Thursday, February 28, 2008

Taxes and the common good; lack of linking the two is too common

"...just when you thought it was safe to spend your own money again..."
- Andy Aplikowski,, quoted by Tim O'Brien, The Blog House, Star Tribune, 2008-02-28

How do you spend your own money for roads, police and fire, defense, and education?

Today's ideological conservatives just don't understand the need for a balance between individual choices and the public good.

My wife added, "They inherited the public good without any notion of how it got there."

And I added, "How can we earn our money without the investment in the public good by people in the past?" Or, as the bumper sticker says, "If you can read this, thank a teacher."

See also
Tax Links

Time for Republicans of integrity to bolt the party

I've long been disenchanted with both "major parties" and been unhappy that the election process locks in the choice between "excessive government" and "excessive individualism (except for what they don't like)".

Six Republican Minnesota legislatures supported an override of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a transportation bill. For this "breaking of party discipline" the minority leader has stripped them of their committee positions. Very strange considering that Republicans pride themselves on being for individual choice and responsibility.

I think this may be an excellent opportunity for these legislatures to bolt their party, especially considering that they represent districts that are voting more Democratic. However, the Democrats are not really the answer for these legislatures. Rather, I think they should either start a new moderate party or join an existing moderate party.

A new moderate party would have a relatively simple principle: the need for a balance between individual choice and the common good. Anything more could lock the party into positions that would be irrelevant or counterproductive in the future.

An existing moderate party is the Independence Party of Minnesota. You can find its principles at This page has links to the party's platform and other information. Personally, I find the platform has too many details.

If you think that a vote for the Independence Party will be a "wasted vote", remember that third-party gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura, last in the polls, was elected governor in 1998. And if you keep voting for either the left or the right, you might be left right out of a bright future.

See also "Voting is not a horse race".

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Campaign finance reform, a different idea

Stifle big money in politics! Don't infringe on political speech! Back, forth, up, down, and around go the arguments for and against any attempt to control the amount of money going into political campaigns. The one thing everybody appears to agree on is that it have become very expensive.

One of the ideas floated is that there should be free time on TV for political candidates. Free to who? The broadcasters would resist, rightly so, the mandating of giving away time, especially prime time. If the time was subsidized by the federal government, what rate should apply?

Why not reserve a couple of channels to be operated by the federal government? To qualify for use of the channel, candidates would need to get so many signatures, an existing requirement to be on the ballet in many states now.

The government would break the time into short, medium, and long spots randomly throughout the day. Then it would assign spots randomly each day to qualifying candidates. It would be up to the candidates to either appear live or provide a tape for their spots. The candidates could change their tapes as often as they wish. These spots would also be made available on the web.

The financing would be by the income tax checkoff as is now done to allocate public funds to candidates.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A photo not taken

A week or so ago we were on our way for a morning of skiing. As I got on the freeway, I noticed that Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge was reflected on the ice of Lake Superior. It was two miles to the next exit, two miles back, and then probably another five minutes to find a parking place and then a good vantage point. Another photo not taken.

Last week we were returning from our cabin, often driving into the sun. There was a long and high band across the western horizon and the sun made a golden glow through it. I looked at the icy shoulder, the snow-packed road, and all the curves somebody might skid on, and so I kept driving. Another photo not taken.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Borrowing from our grandchildren or ...

Many seem to have a misconception of borrowing, especially government borrowing, calling it borrowing from our grandchildren. The latest was "Road to ruin could be a high-speed rail track" (Star Tribune, Jan. 24). "Borrowing from our grandchildren" could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on circumstances.

There are two kinds of borrowing - short term and long term. Short term is to help smooth bumps in income or is for convenience. Long term is to pay for something that you need now but will not have sufficient cash for a long time. We all use both kinds: individuals, businesses, and governments. Each can be abused, but credit is something that makes modern society work more smoothly.

We put purchases on credit cards rather than walk around with a pile of cash. Many hotels and car rental agencies will only accept credit cards. Businesses take inventory loans to have sufficient stock. Why do you think there are sales? To raise the money to pay off the inventory loans. Governments borrow to smooth the cash flow for payrolls and other day-to-day costs because tax payments come in spurts.

We buy our cars and houses with loans. Some think we should save sufficient money rather than borrow, but where is our money going? To a bank who will lend it to somebody else. Meanwhile we're paying rent for housing. Businesses take out loans to buy new equipment or build new facilities. If they waited until they had sufficient cash, they may lose many business opportunities. Likewise, governments borrow to purchase equipment and build roads and bridges. If they waited until they had saved enough cash, people would complain about the cash hoard and the lack of roads and other infrastructure.

The abuse of borrowing comes when short-term borrowing becomes long-term borrowing. If we spend more on credit this month than we can pay next month, we are pushing our borrowing to long-term. Sometime this is unavoidable. We may be laid off unexpectedly. Businesses might not have the expected sales. Tax revenue could be less than predictions. But if spending more for short-term goals gets out of control, interest alone can make matters even worse. In the case of government, this truly becomes taxing our grandchildren for our own benefit.

But we aren't necessarily taxing our grandchildren for our own benefit to build and maintain infrastructure. The infrastructure may well last long past the lifetime of many current taxpayers and be available to their grandchildren. Are any of us today paying the taxes for all the county courthouses, fire and police stations, the sewers, schools, and many other government facilities? Shouldn't we pay for them? We are benefiting from them.

We are if they have been built recently and were built with borrowed money, money that may have been borrowed before we even started paying taxes. Similarly, by borrowing today for infrastructure that our children and grandchildren will benefit from, we are asking them to foot some of the bill. If we don't, neither we nor they will have a modern society.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Denying special treatment is not anti-business

Today's Duluth News Tribune had an editorial supporting a zoning change from residential to commercial ("Our view: Duluth can vote for progress with vote for change"). The editors said that if city council approved the change, "it would chip away ... at Duluth's ... anti-business reputation."

Maybe we should look at it as business's anti-Duluth attitude. An outside company comes in, buys up property knowing full well that the area is zoned residential, and then demands that the zoning be changed. This smacks of special treatment to me.

Granted that the particular parcel is not a quiet residential neighborhood. It is on a busy thoroughfare that is gradually becoming more and more commercial. It may well be in the city's best long-term interest to see this parcel become commercial. But that decision should be in the city council's hands as part of a long-term plan, not forced on it by an outside interest.

The long-term plan should also include traffic planning. How will this particular section of road handle the additional traffic of a hotel and restaurant? Who will pay for any improvements needed? The City Planning Commission and the City Council are supposed to answer these questions in two or three months?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Shortchanging education leads to big bucks health care

We too often look at parts of our society as unrelated to other parts. We link property taxes to education and do not properly support it to give our children a truly superb education. For example, we focus on reading and computation, but neglect art, music, and critical thinking, skills that promote and lead to much better thinking abilities.

As a result many of our children do not develop the skills that are in demand in our economy. For these, we spend an inordinate amount of time and money subsidizing corporations to create jobs.

But many jobs are going unfilled because there are not enough people to do them. This leads to higher demand for those who can do these skilled jobs which leads to higher wages for these employees.

A prime example of this is the shortage of doctors. Recently St. Mary's Duluth Clinic said it needed 139 doctors. You know that those doctors who are available have a long list of employment choices. To get them, SMDC is going to have to pay a lot.

Since health care organizations have to pay a lot for doctors they are going either pay others less or raise their fees, often both. As fees get higher and higher, health care premiums go higher and higher, often outstripping inflation. As premiums go higher, fewer people can afford health care.

When children don't get adequate health care they don't do as well in school. Therefore we need more money for schools to adequately educate these students. But we don't want to pay the taxes to do so because our health care premiums are so high.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Pledge of Allegiance or Sledge of Allegiance

Although I often dutifully recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I do so reluctantly and hypocritically. I do it more because of social conformity than any real attachment to the flag. To me, a pledge of allegiance, to a flag or a country, is un-American. We are a country founded on dissent; we should not have a legally or socially enforced act of conformity that serves no other purpose than to make some people feel good. Those who recite the pledge should remember that "liberty and justice for all" should include those who take the liberty of not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

As a measure of how emotional this can get, consider the campaign smearing Barack Obama for supposedly not putting his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. Actually, it was during the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner"; I know hardly anybody that puts his or her hand over heart during the singing of the national anthem.

To me, "The Star Spangled Banner" and the Pledge of Allegiance are more worshiping an icon than respecting the idea of a democratic republic. It became even more a public worship when "under God" was added in 1954. I find this ironic in that the Constitution states that there shall be no religious test for public office. However, if a candidate doesn't dutifully recite the whole Pledge of Allegiance, including "under God", he or she is considered unpatriotic and unsuited for public office.

What makes matters worse is that some office holders wear their flag pins, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, call unpatriotic those who do not, and then trash the Constitution. There is no requirement of a flag or a pledge of allegiance to the flag or government. There is simply the requirement that all government officials down to the state level "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution" (Article VI). The President is required more stringently to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution" (Article II).

For more on the Pledge of Allegiance and dissent, search on "pledge of allegiance" and "Jehovah's witness". Among the more interesting hits, you'll find "In Defense of Obama's Patriotism, A dissent on the pledge", Ron Rosenbaum, Slate, Nov. 12, 2007.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Mac Owners Are Snobs"?

This is the title of a video.

My experience is that Mac owners may be snobs but that may be because PC owners have been bullies since they still coped with line-at-a-time commands on their plow horses. PC owners told newbies at user group meetings that they should get PCs, and then they would spend a good part of the meetings complaining about their problems.

Friday, February 01, 2008

You never know when you might have influence

Today's Duluth News Tribune had an article on the city council having a retreat to get to know each other and discuss some of the issues the face.

It was interesting to note that the council president, Roger Reinert, was interested in two issues that I had published this week: "snow removal and bringing train service to Duluth."

My "Local View", "Streets are plowed, but walkers must tread on ice" was published in today's Duluth News Tribune.

My regular bi-weekly column in the Reader Weekly was titled "Can even Superman stop this speeding locomotive?"