Category Archives: Politics

A Smart Gas Tax

The recent announcements by McCain and Clinton of their support for a temporary repeal of the Federal gas tax make me sick. More on why later, but first, I want to put forth my idea. I think both Republicans and Democrats would like it — as it’s based on market principles and achieves a reduction in costs to the average household, while simultaneously helping the environment and reducing our dependency on foreign oil. But of course, it’s courageous, and we don’t have many politicians of that type anymore.

What we need is a large, revenue-neutral, gas tax increase. Now, before people go nuts, let’s explore what this means.

Revenue-neutral means that it doesn’t result in a net increase of monies going to the government. The increase in the gas tax rate is offset by a decrease in the income tax, tied to the cost of direct and indirect taxable gasoline each family or business consumes. So on day 1, if you cost of filling up at the tank goes up by $10 in a week, if you are an average family, your total paychecks also go up by $10. Your cost for receiving a package might go up by $1, and your paycheck goes up by the same amount. So you’re no worse off than before — if you’re average.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of this sort of plan:

  • The economic incentive to be efficient consumers of gas is magnified. This will eventually lead to Americans having more money in their pockets, increasing market incentives for fuel efficiency, and a decreasing (or increasing slower) price of oil as demand slows.
  • Economic incentives to use mass transit, live close to urban centers, or drive fuel-efficient vehicles are magnified. Likewise, the economic incentives to invest in mass transit and efficient automobiles are also magnified.
  • As more efficient technologies come on the market, and Americans decide that they’d like to pad their bank accounts by hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, more sustainable and environmentally-friendly development patterns will emerge. Also, the price of oil will be kept low. Of course, people that choose not to change will, on average, be no worse off than before.
  • Alternative choices to the automobile will have a greater incentive to develop. Think the return of a fast, speedy national passenger and freight network, greater mass transit options, etc.
  • The marketplace will drive Detroit to love making fuel-efficient vehicles, because they will be the new profit centers.
  • This sort of thing is known to work well in other countries around the world.

If we think more long-term, we see even more positive effects:

  • The return to local agriculture and manufacturing. Due to lower transportation costs, local farmers and manufacturers will be able to undercut Walmart’s prices due to the larger relative costs of Walmart’s much-vaunted national distribution network. Unless, that is, Walmart starts buying local — which is a good thing too. This is a good thing for American jobs.
  • Keeping all that oil money in the domestic economy is a good thing for American jobs, too.
  • Our businesses will have a jump start on being competitive in the increasingly carbon-regulated global marketplace.

As for the cons:

  • Eventually this will lead to a net reduction in Federal revenues as efficiencies develop in the marketplace and people save money on gas. Corresponding budget cuts will be required. (A good thing, I figure)
  • Implementing this all at once would be a shock to some people living inefficiently now — those that are far above average. It would have to be implemented gradually to avoid being a shock to the economy.

Now, for the McCain/Clinton plan: it’s a farce. Reducing the gas taxes means more efficient gas, which means more consumption of gas, which in turn leads to — yes — higher gas prices. Its real effect will be minimal, and is a terrible long-term policy. It charges tens of billions of dollars to the national credit card (which we, and our children, will have to repay) while achieving almost no benefit now. It’s a gimmick through and through, and something that says loud and clear that neither candidate is on track for the “Straight Talk Express”.

Update 4/29/2008: One potential solution for the problem of declining revenues over time is to periodically re-index the averages to mirror current usage. Assuming this does really lead to the expected drop in consumption, there is no sense in 2020 of paying people for how much gas they would have used in 2008.

Pennsylvania and Irrelevance

NPR has been doing an interesting series this week. They’ve sent out a reporter who is going all across Pennsylvania interviewing people at local food markets. He found a fish shop in Pittsburgh, a market in Lancaster, and some shops in Philadelphia. He sought out Democratic voters to ask them about their thoughts on Clinton vs. Obama.

A lot of the Pennsylvania voters were for Clinton. When asked why, most of them said that they liked Bill Clinton and his policies. A few said they liked how Hillary handled the Lewinsky affair. To me, none of that has anything to do with whether Clinton or Obama would be better for the country.

Then there was the person this morning who was criticizing Obama for not offering specifics. She said she is Jewish, and so Israel is important to her, and Obama hasn’t said anything about helping along the peace process. So I went to, clicked Enter the Site, went to Issues, Foreign Policy, then Israel. Then I clicked on the full fact sheet, which was a full 2 pages on Israel, including far more detail than the voter said she wanted.

I often wonder about these people that say Obama doesn’t have specifics. Just because each speech doesn’t read off a whole lot of information doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have it — it’s all there on the website. I’m sure people that don’t have Internet access could call the Obama campaign and get information, too. It seems Obama ought to do a better job of mentioning this fact at every possible opportunity.

Then I hear a lot of Clinton supporters saying that since Clinton has won states like Ohio in the primaries, she’d do better there in the general election. I think that is a totally facetious argument. Just because Clinton did better with Democrats doesn’t mean that she’d do better in the general election. We can generally assume that the Democratic voters will vote for the Democratic nominee, whoever it is. The question is how many independents and Republicans a person can win over.

xkcd author endorses Obama

The author of the xkcd comic has endorsed Obama for president. Among other things, he wrote:

Obama has shown a real commitment to open government. When putting together tech policy (to take an example close to home for xkcd) others might have gone to industry lobbyists. Obama went to Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons (under which xkcd is published) and longtime white knight in the struggle with a broken system over internet and copyright policy. Lessig was impressed by Obama’s commitment to open systems — for example, his support of machine-readable government information standards that allow citizens’ groups to monitor what our government is up to. Right now, the only group that can effectively police the government is the government itself, and as a result, it’s corrupt to the core. Through these excellent and long-overdue measures, Obama is working to fight this corruption.

Having Larence Lessig as an advisor, instead of some RIAA shill, speaks volumes about the candidate.

Today’s Political Puzzler

So recently the prime minister of Iraq criticized Israel for a disproportionate response in their attacks against Lebanon. I don’t know his exact words, but in general, I agree with that sentiment.

It’s no big surprise that Bush and Republican leaders have all been rushing to support Israel and taking their sweet time before helping with a ceasefire, and taking plenty of time with that process, too.

So it’s also no big surprise that a number of Washington politicians mustered up a good deal of righteous-sounding moral indigniation at the Iraqi PM. There were some that boycotted his address to Congress today. Lots of fiery rhetoric.

But here’s the surprise: it was the Democrats doing this.


The populist party, the one that’s supposed to be valuing life and perhaps has recently started to grow a backbone in opposing ever-broadening war, is now in support of Israel’s tactics?

I think it’s all politics. The Republicans don’t want to criticize the PM because he’s part of the process their party started. And the Democrats want to pander to their base and criticize anything related to an unpopular war.

I don’t think very many people in Washington from either party have genuine ethics these days. They just take whatever moral position they think will win votes.

Something I can’t understand

I can’t understand Bush’s (and the typical Republican position in general) opinion on life issues. He recently said that it is wrong to “destroy life to save life” and that every being is a valuable person in the context of the stem cell debate. He also said last year that 30,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed as a result of the Iraq war.

So, here’s a Handy Chart:

Topic Bush Theory Bush Moral Judgement
Death penalty Kill known murderers so others won’t kill more people OK
Iraq war Kill 30,000 Iraqi civilians during operation to overthrow Iraqi government OK
Stem cell research A small minority could become babies if implanted Wrong
Abortion Killing an unborn person Wrong

I can’t figure out any possible way that the first two should be OK for someone that believes that the last two are wrong.

In fact, to me, the items in this list that most clearly are wrong are the first two. There is no question about whether life has begun with them. Treating 30,000 people as regrettable results of an operation is not treating them with full human dignity. 30,000 people were killed. That’s more than 10 times the number of deaths from Sept. 11.

Mario Cuomo against Ronald Reagan

I finally have episode 3 of my podcast Sound of History online.

Episodes 1 and 2 both had two speeches each, and one of those speeches in each episode was from Ronald Reagan. So, for episode 3, I selected Mario Cuomo’s address to the 1984 Democratic National Convention. Quite an interesting listen.

It was quite interesting to hear how the rhetoric 20 years go, from both sides, is quite similar to today’s rhetoric.

Kennedy at the Berlin Wall

I’ve got episode 2 of my new podcast Sound of History online.

It’s been really interesting to find these old recordings. For this episode, I found Kennedy’s famous 1963 speech in West Berlin. I keep being struck with what an amazing orator Kennedy was. It is quite the captivating and amazing speech.

Reagan’s speech to West Berlin in 1987 is also in this episode. It’s three times longer than Kennedy’s, and probably less inspirational, but still an interesting listen.

Next week I’m going to have one of the forgotten opposition speeches, trying to argue against Reagan. Also some good material out there from that perspective.

In other news, is being terribly annoying. It’s much easier to upload to directly. I don’t know why I ever bothered with (or why anyone does, really).

He was doing a heck of a job at Amtrak, so he was fired

That’s the title of an editorial in the Austin-American Statesman, which begins:

David Gunn, a noted railroad-turnaround specialist who was making solid progress in putting Amtrak, the national rail-passenger system, on the road to financial stability, was unceremoniously fired last week.

Astonishingly enough, Gunn was canned not for doing a bad job, but for doing a good one. Apparently he thought his assignment was to make a success of Amtrak, while the Bush administration seeks Amtrak’s collapse.

And this is my last post on this topic.