Monday, June 30, 2008

NYC privileges labor union political contributions

A constitutionally dubious campaign-finance law, passed last June by the New York City Council and signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has some residents up in arms. It may still be true that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, as Frank Sinatra put it. But how you make it will now determine which of your political rights the city will protect.

Under the measure, every citizen who "does business with the city" saw the amount of money that he could contribute to a city candidate slashed by 90 percent. These New Yorkers can now contribute no more than $250 per election to city council candidates and $400 to mayoral candidates. All other residents, though, will still be able to give $2,750 to council candidates and $4,950 to mayoral ones. The law capaciously defines those who "do business with the city" to include lobbyists, developers, and businesses with city contracts worth more than $100,000, as well as people whose contact with the city consists of nothing more than ironing out pending land-use and zoning issues.

Attorney James Bopp, Jr. has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of more than a dozen plaintiffs challenging the law's constitutionality on First Amendment grounds. The measure, he argues, forces citizens to choose between their right to petition the government and their free-speech right to support their preferred political ideals, interests, and candidates through campaign contributions. Bopp, it's worth noting, has won four campaign-finance cases before the United States Supreme Court.

The law is also unfair, since it exempts unions from the reduced contribution limits. As a result, Michele Russo, a plaintiff in the case who is the secretary for a registered lobbyist, now has fewer political rights than George Gresham, president of the powerful health-care workers' union Local 1199. City council speaker Christine Quinn--who received more than $70,000 in union contributions--says the law is all about ensuring fairness. "The situation here is to require that everyone gets treated the same way," she told the New York Times. "A union or a PAC can give one contribution, whatever the maximum is for the office in question. Someone who did business with the City of New York prior to this could have every person in the business give a contribution of the maximum level allowed to that office. So I think this in fact much more levels the playing field."

Of course, individual members of unions, like employees of firms and corporations, are also free to give to candidates, a fact that Quinn conveniently ignores. In Bopp's view, the law's failure to apply funding restrictions to unions (and neighborhood associations) proves that it was enacted for "partisan political effect." What's more, like all campaign-finance laws, it favors incumbents, who already have visibility and name recognition.

By imposing regulations that give some citizens greater political rights than others, the new law transforms city government into a kind of political sound engineer--turning the volume of certain speakers up and of others down, according to how one chooses to make a living and where politicians' interests lie. Such a role for government is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Delusional Or Deceptive Democrats?

During a press conference June 18, New York Democrat Congressman Maurice Hinchey spouted a repackaged conspiracy theory, instead of addressing the issue of the economic crisis caused by the rising price of a barrel of crude oil.

Mr. Hinchey said, "President Bush and Republicans keep talking about the need to open up more federal land for drilling, but they ignore the fact that there are 68 million acres of untouched federal land that oil companies already control. The oil companies are simply sitting on those 68 million acres until oil prices rise to $200 or $300 a barrel when they can make even greater profits at the expense of Americans."

During the 1973-74 Arab Oil Embargo, the conspiracy theorists spread rumors that were very similar to Mr. Hinchey's. Only then, the conspiracy theory was that there were tankers, full of oil, anchored only miles offshore from the United States, which would not dock, because the evil oil companies wanted to create more shortages and jack up the price of gasoline so they would make even more outrageous profits.

This theory was untrue as is Mr. Hinchey's.

There is only one of two reasons for this claim, either Mr. Hinchey and his fellow "progressive" Democrats in Congress are intentionally trying to deceive the American people - or if they really do believe this - then they are woefully ignorant of the real world.

These are the facts, which you will not learn anywhere else.

The United States government provides leases for oil and gas production to private companies which, "... grant the right to the lessee to explore for and develop minerals or other products located on a specific tract of land. The lease instrument defines the duration of the lease; acreage covered by the lease; rental and royalty terms for each mineral; as well as any revenue sharing mechanisms."

Note, the government gives companies the right "to explore for" oil and gas. The government does not guarantee there will be any. Nor does the government guarantee there will be sufficient quantities to be commercially viable. Nor does the government guarantee anything will be found during the term of the lease.

It is just one big gamble for the oil company. It is quite possible that at the end of the lease period the company has not found any oil.

As of 2007, there were a total of 66,232 leases and 91, 755, 078 acres for oil and gas. Of this amount, 37,982 leases for 67,055,715 acres nonproductive (so the Democrats 68 million figure is incorrect by 1 million acres).

These leases are expensive. Recently, Royal Dutch Shell bid $18,497 an acre for one tract. Not only are billions paid to acquire the leases, royalties and rents are also paid. For fiscal year 2007, the government received revenues of $11.4 billion. Furthermore, the duration of the leases can be only five to ten years, which are renewable, if deemed commercially productive.
So, for one to believe Mr. Hinchey and the Democrats, one has to willingly suspend disbelief. One has to believe that the oil companies are going to invest billions of dollars for unproductive land on the chance - the chance - that the price will increase.

However, even a price increase does not guarantee they would realize a profit. They must have all their equipment in place and begin pumping the oil from the ground as soon as they get their price - which could decrease as soon as their oil gets to market.

What Mr. Hinchey and the Democrats claim ignores the time value of money and basic laws of supply and demand. As wealthy as oil companies are, it would be insane to leave billions of dollars tied up in unproductive leases and to keep paying billions more in rent just for the chance of making more. These companies did not become wealthy by being stupid. Not selling an asset, when it is getting record prices, is stupid.

Listening to Mr. Hinchey and other Democrats, one cannot help to recall the words of George Orwell. When he heard the conspiracy theory that American troops came to Britain during World War II not to fight the Germans, but to stop a workers revolution, Orwell said "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."
Only the liberal intelligentsia can believe Mr. Hinchey and the rest. Average Americans are not fools.

Gator Attack Victim Blames Fish & Wildlife

A Florida teen whose arm was ripped from his body by an 11-foot alligator is blaming the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for not properly controlling the alligator population.

"It's a problem that needs to be dealt with," victim Kasey Edwards said. "The alligators -- the population needs to be brought down."

Edwards said he knew the canal was infested with alligators before taking a 2 a.m. swim at Nubbin Slough, a canal near Lake Okeechobee on Sunday.

"They said they pulled out over a dozen 12-foot alligators and they spotted 150 in that area," Edwards said.

Meanwhile, frantic 911 calls made moments after Edwards lost his arm were released Wednesday night.

One of the calls described Edward's condition.

"I just called about the alligator bite," a caller told a 911 dispatcher.

"He got bit by a gator?" the dispatcher asked.

"His arm is gone," the caller said.

"Do you have anything to hold off the bleeding?" the dispatcher asked.

"Yes, ma'am," the caller said.

When paramedic crews arrived, they found Edwards was missing his left arm.

Police released a new photo of Edwards lying on the side of the canal being treated.

Edwards said he escaped the alligator's death roll by poking his finger into its eye.

The teen's arm was later found inside the alligator's stomach but it couldn't be reattached.

He is expected to remain in the hospital this week.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mosque case dumped

DUNN St residents are gutted and angry after an appeal to stop a mosque being built in their street was thrown out of court.

The proposed mosque had been the target of intensive opposition from residents and from an anti-Islamic website that was investigated by Australian Federal Police after it called on supporters nationwide to oppose the mosque.

The website had been linked to a Cairns businessman who dubbed himself "Sheik YerMami" and called on supporters to "do whatever it takes" to oppose Islam and the building of the mosque.

Judge Keith Dodds yesterday dismissed the residents' appeal in the Planning and Environment Court against the mosque being built in the quiet North Cairns street. "We've all been let down and are terribly disillusioned," resident Bill Bradley said.

"We are not happy but that's the way it goes."

Mr Bradley was among a group of 12 residents who appealed against the former Cairns City Council's approval to demolish a house and build the purpose-built mosque opposite the Pioneer Cemetery and Kuranda rail line between low-set Queenslander-style houses.

At least one of the residents who appealed against the mosque's approval has already put his property on the market, with others considering a similar move.

Fellow residents Michael and Kathy Gelling said they were "disappointed" with the outcome, arguing the mosque would ruin the quaint streetscape.

Judge Dodds said the house, which was built in the 1950s and would be demolished, was not "an important part of the streetscape of Dunn St" and "to demolish it and replace it with a building which complements the character values of the character precinct will not diminish the precinct".

Recommendations for the construction of the prayer hall and kitchen facilities included fake windows and mature landscaping.

"There should be at least three of these hooded windows on each side of the prayer hall," the report said.

Mr Bradley said he feared the conditions would not be met, given conditions set in 2000 when the zoning of the land was changed to a church such as landscaping were never completed.

Far Northern Islamic leader Imam Abdul Aziz said he was pleased the case had finally been settled, after first being submitted to council early last year.

"We are very happy because basically we ended up with what we had before it went to court," Mr Aziz said.

"What every one has to realise is that everything we have planned is in accordance with the town plan."

Cop faces murder charges after botched raid

A MEXICAN police commander who led a botched raid on a nightclub will be charged with 12 counts of homicide - one for each person who died in the crush at the bar's entrance.

Mexico City Attorney-General Rodolfo Felix Cardenas said his office was bringing the charges against precinct commander Guillermo Zayas for failing to halt Friday's mismanaged raid, in which one group of police tried to force youths out of the club while another blocked the exit to prevent them leaving.

Patrons, mainly minors, were caught in the middle.

Nine were crushed or asphyxiated near the narrow entrance, along with three police officers. The youngest victim was 13.

"Even though there is no evidence that Guillermo Zayas ever ordered police to close the doors of the discotheque, or block the entrance, it has been proven that he never gave the order to police blocking the entrance to let the youths out," Mr Felix Cardenas said.

He argued that allowing the youths out of the club could have prevented the 12 deaths.

Seven other city officers are being held, pending possible charges in the case, he said.

About 200 police raided the club looking for alcohol and drug violations.

Initial investigations suggest that overcrowding and a locked emergency exit, as well as police errors, caused the tragedy.

Police initially began allowing youths out and loading them on to buses to take them to police stations.

However, the officers apparently stopped letting patrons out after the police buses filled up.,23599,23930347-401,00.html

Toddler survived for six days after mom died in Sacramento home

A 2-year-old boy survived on his own for six days after his mother died in their north Sacramento home, police said Thursday.

The child and his 36-year-old mother were discovered at 10:39 a.m. after police forced their way into the home on the 3000 block of Judah Street in the city's Hagginwood neighborhood, said police Officer Konrad Von Schoech.

A Sacramento County Child Protective Services worker went to check on the family Thursday morning because the mother suffered from chronic illness, Von Schoech said. When no one answered the door and the worker could hear the child crying inside, she called 911.

Police and firefighters arrived and got into the home, where they found the mother's body, Von Schoech said.

Investigators believe the boy was able to survive by eating food that was within his reach inside the home.

"At this point, we're looking at it as a miracle that this kid survived such a tragedy, especially with being locked in this house with no access to the outside world," Von Schoech said.

Police believe the mother had possibly been dead for six days. The little boy is undergoing medical tests and will be placed in protective custody, Von Schoech said.

"We're very fortunate the social worker went to check on the family when she did," Von Schoech said.

Teen arrested for 'blasphemous T-shirt'

A GOLD Coast teenager who wore a T-shirt by English extreme metal band Cradle of Filth that reads 'Jesus is a c**t' has been charged with offensive behaviour.

Above the offensive slogan a nun is depicted masturbating.

A 16-year-old was arrested on Monday for wearing the shirt and was charged with offensive behaviour under the Summary Offences Act 2005 for public nuisance.

Senior Sergeant Arron Ottaway said the teen was walking along Hollywell Road, in Biggera Waters, when a officer saw him.

Police conducted inquiries at Australia Fair, where the teen said he bought the shirt, to find any shops selling it.

The Reverend Matt Hunt of the Helensvale Baptist Church said it was sad people spoke about the Lord in such a way.

"It's fairly common language these days to express sadness, anger or hurt," he said. "It's a degrading word to use and Jesus is anything but that. It's like calling white black."

Mr Hunt said using the Lord's name in vain was a serious sin.

"When someone comes to the point of saying Jesus is the devil or Jesus is 'expletive', the Bible does say be very careful because you're on thin ice."

Gold Coast lawyer Bill Potts said the arrest highlighted Australia's need for a Bill of Rights.

"One of the great problems with our country is that we talk about rights such as privacy and freedom of speech and the like but they are not enshrined or protected in any way as they are in America," he said.

"While there are always limits on freedom of speech, you can't incite violence or anything like that, it seems to be now more than ever that our rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression should be protected.

"A Bill of Rights which enshrines that protection is long overdue in this country."

Mr Potts said charging the teen was 'ludicrous' and brought the law into disrepute.

"A shirt might offend some and might be amusing to others," he said.

"If a person was wearing the shirt in a church or a religious rally where it was specifically intended to offend or cause disruption, then perhaps the prosecution might stand a chance.

"However, to criminalise juvenile or boorish messages is to bring the law into disrepute. The police are acting like the thought police and censors.",23599,23919553-2,00.html

Australia: UFOs invade NT town

A SMALL Territory community is still reeling with shock after four UFOs descended on their Outback homes.

Families spent hours in fear as what appeared to be three spaceships hovered in the distance with another just metres above their houses.

The drama at Marlinja, population 112 and 730km south of Darwin, began at 8pm on Sunday.

Resident Janie Dixon said it started as an "ordinary" night.

"The kids were on the basketball courts, shooting a few hoops, and I was indoors talking to my two nieces when we heard a strange, loud noise," she said.

"We ran outside but at first we couldn't see anything -- it was really dark and we could hear the sound.

"The sound was horrible. It sounded like something was going past.

"We thought it was a jet. I saw what I thought at first was the evening star, the first star you usually see at night.

"But then we saw three red lights in the distance, and the sound kept getting louder.

"The ground felt like it was shaking, so we ran inside and shut the doors.

"My nephew and niece were looking out through curtains. The thing came closer, circled around the basketball courts and then came so close above our house.

"The kids at the basketball courts ran -- two girls stood there looking towards the sky.

"They tried to see what it was but all they could see was this bright red light in the pitch black."

Ms Dixon said the UFO hovered above the homes for what seemed like a couple of hours.

She said at one stage the phone rang, but went dead when she tried to answer it.

"Then the light in the house became so bright, it was like we were sitting in a football stadium," she said.

"After a while, after the things all disappeared... I think it was about 11pm by then.

"We went outside and were just sitting around drinking tea and talking about it all. The kids were put to bed.

"We heard the noise again and it came back, but disappeared again moments later.

"We were all really frightened.

"It was a big shock and I couldn't sleep."

Territorians told to boot their beer fridges

FOR decades it has been the prized possession of many a Territory back yard or balcony - but the days of the beer fridge could be numbered.

The NT Government is recommending Territorians "retire'' their beer fridges in a bid to tackle climate change.

In a list of "practical actions for NT households'', printed in the Northern Territory News, the Government suggests residents "retire the second fridge or freezer''.

But it seems it could be a case of "do as I say, not as I do'', for Chief Minister Paul Henderson.

"I've got a beer fridge -- as many Territorians do -- and I'm keeping it,'' he said.

"So one of the ways I am going to do my part to tackle climate change is look at its energy efficiency rating to see if it can be improved.''

A Power and Water Corporation brochure suggests Territorians can save up to $200 a year by doing away with their beer fridge.

But Jake McCauley, 24, said the extra money was well and truly worth it.

"It's a small price to pay to be able to have a cold beer in the dry season,'' he said.,21985,23931215-661,00.html

Friday, June 27, 2008

Iguana Bar's alleged ban on patrons of Lebanese descent

A GROUP of young men was ejected from a Kings Cross nightspot after allegedly being told the venue had "an unwritten rule" about patrons of Lebanese descent.

Sydney draftsman Malkoun Taouk, 21, said he and his cousins, Charlie and Anthony Taouk, and their friend Sam Tarabay were "shocked and upset" by the request from a bouncer at the Iguana Bar in Kings Cross, made during a night out last Saturday.

Mr Taouk said the group, which was celebrating Charlie's 21st birthday, had spent about an hour at the venue and had just bought a second round of drinks when they were asked to go.

"The security guard approached us and said his boss told him to tell us to leave because it was pretty much an unwritten rule as to why we had to go," Mr Taouk said yesterday.

"We pretty much understood that it was because we were Lebanese."

Despite being hurt and angry about their treatment, the group decided to do as the security guard had requested.

"He said it in a nice way and he was patient with us and so we thought we'd just get our stuff and we left," Mr Taouk said.

"We thought if we sat there and argued with the guy, it'd just end up causing trouble and maybe a fight, so we just went.

"All we wanted was to have a few drinks and a bit of a laugh.

"We had no plans to make trouble with anyone and it was very upsetting to hear, 'Guys, you have to go'."

Mr Taouk said he had initially thought to challenge the bouncer about the Iguana Bar's "unwritten rule".

"We asked politely anyway, 'What rule are we breaking?'," he recalled. "(The response was,) 'No Lebanese, sorry'."

The fact that he and the rest of his party were, in fact, Australian-born just compounded the insult.

"I've always thought of myself as an Aussie and consider Australia my home. Why shouldn't I? Im an Australian citizen. I was born and raised in Sydney," Mr Taouk said.

The Iguana Bar did not return phone calls or emails yesterday.,22049,23926965-5007132,00.html

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Southpaws of politics

When the next President of the United States is inaugurated in January, either Barack Obama or John McCain will be asked to raise their right hand before swearing the oath of office. But that is the wrong hand for both men.

They are left-handed, as were four of the last six presidents: Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. The current President Bush and Jimmy Carter are the only right-handers to have occupied the Oval Office since 1974, an era of lefty dominance that is to be extended by at least another four years.

Nor is this November's battle between a left-handed Democratic and Republican nominee unusual in recent history. There were similar all-southpaw contests in 1992, when Mr Clinton beat the first President Bush, and in 1996 when he won a second term against Bob Dole. Al Gore, who won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the election to Mr Bush, is left-handed, as is John Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee four years ago. So too is Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, who has flirted with a White House bid this time and is sometimes mentioned as a possible running-mate for either Mr Obama or Mr McCain.

A “Lefties for Obama” group with its own website is urging voters to “Make Obama Number 8 in '08”. Academics are scratching their heads - with whichever hand they want - for an explanation.

Just over one in ten of the US population are left-handed and, traditionally, they have been regarded with suspicion by right-handers. Witches were said to greet the Devil and perform black magic with the left hand. The Latin word for left is “sinister”; in French it is “gauche”, which also means improper; while in English, of course, “right” also means “correct”.

Jimmy Efird, at the Centre for Biometrics at Ohio State University, put the probability of left-handers having such success in recent presidential elections at less than one in 10,000. Jan van Strien, an expert on biological psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam, said that a link between personality and left-handedness has not been established. He added, though: “It's possible that left-handed politicians are more strong-willed because they've chosen not to conform to a right-handed world. Left-handers may have something special, but it can be for better or for worse: many suffer from personality disorders and other issues.”

A higher percentage of mathematicians, scientists and artists are left-handed, perhaps because they are more likely to use both hemispheres of their brains to visualise problems. Bilateral brain function could also help them to develop the social skills needed to be successful in politics. Before 1974, there were three left-handed US presidents: James Garfield, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman.

James deKay, author of The Natural Superiority of the Left-Hander, says that they have attributes that would make them good presidential material. “Logic belongs to right-handers,” says deKay. “Intuitive thinking belongs to left-handers. Left-handers tend to work alone, are good at handing off assignments and don't micromanage.”

In elections, it is sometimes asked, whose finger do you want on the nuclear button? After January, whoever wins, it will be a finger on the left hand - as usual.