Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

In Favor of Keeping Gas Tax

30.04.2008 (12:59 pm) – Filed under: Energy,Finance,Politics,Taxation ::

Federal gas taxes help support America’s transportation system, one in which roadways all over the nation are being repaired and upgraded after a period of significant neglect.  It’s unpleasant to pay the $0.18 extra per gallon, yet there are worse things.

Thomas Friedman has this to say about the unholy alliance of McCain & Clinton that embraces the foolhardy notion of removing the federal excise tax on gasoline for this summer’s rush to the pumps:

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away.

Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

Friedman is a day behind Paul Krugman, who partially identified the problem with this "plan" yesterday:

Why doesn’t cutting the gas tax this summer make sense? It’s Econ 101 tax incidence theory: if the supply of a good is more or less unresponsive to the price, the price to consumers will always rise until the quantity demanded falls to match the quantity supplied. Cut taxes, and all that happens is that the pretax price rises by the same amount. The McCain gas tax plan is a giveaway to oil companies, disguised as a gift to consumers.

But as Friedman says, the problem isn’t that oil companies might raise prices to market levels and hence make more money – it’s the fact that the federal government’s already bloated budget is hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars out of balance and this proposal, kind as it might seem to drivers, can only exacerbate the fiscal mess that’s been created by the Bush administration.

There’s another aspect to the issue as well.  Friedman again:

…here’s what’s scary: our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.

The truth is that a sustained period of high gas prices will – not would, but will – be a good thing for America because higher prices encourage investment in other forms of energy that are not as likely to be controlled by people who actively detest everything America stands for.

Friedman again:

The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.”

Sounds like a real winner of a policy, doesn’t it?

Of the candidates still in the running for the presidency, only Barack Obama has the sense to see that suspending the gas tax is a temporary, feel-good, "vote-for-me-because-I’m-nice" position that hurts people in the long run.

Good for him.

Paterson Should Protect Free Speech

30.04.2008 (11:23 am) – Filed under: Free Speech,Islam,Law ::

Gov. David Paterson has until the end of today to decide whether or not he will sign a bill the New York state legislature passed – unanimously – that would give American citizens who are sued for libel abroad the right to obtain a declaration that their works are protected under American law.  Let’s hope he does the right thing.

More about the case of that started it all from the Wall Street Journal:

England has become a choice venue for libel plaintiffs from around the world, including those who seek to intimidate critics whose works would be protected in the U.S. but might not in that country. That English libel law has increasingly been used to stifle speech about the subject of international terrorism raises the stakes still more.

The case against Rachel Ehrenfeld in England by Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz is illustrative. Her 2003 book "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Funded and How to Stop It" dealt at length with one of the most significant (and difficult and dangerous to research) topics – the funding of terrorism. The conduct of Mr. Bin Mahfouz as a possible funder of terrorism was one of the subjects discussed in the book, which was published in New York.

Twenty-three copies of the book were sold in England. On that slim basis, Mr. Bin Mahfouz sued there, claiming that his reputation had been gravely harmed.

Ms. Ehrenfeld (on the advice of English counsel) refused to appear before the English courts, and a judgment against her was entered in the amount of $225,000. At any time, Mr. Bin Mahfouz could seek to enforce that judgment. Whether or not he does, the harm to Ms. Enhrenfeld’s reputation remains real.

Ironic that Bin Mahfouz’s reputation has been enhanced, at least among those he seeks to please, while Ms. Enhrenfeld’s has been damaged.  The aggressor playing the victim is a pathetic trick but one that works too often. 

This seems like a clear-cut case of the law being used for a purpose other than which it was intended.  Unfortunately, England seems – from this side of the pond – to be unwilling to take action on this and other matters that Those Who We Dare Not Offend could use to foment unrest in the streets.

Appeasement, anyone?  Seen this before?

The least David Paterson can – must, IMO – is to sign this bill and designate his state as one in which the free speech of its citizens is explicitly protected from the predations of over-rich censors abroad.

Gas, Corn, and Consequences

25.04.2008 (3:59 pm) – Filed under: Agriculture,Energy ::

Gasoline prices are at all-time highs here in Texas, including a whopping $3.46 in Houston, home of many oil-related businesses and refineries.  Many parts of the U.S. are experiencing even higher prices, to say nothing of Europe, et al, so I expect little sympathy from most readers. 

So what’s a government to do?  Meddle, of course!  But as Mark Steyn so eloquently puts it, "The real problem isn’t the "problem" but the Big Government solution to it."

To whit, Nancy Pelosi recently sent an apparently pointless letter to John Boehner recapping the many wonderful energy bills passed during her tenure, which include:

The Energy Price Gouging Act — H.R. 1252

The No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (NOPEC) Act — H.R. 2264

This legislation enables the Department of Justice to take legal action against OPEC-controlled entities for participating in oil cartels that drive up oil prices globally and in the United States.

This legislation will reduce the burden of rising gas prices on American families, providing immediate relief to consumers by giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC: 28.81, +0.03, +0.10%) the authority to investigate and punish those who artificially inflate the price of energy.

Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008 — H.R. 5351

With Exxon Mobil ranked as the most profitable company in 2007 today, it is unnecessary for taxpayers to subsidize Big Oil. This bill will end unnecessary subsidies to Big Oil companies and invest in clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. It will extend and expand tax incentives for renewable electricity, energy and fuel, as well as for plug-in hybrid cars, and energy efficient homes, buildings, and appliances. These provisions are critical to creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

All of which is nice, except that it doesn’t do anything to solve the fundamental problem:  unreliable energy sources.  In response, President Bush has championed ethanol mandates that call for ethanol consumption to increase by 700% in the next 10 years.  But will this have the desired effects of lowering domestic energy prices and providing a consistent source of energy produced here at home?

Perhaps in the short-term.  But globally, ethanol produced from grain is a ready-made disaster in terms of food prices.  James Hamilton agrees, saying:

If this is what we get in a good year, what will happen when we have a bad crop?

American consumers are starting to see some of the consequences of our ill-fated ethanol policy in the prices of everything from meat to ice cream. While well-fed Americans may gripe, the implications for those in sub-Saharan Africa are quite alarming.

Mark Steyn again:

We are on the verge of a global tragedy, summed up in the characteristically smug bumper sticker Mona spotted the other day: "Don’t burn fuel. Grow it." The ecochondriacs abetted by the likes of Senator Grassley have taken subsistence crops and made them part of the energy market. No good can come of that, only vast human misery.

Even if we were prepared to accept that outcome – and I don’t think that we should be, despite the fact that the grain is ours to do with as we please – grain-based ethanol is not a sustainable source of energy from an efficiency of production standpoint alone.

I’ll close with this quote from C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer:

The enormous volume of corn required by the ethanol industry is sending shock waves through the food system. (The United States accounts for some 40 percent of the world’s total corn production and over half of all corn exports.) In March 2007, corn futures rose to over $4.38 a bushel, the highest level in ten years. Wheat and rice prices have also surged to decade highs, because even as those grains are increasingly being used as substitutes for corn, farmers are planting more acres with corn and fewer acres with other crops.

This might sound like nirvana to corn producers, but it is hardly that for consumers, especially in poor developing countries, who will be hit with a double shock if both food prices and oil prices stay high. The World Bank has estimated that in 2001, 2.7 billion people in the world were living on the equivalent of less than $2 a day; to them, even marginal increases in the cost of staple grains could be devastating. Filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn — which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year. By putting pressure on global supplies of edible crops, the surge in ethanol production will translate into higher prices for both processed and staple foods around the world. Biofuels have tied oil and food prices together in ways that could profoundly upset the relationships between food producers, consumers, and nations in the years ahead, with potentially devastating implications for both global poverty and food security.

Reid, Pelosi to Bully Super-Dels?

25.04.2008 (4:35 am) – Filed under: Politics ::

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are thinking about writing a letter – together with Howard Dean – instructing the Democratic super-delegates to get off the stick and pick a candidate already.  I hope they do just that.  Wouldn’t it be droll if Reid and Pelosi tried to bully the super-delegates into line and were told to stuff it? 

At The Crypt:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that he may have to push undecided superdelegates to make their decisions in the Democratic presidential race, if the contest stretches into June.

Reid said he would consider writing a joint letter with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demanding that superdelegates make their endorsements public.

“The three of us, we may write a joint letter [to superdelegates],” said Reid. “We might do individual letters. We are in contact with each other.”

Much have been made of George W. Bush’s mediocre public approval ratings and deservedly so.  But where are the stories recapping Congress’ even less inspiring performance?  They’re a bit hard to come by.  Here’s one.

Congressional approval ratings have also fallen from 32 percent after the election in 2006 to 23.5 percent last month.

As much as many people dislike the current congressional leaders that’s a real possibility.  Does Obama really want this to happen?  I’d guess that whoever the dynamic duo endorses actually loses votes as a result.

Hillary Wins Pennsylvania

22.04.2008 (11:17 pm) – Filed under: Political Correctness ::

With 94% of the vote counted in Pennsylvania, Claudia’s prediction of 55% to 45% is tracking dead-on.  This gives the former First Lady a definitive win in another big state and begs the question:  Should Mrs. Clinton drop out of the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination?  Of course not.

To many on the left, Hillary’s fight to gain the nomination smacks of heresy.  How dare she compete with the far left’s Anointed One, Mr. Barack Obama?  For these people the purpose of the election is far more to defeat the Republicans than it is about the few unique ideas that Obama has brought to the table. 

In some respects it’s difficult to blame them.  The politics and policies of George W. Bush do, in many respects, deserve repudiation.  Yet the far left’s inability to bring the administration to heel in any significant way now seems to have manifested itself as abject terror at the thought of a contested nomination process.

Uber-liberals – ne progressives – seem to fear competition in politics, just as they fear competition in the market place, and in the arena of ideas.  Only controlled arguments, contests, and outcomes seem to suit them.   Opposition must be be stifled, whether from conservatives or from within their own ranks.  This behavior indicates a lack of confidence in their ideology’s ability to win out of its own merits.

Hillary Clinton is a deeply-flawed candidate who quite literally is despised by a significant minority of Americans.  Yet the hard-nosed competition that she’s putting Barack Obama through is exactly what the Democratic party needs.   Competition streamlines ideas and toughens people, two things that the Democrats must have happen in order to focus their attention where it belongs – on mainstream America and not on the fringe agenda-drivers that dominate the progressive, activist wing of the party.

For that reason alone, here’s hoping that Hillary Clinton keeps her word and stays in the race until the last delegate is counted at the convention. 

Texas Killer’s Death Sentence Upheld

19.04.2008 (7:13 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Death Penalty,Law,Texas ::

In 1991, Kenneth Wayne Morris, a 9th grade dropout who is now 37, killed James Moody Adams, co-founder of the Northwest Academy while while his wife, Marcene, hid in a closet.  Yesterday Morris’ attempt to have himself declared too mentally retarded to be executed was rejected by the Supreme Court.  This ruling, coupled with the court’s earlier decision that lethal injection is not cruel and unusual punishment, may finally allow justice to be done in Adams’ case.

Morris was twice tested by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice before the 2002 Supreme Court ruling [Atkins v. Virginia]. He received a score of 97 both times, court filings said.

After the ruling, he scored 53 and 64, which the state later called "thoroughly discredited."

A new execution date could be set as soon as a month from the day prosecutors go to court to request one.

After watching Barack Obama try to bowl a game, one thing is clear:  It’s pretty darn easy to act dumber than you are.  The most likely explanation for Morris’ loss of IQ points is that his lawyers told him to play the fool on the test after the Atkins decision. 

By ruling 7-2 that lethal injection is constitutional, the Supreme Court seems to have stated in no uncertain terms that the death penalty will remain part of the criminal justice landscape for decades to come.  Clearly this is the right decision.   

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the main opinion, said the Kentucky inmates had failed to show that the three-drug method poses an unconstitutional risk of pain. He said prisoners who challenge a method as unconstitutional would have to show that it presented a "substantial risk" of harm to the prisoner. "Simply because an execution method may result in pain," Roberts wrote, "does not establish the sort of objectively intolerable risk of harm that qualifies as cruel and unusual."

That Morris might suffer a few moments of pain is inconsequential when compared to the agony Marcene Adams suffered watching her husband being gunned down by Morris and his murderous cohorts, to say nothing of the emotional pain she has undoubtedly suffered in the years since.

Justice Roberts again:

We begin with the principle, settled by Gregg, that capital punishment is constitutional. See 428 U. S., at 177 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.). It necessarily follows that there must be a means of carrying it out. Some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution—no matter how humane—if only from the prospect of error in following the required procedure. It is clear, then, that the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions.

As a result, America is that much better a place to call home today.

(h/t Ann Althouse)

Principal Busts Dope Dealing Delinquent

19.04.2008 (1:44 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Education,Law ::

In New Hampshire, Concord High School principal Jean Barker turned the tables on a student arranging to sell drugs via text messages by setting up a mini-string operation that lead to the student’s arrest. 

That’s what I call excellence in education!  Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of frivolous people willing to to take the drug pusher’s side.

From the Concord Monitor:

She [Barker] arranged the alleged drug deal with 17-year-old John Huckins through text messages while posing as a friend of Huckins’s, according to the report.

Huckins, a senior, was also suspended from Concord High for 10 days immediately after his arrest. But Concord school officials are also trying to suspend him for the rest of the year because they allege Huckins began the drug transaction over his cell phone while on Concord High property, a violation of drug-free school laws, according to court records.

Huckins’s attorney, Mark Howard of Manchester, is challenging that second, longer suspension on several grounds, one of which is that Concord school officials violated Huckins’s rights the first time they tried a longer suspension.

Howard declined comment, yet other criminal defense attorneys reached yesterday raised several concerns about Barker’s role in the case. Some questioned whether she had violated privacy rights or run afoul of drug laws by setting up a drug buy on school grounds.

"It’s bizarre," said Concord attorney Mark Sisti. "It’s a created crime."

Legal opinions, anyone?

Truth is that all crime is created.  Robberies and drug sales don’t spontaneously happen.  The current evidence in this case shows that Huckins was not solicited.  His actions initiated the criminal activity that the good attorneys are now trying to obfuscate away.

None of which helps Huckins.  A better course of action would be force the young man to accept responsibility for his actions, deal with his punishment like a man, and use the experience to become a better human being.

We should be thankful that there are still school administrators like Barker who are willing to step up, do what’s needed, and accept the inevitable criticism that follows whenever action is taken.  I’ll concede that her actions may fall into a legal gray area; however, there’s no question that her actions were right and proper.  Which is more important?

Barker defended her decision to pose as a student friend of Huckins’s to set up an alleged drug buy. Barker argued that Huckins’s alleged willingness to bring drugs to Brady, even under false pretenses, put her school at risk.

"Whatever part I play, it is with the intention of making sure all the kids in the building are safe and making good choices," she said. "I would not get on the phone and initiate buying drugs from someone. But when it was obvious that someone was going to involve one of our students in the sale of drugs, . . . I am not going to ignore it."

That’s it.

(h/t Houston Chronicle)

Abortion as Art

17.04.2008 (8:04 pm) – Filed under: Abortion,Stupidity ::

Aliza Shvarts, a Yalie art major, will be displaying her senior art project on campus next week.  The content:  videos of herself suffering through a series of deliberately self-induced miscarriages and wads of plastic smeared with the blood and tissue expelled from her womb in the process.

Freaky, to say the least. 

Per Yale Daily News, the project is:

…a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible" while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.

The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body.

"Sure, some people will be upset with the message and will not agree with it, but it’s not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone."

Liar.  Later in the article her motives are made clear:

"I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity," Shvarts said. "I think that I’m creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be."

I disagree, strongly.

I did find it reassuring, however, that, even at a liberal college like Yale, there are people who recognize an obscenity when they read about it.  I imagine that Shvarts’ "art" show will be very successful in terms of the number of eyeballs it attracts.  Nevertheless, the project is morally reprehensible one many levels and only serves to pollute art world’s more worthy content.

Ironically, Shvarts’ chemically induced abortions may be among the least offensive examples of the act.  Her pregnancies both began and ended without a semblance of hope or decency; nothing but death was ever intended to emerge from her project and nothing has.

In contrast, the vast majority of abortions performed could – at least have the potential – to end in joy if the procedure is not performed.  Not so here.

Fun With Puns

15.04.2008 (5:42 pm) – Filed under: Humor ::

Here’s a few cute puns, courtesy of my darling wife.  I particularly liked #1 and #9, FWIW.

1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per  passenger." 

2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says  "Dam!"

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too. 

4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says "I’ve lost my electron." The other  says, "Are you sure?" The first replies "Yes, I’m positive." 

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal?  His goal: transcend dental medication. 

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in  the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour,  the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?",  they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said," I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer." 

7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They’re twins! If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Ahmal." 

8. A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up  a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair . He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh Mac Taggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their 
store, saying he ‘ d be back if they didn’t ‘ t close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars. 

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (Oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good) a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis. 

10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh.  No pun in ten did. 

Marilyn’s Past Resurfaces

14.04.2008 (9:25 pm) – Filed under: Celebrities,Cinema,Media ::

Some celebrities fame is so great that they only require one name to identify them and Marilyn Monroe is surely one of them.  I first became a fan of hers in the late 1970s after seeing this picture in Parade magazine. 

image

Pretty hot stuff for a 12-year-old from Nowheresville, Indiana!

Marilyn’s been dead for over 45 years but her name was back in print today because an X-rated video shot during her pre-fame days was sold for a cool $1.5M to an unnamed New York businessman who vowed to lock the film up "out of respect."

Hopefully the video’s new owner will keep his word and keep the movie out of public view.  Most of Marilyn’s fans would, I think, prefer it that way.

I can’t help but wonder whether the film, possessed by members of the mob and then by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, had anything to do with her death.  It surely wasn’t something the famous actress could have been proud of and might have contributed to her suicide, if that’s what it was.  Or someone who was aware of it could have used it for leverage against her, perhaps in regard to her husband, straight-arrow Joe Dimaggio or even John or Robert Kennedy.  Or perhaps it meant nothing at all to her.

We will probably never know the answers to those questions and that’s probably for the best, too.  Whatever the origins of the film – the "casting couch" comes to mind immediately – they point backward to a time in which women like Marilyn had to "use their assets" to get what they wanted. 

That’s just sad, and all the more so because it’s still prevalent in Follywood today.  But we’re still lining up to see the movies they’re pumping out, so it must be OK.

image

Marilyn’s troubled life and premature death are America’s somewhat naughtier version of Princess Diana.  This latest revelation reinforces the tragedy of Marilyn’s stardom and the price it cost her to attain and maintain it.