Lets Fight Voter ID Laws By Putting An ID In Every Voter’s Pocket

In Texas alone, its estimated that between 400,000 and 600,000 people don’t have the identification that is required to vote. Lets take for granted that requiring an ID to vote is regressive and discriminatory. Fighting this on principle in the courts has had mixed success. Lets play the long game on this.

The Plan

  1. Raise some money
  2. Massive ground campaign to help people get the paperwork they need to get an ID
  3. Continued ground campaign to physically take people to their local government office to get a license or other ID and cover the fees
  4. People with their shiny new IDs vote the jerks who tried to keep them down out of office

Sounds Expensive

Lets estimate $200 a head for government fees, transportation, compensation for lost wages. That’s $80 million dollars to solve Texas. That’s a lot of money in the real world, but campaigns flush more money than that down the toilet of useless TV ads. Lets get some voters the ID they need and improve some lives along the way. If the government doesn’t want to help people, then lets help the people and then help them get a government that wants to help them in the future.

Why Has No One Tried This Yet

Anyone know? I’m all ears

Archipelago Of Accounts – The Banks Always Win

At work, our health insurance has been switched to a high-deductible PPO. Not to worry, we’ve also been granted Health Savings Accounts (HSA) in which to save money, tax-free, to pay bills before meeting the deductible.

That’s all well and good, but I can’t shake the feeling every time legislation comes out to do some activity (retire, save for education, health care) the only winner is the financial services industry.

Here’s why: all of these activities requires one to maroon a slice of money into an account designated for that purpose. What comes with accounts? That’s right, fees to the bank. The Wells-Fargo HSA we’ve got is $4.25 a month (paid, for now, by work). That’s $51 a year to hold money. The interest rate is a paltry 0.1%, so with $2000 in that account (the minimum cash balance before we’re allowed to invest), I’d make about $2.00, (net -$49 if I was paying the fees, as I will one day) Thanks for nothing. Further, while some banks graciously waive fees for meeting minimum balances, it’s harder for many people to meet the balance since their money is split so many ways.

These accounts limit my flexibility to spend as life events occur, limit the returns on my money, and cost me fees, and headaches. More statements to read, cards to carry, and fine print to decode.

If costs are to be tax-deductible, why not fix the tax code instead, so that all medical expenses, instead of those over a certain amount, are tax deductible, instead of these shameless handouts to the banks? Let me deduct things come tax time.

99 Percent Honesty

It finally comes out that John Edwards cheated on his wife who had cancer at the time. His official statement about it since don’t do much for me but dig the whole deeper. From his official statement:

Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public. When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. But being 99% honest is no longer enough.

I don’t think denying an affair because some of the details are inaccurate is being 99% honest. More like 1% honest.

The other gem of a comment from the Times’ coverage is this:

The network said that Mr. Edwards “made a point of telling Woodruff that his wife’s cancer was in remission when he began the affair with Hunter.”

I guess cheating on your wife is cool if her cancer is in remission.

Barack Obama is 46 and not a Muslim

This week and recieved this troubling (forwarded) email that was for profiling on the basis of age and ethnic backround. It listed a whole bunch of terrorist attacks visited upon Americans, ending each instance with “by Muslim male extremists between the ages of 17 and 40.” at the end of this screed, this gem appears:

And Now:
For the award winning
Act of Stupidity
Of all times the People of America want to elect, to the most Powerful position on the face of the Planet —
The Presidency of the United states of America

A Muslim
the ages
of 17 and 40.

Really? I think the most basic research would show that Barack Obama is indisputably 46 years old! Oh yeah, and he’s not a Muslim. And only an extremist if you think transparent government and access to health insurance for all Americans as extreme.

Are there really people in this country that are this stupid? That’s just really sad.

Dissappointing comments from the Obama campaign on trade

An article in today’s New York times “When a Populist Stance Meets a Complex Issue” left me a little disappointed in the the Obama campaign. The article talks primarily about American trade in beef and automobiles with Korea and other east Asian natious.

The campaign has come out against a free trade agreement with South Korea for what I think are some pretty dumb reasons (there may well be better a rationale hiding somewhere). First up is trade in automobiles. Newsflash: Koreans don’t buy a lot of American cars. The Korean government taxes engines by displacement size for all vehicles (not just imports) to discourage large gas guzzling vehicles. Korean automakers produce (and sell lots of) cars with small engines, responding to these regulations appropriately, as European and Japanese manufacturers do by importing small engined cars (which their home markets probably strongly incent as well).

American car makers, on the other hand try to push their large-engined gas guzzlers and are penalized by these engine displacement taxes. Instead of adjusting to the market conditions compain about nontarrif barriers.

“You can say that people in Korea don’t like American cars, but then you have to say why in nearby places people do seem to like them,” Mr. Goolsbee said. He added, “The Koreans have designed a system that will prevent competition from a segment of the market that is different from what they produce, and that is a nontariff barrier.”

Really – I think they’ve designed a market that is appropriate to meet the demands of a world dealing with the effects of global warming and rising energy costs. Perhaps if American carmakers acted accordingly, they could compete in these much saner regulatory environments then here in America.

The article also mentions beef production. If the US isn’t willing to test more widely for mad cow, then why should these nations agree to import beef again. In 2004 a farm in Kansas asked for permission to test its cows for mad cow so that it could export them to Japan, and was denied

The department refused, saying such testing would “imply a consumer safety aspect that is not scientifically warranted.” American consumer groups were apoplectic, but the beef industry which did not want to be pressured to spend $25 or so testing every animal applauded the move. Creekstone is still suing the Agriculture Department for the right to test.

So American producers won’t (in the case of the car industry) or can’t (in the case of this Kansas beef producer) change in the face of reasonable obstacles to trade. Other nations can, and the American government cries about it, and now the Obama campaign is spouting the same nonsence.



I was thinking about ths some more today, and these failures to compete abroad are failures at home. If we had a truly safe food supply for all Americans, instead of the potemkin system in place now, then no nation would refuse to buy our food.  If we had a government that would disincent large vehicles, then American car companies might finally learn how to make small cars that don’t suck and be able to sell them to Americans at home who currently buy little Japanese cars, as well as legions of people abroad.

Gas price holiday

I’m pleased to see Thomas Friedman hit the nail on head in is op-ed “Dumb as We Wanna Be“. The idea of having a gas price holiday – rescinding the 18.4 cents a gallon gas tax for the peak driving season in the summer is ridiculous. The way forward is to increase these taxes, not decrease them. People need to start paying for the negative externalities of living hours away from work or driving across country on vacation. Dropping the per-gallon tax provides the most benefit to the drivers of the least efficient vehicles or who drive the most, which incents the opposite behavior this country needs to start tackling climate change and stop sending our money overseas.

We need leaders who will tackle issues like this head on, instead of leaders who will pander to the people. Look kids: no gas taxes, checks in your mailbox, shiny things!

If we’re going tax the oil companies, which we should, we shouldn’t waste that money on replacing the gas taxes, it should go to supporting long term incentives for alternative energies so that the private sector can invest for the long haul. It should go to expanding and electrifying a rail network to take oil guzzling trucks and cars off the road. And so on…

Huckabee’s Negative Countdown

This dates from a few weeks ago – Mike Huckabee had a countdown on his web site to the launch of what turned out to be his political action committee. At the appointed time, the counter hit zero. Instead of the page reloading to unveil what we’d been waiting for, or just stopping at zero, the counter just kept on counting down into negative numbers. (Even the counters go negative this season?)

After refreshing the page myself, the countdown was still going negative, until the site finally launched a few minutes later, and for that I’m sure we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Lessig at the Berkman center

I had the pleasure of seeing Lawrence Lessig unveil the next phase of the Change-congress movement last Friday at the Berkman center at Harvard. Lessig gives phenomenal presentations and could probably be compelling talking about just about any topic. The topic this time was the distorting (rather than corrupting) influence money has on politics and I thought it was eye opening and informative.

Lessig mentioned a study showing people stop reading or tune out of news as soon as political donations are mentioned as part of a story, so even without real corruption most of the time, the appearance of influence is enough to make large numbers of people disengage from the political process.

I wish I could link to the talk, but as far as I can tell its not yet online despite being webcase live. Check out the event’s page, hopefully a link to the video will appear there one day.

Update: theres a video posted on the change congress blog

How special, special interest money?

Oil change international put together a great tool to visualize the flow of money from oil companies to presidential candidates and congressional representatives. The graph view of the presidential race is sort of what you expect, with republicans soaking up more oil money than democrats.

What interests me about the data though, is what makes a donation from someone who works at an oil company “oil money”? Where do we draw that line? It would seem that a matched pair of max $4600 donations from the CEO and (homemaker) spouse are on one end of the special-interested donation spectrum, but what of a $500 donation from someone who owns a gas station, or a pair of $500 donations from a research scientist?

For me, I think the inclusion of some of the donations as oil-money are disingenuous, but its hard to say which donations are or are not to be included.

Maybe one day we’ll see public campaign finance and no one will have to figure that out?