Saturday, April 10, 2004

Better late than never


(I have seen this several times, most recently here. I decided I was overdue in helping.)

posted at 02:34 PM | permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Gas Taxes—bad at any cost

In today's Seattle Times, Matt Miller's syndicated column belittle's America's opposition to gas taxes with a few swipes at the Bush administration, a few specious comparisons with the rest of the world, and a few points that have less to do with the politics of gas and more to do with the politics of eco-extremists. The column is not available on the Seattle Times server, so I went to Miller's site to link the article.

It may look as though the White House buckled, but anyone with a strategic eye can see that Condi Rice will finally tell the 9/11 commission the truth: Richard Clarke wanted higher gas taxes, President Bush rebuffed him, and now Clarke is bitter.

Miller is trying to be snarky, but it's just as good a reason as any to explain Clarke's about-face on the underlying causes of the 9/11 intelligence failure.

Welcome to the gas attacks. Prices are high and the blame game is on. Bush has a new ad saying that Kerry voted for a 50-cent gas tax. Kerry has punched back by producing a 1999 article by Bush's top economist calling for - you guessed it - the same nefarious 50-cent gas tax!

...Which Bush has made clear through his policies over the past three years would never be implemented, no matter how wonderful his advisors thought the idea. Whereas in a Kerry administration the idea would be quite likely, since a) Kerry himself proposed it, and b) the French have such a tax in place. Must have the French seal of approval, whether it is foreign or domestic policy.

Bush tops that with a "Kerry Gas Tax Calculator" on his Web site, through which I reckoned that my wife and I would be looking at an extra $260 a year. But that's far less than our family must owe thanks to Bush's Soaring National Debt Tax, for which I hope the Kerry site will soon offer a handy calculator, too.

Don't forget to calculate the higher income tax people in Miller's income range would incur under a Kerry administration. (Miller was raised in tony Greenwich, CT, and in addition to his law degree, his position at the Liberal Center for American Progress, his column, and his radio show, has a thriving consultancy business.)

There's no question higher gas taxes are unpopular. This is why the last time energy taxes were discussed, as part of Bill Clinton's 1993 deficit reduction plan, we ended up with only a 4.3-cent-a-gallon hike, and Bob Dole even made repealing that little levy an issue in his 1996 presidential campaign.

Energy taxes are fundamentally regressive; The CEO and his janitor pay the same cost per gallon, and the CEO is more likely to be able to afford a newer, more fuel-efficient (and less polluting) vehicle than his lowest-paid workers. I'm surprised that the liberals support such a tax, considering their love of soaking the rich with income taxes, and their denunciation of payroll and social security taxes for their regressive effects.

To the rest of the world, our price complaint must look a little silly. After all, even with recent spikes, gas prices are lower today in inflation-adjusted terms than they were decades ago. Thanks to these bargains, Americans slurp as much oil as ever. And despite perennial warnings about fickle foreign supplies, we imported 61 percent of the oil we consumed last year, up from 33 percent in 1975.

I agree with his sentiments on the actual price of gas, adjusted for inflation. However, the most effective way to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil is to exploit resources we have here in the US, such as Alaska's north slope (and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). However, the Democratics in congress, in thrall to the loony environmentalists, have consistently blocked such an action, which was a key feature in Bush's energy plan.

In France and Germany, a gallon of gas costs around $4; in Japan, about $3.50. Thanks in part to their policy of high-priced gas, our industrial competitors have made stunning strides in energy efficiency and independence. France now gets more than 70 percent of its electrical energy from nuclear power. In Japan, oil imports in 1980 were 5.5 percent of GDP; by decade's end, they'd fallen to 1 percent. The industrial restructuring that enabled this drop left Japan producing two and a half times its 1975 output with, in effect, the same tank of gas.

The reason France gets more than 70 percent of their electrical energy from nuclear power is because the government is building more of them; here in the US, because of the outrageously litigious anti-nuclear movement, it is impossible to build nuclear plants, and groups such as Robert Kennedy's Natural Resources Defense Council (and the related Riverkeepers) have tried to close major nuclear power plants. Japan's "economic miracle" of the 1980's has resulted in stagnating or declining quality of life in the last decade. In addition, Japan produces no petroleum of its own, unlike the US.

It's not that the United States has made no progress. Economy-wide energy efficiency is up by more than 40 percent since 1975. Average auto fuel efficiency has risen from 16 to 20.4 miles per gallon over the same period. Still, the average fuel economy of the new car fleet has fallen every year since 1986, from a high of 25.9 miles per gallon to about 23.8 today. And American drivers still consume about two times more gasoline per capita than people in other advanced countries.

One of the reasons Americans consume more gas per capita is the simple sheer size of our country, and the fact that many Americans must live far from work because of crowding or economics; the San Francisco Bay area is so opposed to development (or redevelopment) that people are commuting from Stockton and Tracy (70-80 miles) because they cannot afford the insane rents in the areas near to their jobs. In addition, because of the diffuse nature of our country, mass transit such as railways are impractical for travel, unlike the small European countries where such programs are rational.

Average fuel economy is dropping is because Americans have rejected small cars. Look at the small cars offered by Japanese auto companies; today's Honda Civic is far larger than the original 1975 Civic, and the Toyota Echo is larger than the small Toyotas of the 1970's. American automakers seldom found success with small cars; most of their small offerings have been slow sellers, and they make very little money on them even when sold at full price. When they are sold with rebates, the profit margin disappears entirely.

At roughly a billion dollars per penny in annual revenue, a 50-cent gas tax would help fund needed programs or needed deficit reduction. It would also substitute a market-based approach to auto efficiency for today's mixed signals, through which low prices urge consumers to buy SUVs, while mileage-minded regulators tell the big three to build compacts.

SUV's are not low-priced, as a quick check at your local dealer will reveal. They are selling well because they are practical, as well as currently fashionable. They combine the peace of mind of all-wheel drive with a good view of the road, and a flexible cargo or passenger hauling capacity. Short of government mandates banning or restricting their production, there is little chance of the public becoming disaffected by them. A steep gas tax would disproportionately affect US auto producers, who command a majority of the large SUV market, as well as the large sedan and full-size pickup markets. Closing down more auto plants in response to reduced demand is not a way to placate unions. Talk about exporting jobs overseas! At least the US corporations pay corporate tax on their full income, regardless of where their employees are located.

The chief (and valid) objection to higher gas taxes is that they fall most heavily on those with less income. But new wage subsidies for low-income workers, which also ought to be on the national agenda, can far more than offset this hit.

He addresses my earlier note here, but suggests wage subsidies, which alone would consume any additional revenue generated by a tax increase. It's just another form of income redistribution. In addition, once a tax is enacted, it is very difficult to eliminate it, as the left will scream about slashing services and "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor", even though the poor pay a far smaller proportion of taxes than their share of income.

In 1991, the Germans enacted with little fanfare a 50-cent gas tax to help rebuild the former East Germany. In 1993, Americans found four cents on top of $1.20 gas almost too much to bear, even while we bequeath our children dirtier air and the continued risk of war over oil. A decade later, it's time to have a grown-up conversation about using sensible energy taxes to achieve America's social, economic, environmental, energy and national security goals.

Hmmm, apples and oranges. The last time we had to rebuild a significant portion of our country was after the civil war. If we were to inherit a polluted, poverty-stricken, ramshackle mess like the former East Germany, I might reconsider supporting such a tax. Until Mexico agrees to become our 51st state, however, I'm opposed to the tax increase.

I must point out that I am opposed to such a tax even though I do not drive. I do not own a car, and in fact I have never had a license other than a learner's permit. Despite the fact that I would not be directly impacted by a gas tax, I think it's bad policy.

posted at 09:22 PM | permalink | Comments (3)

I'm not unalterably opposed to increasing the gas tax, but I'm definitely against using the proceeds for some nebulous social programs; gas taxes should be spent only on transportation-related issues - which, where I live, means "fixing these crappy roads and bridges."

posted by CGHill on April 10, 2004 07:26 AM

we do not need to increase the gas tax to fund transportation issues; we need to use the surplus tax we are already collecting on valid projects, rather than the ridiculous "demonstration projects" (translation=pork) that we waste millions on every year.

Former Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA) amost managed to get a monorail built using gas tax money in downtown Altoona, PA (population 55,000); I think Citizens Against Government Waste was the group that squawked loud enough to get that project killed. The GOP has been particularly bad at using the DOT spending bill as a pork barrel, although the Democrats were not much better when they were in charge.

posted by timekeeper on April 10, 2004 11:53 AM

And what Shuster wound up getting was the absurd "Interstate 99", which never actually leaves Pennsylvania and doesn't do anything US 220 didn't do before except cost a whole lot more.

It would be nice to put the kibosh on this sort of thing - after they finish the new Crosstown in downtown Oklahoma City, of course. :)

posted by CGHill on April 11, 2004 07:37 AM

Monday, April 5, 2004

Another Quiz

Thomas L. Friedman
You are Thomas L. Friedman! You're the foreign
affairs expert. You're liberal on most issues,
except you're a leading voice in the pro-war
movement. You're probably the most popular
columnist at the Times, but probably because
you play both sides of the Iraq issue and
relish your devotion to what you call
"fanatical moderatism." You sure can
write, but you could work on your sense of

Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

I also came up with David Brooks, after I reconsidered two answers. I decided to go with the answers that gave me Friedman, however.

posted at 10:51 PM | permalink | Comments (0)

Observations on Kos

As just about everybody who reads blogs knows, Markos Zuniga, of Daily Kos, made an extremely intemperate remark on his blog last week. Reacting to the death of four American contractors, who were killed, hung from a bridge in Fallujah, and burned, he wrote:

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

(I won't work to find his original post, since he monkeyed with the direct link to redirect to a clarification that compounds the whole thing. It appears that he has finally "disappeared" the original post entirely.)

Much has been written about his post, and some of the fallout, but I want to add my own thoughts on the matter.

• This whole issue could have been avoided if Zuniga had not posted anything. In the words of Jacques Chirac, he "missed a great opportunity to shut up." The fact that he went out of his way to denigrate the four indicates his contempt for them, and no amount of apologizing or link juggling will ever erase that.

• The four contractors were not "mercenaries"; they were protecting a food convoy. If "mercenary" means "getting paid to work", then that describes just about everyone with a job. They were doing a job that might have been handled by US troops; we don't have enough troops over there to do everything as it is, so some of the work has been offered to private firms. Most of the people defending Kos think that we have too many troops in Iraq; most think that any troops are too many.

• Similarly, many people are upset that these men are receiving a lot of press while American soldiers who die receive perfunctory notices at best. These men, while all veterans, are *civilians*, which makes their deaths more notable. The fact that four were ambushed and killed, and their bodies dragged through the streets of Fallujah, makes it even more notable. Imagine the outcry if four reporters, or four Red Cross/Red Crescent workers, or four UN workers were treated the same way. All of these groups have suffered violent deaths at the hands of Islamofascists, but none were desecrated as these four were. The only "sin" these men committed is that they were Americans playing a role in rebuilding Iraq.

• There are claims that the four men were heros. I disagree. They were doing a job. However, they most assuredly did not deserve to die, nor did they deserve to have their bodies dragged through town, hung from a bridge, and burned by a mob. "Hero" is a term that is tossed about far too lightly these days, but pointing out that they were not heros does not mean that they were anything less than good men. Zuniga's derisive attitude towards them is the contemptible thing, not their presence or their job.

• Many who are in Kos's corner bring up Rachel Corrie, and insist that those who have condemned Kos are employing a double standard. There are a few important differences. Corrie was not intentionally killed, her body was not desecrated in three different ways, and her previous actions (the march in which she participated shortly before her death) were blatently partisan. These men were protecting a food convoy, hardly a partisan goal. Unlike Corrie, they were not acting in defiance of any government, and were not trying to make a political statement by their presence. Corrie's group was well-known for their press releases condemning Israel; she was lionized as a martyr far more than the four victims of the Fallujah mob will ever be used.

• Many are upset at Michael Friedman for firing off letters to political campaigns that were advertising on Daily Kos, alerting them to the post and soliciting their reactions. Four campaigns and one PAC have pulled their ads as a result. This has been characterized as a far-right conspiracy. It's not; it is politics at play. Targetting advertisers is a time-honored technique, used by protesters of all stripes. Letting advertisers know that one of the sites to which they are paying money has made a seriously offensive statement is hardly strong-arming them; the advertisers who severed the ties did so on a totally voluntary basis. In fact, there was no threat of a boycott at all; it was simply noted that the site was saying something offensive, and left at that, although it is implied that someone might chose to make a deal of it if the ads continued. I wonder if those upset at the e-mail campaign showed the same concern when gay-rights groups targeted the advertisers on the "Dr. Laura" TV show a few years ago. Somehow, I doubt it.

posted at 01:04 PM | permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 4, 2004

Armageddon is upon us

Richard Cohen says something with which I agree without reservation.

I offer my own U.N. resolution. I want the United Nations to condemn Palestinian terrorism, specifically suicide bombers and, most specifically, the use of confused and sad kids for that purpose. It's pretty simple: If you cannot condemn the murder of innocents, especially by children, then you have no business condemning anything else. In the undiplomatic language of my old neighborhood, put up or shut up.

Read the whole column; it's a shock reading something from Richard Cohen that tracks so closely with my own beliefs.

(Link courtesy of Vodkapundit, who concurs.)

posted at 09:31 PM | permalink | Comments (0)

Comments close after 7 Days

I have installed the MT plug-in MT-close, which will close comments threads after 7 days. This is an attempt to ward off spam, since all of the content spam I have had to clean out has been from threads that have been cached by Google, and are more than a week old.

I haven't had much in the way of relevant comments more than a week past the date they are posted; the only ones I have received are from people who self-google their names, and find them on my pages (usually from a "letters to the editor" citation). Since they can still e-mail me if they are outraged, they are free to do so.

posted at 02:12 PM | permalink | Comments (0)

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