Thursday, March 16, 2006

Here's your sign

I have to admit, I've been caught flat-footed. Not only has a relatively unknown Democrat picked up a good idea and run with it, but she's actually improved on it in the process! Although Bill Engvall's idea did call for her to be wearing it, any implementation at all is good enough for me - kudos to Debbie Stabenow! It's refreshing just to see "Democrat" and "idea" in the same sentence without some synonym of "lack".

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I don't get it

I like to think that I've got a robust sense of humor, but I guess maybe I'm actually humor-impaired.

According to court documents field Wednesday in Alabama, Russell Lee DeBusk Jr, 19, Benjamin Nathan Moseley, 19 and Mathew Lee Cloyd, 20, say they set five small, isolated churches about 50 miles southwest of their Birmingham homes ablaze Feb. 3 as a joke after a night of deer hunting and drinking.

Could be it's the delivery that's throwing me off. Maybe if DeBusk, Moseley, and Cloyd were set on fire, it would click for me. What's a little kerosene in the name of comedy?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

We are such idiots

A visit to Jane's blog is always a worthwhile experience. It's unabashedly Yemenocentric, which isn't a bad thing, but outside of its influence in international Islamofascist terrorism, Yemen itself just doesn't hold much interest for me. What is interesting to me are the insights into the workings of the social institutions of a completely alien society, and every so often the discovery of an idea that's completely new and original to me. Your culture really does impose limits on the way you think, and you can learn some intriguing things if you just step outside the box now and then.

For example - we in the States have this hugely expensive multi-tiered penal system, so expansive that Eurotwink socialists like to point out that it holds more convicts than every other system in the history of the world combined, or some such dogma. But really, have we ever questioned the need for or nature of the penal system? They have in Yemen!

Yemeni authorities yesterday released 627 supporters of a rebel preacher held on charges of involvement in clashes with government forces which left hundreds dead in the north of the country.
“They were released after they had pledged not to return to their perverseness, and to be good citizens,” said the statement, carried by official media.

OMG, DUH! This is all we really needed to do -

Judge: "The state of New York finds you guilty of two counts of armed robbery, two counts of resisting arrest, three counts of jaywalking, six counts of kicking puppies, and one count of saying "nipple" on live TV. Will you return to perverseness?"

Convict: "No."

Judge: "Then you've paid your debt to society. Be a good citizen. This court is adjourned."

Write your congress critters. We can save state and federal governments OODLES of dosh, and maybe even get me a lifetime sinecure seat on the bench as well.

Education in the new millenium

I've heard the select bits and pieces of the Jay Bennish rant that fall through the media filter, as you probably have too. Michelle's posted the entire transcript of the tirade, though - and all I can say is wow. I had no idea how much more there is to geography today - state of the union speeches had nothing to do with it when I was a kid. My favorite bit has to be the part where he confuses George Clinton with Bill Clinton. Empowering the minds of tomorrow on union-extorted wages - yeeeaaaghhh! We're so screwed.

I don't have any little carpet sharks exposed to this daily that I can grill at the end of the day, but I imagine what the experience must be like nowadays. I picture greeting a young daughter something like this -

Heya, kiddo! Whadja learn in math today?

To speak truth to the fascist McHegemonyburton!

Uh... that's nice. What about History?

That we have no right to impose democracy, our culture, and beliefs on far away people with bombs!

So you're done with WWII, I guess. You ended that sentence with a preposition - do you mean not to impose on 'people with bombs', or not to 'impose with bombs'?

We're not supposed to ask. It's racist.

Right, sorry. And spelling?


OK, that'll do. Why don't you go ask mom for a snack? And tell her what you did in gym class, I probably shouldn't hear it.

Keep your morality off my body! Can I have some brutally harvested imperialist capital gains for the field trip tomorrow?

Not unless everyone else is getting some too. That would be an unjust and oppressive distribution of wealth that subjugates you to the patriarchal agenda.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Move every house, for great justice

Continuing on the last post, today. I didn't mean to, but I found that I'd really added insufficient commentary when I wrote a reply that just kept growing to the following comment from Andy:

Have not, under the power of “eminent domain”, the local, state and federal governments been “taking” and (under)paying citizens for land for many, many years?

I think that it has only come into the public sphere, if you will, lately is for two main reasons.

First, there is so little undeveloped land left that wherever a project is planned to go there is already something there. There are no “empty” lots left in or around DC. There is very little farm land left to be sold. A new project must now replace something else.

This leads to the second point. They are now taking land that is no longer just owned by the poor, or in building that are inhabited by the poor. These projects are going into areas where middle class people now live. Now, I’ve never been one to jump up and defend the poor mind you, but it will tend to make more news etc. if it’s happening to others.

Eminent domain, in and of itself, is less of an issue to me than the way it gets used. The government has indeed been taking land for years — probably since about the time they crumpled up the Articles of Confederation — but mostly in the spirit of its intent. As it was framed, the government could take your land (with compensation - I don't know exactly how just said compensation tends to be) for public use.

If recollections of my education haven't completely fogged, I think they have the burden of showing that they really do need your bit of land, and that no other bit of available land would do. I think that condemned and chronically vacant buildings as well as vacant lots qualify as "available". They couldn't likely take your house to build a playground on it - there's got to be lots of places they could put a little park. They might be able to take it to build a school, if there just wasn't available land in reasonable proximity to the place needing it. If they're building a new interstate and need your little stretch of land to connect it, they can very likely pry it out of your hands to complete the project. Or at least that was my understanding of the old eminent domain.

Up to this point, I don't really find that unfair, as long as the compensation really is reasonable. It may suck to have it happen to you, but government needs to be able to provide some things, and it might require the occasional sacrifice to allow them to provide it. It's probably true that eminent domain was more often applied to "poor properties" in the past, since they've got to be cheaper to compensate. It's probably also true that middle and upper class property are more squarely in the sights of the new eminent domain since the limit is no longer public budgets, but whatever private interests are willing to spend. I don't think the class difference is really the issue that makes Kelo* a bad juju, though.

What Kelo established is that the government can take your land for the public good. This is not at all the same standard as "for public use", is the root of the controversy around the decision, and the source of the disagreement that yours truly has with this mockery of jurisprudence. If your block generates $30k in taxes, and a developer wants to put in a plaza that will generate $80k in taxes, Kelo gives the government standing to take the land from you and your neighbors. Could an honest reading of the new interperetation even find an obligation for the government to take it? I've seen nothing to suggest yes or no, but I infer from the standard of a "public good" that it could be so.

Additionally, as that scenario implies, the land doesn't have to be earmarked for public use - it can be taken for the purpose of transferring it to another private individual, as was the case in New London and is the case in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, they're just taking a somewhat circuitous path to it instead of the direct route that Kelo provides, and dumping millons in public funds down the crapper to boot. Regardless of whether that was the path intended when they aquired the property, that would be the objective result, and it's why that particular story knotted my tighty whities. If it could unintentionally evolve into such a process, then it could intentionally be crafted into such a process, and that needs inhibiting.

Moving beyond the potential for exploitation and corruption though, this term "public good" is poisonous and fraught with danger. What is public good? There have already been reportedly over 30 invokations of Kelo since the decision last year - it would be interesting (and likely instructive) to see the range of ideals offered up as "public good". In New London, it was tax revenue. In D.C., maybe it's convenient shopping. The Supremes may have laid out explicit guidelines defining public good; I haven't read the text of the decision, and it's possible that they weren't entirely derelict in the execution of their duties, but the Kelo standard alone is an overreach.

This new interperetation of eminent domain moves from being an exception to our right to own property, to rendering that right practically meaningless. Jobs could be considered a public good just about anywhere; if that's an acceptable standard, this would mean that any commercial development whatsoever can use the government to take your home if they think you're sitting on a choice location. The only people with sacrosanct land ownership rights are now those who provide the most of this enigmatic "public good".

The Supremes' vote was an ideological split, and I'm perhaps naive and idealistic enough to hope that this kind of judicial imagination left with the liberal majority. This is just one in a string of liberal inventions that needs to be challenged and overturned - I only hope that the Lost Liberty Hotel can be completed first. Plan a vacation there!

* The U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London decision. Not to be confused with Mark "drag tackle" Kelso, the Gazoo-helmet-wearing free safety of the Buffalo Bills from the late 80's to early 90's who weighed slightly more than a regulation football. Kelo v. New London has not yet been seen being carried towards the endzone by any wide receiver of the NFL.

All of which, of course, is just a pretext to get some Friday Frickin' Cat Blogging done!