Monday, July 30, 2007

A taxing subject

On his trip to Houston this week Fred Thompson was asked if he as President would sign the Fair Tax bill, and replied "absolutely". The FAIR Tax is a proposal that would rip out practically every tax we have - payroll, income, death, capital gains - and replace it with a single, broad tax on consumption (usually at a sales tax rate of 23% or so).

It's a "fair" question to ask why we need to have such a profound and radical change. (Unless you have actually been forced to file the tax returns and figure out your AMT; depreciation; the tax basis for an old stock that was spunoff and had dividend reinvestment; the rules on itemized deducations; or hunter through drawers to find that proof of giving to goodwill - in which case you will likely respond "Hallelujiah!" to such a proposal.)

There is much wrong with the current system. Coyote blog tells us the 5 worst things about taxes:
1. Complexity and Preparation Time
2. Disguising the Tax Load - If you add all these up, the average American pays about 30% of his/her salary in taxes.
3. Taxes on Wealth and Savings
4. Picking Favorites for Special Treatment
5. Class Warfare and Punishing Success

The Federal income tax scores terribly on the above items. It is hugely complex and gets worse over time due to Congressional tinkering that picks favorites for bogus social engineering reasons (Prius, anyone?); withholding disguises its impact each year; lastly, it punishes success. Chief Justice John Marshall said "the power to tax involves the power to destroy." The taxing authorities go after wealth, income, production and economic success because, well, that's where the money is. But in doing so, taxes harm the very engine of our prosperity.

You can't blame yankees for the income tax. A history of the income tax notes: "The Sixteenth Amendment owes its existence mainly to the West and South, where individual incomes of $5,000 or over are comparatively few."

Times change. More recently, Taxpayers filed 130.6 million U.S. individual income tax returns for 2003. Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) reported on Tax Year 2003 returns totaled $6.2 trillion for 2003, while taxable income was $4.2 trillion and total income tax was $750 billion. The largest component of AGI was salaries and wages, totaling nearly $4.7 trillion. A total of $261.4 billion in business net income was reported on 14.4 million returns.

Not surprisingly, The rich pay most in income taxes: The top 20% pay 80% of taxes; the top 10% pay 64.8% of income taxes; the top 5% pay 52.1% of income taxes; the top 1% pay 31.0% of taxes. What is surprising, though, is the fact that both Reagan and Bush 'tax cuts for the rich' as the Democrats like to call them actually increased the share of taxes paid by the rich, by lowering the tax burden for the poor (taking millions off the tax rolls) and the middle class.

The Federal tax system fails to tax imports commensurate with taxation on American production, sometimes up to 40% to 50% of marginal tax rates (adding excise, income, business income, social security and meidcare taxes). Our current Federal tax system is biased against production by taxing work, investment, savings, and capital gains, and biased in favor of consumption of imports by not taxing consumption. A consequence of this is that most other industrialized and developing nations now have border-adjusted business transfer taxes that are not as skewed as American tax law, and a result of this tax bias is an 18% disadvantage for American producers as compared with overseas producers, further resulting in large merchandise trade deficits for the U. S. that undermines our long-term economic health.

The FAIR tax is one solution that addresses that problem. It taxes imports consumed in America just as much as it does home-grown production.

David Hartman has a solution as well - the business transfer tax. This may be the most profound and best tax reform of all:

    This leaves the Business Transfer Tax as the most viable proposal on the table. What are its advantages? Apart from the fact that it can be made border adjustable, the BTT would establish a tax base that includes all commerce and employers, eventually reaching even employment and purchases in the government sector and employment in the ballooning not-for-profit sector. Although aimed at consumption, the BTT, by collecting from employers rather than from consumers, would offer little justification for allowing exemption, but it would also provide equitable rebates to offset spending on necessities. Such rebates would serve as replacement for exemptions, deductions, and credits, and, if the BTT were adopted as a single flat tax, all taxation of income could be eliminated.

    How should a Business Transfer Tax be implemented on a revenue-neutral basis, replacing current taxation in order of priority? First, the corporate income tax would be replaced by a 5.5-percent BTT. Next, the BTT would be raised to 10 percent, enabling the personal income tax to be flattened to a 14-percent single rate. Finally, the entire tax code (apart from personal FICA taxes) would be replaced by a 20-percent BTT. If the socialists insisted on maintaining a “progressive” code, a somewhat lower BTT rate could be adopted, supplemented by a modest upper-income tax. This is not recommended, but this is not a perfect world.

    Following this plan would mean an equitable, neutral, transparent, and politically feasible supply-side and border-adjusted reform of the federal tax code. It would dramatically reduce our perennial trade deficits on manufactured goods and provide optimal growth for all sectors of the U.S. economy. It would level the playing field for U.S. corporations in general, and manufacturing in particular, and for U.S. blue-collar workers, whose earnings have been increasingly depressed over the past three decades. It would mean a return to a more equitable sharing in the growth and prosperity of the U.S. economy—not only for those in manufacturing but for all sectors of the U.S. economy.
Because the BTT is a consumption tax, it will burden economic activity widely and hit imports more than current law. Because the BTT has a wide tax base, it can very effectively raise a lot of money on lower rates. Becaue the BTT is attached to businesses (wholesale, retail and services), there are fewer filers. Billions would be saved in tax compliance costs.

On the last point about keeping the income tax and such a sales tax. Conservative fear that the sales tax would be abused and get increased and lead to huge welfare state just like Europe - so all the proposals, like the FAIR tax envision a complete replacement. But what if we did it gradually, i.e., halfway? What if we took up Hartman's proposal to have a BTT of 10% - we could abolish the corporate income tax and cut the top income tax rate to 14%. Consider this option the BTT+FlatTax option. We could also possibily shift social security tax burdens in ways to lessen the regressiveness of the system, while yielding a better system overall, where 'better' means - simpler, flatter, fairer (no biases) and less economically destructive.

Contrawise is this view that sees all the tax reforms as flawed precisely because they are revenue neutral and don't slay the leviathan:
We just believe that a tax plan that perpetuates the welfare state and pays for the warfare state is not the solution. Obviously, the "best" tax reform plan, from the standpoint of liberty and less government, would be to eliminate taxes entirely. None of us are naïve enough to think that will ever happen as long as we have the state to deal with. However, in the mean time, the next best type of tax reform is one that results in a substantial lowering of the amount of taxes collected. If taxes are cut by a large enough amount, then no one will be too concerned about how the government collects its taxes. Real tax reform begins with the drastic reduction of taxes and tax rates.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Defining "Status Quo" in China vs. Taiwan

May 22, 2007
The Taiwan Status Quo "As We Define It"
by Ambassador Harvey Feldman
WebMemo #1465

The Bush Administration has often said it opposes attempts by either side—China or Taiwan—to alter the status quo in the Taiwan Strait area. This admonition, given by White House or State Department spokespersons, is almost always directed at statements from, or actions taken by, the government in Taipei. Apparently, China's yearly addition of 100 offensive missiles aimed at Taiwan, for a total now approaching 900, does not count as an alteration of the status quo. Although these administration spokespersons often add the words "as we define it" after "status quo," they do not, in fact, define it.

So perhaps we should take up the task....Click here for the full story.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

By the Numbers

By the Numbers
From Jerry Mikus
(Financial Advisor)

MORE OUTSIDE THAN INSIDE - US stocks comprise 45% of the total capitalization of all equities in the world (source: SmartMoney).

BIG FEET - The US economy is $13.6 trillion in size or 28% of the world's economy (source: Fortune).

EURO HIGH, DOLLAR LOW - As any American traveling in Europe last week painfully witnessed firsthand, the value of the 8 1/2 year-old euro closed at an all-time record high last Friday ($1.3831). The record low value for the euro (83 cents) was set on 10/26/2000 (source: USA Today).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New York City's déjà vu moment

...started about 6:10 PM (EDT) on July 18, 2007.

WCBS-TV New York, NY
(CBS) NEW YORK What once was the scene of New York City's hustle and bustle during Wedensday's rush hour in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan has turned ...

Below is a partial transcript of a 6:19 PM (EDT) report of underground explosion near Grand Central Terminal in New York, on CBS affiliate WCBS-TV.

Male anchor: "...We're following reports of underground explosion in the area near Grand Central Terminal...initial reports were of manhole explosions. They're investigating whether that is in fact what happened."

Female anchor: "There is also something on the wire...a City office saying this is not believed to is not terrorism related. We have someone on the phone with us right now, Charles Seton."

Female anchor: "An again on the wire...this is not terrorism related...We know the weather has been weird."

Charles Seton (spokesperson NYC Transit): "At this point we have no idea what the cause is or even what the exact incident is..."

Male anchor: "The good news, not terrorism."

Question: What is wrong with this dialogue? The fact that the city official emphatically declares that this is not terrorism, while the spokesman for the NYC transit authority declares (after the Officials report "on the wire"), "we have no idea what the cause is or even what the exact incident is" makes one wonder why the contradiction.

Even though it does not seem to be a terrorist incident, this is difficult day again for New York City, and it's citizen certainly are having a déjà vu moment. No matter how many times reporters repeat the mantra "not terrorism" the people of New York City (esp. those who were there on 9/11/2001) likely feel terrorized on 7/18/2007.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Heliocentric Global Warming

Henrik Svensmark probably understands a little of how Galileo Galilei felt as he was attached by the Roman Catholic Church for his proposition of a heliocentric model of the universe in opposition to the geocentric model of Ptolemy.

Galileo challenged the conventional wisdom of his day which, supposedly on Biblical grounds, placed the Earth at the center of the Universe. Similarly the results of Svensmark's research challenges the conventional wisdom of our day that Earth bound CO2 (especially that produced by us nasty humans) is responsible for the Global Warming phenomenon. In contrast to this "geocentric source" of global warming Svensmark proposes a "heliocentric source" (that the Sun is the primary source of global warming).

History has this knack for being repeated. I predict that Svensmark will be labeled a heretic by Al Gore's Church of Global Inconvenience. The only question remaining is how many carbon credits he will be required to pay to avoid House Arrest.

Environment / Global Warming

His studies show that natural variations in the sun plays a major role in global warming. So are humans off the hook? And if so, why does he use compact fluorescent lightbulbs?
by Marion Long

Most leading climate experts don’t agree with Henrik Svensmark, the 49-year-old director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen. In fact, he has taken a lot of blows for proposing that solar activity and cosmic rays are instrumental in determining the warming (and cooling) of Earth. His studies show that cosmic rays trigger cloud formation, suggesting that a high level of solar activity—which suppresses the flow of cosmic rays striking the atmosphere—could result in fewer clouds and a warmer planet. This, Svensmark contends, could account for most of the warming during the last century. Does this mean that carbon dioxide is less important than we’ve been led to believe? Yes, he says, but how much less is impossible to know because climate models are so limited.

There is probably no greater scientific heresy today than questioning the warming role of CO2, especially in the wake of the report issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That report warned that nations must cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, and insisted that “unless drastic action is taken . . . millions of poor people will suffer from hunger, thirst, floods, and disease.” As astrophysicist ?Eugene Parker, the discoverer of solar wind, writes in the foreword to Svensmark’s new book, The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change, “Global warming has become a political issue both in government and in the scientific community. The scientific lines have been drawn by ‘eminent’ scientists, and an important new idea is an unwelcome intruder. It upsets the established orthodoxy.”

We talked with the unexpectedly modest and soft-spoken Henrik Svensmark about his work, the criticism it has received, and truth versus hype in climate science.

Was there something in the Danish weather when you were growing up that inspired you to study clouds and climate?

I remember being fascinated by clouds when I was young, but I never suspected that I would one day be working on these problems, trying to solve the puzzle of how clouds are actually formed. My background is in physics, not in atmospheric science. At the time when I left school and began working, it was almost impossible to get any permanent work whatsoever in science. That was why, after doing a lot of physics on short-term things at various places, I took a job at the Meteorological Society. And once I was there I thought, “Well, I had better start doing something.” So I started thinking about problems that were relevant in that field, and that was how I started thinking about the sun and how it might affect Earth.

It was a purely scientific impulse. With my background in theoretical physics, I had no—well, certainly not very much—knowledge about global warming. I simply thought that if there is a connection to the sun, that would be very interesting, and I certainly had no idea it would be viewed as so controversial.

In 1996, when you reported that changes in the sun’s activity could explain most or all of the recent rise in Earth’s temperature, the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel called your announcement “extremely naive and irresponsible.” How did you react?

I was just stunned. I remember being shocked by how many thought what I was doing was terrible. I couldn’t understand it because when you are a physicist, you are trained that when you find something that cannot be explained, something that doesn’t fit, that is what you are excited about. If there is a possibility that you might have an explanation, that is something that everybody thinks is what you should pursue. Here was exactly the opposite reaction. It was as though people were saying to me, “This is something that you should not have done.” That was very strange for me, and it has been more or less like that ever since.

So it’s difficult to do climate research without being suspected of having a hidden agenda?

Yes, it is frustrating. People can use this however they want, and I can’t stop them. Some are accusing me of doing it for political reasons; some are saying I’m doing it for the oil companies. This is just ridiculous. I think there’s a huge interest in discrediting what I’m doing, but I’ve sort of gotten used to this. I’ve convinced myself the only thing I can do is just to continue doing good science. And I think time will show that we are on the right track.

Do you ever worry that people will take your findings and use them to support unwarranted or even harmful conclusions?

I would be happy to kill the project if I could find out that there was something that didn’t fit or that I no longer believed in it. When we started, it was just a simple hypothesis based on a correlation, and correlations are, of course, something that could be quite dubious, and they could go away if you get better data. But this work has only strengthened itself over the years.

What first made you suspect that changes in the sun are having a significant impact on global warming?

I began my investigations by studying work done in 1991 by Eigil Fiin-Christensen and Knud Lassen Fiin-Christensen. They had looked at solar activity over the last 100 years and found a remarkable correlation to temperatures. I knew that many people dismissed that result, but I thought the correlation was so good that I could not help but start speculating—what could be the relation? Then I heard a suggestion that it might be cosmic rays, changing the chemistry high up in the atmosphere. I immediately thought, “Well, if that is going to work, it has to be through the clouds.”

That was the initial idea. Then I remembered seeing a science experiment at my high school in Elsinore, in which our teacher showed us what is called a cloud chamber, and seeing tracks of radioactive particles, which look like small droplets. So I thought to myself, “That would be the way to do it.” I started to obtain data from satellites, which actually was quite a detective work at that time, but I did start to find data, and to my surprise there seems to be a correlation between changes in cosmic rays and changes in clouds. And I think in early January 1996, I finally got a curve, which was very impressive with respect to the correlation. It was only over a short period of time, because the data were covering just seven years or something like that. So it was almost nothing, but it was a nice correlation.

How exactly does the mechanism work, linking changes in the sun with climate change on Earth?

The basic idea is that solar activity can turn the cloudiness up and down, which has an effect on the warming or cooling of Earth’s surface temperature. The key agents in this are cosmic rays, which are energetic particles coming from the interstellar media—they come from remnants of supernova explosions mainly. These energetic particles have to enter into what we call the heliosphere, which is the large volume of space that is dominated by our sun, through the solar wind, which is a plasma of electrons, atomic nuclei, and associated magnetic fields that are streaming nonstop from the sun. Cosmic-ray particles have to penetrate the sun’s magnetic field. And if the sun and the solar wind are very active—as they are right now—they will not allow so many cosmic rays to reach Earth. Fewer cosmic rays mean fewer clouds will be formed, and so there will be a warmer Earth. If the sun and the solar wind are not so active, then more cosmic rays can come in. That means more clouds [reflecting away more sunlight] and a cooler Earth.

Now it’s well known that solar activity can turn up and down the amount of cosmic rays that come to Earth. But the next question was a complete unknown: Why should cosmic rays affect clouds? Because at that time, when we began this work, there was no mechanism that could explain this. Meteorologists denied that cosmic rays could be involved in cloud formation.

You and a half-dozen colleagues carried out a landmark study of cosmic rays and clouds while working in the basement of the Danish National Space Center. How did you do it?

We spent five or six years building an experiment here in Copenhagen, to see if we could find a connection. We named the experiment SKY, which means “cloud” in Danish. Natural cosmic rays came through the ceiling, and ultraviolet lamps played the part of the sun. We had a huge chamber, with about eight cubic meters of air, and the whole idea was to have air that is as clean as you have over the Pacific, and then of course, to be able to control what’s in the chamber. So we had minute trace gases as you have in the real atmosphere, of sulfur dioxide and ozone and water vapor, and then by keeping these things constant and just changing the ionization [the abundance of electrically charged atoms] in the chamber a little bit, we could see that we could produce these small aerosols, which are the basic building blocks for cloud condensation nuclei.

So the idea is that in the atmosphere, the ionization is helping produce cloud condensation nuclei, and that changes the amount and type of clouds. If you change the clouds, of course, you change the amount of energy that reaches Earth’s surface. So it’s a very effective way, with almost no energy input, to change the energy balance of Earth and therefore the temperature.

There were so many strange surprises, and many times we were busy just trying to understand what was going on. The mechanism we seemed to be finding was very different from any theoretical ideas about how it should work. It seemed to be much more effective than we had ever imagined. It seems as if an electron is able to help form a small particle—a molecular cluster, as we call it—and then the electron can jump off and help another one. So it’s like a catalytic process. It was a big surprise that it is so effective.

These types of experiments had not really been done before, and we had to find new techniques in order to do them. Once we had the results, it was necessary to understand completely what was going on. So it was a very intense period of work, almost hypnotic.

Now there are other experiments, like the CLOUD project, also designed to investigate the effects of cosmic rays. How will this build on your work?

CLOUD is an international collaboration [sponsored by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN] that is taking place in Geneva, but it’s going to take a while before any results come out of that. It was approved last year, and building the machine will take at least three years. That’s a problem with science: You have to have a lot of patience because results are very slow to come.

If the scientists at CLOUD are able to prove that cosmic rays can change Earth’s cloud cover, would that force climate scientists to reevaluate their ideas about global warming?

Definitely, because in the standard view of climate change, you think of clouds as a result of the climate that you have. Our idea reverses that, turns things completely upside down, saying that the climate is a result of how the clouds are.

How do you see your work fitting into the grand debates about the causes of global warming and the considerations of what ought to be done about it?

I think—no, I believe—that the sun has had an influence in the past and is changing climate at the present, and it most certainly will do so in the future. We live in a unique time in history, because this period has the highest solar activity we have had in 1,000 years, and maybe even in 8,000 years. And we know that changes in solar activity have made significant changes in climate. For instance, we had the little ice age about 300 years ago. You had very few sunspots [markings on the face of the sun that indicate heightened solar activity] between 1650 and 1715, and for example, in Sweden in 1696, it caused the harvest to go wrong. People were starving—100,000 people died—and it was very desperate times, all coinciding with this very low solar activity. The last time we had high solar activity was during the medieval warming, which was when all of the cathedrals were built in Europe. And if you go 1,000 years back, you also had high solar activity, and that was when Rome was at its height. So I think there’s good evidence that these are significant changes that are happening naturally. If we are talking about the next century, there might be a human effect on climate change on top of that, but the natural effect from solar effect will be important. This should be recognized in the models and calculations that are being used to make predictions.

Why is there such resistance to doing that? Is the science that conflicted or confusing? Or is politics intervening?

I think it’s the latter, and I think it’s both. And I think there’s a fear that it will turn out, or that it would be suggested, that the man-made contribution is smaller than what you would expect if you look at CO2 alone.

Have you had a hard time getting funding?

For an eternity, I would say. But there are no oil companies funding my work, not at all. It sounds funny, but the Danish Carlsberg Foundation—you know, the one who makes beer—they have been of real support to me. They have a big foundation; in Denmark it’s one of the biggest resources for science. It’s because the founder of Carlsberg wanted to use scientific methods to make the best beer. It’s probably the best beer in the world, because of science.

If cosmic radiation is in fact the principal cause of global warming, is that good or bad news for human beings?

That’s a good question because you would have to say that we cannot predict the sun. And, of course, that would mean that we couldn’t do anything about it.

But if humans, through carbon dioxide emissions, are affecting climate less than we think, would that mean we may have more time to reduce the harmful effects?

Yes, that could of course be a consequence. But I don’t know how to get to such a conclusion because right now everything is set up that CO2 is a major disaster in society.

Do you agree that carbon dioxide is having at least some impact on Earth’s current warming?

Yes, but you have to give the sun a role. If you include the sun in the right way, the effect of CO2 must be smaller. The question is, how much smaller? All we know about the effect of CO2 is really based on climate models that predict how climate should be in 50 to 100 years, and these climate models cannot actually model clouds at all, so they are really poor. When you look at them, the models are off by many hundreds percent. It’s a well-known fact that clouds are the major uncertainty in any climate model. So the tools that we are using to make these predictions are not actually very good.

What do you hope to do next in pursuit of your theory?

I’m extremely excited about our next experiment, which will happen in the next couple months. We are planning to go one kilometer below Earth’s surface because when we do an experiment in the basement we cannot get rid of the radiation. Cosmic rays are so penetrating that there’s always ionization in our chamber and we cannot get to zero ionization. I think it will be the first time that people are attempting an experiment where there is no ionization present. I think it will be quite fascinating because it will tell us something about the details in the mechanism.

Do you think then that individuals and societies as a whole need to try to conserve energy? Do you use compact fluorescent lightbulbs, for instance?

Yes, yes, we use those. And I ride a bicycle. There are good reasons to conserve our resources and find a more economical way of using energy, but the argumentation is not linked necessarily to climate.

At this stage in your work, how confident are you that your basic theories are correct?

I think it is almost certain that cosmic rays are responsible for changes in climate. I think now I have very good evidence, and I think I’ve come up with some very good evidence that it is clouds. Of course, we cannot discuss the exact mechanism, but I think we have some very important fragments of these ideas. One extrapolation we could make, for instance: Would this mechanism work in an ancient atmosphere? Would these processes still happen? That is something I don’t know.

You discuss your work as part of an emerging field that you call “cosmoclimatology.” What is that?

It is the idea that processes in space and what is happening here on Earth are connected. It is this idea that when Earth is in a certain spiral arm of the Milky Way, you can associate that with a certain geological period. Previously, the idea was of Earth as a sort of isolated system on which processes evolved. Now all of a sudden it seems as if our position in the galaxy is important for what has happened and is happening here on Earth. It is this connection between Earth and space that’s exciting and why I have given it this name. Most of this research has taken place just within the last 10 years, and it is truly multidisciplinary, ranging from solar physics and atmospheric chemistry to geology and meteorology—even high-particle physicists are involved. The people who are doing space-related observations are very happy that there could be a connection from space to Earth because it makes a good argumentation for understanding processes out there.

These connections, which combine such a variety of disciplines and create opportunities for many lines of work, are surprising and wonderful. It has been a real challenge for me, though, because I have to look at so many different fields in order to work.

You’ve faced more than a few hard knocks in pursuing your scientific career. What keeps you going?

From the beginning, I have found this to be a really interesting problem, and now, I think, it is the potential of it that draws me on. It is something which started as a simple idea and seems to be continually extending, or expanding. That has really been the most important thing. I mean, for instance, I would never have thought that we would find these correlations between the cosmic rays and the evolution of the Milky Way and life on Earth. I never expected that all of these things are connected in a beautiful way.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Below is the body of an email I just received from Senator Hutchison regarding the amnesty for illegals bill that "We the People" defeated - the first such Email since Victory in DC Day:

Dear Mr. ,

Thank you for contacting me regarding comprehensive immigration reform. I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.

Texas is a state that uniquely benefits from the contributions of legal immigrants, but it is also uniquely vulnerable to the dangers of illegal immigration. Since I was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1993, my principles have been clear and consistent: we must secure our borders while discouraging illegal behavior. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have worked to appropriate funds for border security, which includes new Border Patrol agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators, detention officers, and detention beds. We have ended catch and release and accelerated the deportation process. I strongly supported provisions for an additional $1.9 billion in immediate funding for border security to cover the first 1,000 of 6,000 new Border Patrol agents hired this year and in 2008. These funds, as provided in the fiscal year 2006 Emergency Supplemental appropriations bill, will assist with the temporary deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard troops aiding the Border Patrol with surveillance and logistics. Yet, more needs to be done to secure our borders, and I continue to seek additional emergency spending to immediately address this national security issue.

On May 9, 2007, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada introduced
S. 1348, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Initially, the bill consisted of the same language from S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which the Senate considered last year. On May 19, 2007, Senators Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a substitute amendment, S. AMDT. 1150, to the bill. The amendment replaced the original text of the bill with new language to be considered. The new language was negotiated over several months between the Bush Administration and a small group of senators.

The legislation addressed several key issues of comprehensive immigration reform. First, the bill concentrated on border enforcement by mandating the hiring, training, and deployment of 20,000 border patrol and immigration enforcement agents; the construction of 370 miles of border fencing; the completion of 300 miles of vehicle barriers; and, the deployment of 4 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The bill also would have provided for 105 operational ground-based radar and camera towers on the southern border and authorized that 31,500 detention beds must be available so that apprehended aliens can be detained. All other provisions of the bill were contingent upon these security provisions first being met.

Second, the bill sought to strengthen workforce enforcement through the use of an electronic employment verification system (EEVS). When the EEVS was in place, the Administration predicted that within 18 months, illegal aliens would find it extremely difficult to gain any legitimate employment. Under the bill, illegal workers would not only have been subject to removal from the country but would have been permanently barred from any U.S. immigration program, and employers who knowingly hired illegal workers would have faced stiff penalties.

The bill aimed to overhaul the current U.S. immigration system by enacting a merit-based immigration system or “point system.” Under such a system, immigrants to the U.S. would have garnered points through various characteristics they possess. Examples of these characteristics would have included, but were not limited to, job skills deemed helpful to the U.S. economy, level of educational attainment, and degree of English language proficiency. Once a hopeful immigrant reached a certain point threshold, they would have been eligible to enter the country with a visa, subject to numerical limitations, background checks, and public health screenings.

The fourth component of the bill was the enactment of a temporary worker program where individuals would have been able to come into the United States for a period of two years. At the end of the two-year period, the worker would have been required to return home for at least one year. Eligibility of such a worker for this program would have spanned a total of three cycles (totaling six working years within the U.S. with one year out of the country between each term). Proponents claim that Americans would have been given the first opportunity to fill the jobs, and market forces would have determined how many foreign workers were needed.

The final element of the bill attempted to address those who are currently in the United States illegally. Through the creation of a Z-visa category, current illegal immigrants would need to meet several criteria prior to being considered for legal status or U.S. citizenship. They would first have to pay a $1,000 fine, with an additional $500 fine per dependent. These individuals would also be subject to strict work requirements. All Z-visa holders would have to remain employed in order to prevent their deportation. After a period of eight years, non-immigrant workers would have been eligible to leave the country, pay an additional $4,000 fine, and apply for lawful permanent resident status in the United States, or they could opt to remain on the Z-visa indefinitely, subject to background checks.

Some of the beneficial features in S. 1348 included provisions to increase border security, which must be our number one goal. The bill sought to secure our borders by increasing border fencing, vehicle barriers at the Southern border, the size of the Border Patrol, and installing ground-based radar and camera towers along the Southern border. I believe that any legislation addressing immigration must first address the safety and security needs of the United States, and there were benchmarks that were finite for border security within the bill and were required to be reached before any temporary worker program, or dealing with the backlog of people who are in our country illegally, could begin. Nevertheless, I think the security provisions within the bill could have been made stronger through the amendment process. For this reason, I supported amendments to strengthen border security and remove illegal immigrants convicted of aggravated felonies from the United States.

In addition to border security measures, the bill also contained provisions for a temporary worker program. Temporary work visas play an important role in ensuring U.S. companies have the workers they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. A temporary worker program is also essential to border security. If we do not have a way for people to legally come into this country and fill the jobs where labor is in critical demand, then we will never be able to control our borders. By incorporating the use of an EEVS, we would greatly enhance the success of our efforts to hold companies accountable for employment activity, ensure fair treatment of temporary workers, and make certain those who legally enter our country abide by our laws. A tamper-proof biometric identification card should also be incorporated into any worker program.

While I supported many of the provisions of S. 1348, I also had serious concerns with some parts of the bill. I was very concerned at how this bill could affect the Social Security system, which we all know is on the brink of failure. In 2017, Social Security will start to pay out more than it receives. By 2041, the trust fund will be exhausted. I do not think it is fair to grant credits while illegally working in our country, especially when the solvency of Social Security is in question. To this end, I introduced an amendment that would have disallowed credits into our Social Security system for work performed by persons without lawful status. My amendment addressed both those who came into our country illegally and those who have overstayed their visa. My amendment, which would protect the integrity of the Social Security system, was agreed to by the Senate.

Another concern I had with the bill was found within Title VI of the legislation. Namely, I opposed the amnesty provisions that would have allowed people who came to this country illegally to never have to return to their home country. For this reason, I offered an amendment that would have required all adult illegal immigrants to leave the U.S. before they could apply for legal permanent status. I believe that granting citizenship or legal non-immigrant status to those who entered our country illegally would only encourage others to break our laws in the future. Unfortunately, my amendment was tabled by a 53-45 vote; thus, I could not support the bill as offered and voted against cloture. Ultimately, the cloture vote to end debate failed in a bipartisan 46-53 vote, and Majority Leader Reid pulled the bill from the Senate floor.

I believe an issue as important as immigration should be debated openly and freely and subjected to due consideration and review with time for senators to hear the concerns of their constituents. We have a broken immigration system that is not fair to those who are waiting to enter the country through the legal channels, or to the American people who live by the rule of law. It is the responsibility of the federal government to fix the broken immigration system and to secure the borders of our great nation. This is a duty that I take very seriously.

I have heard the concerns from my constituents regarding this issue, and you may be certain I will keep your views in mind as I continue to work to improve the flaws in our current immigration system.

I appreciate hearing from you and hope you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue of concern to you.

Kay Bailey Hutchison

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Teach The Children Well

Mark Krikorian on NRO's The Corner asks:

" We were talking about how schools no longer do much of a job of patriotically Americanizing anyone, American kids or immigrant kids. I noted that limiting immigration was necessary in such an environment because, however poorly the schools are doing in this regard, American kids at least inherit a certain amount of American-ness from their parents, whereas immigrant parents are bringing their kids to school specifically to be Americanized. Linda Chavez disagreed, saying that the level of future immigration is irrelevant because, without rolling back multiculturalism and racialism in society in general and the schools in particular, the grandchildren of today's Americans will be no more American than the grandchildren of today's immigrants.

My question, and I don't mean it sarcastically, is does anyone agree? It seems to me clear that, given equally deficient efforts at Americanization, the children and grandchildren of Americans are more likely to grow up with a sense of patriotic solidarity with their fellow Americans than those of immigrants."
We can see the multiculturalism in our local schools, our children attend public elementary and middle schools in RRISD:
- The elementary school has a sign that says they are making kids "citizens of the world". (Silly me, I thought you were citizens of a sovereign nation).
- The school celebrated earth day, but learned nothing about President George Washington on Presidents Day.
- They send kids home with "TIME for kids", a schlocky liberal media take on current and past events; history as the polemic of the liberal as I would call it.
- The Sixth grade social studies was 'world cultures', there was only a little American history taught in 5th grade, as far as we could tell, so that our sixth grader recalls little about the American Revolution (only what we've told her).

Mark Krikorian is partly right about the immigration connection with multiculturalism, based on my personal experience. The school district and these schools we attend have a high concentration of immigrants (Asian immigrants in high-tech) and it helps 'validate' the multi-cultural thesis.

The solution for our kids is to 'home school' those critical gaps that the schools miss. Today, July 4th, was such a day, to remind our children what this country was founded on, and the facts and concepts around the American revolution. I am an active and concerned parent; probably only a fraction of parents are thus concerned enough to actively do such a thing.
Assimilation doesn't happen by the schools and so those immigrant parents may not be able to do the same for their kids, but neither are most American-born parents either.

Those who assert that the problem is with the schools themselves have the larger point. Despite these correlations between immigration and multiculturalism, the root cause is how
our schools are run, not who is attending the schools. Schools fail to do their job of teaching American citizenship as they should.

A sociologist once said that we are forever 20 years from barbarism. We are also, perhaps, 20 years from breakdown in American civic faith as well, and only in the schools and homes can we address it.

The errors of how schools are run can only be partially addressed by either limiting immigration and/or by making sure language and other assimilation factors are addressed when immigrants become citizens. The direct and sure way to address and solve this problem is to make sure citizenship, the ideals of our founders, and history of our Republic are all a serious part of the learning experience of every schoolchild - even the many children of illegal aliens that we are today educating in the public schools.


By Bob Ward

Congressional liberals and media heavyweights – who yawned at President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, indicted for evading $42 million taxes and illegally buying oil from Iran while they held our hostages – are pitching fits because President Bush commute3d the sentence of “Scooter” Libby.

And, predictably, some of them are lying about it. U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich) said, “Until now, it appeared the President merely turned a blind eye to a high-ranking administration official leaking classified information. The President’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”

In fact, Libby was not even accused, much less convicted, of leaking classified information, in this case, the name of an allegedly covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. (Wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson) to columnist Robert Novak He was convicted of lying to investigators who were supposedly trying to learn who did leak her name.

But the larger, and more serious lie, was the investigation itself. It would have been a perversion of justice for Libby to be locked up while Special Prosecutor Edward Fitzgerald who got him convicted walks free. As Washington Post reporter David Broder reported, Fitzgerald learned “soon after taking the job” of special prosecutor that Richard Armitage, a State Department official, and Bush aide Karl Rove were Novak’s sources.

Armitage, Broder noted, admitted his role “immediately,” but instead of indicting Armitage or Rove for the supposed crime of outing Plame, he continued the charade of pretending to look for the leaker. A case could be argued that he committed a fraud for collecting a fee to conduct a phoney investigation. In fact, it was doubtful that a crime had been committed since Plame’s convert status was effectively challenged by the person who wrote the law protecting covert agents.

Broder, who does not qualify as a “conservative,” accurately characterized the controversy as “a sideshow — engineered partly by the publicity‑seeking former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, and heightened by the hunger in parts of Washington to ‘get’ Rove for something or other.”

Broder also pointed out that Libby was convicted “on the testimony of reporters from NBC, The New York Times and Time magazine.” Broder recalled that this fact angered conservatives and added, ”I think they have a point.” He might well have added that Libby was hounded by liberals eager to implicate Vice Pres. Cheney, Libby’s boss, in something unsavory.

Bush’s action does not absolve Libby from all punishment. A hefty fine still must be paid and the conviction is still a matter of record. It is not a pardon such as Clinton gave to Marc Rich after Rich’s ex-wife donated and raised more than $1 million for the Democratic party. But it’s better than nothing and a break for conservatives who so often get nothing from this president.

Happy Birthday, America

When the going was difficult for the American patriots during the War for Independence, here is what Patrick Henry had to say about the matter:

If we wish to be free-- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Texas' Energy Future

We don't often quote the leftie site dKos, but a pro-nuclear Texas progressive there has a report on Texas nuclear power plant expansions:

The difficulties with the coal proposals and the remaining demand for increased baseload capacity provided a window for NRG Energy, the largest shareholder (44%) of the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) to propose expanding the 2 existing units at STP to 4. TXU similarly proposed expanding the two units at Comanche Peak (Dallas region) to four; these plans remain active after TXU scrapped most coal designs. Two additional plants on greenfield sites are also proposed; one by an Amarillo group, the other by Exelon corp. to be situated on the Gulf Coast somewhere near the STP site. In total, these represent somewhere in the neighborhood of 8000 MW capacity on top of ~4500 MW existing nuclear capacity. For scale, Texas capacity was approx. 63,000 MW in Summer 2006.

The report indicates the proposed South Texas Plant expansion (from 2 to 4 units) got a lot of local support in public comment hearings:
On Wednesday, June 27, the NRC held an initial public hearing to discuss the Letter of Intent that NRG has filed and how the Combined-Operating License process differs from previous instances. I attended this meeting -- quite a trip at 80 miles from my residence in central Houston -- and found the crowd of nearly 180 people almost entirely in favor of the proposal. Notably, Bay City Mayor Richard Knapik and Matagorda Co. Judge Nate McDonald gave strong statements of support during the Q&A period. Additionally, a representative for US Congressman Ron Paul (TX-14) informed me the congressman is also strongly in favor of the expansion. Local residents commended STP on being a clean and quiet neighbor, providing clean energy and high quality jobs to the region. The main exceptions were representatives from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the SEED Coalition who expressed doubts about the safety and "green-ness" of the plant.

The STP expansion appears to be "technologically and financially sound" and supported locally, so a very good chance it will sail through.

It would be great if this momentum continues, and Texas remains a key energy producer beyond the usual fossil fuels, adding more nuclear and wind to our energy portfolio.

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Stark Contrast - Well Trodden Path vs. Good Soil

And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore. He told them many things in parables, saying:
"Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. The one who has ears had better listen!”
-Matthew 13:3-9 (the NET © Bible)

In reading today's two published essays by Dr. Jerome Keating (see below) I am reminded of this well known parable Jesus taught his disciples. Throughout the 58 years of the Peoples' Republic of China, any seeds of democracy that are sown seem to fall on the well trodden path and are quickly devoured by the crows of Beijing. In contrast, in Taiwan the seeds of democracy during the same time period have fallen on progressively better soil over time. I don't mean by this to equate democracy with the Gospel of Salvation but rather to use the agrarian truth, from which Jesus draws His parable, to illustrate the stark contrast between the dim prospects for democracy in the PRC and the bright reality of the maturing democracy in Taiwan.

Which begs a question: Where should we sow and where should we cultivate democracy?

Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and the Falun Gong
Monday July 02

July 1, marked the tenth anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China. In Hong Kong, there were celebratory fireworks, a parade, and a public visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao. In contrast, there was also a pro-democracy protest numbering anywhere from 20,000 to 68,000 depending on whether you believe the Hong Kong police or the protest organizers. Ten years had passed and Hong Kong is in no way closer to the democracy and autonomy promised by the People's Republic of China (PRC). A simple bellwether of this lack of progress can be seen in the continued mistreatment of members of the Falun Gong. Several members of the Falun Gong that went to Hong Kong from Taiwan for this day were denied entry and sent back to Taiwan. ...

Taiwan continues in its search for a unifying identity, yet one major impediment remains; how to resolve the crimes of its tumultuous past. True, Taiwan has finally and painstakingly achieved its democracy, but the nation has still not dealt with the legacy of the past 45 years of colonial aggression, white terror, and systematic propaganda. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) which profited immensely during those years wants to downplay their damage; the Taiwanese who suffered in that same period seek transitional justice. This conflict creates Taiwan's identity problem. Nowhere perhaps was the contrast of these two positions more evident than in the dual exhibitions that recently were seen side by side in the former Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (now Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall). One of those exhibits now tours Taiwan...