two important facts. The first is the truly vicious and totalitarian nature of this regime, which will stop at nothing to silence any sign of criticism from the Iranian people. Somebody should tell Richard Armitage about this, since he has yet to announce any second thoughts about his infamous claim that Iran is “a kind of democracy.”

This is an interesting point given that, reading further, Islam is losing favor with the general population almost on a day-to-day basis.  Reports show that mosques are attended infrequently and are almost empty during prayer times.  I think it’s safe to say that the current regime does not represent even a slim quorum of the population.

Thailand post-coup government

The new post-coup cabinet has been sworn in by the king of Thailand.  It includes lost of economists and diplomats, and many seem encouraged by this fact.

However the king is still supportive of this process so we’ll have to see where it goes.  Hoping and praying for democracy to take a solid foothold in Thailand, but I think that democracy must come with a strict respect for the rule of law and the idea of personal freedom before countries in Asia and Africa start to show success in this area.  As good a chance as any have the Thai.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Momentum and Democratic war-making

Interesting discussion on why we’ve lost momentum in the war on terror, whether we’ve lost it in Iraq and whether or not we should revive it again by going into other countries.

    ...you go to war with the democracy that you have. Democracies have to fight wars with a certain level of popular support or they can't genuinely fight. Bush's approval ratings aren't low because we haven't invaded Syria, but because Iraq is so very difficult. Furthermore the opposition party has to support the kind of effort you are talking about or there simply can't be that kind of effort. It will be a long, hard slog. I think Administration strategy is always tempered by domestic political concerns. How could it be otherwise. Should the House & Senate fall to democrats, is there any chance in heck that the Administration could move in any way close to what you are suggesting?

Brazilian elections

Brazil is having their elections for President and Representatives.  Publius has a good primer on how elections work down there.

Current President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is in trouble, as corruption scandals have been hitting him pretty hard lately (which is no surprise for Brazilian politics).  Although, unlike many of his predecessors, he has kept the country from spending too much and defaulting on foreign loans.  But they’ve got a long way to go, and Lula is hanging on because the poor love him, mostly for his monthly handouts to low income people.  Very socialist rob-the-rich state of affairs and definitely not sustainable.

Gerald Alckmin is a moderate to right ex-Governor of the Sao Paulo state, which is the best run and modern financial capital of South America. 

Here’s an interesting take on the matter:

      What’s most likely is that a rightwing Congress will come in, but Lula, who’s popular as a person, will in the end retain his office.

      What may happen could be roughly similar to the Clinton second term of office in the U.S., where the popular engaging Bill Clinton easily won a second term in office in 1996, but also got a huge landslide of rightwing legislators led by Newt Gingrich to deal with, ensuring that he never ever tried to take over one-tenth of the American economy as he did in his bid to nationalize health care. The ultimate result of that setup was one of the most successful peacetime governments in U.S. history. Tax cuts were enacted, welfare handouts were limited and reformed, and the budget was balanced. And the stock market rose to record highs, leaving Alan Greenspan fuming. Those were the days!

      But the Clinton-Gingrich team was also notoriously lousy on security, as Bin Laden well knew, though. Why do I bring this up? Because if he’s reelected, Lula will face unprecedented security challenges in his second term as Hugo Chavez attempts to dominate the hemisphere in the name of his ‘Boliviarian’ project, which is nothing more than a completion of Fidel Castro’s efforts to throw Cuban-style communism over South America. Would Brazil put up with that? One wants to say ‘no’ but the uncomfortable fact is, they are, because Lula has allowed Chavez to run circles around him, vastly reducing Brazil’s influence in the region.

      Right now Evo Morales of Bolivia is constructing military bases on the Brazilian border. Chavez is sending troops to the region, and a dangerous Bolivian civil war is brewing. Castro is dying and Chavez is getting ready to assume Castro’s aggressive new mantle, pursuing nuclear alliances with Iran and Argentina. There is no question that Brazil has some serious security challenges in coming years.

But like Clinton, Lula is deeply reluctant to get involved in war matters. He may be pushed by his military, which knows the deal, or Alan Garcia of Peru, who sees clearly what is happening, but thus far, he has always resisted confrontation in favor of appeasement to predators like Chavez and Morales. Will he continue to do so? Hard to say. But it’s going to be harder and harder for him to stay on the fence.