26 January 2009

Tax the poor.

When it comes to tax policy, I'm old-fashioned, because I think there should generally be some kind of rational relationship between tax collection and tax expenditures. So, for example, when the government needs to improve interstate highways and bridges, it makes perfect sense to tax car and truck fuel to pay for roads and bridges. 

Not everything that society demands has such a neat relationship. For example, low-income children's programs can't be financed by rich children, nor can they be financed by a tax on diapers and baby food, since those taxes are regressive and take money from the very families that the program intends to help. So we tap the people who have money. Thus, for example, property taxes pay for public education. 

Having gone to the well one too many times on property owners, legislators started taxing "sin" — alcohol, tobacco, and gambling. These taxes have the unfortunate tendency of reinforcing the sanctimony of the abstentious, while excusing them from paying any freight. Win-win for the goody-goodies! 

Of course, that's lose-lose for those who enjoy a martini, a Dunhill, and a few rounds of baccarat. It's a relatively bigger loss for those whose more modest pleasures incline toward a Pabst, a Marlboro, and an instant-win scratch-off ticket.

Tobacco is the current revenue whipping-boy of choice. Politicians convince voters, again and again, that tobacco taxes must be increased to pay for smoker's healthcare burdens. But the reality is that the existing federal tobacco tax burden is adequate to fund those costs, and only a small portion of state tax revenue actually returns to smokers. The rest goes to fund superconducting monkey colliders or other pet projects.

America's got some hellacious budget holes right now, and predictably, Congress is targeting smokers. 

Who will be the beneficiary of this tobacco tax hike? The kids of parents who are too rich to be on welfare, but too poor to afford private health insurance. This is the SCHIP program. It's goals are laudable, but children's healthcare is as much a public responsibility as children's education. 

How do we shift society's aggregate burden on the minority? Disapproval. Disapproval of the filthy, stupid smokers. Those filthy, stupid smokers who have the temerity to use a legal product, and don't have enough power to stop us.

Here's the really amazing aspect to Congress's proposal — the tax hikes range from a merely astonishing 156.4% increase for cigarettes and smokeless to a flabbergasting 6,000% increase for cigars.

Six. Thousand. Percent. 

It will pass (won't someone think of the children!), and our new president will sign it, despite his promise not to raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 a year. I'm not positive, but I believe most smokers make somewhat less than that.

Actually the majority of smokers are considered "low-income." So this tax effectively transfers wealth from low-income folks to benefit middle-income ones. Awesome.

When taxes become punitive, it creates an avoidance incentive. Taxes can be avoided in two ways: tax-evasion, or by no longer participating in the taxed activity. Fewer people are smoking, but tobacco-funded programs are growing exponentially. Know what else is growing exponentially? Tobacco bootlegging. Know what else grows exponentially with bootlegging? Violent crime.

Anyway, when tobacco-tax revenue can no longer support the increasing costs of the multitude of wonderous programs, the government will look elsewhere for that money. All the people who supported those taxes when somebody else was paying them aren't going to be smug for long.

25 January 2009

But some food IS gay.

Regarding a chicken, brie, and sweetcorn pie entrĂ©e served at Christchurch, New Zealand's The Crumpet Club, the menu described the dish as, "slightly gay, I know, but oh so tasty."
Naturally, some jackass with delicate sensibilities got offended, so the description will be expunged from the menu. 
My only complaint about the pie's description is that it's a bit of a mischaracterization, because it's barely gay — and only by virtue of the brie. 
The pie would, in fact, be slightly gay if a herb or flavoring liquor was mentioned in the description (i.e. Chicken, brie, sweetcorn, and French tarragon pie. Sherry marinated chicken, brie, and sweetcorn pie.) 
The pie would be really gay if it had capers, because capers make all food really, really gay. That's just a fact. Capers are so very, very gay, they even have a gay name: "capers." Even as a verb a caper is considerably more gay than a frolic, lark, or hijink, and miles more gay than a shenanigan.
Capers are even more gay than:
Oh yeah — and speaking of food, don't forget to check out KCPT's Check, Please! on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. (replayed at 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Sundays). It's regular folks doing restaurant reviews, hosted by area wine savant and genuine cool cat Doug Frost.
This season features many crustybastard friends kicking ass, so I'm going to pimp this thing like crazy!

22 January 2009

Okay. Now what?

So one administration spends $1 billion to set up Gitmo, and the next administration closes it down. It's a major policy statement. Closing down the "Black Sites" is an even more profound policy statement, because Gitmo was always the visible component of that otherwise secret network.
We need more than a statement. Closing the foreign prison network and moving suspects to prisons inside our own country doesn't magically mean that we're transitioning to a more transparent and effective protocol. Our legal system just isn't designed to deal with terrorists and illegal combatants, and it shows. Our response has been slow, piecemeal, and inflexible. We've been trying to fit these guys in one of the two slots that we have available in our legal system — criminal or POW. But they are neither.
Couldn't the same thing be accomplished by retaining the network for foreign nationals, but:
1. Allow the UN, Red Cross & other NGOs, and journalists reasonable access, and
2. Legislate that "extra-territorial is not extra-jurisdictional" with regard to these sites, and
3. Assemble a multidisciplinary panel to create a workable judicial protocol to deal with illegal combatants and terrorists, and
4. Hold state agents responsible for a failure of diligence or violations of the law.
Wasn't the lack of oversight, transparency, accountability, and due process the problem? Isn't the failure of the Bush administration that they had eight years to sort this out, but were either unwilling or incapable? 
I don't think the problem was location, location, location, or location. 
Closing the network ignores the fact that we can and do actually work cooperatively with other nations, it ignores the fact that some of our allies don't have secure facilities, and it presumes that the US is the unambiguous focus of the suspect's act — which isn't always clear. 
We have held men who were not dangerous. We have released men who were.
Simply shuttering the prison network isn't a fix for the multifaceted problem. And those problems aren't going away because we closed the prison network.

20 January 2009

Right on, Maude!

My favorite cocktailnaut, Bea, over at Another KC Blog anotherkcblog.wordpress.com is finally back in the saddle and in his usual rare form. 
He links to the Obamicon generator, so all the hip young people must be doing it. Neither hip nor young, I was nonetheless compelled to create...the DOMOBAMA! Please to enjoy:
And do take a few moments to poke about the Hall  of Fame Gallery. Some are awesome.
Okay, just one more along a more "presidential" theme.
I'm such a nerd.

19 January 2009

31°F ain't motorcycle weather.

I got a sweet custom bike just about the time it started getting cold. I got it back from the painter a couple of weeks ago, but the weather has remained foul.
Yesterday  it was relatively warm, and I needed to run out to my brother's place to help him wrangle mattresses. So I seized the opportunity to take the bike.
Beloved wanted a new mattress, too. Long story short, bike spent the night at Bros, while I kept the pickup with Beloved's new mattress until today. Went back with pickup, rode bike home. Unfortunately the temperature had dropped precipitously in 24 hours. 
31°F is mighty cold, especially when you put a nice 35-45 mph wind chill on top of it — makes it about 12°F. 

15 January 2009

This country sure is looking up for the women folks!

I'm doing some research on a renovation project and I run across a 1912 American Radiator Co. publication called the Ideal Home Journal dedicated to the advancement of the Steam & Hot Water Heating Industry. 
One is left to wonder why it was necessary in those days to heat hot water. 
But I digress.
They were pimping their new product on page 2, and it was a dandy indeed! Behold, the Arco Wand vacuum cleaner:
It's basically the original CentralVac. You install the mechanism in the basement, and use lengthy hoses to do the vacuuming.
But I was particularly taken by this letter extolling heretofore unknown virtues of the Arco Wand. 
Please to enjoy:

DEAR Sirs: 

Yes, sirs, it's a fact! Returning from a vacation, my wife found three tiny baby mice in a bureau last night — result of carelessly leaving the bottom drawer open an inch or two. Did she scream? Yes, for a minute. Then she thought of the ARCO WAND Vacuum Cleaner. Happy idea! From the top of a chair, she poked the end of the Vacuum Cleaner Wand around in the drawer. Instantly that cleaning tool touched a mouse, plunk! you could hear him strike the bottom of the dust bucket down cellar. Can you beat it? What with woman suffrage and freedom from mice, this country is sure looking up for the women folks.

Yours truly, 

A. L. K. 

14 January 2009

Remember the Fourth Amendment?

I do. It was a good one. It was down, but it was still twitching. Today SCOTUS hit it with an iron pipe.
I'm about to go on one of my Constitutional rants again. Please bear with me. It's solid, I promise.
The Founders of the Republic were very wary of a government that exercised unchecked power. They went to great pains to create a system of governance intended to guarantee individual liberties. A fundamental premise of all the foundational documents is this: depriving an individual of his liberty, property and privacy is an extreme sanction, and there should be a number of safeguards that protect the people against the state's abuse of this enormous power. Among these safeguards is the Fourth Amendment's demand that all searches and seizures arrests be reasonable. It's not that much to ask. Reasonableness requires a specific warrant derived from probable cause made under oath.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
SCOTUS invented The Exclusionary Rule, which is a doctrine that says "if a citizen is searched illegally, any evidence obtained from the illegal measures cannot be used against the citizen." The purpose of the Exclusionary Rule was to prevent law enforcement from ignoring the Constitution in an excess of zeal to enforce the law.
Our overly conservative SCOTUS has gradually gutted the Fourth Amendment to the point that it currently guarantees nothing. Virtually no search is held "unreasonable" anymore. "Probable cause" has become "reasonable suspicion," unless you're in a car, in which case no suspicion is required if it's called a "sobriety checkpoint." Arrests and searches on invalid warrants are okay if there was a "good faith" belief on the part of law enforcement that the warrant was valid. Naturally, law enforcement is generally presumed to act in good faith.
Today SCOTUS held 5-4 (yeah, the RATS + Kennedy) that evidence obtained from "police mistakes [that] are the result of negligence...of constitutional requirements" may be admissible in court.
Astonishing. Permit me to put negligence on a continuum. If you take reasonable care to do what you're supposed to, that's "diligence." If you're so sloppy that you don't take reasonable care, that's "negligence." If you exercise no care at all, that's "recklessness."
The facts of the case are essentially this. Jurisdiction A issues a "failure to appear" warrant for Guy, then recalls same warrant. Jurisdiction B doesn't bother to update records to reflect the recalled warrant, arrests Guy, finds a gun and drugs in search subsequent to arrest. Guy's warrant had been recalled months prior to the arrest. Not hours or days. Five months.
Applying the Exclusionary Rule, since Guy's arrest was unlawful because the warrant was invalid, the gun and dope are inadmissible evidence. The exclusion of evidence would send a message to law enforcement agencies that is it important — nay, vital — that they keep accurate records where people's liberty is at stake.
Instead, SCOTUS just told law enforcement in a digital age that evidence obtained in an unlawful search may be used to convict in a criminal case even though the search is unlawful because of an agency's sloppiness. Wow.
"The marginal benefits that might follow from suppressing evidence obtained in these circumstances cannot justify the substantial costs of exclusion." 
Oh, I see. Protecting the individual's Constitutional rights and demanding some administrative diligence from law enforcement agencies is now a "marginal benefit," while the state's failure to put another dipshit tweaker behind bars is a "substantial cost."
Oh my effing head.
The conservative justices take every opportunity to insist that they are not given to radical interpretations of the Constitution. Nonsense. The Fourth Amendment says clearly that the people's right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure shall not be violated. Period. How does one get to "...but if the state does negligently violate the people's right to be secure, any evidence obtained via that violation can be used to secure their conviction" without applying a truly radical interpretation? 
Once, the judiciary was the branch that protected the citizens from the excesses of the government. The overwhelming conservatism of the federal judiciary has turned it into a rubber stamp. 
At least we still have the right not to get gay married.

Check this guy for dynamite.

Q: Why did the Taliban dynamite the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas? 
A: According to Taliban Mullah Omar, they were idols that offended God. 
Now an Overland Park, Kansas Christian, David Engle, has determined that the Buddhas in front of the Asian exhibits at the Kansas City zoo are likewise "idolatry" that are "infuriating to God."
One wonders why the statues have heretofore escaped the notice of such a furious all-powerful deity.
According to Mr. Engle, not all idolatry is bad. Just the kind he disapproves of. "We can’t have a cross or a nativity scene on public property. It is phenomenal to me that the zoo would put up Buddha statues."
Well, Dave, you can have a cross or nativity scene on public property. 
You can also have your belief in God professed on your money, in the Pledge of Allegiance, in court-administered oaths, and in prayers said before the assembly of legislative bodies and at presidential inaugurals. You can have Bible quotations engraved on the sides of government buildings, too.
Because you can have all that, there can also be little Buddha statues outside the Asian exhibit at the zoo. They are decorative and not intended to promote religion.

Followup: Adolf Hitler Campbell removed from home.

If you remember the mid-December story about little Adolf Hitler Campbell's birthday cake, you may be interested to learn that he and his similarly unfortunately monikered siblings have been removed from their home by New Jersey social services. The Campbells have insisted the kids were not taken, but also postponed a scheduled hearing about the kid's living situation because they needed time to seek a private attorney. 
I smell a Constitutional challenge.
Do parents have a right to name their children anything they like? I'd argue that they do not. The First Amendment doesn't say that you can say or do whatever you want, whenever you want, without the slightest regard for the consequences of such action. Consequences are always a relevant legal consideration, hence the classic example "you can't yell 'FIRE!' in a crowded theater."
The father concedes that his particular brand of attention whoring has brought death threats.
The Campbells insist that they selected their kid's Nazi-themed names because those names were "unique" and honored their German ancestry. That may be true (it isn't), but it casually ignores the contempt such names draw upon the bearer, compelling children to bear, at a minimum, the near-universal derision of the parents' politics.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that the parent's names are the utterly ordinary Heath and Deborah. Obviously they didn't believe strongly enough in the importance of their unique German ancestry to change their own names to something Nazi-themed. Nope, they chose to foist that crap on their children. 
That's not "protected speech." It's just irresponsible parenting and a cowardly form of attention whoring.

13 January 2009

You get what you pay for.

Unfortunately, my county pays $6 a day for jury service.
Seriously. Six big ones. But that's not all. We also get 7¢ per mile.
That might have been reasonable compensation in 1957. And it was. But our lawmakers haven't seen fit to raise that amount since then. I'm not aware of anyone else providing a public service who hasn't gotten a raise in 52 years.
I've written about this issue elsewhere and complained to my representatives, but a vigilant citizen (and recent juror) named Jon Nixon has taken up the battle and seems to be getting some traction. http://www.kansascity.com/115/story/976179.html
If you're interested in lending your name to Mr. Nixon's petition drive, email him your name and address at 

10 January 2009

There is such a thing as "too tough."

Human mothers do something that other primates aren't required to do: pass disproportionately enormous heads though their birth canals.
In Genesis, after early humans eat from the Tree of Knowledge they're condemned to painful childbirth. In a sense, Genesis is accurate. Relentlessly accumulating knowledge, our brains have evolved faster than our bodies, and human heads are almost too large to pass through human bodies. Until the last hundred years or so, childbirth was the principle cause of women's death.
In the not terribly distant past, an expectant mother on the cusp of childbirth was admitted to the hospital in advance, then stayed at the hospital several days afterward. All in all, it was about a week.
All in all, that seems pretty reasonable. And civilized. It was going to be the last break she'd get for a couple of years.
Then women entered the workforce en masse and started competing directly with men. Now an expectant mother arrives at the hospital when labor begins, and is sent home a day after labor ends.
I'm thinking about this because of an essay that I read here (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/amy-jenkins-give-birth-and-feel-the-power-1242496.html) about the French Minister of Justice Rachida Dati, seen here beside President Sarkozy. Five days after her c-section, she's back at work.
French Justice Minister Rachida Dati with President Sarkozy. The inclusion of a number of Muslim women in the cabinet has provided girls and women in the Muslim community with role models.
Okay, that lady is one tough hombre, and you can tell by her steely gaze she probably has chunks of people like Sarah Palin in her stool. How many dudes would show up to work five farking days after having surgery that severed their abdominal muscles and opened an internal organ? "Weaker sex" indeed. So I take back the hombre thing. That's by definition beyond hombre. 
But in the interest of acting as civilized people, can we all agree that this isn't necessary or any kind of reasonable standard that folks should be expected to meet?
We seem to be in a terrible rush to return to serfdom.

09 January 2009

This made me laugh.

Please to enjoy.

08 January 2009

Chupacabra sighting CONFIRMED!

Oh dear god. 
My first thought was, "is something threatening to fall out, or is she actively stuffing something back up there?"
Too late I realized I had contracted a raging case of syphilis from momentarily considering Amy Crackhouse's pudenda.
Wait. That means...um, you probably ought to go get checked out too. Sorry about that.

07 January 2009

Check, Please!

The Beloved has a dining club. By default, I'm a member. 
Also by default, I'm included in many of her Grand Schemes. When she heard that the TV show Check, Please! was entering the KC Market, she extolled the members of the dining club to get on the program. How could I refuse? It combines my love of food and TV!
Yes, I was a bit crusty. But only about one restaurant, which was TERRIBLE. I've had better meals in a Junior High School cafeteria. Seriously.
Please to enjoy!
Ew. I feel bad for that guy. That freeze-frame is harsh. Not my doing.

05 January 2009

Die in a fire, farking PayPal!

Remember my last post? The one about the PayPal agent, Tracy, that assured me that our concerted efforts forestalled the transfer of money?
She lied.
And this is hardly the first time a PayPal agent has lied to me. So it's conceivable that despite assurances that my funds were untouched, I may in fact be without my money for a full 12 days while PayPal dicks around.
I finally found an intelligent supervisor named Sarah, and explained that under the law of agency, the false assurance I got from a corporate agent were the equivalent of having the CEO of PayPal tell me the same thing. I explained that I had acted in detrimental reliance on the agent's statement, so any liability incurred by being without sufficient funds to cover my bills was their liability, not mine.
That's right. I went there. I used the lawyer-y mumbo-jumbo. It does get their attention.
I now have "a note in my file" that they're going to "work with me" to cover late fees.
Which is probably also a lie.