Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This Brings New Meaning to "Massive Mistake"

Normally I would consider firing people to be a severe-enough punishment for work-related screwups.......but not in this case.

Here we're talking the stocks....public flogging....or....I've got it....being locked in a soundproof room 24/7 for a week with an endless replay of Ted Kennedy speeches.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cause and Effect? Never Heard of It

People often ask how someone like myself manages to survive in San Francisco, especially given the hotbed of lunatics that we have in place of real city government.

The answer; it's endlessly amusing.

Take, for example, the major story from Wednesday.
San Francisco supervisors expressed shock Wednesday over a report that parking meters are pulling in just a fraction of the revenue that might be expected in a city where competition for space to tuck away one's car can be cutthroat.

"There's something seriously wrong here," said Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who called for the hearing. "We've got to get an analysis. We've got to understand what's going on here. It's beyond credulity."

McGoldrick was responding to a report from Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst Harvey Rose that shows San Francisco's roughly 23,000 meters collect on average between $2.61 and $5.59 a day.

Surprisingly, the lowest collection rates were recorded in the core of downtown San Francisco, where drivers run the gantlet to find a legal parking space and where meters cost as much as $3 an hour.

Of course, one wonders what their answer will be when confronted with this.
San Francisco has about 23,000 coin-fed parking meters, while city residents hold about 90,000 permanent and temporary handicap parking placards, issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, allowing them to park for free, said Judson True, spokesman for the city's Municipal Transportation Agency.

That's about four placards for every meter.

And, to put a nice bit of icing on the Supervisors's wacky cake:
More than 450 City Hall aides, police officers and others in San Francisco have had passes for free parking in city-owned garages -- a perk that could add up to more than $1 million a year.

And many of those passes may have been distributed in violation of the city's charter and policies to encourage transit use.

True, it does get annoying on occasion. But if there's one thing that the move to San Francisco has taught me, it's that the universe has an enormous self-correcting mechanism when it comes to nitwits.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Good Job; Let Me Beat You For It

This is, to put it nicely, insane.
But in a Senate Banking Committee hearing examining credit card practices this week, one consumer advocate suggested those who pay their balances in full every month (about half of all cardholders) should pay a small annual fee to credit card companies.

And why is that?
Those who carry balances on which they pay interest and fees are subsidizing cardholders with no revolving balance who may even be in rewards programs, said lawyer Michael Donavan of Philadelphia-based Donavan and Searles. He represents those who have unwittingly fallen into many of the sandtrap fees and penalties embedded in hard-to-understand credit card agreements.

Restoring small annual fees on cards used by "non-revolvers" would bolster revenues for card issuers, who then in turn might not make life so expensive for those with revolving balances.

Therefore, those of us who do what you're supposed to do and use our credit cards responsibly should be forced to pay because doing so might lower costs for those who don't.

Or, in other words, those of us who drive carefully and cautiously should have our premiums raised so that insurance for those who don't will cost less.

Does that make sense to anyone who isn't a Democrat?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Think About It

There was an interesting juxtaposition of two articles in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

The first one talked about citrus growers in the Central Valley, who are looking at the potential destruction of their crops due to a prolonged cold snap, and included this point:
Philip LoBue of Lindsay (Tulare County), who has a packing operation and grows citrus on 1,000 acres, said Monday morning that another destructive dose of cold had just struck.........

LoBue said that California's chronic shortage of farmworkers worsened his problems. He wanted to speed up his harvest last week to try to beat the freeze, but no additional field workers were available. He had his own crew of 125 workers but could have used 200, he said.

"We need a guest worker program," LoBue said, referring to a program proposed as immigration reform.

Meanwhile, over in Atlanta, the tune was a bit different.
Against the backdrop of an escalating war in Iraq and increasing economic disparity in the United States, many who spoke during the ceremony used King's pulpit to call for a return to the principles of social justice and nonviolence that defined the civil rights leader's life.

"Millions can't find jobs, have no health insurance and struggle to make ends meet, working minimum-wage jobs," said Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta. "What's going on?" she asked, invoking the title of the Marvin Gaye song.

Why haven't the twain met?

Simple answer; the growers can't afford to pay what the "millions" want, and the "millions" won't work for what the growers can afford to pay.

What people are continually missing in the immigration debate in this country is that we don't have a worker shortage; we have a disconnect of priorities between the groups involved. Consumers want cheap fruit, growers want cheap labor, and laborers want high pay. But if laborers receive high pay, labor is no longer cheap for the grower, and neither will fruit be for the consumer -- which means consumers, by and large, will either eat less fruit or switch to imported fruits produced by cheaper labor, thus collapsing the grower and putting the laborer out of work.

Thus we see the great unexpected consequence of the immigration debate. If we continue to allow what is, for all intents and purposes, unlimited immigration of labor, our growers can remain competitive with foreign producers, but at the cost of driving down labor rates and taking jobs that Americans theoretically could hold. However, if we tighten the borders and do nothing else, the cost of labor will skyrocket, driving up prices, making our growers uncompetitive in world markets, and forcing them out of existence -- or slapping tariffs on imported fruits and forcing the consumer to pay more.

One area where I differ from classical economic libertarianism is that I do believe there is a place for government intervention in the market -- and resulting higher costs -- when it can be justified from a strategic and defensive standpoint. For instance, we do not allow foreign-owned companies to act as primary contractors on defense projects; even though they could in theory do it more inexpensively, we believe the added risk is not worth the cost savings.

Agriculture is a similar situation. Without food, we cannot survive, period; thus, it makes perfect sense that our government should take proactive steps to protect our capability to grow and harvest our own food.

Towards that end, what I would suggest is that the government set up an internal "guest worker" program for American agriculture. Growers who employ verified, registered American citizens who are part of the program would receive a dollar-for-dollar tax cut reimbursing them for every dollar above the local prevailing wage they pay; in addition, anyone enrolled in the program would be immediately eligible for Federally-funded health insurance.

Yes, it is subsidizing. But it's subsidizing growers who employ Americans and pay them above-average wages -- which ensures not only that growers will survive, but that Americans will be employed, their dollars earned will remain in our economy, and we will have a workforce capable of keeping us in food in the event of an international emergency or incident.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Think First, Act Differently

Not surprisingly, the Dems are starting to fudge and renege on their campaign promises -- such as cutting interest rates for all student loans.
Their proposal, scheduled for a vote next week, would cut interest rates on some student loans in half. However, the college tuition plan has been scaled back since it was first touted on the campaign trail last year.

The interest rate relief would apply only to need-based loans and doesn't help people who take out unsubsidized student loans -- a distinction not made in the campaign literature Democrats handed out before winning control of Congress last fall. The measure also abandons a pledge to reduce rates for parents who take out loans to help with their kids' college costs.

But my favorite is how they intend to pay for what rate reductions they're forcing:
To avoid increasing the deficit, the bill's cost would be offset by trimming subsidies the government gives lenders and reducing the guaranteed return banks get when students default. Banks also would have to pay more in fees.

So banks would have to make loans at cheaper interest rates, but get less in subsidies, less in fees, and less in the very likely event that someone defaults.

What seems most likely is that less banks will choose to make student loans at all -- which ought to do wonders for college accessibility.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has the right idea; if the government wants to make college more accessible, it should cough up more via Pell Grants (which don't require repayment), rather than forcing private industry to unprofitably subsidize matters. But that makes it impossible for Democrats to even continue to pretend that they can increase spending massively without similarly increasing taxes.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Talk About Your Next-Door Neighbors

The State Armory building at 14th and Mission here in San Francisco can be said at the very least to be striking. It's a massive and glorious pile of brick and stone, columns and arches four stories high, dominating nearly the entire block and area. Perfect for a castle or dungeon -- and that's what its new owners have planned.

Obviously, this is causing more than a bit of chagrin and upset among local residents and businesses. But don't cry for them just yet; as San Francisco Examiner columnist Ken Garcia puts it, they shouldn't complain, since they shot down every other attempt to use it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Do So Laugh

It's always more than a bit amusing when two people who were all buddy-buddy when it came to banning you use the same sort of accusations as reason to turn their guns on each other.

Almost makes me think I should provoke another battle, just to give them a target before they tear each other apart.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Tale of Two Psychologies

There is hope for the gay community yet.

It almost makes up for the constant reminders of why it's needed.

All of the reasons for why gays continue to have rates of sexually-transmitted diseases that would do the Third World proud are in that second article. Men are quite obviously having sex in public places, writing it off as part of being gay, and all the authority figures can do is worry about being called "sex-negative", or explain it away as, "well, straight men probably screw in the steam room too".

Perhaps a push for introspection and evaluation of gay mens' values, as in the first story, can set us on the road to eliminating the second.

I certainly hope so.

UPDATE: The ever-eloquent Jamie at I Must Be Dreaming saw the same article -- and has a most linkworthy response.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Veddy, Veddy Interesting

Malcontent links, via Andrew Sullivan, to a quiz from 1994 that rates you on where you stand on the political-ideological spectrum from liberal to conservative. Wholly liberal is 0, wholly conservative is 40.

I scored a 25.

Not quite what people expect, I wager.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In a Fit of New Year's Optimism....

I went ahead and commented on Malcontent, on a post regarding smoking bans.

Whoever did so can take pride in the fact that they are well on their way to matching the world speed record for erasing my posts, as previously set by John Aravosis.

And that's with a post that agreed with one of them.

Like I said.....they.

Democrats We Love

Meet Ross Lajeunesse.

He's brainy, as he showed in his previous position as Chief of Staff and Chief Deputy Controller for the state of California.

He's got impeccable credentials, having worked for Democrats like Susan Kennedy and Steve Westly.

And he's now in a seat of enviable power, having accepted the role of Deputy Chief of Staff for newly-reelected Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What makes this writer gush over him the most, though, is his statement in last week's Bay Area Reporter:
Same-sex marriage advocates should not count on LaJeunesse trying to convince the governor to sign a pro-gay marriage bill into law next year. He said he agrees with the position Schwarzenegger took in vetoing the bill in 2005, and besides, he is focused on other legislation.

"What I personally believe isn't that relevant," he said. "On the marriage issue he has clearly stated while he supports domestic partner rights and will defend those if need be, the people by referendum decided gay marriage is something that is not going to happen in California. Since the people have spoken in California that is the way it is."

LaJeunesse pointed out that the governor favors seeing either the courts rule on the matter or voters overturn the state's antigay marriage laws at the ballot box.

Either choice, he said, "makes a lot of sense legally and is correct as far as I am concerned."

That, my friends, takes guts on the level of telling Rosie O'Donnell to sit down and shut up.

And to it, I say, "Amen".

It is gays like Lajeunesse, current Schwarzenegger Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy, California Assembly candidates Steve Sion, Mark Patrosso, Brenda Green, Ralph Denny, and William Chan, that will help make and maintain progress in this state. Bravo to them all.

And for those of you out there looking for someone....Ross is single.....and those nights in Sacramento can be more than a little bit chilly.....

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Really, It IS Simpler Than It Looks

Chris Crain, the former editor for the Washington Blade, has on his blog a piece discussing the impending retirement of Republican House member Jim Kolbe and the issues on which Chris feels Kolbe should speak out more.

By and by, it's fairly even-handed; however, there's one thing that caught my attention.
Ironically, Kolbe complains later in the interview that the Human Rights Campaign hasn't devoted more energy to extending Social Security survivor benefits to gay couples — a move that would require repealing the half of DOMA that goes unmentioned in the article.

Actually, that's not quite the case.

DOMA, as Chris correctly points out, prevents the Federal government from recognizing anything that isn't a man-woman coupling as a spouse or married.

However, that only causes a problem if Social Security conditions survivor's benefits on spousal or marital status.

Many private pension and retirement plans do not; they allow an employee to designate beneficiaries, who may or may not be related or married to them, to receive their accrued benefit upon their death. This process was made even easier and simpler by the past year's pension reform bill, which allowed such transfers to take place without an immediate tax hit regardless of the individual's relationship to the beneficiary.

Congress is more than capable of changing Social Security to match that; instead of requiring "spouse", they could with perfect right institute a beneficiary system in which you designate someone to receive your survivor benefits from Social Security regardless of their relationship or other status. Since you would no longer need to be a "spouse" to receive these benefits, DOMA would not be violated.

However, it kind of begs the question.......why bother?

To explain why, one need only take a look at what would happen under Social Security if my partner and I were married and I died. First off, because he isn't old enough or disabled, my partner would not have immediate access to my survivor's benefits in the first place; he would only be able to claim them if he were of a certain age and/or disability status. Second, even if he were of age or status, any amount that he could collect would be reduced relative to his income if he continued to work. If he begins to collect Social Security -- or is already collecting Social Security -- he gets the better of his direct benefits or what he can collect of my survivor's benefits, not both of them; in either case, he must take them as a cash distribution and be taxed accordingly. Finally, if he were to remarry, the government could with perfect right immediately terminate any survivor's benefits he was receiving.

In contrast, if I were to die, my private retirement plans would immediately pay out my accrued benefit to him as my beneficiary as he preferred, either as a taxable cash distribution or as a tax-free transfer into his own retirement account, there for him to invest as he sees fit and use when he needs it. He doesn't have to choose between his own retirement funds and mine; he gets both. Furthermore, he gets to keep both regardless of whether he remarries or not with no dimunition in their value.

This convoluted mess is why we found straight couples arguing for domestic partnerships in last year's battle over the Arizona marriage amendment; they're trying to dodge the fact that, if they get married, their Social Security payouts drop, either by the negation of survivor's benefits or the fact that the Social Security limit on payouts to their household is lower than the combined value of their benefits if considered separately.

In short, until meaningful reform to Social Security takes place, the argument over gay couples needing marriage to get Social Security benefits is pointless AND contradicted by the fact that straight couples are avoiding marriage so as not to lose Social Security benefits by getting married.

And the chances of a Democratic lapdog group like HRC advocating for meaningful changes to Social Security are about the same as that of Perez Hilton advocating for restraint in journalism.