Archive for May, 2010

Memorial Day: Greet them ever with grateful hearts

The train trip from Brussels lasted two hours, with a change at Liege. On most days, Welkenraedt was a sign post you blinked past on the way to attractions in Germany: Cologne, Monschau, the only Wal-Mart for 100 miles. On this Memorial Day, it was a place to stop.

A few dozen miles to the south lay the northernmost bulge from Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive in 1944. A couple of miles to the north, in Henri-Chapelle, lie the remains of 7,992 American soldiers who never made it out of Belgium.

A couple of miles was more than my wife and I had anticipated. A young woman sat behind the ticket window. Was there, we asked her in the mangled French of two recent arrivals, a bus to the cemetery? Perhaps a taxi?

You are Americains?

Oui, oui. (“Yes” twice, in the manner of so many who speak few foreign words with confidence.)

She turned, made a phone call, hung up, told us to wait.

Presently, a man in work clothes appeared and waved us over. (Americains are an easy mark in Welkenraedt.)

We …

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What will Obama, Calderon say about this immigration law?

It seems you don’t need to be located on the U.S.-Mexico border or have a high-profile case of an illegally present college student — or even to have a Republican majority — for your state legislature to decide something has to be done about immigration. From the Boston Globe:

With one lawmaker citing President Lincoln’s respect for the rule of law, the Massachusetts Senate passed a far-reaching crackdown this afternoon on illegal immigrants and those who would hire them, going further, senators said, than any immigration bill proposed over the past five years.

In a surprising turn of events, the legislation replaced a narrower bill that was passed Wednesday over the objections of Republicans.

The measure, which passed on a 28-10 vote as an amendment to the budget, would bar the state from doing business with any company found to break federal laws barring illegal immigrant hiring. It would also toughen penalties for creating or using fake identification documents, and …

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All you need to know about CBO estimates of stimulus effects

The Congressional Budget Office says the $862 billion stimulus package already has “increased the number of people employed by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million,” among other things.

Hurray! Right?

The CBO’s director, Douglas Elmendorf, explained this back in March, but it’s worth revisiting now. When the CBO says the stimulus did this or that, it presents as “evidence” the very same economic models that were used to predict the effects of the stimulus before it was even passed. Put another way, here is all the CBO is saying:

  1. The models say that spending X amount of money will create Y number of jobs.
  2. We’ve spent X amount of money.
  3. Therefore, we must have created Y number of jobs.

In other words, the models haven’t changed, so we will assume that the stimulus worked as intended.

The CBO is not measuring outputs. The feds’ accountability website for the stimulus,, attempts to do that and finds fewer than 700,000 jobs created, as reported by fund recipients …

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Hey, 2010 candidates: Georgia needs a new approach to jobs

Here’s what I need to hear from the gubernatorial candidate who wants my vote: “I have a plan to make Georgia more than a jobs penguin.”

Jobs penguin?

Ten years ago, I sailed with three fellow UGA undergrads on a short study abroad to Antarctica. On one landing we had a couple of hours to observe penguins in the wild.

It was fascinating. One of the birds’ chief activities went like this: Patty Penguin waddled over to Paul Penguin’s nest of pebbles and stole a rock with her beak, returning home with it. Paul, perturbed, rose from his nest and stole a pebble from Peyton’s place. Peyton then robbed Peter to repay himself for Paul. And on it went.

I’m often reminded of this scene when it comes to programs designed to bring jobs.

In with the old . . .

It’s nice to land a big new employer, as with NCR’s decision last year to relocate its headquarters from Ohio to Gwinnett County. But we’ve also seen Georgia-based companies in recent years move offices or factories out of state or …

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A glimpse at the post-American world

Thomas Friedman today slams the leaders of Brazil and Turkey for their shameful accommodation of Iran and its “Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing…thug” of a president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What their alleged diplomatic breakthrough actually accomplishes, he correctly observes, is to “weaken the global coalition to pressure Iran to open its nuclear facilities to U.N. inspectors, and, as a special bonus, legitimize Ahmadinejad on the anniversary of his crushing the Iranian democracy movement that was demanding a recount of Iran’s tainted June 2009 elections.”

I’d like to go a step farther, however, and point out that we can expect more of this is the kind of “global leadership” to result from a world in which America tries to shrink back from the role we’ve held for more than 60 years.

You don’t have to believe that we’ve gotten everything right or acted only selflessly since the end of World War II to recognize that we have been the most selfless superpower the world has seen. It …

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Obama’s new stimulus bill

The U.S. House is due to take up a new $190 billion spending bill this week, and they had to put seven words in the title to avoid using the S-word. Instead of another stimulus, we are getting the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act. Because, you know, tax loopholes are the reason the economy is stuck in neutral.

Keith Hennessey has a better name for it: The Hypocrisy Act of 2010, because it violates the ruling Democrats’ ballyhooed pay-as-you-go rules by adding $134 billion to the deficit. How do they justify this violation? House Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (D., Mich.) says the deficit spending comes from “emergency provisions.”

So, it’s been 15 months since the passage of the big stimulus bill, which has since been increased by $75 billion to a total of $862 billion and which, to hear Democrats tell it, has been a great big success. Yet, we’re still talking about “emergency” deficit spending in a single bill that nearly equals the entire federal deficit for …

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For anyone who questions the use of ‘union thugs’

Subtitle: Even the rampaging Greeks earlier this month attacked bank employees at the banks rather than in their own homes.

There is nothing peaceful about hundreds of SEIU thugs arriving by bus caravan to intimidate a man and his family on their own front lawn. It’s just despicable.

Check out the title of the man in question, Greg Baer, according to the CNN/Fortune account of the mob scene: deputy general counsel for corporate law at Bank of America. He has alternately been described as a lobbyist, although does not list him among BoA’s lobbying team. (By the way, don’t you just love the SEIU’s description of this incident as its effort “to talk to” Baer? Can you imagine sending 500 people to a man’s home on a Sunday afternoon to have a polite little chat with him? Please.)

So, if Baer is a lobbyist for the bank, one would have to question whether he’s really one of the top dogs. Remember that as you keep reading.

BoA’s own website lists 13 members of its …

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Racial reasoning on MARTA is off-track

During my recent series of columns about MARTA, several readers suggested that the biggest obstacle for MARTA is a racial divide in which rich whites, mostly in the suburbs, despise a transit system for poor urban blacks.

I think they’re wrong. And not terribly helpful.

I was born in 1978, 13 years after the General Assembly passed the MARTA Act and mere months before the agency’s first train got rolling. So, I will not pretend to know first-hand about the racial atmospherics of MARTA’s early days.

I heard a reasonable argument recently — from a transit proponent, I’d add — that suburbanites opted out of MARTA based on one cold calculation: They stood to pay for years, maybe decades, before the rails crossed I-285 to reach them. Why say yes to that?

But I also understand that our branding as The City Too Busy to Hate always mixed public relations with public reality, in varying parts. I don’t doubt that attitudes toward race played a substantial role in any referendum in …

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What to make of new ‘artificial life’?

There are varying opinions over whether the scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have actually created a new life form in the “synthetic cell” they announced Thursday. But there seems to be agreement that they’ve brought us closer to that point than ever before.

And much disagreement about whether that’s a good thing.

With nearly every scientific advance or new technology come trade-offs: Think of the various energy sources, genetically modified foods or even the Internet. In these cases and the others that come to mind immediately, I’d say the benefits far outweigh the negative consequences.

With this one, I’m not sure that kind of positive thinking will hold up. This could be a real-life Pandora’s box.

Some of the potential products of this breakthrough — the WSJ article linked above refers specifically to fuels and vaccines — sound promising enough. But we are no longer talking about tweaking existing life forms, in the way that genetic engineers might encode pest or …

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Special series: A lesson on frugality for MARTA from out West

(Note: This concludes a special series examining MARTA. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here or Part 3 here.)

MARTA says it needs another $50 million a year to survive. It can find half of it out West.

I’m talking about places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Honolulu, San Diego and Denver — places that have significantly cut their transit operating costs by contracting out bus services.

Those first three cities have outsourced their entire bus service. These outfits are still funded with the traditional transit model, with a mix mostly of taxpayer funds and passenger fares, but they are not run by in-house employees. Private firms do the work.

The results are impressive. Honolulu in 2008 was able to provide 41 percent more bus service than MARTA at about three-quarters of the total cost. Its operating cost per passenger mile was just 51 cents vs. MARTA’s 93 cents.

In Las Vegas it was 57 cents; in Phoenix, 80 cents.

In all, 11 of the nation’s 50 largest public bus systems contracted out at …

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