Thursday, July 31, 2008

'Questions for Obama' by George F. Will

"Senator, concerning the criteria by which you will nominate judges, you said: 'We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.' Such sensitivities might serve an admirable legislator, but what have they to do with judging? Should a judge side with whichever party in a controversy stirs his or her empathy? Is such personalization of the judicial function inimical to the rule of law?

Voting against the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts, you said: Deciding 'truly difficult cases' should involve 'one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.' Is that not essentially how Chief Justice Roger Taney decided the Dred Scott case? Should other factors say, the language of the constitutional or statutory provision at issue matter?

You say, 'The insurance companies, the drug companies, they're not going to give up their profits easily when it comes to health care.' Why should they? Who will profit from making those industries unprofitable? When pharmaceutical companies have given up their profits, who will fund pharmaceutical innovations, without which there will be much preventable suffering and death? What other industries should 'give up' their profits'?

ExxonMobil's 2007 profit of $40.6 billion annoys you. Do you know that its profit, relative to its revenue, was smaller than Microsoft's and many other corporations'? And that reducing ExxonMobil's profits will injure people who participate in mutual funds, index funds and pension funds that own 52 percent of the company?

You say John McCain is content to 'watch [Americans'] home prices decline.' So, government should prop up housing prices generally? How? Why? Were prices ideal before the bubble popped? How does a senator know ideal prices? Have you explained to young couples straining to buy their first house that declining prices are a misfortune?

Telling young people 'don't go into corporate America,' your wife, Michelle, urged them to become social workers or others in 'the helping industry,' not 'the moneymaking industry.' Given that the moneymakers pay for 100 percent of American jobs, in both public and private sectors, is it not helpful?

Michelle, who was born in 1964, says that most Americans' lives have 'gotten progressively worse since I was a little girl.' Since 1960, real per capita income has increased 143 percent, life expectancy has increased by seven years, infant mortality has declined 74 percent, deaths from heart disease have been halved, childhood leukemia has stopped being a death sentence, depression has become a treatable disease, air and water pollution have been drastically reduced, the number of women earning a bachelor's degree has more than doubled, the rate of homeownership has increased 10.2 percent, the size of the average American home has doubled, the percentage of homes with air conditioning has risen from 12 to 77, the portion of Americans who own shares of stock has quintupled. Has your wife perhaps missed some pertinent developments in this country that she calls 'just downright mean'?

You favor raising the capital gains tax rate to '20 percent or 25 percent.' You say this will not 'distort' economic decision making. Your tax returns on your 2007 income of $4.2 million show that you and Michelle own few stocks. Are you sure you understand how investors make decisions?

During the ABC debate, you acknowledged that when the capital gains rate was dropped first to 20 percent, then to 15 percent, government revenues from the tax increased and they declined in the 1980s when it was increased to 28 percent. Nevertheless, you said you would consider raising the rate 'for purposes of fairness.' How does decreasing the government's financial resources and punishing investors promote fairness? Are you aware that 20 percent of taxpayers reporting capital gains in 2006 had incomes of less than $50,000?

You favor eliminating the cap on earnings subject to the 12.4 percent Social Security tax, which now covers only the first $102,000. A Chicago police officer married to a Chicago public-school teacher, each with 20 years on the job, have a household income of $147,501, so you would take another $5,642 from them. Are they under taxed? Are they too rich?

This November, electorates in four states will vote on essentially this language: 'The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.' Three states, California , Washington and Michigan have enacted such language. You made a radio ad opposing the Michigan initiative. Why? Are those states' voters racists?

You denounce President Bush for arrogance toward other nations. Yet you vow to use a metaphorical 'hammer' to force revisions of trade agreements unless certain weaker nations adjust their labor, environmental and other domestic policies to suit you. Can you define cognitive dissonance?

You want 'to reduce money in politics.' In February and March you raised $95 million. See prior question.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Points to Ponder

"It's almost August, the time each year when many American families go on vacation. But if you're like many Americans, you're crunching the numbers and realizing this year's vacation won't be like recent years past. The cost of gasoline and its spillover effect on the price of food - and, well, everything else - has left your family with less money to spend. That's why over half of Americans are reconsidering taking vacation this summer to save money.

"It's against this backdrop that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the rest of the leadership in Congress will have to make a big choice.

"With so many Americans skipping vacation this summer because of the high cost of gas, should Congress get to go on a five week vacation without doing anything about it?" - Newt Gingrich

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Protecting Illegal Aliens
at the Expense of American Citizens

It was a Sunday afternoon last June and Anthony Bologna and his sons Michael and Matthew were almost home from their family picnic. Anthony, driving the family car, briefly blocked another car from completing a left turn down a narrow San Francisco street. Angered by this momentary delay in his trip, according to police reports, Edwin Ramos got out of the car and opened fire on the Bologna’s car with an AK-47, shooting all three men. Tony Bologna, 48, and his son Michael, 20, died at the scene, and Matthew, 16, died a few days later in the hospital.

Police arrested Ramos a short time later, believing he was the gunman, although two other men were seen in the car with him. Ramos is an El Salvador native and a reputed member of the notorious gang known as MS-13, one of hundreds or thousands of illegal aliens in San Francisco who have benefited from the city's long-standing practice of protecting illegal immigrant juveniles who have committed felonies from possible deportation, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

Now charged with three murders, the 21 year-old Ramos was previously found guilty of two felonies as a juvenile: attempting to rob a pregnant woman, and as part of a gang-related assault on a city bus passenger. By all accounts, Ramos is a vicious animal who has no business being in the United States, and no business being in San Francisco.

Officials with the city's Juvenile Probation Department failed to alert federal immigration authorities following both of the felony convictions because it was the agency's policy not to consider immigration status when deciding how to deal with an offender. Had city officials investigated, they would have found that Ramos lacked legal status to remain in the United States, and should be deported. Three members of the Bologna family would likely be alive today if that had happened.

This may be the most horrific example of crimes caused by illegal aliens who are not prosecuted or deported under federal law, but it is only one of a long list of deaths and injuries of American citizens caused by illegals sheltered by “sanctuary city” policies. A sanctuary city is one that does not allow its resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by prohibiting police or municipal employees from asking people about their immigration status.

Rafael Ramirez Perez was driving at a high speed and passing cars in a reckless manner on State Route 67 near El Cajon, Cal., clipping a few cars and causing an accident that injured three people. Shortly thereafter Perez plowed head-on into twenty-two year-old Amy Kortlang's car, killing her. Perez, who was arrested and convicted four times previously, had been deported in March 2006, only to sneak back into the country and kill the innocent 22 year-old American woman seven months later.

Authorities report Pastor Rios Sanchez, 55, was charged with killing Helen Meghan Hughes, 22, of Summerville, S.C.; Jennifer Carter, 18, of Jacksonville, N.C.; and Hughes' stepbrother, 16-year-old Ben Leonard. Sanchez’ car crossed the center line and collided head on with Hughes' station wagon. Sanchez was held on $75,000 bail on three counts of involuntary manslaughter and also may face charges of carrying fraudulent identification when immigration authorities discovered that his residency card appeared to have been forged.

Alfredo Ramos, an illegal alien from Mexico, was convicted of driving while intoxicated in 2006, but that didn't stop him from being behind the wheel after a night of drinking in Virginia Beach, Va. the following April, and slamming the car he was driving into the rear of a vehicle stopped at a traffic light. Allison Kunhardt, 17, and her best friend Tessa Tranchant, 16, both died as a result. Ramos, charged with manslaughter for the two deaths, was convicted the preceding year of public drunkenness in Virginia Beach and driving under the influence in nearby Chesapeake. Virginia Beach is also one of the more than 100 sanctuary cities in the U.S.

The elected leaders of cities like San Francisco and Virginia Beach bear responsibility for the deaths and injuries caused by illegals for which they provide safe haven, and have committed malfeasance in office for protecting illegal aliens, and putting their constituents at risk. Indeed, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome is so proud of his city’s sanctuary status that he is spending $83,000 of taxpayer money to advertise to illegal aliens that they are welcome there. Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf prefers to shift attention away from the illegal alien issue, and focus on drunk driving, instead.

How many Americans will have to die or suffer at the hands of criminal illegals before the likes of Newsome and Oberndorf will admit that people who are here illegally pose a threat that must be addressed?

The United States became a great nation through the legal immigration of good people from around the world. What will become of our country if we continue utilizing “compassionate” policies that make it easy for illegal aliens to kill and injure innocent citizens?

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Global Warming Extremists

Have Had Too Much Gas

Just as Al Gore was telling the Associated Press that Earth has just 10 years to get in line behind him to save itself from environmental catastrophe, a group of 50,000 physicists, members of the American Physical Society, conceded that maybe Al's evidence of man-made warming isn't so convincing, after all.

Jeffrey Marque, editor of a forum of the physicists' society, says there “is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the conclusion that anthropogenic C02 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the industrial revolution." What that means after stripping it down to plain English is that a whole bunch of scientists disagree with Al.

Mr. Gore wants to abandon coal-fired generation of electricity and rely instead on technologies that haven’t yet been proved to work at the scale that will be required to replace fossil fuel generation methods, and the process of implementing solar, wind and geothermal generation of energy will cost trillions of dollars. Barack Obama and, unfortunately, John McCain have signed onto this wild concept.

However, the physicists point to other causes for the warmer climate. "In the past 70 years," Lord Monckton, told an online journal, "the sun was more active than at almost any other time in the past 11,400 years." Solar activity plays a far more important part in global warming than greenhouse gases, said Lord Monckton, who was science adviser to the British administrations of Margaret Thatcher.

But Mr. Gore and his gang argue that the debate—if it can be called that—over global warming is finished, and some of his comrades even want to make skepticism illegal, saying it is immoral to argue with them anymore. They fear public acknowledgment that global warming is caused by something other than the activities of those pesky, evil humans will provide too much information for us simple-minded citizens. We might agree with those crazy physicists. Their side of the debate can be summed up in two words: "Shut up.”

Saner heads must prevail, like Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, who reminds us that "we could put windmills from the Atlantic to the Pacific and it will increase the production of carbon-free energy production, but the fact of the matter is it's not going to get the job done."

It just makes sense to develop cleaner energy sources, but a crash course such as the Gore gang proposes isn’t called for. There is no reason to wreck our economy and substantially alter our way of life.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

From the "People are as Weird

as Anybody" Department ...

Judge: Girl's name, Talula Does The Hula, won't do

A family court judge in New Zealand has had enough with parents giving their children bizarre names here, and did something about it.

Just ask Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii. He had her renamed.

Judge Rob Murfitt made the 9-year-old girl a ward of the court so that her name could be changed, he said in a ruling made public Thursday. The girl was involved in a custody battle, he said.

The new name was not made public to protect the girl's privacy.

"The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child's parents have shown in choosing this name," he wrote. "It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily."

The girl had been so embarrassed at the name that she had never told her closest friends what it was. She told people to call her "K" instead, the girl's lawyer, Colleen MacLeod, told the court.

In his ruling, Murfitt cited a list of the unfortunate names.

Registration officials blocked some names, including Fish and Chips, Yeah Detroit, Keenan Got Lucy and Sex Fruit, he said. But others were allowed, including Number 16 Bus Shelter "and tragically, Violence," he said.

New Zealand law does not allow names that would cause offense to a reasonable person, among other conditions, said Brian Clarke, the registrar general of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Clarke said officials usually talked to parents who proposed unusual names to convince them about the potential for embarrassment.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Congress Diddles Around With

“Use It or Lose It”

Last week ended with a rising stock market, news that the economy showed an estimated two percent gain in the second quarter, and the price of oil falling, but Americans are still paying a national average of $4.10 for gasoline and $4.84 for diesel fuel. Right now, nothing is more important than getting fuel prices down.

Despite the pain that people express over high fuel prices, Congress still hasn’t gotten the message that 60 percent of its constituents want to drill for domestic oil supplies, and do it now. Instead of opening up prohibited areas for drilling, and removing or easing the regulatory obstacles to developing new supplies, Congress has been dilly-dallying with a bill Democrat leaders fondly refer to as “use it or lose it.” Championed by West Virginia’s own Rep. Nick Rahall, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, the intention of the bill is to force oil companies to look for oil on land they already hold leases on, or lose the leases. This may sound sensible at first, but after looking deeper into the situation it appears to be a waste of time, since (1) oil companies have invested millions of dollars in these leases; (2) geologists tell us that it is less certain that the leased areas contain oil than the areas where drilling is prohibited; (3) many of the leased areas where oil has been found have been pumped out; (4) it is usually more expensive to explore in those leased areas than elsewhere; and (5), most of the provisions of the bill are already law.

Willard R. Green heads up the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, an organization which rarely takes public positions on political issues. Yet, he felt moved to comment on this current dilemma. The problem, Green said in a letter to leaders of the House of Representatives, is that people tend “to think of exploration as a process of simply drilling a well in each grid block to determine whether it contains oil. But because of the natural variation in regional geology, one cannot assume that oil and natural gas are evenly distributed across a given lease [area] or region. Rather, exploration is about unraveling the geologic history of the rock underneath that grid block, trying to understand where oil or natural gas may have formed and where it migrated. If the geology isn't right, you won't find oil or natural gas," he explained. Equally as important as conservation efforts and improvements in vehicle efficiency, he said, “is increasing long-term supply from stable parts of the world, such as our very own federal lands and Outer Continental Shelf," and he warned that enacting legislation to force federal oil and gas lease holders to develop their leased blocks could increase prices, not reduce them.

Green told the House leaders that “exploration is not simple and it is not easy. It requires geological ingenuity, advanced technologies, and the time to do the job right. It also requires access to areas where exploration areas can be tested—the greater the number of areas available for exploration, the higher the chance of finding oil and gas traps."

"Use it or lose it" also concerns independent producers, who say that "[w]ith the regulatory hurdles that are already in place, most companies are in an all-out sprint to develop the energy on a lease within a 10-year period." According to Marc Smith, an executive of the Denver-based Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, if the bill were to become law, “the resulting burden on domestic energy producers would make it difficult for them to meet our nation's long-term energy needs."

Opponents of this bill argue that it is designed to provide political cover to rank-and-file Democrats who are caught between a rock and a hard place: on one side are their constituents, who strongly support more American energy production; on the other, their liberal leaders who are under the thumb of radical environmentalists who want oil and gas prices to rise even higher to further discourage their use. To date, while the bill has majority support, it has not had the two-thirds majority required to pass under rules for expedited consideration. Given their failure to hear the message of their constituents on the energy issue, we can expect Congressional leaders to try again to pass this bill.

Far worse, however, is the news over the weekend that lawmakers are quietly considering raising the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by ten cents a gallon to offset a projected $3 billion deficit in the Highway Trust Fund, a figure that will grow proportionately as we cut back on driving due to the high price of fuel.

Instead of taking positive action that would lead to increasing the supply of oil on the market, and thereby exert downward pressure on crude oil prices, Congress is more interested in blaming oil companies and speculators for high prices, hamstringing oil producers’ efforts to look for oil in the most likely places, and are considering raising the price we pay for gasoline by a dime a gallon. Or more.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

As many of you know, Diane is a great cook, and both of us enjoy cooking and eating good food.

Yesterday, she called just before leaving work to talk about dinner, and offered a suggestion: Quick Chicken Panzanella. She stopped by the store, and brought the ingredients, or the closest thing to it, and we proceeded to make the dish.

It was fantastic, and I highly recommend it, with some notes I’ll put at the end.

Quick Chicken Panzanella

Start to Finish: 20 minutes


1 14-1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes with green pepper, celery, and onions

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 2- to 2-1/4-lb. whole roasted chicken

4 cups cubed Italian bread

2 medium cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced

1 cup torn fresh basil or spinach


1. Spoon off 2 tablespoons of tomato liquid. Combine with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, dash salt, and pepper; set aside. Remove meat from roasted chicken. Cut into pieces.

2. In skillet stir bread cubes in 2 tablespoons hot oil over medium heat 5 minutes or until golden. Remove. Add diced tomatoes; toss. Divide on plates. Add cucumbers, chicken, and basil. Pass tomato-oil mixture. Makes 4 servings.

3. Pantry Ingredients: oil, salt, pepper.


1. We were able to find diced tomatoes with green peppers and onions, but not with celery. It didn’t matter.

2. We also only made a half recipe, and still had more than we needed.

3. We used a store-bought roasted chicken.

4. We used fresh basil, and can’t imagine using spinach instead.

It was very, very good, and I encourage everyone to try it. And, let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Speculative reporting: Media fanning recession fears

On July 4, Jeanine Aversa of the Associated Press gave Americans an Independence Day gift: the news that “[t]he nation lost jobs for a sixth month in a row in June, a storm of pink slips drenching this year’s July Fourth holiday for more than 60,000 Americans and leaving thousands more worried about the future.”

She continued: “Weighed down by energy prices and the housing crisis, employers laid off workers in stores, factories and forsaken building sites. With more job cuts expected in coming months, there’s growing concern that many people will pull back on their spending later this year when the bracing effect of the tax rebates fades, dealing a dangerous setback to the shaky economy. These worries are rekindling recession fears.”

So what’s wrong with this story? Well, it is not objective or neutral; it is laced with opinion, bias and loaded words and phrases.

Consider the phrase “a storm of pink slips drenching this year’s July Fourth holiday,” which conveys the clear implication that the sky is falling, and the phrase ending that sentence, “leaving thousands more worried about the future,” might be true, or might not be. It isn’t substantiated, and beyond that is not necessary to telling us about job losses. This sentence could have been written this way: “The nation lost more than 60,000 jobs in June, the sixth month in a row of job losses.” That is factual, absent any opinion or other unnecessary language, and tells us what we need to know.

The story then speculates that “there’s growing concern that many people will pull back on their spending later this year,” and adds that “[t]hese worries are rekindling recession fears.” Really? How do you know that, Ms. Aversa; where’s the attribution? Whose fears are you referring to: your fears, the American people’s fears? It doesn’t matter that many readers believe her assertion is correct, what matters is whether her assertion actually is correct. She doesn’t backup the statement, and it therefore has no business in an objective news story.

The story also leaves important information that would put the jobs loss in perspective until later, after the writer has raised the reader’s concerns and biased his or her perspective. Eventually, we learn that despite the job losses “[t]he jobless rate held steady at 5.5 percent after jumping in May. Did the jobless rate not move up because 62,000 jobs wasn’t a big enough change to kick the rate up another tenth of a point? Or were there enough new jobs created to balance out the job losses? We really don’t know.

Ms. Aversa then adds that the jobless rate jumped “in May by the most in two decades,” and said that, furthermore, “June’s jobless rate was considerably higher than the 4.6 percent of a year ago.” She does not tell us that the 5.5 percent jobless rate is only a half point above the level that is considered full employment, or that the 4.6 percent rate she alluded to is a good jobless rate that has not been lower since the first half of 2001. She also neglected to tell us that in the months following 9-11 the jobless rate rose to around 6.3 percent, and that since then it fell steadily until early 2007. She also passed up the opportunity to tell readers that the Commerce Department reported in late June that after-tax disposable incomes jumped by 5.7 percent in May, the biggest one-month gain since May 1975, and that after removing the effects of higher gasoline and other products, inflation-adjusted spending rose by a solid 0.4 percent, the best performance since last August.

This is just one more in a long and undistinguished series of misreported economic stories. News items from as far back as last fall claimed the United States economy was in recession, which was demonstrably false. Recession has clearly defined parameters: negative growth for two consecutive quarters. The U.S. economy has undeniably slowed down, but despite all the doom and gloom from the mainstream media has not had even one quarter of negative growth, let alone two of them in succession. Neither a reporter’s proclamation nor opinion polls of Americans are sufficient to create a recession.

The news media shouldn’t tell fairy tales about how good things are when they aren’t very good, of course, but it also shouldn’t tell us that things are worse than they really are. However, sometimes journalistic propriety takes a back seat to making a story more interesting, or burnishing a reporter’s reputation. For example, Ms. Aversa’s opening sentence is certainly more interesting than my version, even if hers contains untruths, half-truths, and speculation.

News doesn’t have to be interesting; it only has to be accurate and objective. Much of what passes for news from the mainstream media is chock full of opinion and speculation. When the media broadly reports economic conditions as worse than they really are, or, as in the case of this story, reports news in a way that creates a false impression in the mind of the reader, there will certainly be a negative effect on how people think and act.

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Monday, July 14, 2008


The last month or so has been a blur, with not enough time to get everything done, and paying attention to Observations and visiting my regular sites has really taken a hit. I hope that will change before long. This past weekend provided some down time to do some catching up, but the place we stayed didn’t have Internet access in the rooms, and that really was a bummer.

With that introduction, what happened was that last Thursday, Diane and I packed up the car and headed for Music City, USA, Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve been to Tennessee a few times and enjoyed it each time, but have never been to Nashville. The reason we went: three-fold. First, our anniversary is Tuesday and we wanted to do something to celebrate. Second, we both have friends there, and third, since we’ve never been there before and it’s a destination attracting millions a year, we thought it would be a good trip. We weren’t mistaken.

At the outset I should say that this trip was about friends and music more than about finding good food, although we did have some good food.

On Thursday evening after our arrival, my friend Jim and his wife Tammy picked us up and took us F. Scott’s, a nightclub/restaurant to get a bite and hear some of the local musical talent. We sat in the bar area where a great trio entertained us. The food and the music were both very good. After that, they drove us around the downtown area around Broadway and showed us the high points.

Friday at lunch we met Diane’s high school buddy Carla at Cracker Barrel, and that was good, too, and after wandering around a little went west to experience a place called the Loveless Café to meet two former students at the college Diane works who got married and work in Nashville, Jess and Aaron. Without going into the complex historic background of this storied place, suffice it to say that this motel/diner-turned-world-famous eatery was great. A home-style restaurant with “the world’s best biscuits,” Loveless was a terrific place to eat and renew old acquaintances. After that, we dropped into a jazz club to hear Don, a guy I met a year or so back, play with a jazz quintet.

We visited the Opryland Hotel Saturday afternoon with a high school friend of mine I hadn’t seen for more than 30 years. It was good to see Mary Lee after all these years, and the hotel is spectacular. I recommend it highly. That night, we took the dinner cruise on the General Jackson riverboat and we were pleasantly surprised at the high quality of both the food and the entertainment.

In the downtown area we visited BB King’s blues club, Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, the Ryman Auditorium, and the Hard Rock Café to buy daughter Kat a tee shirt, and a few other places.

On Sunday afternoon when we went to a place called the Caney Fork Fish Camp for lunch. Diane isn’t much of a seafood fan so she had the ribs, which were served in the most unique way: in a skillet. I don’t mean a typical restaurant skillet that they serve sizzling steaks or fajitas on, I mean an honest to Pete 12-inch frying pan. The ribs were terrific, and my Crab Cake Po Boy was, too. For me, musically, the high point was the Nashville Jazz Orchestra, a group of fine musicians led by my friend Jim, that played Sunday from 4 to 6. Nashville may be best known for country music, but there are some truly great jazz players there. The nineteen-piece big band was flawless and fantastic, and their singer Annie was a delight.

The worst part of the trip was after we started home about 6:40. Headed east on I-40, when we got to Cookeville, the Interstate was shut down all the way to Knoxville, more than 100 miles away, and efforts to find a way to circumnavigate the problem area were thwarted. As it turned out, an accident produced a chemical spill and every east-bound secondary route was also shut down. We had planned to stop for the night about half-way, but didn’t get that far before the I-40 stopped us

All in all, it was a good trip, and we’ll do it again sometime.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Who is Responsible for High Gasoline Prices?

Depending upon whom you ask, the villain in the high price of gasoline may be evil oil companies, OPEC nations, or greedy speculators. Which, if any, of these is the villain?

People get all flummoxed over the large number of dollars the oil companies make and think they are “greedy,” not realizing what a massive investment it takes to make that profit. These huge companies deal in billions of dollars, rather than the millions or thousands that smaller businesses deal in. But their profits go to stockholders, and it’s not just fat cats that own oil stocks. Millions and millions of Americans benefit from oil company dividend payments, either directly, or through mutual funds or retirement plans that hold oil stocks.

We can blame OPEC for not producing more oil when its member nations have the ability to do so, because more oil on the market would loosen the tight supply/demand factor and cause crude oil prices to come down. But we must understand that for most of the OPEC nations, oil is their only marketable resource, and they want it to last as long as possible. It just isn’t in their interest to reduce their future reserves in order to produce much more than they are right now.

As for speculators, some think they are the only thing greedier than an oil company, while others believe they are merely indulging in a useful financial activity. Speculators may have some upward effect on the price of crude oil, but there just is no consensus on how much they affect oil prices, or if the affect it at all. That leaves us still wondering where the responsibility for high oil prices lies.

Primarily, the fault lies with the U.S. Congress. The prohibitions against developing domestic reserves and the barriers to increasing refining capacity Congress imposed decades ago, due to fears of environmental destruction, have led to increased dependence on foreign oil and tight oil supplies. Had American oil companies been able to drill for oil and build new refineries over the last 25 years, there would be more oil on the market, which would increase supplies and help hold prices down. Instead, much of our oil lies undisturbed below ground and under water, keeping supplies tighter and forcing prices higher.

If Congress restricts the oil industry’s ability to explore for and refine crude oil because of unproven environmental fears, doesn’t it have an obligation to look beyond carbon-based fuels, create a sensible national energy policy, and encourage the development of alternative energy sources such as nuclear, wind, solar and hydro? But Congress has not done that.

Two years ago, as Nancy Pelosi eyed the move from Minority Leader to Speaker of the House, she vowed to cut energy prices if Democrats won control of Congress. "Democrats have a common-sense plan to help bring down skyrocketing gas prices by cracking down on price-gouging; rolling back the billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks and royalty relief given to big oil and gas companies; and increasing production of alternative fuels," said she.

Her "common-sense plan" and the Democrat-run Congress have achieved nothing, or even less. Instead of helping the U.S. become more self-sufficient, we are still held hostage by some of the world's nastiest nations.

Another factor controlled by Congress is taxation. Some think oil companies should be taxed more heavily, that somehow that would improve the situation. However, over the past 25 years, oil companies remitted more than $2.2 trillion in taxes, after adjusting for inflation, to federal and state governments. That amounts to more than three times what they earned in profits during the same period, according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and U.S. Department of Energy. In 2004, oil companies made $42.6 billion in profits, and paid $58.4 billion in taxes. For every dollar of profit, oil companies paid $1.37 in taxes.

Those who demonize oil companies because they think their profits are too high need to remember that the more profit the companies make, the more tax revenue government collects. Thanks to the profits of oil companies, government is better able to fund entitlement programs and pork-barrel projects.

But taxation is a double-edged sword.

Why? Because the money “big oil” remits to government ultimately comes out of the pockets of consumers. Businesses don’t pay taxes; their customers pay taxes. In 2004, that $58.4 billion of oil company tax payments worked out to more than $190 for every man, woman and child in America.

Higher corporate taxes, increased regulation, and meddling in the operation of oil companies have combined to produce the situation we have today. Because we are dependent upon foreign oil, being able to buy gasoline has become a difficult problem for many Americans.

What Americans have to decide is: how much are they willing to pay for gas in return for regulating the oil companies and over-protecting the environment?

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

You Worry Me

I received the following letter in a forwarded email. It is attributed to American Airlines Pilot, Captain John Maniscalco.

In researching its authenticity, I learned that there are two versions of the letter, and the one attributed to Capt. Maniscalco is more edgy than the one that follows, which is attributed to Kevin Daly, Beltsville, Maryland, and was printed in a Maryland newspaper under his name.

Despite not knowing who wrote it, it is an excellent letter.

To my Muslim neighbors:

I've been trying to say this since 9-11, but you worry me. I wish you didn't. I wish when I walked down the streets of this country that I love, that your color and culture still blended with the beautiful human landscape we enjoy in this country. But you don't blend in anymore. I notice you, and it worries me.

I notice you because I can't help it anymore.

People from your homelands, professing to be Muslims, have been attacking and killing my fellow citizens and our friends for more than 20 years now. I don't fully understand their grievances and hate, but I know that nothing can justify the inhumanity of their attacks.

On September 11, nineteen ARAB-MUSLIMS hijacked four jetliners in my country.

They cut the throats of women in front of children and brutally stabbed to death others. They took control of those planes and crashed them into buildings killing thousands of proud fathers, loving sons, wise grandparents, elegant daughters, best friends, favorite coaches, fearless public servants, and children's mothers.

The Palestinians celebrated, the Iraqis were overjoyed as was most of the Arab world. So, I notice you now. I don't want to be worried. I don't want to be consumed by the same rage and hate and prejudice that have destroyed the soul of these terrorists. But, I need your help. As a rational American, trying to protect my country and family in an irrational and unsafe world, I must know how to tell the difference between you, and the Arab/Muslim terrorist.

How do I differentiate between the true Arab/Muslim-Americans and the Arab/Muslim terrorists in our communities who are attending our schools, enjoying our parks, and living in OUR communities under the protection of OUR constitution, while they plot the next attack that will slaughter these same good neighbors and children?

The events of September 11th changed the answer. It is not my responsibility to determine which of you embraces our great country, with ALL of its religions, with ALL of its different citizens, with all of its faults. It is time for every Arab/Muslim in this country to determine it for me.

I want to know, I demand to know, and I have a right to know, whether or not you love America. Do you pledge allegiance to its flag? Do you proudly display it in front of your house, or on your car? Do you pray in your many daily prayers that Allah will bless this nation, that He will protect and prosper it? Or do you pray that Allah with destroy it in one of your Jihad's? Are you thankful for the freedom that only this nation affords, a freedom that was paid for by the blood of hundreds of thousands of patriots who gave their lives for this country? Are you willing to preserve this freedom by also paying the ultimate sacrifice? Do you love America? If this is your commitment, then I need YOU to start letting ME know about it.

Your Muslim leaders in this nation should be flooding the media at this time with hard facts on your faith, and what hard actions you are taking as a community and as a religion to protect the United States of America. Please, no more benign overtures of regret for the death of the innocent because I worry about who you regard as innocent. No more benign overtures of condemnation for the unprovoked attacks because I worry about what is unprovoked to you. I am not interested in any more sympathy. I am only interested in action. What will you do for America - our great country - at this time of crisis, at this time of war?

I want to see Arab-Muslims waving the AMERICAN flag in the streets. I want to hear you chanting 'Allah Bless America.' I want to see young Arab/Muslim men enlisting in the military. I want to see a commitment of money, time, and emotion to the victims of this butchering and to this nation as a whole.

The FBI has a list of over 400 people they want to talk to regarding the WTC attack. Many of these people live and socialize right now in Muslim communities. You know them. You know where they are. Hand them over to us, now! But I have seen little even approaching this sort of action. Instead I have seen an already closed and secretive community close even tighter. You have disappeared from the streets. You have posted armed security guards at your facilities. You have threatened lawsuits. You have screamed for protection from reprisals.

The very few Arab/Muslim representatives that HAVE appeared in the media were defensive and equivocating. They seemed more concerned with making sure that the United States proves who was responsible before taking action. They seemed more concerned with protecting their fellow Muslims from violence directed towards them in the United States and abroad than they did with supporting our country and denouncing 'leaders' like Khadafi, Hussein, Farrakhan, and Arafat.

If the true teachings of Islam proclaim tolerance and peace and love for all people, then I want chapter and verse from the Koran and statements from popular Muslim leaders to back it up. What good is it if the teachings in the Koran are good, and pure, and true, when your 'leaders' are teaching fanatical interpretations, terrorism, and intolerance?

It matters little how good Islam SHOULD BE if huge numbers of the world's Muslims interpret the teachings of Mohammed incorrectly and adhere to a degenerative form of the religion: A form that has been demonstrated to us over and over again; a form whose structure is built upon a foundation of violence, death, and suicide. A form whose members are recruited from the prisons around the world, and whose members (some as young as five years old) are seen day after day, week in and week out, year after year, marching in the streets around the world, burning effigies of our presidents, burning the American flag, shooting weapons into the air. A form whose members convert from a peaceful religion, only to take up arms against the great United States of America, the country of their birth. A form whose rules are so twisted, that their traveling members refuse to show their faces at airport security checkpoints, in the name of Islam.

We will NEVER allow the attacks of September 11, or any others for that matter, to take away that which is so precious to us: Our rights under the greatest constitution in the world. I want to know where every Arab Muslim in this country stands and I think it is my right and the right of every true citizen of this country to demand it. A right paid for by the blood of thousands of my brothers and sisters who died protecting the very constitution that is protecting you and your family.

I am pleading with you to let me know. I want you here as my brother, my neighbor, my friend, as a fellow American.

But there can be no gray areas or ambivalence regarding your allegiance, and it is up to YOU, to show ME, where YOU stand. So, until then … you worry me.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Finally, the Supreme Court Gets One Right

After two recent horrible and incomprehensible decisions by the United States Supreme Court, it got one right. One of those bad decisions awarded enemy combatants at the Guantanamo detention facility—read “terrorists”—the “privilege of the writ of habeas corpus,” which has left millions of Americans scratching their heads.

This decision was arrived at by the thinnest of margins, 5-4. Perhaps that should be of some comfort. Justice Antonin Scalia noted in dissent: “America is at war with radical Islamists. The enemy began by killing Americans and American allies abroad,” and he then listed the the incidents and the numbers of victims, including the Khobar Towers and September 11.

“It has threatened further attacks against our homeland; one need only walk about buttressed and barricaded Washington, or board a plane anywhere in the country, to know that the threat is a serious one. Our Armed Forces are now in the field against the enemy, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Last week, 13 of our countrymen in arms were killed.

“The game of bait-and-switch that today’s opinion plays upon the Nation’s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.”

Never before in the history of armed conflict against the United States have we given our enemies the right to our court system and the protections of our Constitution, as if they are citizens or mere criminals.

They are a vicious enemy that commits cowardly large-scale acts of violence against innocent men, women and children.

In a second bad decision the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who rapes a child, saying that the death penalty is reserved for murderers and those who commit crimes against the state.

Another narrow 5-4 decision; another heavily divided Court.

This decision is one more in a series that narrow the circumstances under which capital punishment is allowed, even for the most disgusting and intolerable behavior that society condemns.

Opposition to the death penalty often revolves around the Constitution’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” But in the case of a sadistic crime like the rape of a child, one must ask, “cruel and unusual, as compared to what?” What can be more cruel and unusual than a sub-human maggot forcing a defenseless child to have sex with him? Is it possible that living with the memories of that horror can be a worse fate than dying at the hands of some evil moron?

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the most powerful man in America, wrote in the court’s decision, “There is a distinction between intentional first-degree murder on the one hand and non-homicide crimes against individual persons, even including child rape, on the other.”

Really, Mr. Justice Kennedy? And exactly which hair will you split to illustrate that distinction?

Many people are dismayed that the United States imposes the death penalty under any circumstance. But many supporters would abandon the practice in exchange for true punishment of the guilty, instead of the mollycoddling prison environments we have today.

Finally, however, the Court got one right when it upheld a lower court ruling striking down Washington, DC’s 1976 ban on handgun ownership by yet another 5-4 margin, saying individuals have a right to keep handguns for lawful purposes.

The DC city council claimed the ban was needed to help keep violence and murder rates down, but that concept is flawed. It presumed that by banning handguns in the District, criminals would obey the law and not use handguns in the commission of their crimes.

The reality is, of course, that under this idiotic law only criminals would have handguns, and law abiding citizens would be defenseless in their homes against handgun-wielding criminals.

Debate over the exact meaning of the constitutional right to keep and bear arms has raged for years, despite the fact that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution were compelled by their good character to say what they meant in straight-forward language when they wrote the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The language was unambiguous: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The language is plain enough, so now a little history.

The militia was made up of individual citizens who used their own guns when called to help defend their country, and in those days, nearly every male old enough to shoot had at least one gun.

Does anyone seriously believe that in that day and time the Framers would even have considered restricting gun ownership? Of course not.

Perhaps we ought to be grateful that the Court got one out of three decisions right. After all, in baseball if you get a hit every third at-bat, you’re a star.

But efforts to reinterpret the Constitution based upon personal opinion and societal fad is a dangerous and dishonest business.

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