Friday, December 07, 2007

HOAs? Friend or Foe?

I've written two opinion columns that touched on HOAs. The first was "HOAs as good as those who serve", from November 30, 2006:

Most people have a negative opinion of neighborhood Homeowner Associations (HOAs). There are plenty of horror stories about HOA actions, from banning American flags, to shutting down a child's lemonade stand, to fining a homeowner for planting too many roses.

But that doesn't mean I object to the idea of HOAs. Stories like this paint an unfair picture of homeowners associations, and obscure the valid reasons for their existence. And in most cases, the problem isn't the associations, but the people elected to run them, people elected because the membership doesn't bother to show up to serve or even to vote.

HOAs are an example of good government, putting the power and the control of government at the lowest possible level, within communities of a few hundred to a few thousand people. The key is to have well-defined limits over the power of an HOA. Virginia has good laws setting limits on the power of HOAs, and each association is also limited by its own deeds and covenants.

Within those limits, HOAs let communities decide their own rules. Prince William is a county of over 350,000 people. Why should one set of rules govern all 350,000 of us? HOAs allow each of us to choose how we want to live, and to peacefully co-exist with like-minded individuals.

For example, my neighborhood has rules that are relatively permissive. We can have TV antennas on the roof, and air conditioning units in windows, but we can't park cars and boats on the grass. We must get approval for color and architectural changes, but our elected representatives are reasonable people. We need an HOA anyway to manage our community pool and community property.

Just as I'm happy to live in Virginia, and not Maryland, and to live in Prince William, and not Alexandria, I'm glad I can choose a community that imposes restrictions I agree with, but not a bunch of silly rules that I would find abhorrent.

We all tolerate some level of "community" control over our lives, in exchange for "common good." That is the purpose of federal, state, and local government. We give up some freedom because we don't want every person to do whatever they want. This is in keeping with the ideals of our founding fathers. An HOA provides certain "community" services, and has the limited power to tax the citizens of the community for that purpose. Community members democratically elect board members, and the HOA has a "constitution" (deeds and covenants) that limits and defines its power.

But like any government, it will only be as good as the people elected to run it. If you don't vote, you might end up with a board that bans Christmas wreaths. And if you won't serve, and don't attend meetings to express your opinions, those who will serve can't represent your opinions. So, attend your HOA annual meeting this year.

The second was the column "People Behaving Badly", from May 3rd of this year. I just briefly mentioned that my HOA had sent me a nice letter telling me they didn't like a dead tree in my yard:

That got me thinking about things other people do without any thought of others. While some people are simply selfish, most don't mean to be; they just don't realize what they are doing. For example, nobody told me they didn't like my tree; I found out when the Homeowners Association sent me a nice letter asking me to make it disappear.

I do not currently serve on the board. HOAs are like most government, they have good points and bad points, and the more power they wield, the worse they generally are. And certainly they prove the adage that power corrupts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards, Venus Flytrap

In a post over at Democratic Central Elizabeth Edwards -- Steel Magnolia, Mrs. Edwards is praised for her attack on Ann Coulter in a pre-arranged call-in on Hardball:

Right on, Elizabeth Edwards!

After Ann Coulter went on national television Monday morning expressing her wish that John Edwards would be assassinated, she appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews. It was a call-in show, and Elizabeth Edwards called in.

Oddly, Edwards is not praised for questioning Ann's "assassination" comment, which of course was just an example of how the media engages in selective outrage (Ann was simply noting that when she was being castigated for using the word "Faggot", Maher was given a pass after saying that he wished Dick Cheney had been killed in a terror attack).

Rather, Elisabeth chose to bring up a column Ann Coulter had written in 2003, which questioned the Democratic Presidential candidate field for using dead relatives as political props:

You wrote a column a couple of years ago which made fun of the moment of Charlie Dean's death, and suggested that my husband had a bumper sticker on the back of his car that said ask me about my dead son. This is not legitimate political dialogue.

Here is the original quote from the article by Coulter, The Party of Ideas:

At least when Gephardt exploits a family tragedy, he doesn't expect praise for not exploiting a family tragedy. John Edwards injects his son's fatal car accident into his campaign by demanding that everyone notice how he refuses to inject his son's fatal car accident into his campaign.

Edwards has talked about his son's death in a 1996 car accident on "Good Morning America," in dozens of profiles and in his new book. ("It was and is the most important fact of my life.") His 1998 Senate campaign ads featured film footage of Edwards at a learning lab he founded in honor of his son, titled "The Wade Edwards Learning Lab." He wears his son's Outward Bound pin on his suit lapel. He was going to wear it on his sleeve, until someone suggested that might be a little too "on the nose."

If you want points for not using your son's death politically, don't you have to take down all those "Ask me about my son's death in a horrific car accident" bumper stickers? Edwards is like a politician who keeps announcing that he will not use his opponent's criminal record for partisan political advantage. (I absolutely refuse to mention the name of my dearly beloved and recently departed son killed horribly in a car accident, which affected me deeply, to score cheap political points.

I wouldn't want John Edwards to be president, but I think even Karl Rove would be willing to stipulate that the death of a son is a terrible thing.

So as you can see, Ann never suggested he had an actual bumper sticker on his car. She was saying that believing a son's death was a tragedy was not a "democratic" position, and Edward's grief was not a defining aspect of his qualifications for the office of President.

But the more important question is, has Elisabeth looked in the mirror? I'm not sure whether there's much of a line anymore to cross when it comes to speaking about a public official running for a public office. But what about a public figure, say, Elisabeth Edwards, attacking a private citizen?:

Elizabeth Edwards says she is scared of the "rabid, rabid Republican" who owns property across the street from her Orange County home — and she doesn't want her kids going near the gun-toting neighbor.
The Edwards family has yet to meet Johnson in person. "I wouldn't be nice to him anyway," Edwards said in an interview.
Edwards views Johnson as a "rabid, rabid Republican" who refuses to clean up his "slummy" property just to spite her family, whose lavish 28,000-square-foot estate is nearby on 102 wooded acres.

So if criticizing a former Senator running for President for using his son's death as a political prop is not "legitimate political dialogue", what can we say about his wife calling her neighbor "rabid" and accusing him of purposely keeping a "slummy" property?

Not that her husband is free from hate speech. After all, he was recently caught saying "I hate Duke Basketball". Maybe Elisabeth should call the next talk show he appears on to ask him why he is using such inappropriate "political dialogue"?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm back again again again.

I guess I was depressed by the election. Naw, just had other things to do.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stem Cell Funding Debate

Yes, we are having a stem cell funding debate, although you wouldn't know it to watch the commercials.

Seems Michael Fox, who is suffering from Parkinson's, is not satisfied with how much of your tax dollars is being spent to find him a cure.

So, he is running around the country attacking republicans who voted against federal funding for one specific stem cell research, namely Embryonic Stem Cell research that kills viable embryos.

It's not enough that the republicans are the first to fund embryonic stem cell research. Or that they voted to increase funding for the much more promising adult stem cell research, and cord research.

It's not enough that embryonic stem cell research is LEGAL federally, and in the states.

It's not enough that many states and localities are funding research into embryonic stem cells, including 6 BILLION dollars in california.

No, Michael Fox will not rest until every one of us is forced against our will to contribute to the destruction of human life for a pie-in-the-sky promise of medical miracles decades down the road.

Like most liberals, Michael Fox believes the government exists to solve his problems, and that working americans exist to fund whatever is important to him, in this case killing human life to save his own life.

It's time for us common folk to stand up to these multi-millionare hollywood types who think they are more important than we are, who think simply because we are willing to fork over 9 bucks to watch their crappy movies we would be happy to have them take our money by force to fund their pet projects.

Michael Fox, stop stealing MY money, and go after your buddies Soros, Buffet, Gates, and Turner -- they have BILLIONS of dollars, and are giving it away to people like you.

Government's compelling interest in marriage.

In an article called "A Message from Rabbi Tilsen -- Same-Sex Marriage", Rabbi Tilsen argues for government to stop recognizing marriage altogether, and instead recognize what he would call "Civil Partnerships":


Connecticut law requires that any “religious” marriage be recorded with the State (General Statutes, Ch. 815e, Sec. 46b-22). This makes a religious marriage subject to the laws of the State, but does not make a State marriage subject to the laws of any religion. Is this requirement for the benefit of the State, or for the benefit of the couple? What is the State's interest?

A Christian or other religious marriage has a set of rules, customs and expectations that defines and governs the marriage, and that goes beyond the civil definition of marriage. Religious marriages are distinct from the civil Las Vegas marriage, which can be licensed, recorded and terminated within a span of days. While the government may recognize all of these as “marriages,” they are not quite the same.

Why should the state recognize any marriage? Our answer to this question determines our position on same-sex marriage. The state's reason cannot be to help the religious communities enforce their doctrines or value systems. If the state recognizes any marriage, it must have a purpose that helps the broad public without infringing on our liberties or harming a segment of our population.

As far as I can see, the state finds it advantageous to have a conventional set of rules for taxation, inheritance and the like to apply to a “couple.” It really does not matter to the state if that couple is living according to Catholic ideals, halakha, or their own private set of “commitments” that they have made to each other. For that reason, I have no more objection to the state calling the commitment between a same-sex couple “marriage” as I do to any of the other religious or civil relationships that are called by that name. But if it is found that it harms the religious sentiments of many Americans to share the word “marriage” with a same-sex couple, then perhaps the state should simply stop using the word “marriage” for anyone and instead define “civil partnerships.” Let the battle over the word “marriage” be fought on the battlegrounds of the religious communities (including our own), where the symbolism is of utmost importance, not in the civic arena, where tax policy, inheritance and medical benefits are at stake.

Rabbi Tilsen asks the right question -- what is the State's compelling interest in marriage? But unfortunately, he gets that answer wrong, which leads him to the wrong conclusion.:

As far as I can see, the state finds it advantageous to have a conventional set of rules for taxation, inheritance and the like to apply to a “couple.” It really does not matter to the state if that couple is living according to Catholic ideals, halakha, or their own private set of “commitments” that they have made to each other.

That is most certainly NOT the reason government has a compelling interest in marriage. Government has no reason to care about "a conventional set of rules". Far easier for government would be to have no special rules at all. Further, history shows the real answer to his question.

Government's interest in marriage is based on marriage being the foundation of a prosperous society. And "marriage" in that regard is the biological conjoining of opposite-sex partners, who will then procreate and raise offspring under their care and nurture.

Society requires children to continue. So obviously government wants to encourage procreation. But if children are abandoned, it creates a burden on government that government is ill-suited to handle, witness the many horror stories regarding orphanages.

So, our government, in it's wisdom, has recognised that having a stable family environment is the ideal method for children to be raised and become productive members of society.
Also, it is clear that the biological bond between parents and children creates the strongest stable environment. Without that biological bond, families are much more likely to break up as either the father or the mother, having lost their lustful bond with their spouse, have no parental bond with the children to concern themselves.

Let me repeat that a different way-- We see stories every day of how men who fathered a child feel compelled to be involved in their lives, even if they were never told of the child until the child has grown. And NOBODY will doubt the special bond of a mother to her child of her womb -- in fact, one often hears the argument that abortion is preferable to adoption because a mother cannot bear to separate from their offspring.

Also, it is clear that children are best trained by a combination of two parents of opposite sex, to expose the children to both sexes and allow them to develop normal, healthy views of sex and gender.

So government has a compelling reason to encourage and subsidize marriages as the building block of society. And it is clear that marriage they want to encourage should be on with people of the opposite sex who will likely have biological offspring, who will raise those offspring in the care and nurture of their real, biological parents, and produce the next productive generation of society.

There is absolutely NO reason for government to encourage ANY other type of union. Same-sex unions by NATURE will not produce biological offspring. At best any children will be related only to ONE of the parents, leaving the other with no bond who could easily leave. More often neither parent has a biological attachment.

Of course, it is true that adoptions exist, and some argue that is a valid government purpose. But evidence suggests that a child in a two-sex foster family is better off than in a same-sex couple situation. And in any case, special encouragement is not necessary
for the same-sex couple who wants to experience child-raising, as their desire itself is motivation enough.

The idea of encouraging a "non-marriage" relationship between opposite-sex couples is even MORE ludicrous. With same-sex couples, at least you can pretend you are encouraging a longer-term commitment to raise a family. But opposite-sex couples who spurn marraige have already shown a distaste for long-term commitment, and that distaste should be DISCOURAGED, not encouraged.

If it were not for the benefit to society of two-parent, biological families, Government would best stay out of marriage altogether, providing NO benefits whatsoever. Let people just do what they want to do, without involving government approval or disapproval.

But it is clear that society suffers when the family falters. And so government should be doing MORE to encourage biological family units, NOT less. Rather than entertaining same-sex "relationships", government should be strengthening the laws to provide incentives for families to stay together rather than give in to cheap, easy divorces.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I'm back again.

I'm committed to not letting this blog die. But I'm going in a different direction.

I've got a new blog for politics, called Two Conservatives. So this will now be my personal blog.

Tonight I watched the Maryland Women's basketball team beat Duke 78-75 in overtime. I didn't get to watch either Florida game in the men's tournament, and I don't really care.

OK, that's not the directon I'm headed.

A monkey, a gerbil, and a squirrel are arguing over who should drive to the park. The monkey goes first:

"The choice is clear, my friends. I have hands and feet, which are necessary to steer the car and make it go and stop. You, young gerbil, are hardly large enough to make the peddle move, much less steer such a massive vehicle. And as for Mr. Squirrel here, he is more suited to powering the car than driving it, ha ha"

He sits smugly waiting for his comrades to concede his brilliant reposte.

After a brief silence, the gerbil gets up to speak.
"It is true, my fur-limbed friend, that you have appendages and I don't. And surely the pedals would be a task for my small frame. But have you forgotten so soon that we have fitted that car with automated controls, so that it may be powered by the touch of a button? And surely even you must concede that I am perfectly capable of pressing a switch, and nudging a lever. If that is all that matters, I should be the logical choice for the task."

And with that, he strutted back to his seat.

Finally, the squirrel rose in place on his hindquarters, and stared menacingly at his two companions.

"I have no limbs as you do, monkey-boy. And my wit is no match for fur-ball over there. But surely you must both see that I am the logical choice to drive the car. Which of you have had loved ones tragically taken by inconsiderate motorists? Do you have a stash of nuts hidden in a carbeurator somewhere I am not privy to? How, my little gerbil, would you make the steering wheel bend to your wishes, if you could push the buttons to power the car at all? No, it is clear that neither you, monkey, or you, gerbil, are suitable for the task of driving our car to the park. And if not you, then it must be me".

The monkey and the gerbil stared at the squirrel for some time. Then they stared at each other for a while. Finally, monkey got up his nerve, stood as tall has he could (for squirrel was still stretched high with the evil eye affixed upon them) and said, with a trembling voice,

"But that doesn't mamamaake any sense, Mr. Squirrel. What do nuts in the carbeurator have to do with driving a car?"

Gerbil, awakened from his fright by the boldness of monkey, chimed in "and how does having your mother made into a road pancake make you qualified to drive a car?"

Squirrel, realising his gambit had failed, ran toward the car in the hopes of driving off before the other two could respond and run catch him (for gerbils are remarkably quick for their size, and the monkey had an unfathomably quick gait). His move caught the other two by surprise, and for a moment they each did nothing more than stare as squirrel entered the road to cross to where the car was parked ...

And was promptly squashed by the 414 bus to 1st street.

Neither monkey nor gerbil could say a word for some time. Gerbil was the first to break the silence. "monkey, do you, do you, do you suppose"

"He's dead?" replied monkey. Are you trying to ask if he's dead?

"No", replied gerbil, "I was just wondering if we could just take turns driving. After all, it is such a long way to the park, and there's always the trip back".

"Sure", said the monkey, grinning. Because he would go first, and most suredly after the first block gerbil would be much too terrified to even THINK of moving from his seat to drive the car.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

UAE Port Controversy is Much Ado about Nothing

The debate over the "ownership" of "security" at U.S. ports is fraught with ignorance, hyperbole, false assumptions and incorrect information. When the facts are examined, the controversy can be seen for what it is, which is much ado about nothing.

To summarise the facts: The P&O company, a stockholder-owned foreign company based in England, put itself up for sale. In the end, only one company bid for ownership -- DP World, a UAE-based company owned by the UAE government. The U.S. had nothing to do with the sale. We didn't ask for it, didn't push it. We didn't lobby for a company to bid. We signed lease deals with P&O back in 2000 for the port operations of some terminals at 6 ports.

U.S. law requires that the administration evaluate the purchase of a company operating u.s. subsidiaries to ensure there is no security issues. The Administration therefore performed this duty, and concluded there were no pressing security issues which would legally justify blocking the sale. That was the extent of the Bush involvement in this transfer of ownership.

An argument could be had about whether U.S. ports should be owned, even tangentially, by foreign companies. But that argument is years too late to fuel the hysterical rantings of today, since most ports in this country have long been under foreign operation.

Yes, a majority of the terminals in our ports are owned by, or run by, foreign companies. Just like most of the shipping is done by foreign countries.

But that is misleading. Many ports are run by U.S. companies that are subsidiaries of foreign companies, which bought them out. For example, the Miami port which is leased to the P&O company is an american firm (and is suing to block this purchase, for what it's worth).

All port workers must make it through background checks. They don't have to be americans, but it's similar to airport security checks. Note that foreign companies operate airlines in this country, which means that have control over employees and gates at airports where cargo and luggage is unloaded from airplanes that come from other countries.

There are no major U.S. companies in the business -- I will simplify and blame this on democrats who made the business environment too harsh for U.S. companies to compete. But the workers are entirely U.S. residents, since the work can't be "outsourced".

There are several americans on the board and in positions of leadership in the company DP World, which is the UAE-owned company trying to buy the publicly traded firm P&O. David Sanborn currently holds the position of Director of Operations for Europe and Latin America for the company, and is in the U.S. Naval Reserve (and was a Merchant Marine). He is now nominated for U.S. Maritime Administrator in the Bush administration.

Clearances are not cheap, and it is unlikely DP world will want to significantly change employees. I would speculate that they might send new executives to underperforming ports, if there are any. A vast majority of the workers are union laborers, and those contracts aren't up for change.

Ports are owned mostly by states, with long-term leases used to get private companies to run the ports. These leases are signed with many different companies, one of which is the publicly traded foreign company P&O. These leases are for operations, not security. Just as Airlines lease space at airports, but TSA runs security. Obviously security is integrated at all levels, and the existing foreign operators (P&O and others) are included, just like foreign airlines are included at airports.

The change in ownership has nothing to do with the U.S. government. The P&O company board decided they weren't returning value for stockholders, and offered the company for sale. Two companies entered bidding, but one (a singapore company PSA), dropped out, leaving only DP World. DP World offered somewhere around 6.7 BILLION dollars, and the stockholders overwhelmingly took the offer to sell (99%). For their 6.7 billion, I presume DP World hopes that P&O operations will generate a cash flow large enough to justify the investment.

DP World will now be the owner of P&O. So if you want to trace lineage: Ports owned by states and guarded by U.S. Homeland security, leased to american firms owned by the P&O company, which is owned by the DP World company, which is owned by the UAE government. In other words, UAE government will have about as much say in how containers are handled at a U.S. port as Warren Buffet has on whether Geico grants you car insurance.

Put another way. After the sale, the same workers with the same clearances will perform the same tasks they now perform at our ports. The same people will be in charge of security both at the ports, and inspecting containers. The same U.S. companies will be in charge of the ports as are in charge now. The money they earn will go to the same company it goes to now. The only difference is that after P&O gets the money, instead of it going to the P&O stockholders, it will now go up to the DP World company and it's private owners, the UAE government (in the U.S. we don't have government ownership, the government takes it's cut by taxation).

There are currently only four major firms in this industry: P&O (publicly traded british firm), PSA (singapore), Hutchinson Lampoa (Hong Kong -- Chineese), and Maersk Sealand(which is more of a shipping company than a port operator).

This is much ado about nothing. The deal was announced weeks ago. At the time little was made of it beyond hte British press lamenting the loss of another great industry (something we lost years ago). The mayor of Baltimore praised the deal when it was announced, but now he is against it.

As I said, the U.S. had nothing to do with this. We signed the lease in 2000, and had no intention of selling the leases again. This was a private deal between two foreign companies.
However, the law requires the administration to evaluate deals like this to assess security impact. But the existing law primarily applies to U.S. companies being bought. And the law is very specific and demanding in the proof needed to override a sale. There is no suggestion in any record that this sale would meet the demanding rules of the law.

So the administration researched and analysed the purchase of a foreign company by another foreign company which is owned by an ally of the U.S. in the war on terror, and determined that there was no evidence that the deal would weaken our port security.

Which is not surprising. Not only does the deal have nothing to do with security, but in fact a major part of our port security is inspecting containers in foreign ports before they are loaded on ships bound for our country. Obviously we don't own those ports. So who does those inspections?

Well, a majority of the inspections are done at ports owned and operated by -- DP World. They have already been cleared as a company as a strategic partner in our port security, one of the first to be brought online.

So we have the DP Company, which is working hand-in-hand with DHS to inspect containers in foreign ports for us, and is owned by a country that since 9/11 has become one of our best allies (so much so that the terrorists are regularly attacking people in that country trying to punish it for helping us), a company which operates ports in Australia, Germany, India, and other allied ports, and which will now take over ports in England and elsewhere with no complaints.

And the democrats claim that this company can't be trusted to own the foreign company that already runs our port management. And why do the democrats tell us this? Why, because they are Arab.

In other words, they have profiled the companies, and decided that without any direct evidence we should deny work to arab companies and instead give it to a british company, or better still Halliburton (who doesn't want the job, didn't bid on the company or the contract, and has not operated ports -- might as well ask Ben and Jerry's to take over).

According to the democrats, we can't search 25-year-old male muslims unless we also search 85-year-old white grandmothers, or else we would be racially profiling, but we can block the sale of companies to arabs just because they are arab.

That would be a disastrous message to send to the middle east.

It may well be that in the end, we will be at war with all of the Muslim world. But we are not now. And we can't act like we are, or we will surely be.

Last point. UAE does not have a great record. It has been helpful to us in the past, it was an ally int he first gulf war, but it also has been lax on terrorists, especially before 9/11. And it was one of only three countries to recognise the taliban as a legitimate government. However, after 9/11 it has greatly improved. It could improve further, it's not a democracy, and there are things we would want to change in the country.

Well, in 1980 President Carter was faced with a choice. The Shah of Iran was an "ally" but we had issues. Carter chose to push against him to fix his country to our liking. In response, we got the Ayatolah Khomeni. Now, 25 years later, Iran is the single greatest threat in the history of the world -- a militant radical fundamentalist muslim dictatorship with billions of dollars, unlimited oil supplies, a strong military, and on the verge of a nuclear arsenal.

Let's not turn UAE into the next Iran. They aren't perfect, but remember this -- the attacks on 9/11 happened in airports run by our own government, not arab countries. The terrorists lived here, got drivers licenses in Virginia, were trained to fly by U.S. companies. They took down buildings controlled by the N.Y. Port authority, not a foreign company.

If this deal is allowed to complete, we won't be any safer. But nobody tried to push this deal to improve security. The question to be answered is, should we stop the stockholders of a foreign company from selling their company to another foreign company simply because that other company is owned by arabs? Is it clear that security will be so harmed that we should take that extraordinary step?

I suppose we could argue that we never should have allowed foreign ownership of ports. But to be safe, we would really have to take over ownership of foreign ports inother countries that SHIP stuff here. And take over foreign airports that fly planes here. And we aren't going to do that.

And since there are no big american companies ready to take over P&O, the only option if we force U.S. control would be either a false shell game where foreign companies set up shadow U.S. companies for the contracts, or a U.S. government takeover of the operations of the ports. Neither of those are useful solutions.