Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: December 2007 Page 2 of 3

Opting Out

Whenever I hear someone say that they don’t pay attention to the news or politics, usually because “it doesn’t affect me” and “there’s nothing I can do about all the bad news anyway,” they become – to me – part of the problem. True, personal ignorance may well be bliss in the short term, but we are all paying a very real price for that collective indulgence in ignorance. And it can only get worse, so long as people fail to put even minimal efforts into being responsible citizens. I think it’s absolutely unconscionable to live in and benefit from a society without putting a bit of time and effort into its common management and benefit.

That said, I *do* understand and appreciate the pleasures of opting out. When I travel, I do my best to actively avoid any news that doesn’t involve my host country or next destination. For me, there is something quite satisfying about not knowing about the latest idiotic Administration move, or next bit of campaign pandering, or manufactured bit of faux outrage from some astroturf interest group. So, for some time, I do know and enjoy the bliss of ignorance. And to that end, I’ll be indulging myself in that bliss over the next couple of weeks. I’m off to [somewhere], and – save for the posting of a few nearly-finished drafts here and there (airports are good for that sort of thing) – I’m heading offline. Happy holidays to all.

Recommended Travel Reading

Check out travelvice.com.  Start at the beginning, and keep going until you’re bored.  If you’re like me and the people I’ve passed this URL on to, you’ll get a long way.  Essentially, it’s a guy with a healthy sense of self that has managed to cover some impressive ground in the past couple of years.  I’ll skip over the criticisms (of which there may be a number) and give him perhaps the best compliment I could – he’s really quite honest.  If you know anyone who is seriously entertaining dreams of going off grid and traveling for a few years, send this URL to them (esp. if they’re a bit idealistic about it).

Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fee Settlement

A bit on NPR just reminded me of a bit of paperwork that I have to complete. Well, me and maybe 30 million other people. As you may already know, there is a proposed settlement for a pending class action suit involving anyone who made a foreign purchase with a credit card between February 1, 1996 and November 8, 2006. Assuming that the proposed settlement is approved by the court, class members will received a refund of part of the foreign transaction fee that was charged any time they used a US credit card outside of the US.

I received my first notice about this some time ago. However, I didn’t think I’d end up taking advantage of it, as you not only had to know when you traveled, but you had to have your actual credit card records substantiating each transaction. I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep my credit cards records for 10+ years. I know what I did last year. 1997? Not so clear.

However, the most recent settlement draft seems to have simplified things greatly. Roughly, you can:

  1. take a straight $25 settlement if you traveled outside the US at least once in this period (and simply swear to that fact);
  2. get a somewhat larger settlement based on a declaration of how many total days you spent outside the US during that period (the settlement will be based on an estimated average figured out by the credit card companies and class action representatives); or
  3. provide a substantiated record of how much money you actually spent outside of the US during that period, and receive a refund of the fees actually charged.

I suspect I’d probably end up with a larger settlement if I could substantiate all of my spending, but that would involve such a ridiculous amount of time and effort that I’m going to opt for option 2 (which, for the most part, is simply a matter of going through my passports and deciphering the visa stamps). I encourage fellow travelers to take the time to participate in this settlement. It was conventional wisdom (encouraged by the credit card companies) that you received the best exchange rate by using your credit card overseas. While that may be technically true, their tacking on of unpublicized fees certainly made that a moot point. Make sure they have to pay for that deception.

More info at the official settlement site (tho’ really, doesn’t that look like a scam site? It’s not.) Court approval of the settlement could come, at the earliest, on March 31st. Checks go out after approval.

Also, this is not legal advice, I am not your lawyer, etc.

Good Job, New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature has banned the death penalty, and it will soon be law.  I hope more states will follow New Jersey’s lead.

Huckabee: Keeping America Safe From . . . Americans.

Picking on Huckabee is like sitting under an apple tree in late season, waiting for your basket to fill with fallen fruit.  It’s really just too easy, and can make you lazy after a while (while also risking a bit of a headache).  But this little bit of Huckabee’s platform, relating to dual citizenship, is just too fantastic.  He wants to:

Impose civil and/or criminal penalties on American citizens who illegitimately use their dual status (e.g., using a foreign passport, voting in elections in both a foreign country and the U.S.).

That’s right, he wants to criminalize the exercise of basic civil rights held by thousands upon thousands of American citizens.   How this helps or what it achieves is entirely unclear to me.   I’ve gone through some of the comments over at Volokh’s place, and have yet to identify any cogent reasoning behind it.  Ah well.  Crazy is as crazy does.

Unbearable Light

Elbow Beach, Bermuda

Don’t You Talk About (My) God Like That

TPM’s Election Central brings us another fine example of Mike Huckabee’s priorities:

As governor of Arkansas in 1997, Huckabee held up passage of a bill to protect storm victims from insurance companies — thus creating a window of time for the companies to cancel people’s coverage — on the grounds that the bill used the traditional legal term “acts of God”[.]

Huh? You’re kidding, right? I mean, this must be some terribly unfair characterization by an opponent. Umm, no. His own words:

Mr. Huckabee said that signing the legislation ”would be violating my own conscience” inasmuch as it described ”a destructive and deadly force as being ‘an act of God.’ ”

That’s right. You better not talk bad about God in front of him. Or in a bill passed by the legislature.

Governor Huckabee’s explained his objections in a letter to the bill’s authors, saying: ”I feel that I have indeed witnessed many ‘acts of God,’ but I see His actions in the miraculous sparing of life, the sacrifice and selfless spirit in which so many responded to the pain of others.”

He brings his crazy to work, folks. Don’t let the easy manner on television or his (seeming?) decency to the poor fool you.

However, here is a fantastic pro-Huckabee video. Do check it out.

Metro Kills

DC area readers will recall the incident last February, in which Metrobus Driver Victor Kolako killed two women crossing with the light in a crosswalk. One of the women’s family has released a video, taken by the National Archives Building security camera, that shows the entire event. WaPo’s Marc Fischer linked the video, with the appropriate warning that even though it’s shot from a distance, it’s still hard to watch.

I’m linking it here, too, for a couple of reasons. First, I hope this will serve as a reminder to my fellow pedestrians and cyclists that we absolutely cannot trust our lives to the assumption that a bus driver (or any driver, really) will obey traffic signals. Second, I post this as a reminder to everyone else that Metro needs to face some serious public pressure over the safety training and basic quality of its bus drivers. This is the video.

The driver received one year in jail.

More Like This: Feingold Asks Mukasey About Waterboarding

I’m not sure about you, but I’m pretty tired of Democrats throwing public fits over an issue (habeas corpus, Scooter Libby’s crimes, etc.) and then completely forgetting about it after the next hot issue bubbles up. We need adults with follow-through. Well, it looks like Russ Feingold is willing to provide that.

Passing By

A really nifty little art project. At the moment, I’m the first clip you see when you click on “Looking Left”, and I hope to get a few more clips up soon. Very easy to contribute – consider adding some from your own town and travels.

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