July 26, 2006

I’ve Been Promoted

Filed under: General,News from Other Sites — Tom @ 3:46 pm

I am thrilled that the folks at NewsBusters have taken leave of their senses and moved me up from “Contributing Writer” to “Contributing Editor,” and am posting this before they change their minds.

Luckily, being a “Contributing Editor” involves no real editing (except my own posts, which is a handful by itself).

It is an honor (cue Sally Field — “they like me, they really like me”), and actually very humbling, to be on a list, ANY list, with Mark Tapscott, David Limbaugh, and other luminaries. Like, what were the NewsBusters people thinking?

A serious thanks to Matt Sheffield, Greg Sheffield, et al at NewsBusters. Their pioneering Media Research Center parent has been documenting and highlighting liberal media news bias, negligence, and incompetence since the later years of Reagan’s presidency. The country owes them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. The NewsBusters site has become the go-to place for anyone who wants to know what the talking heads have been saying, but either can’t stand to watch it themselves or don’t have the time to.

Column of the Day: Heather MacDonald on the Myth of Hispanic Immigrant Conservatism

Open borders “conservatives” in denial believe that immigrants from south of the border are predominantly free-market capitalists and values voters in waiting.

Heather MacDonald in National Review tells them, with a specific shot taken at The Wall Street Journal, to get a grip (HT Laura Ingraham, who mentioned the column on her show Monday):

The myth of the redemptive Hispanic is finally cracking. For years, conservative open-borders advocates have touted Hispanic “family values” as a prime reason to increase immigration. Hispanic immigrants, these conservatives say, will save America from itself. At a time when Anglo and black families are disintegrating, when society is becoming increasingly atomized and alienated, Hispanics will bring the traditional values that the country so desperately needs. In a classic iteration of the theme, Larry Kudlow wrote on NRO last May that Hispanic immigrants would “become a much-needed churchgoing blue-collar middle class . . . that is crucial to a healthy America.”

The truth is now supplanting the fiction. Last Friday, the New York Times ran an editorial, “Young Latinas and a Cry for Help,” that laid out the real state of the Hispanic family. A quarter of all Latinas are mothers by the age of 20, few of them married, reported the Times. This out-of-wedlock teen-birth rate is three times that of white teens, and significantly more than that of blacks as well. The Hispanic dropout rate is also the highest in the country — the Manhattan Institute’s Jay Greene puts it at 47 percent.

There is simply no way to square the facts about Hispanic family breakdown with the myth of the redemptive Hispanic. Talk to any social worker and she will tell you that illegitimacy has become completely normalized among her Hispanic clients. And the usual explanation for this epidemic of illegitimacy — an unresolved culture clash between young people and their traditional parents — is equally bogus. The mothers of teen mothers are themselves completely on board with single parenting, say the social workers, having often been single parents themselves. And they have no qualms about hooking their daughter and grandchildren into the public-benefits apparatus: “It’s now culturally OK for that population to be served by the welfare system,” says a case manager in a Santa Ana, Calif., home for teen mothers.

Far from exercising a brake on the erosion of traditional values, as conservative immigration advocates claim, the growing Hispanic population will provide the impetus for more government alternatives to personal responsibility.

….. Conservatives, including open-borders conservatives, market themselves as the party of realism and common sense. A recent manifesto for immigration amnesty and liberalized entry rules in the Wall Street Journal bragged: “Conservatives have always prided themselves on acknowledging, in the words of John Adams, that ‘Facts are stubborn things.’” More stubborn still, however, is the unwillingness of open borders proponents to acknowledge social facts that undercut their cause.

This Spam Wants You to Believe You Have Ordered Something…..

….. and its attachment probably contains a virus or malware.

I haven’t seen this type of e-mail before. It’s sneaky, because many recipients will be tempted to open the attachment to find out if you ordered something, or if someone has ordered something in your name. Resist the temptation.

It’s supposedly from customercare@dell.com:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for shopping with our internet shop. Your order, WC2905036, has been received. Summary of your order you can see in the attachment file.

This email is to confirm the receipt of your order. Please do not reply as this email was sent from our automated confirmation system.

Please Note: There is no need to re-send your request or call our customer service department for status or tracking number, this will only delay our response time to you. Rest assured, we are making every effort to process and ship your order within 1 to 2 business days. We appreciate your understanding and patience and do value your business.

Once your order has been processed and shipped a FEDEX Tracking number will be automatically emailed to the address provided.

Please Note: Tracking information will be available in FedEx’s system only after 10pm EST Monday thru Friday. If you receive a tracking number on Sunday, you will be able to track it Monday evening after 10pm EST.

All orders placed including 1-2 or 2-3 business day options are shipped within 48 hours providing the merchandise is in stock.
All FedEx Ground orders will take 7-10 business days to arrive.

Some packages may require a signature upon delivery. These packages will not be left without a signature. For your convenience, we will email you a FedEx tracking number on all successfully processed and shipped orders.

All Plasma TVs, DVD players, Scanners, Fax Machines, Receivers, Home Theater, and Printers are not returnable after box is opened.

To insure the best handling of your order please allow 24-48 business hours for the processing and the shipping of your order. Thank you for your cooperation.

We hope you enjoy your order! Thank you for shopping with us!

Wouldn’t it be nice if this “creativity” could be harnessed for constructive purposes instead?

Norwood Eminent-Domain Holdouts Win at Ohio Supreme Court

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:15 am

Well, well, score one for the good guys, from inner-ring Cincinnati “suburb” Norood:

Eminent domain abused
Ohio Supreme Court overrules Norwood home-taking

The city of Norwood cannot use “deteriorating” as a standard for blight to justify the taking of homes by eminent domain, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled this morning.

In holding parts of Ohio’s eminent domain law unconstitutional, the state’s highest court set a different course than the U.S. Supreme Court did in its landmark Kelo v. New London decision last year. There, the Supreme Court ruled that a Connecticut city’s taking of property for economic development was constitutional — but made clear that state constitutions could set different standards for property rights.

The Norwood case is expected to be closely watched around the country. It was the first major eminent domain case to reach a state Supreme Court since Kelo.

….. The unanimous decision, written by Justice Maureen O’Connor, found the state’s eminent domain law unconstitutional for several reasons:

It allows the taking of private property for solely for economic development. “We hold that although economic factors may be considered in determining whether private property may be appropriated, the fact that the appropriation would provide an economic benefit to the government and community, standing alone, does not satisfy the public-use requirement of Section19, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.”

Similarly, the standard that Norwood used to take the properties — the fact that the neighborhood was “deteriorating” — is too vague of a concept to justify the taking.

The appeal provisions of the eminent domain law prohibiting property owners from appealing the government’s right to take until after a jury determines the compensation denies the property owners their right to due process.

The unanimous vote in the decision is the biggest surprise, as Ohio’s Supreme Court is often as divided on ideological lines as the US Supreme Court often is.

My immediate reaction: The argument that an area is “deteriorating” is so weak that whoever formulated it should be embarrassed. ALL property is in some degree of deterioration from its originally brand-new condition. Zheesh.

I’ll have more on this later as other reaction comes in.

________________________

UPDATE: You know what they say about a picture being worth 1,000 words. Here’s an aerial view from the Enquirer:

Norwood Pic

UPDATE 2: Highlights of The Institute for Justice’s press release:

Today, in an historic ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously held that the City of Norwood could not use eminent domain to take Carl and Joy Gamble’s home of 35 years, as well as the rental home of Joe Horney and tutoring center owned by Matthew Burton and Sanae Ichikawa Burton, for private development — specifically, a complex of chain stores, condominiums and office space planned by millionaire developer Jeffrey Anderson and his Rookwood Partners.

In a unanimous and lengthy decision, the Court laid out a series of important legal opinions. The Ohio Supreme Court explicitly rejected the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo decision of June 2005, in which that Court held that local governments can take property from one person and transfer it to another because the new owner might produce more taxes or more jobs than the current one — so-called “economic development.” Second, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that state courts must apply “heightened scrutiny” to uses of eminent domain, especially when the property is being taken for use by another private party; according to the Court, lower Ohio courts should not simply rubber-stamp decisions by local government to take property. Next, the Court held that statutes authorizing the taking of property cannot be vague. The “deteriorating” standard used by Norwood “is a standardless standard” and the Court rejected it. Finally, the Court struck down Ohio’s statute that allowed property to be taken even before an appeals court ruled that the taking was legal.

“This decision is a complete and total victory for Carl and Joy Gamble, Joe Horney, the Burtons and every home and business owner in the State of Ohio,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, who argued the case before the Ohio Supreme Court.

….. “This decision will set an example for the entire country,” explained Scott Bullock, an IJ senior attorney. “Other states will look to Ohio’s well-reasoned opinion in setting their own constitutional standards. The decision also will affect future legislation in Ohio. The Court has just told the Legislature that it cannot use the kinds of vague and standardless definitions that are so common under current Ohio law.

….. “Our home is ours again!” exclaimed Joy Gamble. “The Ohio Supreme Court has stopped this piracy. Now all Ohioans are safe from the scourge of eminent domain for private profit.”

“The Ohio Supreme Court finally made us Americans again,” Carl Gamble added. “We haven’t had the heart or the will to see our home of more than 35 years since the City and the developer forced us out and fenced it off, but I’m sure we’ll be taking a ride back up there today. This is just terrific!”

Joy continued, “Our state Supreme Court did what the U.S. Supreme Court did not do; it protected our home. The Ohio Supreme Court protected small property owners from the overpowering and overbearing city governments and the greedy developers.”

The idea that the taking actually took place “lawfully” before appeals were heard is truly offensive. Never again.

UPDATE 3: Here are the first two paragraphs from the case summary at The Ohio Supreme Court’s web site –

In a multifaceted opinion, the Supreme Court of Ohio today clarified Ohio law on eminent domain, ruling 7-0 to reverse a Hamilton County appeals court and halt the taking of private homes by the City of Norwood to make way for a development complex. Among other findings, today’s ruling: overturned as unconstitutional a portion of Ohio’s eminent domain statute, established that an economic benefit to the community alone does not justify government taking of private property, and set a heightened level of scrutiny for Ohio courts to apply when considering eminent domain cases.

Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote the unanimous majority opinion that balances “two competing interests of great import in American democracy: the individual’s rights in the possession and security of property, and the sovereign’s power to take private property for the benefit of the community.”

UPDATE 4: In AP’s story out of Columbus, the losers aren’t taking it well, and developers involved in other eminent domain projects are acting as if today’s ruling means nothing:

Norwood Mayor Tom Williams defended the plan and said he still believes the project was lawful.

“I believed that we did that right thing then, I believe we did the right thing now,” he said.

Tim Burke, a lawyer hired by Norwood, called the decision a significant disappointment and said it will halt progress on the planned development. He said the city likely will not appeal.

“Norwood, every step of the way, followed the law as it existed,” Burke said.

Development interests in other areas — particularly Cleveland’s Flats development along Lake Erie — signaled their intentions to proceed with plans that involve similar seizures.

“The Flats case is fundamentally different from the Norwood case and as such, we do not believe today’s ruling will impact the outcome of our legal actions,” the Port Authority and The Wolstein Group said in a joint statement.

Readers might find it worth knowing that Tim Burke is the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Hamilton County.

UPDATE 5: More blog coverage and commentary can be found at Volokh (Ilya Somin); The SOB Alliance (Steve Kelso, who also cross-posted at Right Angle); NixGuy (who is correct — Ohio just said “NO” to the Kelo decision); Greater Cincinnati Libertarian Blog; The Wizard at Width of a Circle; City of Tiny Lights; The Dean of Cincinnati at Cincinnati Beacon, with some very good detective work on the power players who attempted to orchestrate the taking; Freedom Works; Vox Bibliothecae; It Shines for All, the New York Sun’s blog; Atlanta’s News; Below the Beltway, who has been following the case for some time; Kim at Wizbang; Dave Roland; Boring Made Dull (“OH Supremes Put the Wood to Norwood”); and Crescat Sententia, who fittingly says, “There is independent life in the Ohio Constitution!”

NY Times Fails to Do Its Homework on the IRS’s Estate Tax Auditor Reduction

In January, in response to the Sago Mine tragedy, editorials at The New York Times charged that the Bush Administration had let mine safety deterioriate and had let up on its mine inspection efforts. A few minutes of looking at the government’s own statistics by yours truly (here and here) and others showed that deaths and injuries had both decreased substantially during the Bush administration, even after considering workforce reductions, and that on a per-mine and per-miner basis, there had been no slacking off on inspections.

Now The Times, that former national media powerhouse that seems intent on becoming Manhattan’s quaint little alternative newspaper, has done it again. In an article about IRS reductions in estate tax auditing, it shows that it doesn’t understand something you and I instinctively know — when there’s less work to do, you need fewer people to do it. It also didn’t do the basic research that would have shown that the reductions are not only justified, but that they should have begun several years ago.

And this will sound familiar to Times watchers: They think they have this incredible scoop because some of the people being let go leaked internal documents:

I.R.S. to Cut Tax Auditors

The federal government is moving to eliminate the jobs of nearly half of the lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service who audit tax returns of some of the wealthiest Americans, specifically those who are subject to gift and estate taxes when they transfer parts of their fortunes to their children and others.

The administration plans to cut the jobs of 157 of the agency’s 345 estate tax lawyers, plus 17 support personnel, in less than 70 days. Kevin Brown, an I.R.S. deputy commissioner, confirmed the cuts after The New York Times was given internal documents by people inside the I.R.S. who oppose them.

….. Mr. Brown said in a telephone interview Friday that he had ordered the staff cuts because far fewer people were obliged to pay estate taxes under President Bush’s legislation.

But six I.R.S. estate tax lawyers whose jobs are likely to be eliminated said in interviews that the cuts were just the latest moves behind the scenes at the I.R.S. to shield people with political connections and complex tax-avoidance devices from thorough audits.

Sharyn Phillips, a veteran I.R.S. estate tax lawyer in Manhattan, called the cuts a “back-door way for the Bush administration to achieve what it cannot get from Congress, which is repeal of the estate tax.”

Mr. Brown dismissed as preposterous any suggestion that the I.R.S. was soft on rich tax cheats. He said that the money saved by eliminating the estate tax lawyers would be used to hire revenue agents to audit income tax returns, especially those from people making over $1 million.

….. Mr. Brown said that careful analysis showed that the I.R.S. was auditing enough returns to catch cheats and that 10 percent of the estate audits brought in 80 percent of the additional taxes. He said that auditing a greater percentage of gift and estate tax returns would not be worthwhile because “the next case is not a lucrative case” and likely to be of relatively little value.

All the whining and borderline moonbattery notwithstanding, the fact is that a 5-minute review of the IRS’s own statistics shows that there are many fewer returns to audit (each year’s link at “Estate “Tax Returns By Tax Status and Size of Gross Estate” is an Excel spreadsheet of the relevant stats):

iRSdeathTaxRtns

Based on the trends, it would seem nearly certain that fewer estate tax returns were filed in 2005.

The IRS’s estate tax auditors are also charged with reviewing gift tax returns. IRS Gift tax statistics are not as complete, but the data available indicate that a similar workload reduction has taken place, from 13,815 taxable returns filed in 1997 to only 5,468 in 2004.

The headcount reduction of 157 out of 345 IRS estate tax lawyers is a 45.5% reduction, which appears to be right on the money. In fact, with the workload falling as it has, the real criticism of the IRS should really be directed at why they have taken so long to respond to it.

The Times’ coverage of the story without looking at, or perhaps ignoring, the relevant statistics is incompetent and inexcusable — and, sad to say, all too typical.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (072606)

Free Links:

  • HCA’s decision to go private in a $21 billion transaction is, in part, a reaction to the higher cost of being a public company since the advent of Sarbanes Oxley (noted about 2/3 of the way through the article).
  • I would have to agree that this is a bad decision by American City Business Journals — The publisher of most of the weekly business newspapers around the country is limiting online content access to subscribers only. Subscribers to one paper do have access to all of ACBJ’s newspapers nationwide.
  • The “Universal Service Fund” is an example of billions of tax dollars going to waste:

    The Universal Service Fund is a rather mysterious thing, its only visible effect for most people being the 10% or so tax on their phone bills that funds it. The idea behind the fund is that it’s supposed to subsidize phone service in rural areas or to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it, but unsurprisingly, taxpayers don’t look to be getting much value for the $7 billion they pay into the fund each year. A new study says that the government is paying up to $13,345 per telephone line for subsidized USF service — meaning it would be far cheaper to simply buy people cell phones to use and pay for the service.

    It would be even cheaper to break the “bad news” to people in rural areas that wireless service may be the only viable technology. USF could continue in limited form if some limited subsidy were necessary to keep the wireless plans affordable. The cost savings are undeniable. Plenty of people in well-served areas who can choose decide not to have land lines at all, so it’s hard to argue about the negative consequences of limiting people to wireless. And almost all of that pesky 10% tax on our phone bills should go away.

  • Ho-hum jobs news (excerpt does not require subscription; full article does):

    San Antonio-based Rackspace Managed Hosting plans to hire an additional 300 employees by the end of the year. The new hires are in addition to the 400 jobs the company announced previously that it would add to its payroll in 2006.

    Graham Weston, Rackspace CEO and chairman, says explosive growth, in both its United Kingdom and San Antonio locations, is creating the need for more employees.

  • More ho-hum employment news, this time from Hartford, CT –

    In a boon to the Insurance City, The St. Paul Travelers Cos. plans to add about 500 jobs in Hartford and more than 100 others in Windsor, and is launching a major office renovation and expansion project to house the growing workforce.

  • Typical “yeah, but” economic reporting from The Associated Press:

    A steady job market helped consumers overcome their concerns over high energy costs in July, unexpectedly lifting a barometer of consumer sentiment on Tuesday.

    But there are warning signs the optimism may be short-lived as shoppers face a barrage of concerns from a cooling housing market and rising interest rates to war in the Middle East.

    A report that showed another monthly decline in home sales, which have been a source of confidence for consumers, also stoked concerns about the economy. The decline, however, was less than analysts expected.

    So consumer sentiment was up “unexpectedly” and home sales didn’t drop as much as predicted. It seems to me that AP is about the only one “concerned.” One shudders at what the “objective” wire service will do when there is legitimately bad news to report.

Positivity: Hero Pulls Man from Blazing Van Just Before Explosion

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

The event took place in Buffalo Grove, IL:

(Ron) Weinert, a Wauconda resident, is credited with saving the life of 63-year-old Indiana resident Peter Jaquet on July 18 after Jaquet’s van containing several liquid oxygen cylinders caught fire and exploded.

“He clearly risked his own life,” said Fire Chief Timothy Sashko.

“We are treating him like a hero,” said Fire Department Lt. Doug Postma.

Garth Rockey, Weinert’s supervisor in the street department, praised the rescue.

“He always wants to help people,” Rockey said of the 18-year village employee.

Weinert, 41, is taking the praise in stride.

“You have to do what you have to do,” he said modestly.

Weinert said he was returning from a village job shortly after 3:30 p.m. July 18 when he saw the van hit a light pole at Easton Road and Route 22. The driver had been cut off by another vehicle, causing the crash.

According to Batallion Chief Larry Swieca, the accident appeared routine at first but quickly turned into a life-or-death situation.

“The driver (of the van) told us he heard a noise behind him, and it apparently was a few of the tanks behind him falling over,” Swieca said. “So he attempted to pull over to the side of the road and he very lightly struck a light pole.”

Speaking from his hospital bed on Friday, Jaquet confirmed that his tanks had toppled and he knew that they were leaking the volatile liquid.

“All three were leaking … They bleed fast, and that’s a lot of pure oxygen,” Jaquet said. “When I opened up my door to go back there, poof — a spark ignited them. It was probably the static electricity from my door opening … That first (explosion) knocked me out.”

Swieca said that “Ron was on Easton, at about a 90-degree angle from where the van was, and he saw it go up on the side of the road and hit the light pole, so he was going to call it to the police department when he saw what appeared to be flames around the driver’s head.”

“Ron ran up to the van,” Swieca said, “and said, ‘You gotta get out! You gotta get out!’ pulled him out the door and they started running away. I guess they got about 25 feet away when the van exploded. Took the roof right off the van.”

Weinert said Jaquet’s “face and head were smoking” when he pulled him free. “I grabbed him as fast as I could. The heat was intense.”

Jaquet recalled that he had trouble walking and Weinert all but carried him. “He said, ‘Can you walk?’ and I told him ‘I can crawl,’ and he helped me get out.”

Recalling the explosion, Weinert said, “There were fragments flying everywhere. It was loud!” Weinert speculated that one of the fragments must have struck him. “My arm is bruised, but I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t feel it.” He suffered no other injuries.

Swieca said the initial explosion was followed within minutes by two others, as the intense heat took its toll on one cylinder after another in the flaming van.

Following the accident, Jaquet was first taken to Northwest Community Hopsital in Arlington Heights, but he said that “I was like a pumpkin. My head was swollen about three times its normal size” from the burns. He was quickly transported to the Loyola University Medical Center Burn Center in Maywood. He left the hospital Saturday.

Fire Chief Sashko said he and Police Chief Steve Balinski will present a commendation to Weinert at the Aug. 7 Village Board meeting “in recognition of his heroic action.”

Weinert and his wife, Tammy, have two daughters, Jenna, 11, and Haley, 4, students at Wauconda Elementary School.

“His a good guy and is always willing to help people,” Rockey said. “He is a responsible, long-time employee; a good worker and a good family man.”

And the man that Weinert pulled from the fire said he would like a chance to actually meet his rescuer following an encounter that was over before it started.

“I want to thank him for helping me. If I would have stayed there, I would have been hurt a lot worse, that’s for sure,” Jaquet said.