Global Warming Hypocrisy: What Do Democrats Drive?

The other day I was in a parking lot and saw one of our town’s Democratic Party leaders driving by in a full-size pickup. And I know another one who always seems to be in a Ford Expedition – a very large SUV.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are flying all over the country in jets (supposedly a big contributor to global warming), and it always seems like these high profile figures (of both parties) travel around in the big SUVs, typically with windows tinted to excess (in violation of a stupid NY law), speeding past normal traffic.

I was driving on the Northway today (I-87 north out of Albany for those who aren’t local). Following on the suggestion of my associate, and because we were in absolutely no hurry, I decided to go the speed limit in the right lane. It seemed like the vast majority of vehicles on the road were flying by us, and also the vast majority of vehicles were significantly larger than our 2002 Audi A4 wagon.

My car has a 4-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. It seems like most cars on the road have bigger engines and automatic transmissions – which means they are not as good on gas mileage as my car.

And an awful lot of the people driving fast in those big, powerful, inefficient vehicles are Democrats. The hypocrisy is not limited to the leaders (or the Democrats). A non-partisan friend of mine was arguing with me some time ago. He was concerned about global warming and I was, in my usual fashion, rather unconcerned. He seemed to think I was an idiot for not agreeing with him. All of this took place as he was driving us to an event in his V8 powered large sedan.

Ron Paul Endorses Steven Vasquez

Really big news for the Steven Vasquez campaign for Congress here in Albany – Ron Paul endorsed Steven’s candidacy.

We can’t leave Ron Paul alone in Congress any more! Steven Vasquez is the Ron Paul movement’s best chance going forward. This is an open seat race – the incumbent is retiring. It’s winnable for a Republican — George Pataki won the district handily in 2002 against a well known and popular Democrat. The Democrats are in disarray, with 8 or 9 candidates in the mix. No other serious Republican candidate has come forward – there is one other candidate but he’s doing nothing.

One other big thing – this is a cost-effective district for campaigning. It has only one media market and a relatively inexpensive one.

If just one-tenth of the Ron Paul contributors give one-tenth as much to the Vasquez campaign, we’ll have enough to win. Support Steven now at Steven Vasquez for Congress 2008!

In Dr. Paul’s words:

I am pleased to endorse Steven Vasquez for Congress. We need Steven in Washington to help advance the agenda of those of us committed to limited government. Steven has valuable experience in business as a successful entrepreneur in Tech Valley. Steven’s experience is critical in advancing the goals of fixing the economy by balancing the budget, cutting wasteful Washington spending, and combating inflation. We believe these polices, together with tax reduction and regulatory reform, will protect our economy from serious problems. I believe electing Steven Vasquez will be a big part of advancing these policies.

The campaign press release is below:

May 29, 2008

Presidential Candidate Endorses Vasquez For Congress

Albany – Steven Vasquez picked up a key endorsement Tuesday from GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul. Congressman Paul (R-Texas) announced his support for Vasquez, saying: “We need Steven in Washington to help advance the agenda of those of us committed to limited government.” Vasquez is running for the GOP nomination in the 21st congressional district where incumbent Michael McNulty is retiring.

Paul stunned the political establishment during his 2008 run for the Republican presidential nomination. He raised large sums of money on the Internet with so-called “money bombs,” raising more than any other Republican candidate in the 4th Quarter of 2007. Paul also won substantial percentages in a number of races, including second-place finishes in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Nebraska, Oregon and Montana along with double-digit percentages in several other states.

Vasquez is working with the Ron Paul Presidential campaign in an effort to tap into the same fundraising that worked so well. “If we only manage to get 10% of Ron Paul contributors to give only 10% of what they gave him, we’ll have plenty for victory in November,” said Vasquez campaign finance chair Warren Redlich.

Paul’s new book, “Revolution, A Manifesto” quickly rose to the number one spot on the New York Times Nonfiction Bestseller List on May 18, 2008 in its second week on the list. The book is based on his message of freedom and strong monetary policy to restore our economy.

The full text of Ron Paul’s endorsement statement follows:

“I am pleased to endorse Steven Vasquez for Congress. We need Steven in Washington to help advance the agenda of those of us committed to limited government. Steven has valuable experience in business as a successful entrepreneur in Tech Valley. Steven’s experience is critical in advancing the goals of fixing the economy by balancing the budget, cutting wasteful Washington spending, and combating inflation. We believe these polices, together with tax reduction and regulatory reform, will protect our economy from serious problems. I believe electing Steven Vasquez will be a big part of advancing these policies.”

How Bureaucrats Waste Our Money

This morning the Times Union talks about “tax cheats” in its top front-page article. The content provides a great way of showing how bureaucrats waste our money.

It seems that NY’s Department of Taxation and Finance is cracking down on abuse of tax credits. Seems like a good thing, right? I don’t mean to criticize this too harshly, but the math in the article provokes concern.

They are doubling the number of “reviews” of people who file for certain tax credits. The article quotes a “spokesman.” I digress, but why do they have to have spokesmen? Can’t the regular guys who do the work take a second to talk to the media? I’m guessing it’s because spokesmen are people who are good at twisting the numbers in a way that looks better.

This year they are targeting 147,000 filers, compared to 70,000 last year. They claim that this has already saved the state $112 million in “potentially fraudulent or undeserved credits and refunds,” and that they hope it will save $170 million in total.

Does this mean that the increase is saving all these millions, or is it the total number of reviews. I’ll go with my skeptical guess that it’s for the whole shebang. So the average review saves the state about $1000.

But there’s more to the story. Why did they use the word “potentially”? That is actually answered in the article if you’re looking for it. If they challenge your tax credit, you have 30 days to respond with documentation. Some innocent people won’t respond within 30 days, and they’ll lose their deserved tax credit. Also, the review process takes time and delays refunds, so those who are entitled to their tax credits won’t get their refund as early. This means the taxpayer loses either on interest they have to pay to compensate for the delayed refund, or on interest they won’t earn.

Another important thing is not reported. How much does it cost to do the average review? If it’s only $10/review, then the net is $990 per review and that makes a lot of sense. But I can’t imagine any state agency doing anything that cheap. The article provides no analysis of the cost of these reviews. How do we know that the reviews don’t cost more than $1000 apiece on average? If they do, then this policy actually loses money. And don’t forget the cost to the taxpayer for a tax lawyer or accountant to assist with the audit.

The lesson here is that you should never take a spokesperson at their word. You have to challenge their numbers and ask the tough questions. Bureaucrats are quick to claim credit for what their agencies do. Sometimes it is deserved, but often it’s a lot of fluff.

Imagine if our governments focused on cutting spending. They would waste a lot less of our money, and then people would have less incentive to dodge taxes. Then we could spend less money trying to catch the cheaters (and screwing the innocent). A virtuous cycle. I wonder if this could be put to verse or song.

The Tonko Times Union

The Times Union is falling all over itself to embrace Paul Tonko for Congress. I swear there has to have been five stories about him running.

- He’s thinking about running
- He’s close to running
- He quit his job so he’s probably running
- He’s going to announce that he’s running
- He announced that he’s running.

This doesn’t count all the stories before where they speculated that he might run.

Meanwhile, plenty of candidates who have been running get little or no coverage. Um … media bias?

John Stossel Gets the Drug War

I went to a great event last week put on by the Marijuana Policy Project. The event was celebrating progress toward getting medical marijuana legislation passed in New York State. Montel Williams was probably the best overall speaker. He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, and says that medical marijuana is the best treatment he has found for him. This is a common refrain in the movement, and of course it makes plenty of sense to me. Why would governments want to prevent people who are suffering from using what works best for them?

You can see some discussion of this on their site: Montel Williams and Rob Kampia on Fox Business News.

For me, the best speaker was really John Stossel. He’s been a critic of the drug war for some time now – see his 2006 article: John Stossel – Rethinking the Drug War for an example.

Stossel got up on stage and attacked the theme of the whole event. I think he said we were celebrating mediocrity. Medical marijuana is the tiniest wedge of an issue in the overall drug war. The real problem is that prohibitions don’t work. It didn’t work for alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 30s. It didn’t work for cotton in France from 1686-1759. And it isn’t working with today’s drug war either.

Movements like this are prone to factionalization. Look back at the suffrage movement and you’ll see those who were perceived as extremists while others tried to be moderate and work incremental change through the system. There were other fringes as well. The fights within the movement were often more bitter than the battles with their opponents.

Today’s drug policy reform movement covers some vast terrain. My friends at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition fit with Stossel in the extremist camp, while MPP is in the moderates. There are a variety of groups pushing for incremental change in different areas. Needle exchange advocates are another example. Stossel’s speech was an example of the infighting that one sees in these movements. Fortunately, no one took offense. Maybe everyone was too busy smoking? Well, I didn’t see anyone smoking, but a couple of us did notice a scent. We were drinking a little.

My fear with the marijuana movement parallels what I saw in the suffrage movement. Around 1870 some perceived an opportunity to get suffrage for blacks. The extremists wanted to push for women and blacks to get suffrage together, while te moderates felt that it would be easier to get black suffrage first, and the women would be next. The moderates won, and the women waited 50 years.

I see marijuana activism in the same way. I agree that marijuana prohibition is bad policy. But I fear that once marijuana reform happens, the rest of the drug war will get left behind, and all those poor black and hispanic males will rot in prison on cocaine, heroin, and other drug charges for another 50 years or more before we finally get it all figured out.

Now if only we could get John Stossel to run for office. The guy’s fantastic!

Latest Lefty Fad: Buy Local

The latest fad from the left involves something that sounds sensible: Buy local, sustainable produce and meat. The link is to an organization that supports this idea.

[Note: This discussion was picked up on another website: Local Preference, with some good comments.]

This is in my head for two reasons. First, I was in a conversation last night where someone was talking about it, and I could not challenge the speaker on the issue due to circumstances. Next, I read this morning that famed chef Gordon Ramsay jumped on this bandwagon, and then had to go into hiding due to embarrassing hypocrisy.

In short, the idea is (from the above link):

The concept of buying local is simply to buy food (or any good or service) produced, grown, or raised as close to your home as possible.

Sounds simple I guess. Why should we do this?

With industrialization, our food is now grown and processed in fewer and fewer locations, meaning it has to travel further to reach the average consumer’s refrigerator. Although this method of production is considered efficient and economically profitable for large agribusiness corporations, it is harmful to the environment, consumers and rural communities.

There had to be large corporations in there somewhere. Corporations, especially large ones with big adjectives like agribusiness or pharmaceutical, always seem to be the bad guy in the leftist mantra. There have to be profits in there somewhere too, because profits are bad. But let’s make it worse by calling it “economically profitable.” And of course, blame ultimately lies with industrialization. I’m surprised globalization didn’t get in there.

Before I get more into my own rant against this silliness, I’ll point to a good article that debunks it by Gillian Bowditch in the Times Online. Also there’s a research article from New Zealand about food miles. The latter brings to mind who loses if locally grown becomes common. Small countries that are distant from large populations. It’s actually much tougher on poor countries, but don’t forget about those Kiwis!

It sounds persuasive. Locally grown food only has to travel maybe 20 miles to get to your grocery store or restaurant. Some produce in the stores may come from thousands of miles away. Think of all the fossil fuels that were burned to get it here. I can do that. As the first site mentions, it may have come on freighter ships over oceans. Hmm.

So a freighter ship carrying 100,000 tons of stuff burns maybe a hundred thousand gallons of fuel on its way across the ocean (I’m totally guessing here, but I hope commenters will do their research and give more accurate numbers). So there’s one gallon of fuel for a ton of stuff. A ton of stuff is 2000 pounds. So my one pound of broccoli required all of 1/2000 of a gallon of fuel to be shipped across the ocean. Maybe I’m off by a factor of 10 – it’s still only 1/200 of a gallon. If I eat 200 pounds of broccoli a year that’s only 1 gallon of gas at the worst. Some people use that much gas driving to the grocery store. Not me though – I live about 2 miles away and drive a 4-cylinder with a stickshift. But I still go through probably 500 gallons a year driving to work and stuff.

More of the bunkum from the left:
Aside from the environmental harm that can result from processing, packaging and transporting long-distance foods, the industrial farms on which these foods are often produced are major sources of air and water pollution. Small, local farms tend to be run by farmers who live on their land and work hard to preserve it. Buying local means you can talk directly to the farmer growing your food and find out what they do and how they do it.

Actually, industrial farms tend to be more environmentally efficient than small local farms. Economies of scale work that way. It may be that some small farmers try to harm the environment less, but some of them are worse than the big corporations. Maybe I can talk to my local farmer about how he does it, but he could lie and I don’t understand his business well enough to know the difference. Oh, and by the way, all farms are local where they are.

My experience last night catches one of the problems with this notion. I was in New York City. The person I mentioned was complaining that New York City restaurants don’t use locally grown produce.

How can all the New York City restaurants get locally grown produce? Take a look at a map! There aren’t enough farms within 100 miles to supply food for a population that size. Try Tokyo and you’ll see an even bigger problem – more people and a lot less arable land. The whole country is the size of California, and something like 90% mountainous.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that buying local also helps those struggling local farmers. You know, the ones who own hundreds of acres of land worth millions of dollars, getting thousands of our tax dollars in subsidies, and making huge money off the current increase in prices of agricultural commodities. See, I can use big words too. :-)

Sam Brownback and Washington Half-Asses

Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), formerly known as a half-assed presidential candidate, showed himself to be a half-assed policy wonk yesterday. He co-authored an opinion piece (with David Blankenhorn) called “End the Welfare Marriage Penalty.” Titled End the Welfare Marriage Penalty they make the entirely sensible argument that current welfare rules discourage marriage among the poor. If you get married you lose benefits.

Some time ago there was an effort to reduce taxes on married couples, as in some situations the fact that a couple is married caused them to pay higher taxes than if they were not married. I actually have clients who divorced for this reason but stayed together, then remarried recently when their situation changed so that marriage did not cause a big tax hit. So that was and/or is a real consequence of our tax policy.

Brownback explains how the welfare system imposes similarly bad incentives on those getting welfare, and further how bad that is for the poor and for society. Again, this was a well-reasoned argument.

But then he says this:
Our proposal is simple: … We should allow newly married couples to continue to receive all of their benefits for the first three years of marriage, thus mitigating the marriage penalty currently paid by lower-income couples. … When that day comes, the government’s message to low-income Americans will have changed dramatically. We will be saying: Your marriage matters – for you and for all of us.

Sam Brownback has been in Washington so long he probably doesn’t see how half-assed this is. He wants to end the marriage penalty by putting it off for three years. You see Senator, if you want to end something, you end it. You don’t delay it.

Sam Brownback is really saying this: My message to low-income Americans has changed slightly … I’m saying: Your marriage matters – for three years. After that we don’t care any more.

When they “ended” the marriage tax penalties, did they just end them for three years after marriage? Certainly not. How does Brownback’s proposal discourage divorce? It doesn’t. It does nothing for those who are already married and on welfare.

Maybe this is Brownback’s stab at becoming the VP nominee for John McCain. Or maybe he’s trying to establish some policy credentials for his 2012 run for President after McCain gets trounced by Obama. What it shows is how years inside the Beltway can warp your thinking. In the good old days they did one term and got out as fast as they could.

FLDS, Teen Pregnancy and Due Process

I must be missing the whole FLDS story. If I understand correctly, the state of Texas has taken nearly 500 children away from their families. The main concern underlying all of this is that young girls, as young as 13, are being “spiritually married” to older men and they’re getting pregnant. There may be other kinds of alleged abuse, but the teens getting pregnant appears to be the big one.

So why are they taking infants away from their mothers? I’m reading stories about women with six kids having to deal with their children being spread all over a rather large state.

Under substantive due process, a state infringing fundamental rights must be advancing a compelling state interest in a narrowly tailored manner. To put that in a potentially relevant way, you can’t use a shotgun approach – you have to use a sniper rifle.

Taking away infants from their mothers has little to do with preventing teen pregnancy. Taking away girls from the ages of 10-14 would have made more sense – it would have looked more like the narrow tailoring required by the Constitution.

There’s a bunch of questions in all this:

Is our society any good at preventing teen pregnancy in the first place? Who are we “normal people” to tell these people about sexuality and teenagers? How old was Cher when she ran off with Sonny Bono (and he later became a congressman).

I do recognize that part of this is a valid concern about these girls being forcibly raped. But let’s not forget that this happens in supposedly normal communities too. Are these girls going to be safer in a regular high school?

How about procedural due process? Was there some imminent danger that required removal of all these kids with no advance hearings? Procedural due process is supposed to involve notice and an opportunity to be heard, and this is generally before the state infringes our rights.

There’s the religious freedom issue. What if the state decided to cart off all the Jewish kids because Jewish families give wine to 13-year-old boys at their Bar Mitzvahs? I suggest that states not try this one, because we have better access to lawyers than our FLDS friends.