Archive for March, 2012

Falling Apart

The federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993. It’s a fixed per-gallon tax, not a percentage of the price of gasoline like a sales tax, so as gas prices have gone up, this hasn’t led to increased gas tax revenues. On the contrary: higher gas prices and more fuel-efficient cars are leading to lower gas purchases, eroding the revenue stream even more. Our road infrastructure is crumbling and as the costs pile up, the funding dwindles. What do you do? Well, if you are Congress, you refuse to pass anything so it all falls apart March 31st.

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Legislating via amendment

There are a lot of reasons why the photo ID constitutional amendment is a bad idea (it was sent to the house floor today), but I’m going to ignore all the policy for now and focus simply on the mechanics. No matter what you think of the concept, putting it in the constitution could make for a very complicated problem a decade down the line when photo IDs may be irrelevant. And that’s the problem with putting policy into the constitution.

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Fair and Balanced

What’s wrong with journalism today? Look no further than this article in today’s New York Times about voter ID laws. Specifically, this paragraph:

Supporters argue that the restrictions are necessary to prevent fraud. Critics say there is no evidence of significant amounts of in-person voter impersonation fraud — the kind addressed by photo identification requirements — and contend the restrictions are a veiled effort to suppress turnout by legitimate voters who tend to vote disproportionally for Democrats.

Notice what is missing there, and in the rest of the article? Any context for that “he said, she said” blurb. Nothing about which side has more facts on their side. It is, once again, a classic example of what the Times’ own Paul Krugman called out more than 10 years ago: “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.”

“Supporters argue that the restrictions are necessary to prevent fraud”: What kind of fraud? How often does it occur? How many prosecutions have there been? “Critics say there is no evidence of significant amounts of in-person voter impersonation fraud”: So what are the numbers? By golly, that’s testable! You could look that up. A million cases of voter impersonation fraud in the country would be evidence that there is a pandemic of fraud. A few cases a year would be evidence that it’s not a real issue. So easy to give context!

But no. Journalism these days is not concerned with calling facts out, and this is certainly taken advantage of in public debate. And very unfortunately, this has a detrimental effect to our democracy. It’s the role of journalism to present the public with a common set of facts from which debate can go forward. They are failing miserably.

Stadium Angst

I know there’s a “stadium deal” in the works, but there are deals, and then there are deals. The current plan is not going to survive either the Legislature or the Minneapolis City Council, so the real question is what the end product, if any, will look like. I have my desires; we’ll see if they actually come to pass.

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More pointless health accounts

Two Republicans in the state legislature have an idea to make health insurance more affordable. No, it’s not health care exchanges. No, it’s not universal coverage. Instead, it’s a plan to create a “personal health premium account” for paying for health insurance. They say people could use it to pool money from employers, family members, charitable organizations, and the like. However, employers would be “under no obligation” to fund the accounts, so it would require the goodness of their hearts for money. Which begs the question: how exactly does this make insurance more affordable at all? Simple: it doesn’t.

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Review: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Last weekend Julia and I ended the tyranny of our T-Mobile contract (even though the merger with AT&T fell through, I was sufficiently spooked by the spectre of giving money to AT&T that we bailed). AT&T being out of the question, as well as Sprint, our choice was none else but Verizon. Verizon had two things going for it: the iPhone 4S, and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The salesperson did his due diligence and informed me of the issues that the Galaxy Nexus has, and tried to steer me towards Motorola, but after I told him I will never buy Motorola again, I had my Galaxy Nexus in hand. Julia picked up the iPhone 4S instead.

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