Category Archives: Government

Congress is Now Using Memes

This “Call me Maybe” Meme is one of my least favorite memes out there. I blame Canada. But Rep. Schweikert (R-AZ) seems to have embraced it.

UPDATE: This might make some sense now. Note: some sense.

They taught it at 8 o’clock in the morning. There’s Absolutely Nothing You’ll Learn out of one Bloodshot Eye

Maryland’s Buy Local Mandate

I was paging through my google reader earlier today when I noticed a Washington Post story about how Maryland is struggling to catch up with Virginia in microbreweries.

The story was titled: Maryland beer: New law is a license to swill (onsite). How cool, I thought, that Maryland was finally playing some catch up on this.

That is, until I scrolled down and read this paragraph:

They [the breweries] don’t actually have to be on farms, according to the legislation. But they do have to use Maryland-grown ingredients — grains, hops or fruit — in their beers. (No minimum percentage is specified, however.)

Wait, what? Let me see if I can get this straight.

Maryland is allowing breweries — who use its water, pay its property and income taxes, employ its citizens, pay a mortgage/rent, utilities, sales taxes, sin taxes — to sell beer on premise ONLY IF they use a Maryland grown ingredient in the beer?  If true, that is a horrible, no good, backwards-ass policy. Could it be true?

I looked up the bill and what did I discover? It’s true!

See for yourself on page three. Well, limiting what ingredients a beer can have is a dumb way to limit the choices of Marylanders who want to support local breweries. It’s anti-competitive, too.

Readers, this is what happens under the cult of buy local. It could happen in a state near you. If you don’t speak up about it, it’s going to get worse.

Maryland Senate Bill 579

Jim Traficant and the Night Before Christmas

Pure gold.

EZ Pass Economics

Virginia’s EZ Pass program (arguably one of the most poorly run state programs) recently emailed me to to tell me that they are considering a new $1 per month transponder fee/tax.

A few months ago, I had to call in to VDOT to prevent my account from being cancelled, since I hadn’t used my transponder in 6 months. Why, I am not sure.

Here’s what they say it will fund: The proposed monthly fee would cover costs for:

•       Buying nearly one-half million transponders
•       Implementing a retail program where transponders can be obtained at various stores in Northern Virginia and eventually Hampton Roads
•       Providing service at select DMV locations
•       Upgrading information technology to accommodate the expanded program
•       Account management and processing of toll transactions (managing billing of all transactions)
•       Customer service and the operations of three customer service centers

Noting further, that:

The fee would be regularly evaluated to ensure that the charge is generating just enough revenue to maintain and operate the program without generating excess revenues above expenses.

A few thoughts:

  • Why should I have to help front the purchase of 500,000 new transponders? Build that into the deposit price for new people. Current customers shouldn’t be subsidizing future customers.
  • A retail program is nice, but ultimately unnecessary. People who want transponders will buy them online. That is what I did. I can understand having them for sale at rest stops or certain DMVs, but people buy things on the internet all of the time these days. I don’t think people will be shopping at Giant and go “Oh, you know what I need, honey? I need an EZ Pass transponder.” They are not an item people purchase arbitrarily.
  • As for financing account management and customer service: build that into tolls. As a taxpayer who uses EZ Pass a few times a year, I am sure Virginians would be happier having all toll-road users from all states helping cover these costs, rather than having them isolate the costs to those who purchase their transponders from Virginia.

Maryland, which hasn’t met a tax increase it didn’t love, recently levied a $1.50 per month fee on its EZ Pass transponders. People quit Maryland EZ Pass and bought transponders in other states. People will do the same in Virginia.

And Virginia doesn’t offer its citizens discount pricing for using an EZ Pass purchased from Virginia. All EZ Pass users pay the same for tolls. New Jersey recently examined this possibility.

The point is, the EZ Pass market, so to speak, offers the same product (a transponder) for different rates of deposit and minimum balances. People can, and will, go elsewhere.

Virginia needs to take this fact into serious consideration, or risk losing customers to other states. 

UPDATE: EZ Pass Virginia immediately responded, opening with this line: “Thank you for expressing your concerns on the potential maintenance fee for E-ZPass operations in Virginia.” Clearly this is an auto-response, and they know people will be concerned with this, but are planning on doing it anyway. Sic Semper Tyrannis, they say. To share your comments, click here. You have until June 12.

It should come as no surprise that a government isn’t good at pricing.

 

Bloomberg’s Unintended Consequences

Sensible people should be outraged by New York Mayor Bloomberg’s recent nanny state sugar decree.

However, I’d posit there’s a big (largely unreported) unintended consequence: it might make people drink more, not less, sugary drinks. It’s quite simple, actually.

Here’s why:

The “Bloomberg rule” calls for a ban of sugary drink sales for any size of 16 ounces or more. The most common sizes these days are 12 and 20 ounce drinks. Bottles and cans. Most people will order a bottle, while some prefer a can.

Regular bottle drinkers, if relegated to a 15.99 ounce drink might buy two instead of a normal 20 ounce drink. Meaning they’d consume close to 30 ounces, nearly 10 more than they normally would.

Nobody likes obesity, but everybody should love freedom to purchase the drink size of their choice. Maybe that’s just me. 

Greenpeace Hippies In the Rain

Tonight as I departed work between spurts of rain and hail, I got to 17th and K just in time to be greeted by a “DO NOT WALK” hand. At some point, maybe it was the illiterate lobby who is responsible for this, street crossing signs were rid of English and became orange and white hands.

I still think a thumbs up would be cooler for “WALK” but that’s just me.

As I waited patiently, I noticed the scent of wet dog (x) patchouli oil (x) body odor wafting into my nose. It was disgusting. In front of me were three women of varied age with rain coats and/or umbrellas. Surely it wasn’t them. Was it me? I forgot my umbrella, but I was relatively dry since it was just drizzling. Oh, wait. I know who this is, the guy next to me in the bright yellow Greenpeace construction worker vest. That made total sense.

One thing I was not prepared for when I accepted my new job in the heart of downtown D.C. was that it, too, would be subject to the silly and petty political appeals of people who want your money in some way, shape or form. With about five years on Capitol Hill, I was used to the way interest groups heckle or petition you the second you exited the Metro station like a celebrity was accustomed to ignoring the paparazzi.

Don’t they know most of us just don’t care?

Just the other day on the way to get a burger for lunch, my path was blocked by Human Rights Campaign folks with the opening line of “Do you have a minute for gay rights?” Little did I know, I was in a real hurry to get that burger.

Based on some quick research, I learned Greenpeace calls these types of folks “frontliners.” Seriously, as if these people are winning the hearts and minds of voters on street corners. In actuality, they serve a completely different purpose: extorting the believers.

One former frontliner described his experience this way:

Canvassing for Greenpeace is one of the few experiences in my almost thirty years that I truly regret. If I could go back in time to my fresh-faced idealistic 22 year old self, I would tell her to RUN AWAY and never take that canvassing job. Deliver pizzas, bag groceries, deal heroin, but no matter what, DO NOT TAKE THIS JOB.

The atmosphere was unbearable. Cultlike, even. Not so much on the point of environmental issues (it was assumed that we were all equally committed to the cause), but in terms of GETTING TOTALLY REVVED UP to go beg people for money. It reminded me a lot of a high school pep rally, if the obnoxious popular kids and bullies were earnest liberals instead of cheerleaders.

On top of the creepy vibe, it was not really made clear at first that you only get paid if you make your quotas. They are required to pay you minimum wage if you don’t make your goal*, but you’ll be let go after a day or two of not hitting your targets. The commission is OK if you do really well at getting donations out of people, but if you aren’t great at it you make a pittance.

I’m a firm believer in calling people out on the Chesterton’s Gate fallacy, basically that people simplistically assume that things — like telemarketers, multi-level marketing schemes (read: pyramid schemes), canvassers and student workers calling alumni for Yankee dollars — shouldn’t exist because they perceive them to be ineffective.

The reasoning of the Chesterton’s Gate fallacy is basically this — before saying something is useless, find out why it exists and has continued to exist. While all of the aforementioned things don’t appeal or work on a person like me, doesn’t mean they don’t work on others. A guy who sat in the seat behind me on the metro tonight got a call from his college asking him for money. He replied “I can’t really do it this year” — implying, of course, that in years past he has fallen for the trap.

However, it really is ironic that Greenpeace appears to have ruthless hiring policies that would make even the evil Private Equity folks blush.

Recently on a Friday evening at the Huntington metro stop, people were soliciting my hard-earned Yankee dollars for what amounted to private foreign aid. I ignored them at first, but they were persistent. I was reminded of this scene from Boiler Room, and I was inspired: “If you want to close me, you should sell me.”

I concocted a scheme, hoping it would yield similar results to that scene from Boiler Room and inspire a young pity peddler. Here’s my advice on how you can get around the awkwardness of these situations by making them even more awkward.

A few days later, the kids were there again. I let one of them stop me. They started into their spiel: “What are the two things necessary for a child to survive?” I responded: “I will listen to your pitch if you can tell me within $4 billion the amount of State-Foreign Operations Appropriations in any of the past 3 years.”

Blank stare. I kept walking.

You can play this game at home if you’d like. Bottom line, to quote the West Wing, is “don’t accept the premise.” Just come up with a random question that should be apparent to true believers, like:

  • “Name a major provision of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,”
  • “True or false, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide has signed and ratified the Kyoto protocol?”

Or, you could go holier than thou and say: “I won’t donate through you because I think you guys are leeching off of the cause. Awareness? My ass!” I would not recommend the latter.

I wanted a good answer from the foreign aid kid, I really did. I also wanted a good pitch, but all I got was a blank stare.

Most frontliners and canvassers are not technocrats. You won’t get Ezra Klein, Paul Krugman, or David Walker on the street corner. If they’re asking for your money, though, they should have the decency to be open to debate, instead of just peddling prefab lines of pity.

Their incentives are structured around performance, thus, they don’t like when anybody jumps off of their script. So do just that.

This is why we can’t have nice things

Tonight, I noticed a card in my mail box that encouraged me to keep my (nonexistent) pets at bay so they wouldn’t attack carriers, meter readers, newspaper delivery folks and, of course, neighbors’ children.

Most rational people heed these general life tenets without a formal notice from the USPS. Though, I find this notice curious for a variety of reasons:

  1. I live in a condominium. Nobody’s pets are untethered and running around attacking people.
  2. As a former paper delivery boy, I can understand this being a legitimate worry. But it doesn’t apply to my building.
  3. All of our meters are wireless. Nobody goes into units to check these things anymore.
  4. It’s a condo building. Even when I received physical paper delivery, there was a 0.0000001% chance of dog mauling.
  5. The notice says that there are “deaths” caused by animal attacks. While statistically possible, I highly doubt that many meter readers, newspaper delivery people and mail delivery folks face a probable likelihood of death by dog mauling at work. They’re more likely to die driving to and from places.
  6. The card notes that “Each year, more than 4.5 million people — most of them children and the elderly — are bitten by dogs.” That sounds like a scary number, but it’s about 1.44% of the total U.S. population. I doubt many children and seniors are delivering mail and reading meters. I’d also posit that fewer children are delivering papers due to lower print news media demand. Most of these bites are probably from the dogs of their friends.

The U.S. Postal Service is in bad shape. Post Offices rightly need to be closed, and downsizing seems like an inevitability. Few people doubt the need for reform. But, these post cards? Really?

I doubt they were produced at an actuarially insignificant cost. Likewise, I also doubt people will get the cards and change their behavior at a level that will make a statistical impact that will change outcomes. “Oh, you mean leaving my Doberman out in the yard at night has risks? Who knew?”

I was attacked by a few dogs in my day delivering The Sun Press. I bought mace and that solved the problem. Postal delivery folks have had mace since 1995, at least in Cleveland.

My problem is that I have serious concerns as to whether these post cards were a cost effective decision. For starters, they were printed by the U.S. Postal Service. I have no idea the scope of the printing, but given that they were distributed in my building (with an infinitesimally small chance of mauling), I have good reason to believe that they weren’t distributed thoughtfully.

Aside from their direct costs, the labor costs of transporting, sorting, and delivering them to consumers probably made a pretty big dent in productivity. The stamp area says that they are “First Class Mail.” And that the “postage and fees” were paid by the USPS with Permit No. G-10.

I seriously doubt USPS paid themselves for mailing these. If they did, that’s stupid. If they didn’t, while the costs are imaginary, the costs of having postal carriers pointlessly deliver them to condominiums like mine are quite tangible. Given the budget woes of the USPS, don’t they have bigger fish to fry? That’s just me.

VoterTide

Congrats are in order for friend and fellow SLU Alumni Jim Green — who was named as VP of Business Development at VoterTide.

VoterTide bills itself this way:

Taking proven social media analytics and adapting it for politics.

VoterTide is a young, Midwestern-based company that has worked for years to develop web-based tools to help individuals and organizations make sense of the new media landscape and harness the power of social media to accomplish goals and effect positive, meaningful change. In creating VoterTide and VoterTide Pro, we have taken proven social media analytics and monitoring technologies for business and adapted it for the world of politics.

We are politically nonpartisan. We are on the side of the voter, and we view the growth of online communities as the most powerful agent of American democracy. Our goal is to increase communication between voters and candidates by fostering dialogue, enabling the sharing of information, and promoting transparency.

It’s these candidate values – openness, listening, willingness to talk – that drive people to donate, mobilize them to vote, and cause them to Rise the Tide for you.

And just for you, friends, you can follow and get alerts on up to 20 candidates for free.

So head on over and sign up. Or, if you’re DC pro with Potomac Fever, you can get VoterTide Pro.

Shit Hill Staff Says

Great video, ClotureClub!