This page includes posts from Nov.
16-29, 2003 in the usual reverse
order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these
November 29, 2003
As it turns out, a 2003 Ford Focus ZX5 hatchback can easily handle the holiday travel needs of two adults, two teenage daughters, and a small dog--at least for a relatively short trip to grandmother's house for a day or two.
Rocky wasn't all that sure about this as we were about to get underway, but after a while he stopped staring at the driver and settled down just fine.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too.
November 27, 2003
Regular readers of this site know that on occasion I'll post recipes of dishes I enjoy making as much as I enjoy eating.
It's also true that I'm not a picky eater. I don't turn my nose up at what somebody's made the effort to prepare for a meal.
Part of the reason for this attitude is my upbringing. As children we were exposed to a wide variety of foods, including wild game as well as fish we'd caught ourselves. Our parents also taught us to be polite and eat whatever was offered whenever we were dinner guests at others' homes. We didn't have to go nuts about it-- just make sure we took at least a small serving.
That habit continues, and will be in evidence today.
For example, I don't particularly care for sweet potatoes (or yams, either). The traditional Thanksgiving dinner for our families, however, always includes a casserole filled with the orange tubers.
When the time comes, there'll be about a 1/4 to a 1/3 cup of the stuff on my plate, and it will be eaten.
I think eating what's offered is another way of showing thanks. No one has to prepare a banquet for you, after all. So why not smile, fill your plate, and enjoy the company?
And while you're at it, think about and thank your fellow citizens hard at work protecting and defending the rest of us from threats both foreign and domestic.
P.S. I understand that in millions of households today, sweet potatoes will be served with marshmallows. Much as I firmly support Delaware's marshmallow farmers, you still can't make me like sweet potatoes, even when the gooey white sweet cylinders are added to the mix.
November 26, 2003
I have to give credit to the folks at AARP Membership Database Management Services, or whatever they call themselves.
Yesterday, just 24 hours before my fiftieth birthday today, they sent an e-mail inviting me to take advantage of one of the organization's presumably fine insurance products.
On the other hand, I did appreciate the fact that their solicitation did not include any offers for patches, spray-on creams, web-cam viewing of wayward teen girls, or special-purpose drugs whose enhancement effects allegedly last an entire weekend.
November 25, 2003
The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a good story today by staff writers Robert Moran and Jennifer Moroz about the New Jersey Blue Ribbon Commission Report on the Garden State’s transportation financing problems:
As the newspaper piece points out, both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly are trying hard to avoid accepting sole responsibility for pushing for the new taxes.
Apparently there’s a time-honored tradition in New
Time and an abiding interest in re-election would appear to be the only things honored by this approach to legislating.
These kinds of recommendations don’t often produce Profiles in Courage among legislators.
Blue Ribbon Report, and the financial reform proposals are fairly sweeping:
Nonetheless, except for indexing the motor fuels tax, these proposals are similar to what’s already in place in other states. My clients at DelDOT, for example, pledge the net proceeds from a 23-cent gas tax to pay debt service on transportation revenue bonds, supplemented with other dedicated revenue streams such as the tolls collected at the Delaware/Maryland border on I-95. DelDOT also uses a 50/50 pay/go bonding ratio over the life of the six-year capital improvement program cycle, which helps keep the state’s transportation financial structure from becoming overwhelmed by debt service obligations, the problem now facing New Jersey. On the other hand, DelDOT uses its TTF to handle debt service first, then operating expenses, and then capital project costs, so it’s not quite the same scheme as this new commission suggests for New Jersey.
The fuel tax indexing idea has been bandied about by transportation finance professionals for years. If enacted, the indexed tax increases would provide a steady stream of new income that would come close to keeping up with the ever-increasing costs of capital replacement and operating costs. Those costs tend to rise faster than fuel tax revenues in most years, so this idea wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the need for additional tax increases from other transportation-related sources.
Nonetheless, tax indexing is also the one idea among the panel recommendations that will probably not survive the political infighting over how to fix the current crisis. If the two major political parties are mostly trying to figure out how to avoid taking full “credit” for fixing the problem, I can’t imagine that they would also leap at the chance to have all that credit directed their way in the future by enacting the indexing concept.
November 24, 2003
David Nieporent made an appropriately pungent point about an NYT piece about the taxi industry:
In fairness to the reporter, one reason is that those who are in that particular transportation business don't really have a lot of interest in the free market.
At least, that's what I'm seeing right now in my work on the same issue.
House Bill 227, enacted last summer, created a new task force to
for enactment by July 1, 2004. In addition, the law placed a moratorium on any new medallions or limousine certificates during the same period.
The task force includes legislators, DelDOT staffers, industry members, citizens, and yours truly.
The moratorium marks a significant change in Delaware's existing law concerning entry into the taxi/limousine market.
For many years the law put a high hurdle on those trying to break into the business, forcing the applicants to show that their presence wouldn't harm existing businesses. About 11 years ago, however, the Delaware General Assembly switched the burden of proof to those already in the business. This switch had the effect of opening the market.
The pendulum is now swinging the other way. Industry representatives are suggesting to the task force that any new medallions should be restricted geographically, that the state should "buy down" existing medallions, and take other steps to reduce the size of the total taxi/limousine fleet throughout the state.
Not exactly a full-bore capitalistic approach, is it?
And it's not too surprising, either.
November 24, 2003
One of my daughters uses a pleasant greeting for those about to leave a message on her cell phone:
Right now, though, Gary Farber could use some of yours. Read about why by clicking here, and see if you can help.
Thanks very much, Mr. Breathed.
Glad you're back.
I celebrated with a herring wallbanger.
November 23, 2003
Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote an interesting piece in today’s issue about some Democratic Party strategerizing to abandon any real effort to win electoral votes in the South and focus on winning in the rest of the country.
Polman reports on some vaguely familiar arguments, about resource allocation and the best way to exploit potential weak spots in President Bush’s re-election efforts elsewhere, such as the Midwest. These debates are familiar because they sound a bit like something Republicans probably discussed during much of the first half of the 20th Century, when the “Solid South” consistently voted for Democrats.
This is the Democratic Party we’re discussing, so of course there are folks who disagree with this suggestion. Polman obtained a good quote from the Mississippi Democratic chairman, Rickey Coles:
There’s another consideration that’s not discussed in Polman’s piece, but which I think the “don’t bother with the South” folks may not have fully considered.
It’s a different part of the resource allocation issue, for both sides.
After all, if you campaign in all places, you also force the other side to devote some of their resources to counter you. If Democrats don’t even try to win any state below the Mason-Dixon Line, it just makes it that much easier for the Bush re-election dollars to be re-directed outside the South. The altered flow of Republican staff and money will make the Democratic campaign effort elsewhere that much harder.
I’m not making this point because I so deeply desire any of the current crop of Democratic candidates to win in November 2004. I don't.
It just bothers me that some folks would think it’s a good idea for the Democrats to ignore what remains of their political base in such a huge, influential segment of the entire country.
November 23, 2003
It's nice to see that the Quasipundit boys, Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna, have returned from a blogging break. They're busy posting the kind of stuff that shows why they were featured on C-Span a while back--intelligent, reasonable, well-written opinions that make you think.
So go there already, and enjoy!
November 22, 2003
Anyone who attempts to be creative also risks failure.
In most creative endeavors, that risk is usually very high.
Other creative information outlets such as newspapers and magazines are not immune to abandonment, as Rosie O’Donnell might now understand.
Compared to other opportunities to express oneself, the extremely low cost of blogging is probably the best explanation why so many tried it, even if they didn’t stick with it. That low entry cost also helps explain to some extent why many of them no longer exist.
If you haven’t made a serious investment of time and/or money, it’s always easier to simply stop when you no longer enjoy engaging in the activity.
For these reasons, I don’t see much cause for hand-wringing or snarky commentary about those who give up blogging, as expressed by folks such as John Dvorak in his recent commentary.
After all, Dvorak is simply noting that blogs have a failure rate that compares to other innovative enterprises, apparently without recognizing that’s all he’s really saying.
It would be far more remarkable if blogs didn’t.
Dvorak’s other point, about the “casual co-opting of the blog universe by Big Media,” is also a bit overwrought.
In the first place, I’m not troubled by the attempts by Big Media interests to see if there’s any profit to be had by sponsoring bloggers or providing their own blog-like sites. I see no harm from expanding opportunities and outlets for expression, even among those who are trying to make a living at it.
One of Dvorak’s statements about this aspect of blogging seemed pretty odd:
Exactly what is so insincere about it? I thought marketing is a key component of success in a capitalistic society. There doesn’t seem to be any real “suckering” going on as I see it. If one’s status as a professional writer is noted on the site, something usually found on the ones I read, it should be obvious that there’s a least a quiet little bit of selling going on by and through blogging, blogrolling, and cross-citations to other’s posts.
I should note that I’m somewhere in the middle between the full-time professional writer-bloggers and the complete amateurs. I practice law in an environment where my writing ability is a primary basis for how I earn my compensation. I’ve also been a weekly golf columnist for almost five years, with my own golf-related website since the summer of 1997.
The Cape Gazette doesn’t qualify as Big Media, but with a weekly circulation of 15-20,000 it’s not a church newsletter or personal diary, either.
At one point Dvorak refers to amateur bloggers as “hopeless,” a term that is needlessly cruel as well as inaccurate. Blogging, even for those who abandoned it for whatever reasons, gives its practitioners a place to publish their thoughts, cares, and concerns, in an environment where others have a chance to join in the conversation.
I don’t see the hopelessness.
I see hope.
November 20, 2003
A new Census Bureau report issued today reminded me of an old joke about where I live:
As with most long-running gags, there’s an element of truth to it. Sussex County has about 138,000 residents, and its housing stock includes over 30,000 mobile homes set on leased land, along with a large number of manufactured homes on owner-occupied lots.
All told, mobile homes make up 11.2 % of Delaware’s entire housing stock, which puts the state in 18th place among all states. That’s also close to the percentage of mobile home housing stock among the states that the Census puts in the South category (11.6%).
The Census report discusses the increasing trend toward mobile home living, with the national inventory now constituting 7.6% of the U.S. total of 115.9 million housing units (105.5 occupied). Figure 8 and Table 4 show how the distribution of these homes is skewed, with the South the prime mobile home location. Over 56 per cent of all mobile homes in the country are in that one region. The county-by-county data in Figure 8 are especially startling.
In a few respects, the Census report simply reflects other demographic indicators. The South and West are also experiencing a significant increase in retirement-age population, which is a significant component of mobile homeownership. In addition, in resort areas mobile homes are a common second home asset.
For Sussex County, these two factors produce a double whammy. For decades mobile homes have dominated the county's resort housing landscape, especially surrounding the Inland Bays area. It’s now becoming a major retirement mecca for the Mid-Atlantic region, especially in the last decade.
Several years ago I had a conversation with a local real estate agent about mobile home developments. He told me that among the local real estate business community, “golden shoeboxes” was the common slang term.
Crude, but true.
November 19, 2003
In one respect, this week’s decision by the Eleventh Circuit to uphold Raymond David Young’s multiple tax crime convictions appealed to my sense of irony.
But first, here’s a short primer on fuel taxes.
Like the states, the Federal government imposes an excise tax on each gallon of gasoline sold for on-the-road use. It’s currently set at 18.4 cents.
If the gasoline is intended for off-road use, however, such as for boats or construction equipment, then no federal fuel tax is owed. Certain suppliers, including marinas, can avoid the hassle of paying the tax and going for repeated refunds by completing the proper paperwork to permit them to buy the fuel tax-free.
As one can readily imagine, the temptation to screw around with this arrangement can be pretty impressive, and some folks will make the effort.
Young obtained the special tax exemption certificate, allegedly for a marina on Marcos Island, Florida. He then sold thousands of gallons to a wide variety of non-boating users in the Southeast, including truck stops, convenience stores, and trucking companies. These were all taxable transactions, but of course no one bothered to volunteer to make these payments.
The scam worked for a while, generating huge piles of cash for Young and his companions in crime. It also created the separate problem of cash management. Someone hit upon the bright idea of using Federal Express to ship the money from Texas to Young’s place in Florida.
Perhaps the folks doing the shipping should have read the not-so-fine print:
Once the IRS learned about the scam, it contacted FedEx. The shipping company fully cooperated with the authorities, and turned over several packages for the IRS to x-ray. This lead to (a) the discovery of several bundles of cash, which resulted in (b) the granting of several search warrants, followed by (c) arrests and subsequent convictions.
Young argued on appeal that the IRS violated his Fourth Amendment rights, but the circuit panel wouldn’t hear of it:
FedEx’s status as an incredibly successful shipping company makes it one of the larger fuel tax payers in the country, which to me adds a nicely pleasant twist to this case.
Nonetheless, I wonder why these guys used FedEx. After all, was there any special reason why these ill-gotten gains absolutely, positively had to get to Florida overnight?
November 18, 2003
Unfortunately, sometimes there are reminders that some of my fellow members of the bar can be more than a bit cheeky.
The Sixth Circuit today issued an opinion detailing an attorney’s illegal conduct that was fairly breathtaking in its audacity.
Fortunately, he didn’t get away with it.
RE/MAX International was a plaintiff in a Federal antitrust suit in Ohio. In January 2000, an Ohio attorney named James Blaszak contacted a RE/MAX vice-president named Steed to discuss the case and how he might help them.
He didn’t exactly make this offer out of the goodness of his heart:
Tempting as the offer may have been, the real estate company did the smart thing. It contacted the FBI.
The Feds then set up a sting operation, using an agent who passed himself off as the “can-do” guy for RE/MAX.
The agent and Blaszak quickly came to terms, including a $50,000 down payment and a retainer agreement to make the rest of the payments toward the half-million total. On the other hand, Blaszak turned down an offer to make the same proffer of testimony to the defendants, on the theory that if both sides agreed, then neither could go to the authorities with the facts that they’d purchased his testimony.
The antitrust case went to trial, but Blaszak didn’t testify. Instead, he was arrested and charged with the Federal crime of selling testimony in a civil case, under 18 U.S.C. Section 201(c) (3).
Blaszak took a conditional plea that allowed him to appeal to the Sixth Circuit on constitutional grounds. He argued that as applied to what he did, the Federal statute violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights.
The appellate panel was clearly offended by these arguments, as they were equally outraged by the facts of the crime.
First, Section 201 (c)(3) didn’t affect Blaszak’s First Amendment protections, because the law wasn’t directed at limiting speech in any respect:
Second, there was no basis for accepting Blaszak’s Fifth Amendment argument that the statute didn’t give him fair warning that what he did was illegal:
The record indicates that Blaszak received a probationary sentence and a $5,000 fine for this conviction.
Reading between the lines, I have the impression that this panel dearly wished it could have increased his punishment.
November 18, 2003
This weather this time of year frequently produces thick fog in the mornings around here, resulting in school delays of up to two hours.
Neither the student nor the teacher in our house has any problem with that.
The non-student/non-teacher, on the other hand, must still leave at the normal time to go to work representing DelDOT.
Even so, driving in the fog has its moments, as shown in this picture I took this morning:
This is a small creek that leads to the Murderkill River, not far from Barratts Chapel, an historic Methodist Church in Kent County.
November 17, 2003
National Review columnist David Frum has a keen sense of market timing.
In Frum’s blog post on NRO last Friday, he invited his readers to buy signed surplus copies of his books. For the astute purchasers, of course, this would gain them a two-week head start on the usual Black Friday madness.
I’ve read one of the three he mentioned, and I highly recommend it: How We Got Here: The 70s—the Decade That Brought You Modern Life.
This Basic Books imprint presents a witty walk through a remarkable decade that in its own frequently weird ways helped create the conditions now facing us, especially in the domestic sphere. You don’t have to agree with every argument Frum makes to appreciate the fact that he wrote an accurate portrayal of the way things really were at the time. I often found myself laughing out loud, or frowning in regret.
Here’s one of my own anecdotes that may help illustrate the point. While in law school at American University from 1975 to 1978, I worked as a store clerk at a drugstore. I couldn’t obtain enough financial aid to comply with the law school’s rule prohibiting first-year full-time students from working, and I ended up working at MacArthur Drug all three years.
Quite a few well-known Washingtonians were regular customers, including Justice Potter Stewart.
One Saturday afternoon Stewart came into the store, wearing a tweed sportcoat and buying a few sundries. I asked him if he had just come from work at the Supreme Court. He laughed, and told me he had to leave chambers early because of all the noise from the demonstration outside. When I asked him which one, he said it was a large crowd of folks trying to have the recently-deceased Elvis Presley’s birthday declared a national holiday.
Anyway, here’s the critical information for those interested:
This is a public service announcement.
November 17, 2003
I wrote a post on September 3 about the closing of a Kemp Mill record store in Rehoboth Beach, as part of a bankruptcy-related shrinkage of the company’s retail outlets.
The crowds were far larger than normal. I suggested it was because the discount pricing overcame the prior sales resistance that probably caused the store’s financial problems in the first place:
Kemp Mill closed a few weeks later, and the space lay vacant for a short while.
The store has opened up again, and thankfully with a crew that knew how to take a hint:
The new store and its staff remind me a bit of the place run by John Cusack with the help of the “musical moron twins,” Jack Black and Todd Louiso, but without the smug, superior attitudes.
Somehow, I have a feeling these guys will make it.
November 16, 2003
Maybe I'm just a little bit sensitive, what with one daughter in college and a second one soon to follow in her footsteps.
Even so, the headline in today's News-Journal was far too familiar to keep from producing a wry grin:
I give this one two Claudes.
The story itself describes what parents of college students all over the country now recognize as only the first part of the annual college budget two-step:
The second step comes later, almost immediately after the state budget is adopted, as openly admitted in this story about a 6.2 per cent tuition increase adopted in July 2002:
College budget stories always remind me of the old Fram Oil Filter commercial--the one that says "you can pay me now, or you can pay me later."
Except in this case, the "or" always becomes "and".
Official small print disclaimer: This is, after all, a personal web site. Any opinions or comments I express here are my own, and don't necessarily reflect the official position of my work as a government attorney or any of my clients.
That fact may become obvious later on, but it needs to be said here anyway.
© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2003