Here's a nice Polish tradition for Easter (I think it's also popular to the east, in Ukraine and Russia) - Pisanki, or boiled eggs painted over in intricate, colorful patterns. It's part of another Polish Catholic tradition, which I don't believe is very prevalent anywhere else, of blessing the food on Easter Saturday, where people take to their local church baskets full of eggs (normal as well as painted), bread, salt, meats and other food to be blessed for the big breakfast on Sunday morning.
Another Polish tradition is Smigus-Dyngus on Easter Monday, where (mostly) young men sprinkle (mostly) young women with water. This ancient Polish precursor of the wet T-shirt competition is generally quite innocent and civilized, but if you're traveling around that time in rural Poland, beware: buckets, hoses and even fire engines are frequently used.
France Abolishes Its 35-Hour Workweek
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
(03-22) 07:45 PST PARIS, France (AP) --
French lawmakers effectively abolished the country's 35-hour workweek Tuesday by workweek by allowing employers to increase working hours.
The National Assembly approved a government-backed bill permitting employers to negotiate deals with staff to increase working time by 220 hours a year in return for better pay.
The previous Socialist government introduced the 35-hour workweek as a means of reducing soaring unemployment. The idea was that companies would hire more employees to compensate.
But France still has an unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent, and President Jacques Chirac has criticized the shortened workweek as a "brake" on economic development and job creation.
[...] President Klaus sees an unsettling new challenge: the zeal of Old Europe--France, Germany, Brussels--to impose collective choices on New Europe--Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Ireland. "Ten years ago," Mr. Klaus writes, "the dominant slogan was: 'deregulate, liberalize, privatize.' Now the slogan is different; 'regulate . . . get rid of your sovereignty and put it in the hands of international institutions and organizations.' "
"The current European unification process is not predominantly about opening up," he continues, "It is about introducing massive regulation and protection, about imposing uniform rules, laws, and policies." It is about a "rush into the European Union which is currently the most visible and the most powerful embodiment of ambition to create something else--supposedly better--than a free society."
The force that is creating these pressures is indeed the European Union. Its constitution must be ratified by all member states; four of the 25 nations have done so, and referendums will be held in France and the Netherlands this spring. If ratified, the EU will become the primary source of legal authority in Europe with "primacy over the law of member states." In other words, the 25 members of the European Union Council of Ministers--not the 750 members of the EU Parliament--will make the laws for 450 million people previously citizens of 25 independent countries.
So what is making President Klaus "more and more nervous" about the Czech people's future? His conviction that the authors and enforcers of the new EU Constitution believe:
That "competition is not the most powerful mechanism for achieving freedom, democracy and efficiency, but rather an unfair and unproductive form of dumping."
That "intrusive regulation, ruling and intervening from above are necessary because market failure is more dangerous than government failure."
That "the premise that government is ultimately a benevolent force, obliged to guarantee equal outcomes by redistributing benefits and privileges between individuals and groups."
Could the Brussels bureaucracy, for example, constitutionally impose France's 35-hour work week on the other 24 nations in the European Union? Indeed it could, and with a vote of only 15 of the member states (if they represented 65% of the population of the EU). A state voting "no" would have the law imposed upon it.
It seems likely that the European Union intends to centralize decision making in Brussels, while President Klaus believes in "the inherent morality of markets, in the ethics of work and saving, in the crucial link between freedom and private property. It is not possible (or desirable) to legislate a better world from above or outside."
PARIS, March 21 (AFP) - Consternation gripped the government of President Jacques Chirac on Monday after a second poll in four days showed a majority of the French public rejecting the EU constitution at a referendum in ten weeks.
The Ipsos survey in Le Figaro newspaper showed 52 percent preparing to vote "no" on May 29, with 48 percent for the "yes" - a spectacular leap of 12 points in just two weeks.
It confirmed the findings of Friday's poll in Le Parisien newspaper, which put opposition to the constitution at 51 percent. That was the first time the "no" vote had led in the polls and it sent a shockwave through France's political establishment.
Both surveys found that the main factor boosting the "no" camp was the conversion of many Socialist party voters. The rise in "no" supporters coincided with a wave of strikes and demonstrations in France, and rejection of the constitution is now the majority position on the country's political left.
The figures were disastrous news for President Jacques Chirac, who has put his political weight behind the EU constitution, and showed the difficulties of mobilising support for a document that few members of the public pretend to understand clearly.
They were also an embarrassment for the opposition Socialist party (PS) which is officially campaigning for the constitution but is riven by a deep internal split.
The rise in support for the "no" campaign was being watched with anxiety in Brussels, where insiders warned that a rejection of the constitution by so important a country as France would be a disastrous setback for the European Union.
"If France votes no, the constitution is dead," said Daniel Keohane of the Centre for European Reform. "The momentum is on the ‘no’ side. It's going to be difficult to regain and it's worrying."
Pacific University's Center for Women and Gender Equity is planning a Women in Black protest against the war on Iraq. Date: Tuesday April 5, Time: 11:00-1:00, Place: University Center (center of campus-go to www.pacificu.edu for a University map). All are welcome to participate in all or part of the event.
Women in Black is an international organization that began in Palestine to protest the occupation by Israel. It consists of people (not just women) standing silently wearing black to protest any given war. This silent, non-violent protest spread from Palestine, was used in Bosnia, and is now recognized universally. We will be protesting the continued war on and occupation of Iraq.
Soldiers from the war in Iraq are returning and telling their stories, and two of them have returned to their native Forest Grove in recent days.
Dave Farrin, a lance corporal in the Marines, and James Gibson, a staff sergeant in the Army, have returned much the same young men as when they left, for which their families are tremendously thankful. They have come through the fires of war with their physical health and spirits intact.
They share other important similarities. Both men believe the war has received unfair coverage in the American press. This disappoints them more than it angers them because they believe that the good things accomplished by the USA far outweigh the bad.
As far as the soldiers are concerned, they say the war has overwhelming support.
As for experiencing war for the first time, Farrin said, "I was not nervous. We had a lot of training before we left." And anyway, "a lot of stuff doesn't bother me."
What did bother him was the picture of the war given to the American public.
"The people in Iraq love us," Farrin said. "The people doing the fighting are from outside Iraq. Syria, Turkey, places like that.
"When we would go outside the gate, all the people would come running up to us and say, 'Mister! Mister! Take my picture!' They gave us peace signs and thumbs up. They tried to give us food."
While "news travels real slow" in Iraq, Farrin did not like what he heard.
"They don’t see all the good stuff," he said. "They just cover the fighting. It was kind of weird. It seemed like they were trying to screw up the military."
Gibson's greatest moment was Jan. 30 – election day in Iraq.
"Watching thousands upon thousands of people coming to vote made it all worthwhile," he said. "Seeing all those people lined up to vote was amazing."
It was this day and other days of progress in Iraq that cause Gibson to take issue with coverage of the war.
"I don’t think people back home are getting the full picture," Gibson said. "There has been a lot of focusing on negatives. We could do 500 missions with the Iraqi army and 499 of them could be successful, and the only thing covered would be the one that went bad.
"People don't see the new schools opening, the two or three toy and supply drops every month, people getting clean water. This has been a very successful mission. One that 99 percent of the soldiers are supporting. It is being spun like everyone doesn't want to be there."
"Our unit alone spent millions to build schools, irrigation facilities, city council halls, roads, and rebuilding the Iraqi army so they can take over the war. In over a year I didn't expect them to make half the progress they did. It's amazing how these guys came in and went about building a better Iraq."
Similarly, as an on-line critic noted on grovenet last week, too many of our stories rely on a single source and fail to seek out opposing points of view. I agree.
The only thing they have left is fear itself
This is a classic case of a solution in search of a problem. This is what Congressman Wu has said about President Bushs proposal to allow younger workers to divert some of their payroll taxes into voluntary personal accounts. Indeed, the Democrat flatly rejects that the social security program is in crisis and in need of a major overhaul.
It is very disingenuous of the Congressman to say this about the program that, after running deficits for 7 straight years between 1975 and 1981, had to be resurrected from near bankruptcy in 1983. Each time social security ran into trouble it was fixed by raising taxes. Changes may have been incremental but the program today is far from the retirement insurance system FDR created 70 years ago when only the first $3,000 was taxed at the rate of 2%.
Wu says that any problem (I didn't think there was a problem) can be fixed by making workers more productive. Supposedly, higher productivity would result in higher wages. The higher the wages the more money would go to the social security program.
There is one fundamental flaw with this reasoning. As the Congressman very well knows, social security benefits are indexed to wages so if the wages go up so will the benefits. So to pump more money into the ailing program, Democrats would have to raise the cap ($90,000) or the rate (12.4%) or both, resulting, yet again, in higher taxes. But how much more can we tax our incomes before the social security program brings down the whole economy?
The answer already exists. Germany, where a social security program was introduced by Otto von Bismarck in 1889, is today in dire economical straits. It has the highest unemployment (12.5%) since the 1930s and its economy will be lucky not to shrink this year. With already high taxes, high unemployment and stagnant economy, German government struggles to maintain the promises of its numerous welfare programs. But Congressman Wu hopes that following the same policies in the US will bring different results. As Albert Einstein once famously said, it is insanity.
When all other arguments fail, Congressman Wu resorts to Democrats favorite persuasion technique: cant reason with them, scare them. By painting dramatic pictures of retirees losing their money on the stock market just when they need it for their retirement, Wu prefers to keep his constituents frightened and ignorant so they blindly keep on voting for the misguided policies he advocates. No wonder almost every day I encounter seemingly intelligent people who have no clue how safe long-term investing is if one follows a few simple rules (hint: ENRON employees didn't follow those rules.)
Social Security will have to be reformed without raising taxes. The reform should include indexing benefits to inflation. Younger workers should have the option of investing part of their payroll taxes in personal accounts so they can take more responsibility for their retirements.
So why would Congressman Wu oppose this and many other President Bushs policies? Tax cuts (for the rich) have helped the economy recover from almost uninterruptible stream of adversities. Aggressive foreign policy is bringing freedom to the Middle East and security to the US. But it is the idea of ownership society -- educated people breaking the shackles of dependency on the government with financial freedom to live their own lives -- what Congressman Wu and other Democrats fear the most. They are stuck obsessing about past, blinded by partisan zeal. The party of New Deal has become the party of No Deal.
Planners estimated the cost at $15.5 million -- and that sounded like a stretch, too.
Four years later, a firmed-up budget for the tram is finally in place, and the total is now a jaw-dropping $40 million.
The tram project includes zero dollars from the city's general fund, though many citizens are confused about this point. They should be reassured to learn that the tram is not competing directly with police, fire, parks and other services for scarce general fund dollars.
We hope the tram will be as stunning as promised, too, a postcard-worthy tourist attraction. But in time, it could become a transportation stalwart that does its job, stoutly and silently, and mostly fades into the background. That's hard to imagine now, but it could happen: The tram runs very quietly.
Although it's proved more expensive than expected, the tram is no longer farfetched. It's the transportation mode that makes the South Waterfront development work. Ingenious yet practical as a zipper, the tram will fasten OHSU's upper campus to its lower one.
And in less than 18 months, it could be zapping OHSU employees, patients, neighbors and sightseers up the hill.
There are just two problems with mass transit. Nobody uses it, and it costs like hell. Only 4% of Americans take public transportation to work. Even in cities they don't do it. Less than 25% of commuters in the New York metropolitan area use public transportation. Elsewhere it's far less--9.5% in San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, 1.8% in Dallas-Fort Worth. As for total travel in urban parts of America--all the comings and goings for work, school, shopping, etc.--1.7 % of those trips are made on mass transit.
Then there is the cost, which is--obviously--$52 billion. Less obviously, there's all the money spent locally keeping local mass transit systems operating. The Heritage Foundation says, "There isn't a single light rail transit system in America in which fares paid by the passengers cover the cost of their own rides." Heritage cites the Minneapolis "Hiawatha" light rail line, soon to be completed with $107 million from the transportation bill. Heritage estimates that the total expense for each ride on the Hiawatha will be $19. Commuting to work will cost $8,550 a year. If the commuter is earning minimum wage, this leaves about $1,000 a year for food, shelter and clothing. Or, if the city picks up the tab, it could have leased a BMW X-5 SUV for the commuter at about the same price.
O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, as you know. And it can also spook giant federal bureaucracies into acting against common sense.
So it's not surprising that the Environmental Protection Agency has, thus far, turned down Portland's request for exceptional treatment. The city has asked the EPA for a waiver from upcoming federal drinking water rules.
The EPA first told City Commissioner Dan Saltzman no. Then it told Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., no. Now Mayor Tom Potter is gearing up to ask again for a variation on EPA's rules (he's not going to use the word "waiver"). But some say Potter will get the same response because consistency dictates that the EPA turn Portland down.
The rules, which the EPA expects to issue this summer, require unfiltered water systems, like Portland's, to filter or otherwise aggressively counteract cryptosporidium. That's the microbial parasite that made headlines in 1993, when it killed about 100 people in Milwaukee, Wis., and sickened 400,000.
If we believed cryptosporidium posed a threat to Portland water drinkers, we'd be the first to urge that a filtration or treatment plant be built, no matter how costly. Portland's unique Bull Run water, derived from a rain- and snow-fed reservoir near Mount Hood, is well worth protecting. If cryptosporidium jeopardized its purity, the cost to purify it would be a secondary issue.
Madison Voters May Face A Third Pricey Referenda
Madison Voters May Face A Third Pricey Referendum
Madison Metropolitan School District voters could face a third referenda question in May -- this one for an extra $8.6 million or more.
Voters are already facing referendums to build a second Leopold Elementary School for $14.5 million and continued money for maintenance ($27 million).
If there is a third referendum to keep current service in place, the potential cost to the owner of a $200,000 home is an additional $163 in property taxes. That's in addition to the cost of a new Leopold school.
The board will be taking public comment on the cuts during the next 3 months, but must decide the question of a third referendum by March 14.
In 1975 the Senators changed the filibuster requirement from 67 votes to 60, after concluding that it only takes a simple majority of Senators to change the rules governing their proceedings. As Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) said at the time: "We cannot allow a minority" of the senators "to grab the Senate by the throat and hold it there." Senators Leahy, Kennedy, Byrd, and Biden, all agreed.Oh, hypocrisy! Now he complains that Republicans are considering changing it yet again to 51 votes. It's like the guys who go 5 mph over the speed limit in the left lane. If you go 10 mph over the limit they block you because you are going too fast.
The movements for democratic change in Egypt and Lebanon have happened since the successful Iraqi election on Jan. 30. And one can speculate on whether Iraq has served as a beacon for democratic change in the Middle East.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush said that "a liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region."
He may have had it right.
"This is a party that has steadily moved to the losing side of the key issues of our time -- from solid cold warriors to semi-pacifists; from upholders of equal opportunity to proponents of racial preferences; from upholders of free speech to proponents of speech codes; etc. Now, the Democrats seem intent on losing whatever edge they may have with young, sophisticated voters by moving to the losing side of the censorship debate and taking on the internet."
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