Will we get a chicken in every pot, too?

I’ve read that Sen. Bill Frist wants to be president. With his support of today’s nonsense, he must think that channeling George W. Bush, circa 2000, is the way to achieve his goal:

Senate Republicans proposed a $100 rebate check for millions of taxpayers Thursday to counter high gasoline costs, but linked the assistance to drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge, assuring the measure would face stiff opposition from most Democrats.

Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee called the proposal “a bold package that will give consumers some relief” from gasoline prices that have passed $3 a gallon in many parts of the country.

Proper leadership does not include supporting a political solution to an economic non-problem.

I drive, on average, no more than seven miles per day. I drive those miles in a car that gets decent mileage. Danielle drives more than sixty miles per day, in a car that gets decent mileage. My friend Will doesn’t own a car, taking New York public transport instead. Assuming it’s appropriate to bribe voters subsidize the impact of gas prices (it’s not), how will this rebate be implemented to “ease the burden,” as Sen. Domenici promised today, with a little more precision than economic fire-bombing? And haven’t we learned by now that knee-jerk legislative solutions rarely work as intended?

For a little bipartisan fun:

Democrats, meanwhile, were assembling their own package of measures, including a proposal offered by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., for a 60-day suspension of the 18.4 cent federal gasoline tax and the 24-cent a gallon diesel tax. He said it would provide immediate relief of $100 million a day for motorists.

Apparently Sen. Menendez believes it’s good policy to further burden future taxpayers with a $6 billion liability so that we can continue pretending that economics consequences can be ignored a bit longer. Why not nationalize the oil business now, instead of making us wait?

Idiots, every one of them.

Giving new meaning to “freeway”

There are circumstances sufficient to justify a social safety net. Although private would be better, government-provided is possible. This isn’t one of those circumstances:

Some California drivers are resorting to desperate measures to beat the surge in gas prices at the pump — deliberately running dry on the state’s freeways and simply waiting for rescue.

… part of a publicly funded patrol that gives a free gallon of gas to drivers who have run out of fuel.

I accept that stranded motorists can be a safety hazard, but who are these idiots who would run out of gas on purpose to save three, maybe four, dollars? And why should the taxpayers foot the bill? It’s not an imaginative leap to think the taxpayers state should bill all stranded motorists. I’ve also heard of a fascinating service called AAA, but they don’t operate on the public dime, so I see the lack of appeal.

Are voters this easily manipulated?

The United States Senate is filled with those who are either too stupid to understand basic economics, or with those too politically ambitious to care about the damage they cause with reckless threats and action.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he believes gas prices “would come down within a matter of days” if President Bush told oil companies that he was going to support a windfall profits tax.

“But the president will not call the oil companies into his office because he’s been too closely allied with those oil companies, and if he does it’s going to be a window-dressing conversation,” said Levin, who appeared with Specter on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Right, rising gas prices are a strict conspiracy by President Bush. Whether it’s political pressure driven by low poll numbers, a need to be leaderly, or stupidity, President Bush responded:

President Bush has asked the Energy and Justice departments to investigate whether gasoline prices have been illegally manipulated, he announced in a speech this morning.

The White House is also asking states to guard against unfair pricing.

Essentially President Bush offered every hack prosecutor an excuse to go after gas station owners to advance their political careers protect the public from the threat of supply and demand. Unfortunately the president is protecting himself, too:

The president also moved to temporarily halt deposits to the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve, making more oil available for consumer needs while seeking to ease prices at the pump.

The United States uses far too much oil every day for that to work. Not standing up to the idiocy of the fine folks in the Senate and delivering the hard truth to the masses will haunt President Bush, because when this move inevitably fails to reverse the laws of economics, Democrats will hammer him for it. They’ll be wrong, but they’ll have a cheap win.

At least Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino tempered expectations a little with this bit of logic:

“Nothing is going to be a magic wand that will lower gas prices overnight.”

No kidding. At some point some politician needs to have the guts to admit that price is only a measure of cost. Value is something else entirely. Our refusal to take mass transit and to stop buying SUVs shows that we value our current lifestyles more. It should be no surprise that prices increase with our demands, since short-term supply is less flexible. Reducing contributions to national oil reserves notwithstanding.

Still, Democrats are hammering Bush and his Republican colleagues for failing to come up with a strategy that would cut prices soon. They hope to harness voter anger over the trend and, by Election Day, turn it against the Republicans who control Congress.

And that’s why Democrats are no more qualified to govern than the Republicans they attack. But we knew that. The only new lesson is that Sen. Levin needs to remove his tinfoil hat and grow up.

Imagine! His plan doesn’t involve spending cuts

I’ve written about Senator Ron Wyden’s proposed Fair Flat Tax in the past, so I’m not going to rehash much of that. The plan was ill-conceived in the beginning, and Sen. Wyden is still promoting it without correcting the mistakes. Unfortunately, he’s swayed one editorial board enough that the board wrote a glowing recommendation for Sen. Wyden’s “screw the rich” plan. A few passages are worth comment, so here goes:

Taxpayers with incomes under $100,000 for an individual or $150,000 for a couple would see their taxes go down, Wyden says, stressing that his plan benefits the middle class. Taxes on the wealthy would go up, and he believes the plan would raise enough revenue to move the nation a bit closer to a balanced budget.

Let’s pretend for a moment that such a clear penalty for marriage could ever survive a showdown in the Senate, why do supposedly smart people buy into the notion that taxes must go up to balance the budget? Has anyone ever contemplated a single spending cut, which should be included in every tax reform discussion? Finally, why should those who receive the fewest direct benefits pay the most in taxes? Are they not paying enough?

Wyden’s plan probably won’t fly. But President Bush’s approach is built on tax cuts that go disproportionately to the wealthy and a budget that leaves the country with wildly growing debt. This is unfair and irresponsible.

The problem with President Bush’s plan, like most other plans under consideration, is that he’s accepted the worst assumption raised in this issue. Revenue–neutral almost guarantees we’ll end up screwing someone, probably on purpose. Laying it out as an untouchable only encourages the rent-seekers to organize now. Sen. Wyden’s plan is heavy on this part. Brilliant.

The Senate is scheduled to take up tax reform in the fall. Wyden has given Democrats something to talk about other than how bad the Republican plan is. He is right to question whether, in a nation where the gap between the rich and everyone else keeps increasing, the national policy should be to tax work at a far higher rate than wealth.

Much of the editorial board’s analysis is like its conclusion above, so I’ll just stop with a request. Explain why we should tax wealth, if that’s preferable to income.

Just don’t burn the Constitution in an ashtray, using matches

D.C.’s transition to its recently enacted smoking ban is having a little difficulty. That would be worth pointing out on its own, but I’m not surprised by that. Anything enforced by the Department of Health’s Bureau of Community Hygiene is bound to be a mess. Instead, I found this to be the most telling example of how liberty is diminished by laws like this:

Then some restaurateurs in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan complained to the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington that at least one police officer came into their establishments and “confiscated ashtrays and matchbooks from restaurant bar areas, incorrectly declaring them ‘smoking paraphernalia’ according to the mandatory smoking ban law, which they are not,” according to a letter the restaurant association sent to members.

Remember that the police aren’t tasked with enforcing the ban. Who could’ve guessed that they’d overstep their duties as a result of vague laws? However, they confiscated ashtrays and matchbooks as “smoking paraphernalia”? Just because something can be used for a task doesn’t mean it will. It’s possible that the ashtrays could be used as decoration or as trash receptacles for the tables. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Surely, though, it’s a smaller stretch to think that a matchbook could be used for something other smoking. Perhaps to light candles?

Writing laws that accept only the most obvious assumptions, to the extent that they must then protect everyone at the expense of all other still-acceptable uses, will serve only to further reduce liberty beyond the nefarious intent of the law. D.C. is on that slippery slope already. Food seems to be next in line for the behavior police, so we’d better stock up on plates now, because bowls can be used for ice cream.

In other news, one is less than two

It’s always annoying amusing when elderly people win huge jackpots in casinos or state lotterys. They’re always fun little stories that follow a quick pattern. As shown by today’s edition of this tale, it’s location in the “Oddly Enough” section demonstrates its overall importance. Yet, I clicked through.

Unfortunately, now I must mock the unnamed writer:

Great-grandmother Josephine Crawford of nearby Galloway Township was playing the nickel slots in Harrah’s casino in the game where each play costs 5 cents, or a nickel.

A nickel slot costs 5 cents, or a nickel? Who would’ve guessed? Does that mean a quarter slot is 25 cents, or a quarter? Perhaps that’s simplifying the story beyond the “average reader’s” need. Find me someone who is old enough to play a slot machine and I’ll guess she understands how much money she needs to play one spin.

Update: In the comments Kip explains what really happened, i.e. what Reuters ignored. Of course, I missed it, too, but it’s Saturday, so I blame Reuters.

Is an innocent billionaire in prison successful?

Yesterday, President Bush hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao. During the course of their joint press conference, President Bush made an interesting statement:

As the relationship between our two nations grows and matures, we can be candid about our disagreements. I’ll continue to discuss with President Hu the importance of respecting human rights and freedoms of the Chinese people.

China’s become successful because the Chinese people are experience (sic) the freedom to buy and to sell and to produce. And China can grow even more successful by allowing the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to speak freely and to worship.

China is not successful. No amount of money can justify not having the freedom to assemble, to speak freely and to worship (or to not worship… that’s important, too). Money is good, but I’ll take freedom every time if the deal is one or the other. I suspect that more than a few Chinese agree.

A Star Trek fan would make a Borg reference here

In my various recent writings on America’s looming immigration “crisis”, I’ve tried to work my way in the general direction of an intellectual solution. Although I don’t have a full idea of the solution yet, one of the most important aspects is assimilation. Danielle and I have discussed it a bit, which helps me organize my thoughts beyond the simple concept, but I’m not at the end yet. I’m not sure when that will happen, which is why today’s editorial by Robert Samuelson is useful. I don’t agree with everything he writes, but I like this passage for its compact summation of the need for assimilation by new immigrants.

We have a conspiracy against assimilation. One side would offend and ostracize much of the Hispanic community. The other would encourage mounting social and economic costs. Either way we get a more polarized society.

On immigration, I am an optimist. We are basically a decent, open and tolerant nation. Americans respect hard work and achievement. That’s why assimilation has ultimately triumphed. But I am not a foolish optimist. Assimilation requires time and the right conditions. It cannot succeed if we constantly flood the country with new, poor immigrants or embark on a vendetta against those already here.

I like that as a starting point. Assimilation is important to maintain a shared American culture built on our common ideals. Those should not be so easily discarded simply because we’re afraid to hold an expectation. American culture is vibrant, resilient, and essential, but it will not hold if we embrace irrational immigration policies.

One aspect of assimilation should be an English requirement, which, contrary to this Reason piece, does not mean that I think a language such as Spanish should have no influence. An English requirement, among other expectations, would work to reduce the chances of further dividing us into a multi-cultural society. That is dangerous, as evidenced by the difficulties facing the U.K. and other nations more willing to impose low standards. This commonly involves bending laws away from the national legal foundation in favor of avoiding offending new groups. That would be a suicidal path. American history shows that immigrants to America understand that. I think they still do. The question is, do we?