Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A sixth reason the McCain "gas tax holiday" is a dumb idea

It won't actually save anyone that much money.

Reader Sylvie wrote in to point this out to me, using the example of someone commuting in a 28 mpg car. I agreed but noted that the numbers would be different for someone with a less efficient vehicle. But then Dr. Housing Bubble, after noting that the plan would create an estimated $10 billion deficit in the Highway Trust Fund, ran the numbers for someone driving an 11 mpg Hummer H2, and also came up with a piddling savings:
More deficits! Are these people really serious? Okay, from Memorial Day until Labor Day, we have roughly 4 months of driving. Let us assume you are typical and drive around 15,000 miles per year, which works out to be 1,250 miles per month. So over a 4 month period we’ll be driving our H2 for 5,000 miles. At 11 mpg let us run the numbers to see how much we’ll save:

6,000 miles / 11 mpg = 545 gallons needed

545 x 18.4 cents = $100.28 grand total saved!

Bwahahaha! Holy crap we are so screwed. All this insanity over a freaking $100 bucks?
I realize $100 is starting to get into real money for some people, but spread over four months? It starts to look like pocket change. It's certainly not going to do much to stimulate the economy. At best it might stimulate a little more driving. And of course the above calculation assumes the pump price actually drops the full 18.4 cents, which is unlikely.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Elitism of Thinking For Yourself

So the Republicans and the media are going to portray the likely Democratic nominee as an out-of-touch elitist. Gee, who could have predicted? They never do that! Except every four years, no matter who the nominee is and no matter what he or she says or does.

But the concept of elitism as it exists in our politics is a peculiar one. Why was John Kerry an "elitist"? Because he windsurfed and lived in a big house and put Swiss cheese on his Philly cheesesteak. Why is Barack Obama an elitist? Because he buys arugula and orders orange juice rather than coffee. For this, Newsweek is alleging, on their cover, that he suffers from a "Bubba gap."

You might think that "elitism" in a politician would consist of, say, economic policies that favor wealthy elites at the expense of common people. But you would be wrong. Apparently, that has nothing to do with it, or it would be Republicans who got portrayed as "elitists," but Republicans get to be portrayed as "regular folk" while doing everything they can to screw regular folk. Meanwhile, the people whose policies actually help ordinary people out get accused of being "out of touch elitists."

One might fairly wonder what the hell it has to do with anything if the president eats and drinks the same things as Joe Sixpack.

As Chris Bowers at Open Left put it:

Comparisons of this nature always have a not so subtle message that purchasing consumer goods in a manner that is economically sustainable for your local region, environmentally sustainable in general, demonstrative of a curiosity toward and acceptance of other lifestyles and cultures, and, of course, personally healthy actually makes you an elitist. In other words, purchasing goods in a progressive manner is itself elitist, whereas purchasing goods in a less sustainable manner that suits enormous corporations makes you a populist.

It is the same sort of twisted logic that makes you an elitist by voting for candidates who want to broadly redistribute wealth or expand civil rights and liberties. Or, more crudely, the same sort of twisted logic that currently makes you an elitist because you voted for the black guy. I don't know exactly when underdogs, small business people, alternative lifestyles and cultural minorities became the elites, but it seems to be a permanent fixture of conservative ideology in the post-civil rights era. Comparisons like "arugula track vs. beer track" is one manifestation of that ideology.

Atrios, as usual, was more succinct:

The answer is that it's elitist to do anything but conform to the prevailing social norms. It's elitist to believe that you can do things differently.

Indeed. Although since the charges of "elitism" are leveled most often and most vociferously by, well, media elites, maybe the problem is that people like Chris Matthews think the unwashed middle-american masses define "elitism" this way. And, by setting the terms of the debate in this manner, it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There's something to it, though. I gave up eating meat in 1995, when I was 18. I always made a point of not rubbing this fact in anyone's face. It was my choice. I wasn't going to hassle anyone else about the choices they wanted to make.

For some people, though, that didn't matter. The moment they found out I was a vegetarian, it was as if I'd insulted them personally. "Why would you do that? Don't you know humans are omnivores? Haven't you heard of the food chain? What, you think you're better than me?"

Atrios is onto something; I got the distinct impression people were responding to my having chosen to do things differently as some sort of active insult to the status quo they were following, and thus as an insult to them personally. I suppose that's the nerve the media is touching when they try and get people worked up about how Barack Obama shops at Whole Foods.

Let's show those faux-populist media snobs that "reg'lar Americans" are smarter than they give us credit for. Don't believe the hype.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Five reasons the McCain "gas tax holiday" is a dumb idea

John McCain has proposed eliminating the federal gas tax (18.4¢ on gasoline, 24.4¢ on diesel) between Labor Day and Memorial Day, as a way to ease gas prices and stimulate the economy. He's been hammering Obama for opposing this idea, and Hillary has jumped on the bandwagon. But it's a dumb idea, and here's why:

  1. The Highway Trust Fund, which funds highway infrastructure, would lose revenue. Americans apparently have short memories; the I-35W bridge collapse was less than a year ago, but the concern for the state of our bridges and highways that it created seems to have been short-lived.
  2. The proposal is unlikely to pass Congress. The states would stand to lose Highway Trust Fund revenue. Representatives from large states with lots of highway miles will oppose it.
  3. There's no guarantee the pump price will go down. Oil companies might just end up absorbing the extra profit. We don't have much excess refining capacity in the U.S. The lower price would create additional demand, as people drove more; this would likely cause prices to go up again as more demand chased the same supply of fuel.
  4. It will worsen global warming. Lower prices, if they do appear, will discourage conservation and raise carbon emissions.
  5. It will discourage the development of alternative fuels. Part of the reason investment in alternative fuels has been slow to appear is because many investors lost their shirts in the 1990s, when oil prices suddenly tanked. High gasoline prices mean these alternatives can compete. If there's uncertainty that prices will stay high, investors will be scared off.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A ray of sunshine

With the increasingly bitter Democratic primary grinding on, it's easy to get discouraged. It's important not to lose sight of the fact that we have a lot of momentum on our side this time. There are lot of disaffected Republicans right now; there's a nearly 20-point gap between those who identify as Republican and those who identify as Democrats, while they were evenly split in 2002.

A recent example of this phenomenon was the special election in Mississippi to fill Roger Wicker's old seat. It's not over yet (there's going to be a runoff) but it looks like a Democrat may take what was supposed to be a safe Republican seat. This story has been almost lost in the coverage of the Pennsylvania primary. The Votemaster over at Electoral Vote describes it well:
MS-01 is an R+10 district the Republicans have held for a decade, so it should have been a cakewalk. Only it wasn't. Despite the NRCC pouring $300,000 into the race, Democrat Travis Childers got 49.6% of the vote to Republican Greg Davis' 46.3%. Travis fell 410 votes under 50% so there will be a runoff May 13. Nobody thought the NRCC was going to pour money into such a strong Republican district and then lose. Undoubtedly both the DCCC and NRCC are going to be spending like drunken sailors for the next three weeks.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I really hate these people

So, the president of the United states has nonchalantly (and a little petulantly, as is his wont) admitted that, yeah, he and pretty much everyone else in his administration were meeting daily and discussing what torture techniques to use on what detainees. This, for those who don't know, is both grossly immoral and flagrantly illegal, to the point where I would be very surprised if any of them feel free to travel internationally after leaving office. Like Henry Kissinger before them, they're going to have to consider which countries might turn them over to international authorities for war crimes.

You would think the media would be buzzing about this, the way they do when, you know, a Democratic president gets a blow job.

But no, they're too busy talking about the fact that Barack Obama asked for orange juice instead of coffee, and what an awful elitist bastard this makes him.


Pardon me, I have to go scream and beat my head against a wall.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Clinton or Obama, they'll get my vote

I've gotten some interesting mail since my last post, mostly from Hillary Clinton supporters. It's appreciated. (Really, I'm serious.) I feel I should clarify why I was singling out Clinton supporters specifically. It's not because I'm an Obama supporter, although I am. (I feel Clinton's strong negatives would make it much harder for her to win the general election.) It's simply because, short of some serious arm-twisting in smoke-filled rooms, Clinton doesn't have a clear path to the nomination. Unless Obama implodes dramatically, he's going to be the nominee. That makes it important that current Clinton supporters be willing to get behind him in November. Were the situation reversed, I'd have been writing the same post about Obama-ites instead of Clintonistas.

A few months ago I think we all thought this would be an easy election for Democrats. Since then, the Republicans have, in spite of internal misgivings, managed to nominate their strongest candidate. Meanwhile, our candidates — either of which would be an excellent choice as President — have been tearing each other down and effectively writing McCain's attack ads for him. Slowly but surely, our lead has been erased. We now face a tough slog in the general election.

The Democratic party simply can't afford to fall apart into internal bickering. If a sixth of our voters decide to stay home because they're bitter about the primary, we will lose. That means not just losing the White House for the next four years; it means losing the Supreme Court for a generation.

So, yes, I support Obama. But if Clinton is the nominee, I'll gladly go and vote for her. I fervently hope other Democratic voters will be able to look past this hard-fought primary and see that either candidate is preferable to four more years with a Republican in the White House.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hillary Clinton — The Next Nader?

While it seems unlikely now that Clinton will be the nominee, the outcome of the election in November may still depend on her actions.

Robert Jamieson has a column today where he talks to a Clinton supporter who says she'll vote for McCain if Clinton is not the nominee. If there were only a handful of people who felt that way, this wouldn't be a big deal; but polls show 28% of Clinton supporters say they'll refuse to vote for Obama. That works out to a big number — roughly 11-12% of Democrats. To put this in perspective, Nader only siphoned off 2% of the Democratic vote in 2000. The "Clinton or else" crowd could easily throw the election to McCain if they follow through on their threats.

One hopes that the Clinton faithful will think about what a McCain presidency would really mean before using their votes to demonstrate their bitterness over Clinton's loss. Does getting back at the party really mean more to them than abortion rights, de-escalating the war in Iraq, and staying out of war with Iran? Does it mean more to them than ensuring the Supreme Court will not tip farther to the right? Does it mean more to them than health care reform? Are they really that short-sighted?

While, unlike Nader, Clinton is not threatening to run as a third-party candidate, the actions of her die-hard supporters could have much the same effect in November. If Obama is the nominee — and that now looks all but certain — she needs to endorse him and throw her weight behind his candidacy, in order to reconcile the party. Otherwise we'll be looking at President McCain for the next four years.

Monday, April 7, 2008

What conservatives think war is good for

I noticed, recently, that John McCain is running ads touting what a responsible fiscal conservative he is. I'm too lazy to go and find the ad now, but it announced several budget items McCain had voted to cut--all domestic budget items, all in the millions of dollars.

For anyone who's forgotten, the U.S. is currently spending nearly $5000 a second in a war whose ultimate costs will be in the trillions. John McCain fervently believes that we should stay in that war indefinitely.

So how on earth can he run as a "fiscal conservative" as that term is generally understood? He wants to spend more money, to get less, than anyone else in the race.

And yet, he, and other Republicans with similar views, are allowed to go around making the same contradictory claims about themselves and their policies. The press never asks what a supposed "budget hawk" is doing advocating pouring trillions into the military and racking up record debt.

Why doesn't military spending count as spending?

As far as the media is concerned, I have no theories, except to note that the media has a decades-long history of letting Republicans set the framework of assumptions for virtually every issue. But I do think Republicans are consciously taking advantage of this loophole.

The following are more or less core beliefs of the modern conservative movement:

1. Increasing military spending is always a good idea.
2. Military engagement is often in and of itself a good thing.
3. Domestic spending is often in and of itself a bad thing.
4. Slashing domestic spending is always a good idea.

So it's perfect, isn't it? If war is good, or at least not-bad, and domestic spending IS bad, what's the best thing you could possibly do? Start as many expensive, prolonged wars as you can. Then, all the money will have to be poured into the war hole, and nobody will be able to propose any meaningful domestic spending ever.

That's my conspiracy theory for today.

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