Saturday, February 28, 2009
Ace of Spades points out that along with the idiocy of Holder's support for the assault weapon ban--the U.S. Attorney General wants to pass a law that is already on the books!
Keeping track of Holder's ignorant statements is rather like trying to keep track of all the Democrats in big legal trouble because of corruption right now--it's a target-rich environment. As Red State points out:
Holder beclowns self, displays ignorance of existing firearms law..."I think closing the gun show loophole, the banning of cop-killer bullets and I also think that making the assault weapons ban permanent, would be something that would be permitted under Heller," Holder said...Ahem, the existing law about bullets...27 CFR 478478.37 Manufacture, importation and
sale of armor piercing ammunition.
No person shall manufacture or import,
and no manufacturer or importer
shall sell or deliver, armor piercing
(a) The manufacture or importation,
or the sale or delivery by any manufacturer
or importer, of armor piercing
ammunition for the use of the United
States or any department or agency
thereof or any State or any department,
agency or political subdivision
(b) The manufacture, or the sale or
delivery by a manufacturer or importer,
of armor piercing ammunition
for the purpose of exportation; or
(c) The sale or delivery by a manufacturer
or importer of armor piercing
ammunition for the purposes of testing
or experimentation as authorized by
the Director under the provisions of
I’m sure that the vaunted technocratic brilliance that we were promised with regard to the Obama administration will be downright breath-taking - once they get around to actually showing any.
A while back, I removed a particular caster assembly from the ScopeRoller product list because it was just too much work to make. It was a complex part, with two protrusions that replaced an even more complex foot on the Vixen HAL-110 tripod leg.
Another customer needs it, and because he was confused about what Vixen tripod he had, I feel somewhat compelled to build the right part to replace what I have already made. I've been planning to work on the HAL-110 tripod leg problem anyway, so it's not that big a pain.
What made the part in question complicated was:
1. I needed to make cuts in three different dimensions, and the workpiece would have been very difficult to position in one direction because it was 2.69" wide--and the mill vise that I have is only 2" wide. Yes, there are ways to get around that, but they involve cutting vertically over a very great distance--and when the height of a workpiece exceeds the height of the vise jaws by too large a margin, you have to make very small cuts (.010" or .020" at a time), or risk having the workpiece pull out of the jaws.
2. I had too large of a base that set on the caster, relative to the protrusions that go into the Vixen tripod leg. This meant that I had to either do a lot of cutting with relatively coarse tools (like a bandsaw), and then mill for precise dimensions. There isn't much (at least in my garage) in between the .05" - .1" precision of a bandsaw, and the .001" - .003" precision of a vertical mill.
So I have shrunk down the dimensions of the base a bit. Now the amounts to be removed from a solid block of Delrin are much less. Two .210" sections have to be cut off; a .130" section; a .060" section. And a 0.500" section in the middle, that I will do with a .4375" drill, and two bandsaw cuts.
By experimentation, I have concluded that when the monstrous, 0.75" diameter, 1.75" long end mill is in play, I can remove .020" of Delrin at a time with the edge of the end mill. (This means that I move the end mill up alongside the plastic, and cut a 1.5" high, .020" depth section of Delrin at a time.) Using the frace of the end mill, I can remove .050" of Delrin at a time. This means that it only takes a few passes back and forth to remove what is in the way.
I can also see why CNC vertical mills make so much sense. Much of what is happening here is repeating certain steps. If I had the CNC control unit, I would spend a bit of time programming the motions once. Then I would position the workpiece in the mill vise, start it up, and walk away. Ten minutes later, that operation would be complete, and I could move the workpiece to a new position and have it resume.
BedBunker--a gun safe that replaces your boxspring, both saving floor space for a gun safe, and making it a little less obvious for a burglar. Of course, the vast majority of burglars, even if they found an out in the open gun safe, wouldn't stick around long enough to try and open it. On the down side--if you need to get a gun out to deal with an intruder, this would be even slower to open than a conventional gun safe in the bedroom.
Friday, February 27, 2009
I have serious concerns about the energy inputs required to make fuel alcohol from corn, but I read stuff like this from February 19, 2009 Al Arabyia, and I just shake my head:
A prominent Saudi scholar warned youths studying abroad of using ethanol or other fuel that contains alcohol in their cars since they could be committing a sin, local press reported Thursday.Look, I understand the Islamic prohibition on alcohol. Alcohol destroys a lot of lives every year. I can understand the prohibition on being involved in the alcohol trade. But that's drinking alcohol--not fuel alcohol. And it's not like there's some interaction between the places that produce drinking alcohol and fuel alcohol.
Sheikh Mohamed Al-Najimi, member of the Saudi Islamic Jurisprudence Academy, based his statement on a saying by the prophet that prohibited all kinds of dealings with alcohol including buying, selling, carrying, serving, drinking, and manufacturing, the Saudi newspaper Shams reported Thursday.
Saudi and Muslim youth studying abroad would violate the prohibition if they used bio fuel, he said, since it “is basically made up of alcohol.”
A cynic might suggest that the sheikh is concerned about reduced demand for petroleum.
House Joint Memorial 3 has been introduced into the Idaho legislature, and would put the Idaho legislature on record as opposing HR 45, the bill before Congress to require a license (with written tests, fingerprinting, etc.) to own any handgun, or any semiautomatic detachable magazine weapon. (That includes plinkers like the Ruger 10/22, and hunting rifles like the Remington 7400.)
Those of you in the Boise area, or regular readers of this blog, know that several years ago, the city of Boise removed a Ten Commandments monument from Julia Davis Park. They did so because the Rev. Fred Phelps, a long-time liberal political activist before he was disbarred, and became Mr. Homophobe, demanded the right to put up a monument filled with anti-homosexual materials in the same park, unless Boise removed the Ten Commandments.
Boise chose to remove the Ten Commandments monument--even though there was case law that established that Phelps didn't have a leg to stand on, and there were lawyers prepared to defend Boise pro bono. But Mayor Bieter, who is a Democrat, used this as an excuse to remove the Ten Commandments monument, since this has become something of a symbol to local Democrats of our benighted state here--allowing something identified with the religion of 80% of the population of Idaho to survive.
The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently upheld the Texas legislature having a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the statehouse in Van Orden v. Perry (2005)--a situation even more fraught with potential Constitutional problems than its presence in a city park. And a couple of days back, a case exactly on point was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (2009). The Court held that there was no obligation for the city to add any monument that a crackpot group wanted in the park, just because the Ten Commandments monument was there.
What is astonishing about this case is that while there was some difference of opinion about why, there was complete and total agreement from all nine justices--even the raging liberals--about the result. Justice Alito's opinion explained that when the government speaks (as opposed to providing a public forum), it is expressing its opinion, and is under no Constitutional obligation to present all points of view.
We conclude, however, that although a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and other transitory expressive acts, the display of a permanent monument in a public park is not a form of expression to which forum analysis applies. Instead, the placement of a permanent monument in a public park is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.I was quite amused by one example of the absurdity of where this "all points of view must have an equal opportunity for expression if the government puts even one point of view up" might lead:
The Free Speech Clause restricts government regulation of private speech; it does not regulate government speech.
Respondent contends that this issue “can be dealt with through content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions, including the option of a ban on all unattended displays.” Brief for Respondent 14. On this view, when France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1884, this country had the option of either (a) declining France’s offer or (b) accepting the gift, but providing a comparable location in the harbor of New York for other statues of a similar size and nature (e.g., a Statue of Autocracy, if one had been offered by, say, the German Empire or Imperial Russia).I have a feeling the Statute of Autocracy today would look a lot like George Soros.
As Alito's decision points out, there are limits beyond which the government may not go, for example, with respect to creating an Establishment of Religion (which the Ten Commandments monument clearly does not)--but that the major limitation is that the voters can throw the rascals out:
The involvement of public officials in advocacy may be limited by law, regulation, or practice. And of course, a government entity is ultimately “accountable to the electorate and the political process for its advocacy.” Southworth, 529 U. S., at 235. “If the citizenry objects, newly elected officials later could espouse some different or contrary position.” Ibid.What this means is that Mayor Bieter's claim that the city removed the Ten Commandments monument for Constitutional reasons is nonsense. They did it because Rev. Phelps gave them an excuse to do what they already wanted to do: remind the people of Boise that this is not a Christian city. Pretty clearly, the unwillingness of the voters of Boise to throw the rascals out over this--and even their unwillingness to overturn the decision by referendum--shows that Bieter was probably right. Democrats are a dominant force in Boise, and therefore, Christianity is destestable.
I'm disappointed that Bieter and the majority of the council decided to remove the Ten Commandments monument. There was no good reason for the city to spend the money that it did on removal, or on the subsequent lawsuits. This was simply an attempt to assuage the sizeable fraction of Boiseans who find it destestable and offensive to think that Christianity has any significance to this place. But they clearly have the authority to do so, as the Pleasant Grove City decision clearly finds. But if you live in a city where Christianity is not yet destestable, you can use this decision to take away the excuses of people like Mayor Bieter.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I am still waiting for literary agents to respond to my query concerning Personal Tragedies. So far, I have lots of "not right for us" responses, and a few that have made a point of saying that it was very well written. In the meantime, I'm writing a subversive screenplay about one of the last great incidents of slave rescue before the Civil War started.
I've never tried something like this before, and it is exhilarating. Henry James famously once wrote, "Show, don't tell." This is even more true with a screenplay than it is with a novel. A voiceover or text on the screen can provide a certain amount of background, but only a little. I would say that the opening crawl of Star Wars is very nearly the maximum that a film can get away with, and even that only worked because of the way in which the words receded. The opening explanations of Red Dawn were, in some respects, a sign of laziness on the part of the screenwriter (or the necessity of getting the film to a length that the studio was willing to release).
Information that everyone in the film knows has to be explained in dialog--and in a way that feels natural--not like a character is lecturing the audience. If you want the audience to know a character's name, you need to introduce him--and one way of doing so is to have another character introduce him, or he introduces himself. I learned quite a bit about film taking film classes at USC--and I'm putting that knowledge to work now.
I'm about 15 pages in so far, and I'm already thinking of the next steps. I'm told that one strategy for raising the roughly $250,000 to $500,000 to make a small independent film like this is to film a few powerful scenes, and put that up as a trailer. We'll see how that works. I've lined up a colleague from HP to play a regionally prominent black abolitionist in the sentencing sequence. He isn't an actor, but I believe that he'll do a good job--the speech that Langston gave to the court was powerful, and with enough practice, I suspect that it will be a strong enough scene to show the power of the material. (And yes, you may find it hard to believe, but there are black people in Boise. To cast the whole film might, however, exhaust the supply of black actors in our state!)
One of these days, we're going to find the embarrassing pictures that the Mexican government must have of most of our politicians. It's the only explanation for the increasingly open manner in which the interests of Mexico are taking precedence over those of the U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder explained why the Obamination is going to push for a ban on sales of assault weapons (which is more severe than the 1994 ban, which only prohibited new manufacture). From February 25, 2009 ABC News:
The Obama administration will seek to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 during the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.1. Automatic weapons are not assault weapons. Any automatic weapon is subject to National Firearms Act regulation. You can't just go into a store and buy automatic weapons in the U.S. There is a procedure, involving background checks, fingerprinting, a several month wait, signoff by your police chief, sheriff, or other chief law enforcement officer. In many states, it isn't even possible--state law either has additional restrictions or completely prohibits it.
Holder said that putting the ban back in place would not only be a positive move by the United States, it would help cut down on the flow of guns going across the border into Mexico, which is struggling with heavy violence among drug cartels along the border.
"I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum." Holder said at a news conference on the arrest of more than 700 people in a drug enforcement crackdown on Mexican drug cartels operating in the U.S.
Mexican government officials have complained that the availability of sophisticated guns from the United States have emboldened drug traffickers to fight over access routes into the U.S.
A State Department travel warning issued Feb. 20, 2009, reflected government concerns about the violence.
"Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades," the warning said. "Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico, but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez."
2. Because of the ironically named Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986, new manufacture of automatic weapons for civilian ownership is unlawful--and as a result, legal automatic weapons are hideously expensive. The cheapest full automatic that I have seen offered was still $7500. Since you can buy full autos internationally for a couple hundred dollars, I think we know from where the guns the Mexican drug gangs are using are coming.
3. Hand grenades aren't even as available as automatic weapons. I suppose in theory that they are considered destructive devices and there might be a way to get a license for them, but again, I have never seen a live hand grenade offered for sale. Ever.
4. Let's see, where might Mexican drug gangs be getting automatic weapons and hand grenades. Could they be importing them on the international black market? They're drug gangs. Do you suppose that they might have some expertise in smuggling, and contacts with international criminal organizations? Do you suppose that they might be buying them from corrupt members of the Mexican Army? The U.S. has historically had a problem with National Guard armories "leaking" automatic weapons. John Dillinger's automatic weapons, for example, were frequently purchased from corrupt police departments and National Guard armorers.
5. Gee, if Mexico really has a problem with guns coming across the border, perhaps they could work on securing the border. We'll help. That will stop the inflow of illegal drugs and aliens at the same time. Can you see why this isn't going to happen?
The only good news out of all this is that Nancy Pelosi (D-Hell) isn't as stupid as she looks. She's made it quite clear that she's not interested in seeing such a bill. From February 26, 2009 USA Today:
Enforce the laws we have right now? Did I read that right? She remembers what happened the last time a stupid bill like this got passed. The Democrats lost both houses of Congress because of it.
Today's vote came a day after Attorney General Eric Holder raised the possibility that the Obama administration would push to bring back the ban on assault weapons. But Feinstein's San Francisco neighbor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, shot down that notion today, The Hill reports.
"On that score, I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now," the Democratic leader said at her weekly news conference. "I think it's clear the Bush administration didn’t do that."
I have no idea what she is talking about when she says the Bush Administration didn't enforce existing laws. (And I'm quite sure that she doesn't either.) The Bush Administration aggressively enforced felon-in-possession laws, with often quite positive effects. I think she wants to distance herself from Bush--so she just makes stuff up.
Remember when Democrats used to criticize Bush and Republicans for running up huge deficits? They were right to criticize. But it spite of Obama's claims during the campaign that he was going to cut spending and deficits, he and the Democrats have introduced spending increases that create deficits that make Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress look downright responsible. (And that's saying something.) Obama's budget is going to run up a deficit in a year that is bigger than eight years of Bush.
Ah, but he can raise taxes. The February 26, 2009 Wall Street Journal points out that Obama simply can't do it without raising taxes on the middle class:
On Tuesday, he left the impression that we need merely end "tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans," and he promised that households earning less than $250,000 won't see their taxes increased by "one single dime."James Lindgren over at Volokh Conspiracy points out that Obama's cap-and-trade proposal aims to reduce America's carbon emissions per capita below the level we had in the 1700s. Yeah, yeah, there's all sorts of wonderful new technologies out there that will be green and efficient. Does anyone believe that these will be enough to make up even half the difference in standard of living between now and Colonial America?
This is going to be some trick. Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can't possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama's new spending ambitions.
Consider the IRS data for 2006, the most recent year that such tax data are available and a good year for the economy and "the wealthiest 2%." Roughly 3.8 million filers had adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 in 2006. (That's about 7% of all returns; the data aren't broken down at the $250,000 point.) These people paid about $522 billion in income taxes, or roughly 62% of all federal individual income receipts. The richest 1% -- about 1.65 million filers making above $388,806 -- paid some $408 billion, or 39.9% of all income tax revenues, while earning about 22% of all reported U.S. income.
But let's not stop at a 42% top rate; as a thought experiment, let's go all the way. A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.
It isn't for the benefit of Mexico that Attorney General Holder is talking about an assault weapon sale ban (which is actually more severe than the 1994 law, which only banned new manufacture). It is because they know that the peasants are going to rise up when Obama and friends try to take us back 300 years.
I don't know how reliable a source this Valleywag is, but I don't find it particularly unbelievable. I recall reading that after Dennis Hastert became Speaker of the House a few years back (when Republicans controlled Congress), his son closed his flower shop, and moved to DC to become a lobbyist:
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi loves to talk up her folksy grandmotherhood. But what's her record at raising kids? This much we know: Son Paul Pelosi Jr. is dating a lingerie model.Uh, how many high paying jobs can you hold down simultaneously? And does anyone think that all of these jobs and important posts he has are just coincidental with his mother being the single most powerful member of Congress?
- His LinkedIn profile is a bit incomplete. It discusses his investment-banking work for Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. And it mentions his job at Countrywide, for example, where he worked as a loan officer — at one of the mortgage companies most scrutinized for its role in the housing bubble and ensuing collapse of Wall Street.
- But it pointedly omits his $180,000 a year job as a senior vice president at InfoUSA, a marketer of consumer databases, which he started less than one month after his mother became House Speaker, while simultaneously holding his job at Countrywide. InfoUSA CEO Vinod Gupta also paid Bill Clinton millions of dollars as a consultant, so many suspected Pelosi's job was an attempt to win influence with Nancy Pelosi. Paul Pelosi's explanation: He got to know Gupta as a client for whom he refinanced a house, and his experience as an investment banker was useful in evaluating acquisitions.
- InfoUSA is best known for peddling lists of seniors with gambling addictions and serious diseases like Alzheimer's or cancer to opportunistic telemarketers. Gupta resigned as InfoUSA's CEO in July 2008. Pelosi is not listed on the company's investor-relations website as an officer of the company.
- Which raises the question: What was a former investment banker doing working as a mortgage loan officer, anyway?
- Pelosi is currently working as an advisor to NASA on environmental issues, and he's joined the board of Blue Earth Solutions, a recycling outfit. So basically, he dabbles in a lot of green work, but isn't holding down anything resembling a full-time job at the moment, as far as we can tell.
A number of people have pointed out how a lot of people get elected to Congress, generally pretty well off--and within a few years, they become extremely well off. Congressional pay is pretty decent (until you figure in the costs of having a home in DC and one in your district, and travel), but it isn't enough to get rich.
Many have pointed to the quite astonishing raise and promotion that Michelle Obama received shortly after her husband was elected to the U.S. Senate--where he was in a position to help her employer.
Here's a harsh fact: it is illegal to bribe elected officials, but it isn't illegal to give cushy jobs to their relatives. And by the wildest and most astonishing of coincidences, the employers who give those cushy jobs to relatives often seem to be beneficiaries of government programs. Hence the importance of earmarks--to make sure that the money goes where it is supposed to go.
The existing political class of America needs to be replaced. And it needs to be replaced so often that the new guys and gals don't stay there long enough to learn the corruption game--or at least, they don't get good at in the time that they are there.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Idaho has this reputation for being a bunch of anti-federal government crazies, but I don't think that's particularly deserved. I mentioned last February that Montana officials had warned the Supreme Court that Montana joined the Union on the understanding that the Second Amendment protected an individual right, and they might have to rethink that situation if the Court ruled wrongly on D.C. v. Heller (2008). Fortunately, the Court got it right, so there was no need for Montana to seize the Air Force missile silos there, and become the world's lowest population and density nuclear power.
Anyway, it appears that the Montana legislature is preparing for the Obamination of restrictive federal gun control laws. From the February 23, 2009 Billings (Mont.) Gazette:
HELENA - Montana lawmakers are betting the words 'Made in Montana' might be able to trigger a court showdown with the federal government, while also freeing some gun owners and dealers from background check and licensing requirements.I understand that a lot of other states are mulling over declarations of state sovereignty as well. I have long thought that there was little chance of Civil War II being regional. Maybe I'm mistaken.
Under a proposed law before the Legislature, firearms, weapons components and ammunition made in Montana and kept in Montana would be exempt from federal regulation, potentially releasing some Montanans from national gun registration and licensing laws. The legislation could also free gun purchasers in the state from background checks.
Still, the bill's proponents say the measure has much bigger prey in its sights.
"Firearms are inextricably linked to the history and culture of Montana, and I'd like to support that," said Republican Rep. Joel Boniek, the bill's sponsor. "But I want to point out that the issue here is not about firearms. It's about state rights."
Adding to the amusement of this is that those who were upset about the Raich decision (and they were right to be upset, even if it was for a very stupid cause: marijuana) will have to admit that if California has the right to legalize marijuana that doesn't move across state lines, free of federal intervention, then Montana has a similar right to tell the federal government that guns made in Montana are exempt from federal rules.
The February 25, 2009 Inside Higher Education reports on complaints about a public university that is supposedly trying to make itself specially white. What makes this so funny (aside from the gross deficiencies in the study) is that it is Sonoma State University:
Inside Higher Education points out that SSU is in the middle of a very, very white community, and like many of the institutions of the California State University system, a lot of the students live nearby. SSU, when I attended there in the 1980s and 1990s, had a large number of non-traditional age students--meaning, people like my wife and myself who lived in the community, and fit classes around jobs and family responsibilities. That alone would make SSU an especially white college because of the surrounding community.
A faculty report has stirred some racial tensions at Sonoma State University, following claims from its author that the institution’s administration has deliberately targeted those from higher-income families as potential students for the past decade. In this process, the report claims that the university has become the “whitest” public institution in California, effectively preferring white students to minorities in an admission practice that it deems “reverse affirmative action.”
One aspect of Sonoma State that is decidedly diverse is the administration, where the president, provost and director of admissions – all criticized in the report – are Latino. The professor who brought forth this report, however, is white.
But it wasn't that SSU wasn't trying. There were pretty regular little reminders that many faculty members were disappointed at having a bunch of white kids in the classroom. I remember seeing one scholarship that SSU offered that was limited to Hispanics--and it wasn't a private scholarship administered by SSU, but using public funds. I wrote them a letter reminding them that this was a violation of federal law--and they didn't even bother to respond.
I keep hoping for a post-racial America. But as long guilt-ridden whites, and minorities who choose to play the race card for control continue to dominate university faculties, I rather doubt that this is going to happen.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I just re-read H.R. 45, which I thought only imposed a federal licensing requirement for assault weapons. No. It imposes a federal licensing requirement for possession of:
The term `qualifying firearm'--This would force tens of millions of Americans to get a federal license to own any handgun, and pass a written test, and be fingerprinted. And what do we get in return? Nothing.
`(i) any handgun; or
`(ii) any semiautomatic firearm that can accept any detachable ammunition feeding device; and
`(B) does not include any antique.'.
"The nation that invented the automobile" (referring to the United States) is just the most obviously ignorant statement from Obama's speech this evening. There are so many distortions, deceptions, intentionally left out details that it just flabbergasts me.
He insisted that if we didn't something, the economy would just keep sinking--contrary to what the history of the business cycle and the Congressional Budget Office's January prediction.
He insisted that he wasn't looking to lay blame--but put the entire blame for this crisis on the financial industry and consumers who didn't think far enough ahead--ignoring the part played by the government forcing lenders to make subprime mortgages.
This guy makes Bush look like an intellectual.
It's going to be a long four years.
It looks like my wife and I will be headed to Fairbanks to go aurora hunting in late March, over Easter break. Solar wind predictions and a new Moon suggest that March 22-25 will be especially good. Since I know that some of my readers live in Alaska, any suggestions on lodging somewhere out of Fairbanks (towards the north), but not hours and hours of driving north? What sort of road conditions should I be expecting in late March? Will it be -40 at night?
One of my friends here in Idaho is a school teacher and union activist. She told me something a couple of years back that reminded me that Idaho is almost a mirror image of California. She said that the legislature had passed a law prohibiting voluntary deduction of union dues from school teacher paychecks. In California, of course, there's nothing voluntary about it--it will happen whether you want it to or not.
It turned out that what she told me wasn't quite right. It wasn't union dues that Idaho prohibits from being deducted from paychecks--but political action committee funding. Today in Ysura v. Pocatello Education Association (2009), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there was nothing unconstitutional about Idaho prohibiting the deduction of political contributions from paychecks. Union dues can be deducted (with signed authorization of the employee, of course--this isn't California), but if the union wants teachers to kick in political contributions, they will have to write their own check, and not have the government collect the money for them. So, why is this a problem? As the Court explained:
The court below concluded, and Idaho does not dispute, that "unions faceHuh? These contributions for political speech were voluntary before this new law took effect in 2003, and voluntary afterwards. The only conclusion that I can draw is that one of two situations makes payroll deduction dramatically more effective:
substantial difficulties in collecting funds for political speech without using
1. Teachers are too lazy to write a check to their union's political action committee.
2. There was some significant pressure on teachers to allow payroll deduction of political action committee funding, and without the state doing so, teachers just "forget" to do so.
Neither of these is exactly a ringing endorsement of the level of support that the teachers union enjoys from its rank and file, is it?
You have probably heard the term "leading economic indicators" on the news, and perhaps didn't know what it meant. "Leading" doesn't mean "most important" but those that often come before a change in the economy, while lagging (or trailing) economic indicators are those that come at the tail end of a change in the economy. There are also "coincident economic indicators"--those that are lined up with the general economy.
The Conference Board's February 19, 2009 report has what may me a positive sign (consistent with the Congressional Budget Office's early January assessment that the economy would recover in the second half of 2009, stimulus bill or not):
The Conference Board Leading Economic Index™ (LEI) for the U.S. increased
The LEI increased for the second consecutive month in January, but November
and December values were revised down as new data for manufacturers' new orders
became available. Between July 2008 and January 2009, the LEI decreased 1.9
percent (a -3.7 percent annual rate), faster than the decline of 1.1 percent (a
-2.1 percent annual rate) during the previous six months. In addition, the
weaknesses among the leading indicators have remained widespread in recent
This is probably worth keeping an eye on. It's still possible for Obama and the idiots that control Congress to crush the incipient recovery, but at some point, the LEI will stay positive long enough to start buying index funds.
Monday, February 23, 2009
When I am in Bend, I try to hit the gym every night. I don't mind the exercise so much--just the time that it consumes. At least while I am on the treadmill, I can read, as long as it isn't too demanding of a book. But the time using the machines is just lost. The 15-20 minutes I spend in the pool I rather enjoy, and the 10 minutes I spent running my upper back along the jets in the Jacuzzi were heavenly! I just wish that the whole 70-80 minutes could happen while I was sleep. I wouldn't mind waking up a bit sore--because it would give me more time to do other things that are a bit more pressing.
One of the rapidly growing sources of anger about Obama's mortgage relief plan is that it will tax those of us who were responsible to bail out a lot of people who are in over their heads for no particular good reason. I've mentioned in the past the strawberry picker who makes $14,000 a year with a $720,000 mortgage.
True, there are people who did nothing wrong, except buy a house at the wrong time. People lose their jobs, get transferred--and discover that they can't sell their house, except at a loss. The house we sold in West Boise last year, while not at a loss, returned very little more than the down payment we made in 2001. If we had bought that house in 2006, it would have been very, very painful. I can sympathize a lot with people in that situation.
The problem is that there were a lot of people who were in over their heads for absolutely no good reason at all. People who bought real estate not to live in, but to flip in 3-6 months and make $100,000 profit. People who made false claims about income or assets to get mortgages, on the assumption that somehow, the rising market would let them get away with this. Michelle Malkin shows the documents associated with ACORN's poster child of the moment, Donna Hanks (who just coincidentally, works for ACORN). ACORN has decided that they can break into the house that Hanks lost to foreclosure, and refuse to vacate. So how did Hanks get in so much trouble that her house was foreclosed as part of her bankruptcy?
According to real property data search information, Hanks bought the two-story home in the summer of 2001 for $87,000. At some point in the next five years, she re-financed the original home loan for $270,000.
Question: Where did all that money go?
You know, if you buy a house, and refinance an existing loan to get a better interest rate, that makes lots of sense. I can somewhat understand the person who takes a home equity line of credit. (This is usually abbreviated HELOC, which is very close to "helot," the Greek word for slave--a curious coincidence.)
If you use that HELOC to make improvements to the house, such as a new roof, maybe putting in a pool, or adding another bedroom--okay. If you actually enhance the value of the house, that might make sense.
If you use the HELOC to refinance your car loan, that can make sense too, because usually the interest you pay on the HELOC is tax deductible on Schedule A as mortgage interest. You get a comparable interest rate as a car loan, and it reduces your taxes. I wouldn't encourage this, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless you are doing something extravagant, like buying a new Lambhorghini Diablo.
Things that you should not use a HELOC for: vacations; cocaine; groceries.
Where did that $270,000 go? And why should taxpayers do anything to help this person?
I mentioned a couple of days ago the failure of Europe's cap-and-trade system to reduce pollution back in 2007. Whoops! It is now incentivizing carbon dioxide production! Or so this article by Julian Glover in the February 23, 2009 Guardian says. (And remember that the Guardian is a left of center British paper, heavily identified with the Labour Party.)
'Roll up for the great pollution fire sale, the ultimate chance to wreck the climate on the cheap. You sir, over there, from the power company - look at this lovely tonne of freshly made, sulphur-rich carbon dioxide. Last summer it cost an eyewatering €31 to throw up your smokestack, but in our give-away global recession sale, that's been slashed to a crazy €8.20. Dump plans for the wind turbine! Compare our offer with costly solar energy! At this low, low price you can't afford not to burn coal!"
Set up to price pollution out of existence, carbon trading is pricing it back in. Europe's carbon markets are in collapse.
Victor Davis Hanson points out that amidst all the chaos and fear, there are some good sides to what is happening to our economy:
Imagine…He also points out that as bad as this collapse of the stock market has been for those who are on the edge of retirement, or like myself, will be in the next few years, this will be a remarkable buying opportunity for those who are in their 20s and 30s. People like my daughter and son-in-law, who got a bargain on a house. One house that they made an offer on, and didn't get, was being sold by a welder who was going to take a bath selling it, because he had to move to Salt Lake City for a job. People whose 401k is buying stock right now will do extremely well over the next 20-30 years, since everything is dirt cheap right now. I confess that I keep looking for signs of the bottom, so that I can take advantage of bargains in stocks.
Had anyone said a few months ago that the federal government would step in to provide a trillion dollars to subsidize gasoline—to bring it down to $1.85 a gallon nationwide from prices that were exceeding $4 a gallon—we would have had a national debate. And yet as quietly as the Iraq war cooled down and was ignored, so too we think nothing of the hundreds of billions of dollars saved in reduced energy costs. For the average driver who puts 15,000 miles on his car per year, the annual savings (depending on regional prices, miles per gallon, and the amount and type of miles driven) could reach $1500-2000.
Or contemplate again: What if the Chinese had announced three years ago that in a spirit of good will they would begin buying trillions of US Treasury bond at a .5% interest rather than the 3-5% of the recent past. The result, of course, would be a multi-billion-dollar stimulus for the indebted US economy that would enjoy a temporary reprieve from the cost of its indebtedness. (Remember, in the Carter years T-bills and US bonds were paying out 8-12% and more).
There's an aphorism often attributed to one of the Rothschilds, that the time to buy is when there is blood in the streets. I'm hoping that it doesn't literally get to that point--but if it does, the stock market will take an enormous dive--and I'll be buying. And if you are smart, you'll take a break from overthrowing the corrupt government long enough to place some buy orders. A good revolutionary should also be a good capitalist.
But it does quite accurately show what TARP has turned out to be for the rest of the economy. Click here, and remember--the people responsible for this idiocy thought that they knew what they were doing, too.
The company at which I am contracting in Bend, Oregon, needs experienced C#/.NET software engineers for several months (perhaps longer) to help with product enhancement on a Point of Sale system. If you are one of the many skilled and experienced software engineers who have recently had your job Obaminated, send me your resume; contract work is better than unemployment. Besides, you get to hang out with cool people like me!
The working environment is a bit funky--we're working in an aircraft hangar at Bend Municipal Airport--but the people are nice. We operate by the Microsoft clothing standard--you must wear clothes.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
As I am sure most of my readers know, the Bernoulli Principle explains that if you constrict the flow of a fluid or gas, the speed of fluid or gas increases. There's a mass of equations here that explains how to apply it to incompressible and compressible masses. What I am trying to figure out--and I suspect one of my readers knows the answer--is what formula determines the velocity increase of air at low speeds (5-20 mph) as you constrict the input. For example, if you had a pipe that was one meter wide at the opening, and .5 meters wide at the exit, what happens to the speed of air as it goes through the pipe? It goes up, but how much?
Obviously, a rough inner surface will introduce turbulence, reducing velocity compared to a smooth inner surface. A pipe that shrinks down rapidly, I'm guessing, will introduce more turbulence than a pipe with a more gradual reduction.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
A bit more than a year ago, I mentioned that Oklahoma had passed a law that allowed employees to have a loaded firearm in their car in the parking lot regardless of employer rules. This was in response to an employer that searched employee cars at the start of hunting season, and fired a number of them. The employer sued to have the law overturned--and at federal district court, a judge not only ruled that the employer could do so, in spite of the new law--but even suggested that an employer was required to enforce such rules in the parking lot, to comply with OSHA.
Wiser heads have prevailed on appeal. Arms and the Law provides a link to the decision, which is here. Not surprisingly, America's biggest corporations, lapdogs for the left, filed suit against the Oklahoma law, claiming that OSHA required them to have such rules in the interests of employee safety. The Tenth Circuit's decision points out that while the federal government has put out some policies encouraging workplace regulation of firearms for some industries, they are not mandatory, and therefore the district court judge's decision was wrong. OSHA doesn't require employers to ban guns in the parking lot:
In fact, OSHA declined a request to promulgate a standard banning firearms from the workplace. See Standards Interpretations Letter, September 13, 2006, available at 2006 WL 4093048. In declining this request, OSHA stressed reliance on its voluntary guidelines and deference “to other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to regulate workplace homicides.”Even more interesting is how they dealt with the question of property rights. I confess that I have some serious concerns about such laws (even though I think that employers with such parking lot gun prohibition rules are making a serious mistake) because I do support the right of property owners to control their own property. The Tenth Circuit decision, however, decided that based on existing precedents, the interference with property rights was really not severe enough to qualify as a "taking." They also pointed to Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1980), a decision that I have long regarded with horror. In that case, a group that wanted to use the shopping center to circulate petitions was told to leave, because the mall was private property. The Tenth Circuit decided that if the First Amendment allowed intrusion on private property rights in that case, the same was true with respect to other amendments:
In addition to the [state law prohibiting such bans] purpose of increasing safety, one could argue that the [state law prohibiting such bans] are simply meant to expand (or secure) the Second Amendment right to bear arms. See Pruneyard, 447 U.S. at 81 (noting that the state may exercise its police power to adopt individual liberties more expansive than those conferred by the Federal Constitution).As much as I dislike Pruneyard's logic, there is a certain Schadenfreude in seeing a quintessentially liberal decision like Pruneyard used to protect the right to keep and bear arms!
Another interesting aspect of the decision is the question of whether the state law meets the rational basis standard. For those who don't spend their time reading books about constitutional law, the courts have created (largely pulled from where the sun doesn't shine) a series of levels of scrutiny for deciding whether a particular law violates a constitutional right. The lowest level is called "rational basis" and basically means that for the Court to strike down a law for being unconstitutional, the legislature has to be provably insane or lying when they say that the law serves a legitimate governmental purpose. In this case, the Tenth Circuit's decision pointed to the existence of the debate as proving that there was a rational basis for the law:
One professed purpose of the Amendments is the protection of the broader Oklahoma community. We need not decide the long-running debate as to whether allowing individuals to carry firearms enhances or diminishes the overall safety of the community. The very fact that this question is so hotly debated, however, is evidence enough that a rational basis exists for the Amendments.Oh, and did you notice? The Second Amendment--an individual right! And it's nice to be able to say that I played a part in making that happen!
When a supporter of the stimulus package admits that he doesn't know if it will work--that should scare you. From the February 21, 2009 The Hill:
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) backed the $787 billion stimulus but said Saturday that he isn't sure whether it will actually fix the economy.If this had been a relatively small chunk of money--say a few billion dollars, backing something that might or might not work would be acceptable. But they have caused what even the Congressional Budget Office believes will be a long-term degradation in our gross national product, through 2019--and he isn't sure if it will work?
Rendell, at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, said Saturday that all governors are committed to making sure that the stimulus is used for measures that can boost their states out of the recession. But he said that most governors will be watching to see what kind of effect it has on the economy.
If Republicans get control of Congress again in 2010, they shouldn't just rescind spending on the money that hasn't been spent yet--they should be investigating whether there are criminal charges appropriate for any of the players in this madness. And I would be quite interested in seeing if there is anyway to get some of the money back from non-governmental participants in this orgy of spending.
It's from CBC News, February 17, 2009, and has some very nice things to say about his experiences fighting alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan:
Being military, I have often had the occasion to work closely with my American counterparts over the course of my career as well as with those from the UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Ghana, Turkey, Bangladesh, India and a number of smaller nations.He also mentions something that, while it isn't cheap, I'm sure makes life for our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq just a bit more tolerable:
Because of their sheer numbers, I have had the opportunity to work closely with U.S. forces on each of my deployments to Afghanistan. I know there are some Canadians who view the U.S. military and foreign policy with suspicion. But from my own experiences, I am wholeheartedly thankful to call them allies and brothers-in-arms.
When I first had the experience to travel to Bahgram in northern Afghanistan, the site of a large U.S. base, I was astonished to find a Burger King along with a U.S. PX that had a full supply of North American products.Absolutely. Our soldiers are at risk of death, disability, and temporary injuries. When they get home, some significant fraction are going to suffer emotional and psychological consequences associated with their service. We might as well pay to make the situation while they are there as pleasant as possible for them.
It may not seem overly important, but when you have been away from home for four months or more, a burger from Burger King and a case of "real" Coca-Cola can do wonders for morale!
I didn't think much could top that experience until the NATO lieutenant invited me to Camp Phoenix for their weekly steak and lobster barbecue.
As the Americans saw it, if their country was sending them in harms way, they might as well be able to enjoy some common amenities with the folks back home.
I must confess, when I look at the psychological consequences that our armed forces suffer upon return, it is easy to fantasize about solving the problems of the Middle Eastern terrorism in a way that doesn't put our men and women at direct risk. But that would be a horrendous violation of human rights. Besides, the Europeans and Japanese would certainly object; they use Middle Eastern oil more than we do, and it won't do them much good if it's covered by sheets of radioactive glass.
I mentioned a few days ago the man who ran a TV station trying to promote a positive image of Muslims, now charged with beheading his wife. When the subject came up over at Volokh Conspiracy, the usual liberals of course argued that this wasn't specific to Islam, and making a big deal of this domestic murder was just stereotyping and bigotry. One very PC sort argued:
Setting that aside, some sources have suggested that the guy wasn't even a particularly devout Muslim. So it's not automatically an honor killing or what have you. I don't think there's enough information to know whether it was a religious thing, a cultural thing, or simply a domestic violence thing. You don't have to be a Muslim to have anger issues.Another commenter, rather full of the political correctness that was starting to grab hold, observed:
Maybe it was an *accidental* decapitation? I know *I* hate it when that happens.Anyway, more recent news coverage does suggest that, no, the beheading really did have something to do with Islam, and wasn't just domestic violence that got a little carried away. From February 20, 2009 Canada Free Press:
For that matter, is there any proof she didn't decapitate herself? Eh?
Information obtained exclusively by the Northeast Intelligence Network and Canada Free Press by a source close to the investigation during a telephone interview yesterday provides additional insight into the savage murder of the young and once vibrant Aasiya Zubair (Hassan).A steak knife? I want you to think long and hard about that. (You probably don't, however.) Can you imagine the effort and time that it would take to behead someone with a steak knife?
Doug Hagmann, director of the Northeast Intelligence Network and contributor to Canada Free Press, interviewed this police source by telephone, who agreed to speak on the strict condition of anonymity. According to this source, Aasiya Zubair was stabbed multiple times, suffering perhaps as many as three dozen stab wounds with a steak knife in what was described as a “frenzied killing.” She was then beheaded by the same instrument.
Also according to this source, Mr. Hassan told police that because she was beheaded, she would not be permitted entry into paradise, an alleged reference to his Islamic beliefs. “It was all about honor, and the dishonor she [the victim] was bringing upon him and his family,” stated this source. “There was definitely a cultural if not a religious aspect to these incidents,” added this source.
The notion of beheading her so that she can't get into Islamic Paradise may seem like a remarkably vicious thing to do--but hardly unknown. A couple of years ago, I posted a review of Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, a powerful memoir of a woman watching Iran's Islamic Revolution--which she had supported--turn into one of the great barbarous tyrannies. She told how one of her students spent time in prison for participating in anti-Revolutionary demonstrations, shortly after Khomeini came to power. Many of the women who were arrested were passed around by the guards to be raped before being executed, so that there could be certainty that they were "dishonored" and therefore unsuitable for Muslim Paradise. Ditto, for the al-Qaeda affiliates in Indonesia that raped and then beheaded Christian schoolgirls there a few years ago, and the rape of little girls at Beslan by Chechnyan terrorists.
There is a misogny in Islamist radicalism that makes "barefoot and pregnant" look positively feminist.
There is a bill before the Idaho Senate Health & Welfare Committee that makes a number of fairly minor revisions to the current daycare licensing system. (What? You didn't think Idaho licensed daycare? It certainly does.) One of the provisions which seems fairly uncontroversial was not well drafted--and NRA's input on the matter, to prevent it from being overbroad, was apparently ignored.
S.1112 adds a new provision to Idaho Code 39-1102:
(f) Firearms or weapons which are on the premises of a daycare facility must be kept in a locked container that is inaccessible to children while daycare attendees are present;Okay, we don't want toddlers (or even more dangerous, eight or nine year olds) digging around in one of the bedrooms while a harried daycare provider is busily resolving intrapersonal disputes between other clients, finding a handgun, and deciding, "Whoa! This is cool!" and then causing a tragedy. However: this measure, because it isn't carefully worded, prohibits the following situations:
1. Someone has been stalking you. You've taken out a restraining order; obtained a concealed handgun permit; and you carry your gun on you for protection of yourself and your child. You go into the daycare center to pick up your child. The daycare center has now violated this provision. Indeed, if a police officer entered the daycare facility without securing his gun, pepper spray, and baton in a locked container, the daycare center would be in violation of the law. It isn't likely that this would ever cause a problem for the daycare center. But this needs to be fixed.
2. Lots of Idahoans have a gun in their car, for self-protection, or during hunting season. If you pull into the parking lot of the daycare center, is the daycare center in violation of Idaho Code 39-1109? Other provisions of S.1112 with respect to water hazards and fences show that "premises" is not limited to the building itself, but includes the yard--and very likely the parking lot.
I'm going to write to State Senator Corder (who is the author of the bill, and my representative in the state senate) and suggest some more narrowly written language should be considered. Here's the full list of members of the committee that need to hear from that perhaps the language needs to be sharpened to refer specifically to firearms and weapons within the daycare center itself, and exempting otherwise lawful and temporary possession of a firearm by those dropping off or picking up from the daycare center.
Weapons is also inadequately defined. Does it include a broadsword? Sure. A hunting knife? Sure. A Swiss Army knife? A kitchen knife for cutting up vegetables? This needs a more precise definition. By the way, speaking of "weapons"--love the last name of one of the state senators: Broadsword.
State Senator Joyce Broadsword (R-2), Vice-Chair email@example.com
State Senator Denton Darrington (R-27) firstname.lastname@example.org
State Senator John McGee (R-10) email@example.com
State Senator Charles Coiner (R-24) firstname.lastname@example.org
State Senator James Hammond (R-5) email@example.com
State Senator Melinda Smyser (R-11) firstname.lastname@example.org
State Senator Nicole LeFayour (D-19) email@example.com
State Senator Les Bock (D-16) firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE: Senator Corder tells me that this was an oversight--the drafter neglected to include NRA's recommended language. We can stop ripping fresh orifices.
Friday, February 20, 2009
GM's stock price today fell to its lowest price in 70 years--and I don't think that was adjusted for inflation. The total valuation of the company was a bit over one billion dollars. If I were your average software engineer (at least, average of those that I know), I would buy 1/10th of the company, and clean the place out. There is a lot that GM has going for it--but much that desperately needs fixing. But that's a somewhat risky proposition--one that our government shouldn't be taking, without being prepared to do some serious work on labor costs. And the Democrats sure won't do that.
John Lott has a column at Fox News today that really captures the madness of what is now going on:
Would you lend $1.66 million dollars on a house that was worth $100,000? You wouldn’t even take the idea seriously. Bankers would laugh at someone asking for such a loan, and they should.Dr. Lott refers to the "temporary insanity" of the first bailout. It sounds like it isn't temporary for Pelosi!
To make the example even more ridiculous, suppose that the home owner has a negative income - a negative income of $2.3 million last year. That the home owner is expected to lose a lot more money over the next couple of years, and that even if things work perfectly, he might simply stop losing money after 2011. That he lives in a bad neighborhood where almost all his neighbors are in similar in shape.
Even if you had already lent $1.3 million, you would run away from this borrower and simply chalk up the $1.3 million to some temporary insanity.
Well, multiply those numbers by 10,000, and you have the loan situation facing GM. GM is worth only $1 billion, it lost $23 billion, and it wants a loan of $16.6 billion. It may seem small compared to the $5.6 trillion in obligations that the stimulus and bailout are piling up this year, but we are talking about real money here.
President Bush wasn’t thrilled to lend GM the money last December, but Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders wanted the company to remain out of bankruptcy until Obama became president.
So what do the Democrats now say about this new request for money?
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that the money will lead to the “transformation of our domestic automobile industry into a viable, technologically advanced, and globally competitive manufacturing force.”
I do wonder about one thing: what is the immediate cash value of GM's inventory of unsold vehicles, parts, and factories? I know that it would take a long time in today's economy to sell off all those cars, trucks, parts, and manufacturing equipment--but it is hard to imagine that it isn't worth at least one billion dollars. And at least some of the brands are worth something.
The claim that Obama's grandmother says that Obama was born in Kenya--and the continuing expenditure of six figures on legal fees to avoid presenting an original, long form birth certificate of Hawaii--has one additional curious twist. I just found this link to the Kenyan Parliamentary Debates series from last November. It's a congratulatory speech by member of the Parliament on Obama's election--with a most interesting phrase in it, at page 3276:
COMMUNICATION FROM THE CHAIRCurious phrase that. Maybe the Chair just meant, "a descendant of Kenyans." But that's not the most obvious reading of it, is it? As I have said repeatedly, the idea that Obama wasn't born in the United States is pretty preposterous--except for how much work Obama and the DNC have put into avoiding the one simple step that would make all these lawsuits and questions disappear: produce the original long form birth certificate from Hawaii--not the one that Obama keeps showing, and that Hawaii will issue to people who were not born there, but were adopted there.
CONGRATULATORY MESSAGE TO PRESIDENT-ELECT BARRACK OBAMA
Hon. Members, as you may be aware, the people of the United States of America have just had a historic election where the son of this soil, Barrack Hussein Obama, has been elected the 44th President of the United States of America and the first African-American President in the history of that country, please join me in registering and sending this House's congratulations to the President-elect Obama for overcoming great odds to emerge victorious. [emphasis added]
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Something called Business Insider tells us the good news that there's a little desperately needed tax relief in the Porkulus Bill for someone who clearly needs it:
Billionaire Paul Allen is a Microsoft cofounder, the owner of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and the owner of the NBA's Portland Trailblazers.
And, thanks to the stimulus bill President Obama signed this week, he's also about to be as much as a billion dollars richer.
Not clear how a corporate tax benefit would be passed through to Paul's personal tax payments? A reader informs us:
- Allen owns a majority stake in cable provider Charter Communications.
- Charter Communications this month said it would reduce its debt load by $8 billion and enter Chapter 11.
- Normally, partners at a firm like Charter Communications would have to pay taxes on the amount of debt forgiven in this process, which is, in a sense a one-time income windfall. Tax law calls it a "deemed distribution."
- But under the new bill, companies like Charter Communications will be able to avoid paying taxes on forgiven debt until 2014. Even then, Paul will have until 2018 to pay it completely off.
- Paul owns about half of Charter, so his share of the Charter Commuincations' $8 billion debt forgiveness is around $4 billion. At a tax rate of 25%, Allen could avoid paying as much as $1 billion in taxes until 2014, tax expert Robert Willens told the WSJ.
"It's not a 'corporate tax' since it's a partnership rather than a corporation. The partners pay tax on their share of a partnerships income, which is why partnerships are referred to as "pass-through" entities."For what it's worth, one of Paul's representatives told the WSJ the billionaire didn't lobby for the windfall. It just fell into his lap, lucky dog.
But there is something coming that will. Jonathan Adler over at Volokh Conspiracy points to the news accounts that EPA is probably going to go ahead and regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. (For example, this February 19, 2009 International Herald Tribune article.) He points out the likely consequences:
Regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act will create a regulatory train-wreck. It will impose substantial costs, and yet fail to meet the President's ambitious emission reduction targets (80% by 2050). For this reason, many believe that the prospect of loosing the Clean Air Act on carbon dioxide (combined with the unleashing of the Endangered Species Act as a consequence of the polar bear listing) will encourage Congress to enact climate legislation. That's when the real fun will begin. If, as the President has suggested, Congress puts forward a cap-and-trade proposal, it will unleash a feeding frenzy of rent-seeking, as every conceivable industry and interest group seeks to protect its own or gain competitive advantage. This is one reason why I would prefer a revenue-neutral carbon tax, combined with policies to accelerate technological innovation and adoption -- but I'm not holding my breath.There is simply no strong argument for adopting any sort of regulation right now based on the current science. What is driving this is environmentalism as hair shirt--a bunch of comfortable and sometimes obscenely rich yuppies who feel terribly guilty, and are intent on doing something to alleviate their guilt. The polar ice pack is back to 1979 coverage (although not thickness). This is completely unnecessary.
Adler is right: if the choice was a straightforward carbon tax, vs. cap-and-trade, it is obvious which is the better choice. As I mentioned a couple of years ago, the European attempt at cap-and-trade, their "emissions trading system" failed to reduce carbon emissions.
Why? Because cap-and-trade locks into place the advantage of those who are already in position, burning coal, petroleum, or whatever. It will be like the tobacco allotment system, whereby some "tobacco farmers" who have never grown tobacco in their lives--but inherited the rights to grow it from a grandparent--sell those rights to people that actually grow it. Companies that have been producing carbon dioxide in vast quantities for decades will be allowed to sell the rights to continue burning coal to companies that have never received any benefit from it. You can see why Democrats are so partial to this scheme; it's perfect for their preferred strategy of using government to redistribute wealth upwards, and maintain the status quo.
There's also the gross dishonesty of the whole matter. The only way in which carbon dioxide can be accurately called a "pollutant" is by the same standard that oxygen or water vapor can be called a pollutant. Yes, in high enough concentrations, it would be a bad idea. A 90% oxygen atmosphere at current pressures would be a serious problem. So would a 95% water vapor atmosphere at current pressures.
Whether it is done through a carbon tax, or cap-and-trade, to actually make the difference the environmental extremists want will mean a dramatic slowing of the economy. The long-term negative effects of the porkulus bill will be utterly lost in the destruction of the U.S. economy. If this doesn't cause a change in control of Congress in 2010--or if the Republicans get up there, and get bought off with little girls and boys again--I can guarantee you that this is the sort of monkeywrenching of the economy that will bring the masses to armed revolution.
Revolutions are not caused by poor people; they are usually too hungry and listless to do anything that energetic. A slow decline in living standards usually doesn't drive the middle class to revolution; each individual cut is so small, that it doesn't provoke enough rage to risk everything. But sudden sharp jolts in living standards or expectations can make middle class people say, "It's now. Or we may be too poor in five years to make a real difference."
And that these guys operate with impunity is the obvious implication when you see them funding major political events. From ABC News:
Offshore banking experts say that the fraud charges this week against accused financial scammer R. Allen Stanford have been a long time coming.Michelle Malkin points out that while the Federal Election Commission didn't find anything actually criminal about Obama's unusually low mortgage rate deal on the house with the strange Rezko involvement, it is pretty clear that rank has its privileges. Politicians get special deals because they are in a position to reward their friends.
"There's no surprise at all," said Washington lawyer and IRS consultant Jack Blum. "This man has been on law enforcement's radar screen for the better part of 10 years."
But the SEC didn't move forward until this week, after two former Stanford Financial whistleblowers filed an alleged lawsuit, which revealed how the bank lied about too-good-to-be-true certificates of deposit.
"The problem was the published returns that many advisors use to present to clients and prospects," said former Stanford Group employee Mark Tidwell, "that now we knew that information was incorrect."
Federal authorities tell ABC News that the FBI and others have been investigating whether Stanford was involved in laundering drug money for Mexico's notorious Gulf Cartel.
Authorities tell ABC News that as part of the investigation, which has been ongoing since last year, Mexican authorities detained one of Stanford's private planes. According to officials, checks found inside the plane were believed to be connected to the Gulf cartel, reputed to be Mexico's most violent gang. Authorities say Stanford could potentially face criminal charges of money laundering and bribery of foreign officials.
A video posted on the firm's web-site shows Stanford, now sought by U.S. Marshals, being hugged by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and praised by former President Bill Clinton for helping to finance a convention-related forum and party put on by the National Democratic Institute.
"I would like to thank the Stanford Financial Group for helping to underwrite this," Clinton said to the crowd at the event.
Stanford Financial was listed as the "lead benefactor" for the gathering, and Stanford was permitted to address the audience of several hundred.
The SEC charged yesterday that Stanford was running a fraudulent investment scheme that may have bilked customers out of as much as $8 billion.
Stanford's whereabouts are unknown and U.S. Marshals say they are searching for him.
Over the last decade, Stanford has spent more than $7 million on lobbyists and campaign contributions to Washington politics in both parties, although the vast majority of the money has gone to Democrats.
Yes, the Republicans have crooked influence peddlers like Jack Abramoff, but the sheer volume of Democratic crooks popping out of the woodwork right now is so huge that it is impossible to keep track of all of them. And regardless of party, the corrupting influence of big money on legislation makes it all the more critical that we start electing members of Congress at random from the voter rolls, just to remove the influence of money on elections.
There's only problem with that: that would require amending the U.S. Constitution. Which would require both House and Senate to pass such an amendment by 2/3 vote. Which would bring the orgy of influence peddling (more about that in the next post, about carbon dioxide) to end. Which means that only when a new Constitutional Convention is held in the ashes of the current disorder, will that happen.
I'm too busy doing my taxes this evening, and still not completely recovered from this bad cold. But seeing that EPA is looking to bring carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act suggests that we may not be just figuratively, but literally, heading for a pitchforks and torches situation. Poor people don't normally rise up in revolution; people who have been reasonably comfortable and suddenly get plunged into something much worse start revolutions.
UPDATE: I must be pretty much recovered from this cold; the choice was go to sleep early, or blog about important issues. I think I'll blog.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Amusing video (a bit blurry, but you get the idea) about how not to use Powerpoint.
My friend Dave Hardy was defending Arizona rancher Roger Barnett in a lawsuit filed by illegal aliens upset that they had been arrested by Barnett while trespassing on his land. It was only a partial victory, but on the really dangerous part of the suit, Barnett won. From the February 18, 2009 Washington Times:
A federal jury in Tucson ruled Tuesday that an Arizona rancher did not violate the civil rights of 16 Mexican nationals he stopped after they sneaked illegally into the United States, but awarded $78,000 in actual and punitive damages on claims of assault and the infliction of emotional distress.The article goes on to remind us what sort of people Barnett arrested:
The jury of four men and four women returned the verdict Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Tucson after a day and a half of deliberation. The jury, after a nine-day trial, also threw out charges of false imprisonment, battery and conspiracy against Douglas, Ariz., rancher Roger Barnett.
In a case that generated national outrage over the ability of Americans to stop illegal immigrants, most of the award - about $60,000 - was for punitive damages.
The illegal immigrants, five women and 11 men, had sought $32 million in actual and punitive damages - $2 million each - in a lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). The allegations were based on a March 7, 2004, incident in which Mr. Barnett approached a group of illegal immigrants while he patrolled his ranch carrying a gun and accompanied by his dog.
The ranch has become a major corridor for armed drug and immigrant smugglers.
Mr. Barnett's attorney, David T. Hardy of Tucson, described the decision as an "80 percent victory," adding that he wished he and his client "would have gotten the other 20 percent." But he said he would appeal the decision, citing what he called "solid grounds." He also said U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, who heard the case, was "scrupulously fair" during the trial.
One of the 16 illegal immigrants allowed to bring the lawsuit is a convicted felon deported from the U.S. after a 1993 arrest on federal drug charges, court records show. Gerardo Gonzalez, 38, was convicted in September 1993 of possession of a controlled substance for sale and ordered deported to his home country.I think the government should be rewarding Barnett for doing their work for them. That assumes, of course, that our government thinks enforcing immigration laws is worth anything.
In a March 2007 deposition, Border Patrol agent Manuel Rodriquez said agents ran a records check of those detained on the Barnett ranch in the 2004 incident and found that other members of the party had made prior attempts at illegal entry.
Dave discusses his work on the case--and why he thinks that they will win even the $78,000 amount on appeal, here. He also gives instructions for contributing to Barnett's legal fees:
This from a supporter of Roger: "Anyone interested in making a contribution to Roger's defense by check, please send and address funds directly to:This seems like a good idea to me!
Roger Barnett Legal Defense Fund
1498 E. Fry Blvd.
Sierra Vista, AZ 85635
or by Credit Card: call Barnett's Towing: 1-800-722-2303
- Tell them you want to make a credit card contribution to the Roger Barnett Legal Defense Fund
- At this time, there is no mechanism for making credit card contributions over the internet."
How do you determine the distance to a remote object without using a rangefinder? Most riflescope reticles are crosshairs, usually thick at the edges, thin where they cross. You can determine what the width and height of the thin part of the crosshairs are with a little bit of measurement, and a little math.
Take your riflescope, and position it in the largest room of your house (because it may not focus close enough in the smaller rooms). Find an object that exactly fills 1/2 of the thin part of the crosshairs (the space between the cross and where the crosshair gets thick). Measure the distance from the scope to the object, and the diameter of the object. The 1/2 of the thin part of the crosshairs subtends an angle calculated by:
degrees = 57.296 * object diameter / distance
Make sure that your units for object diameter and distance are the same! Let's say that it is 25 feet from scope to object, and the object is 1 inch in diameter. The math tells us that the space between the cross and the thick part of the crosshair is 11.45 minutes of arc. Almost certainly, it is actually a 10 minute of arc space--you just haven't measured all that accurately.
How much is 10 minutes of arc? By a happy coincidence, one minute of arc (moa) is almost exactly one inch at 100 yards. (One inch at 100 yards is actually 0.955 moa, but that's close enough that for ballistics below 500 yards we can treat them as identical--the inherent uncertainties of bullet weight and powder variations will outweigh these minor errors.)
If you need to figure out the distance to a remote target, you now have a measuring stick. Most game animals are about 18" across the brisket. (By coincidence, a soldier is also about 18" across the torso.) If a deer's brisket fills the thin part of the crosshairs, but nothing outside of the crosshairs, it is slightly more than 100 yards away. If it fills only half the space--so from the cross to where the hair becomes thick--it is twice that distance, or slightly more than 200 yards away.
The same technique is used by snipers and hunters when working at unknown distances. The standard exterior door is 36" wide, and 80" tall. If a door frame vertically fits into the thin part of the crosshairs (which in our example is 20 moa), that means that it is 80"/20" * 100 yards--or 400 yards away. If it just fits between the cross and the thick part of the crosshairs, it is 80"/10" * 100 yards--or 800 yards away.
I mentioned earlier that 1 inch at 100 yards isn't exactly 1 moa; it's actually .955 moa. How far off does this mess up rangefinding at longer distances? At 400 yards, that 80" doorframe is actually 19.10 moa, not 20 moa--so if you use these formulae to figure out the distance, you are likely going to be off by about 4.5%. You estimate, because it fills a 20 moa spot in your scope, that it is 400 yards--but it is actually 383 yards. This is not a huge difference, but it does mean that the bullet is going to arrive several inches higher than your point of aim.
This discrepancy becomes more and more important above 500 yards, because most bullets, by this point, are falling very rapidly under the influence of gravity, so a 4.5% error in range will result in a bullet hitting many inches above the aimpoint. There are people who go after elk and other game animals at these kind of distances--but if so, they need to be prepared to think of that 10 moa "measuring stick" on their reticle as 9.6" at 100 yards, 48" at 500 yards, and 96" at 1000 yards, instead of the easier to calculate, 10", 50", and 100", respectively.