Archive for February, 2011

The magic elixir of high-speed rail

Fix the economy?  High-speed rail.  Cure transportation gridlock?  High-speed rail.  Restore American entrepreneurship?  High-speed rail.  Solve America’s health-care problems?  High-speed rail.  Hearing President Barack Obama extol the virtues of high-speed rail is like listening to a 19th Century carnival hawker claim a single bottle of Dr. Goode’s Magic Elixir will cure all that ails you.

Just as those foul-tasting nostrums failed to cure patients’ maladies, high-speed rail will solve none of our pressing national problems; in fact, it will make them worse by increasing our deficit and draining money from more productive endeavors.

The fact of the matter is, not since World War II has America been a country in which its people travel by rail.  Yes, there are a few transportation corridors in which commuter rail serves as a popular means of transportation; the rail link between New York City and Washington, D.C., for example.  But beyond those few examples, …

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TSA grows even more powerful

George Washington, our first and in the view of many, our best president, once said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” His prescient observation, delivered more than two centuries ago, aptly describes our present-day Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

For the last several months the TSA has been subjecting travelers to ever-increasing indignities, including naked body scanners and aggressive, police-type pat-downs, without any real regard or concern for the Fourth Amendment or our fundamental right to privacy. At the same time, the agency ignores long-standing requests by members of Congress – including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – to determine whether full-body scanners expose passengers to potentially harmful doses of radiation.

Predictably, TSA scoffs at such suggestions; declaring there have been no …

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Will Wisconsin become another France?

When I was in college back in the late sixties, as student riots and massive union strikes regularly crippled the French economy, I recall thinking it was great living here in the U.S., where a free-enterprise economy insulated us from such counter-productive and shameful displays of civic greed.  What a difference four decades of ever-expanding government can make.

Last year’s riots in Greece, and violent demonstrations in the U.K. – all birthed by the anger felt by students, teachers, union workers and others who have grown increasingly dependent on government subsidies and hand outs, and who now face modest cuts to those benefits – are being played out in America’s heartland.  Teachers and public-employee unions in the Badger State are angrily protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s modest austerity plan that would curtail public-sector union power in some areas, and require those workers to pay a small part of their health care benefit package and slightly increase …

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Atlanta leads the way in “Southern Surveillance”

Atlanta is fast becoming as infatuated with surveilling its citizenry with federally-subsidized cameras, as many of its sister cities in the north, like New York and Chicago. “Southern hospitality” is becoming Southern Surveillance.

Just last week, for example, it was reported here in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Atlanta Police Department plans soon to open a largely federally-funded, “video integration center.” This high-tech center will allow officers to monitor hundreds of surveillance cameras placed around the city, including images provided by cameras run by private entities and non-police governmental agencies.

Other cities around the nation – including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia – have blanketed their cities with surveillance cameras in similar fashion. However, actual results of surveillance networks in those cities have been mixed, at best.

In 2009, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley proudly declared that by 2016 …

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Feds shut 84,000 websites — by mistake

Uncle Sam is pushing for vast control over the Internet – claiming such power is essential to protect the country from cyber threats. Dire warnings of dangers to our nation’s “cyber security” by the former administration of President George W. Bush have been echoed by President Obama. “Cyber hawks” in the Congress, including Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who see terrorist threats behind every computer, are pushing legislation that would empower the president to declare a “cyber emergency” under only vaguely defined circumstances, and seize control over vast sectors of the Internet.

Aside from the interesting parallel posed by such cyber-control efforts, to regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere that attempt to employ control over the Internet to squelch political dissent – a practice Washington roundly and properly criticizes – the government’s track record in using its existing law enforcement powers to shut down Internet …

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Has Religious Right Again Killed Sunday Alcohol Sales?

It looks as if legislators under the Gold Dome are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on the issue of Sunday sales of alcohol.

For the last few years, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, a teetotaler, had stood in the way of efforts to simply allow voters at the local level to decide if they wanted to be able to buy alcoholic beverages at grocery and convenience stores on Sunday. His argument seems to have been that if Georgians wanted to drink alcohol on Sunday, they should plan ahead and buy on Saturday. During Perdue’s eight years in office, Republican legislators apparently saw no mileage to take a risk in upsetting a key constituency, the Religious Right, only to have Perdue veto such a measure.

But that was then, and this is now. Georgia’s new governor, Nathan Deal, has stated publicly he is inclined sign legislation allowing voters at the local level to decide whether to allow Sunday sales.

Two pieces of legislation — HB 69 and SB 10 — that would provide for …

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Anti-Immigration bandwagon picks up steam

Despite passing what was considered to be one of the toughest immigration laws in the country just five years ago, the Georgia General Assembly just can’t seem to resist the urge to show just how tough it is on immigration.  Following last year’s Republican primary, which saw several candidates call for a “tough” anti-immigration law “like Arizona’s,” and one candidate even recommending setting up a “Guantanamo-style” prison for illegal aliens in the state, it was only a matter of time before the General Assembly this year took up such legislation. 

Currently, there are two competing immigration bills vying for attention under the Gold Dome. 

State Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) is sponsoring HB 87 – the “Illegal Immigration Reform Act” — which would require all employers in the state to ensure the status of prospective employees by using the federal E-Verify system; a program opponents of the bill have argued is plagued by questionable …

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U.S. education continues decline

America’s education system, once among the world’s best, has fallen on hard times. The latest evidence of this can be found in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an exam given every few years by the federal Department of Education to fourth, eighth, and 12th graders. 

The latest results of this test show that only one third of American students exhibited proficiency in science and technology. Only three percent of students are classified as “advanced.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “[t]hirty-four percent of fourth-graders scored at or above proficient. Describing the life cycle of an organism is an example of a skill demonstrated by fourth graders at the proficient level. Thirty percent of eighth graders met the mark, by demonstrating, for example, that they could recognize plants produce their own food.” As students progress in age, it seems their knowledge declines, as only 21 percent of 12th grade students met the criteria …

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Bill collectors trolling social media sites

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn, can serve as productive and efficient means of staying in touch personally, professionally, and politically; just ask young people in Egypt. However, careless use of such sites poses very real risks to one’s personal privacy, and potentially one’s employment. In fact, lawyers, bill collectors and credit investigators are using these sites to gather information on consumers and others; and using that information in ways the targets probably would not like.   

In a recent article, for example, Paul and Sarah Edwards explained that “[p]eople say a lot about their lives on social media, which is how these sites can be used to determine if an individual or company is credit-worthy or, when they are in arrears, to get a bead on whether they can pay their bills.” 

This is just one more vehicle creditors are using as they continue to become more aggressive in pursuing debts. Some of these sites allow you …

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Puerto Rico’s miracle man

Former member, U.S. House of Representatives; currently governor; holder of a law degree from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s from Georgetown; Reagan Republican; 50 years old.  With credentials like these, one might conclude quickly I am referring to one of America’s higher-profile 2012 Republican presidential contenders. No; at least not yet.  

The man described by the above resume is the energetic and telegenic Luis Fortuño, currently in the middle of his first four-year term as Puerto Rico’s chief executive.  Although Fortuño is still largely unknown outside Puerto Rico, the phenomenal successes he already has achieved to bring the island’s previously sour economy back to life, is certain to raise his reputation and his image nationally – as well it should. 

Government leaders from President Obama and Speaker John Boehner on down would serve themselves — and the people they represent — well to study and learn from what Fortuño has done in just …

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