Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sunspot Today

Was fooling around today with my new solar filter. Originally bought for my telescope but I can also hang it on my superzoom camera. It's just a flexible filter material like on the solar eclipse glasses but mounted in a round cardboard holder. Cost $20.

I went online and found a photo from the Royal Observatory of Belgium today which had the same little sunspot that showed up in my photo (on the right). Not bad. I'm hoping some day to catch a solar flare.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Oregon Supreme Court Rules Portland Arts Tax Legal

The Oregon Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the Portland Arts Tax is legal.

The justices considered that the exclusion of taxing those making under $1,000, low income families, and Social Security, federal pension benefits and PERS income means that income is taken into account.
Based on the foregoing analysis, we conclude that a “poll or head tax” within the meaning of Article IX, section 1a, is one that applies uniformly on a per capita basis, but does not take income, property, or resources into account in any way. In this case, the city’s arts tax takes income and household resources into account in at least three ways. 
First, the arts tax does not apply to individuals earning income of less than $1,000 per year. 
Second, certain types of income do not count in determining an individual’s income for the purpose of in defining who is and who is not subject to the tax. For example, Social Security benefits, federal pension benefits, and state Public Employee Retirement System benefits are not counted. 
Third, the tax does not apply if an individual resides in a household with resources lower than federal poverty guidelines. Those federal poverty guidelines, in turn, are graduated according to the size of the household. As a result, the household income threshold below which the arts tax will not be owed increases with the size of the household.
Plaintiff insists that, notwithstanding the income-based exclusions, the city’s arts tax does not really take income, property, or other resources into account in setting the tax. In plaintiff’s view, to avoid being classified as a poll or head tax, a tax must take income into account in assessing the amount of the tax itself, not just in defining exclusions from the tax. According to plaintiff, an exclusion provides for a tax of zero dollars, which is not an amount of tax at all; it simply does not count in determining whether the arts tax is a prohibited “poll or head tax.” Plaintiff agrees that, if the city had adopted a two-tiered tax that required persons below a set income to pay one penny and all others $35, such a tax would not be a prohibited “poll or head tax” within the meaning of Article IX, section 1a, because a penny is an amount of tax. The city’s arts tax, he argues, is different, because its two-tiered scheme requires persons below the income threshold to pay nothing. As plaintiff puts it, “0 is zero - nothing. $35 is the only amount of the Arts Tax.” 
The premise of that argument is that a tax of zero is not an “amount” of tax. It is a flawed premise for at least two reasons. First, it is contrary to the historical evidence that we have cited above—evidence that suggests that, at least by the early twentieth century, considering income, property, or other resources in establishing exemptions made a tax something other than a poll or head tax. 
Second, and aside from that, plaintiff’s assumption that zero is not an amount is plainly contrary to ordinary usage. It is fairly common, for example, to refer to a determination that the amount of damages in a given case is zero. (pp.883-884)
In this opinion the Court has gutted the idea of fair taxation based on a person's ability to pay. The justices have found it right to tax a person making less than $100/month the same amount as millionaires and billionaires.

And nobody is holding the City accountable for following regulations in how the money is spent.
City officials have also overspent on collections, the report found. They exceeded a voter-mandated 5 percent cap on administrative expenses, diverting almost $1 million more from arts grants than they should have from 2012 to 2015, the report said.
Well, Portland deserves what it gets.  Especially those who regularly vote for "the rich" to pay more taxes and now have mandated that they themselves have to pay the same tax as multi-millionaires.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fire Truck Pulls Into Gas Station

I don't know what was happening here, but it was an interesting scene of the fire truck overwhelming the gas station with the ambulance sitting quietly at the side.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Solar Eclipse at 99%

My best shot at 99% of totality. Amazing how much light there still is with 1% of the sun uncovered.

The Lord was gracious to give us a clear sky.

I did a run through with cloudy morning sky yesterday, and the settings were very different.

I set up another camera just to film the backyard, but it didn't get much. I couldn't set it to manual so it kept changing the settings automatically and there is no clear darkening on the video as there was in person.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shame on Jeff Sessions for Increasing Government Use of Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
In a terrible move for justice and individual rights against government overreach, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the federal government will increase the use of asset forfeiture
"Speaking at a National District Attorneys Association conference in Minneapolis Monday, Sessions said state and local law enforcement could expect changes from U.S. Attorneys in several areas: increased prosecution of gun crimes, immigration offenses, gang activity, and prescription drug abuse, as well as increased asset seizure by the federal government. 
"'[W]e hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers,' Sessions said. 'With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.'"
What Sessions is promoting and expanding is the program that allows federal law enforcement officers or their local and state police partners to seize any property or monies they think might be involved in illegal activity. The person whose funds/property have been seized has to go to court to prove innocence. And the funds or proceeds from property seized goes into the pocket of the agency doing the seizing.  So, the incentive for law enforcement to anticipate that money or property is involved in illegal activity and seize it is high.

Senator Mike Lee
On the other hand, Senator Mike Lee, a principled conservative, still condemns the governmental abuses the asset forfeiture program allows.
"Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a consistent Republican advocate for reforming asset forfeiture laws, said in a statement to Reason Monday: 'As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices. The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies.'
Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' notable dissent* in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations "frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings."
Justice Clarence Thomas
Unfortunately, Jeff Sessions continues to show his bankruptcy on conservative and limited government issues as he did on this issue while still a senator.
*"As Thomas explained in Leonard v. Texas, 'this system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use—has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.' For one thing, 'because the law enforcement entity responsible for seizing the property often keeps it, these entities have strong incentives to pursue forfeiture.' For another, this sort of police abuse disproportionately harms disadvantaged groups. 'These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings,' he observed. 'Perversely, these same groups are often the most burdened by forfeiture. They are more likely to use cash than alternative forms of payment, like credit cards, which may be less susceptible to forfeiture. And they are more likely to suffer in their daily lives while they litigate for the return of a critical item of property, such as a car or a home.'"

Link to Leonard v. Texas opinion.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Homelessness in Portland

I've noticed more individual family homeless setups as I'm driving around.

One was very neat and tidy. (photo to the right)

Another was a makeshift affair that didn't last more than a day because it was on business property that had a reasonable amount of traffic. (photos below)

I'm conflicted on this. My heart goes out to those who are mentally ill but have been "freed" by the state of Oregon to live on the streets. And to those caught in personal circumstances (even of their own disfunctional making) that have alienated them from family and friends. And then there are those caught in the web of alcoholism or drug addiction who are too often a menace to those around them.

I have a younger friend in none of the above categories who has lived out of his car for three to four years now. He had a small reseller business for awhile that he had office space for and has done heavy day labor work. But, neither of them gave him the sort of income that could pay the high rent of a place to live in Portland thanks to Portland governmental policies that have vastly driven up the cost of housing. On the other hand, business space rent is low in comparison to living space. Actually, he could have lived very nicely in his business space (about $250/month).

I don't know what the answer is besides the government getting out of the way of housing/shelter construction. But, I personally like and support outreaches like Portland Rescue Mission and Union Gospel Mission. I wish more churches and Christians gave to expand those sorts of ministries.

My friend keeps neat and clean through places that allow him to use their showers and has found outreaches that provide meals when he needs them. The winter time is worst. I was out driving on one of the cold nights last winter, and my car heater didn't heat up warmer than lukewarm during a 40 minute freeway drive. So, a car provides some relief, but not a lot.

I was glad some churches opened their facilities on some of the colder nights and appalled that Multnomah County hasn't used the Wapato Jail facility for that sort of help or donated it to an organization that would use it to help the homeless. Instead Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury tweets out praise for organizations that actually do open their facilities though she let her facilities like Wapato sit vacant.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Time to Buy a U S Parks Senior Pass

If you are 62 or over and don't have a national parks senior pass, you should consider getting one.

It costs $10 and is good for your lifetime and allows you and up to three other adults (children under 16 always free) in your vehicle into national parks for free.

The price is going up to $80 sometime this year. A friend told me the hike will be beginning in July, but what I could find online just says sometime in 2017.

Here's a link to what it does: About the Senior Pass

Here's a list of sites that issue the pass for $10.00.

If you don't want to go out to get it, you can order it online at the store for $20.00 ($15.00 for the packet and $5.00 shipping).

You have to provide ID that you are 62 or over. You can upload a copy of your passport or driver's license on a link they provide.