24 April 2011

Two Wheeled Revenue Enhancement?

Tracy Morgan in Cop Out (2010)

Blue states like California and New York are suffering from severe budgetary deficits due to profligate governmental spending.  So it should be no surprise that the Police seemed to be employed to enforce any ordinance to generate revenue for the jurisdiction.

Since the start of the year, the New York City Police Department started cracking down on bicyclists violating traffic laws.  But instead of pulling over the offending cyclists, the cops can use photos tagged on social media sites to contrast with pictures of the alleged violation and then mail them the ticket.   For many, it may be more prudent to pay the fine for an alleged offense rather than waste half a day trying to disprove the negative or having a bench warrant out for ignoring a seemingly bogus citation.

The NYC crackdown on cyclists seems capricious.  The running a red light rap ignores years of custom and convention (and possibly the law) of not enforcing the rule on cyclists. A public safety argument seems silly since enforcement mainly consisted of squad cars cruising around Central Park (which is closed to civilian vehicular traffic) and fining cyclists.  Another example of how arbitrary enforcement is stems from speeding tickets issued to cyclists.  NYC police used radar guns to cite ten cyclists for exceeding the 15 mile an hour speed limit in Central Park. The problem is that for cyclists, the speed limit is 25/mph.

While the New York City Police must be commended for cleaning up the crime ridden streets of the 1970s, it is reasonable to wonder why they are cracking down on minor if not imaginary offenses.  Recently, there was a viral video of police in Brooklyn who had stopped a cyclist but then went after another New York pedestrian for being a New Yorker while the police ignored a drunk stagger across the middle of the street.  Even though they may be some leitmotifs of lawlessness amongst some law enforcers, the problem goes beyond the bad cop paradigm.  This high tech sleuthing for offenses of running red lights certainly is creepy.  But to pin it on acrimony between cyclists and cops from the 2004 Republican Convention seems spurious.  The key may be that it is a $270 fine.

On the left coast, San Francisco is a hub for urban cyclists and thousands pedal across the bay bridges each day.  Well, now San Francisco wants to impose a 5/mph speed limit on cyclists over the iron tower segments and 10/mph elsewhere.  Of course safety concerns are cited.  But pedestrians who are sleepwalking as they gawk, tourists who try to photo and bike and fog creating slippery conditions may explain the accidents involving cyclists.  My visceral reaction is that the rule is less about safety and more about revenue generation. And the $100 fine seems capricious since cyclists do not have speedometers as standard equipment on their bikes.

John Fund wrote a seminal article in the Wall Street Journal about how California is losing businesses in droves to other states. To paraphrase a failed NY gubernatorial candidate, the taxes are too damn high for businesses. But over-regulation makes it confusing and costly to do anything in the once Golden State. The same is true for citizens.  Such a revenue enhancement municipal mentality definitely extends to other issues.

It seems dubious to rigidly enforce such niggling ordinances on citizen cyclists who are doing the right thing using transportation alternatives and can not know with surety if they are in speeding compliance.  If traffic ordinance citations are to be issued, do so immediately by confronting the alleged offender so they can immediately correct their action. Do not use policing powers to be Big Brother for such minor offenses or just to generate revenue.

22 April 2011

Sound the Strepitus

An Obituary and Eulogistic Meditation of Yeshua bar Yahosef bar Yaqub

The Strepitus is the sudden loud clatter that symbolizes how the Earth convulsed at the physical death of the only begotten Son of our Lord.   In Matthew 27:46-53, when Christ gave up His spirit on the Crucifix, there was a tumultuous earthquake.   It is the jarring closing of a Tenebae Service, which is done in preparation for the Paschal Triduum.

Some churches have the Tenebrae on Spy Wednesday.  Others choose to extinguish the lights after celebrating the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday or even Great and Holy Friday.  Regardless of the time, it is a ritual that reminds us of how the Light of the World was briefly extinguished to fulfill scripture as an expiation for mankind’s sinfulness.

While it is difficult to watch Mel Gibson’s cinematic masterpiece The Passion of the Christ (2004) for its depiction of the savage brutality inflicted by the Roman overlords on a political prisoner who challenged the religious practices and expectations of the Jewish hierachy.   The teardrop from heaven is incredibly moving.

When Salvador Dali painted Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951), Jesus was depicted without wounds on a Cross that floated above the Earth. Dali listened to the color of his dream that indicated that depicting the nails, blood and crown of thorns would mar the image.  Dali wanted the emphasize the Trinity with the positioning of Jesus hanging on the Cross to represent the nucleus of the atom.  Clearly, the cross hovering over the Earth shows the cosmic significance of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a modern manner, Dali celebrates Eastern Christian Church's emphasis mystagogy of Jesus' Divine Sacrifice by death on the cross.

But during a Tenebrae service, the faithful were reminded that unlike even in classical depictions of Golgatha (the place of the skull) where Jesus was crucified, the crosses of Calvary were not necessarily hung that high in the air.  Since those being executed had their feet nailed bound to prevent them from moving as they slowly suffocated on their crosses, they may have been only a couple of feet above the ground.

Such crosses would serve the Roman overlords as tangible examples of what happens to brigands, rabble rousers and revolutionaries. The low positioning would allow most passers-by to look into the eyes of the executed. This makes the taunts from the crowd and Jesus’ words of forgiveness all the more remarkable.

It is easy to gloss over how the expiation of mans’ sins required a blood sacrifice to seal the New Covenant. By cognitively sounding the Strepitus over Christ's crucifixion, we may "Ecce homo".

While some ears may find it as painful as the Stepitus, the Christ’s Passion has been told by Glenn Beck using a motif of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon  (1973).  Whether we use pop parables, cinematic accounts, scriptural studies, communal worship or prayerful personal reflections, it is worthy to reflect on how God's only begotten Son chose to be the suffering servant to right the relationship between God and mankind.

Poetry in Motion Celebrating Earth Day

After being Blinded with Science from the East Anglia hockey stick fixed data about the Climategate anthropogenic Global Warming, it is apropos  to celebrate this years Earth Day with sardonic skepticism.

With this in mind, here is a  poetic gem dedicated to Gaia that was penned by Nobel Peace Prize Winner (2007), subject of the Oscar Winning Documentary (2007) , Grammy Winner (2009), Emmy Winner (2007), Webby Winner (2005) and the 2000 Presidential Election Popular Vote Winner former Vice President Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. as recited by Glenn Beck and cohorts on Beck’s “Elegant Eliminations” Tour.

Truly, it was poetry in motion worth coverage by Keith Olbermann on CurrentTV.  Of course, that’s Al Gore’s cable channel with his star anchor who was previously banished from MSNBC.

15 April 2011

Barack Obama Taxman

When President Barack Obama gave his Deficit reduction speech, which scathingly condemned Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI 1st) blueprint to fiscal sanity through some budgetary belt tightening, one can only conclude that Obama’s answer is to tax the rich.

Since it is April 15th, the traditional tax filing deadline date, it is fitting to serenade the occasion with an apropos tune.

The original version of this George Harrison song was on Revolver, the Beatle’s 7th album, released in 1966.  The song attacked the high level of progressive taxation in the United Kingdom under the leadership of Labor Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Back to the VA Redistricting Drawing Board

Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) vetoed the Virginia Redistricting legislation which was required after the 2010 Census. Virginia is one of the states which has a divided decision-making process, as the Governorship and State House of Delegates is controlled by Republicans and the State Senate is dominated by Democrats.  Attempts to avoid acrimony when redrawing the district lines were stillborn as the Governor’s so called independent non-partisan redistricting commission offered a liberal hack job which eliminated three Republicans’ Congressional districts, this in a Commonwealth that did not lose any representation in the 2010 Census and elected a Republican governor with an 18% margin.

The Virginia State Senate redistricting plan was committed to creating a second minority seat in Virginia.  This was accomplished by making Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA 3rd) into a 42% African American plurality district and sharing the black voters with a proposed district extending to Richmond.  It is an effort that Rep. Scott claims to have supported for 20 years.  It also strengthens Democrat power in three State Senate districts, which would help the Democrats retain their narrow majority in the Commonwealth’s upper chamber.

The Virginia Senate plan would separate  Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA 4th) in Chesapeake from his district that he is currently representing. It also shrank Rep. Frank Wolf’s  (R-VA 10th) district, due to the population gains in Northern Virginia, but it also may make Republicans retaining the seat more challenging when the 72 year old lawmaker retires. Virginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-VA 35th, Alexandria) insists that Democrats ceded to every Republican demand except having two state Senators based in Republican oriented Virginia Beach.

 The Republican led Virginia House drew up a plan authored by Virginia House Majority Whip Rep. Bill Janis (R-VA 35th, Glen Allen)  guided by the advice from incumbents to reflect the results from the 2010 elections that sent eight Republicans and three Democrats to Washington.  Republican House used a crack and pack methodology to increase the VA-3rd into a minority led district from 53% to 57%.  This move strengthens Republican power on the Peninsula while eliminating a Democrat district in Norfolk and displacing a few Democrats, including Virginia House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-VA 10th, Martinsville).

The Virginia General Assembly Redistricting Bill HB 5001 was approved on a bipartisan 86-8 vote.  The Virginia Senate bill passed on a party line 22-18 vote majority.

Gov. McDonnell vetoed the redistricting indicating that the House-Senate redistricting legislation did not receive enough bi-partisan support.  Additionally, the Governor indicated that the plan did not have a Voters Right Act pre-clearance which could be costly and not ensured.   Moreover, McDonnell explained that the redistricting bill did not preserve communities of interest, ensure compact districts or maintain populations of the districts.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Richmond on April 25th.  Since the Senate bill received no Republican support, it will not garner enough votes to override the veto. Virginia Senate Majority Leader Saslaw has vowed not to change a jot or tittle and pass the Senate bill again. If that is the case, then the redistricting will be thrown to the courts.  Unfortunately, with the August 23rd primary pending, this could throw the election into chaos.

Politics can be as unappetizing as making sausage but it is better than having fleebagging lawmakers who stall the normal messy political process or by blithely enlisting the men in black to make political choices.

Going Above NASA's Head

NASA will be decommissioning the Space Shuttle fleet after 30 years of service later this year.  There were competitive bids from 21 different organizations to house the retired Space Shuttles.  After three years of deliberation, NASA Chief Charles Bolton announced that the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Space Center, Los Angeles and New York City would receive Space Shuttles. Perhaps Bolton spent more time helping Muslims feel better about their contributions to math and science than considering the Space Shuttle relocations.

The Kennedy Space Center in Florida was a natural choice, as it has been the home of the American Manned Space program since its inception in the early 1960s.  The Kennedy Space Center is planning a $100 million display where the Atlantis will be suspended in mid-air behind a multi storied digital projection of the Earth.

Washington, DC is the Nation’s Capitol and was the driver and financer of the Manned Space Program so it was fitting that it received a retired Space Shuttle.  Besides, the Smithsonian Institution’s network of museums have been likened to America’s attic so it is an apt curator for this cosmic piece of Americana.  The National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy complex near Dulles Washington International Airport will house the Discovery in the James McDonnell Space Hanger.

I can appreciate arguments for some geographic distribution of these treasured pieces of space lore. Thus the award of the Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles seems alright.  The California Science Center already houses Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. The Space Shuttles were built by Rockwell in nearby Palmdale, California. And Space Shuttles often landed at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.

But the latter award is truly puzzling.  New York City is getting a hand me down prototype Shuttle Enterprise from the Smithsonian’s collection.  The only rationales that come to mind with this decision are political and economic.  Supporters of awarding the Enterprise to the Intrepid Space-Air-Sea Museum on Pier 86 in New York City note that they are lucky to land a space shuttle, even if it is only an engineless prototype.

The Enterprise is too large to be displayed on the Intrepid Aircraft Carrier, so the shuttle will require a new glass-enclosed hanger to be built where the Concorde is currently stowed. The Intrepid Museum’s Executive Director Susan Marenoff, expects 300,000 additional visitors to generate $106 Million in economic benefits to a politically solidly blue New York.

As for Mission Control deep in Texas, the response was “Houston, we have a problem”.  The Johnson Space Center in Houston, which has managed America’s manned space flights won a booby prize of the flight deck’s pilot and commander seats.  The Houston Chronicle’s memorable headline was “One Giant Snub For Houston”.

As the news descended to Earth, Texas lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were outraged.  As Rep. John Culberson (R-TX 7th), this is like “Detroit without a Model T, Florence without Leonardo Da Vinci”.  Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) vented that “pure political favors trumped common sense and fairness” when awarding the shuttles to New York City and Los Angeles.  Even Obama Administration stalwart Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX 18th) did not have Mars on her mind when she Tweeted her disappointment that the home of human space flight in Houston was not awarded a space shuttle.

Although there is a chance that LA or NYC might not raise the initial $28.8 Million to transport the shuttles to there new homes and the allocation process would be open again, some Congressman are not leaving it to chance.  Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 3rd), the Chairman of the House subcommitte on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, has filed a bill to ensure that Houston receives a decommissioned Space Shuttle.   Chaffetz claims to want to rely on history and logic rather than political guidance when making these monumental decisions.  His bill certainly will receive strong support from the Texas delegation and would be a worthy earmark in future federal budgets.

While there are only so many Space Shuttles to go around, it seems unjust to snub the Houston, the heart of manned space flights.  This is the danger of a feeding more money and power to a federal government, which tends to usurp the power of the people as bestowed in the legislature in favor of partisans dressed up as bureaucrats bestowing political favors.   As P.J. O’Rourke caustically put it in Parliament of Whores: “Giving more money and power to the Federal Government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenaged boys.”

13 April 2011

Burying Expensive Dulles Metro Decisions

The Washington DC Metro System has long lacked an important element, the connection to an International Airport.   There has been a decade long process to construct a 23.1 mile extension of the Metro to connect with the rapidly growing Dulles corridor as well as Dulles International Airport.  Phase I of the project which goes from East Falls Church to Reston grew from $5.25 Billion to $6.8 Billion, funded by a $0.50 increase in Dulles Access Toll fees and should be complete by 2013.  The new Silver Line is scheduled to complete the phase II extension to IAD in mid-2017 phase II $4.1 billion (originally estimated $3.44 B).

Last week, the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority unilaterally determined that an above ground station at Dulles was unacceptable.  The MWAA contended that it would be burdensome for passengers to be shuttled 1,150 feet to the planned above ground station next to the North Garage.  Instead, the MWAA wants to make the Dulles station user friendly as it insists that an underground station be built that is 550 feet from the terminal.  This would have the serendipity of preserving the aesthetic of the renowned Eero Saarinen designed terminal.   This modest proposal merely adds an extra $330 Million and extends construction for over a year.

In response to the Airport Authority whim, the Virginia Department of Transportation determined that tolls would necessary have to increase due to the decision and that was intolerable. So much so that Commonwealth Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton has said: "This project is moving in a direction that is going to be financially unsustainable.”  Leaders in Fairfax and Loudoun County discerned that the decision to tunnel to Dulles may be deemed a “betterment” which would mean that the costs would be fully borne by the MWAA.

Fairfax and Loudoun County officials used prior studies of the Dulles expansion to dismiss the sob stories about the burdens of a distant Dulles station on international travelers.  They note that the bulk of ridership will be airport employees who will not be burdened by a tunnel.

The MWAA insists that modification made to a tunnel station, such as revising the design, using a different method of excavation and reducing the length and depth and other infrastructure optimizations will make the costs less than the original 2005 underground station proposal. Besides the underground station is only an additional 5% to the cost of the total project. Sure. And Obamacare will save money.

The financial burdens on Phase II of the Dulles Expansion will not be mitigated by the Federal Government.  Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA 10th) called the insistence on the underground Dulles station a bad decision.  Wolf lamented: “I am disappointed and share the concerns of state and the local partners. Everything possible needs to be done to keep costs down on this project.”  Fairfax County Supervisors are rightly concerned as they will face the voters this year.

It is dangerous to have unaccountable appointed officials so grandiosely burying expensive decisions on taxpayers.    Unfortunately, the decision making process is Byzantine as state and local governments have the responsibility to help finance the project but the Airport Authority has the final say on the project.

Via: TBD.com
Vial Washington Post

12 April 2011

Fudge Budget

I was cautiously optimistic when the 11th hour deal that prevented the governmental shutdown was announced, but I noted that the devil was in the details.  The agreement used the imaginary Obama FY2011 budget as a baseline, so it baked in marked increases in departmental budgets over the past two years.  It promised to cut $38.5 Billion which when paired with the $10 Billion in prior savings looked like it was 60% of what Republicans pledged to cut.

Now that the details of the budgetary deal are more evident, it was clear that the savings from the shutdown settlement were a chimera. It seems that the prior $10 Billion in savings from earlier C.R.s was counted as part of that the “historic” $38 Billion cut.  Republicans gave up cuts at the Agriculture Department, antagonized the social conservative base by de-linking Planned Parenthood cuts from the budget, as well as abandoning cuts of federal spending to the liberally skewed National Public Radio to avoid the governmental shutdown

In the light of day, it seems that account tricks and slights of hand accounted for much of the so called “savings” from the Democrats.  Counting line items like  unspent Census funds as a cut, allowed President Obama to preserve favorite programs like College Pell Grants, “Race for the Top”.  After removing rescissions, cuts to reserve funds and reductions in mandatory spending programs, the National Journal estimates that the budget will only be reduced by $14.8 Billion.

The conservative base might have felt content about changing the direction of the budgetary debate if Speaker John Boehner (R-OH 8th) had actually gotten the cuts that were originally billed, as well as the promised up or down votes on the EPA and Planned Parenthood Federal funding. They would have been resigned that it was the best that they could do and that it set the table for real reductions in the immediate future concerning the Debt Ceiling vote in mid-May and the regular FY 2012 budget that was highlighted by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s  (R-WI 1st) ambitious roadmap.

But the Tea Party and the conservative base feels hoodwinked by the leadership over a fudge budget. The cuts were minuscule to begin with (less than a week’s funding of the budget), but they were a start.  Now the so called cuts seem more like a Congressional accountant’s rounding error.  What sticks in the craw is the way that the leadership lied.  They were trying to make it seem like cuts were more like $78 Billion when in all actuality the deal really only reduced discretionary spending by $15 Billion. In the eight days prior to the latest Credence C.R., the Federal debt jumped $54.8 Billion.

The Budgetary Smoke and Mirrors Agreement reinforces the meme that GOP leadership are Between the Beltways  elitists that go along to get along with Democrats and so as to keep their positions of power.  That sort of political accommodation combined with out of control spending caused the Republicans being thrown out of power in 2006.

Prominent Tea Party Republican sympathizers like Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN 6th) and prominent freshman Rep. Alan West (R-FL 22nd) had already indicated that they could not support the deal in good conscience. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA 7th) expects the budget deal to pass with strong Republican support.  The GOP has a 24 seat advantage in the House. They can probably count on the votes of 15 Conservative Democrats.  So House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 22nd) needs to retain 39 reluctant Republicans.  But there were 62 Freshman Congressmen who took office after the Teanami.  So passage of the Fudge Budget is not a sure thing.

While the Debt Ceiling debate and the FY 2012 Budget are more fertile ground for fostering fiscal prudence for the federal government.  But if the current House Leadership are seen as pushovers or establishment elitists, those opportunities will be moot and their continued leadership in peril.

Campus Police Squad!

American University is situated in a tony portion of Northwest Washington, DC.  To keep the peace with the neighborhood, when AU built its Washington College of Law in the Spring Hill section, it agreed that students would not park on the city streets or the neighboring streets.  To wit, American University hires private parking enforcement personnel to issue parking tickets to students and staff parked in the area.  The same treatment is applied around the American University’s main campus in University Park and Tenleytown buildings.

The result is that a driver can be legally parked on the street in Washington and still receive a $75 fine.

Living in city center, I appreciate the preciousness of parking spaces and enforcement of the law. However, I am chary about the blurring of private property rights, the extra-legal extensions of governmental authority and the indiscriminate enforcement by University officials.

The University certainly has the power to enforce the law on their property, but should it authority extend to the surrounding area? American Parking Permit Policies mandates that students and campus staff must either use public transportation or park on campus.  Parking is $1.50 an hour or a $964 a year for a student, $1,464 for staff.  Since no DC laws are broken, it is dubious that that AU parking fines go into the city’s coffers.  If you are associated with campus, presumably diplomas may be withheld or paychecks are garnished.

Since the AU Campus Cops are acting as vigilante parking enforcement, the MPD does not vigorously enforce parking violations in the area. This is troubling that the government cedes authority on public property to an outside entity.   Unfortunately, it is unclear how far this territory extends.

Michael McNair, the AU Director of Campus Safety refused to define the vicinity which campus police will ticket street parking.  McNair claims: “If they are conducting A.U. business, they must park on campus or take public transportation. Where we ticket for violation of this rule is again irrelevant.”

While I am leery about extrajudicial appropriations of policing authority, it might be understandable if it were discrete and clearly defined.  As the Director of Campus Safety indicates, he thinks that the authority is a blank check.  These overzealous ivory tower meter maids can not make distinctions between cars associated with American University so they ticket every car present.  These Keystone Campus Cops pay no mind to drivers with Zone Three Offstreet Parking Stickers.

The fine print on the AU Ticket may say that you may ignore the infraction unless you are associated with AU, but it gives the color of law to vigilantes and passes the burden of proof onto innocent drivers.  So one can dispute the ticket, call the University to not have your car ticketed or ignore the ticket.  What lesson is AU teaching about obeying the law?

George Washington University, another large DC campus, also has a Good Neighbor policy around the Mount Vernon campus, but it seems to gently enforce it without having a bureaucratic, revenue generating model.

Compared to other local campuses, American University charges double the amount for its parking permit.  The zealous enforcement of the Good Neighbor policy may be as much as a revenue enhancement device as keeping the peace with area residents.  Perhaps they can follow the Chicago Public School’s lead and ban students from bringing their own food, which would help their food vendors.

Via: WUSA, Channel 9 Washington DC
Via: Washington City Paper

11 April 2011

Progressive's Food Fascism

In the early days of the Obama Administration, clarion calls from a Cable News host inveighed that Cass Sunstein, the White House Administrator of Information and Regulatory Affairs, was labeled as the most dangerous man in America.  Sunstein’s book Nudge offered a game plan for drive the herd in forcing Americans to adopt desired policies.  This nudging seems most acutely applied in a cornucopia of instances of food fascism.

New York City under the progressive prodding of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D,R, ?-NYC) has been in the forefront of food fascism.  While New York City only recently toyed banned fast food restaurants from offering toys with their children’s meals so as not to fall far behind San Francisco, NYC led the way for discouraging using trans-fats in fast food and displaying a calorie count on their menus.

But New York City was not content to micro-manage fast food chain restaurants.  The New York City Sanitation Department issued an edict entitled “Life in the Cubical Village” which proscribed some very specific rules about food.  French Fries are forbidden as are other fried foods.  Soda is censored.  In fact, any beverages served must have no more than 25 calories per 8 oz. serving. If food is served than it must be accompanied by tap water. These rules actually dictate that if a celebration cake is served, there may not be cookies. Muffins must be cut into quarters and all popcorn must be air popped and served in brown paper lunch bags.  Isn’t it ironic that such crap comes from the NYC Sanitation Department?

Boston is going further to nudge it’s nutritional notions.  Mayor Tom Manino (D-Boston) has issued an executive order that will phase out all sugary drinks on city property in the next six months.  In fact, Manino wants to ban all sales, promotion and advertising.  This soda fiat was paired by the city blessing the sale of mixed drinks at Fenway Park, presumably so long as it is not a Rum and Coke.

Schools have been a battle ground for food fascism.  Due to paranoia over peanut allergies, many school districts have tried to ban PBJ sandwiches.  There have been news stories about regulations on celebration bake goods which took pointers from “Life in the Cubical Village”.  But Chicago takes the cake, so to speak.  Some Chicago Public Schools confiscate snacks that are deemed too salty or sugary, and supposedly the forbidden food is returned at the end of the day.  At the Little Village Academy, Chicago Public Schools, students are prohibited from bringing their lunches from home, unless they have a doctor’s note or a food allergy.  Allegedly, this is intended to nudge children into eating better.  But kid’s palates can be picky so many lunches go uneaten into the circular file. The real reason may not be altogether altruistic, as Chartwells-Thompson, the CPS designated food vendor, is paid by the federal government for every free or reduced price meal that is served (not necessarily consumed).  It seems that it takes a village...idiot.

It is commendable to be conscientious about eating well.  But this Republic is supposed to be the land of the free, which includes making unwise personal choices.  When governments can not afford to pay for essential services, they issue these rigorous rules which overreach their mandate for governance.  This permits petty bureaucrats to selectively enforce their biases under the color of law. These regulations are often imprudent economically and encourage a flouting of Big Brother from otherwise exemplary citizens. Recall Prohibition?

 Personally, I wish that progressives would leave the nudging to reliving Monty Python skits.

Salaam Pakistani Sesame Street?

The U.S. Agency for International Development has allocated $20 Million to bring an Urdu edition of Sesame Street to Pakistan. It is hoped that Sesame Street’s fun style of learning basic words and numbers can counteract the marked decline of Pakistan’s educational system, which pushes many Urdu urchins into extremist Wahabbist madrassas.  As Faizaan Peerazza, the local producer who won the grant in conjunction with the Sesame Workshop, put it "The idea is to prepare and inspire a child to go on the path of learning, and inspire the parents of the child to think that the child must be educated."

The Pakistani edition of Sesame Street will not transplant 123 Sesame Street to South Asia with Urdu subtitles.  The set will depict a lively Pakistan village with a dhaba, with simple homes and residents hanging out on the balconies.  The show’s star will not be a Cookie Monster or a Big Bird but a muppet of a six year old girl with flowers in her pigtailed hair and a curiosity of the world. The Pakistani production will introduce seven new characters but there will be appearances by two popular American muppets.  Alas, the transplants will be Children’s Television Workshop inspired muppets.  The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy certainly would have made her mark on the show.  It’s too bad that it won’t be Bert and Ernie, but instead Tickle Me Elmo.

From an Occidental ivory tower prism, Pakistani Sesame Street sounds like a great idea.  For a relatively small foreign aid earmark, education can be encouraged to help eradicate economic stagnation, a strong female lead can be a social vanguard and it can supplement values which are friendly to America with a local veneer.

The show will not be limited to reading, writing, arithmetic but also Islamic principles.  The producers proudly proclaim:

The meaning of jihad (struggle) can be told with lots of colors and a little bird and a flower. No one needs to be a villain. This is what we try to put into the minds of children: the biggest jihad begins when you look into your own self.
The left's commentary (sic) on inculcating culture is that governmental funds should not be used to teach religious principles, despite demonstrating a more benign interpretation of the Islamic principle of jihad.

Unfortunately, ideas are implemented in the real world not in academia. While Pakistani Sesame Street will be broadcast on national PTV during its four year run, will it reach the rural audiences that desperately need the programming?  The program will produce 78 episodes in Urdu along with another 56 shows in regional languages, it will spawn a radio show, mobile TV vans and a traveling Muppet road show doing 600 performances. So it might reach the targeted audiences in some form.

This may be a more positive appearance of muppets than their prior appearances in the region.  The “Evil Bert” image which was a pop culture joke in America at the turn of the Millennium were actually used in pro-Osama bin-Laden demonstrations in the region after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Sometimes exposing oppressed populations to ideas of freedom and individualism can do more than arms could ever accomplish.  Pope John Paul II’s visit to his native Poland with a message of “Be not afraid” and affirming the worth of individuals so inspired the long oppressed people that it has been called “Nine Days That Changed The World”.  It has been postulated that the Voice of America’s  musical broadcasts of Rock and Roll was instrumental in "Rockin' The Wall" down.

While it seems dubious that a South Asian Sesame Street will be a panacea for Pakistan’s problems with education, it does offer some bang for the buck.  Children’s programming in the Dar-al-Islam could use some positive messages, especially considering Palestinian Authority pewee programming which encourages the intifada and suicide bombing.

09 April 2011

Credence C.R.

Lawmakers managed to avert a shutdown of the federal government with literally a 11th hour agreement to yet another Continuing Resolution for the FY 2011 Budget. The 111th Congress under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 8th) failed to pass a budget and relied on continuing resolutions that used the FY 2010 budget with Obama increases as a baseline. Democrats were avoiding the liberal label during a tough re-election cycle and wanted to pass the buck to their successors. It seemed like the Democrat Congressional Leadership was gunning for a shutdown to pin the blame on Republicans. In the end, Democrats gave much more than their paltry public posturing.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH 8th) did not have an easy sell to the Republican Caucus. The House Majority passed the last Continuing Resolution in mid-March which cut $6 Billion, but it lost 54 mostly Freshman Republicans who were sympathetic to the Tea Party and sought to cut up to $100 Billion as promised during the 2010 Campaign. To placate these non-establishment Republicans, the current Continuing Resolution had placed riders to defund $330 million earmarked for Planned Parenthood, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the infrastructure for Obamacare.

The devil is in the details which are still somewhat sketchy. But it seems that Congress voted on a stop-gap C.R. to last through the week, which will cut $2 Billion. The final budgetary vote will hack another $36.5 Billion off the FY 2011 Budget. Add these savings to $10 Billion saved from prior C.R.s. Most of the contentious riders , aside from abortion funding in DC, were stripped from the C.R. , however Speaker Boehner is relying on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to offer up and down votes on Planned Parenthood.

The Obama White House had made motions that any C.R.s were distractions and would be vetoed. Earlier this week, President Obama summoned Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid to the White House vowing that they would work together for however long was necessary to hammer out an agreement, then the President took trips to Philadelphia and New York. But the White House quickly seized on the agreement for the Short Term C.R. so TOTUS and the President had an 11 PM Press Availability in the Blue Room which likened visiting the Washington Monument is like the Congressional Coming Together for the C.R.

The Democrat Congressional leadership did not have their smarmy smiles when announcing the "historic" agreement. In negotiating the FY 2011 budget, Democrats have devolved from having no cuts, then $4 Billion, then $6 Billion, then $33 Billion and finally have assented to $38.5 Billion. In February, Sen. Reid denounced the then proposed $32 Billion as "draconian" and "extreme" and he vowed that a vote on Planned Parenthood would never happen. Now there will be an additional $38.5 Billion and a separate Planned Parenthood vote. 

Speaker Boehner noted that the agreement came after "a lot of discussion and a long fight" and was rewarded by a standing ovation from the Republican Caucus. Still, Boehner only won 63% of the gains that he sought and Tea Party internet activists are expressing exaggerated disappointment.

While it is commendable that the size of government is starting to be cut, it is just a drop in the bucket. The $68 Billion would only fund the Federal Government for a brief period, perhaps less than a day. The real achievement is that Conservatives are directing the course of the budgetary discussion now. Tea Party proponents may have voiced more reaction but Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN 6th) expressed sentiments that: The current battle has devolved to an agenda that is almost too limited to warrant the kind of fighting that we're now seeing in Washington." Still, she does not believe that the C.R. agreement cuts enough and does not disconnect the soldiers in combat overseas from being held hostage over the budget battle.

While Bachmann may continue to be a GOP gladfly, she alludes to two elements that helped secure budgetary victory today and hope for the future. As the government shutdown loomed, Democrats tried to frame the dispute like the apply named Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY 28th), who insisted that Republicans want to kill the budget and kill woman. But Speaker Boehner cannily shepherded a separate bill which would fund the military. The Obama White House wanted to force Republicans to compromise so it vowed to veto further C.R.s and the military pay bill. That allowed the new media, where conservative voices flourish, to frame the impasse as Obama was fighting for abortion and not defending the troops engaged in "kinetic military action" overseas. I doubt that those internal polling numbers looked good with already skeptical Independent voters.

The other aspect that Boehner's compromise allowed was more opportunity to cut in the future. By the end of May, Congress will need to pass another increase in the debt ceiling. Tea Party Conservatives and Libertarians are chary about blithely approving this measure, so that offers another opportunity to cut. Moreover, this week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st), the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, offered an ambitious roadmap to federal fiscal sanity over 10 years that has won plaudits for being a real effort to cut the size of government. The Ryan Plan certainly will not be adopted in whole by Congress, but it will be the benchmark for negotiating the budget.

Tea Party activists should be given kudos for holding the Republican leadership's feet to the fire to not allow go-along-to-get-along agreements which result in chimera-like cuts. But they must not allow the perfect to get in the way of the possible. They would be wise to keep their powder and their pants dry for the real fight and not get hung up an achieving everything through this C.R. They should use the momentum to move the ball further during debt ceiling negotiations and certainly the FY 2012 budget which should use FY 2008 as a baseline.

While it is encouraging to hear that Boehner's brinksmanship negotiations will result in separate floor consideration of Planned Parenthood cuts and H.R. 1 defunding Obamacare, I am skeptical that "Dirty Harry" will allow straight up or down votes. I expect that that amendment tree will be loaded up with killer amendments or consideration of the legislation will quickly fail a cloture vote. But at least it will put the Senate on the record over contentious issues and the Democrats have to defend 22 seats in the 2012 cycle.

While Boehner's budgetary agreement offers some good credence, I look forward to the bad moon rising  with  Clearwater Revival in the near future.