Friday, November 25, 2005

Scrap the Shuttle

Previously, I've written that the International Space Station should be scrapped because of its high cost and limited scientific value. The station and the shuttle essentially exist to keep each other running, but at extraordinary cost. Now, The Washington Post reports on the shuttle's (or perhaps we should say sinkhole's) budget problems:

A large deficit in NASA's troubled shuttle program threatens to seriously delay and possibly cripple President Bush's space exploration initiative unless the number of planned flights is cut virtually in half or the White House agrees to add billions of dollars to the human spaceflight budget...

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin has said that terminating the shuttle program would be just as expensive as keeping it going. The shuttle routinely consumes more than 30 percent of NASA's budget.

How's that now? I'm guessing that this means that shut-down costs like scrapping vehicles and facilities and transferring workers would cost an amount comparable to the current budget - but that isn't a reason not to do it. I'd rather spend $1 billion to shut down a program today that costs $1 billion a year than to wait until ten years pass and another $10 billion is spent to do it. Delaying the inevitable will cost billions of dollars.

Where [Griffin] has not fared so well, however, is in allaying lawmakers' misgivings about the "gap" in human space travel between the end of the shuttle program in 2010 and the first manned flights of the new exploration vehicle in 2014.

Griffin said earlier this year that NASA now projects that the new spaceship would fly by 2012, with a return to the moon by 2018, but he was unable to satisfy those who want to close the gap completely.

If they want space travel to be exciting and inspiring, the small "gap" would probably be helpful. Congress is probably mostly concerned about protecting pork:

NASA's budget difficulties have also been complicated by having to pay for about $400 million in special projects inserted, mostly by senators, into the agency's 2006 funding...

Scrapping the shuttle was proposed, but didn't make it far enough:

Several sources confirmed that the budget office in the early negotiations proposed stopping shuttle flights altogether. "It sucks money out of the budget, and it's a dead-end program," one source said.

But "that argument's over," another source said. "The political side of the White House said, 'We're keeping it.' If you kill the shuttle right now, it will be heavy lifting for your foreign policy because of the international obligations" around the space station.

That's why we should scrap the station at the same time.

[Cross-Posted at Just Barely Inside the Beltway]

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Undocumented Documents?

PC reporting from Reuters:
Some states even recognize documents known as "matriculas consulares" which allow undocumented Mexicans to obtain driving licenses and open bank accounts.
If these people are truly "undocumented," how can they have such documents?

"Undocumented" isn't just a harmless, ambiguous PC term for "illegal alien" - it isn't even close to being true.


For more misused language, check out The Top Politically inCorrect Words for 2005.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Free Trade for the Willing

From the Investor's Business Daily:

If you heeded the hype from gloomy hand wringers or news photos of shop-trashing anti-American thugs, you'd think President Bush left the Argentina summit in failure. It's nothing but rubbish.

Seldom has news been so distorted against facts. Most of the U.S. media claim that because the 34 states were obstructed from full agreement on a declaration to kick-start free trade by a few holdouts, it's some sort of victory for the chief obstructor, U.S. antagonist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Just by the numbers, it's a false impression. Only five states at the Organization of American States summit in Mar del Plata withheld signing a statement to restart talks for a Free Trade of the Americas pact, and four of those — Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay — did so temporarily on valid concerns about farm subsidies.

The U.S. sympathizes with them, but is hamstrung by its larger trade relations with heavily subsidized Europe. That's why the U.S. is going to bat for those four at the World Trade Organization's 148-nation Doha Round of trade talks in Hong Kong this December.

That leaves just Venezuela obstructing free trade, and on ideological grounds. The real story is that 29 very different states — making up 90% of the hemisphere's GDP — endorsed free trade.

Free trade opponents try to cloak themselves in anti-Americanism, but it just doesn't work:

Even more encouraging, the summit's most articulate advocates for free trade spontaneously came from Latin American leaders whose nations have already experienced free trade. Among them, Mexico's President Vicente Fox emerged as a star, bluntly warning anti-trade factions they are "out of touch with reality."

Fox should know. Mexico's GDP has nearly doubled and its exports to the U.S. have tripled since the 1994 passage of NAFTA, expanding Mexico's economy to just a hair's breadth below that of Brazil, a country with almost twice Mexico's population.

Central American states south of Mexico aren't stupid, either, and NAFTA's success encouraged them to seek their own free trade pact with the U.S. — CAFTA. They know how it draws permanent investment and increases business activity across the board, even in industries like coffee not subject to tariffs.

In the absence of a FTAA, states are reaching separate agreements:

If anything, it's Chavez who is isolated. No one has taken him up on his counterfree trade proposals, which are not based on market mechanisms but pork-barrel spending.

In the end Bush won because free trade is moving along anyway, summit or no summit. Panama is close to signing its own trade pact with the U.S. The Andean states — Colombia, Ecuador and Peru — are in the last stages of a swift, 18-month effort to hammer out a pact. Besides these smaller, separate deals, the World Trade Organization talks will overtake anything that went on at this summit.

Fox of Mexico called it right when he said that free trade would just move on with the willing who want it.

It might be nice to have a free trade zone for the whole Western Hemisphere, but we should not let a handful of countries (or fewer) stand in the way. As with so many other areas of international relations, we must remember that a broad international agreement is not an end in itself. A 29-nation agreement is infinitely better than hoping for the slightest possibility of reaching a watered-down and meaningless version after years of negotiations.
(AP) Bush's first stop in Panama represents what has been his multitrack strategy for opening up world markets. Even as the FTAA is stalled and worldwide trade talks are embroiled in thorny issues of farm subsidies, the president has set his sights on individual countries that are eager to do business with the United States, the world's largest economic power.
The FTAA without Venezuela isn't such a shabby goal either - it already wasn't going to include Cuba.

[Cross-Posted at Just Barely Inside the Beltway]

Monday, November 14, 2005

One Year of Observant Observations

Today marks one year of Observant Observations - a site which began with the November 14, 2004 post, "Importing Price Controls" (an issue which remains significant even now).

While Observant Observations continues to strive to bring you insightful insights into politics and world events, I will take a moment to note a few collaborative projects with slightly different missions which are occasional victims of cross-posting:

Just Barely Inside the Beltway - "Bringing you news and views from our nation's capital... because we live relatively close to it."

The Four Horsemen - "Musings from the men who revolutionized the Gonzaga campus conservative movement!"

And if you've ever wondered where Observant Observations gets its news, here are the top sources (in addition to a customized home page with top AP, Reuters, and NY Times headlines):

RealClearPolitics - Links to today's top news and opinion articles.

BBC News - World news from Britain.

Der Spiegel - World and European news from Germany.

The Drudge Report - Whatever news Matt Drudge thinks is important.

Orbusmax - A Drudge Report for the Pacific Northwest.

Other occasional news sources:

The Washington Times and The Washington Post

The Prague Post

The Spokesman Review

Saturday, November 12, 2005

After Losing by 20 Points, Trial Lawyers Declare Victory

I received this email from a Spokane lawyer:

The Washington State Trial Lawyers Association just had a great victory - 55.5% to 44.5%. Folks that was an 11 point spread. By the way, this was an off year election, it can get better. As a result of that campaign I feel that I learned some things that will help us on all justice and economic issues. I feel like I can pause and regroup before going back to the barricades.

The insurance industry relied on demonizing attorneys and piggy backing on the trust that people of necessity have in their doctors. We broke that cycle when we PERSONALIZED the harm that was being done to individuals and the callous response of the medical community. I had a number of people tell me how impressed they were by the ad with the guy who had his throat burned away by an anesthesiologist and told us about it through a squawk box. At that point the insurance companies appeared to be saying, "We don't care about people just lower our costs."

Compared to doctors, Republicans legislators and oil companies will be a piece of cake. We need to find real people who are being hurt by their policies and get their story in front of the public.

I can only assume that the "victory" they are describing is the defeat of Washington's I-330 which:
...would change laws governing claims for negligent health care, including restricting noneconomic damages to $350,000 (with exception), shortening time limits for filing cases, limiting repayments to insurers and limiting claimants’ attorney fees.
The Trial Lawyers vocally opposed I-330 (which would cut their potential income from such cases) and even wrote their own initiative (I-336) which would have increased bureaucratic regulation of health care. Any competent observer of American politics should know that having a pathetic story is not sufficient to produce a victory - and a look at the final numbers is quite enlightening. Promoted through a front for the WSTLA, "Citizens for Better Safer Healthcare," I-336 suffered a devastating defeat in the same election - losing by almost TWENTY POINTS:
Measure - Votes For - Votes Against
Initiative Measure 330 - 656385 44.146% 830467 55.854%
Initiative Measure 336 - 590231 40.163% 879358 59.837%
So Washington Trial Lawyers celebrate another's loss while ignoring their own defeat by double the margin.

If this is victory, I can't wait to see their defeat.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

DC Loses Lawsuit Against U.S. Constitution

From The Washington Times:

A federal appeals court yesterday ruled that Congress has the authority to prevent the D.C. government from taxing commuters.

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District said the Constitution clearly grants Congress "exclusive authority" to govern the District, tossing out a lawsuit brought by more than 30 plaintiffs -- including Mayor Anthony A. Williams -- who sought to impose a commuter tax.

"The policy choices are Congress' to make," the court said. The decision was written by Judge John G. Roberts, now the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a member of the appellate court when the lawsuit was argued there in April.

For the record, the exclusive authority provision is from Article I, Section 8:
The Congress shall have Power... To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District... as may... become the Seat of the Government of the United States...
What part of "in all Cases whatsoever" don't they understand?

Reaction to yesterday's ruling, which upheld a U.S. District Court decision last year, was mixed across the region.

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican who has supported a plan that would give the District a vote in the House, hailed the decision and said it came as no surprise to him. He said the city needs to develop its tax base and not "soak commuters."

D.C.'s existing taxes are one of the major reasons I won't be moving there any time soon. The District should work with Congress to solve its internal problems, not steal $1.4 billion in tax revenue from neighboring states.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, a Ward 4 Democrat who is running for mayor next year, said he will introduce a bill to call for a referendum that would abolish the D.C. Home Rule Charter's ban on a commuter tax, then impose such a tax.

"The court's decision is outrageous," Mr. Fenty said. "It flies in the face of why this country was founded.

"It is a matter of fundamental fairness that we move to release the shackles of this congressionally imposed ban on taxing income earned in the District," he said.

And he's not even afraid of that pesky Constitution.
Mr. Williams, a Democrat, also voiced his displeasure with the court ruling, noting that cities such as New York and Philadelphia have levied taxes on commuters.
Although commuter taxes are already questionable policy (perhaps they could be described as imperialist taxation) there's one notable difference here: the Constitution does not grant Congress exclusive authority over New York or Philadelphia.

More on imperialist taxation:

"The people of the District bear the burden of this unfair limitation," he said. "As we've argued countless times, a commuter tax would not have any impact on Maryland and Virginia residents, who would be able to deduct the taxes they pay to D.C. from their state taxes."

But Maryland Deputy Attorney General Michael Berman disagreed.

"Those other states would be forced to cut services or tax citizens who do not commute into the District to make up the shortfall," said Mr. Berman, who argued the case on behalf of the state last April.

It is unfortunate that Virginia and Maryland had to spend any of their resources fighting this absurd lawsuit.

[Cross-Posted at Just Barely Inside the Beltway]

Update, Nov. 17th: DC Commuter Tax Update.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

When is a Walk-Out Not a Walk-Out?

Insipired by a similar event scheduled for tomorrow at noon in Seattle, the Spokane terrorist group known as PJALS is helping to organize an anti-Bush "walk-out" with this email:

City-wide student walkout - Nov. 2


On Nov. 2nd, Spokane's Lack of Action Collective (in alliance with PJALS) is organizing people to take responsibility to stop the whole disastrous course led by the Bush administration. We seek to create a political situation where the Bush administration's program is abandoned, where Bush himself is driven from office, and where the whole direction he has been taking U.S. society is reversed. This event is also for those who prefer a more direct approach, and who do not necessarlly advocate unjust U.S. policy or imposed rule in general.

No election, whether fair or fraudulent, can legitimize criminal wars on foreign countries, torture, the wholesale violation of human rights, and the end of science and reason.

The people's will must be forged into an organized political resistance which reverses the whole direction of society, and forces Bush himself from office.

Bring signs, noise making devices, flags, banners, and any other means of aquiring attention.

On November second, we will move towards a nation wide societal movement to push out the Bush regime. WE WILL BE HEARD!

WHEN: Nov. Second, 3pm!

WHERE: Riverfront Park, FOUNTAIN AREA (a march will possibly take place)

WHY: Because the world can't wait! We're all in this together!

HOW: By any means necessary!

See YOU there!

When is a walk-out not a walk-out? When you're already out. 3pm is a half hour after Spokane high schools get out. That takes guts.

Tonight I'm going to follow their example and protest the PJALS terrorists by having a sit-in in my own apartment. That'll tell 'em.