Saturday, May 30, 2009

Illinois 2010 Budget: Tax Increase Can be avoided

A lot of citizens of Illinois are feeling the pinch these days. Increasing taxes to pay for spending which increased greatly due to both good times and Governor Blagojevich while the economy now sputters seems sheer folly. In Maryland, a recent tax increase resulted in a large number of the wealthy simply vanishing. While this disappearance may have been to hard times, the suspicion is simply that they moved. We don't need this in Illinois, where the the Illinois Policy Institute points out that Illinois is spending 21% more than it takes in.

Is it is possible to balance Illinois' budget without a "doomsday" scenario? The Illinois Policy Institute has written a 27 page article which shows how the state budget could be balanced without a tax increase. The Tribune has already endorsed the plan. In addition, the Civic Federation has a 96 page analysis of the 2010 Illinois budget complete with recommendations.

Let's hope that our legislature can use some common sense, and not beleaguer the hard-pressed people of this state with an additional income tax burden. It's good to know that there are solutions. What we can hope for is that they will be adopted.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Student Freedom of Speech and Sonya Sotomayor

“The system of public education that has evolved in this Nation relies necessarily upon the discretion and judgment of school administrators and school board members,” and we are not authorized to intervene absent “violations of specific constitutional guarantees.”

Bloggers unite! One year ago today, Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonya Sotomayor, was a member of the court which upheld removing a student from elective class office for calling the principal of her public high school a name on her Live Journal blog. The blog was written from home, not school. The case is called Doninger v. Nihoff, and you can read all about it here.

A Democratic Nation Founded on Christian Ideals

If President John F. Kennedy were still alive, today he would be 91. He might be shocked at how his party and its views have changed. Two quotes from early in his administrataion may interest you. The first one is from Kennedy's Inaugural address: "The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."

On January 31,1961, less than two weeks later, Kennedy he wrote to Brazil's President, Janio da Silva Quadros, saying,"Once in every 20 years presidential inaugurations in your country and mine occur within days of each other. This year of 1961 is signalized by the happy coincidence. At this time, each of us assumes challenging duties . . . To each of us is entrusted the heavy responsibility of guiding the affairs of a democratic nation founded on Christian ideals."

h/t The American Minute

Should It Be a Crime to be Stupid?

The answer is easy: it should not be a crime to be stupid. Unfortunately, a man in Aloha, Oregon was not only arrested, but put in jail for just that. While it may not be the wisest idea to call 911 about a botched order at McDonald's, you might want to listen to these 911 calls at the Washington County News to see a current example of police abuse. While Ray Osman, 20, was booked on improper use of 911, the phone calls reveal that both Osman and the McDonald's employee were simply unaware that a non-emergency line should be used.

Since one of the basic duties of the police is to keep the peace, you might be as offended as I was. Of interest, is that the McDonald's employee, who also called, apparently was not charged. What is particularly offensive is that the 911 dispatcher asked a number of questions rather than referring the callers to a non-emergency line. The short audio reveals that both callers were very respectful. While the article recounts that Osman than blocked the drive-thru lane and knocked on the restaurant's windows, that sounds a lot more like disturbing the peace than wrongful use of 911.

Let's hope that the judge is on the side of justice, and dismisses this case.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Squeezing Tax Dollars from Turnips

I was quite taken by a number of headlines on Drudge this morning. Citizens' credit scores are falling as they struggle to pay bills, IRS revenue is down 34%, China--America's biggest creditor--is warning us to stop printing money, and Rahm Emanuel's brother suggests that we need a 10% European-style, national Value Added Tax (VAT). It is amazing to me that just as the financial markets decreed that the usual rules regarding extension of credit no longer applied just before the credit meltdown, the White House believes that they can escape the usual rules of economics and squeeze tax dollars out of turnip taxpayers.

What part of the dismal science does the White House fail to understand? Do they seriously believe that, given falling demand for goods, demand will stabilize or increase when prices increase?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Giving Thanks on Memorial Day

"They were young, strong, enthusiastic and brave. They were fond of life, action and struggle, of honest ennobling labour that opens the ways of human destiny. But they loved still more their Motherland; they loved Justice, Liberty, Ideals without which life were worthless.

"They were told that on the other side of the world, over the immense ocean, an unprecedented tragedy was being enacted in blood and tears; that, contrary to all Justice, a small people was being enslaved; that all the nations were trembling for their liberty; that barbarians were trampling down Civilization as in the time of Attila; that henceforth there was no country that was not imperiled.

"And so at once they gave themselves; they took up arms; they sailed away, not once thinking that their sublime deed would ever receive any other reward than that of the triumph of Right."
- from a speech given in Antwerp by the Belgian Minister of National Defense, M. Albert Devèze, on May 30, 1921, as the bodies of American soldiers from World War I were being sent home to America from Belgium
* * *
Today we give thanks for those American soldiers who loved liberty more than self, losing everything to give us the precious gift of freedom.

Fleeing from the Taliban: Pakistan IDP's in Need

Unfortunately, this charming picture of a little boy with his sheep in the Swat Valley in Pakistan is not charming at all. The boy is one of about one million (and some are saying two million) Pakistani internally displaced persons, or IDP's, refugees in their own country. Not technically homeless, they have left their villages and farms for safety while troops continue to fight against the Taliban. Many are staying with family or friends around Islamabad, but some are in camps or living along the highway in tents--some very makeshift. Because the war-affected area is more of an agricultural economy than a money economy, these people may have arrived to safety, but a great number have almost nothing. Most farmers have had to abandon their farm animals and in-the-ground crops.

As we sit around and contemplate our lost or delayed retirements years into the future due to our economy, these displaced people are worrying about dinner tonight and how to obtain medicine for sick family members, many of whom walked to safety.

Americans love to help the less fortunate, but helping in difficult areas and situations such as this gives many pause. While it received very little publicity, Hillary Clinton, in a press conference on Tuesday, shared a way that Americans can easily contribute small amounts. Simply take your cellphone and text the word "Swat" to the number 20222. While the American government is giving $100 million in aid, these contributions will be made to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees to provide tents, food, clothing and medicine. On Friday, Pakistan appealed directly to the US public for help via these small contributions.

UPDATE: The NWFP Provincial government has put together a very interesting website, and the latest count of internally displaced persons is 1, 987,980.

Fastest Web Browsers

If you aren't an IT professional, you might never think about how the web browser you are using influences your view of the Internet. About the first thing I did at home when I installed Internet Explorer 7 for a test run was uninstall it. Nevertheless, millions of Americans are forced to use this incredibly slow browser at work. While I don't think its use has added to the economy's downturn, it surely has created a decline in worker productivity as office workers go off in search of coffee while waiting for pages to load.

Pictured above (just click on the picture if you want it larger) is a graph with the results of speed tests of various browsers as measured against IE7 at a benchmark of "1." Since I have tried most of those browsers at one time or another, I enjoyed reading the article at betanews.

h/t Google News

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Cars Don't Sell Make Sure You Increase the Price

I can't think of a better image than a bully kicking sand on the beach to describe the latest car news from Washington, D.C. Kicking the car companies and the people who drive their cars when they are down barely begins to describe what is happening. Car payments stretching 72 months into the future aren't uncommon these days and cars still aren't selling. Can't afford a car? Hey, Washington willl make one even more unaffordable!! Don't worry, though, your car mileage will improve under strict new regulations. Now that's progress!

Car sales are so miniscule that the future of the car companies is in grave doubt. GM has been nationalized. Those in the know understand the plan: individual safety will be sacrificed for the good of the state. And the administration is working day and night to ensure that the last car you own you may be driving now.

Thank goodness we don't have to worry about all those people who make their living building cars. Since the current president was a great favorite of the unions, the jobless must be delighted.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the car mess, saying "Mr. Obama was supposed to be smart. His administration was supposed to be a smart administration. But the policy coming out has not been smart. It has been a brute shifting of power to the president's political allies . . . With no overarching philosophy in evidence, the art of the possible has come to define the Obama administration. One thing that has proved possible is an untrammeled power grab over the auto industry."

Monday, May 18, 2009

First Look at Wolfram Alpha a Bust

Since I knew you would be expecting a report, I decided to check that highly publicized new website, Wolfram Alpha. Theoretically, it will give Google a run for it's money. First look review: don't waste your time or sell your Google stock. While I am sure it has some bugs to work out, Wolfram Alpha not only loaded slowly, it also timed out. It's brilliance? I decided to type in "Brandenburg Concerto," the famous pieces by J.S. Bach known to nearly everyone, as my search term. The result? "WolframAlpha isn't sure what to do with your input."

Giving Wolfram another try, I clicked on music, then typed in "Brandenburg Concerto." Wolfram Alpha still didn't know what to do with my input, so I gave up.

I would note that a Google search for "Brandenburg Concerto" was much more fertile. The first few results included the score, 2 Youtube performances of selections, the Wikipedia entry, and a link to an article at NPR with a 58 minute program featuring a performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Update: Did I give up too soon? The Guardian reports that Wolfram Alpha is very useful for the question, "mount everest height divided by length of golden gate bridge." And over at Mashable, they asked a number of clever questions, and the responses were quite interesting.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Guns and Butter Update: Obama Lectures Public About National Debt

What??? Does Barack Obama think the Chinese are buying our credit card debt and will soon grow tired of that? That would be Treasury Debt, Mr. Obama. That is how your crazy, amazing spending program is being paid for, by borrowing 50¢ on the dollar, some of which is being fronted by the Chinese. Oh, and do ask Alexi about how the vig works next time he comes over to shoot some hoops. That makes for more debt!!!

How can any sane person explain why--after pushing and prodding and presiding over the passage of legislation creating the largest debt increase of debt load in the history of the United States and in the world--the America people are suddenly being lectured and warned by their president about our heavy national debt load? Anybody got the key to the asylum around here? This is totally nuts and I want out!

Note: US Government borrowing has quadrupled while tax revenues have been falling. Only the government still thinks no income verification loans are really spiffy. Apparently the President is thinking of a big tax increase. Could someone please tell them that even if the rates are doubled some people still will be sending smaller checks this year than last?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama Administration: Lawless and Corrupt?

"The Obama administration is bold. It also is careless regarding constitutional values and is acquiring a tincture of lawlessness. . . The administration's central activity -- the political allocation of wealth and opportunity -- is not merely susceptible to corruption, it is corruption." -George Will

One of the most amazing developments of the Obama administration is the lack of regard for the rule of law. No one, including me, ever would have expected a Constitutional Law lecturer at the University of Chicago to display such an utter lack of understanding of American personal liberties and the role of the United States Constitution,. This is especially troubling, given the vast number of lawyers educated at some of the finest law schools in the United States in the Obama White House. Political commentator George Will has addressed this issue in his column today, and I recommend it highly.

Hallo? Taliban Calling

"We are killing the people which are only no good for society, like thieves and people who are making problem for the poor people, like people who are working for army," he said. "We are only killing these people." - Muslim Khan, Taliban spokesman as quoted by CNN

"Beheading innocent people and kidnapping are in no way condoned in Islam." - Sahibzada Fazal Karim, leader of Jamiat-e-ulema-e-Pakistan

While a Taliban spokesman busies himself by using his cell phone to call media outlets and give interviews, nearly one million internally displaced persons have massed on the Pakistan - Afghanistan border. Barack Obama is keeping his campaign promise to pull troops out of Iraq and refocus what was formerly known as the War on Terror.

While almost every story that comes out of the refugee camps is heart-rending, it is nearly impossible to sort-out truth from fiction when it comes to the actual story. In a war for hearts and minds, a good story is a good piece of propaganda.

Richard Holbrooke, the USA special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said he was not in a position to say how the military offensive in Swat was going because he had not yet received an authentic report from the field.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stimulus Package Failing to Help Those Who Need Help Most

"What are these people going to do? Is everybody going to go on welfare? I've never been on welfare. I don't want to be on welfare." - A former factory worker in Pennsylvania who was hoping for road work from the stimulus package.

Sad news. The stimulus package--half of which is borrowed money--isn't helping the neediest, after all. the AP is reporting that stimulus funds aren't going to the counties hit hardest by unemployment, and the citizens are feeling discouraged.

Meanwhile, back in Washington D.C., the president was giggling when comedian Wanda Sykes wished a painful death to conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, who has been critical of administration policies. Not a pretty picture.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day to You!

Happy Mother's Day! Could it be more beautiful? While it might be nice if it were a little warmer, this cool weather means we can enjoy the beautiful blooming trees a little longer. I am off to outside!

Friday, May 08, 2009

KFC Grilled Chicken Giveaway: "You'll Get What We Give You!"

One of our more enterprising family members got a couple of those KFC coupons for free Kentucky Grilled Chicken on Wednesday, and talked me into heading over to a local KFC for the Oprah grilled chicken giveaway. I had seen a number of reports on the giveaway, ranging from near food riots to fairly efficient service and didn't have much to do, so I said, sure I'll go. Having viewed countless KFC ads for their new grilled chicken product I was pretty curious.

As we approached the store, cars were wrapped around the drive-thru. When we entered, there was no sign of commerce. Patrons were standing around quietly loitering. No one was at the cash register.  No orders were being taken. No chicken was being delivered. Everyone had a coupon. And there was no smoke and no one grilling chicken. As we stood in the line debating whether to leave or stay, we found out that the loiterers were waiting for food to be delivered, and the people in line were waiting for orders to be taken.

Every so often a man who surely trained with Seinfeld's soup nazi,  would come out and yell things: "No gravy for the mashed potatoes!" "People at the back of the line, they may end the promotion before we get to you!" and the best one of all, "You'll take what we give you!" Having seen similar routines on Saturday night live, we decided to wait it out and enjoy the live theatre which was improv at its best. One woman wangled her way to the front of the queue by shouting out "Hey, if I get a whole bucket and pay for it can I be first?" A couple of customers came in who just wanted to buy fried chicken. While plenty was visible, since no orders were being taken, after a few minutes in line they just gave up and left.

Finally, after an hour of comedy, we got our chicken. Not only was it quite tasty, the potatoes had gravy!  How chicken gets grilled without a grill remained a mystery, but our free KFC grilled chicken was the best entertainment in town.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

National Day of Prayer

Oh Dear! Today is our National Day of Prayer and it's looking more like the Thirty Year's War. I was wondering why the president is ignoring a day dedicated to prayer for our nation--limiting his involvement to issuing a proclamation--but after doing a little research, I understand. After all, someone who leapfrogs from being Emil Jones' yes-man in the Illinois Senate to President of the United States in half a dozen years doesn't do that without mastering duck-and-cover.

The National Day of Prayer Taskforce--a private group--has put up a very nice comprehensive website complete with live videos, a link to local events, and numerous prayer resources.  For some odd reason it also features  a NASCAR "National Day of Prayer" racing car, too,  which I suppose might just be a religious symbol in the rural South. While the name of the group might make you think there's something official about them, there isn't. They focus on the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States, specifically Christianity.  The Jewish website people--despite there being a special Seder at the White House earlier this year-- are pretty angry at the Taskforce, who they claim are highjacking the day for their own views.  Another group website is partnering with the Inclusive people,  but their agenda seems much more about politics than anything spiritual. They suggest writing your Congressman that the day lacks inclusion, and that is about as far from prayer as one can get. In fact, they seem to be a political website without anything about religion at all. Heaven help us!

Personally, I can't think of a better idea than for the White House just to invite all the various religions over for some shared prayer, as George Bush used to do. I seem to remember that in past years National Day of Prayer events have  been held at the National Cathedral, which of course not a government institution. This gave Congress a chance to put in some non-controversial facetime while acting cordial to one another. Unfortunately, the National Cathedral will be spending the morning hours preparing for the afternoon funeral of the late Congressman Jack Kemp.

With all the bad news lately, I think it's a good day to pray for our country no matter what religion you like. One good thought: "Prayer has always been used in this country for guidance, protection and strength-even before we were a nation or a handful of colonies. The Pilgrims at Plymouth relied on prayer during their first and darkest winter. Our founding fathers also called for prayer during the Constitutional Congress. In their eyes, our recently created nation and freedoms were a direct gift from God. And being a gift from God, there was only one way to insure protection-through prayer."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Joe Biden's Viewpoints Marginalized by the White House

Frankly, if you were in such need of advice that you had to take it from a government official, would you be inclined to take it from a grandfather with years of government policy experience or a cocky 45 year old who doesn't even know how many states there are in the Union? That one isn't hard.

"I think the vice president misrepresented what the vice president wanted to say," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in responding to questions about Biden's advice to his family to stay out of crowded places for the moment while swine flu is studied. Later in the day, Gibbs was questioned further saying "I understand what he said. I'm telling you what he meant to say." 

If I were Joe Biden I would be pretty steamed. But you can't be a long-term Washington survivor and not understand party loyalty, so I imagine he won't be saying much. Isn't it fair though to think that a president will show some respect for his #2 in command?

Meanwhile, the current president continues with his unabated advice to the American electorate who he must believe are in great need of parenting from him. I am awaiting what is surely about to be announced in serious and sonorous tones read from his favorite teleprompter: "Remember to brush after every meal, and don't forget to floss." No wonder that Wednesday's press conference where he self-reported that he is making a brand new, better America had about half the viewers as his last prime-time special. How long can it be until the Nation realizes that they are no longer 16, and they not only have the car keys but the car as well?

UPDATE: The award winning blog, Inside Surgery, says "The best strategy for surviving an influenza pandemic is to not get it at all. Avoiding crowded places, starting today, is one thing people can do to improve the odds of that happening."