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Monday, October 31, 2005

State campaign finance limits

There is an article in today's Star Tribune about upcoming statewide political races and campaign finance limits. Apparently, Governor Pawlenty is probably not going to accept public money and abide by spending limits. On the DFL side, developer Kelly Doran definitely isn't going to. Mike Hatch and Steve Kelley have already said that they would, which will put them at a disadvantage should either be the DFL candidate.

What do I think about public funding and spending limits? Well, I like public funding, since I think we need to make it easier for regular people to run for office. But I have freedom-of-speech issues with campaign spending limits. I think that it is eminently reasonable (and constitutional) to limit expenditures using public property: radio and TV. The public at large owns the electromagnetic spectrum, and we can't make more of it. Thus, it is reasonable to control access to this medium. However, for anything else, like direct mail, Internet, etc., anything goes. If a candidate wants to flood our mailboxes with crap, go nuts. Paper isn't a public good.

Going along with this is a requirement that donations be public and reported quickly. In the age of the Internet, this is not too much to ask. This will allow people to see where the money is coming from; more information is always better.

Will my weird beliefs on financing campaigns ever be put into practice? No. But still, it's nice to dream.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Katherine Kersten's latest column goes beyond her typical misrepresentation of facts. It puts her in the same league as Rush Limbaugh and other vile merchants in sleaze and falsehoods, for she has done the exact same thing that Limbaugh and other right-wing blowhards did three years ago in the wake of the late Paul Wellstone's memorial service: turn it into a stealth campaign on the part of liberals to win political points. I am utterly disgusted that she continues to put forward the same lies that Republicans came up with three years ago, and that the Star Tribune prints this garbage.

Her nonsense runs deep in this column. "Wellstone's memorial service on Oct. 29, 2002, was billed as the nonpartisan culmination of shared public grief. People around the country were glued to TV coverage of the four-hour event. What they saw was not a solemn ceremony mourning a human being, but at times a raucous political rally." Really? I don't remember how it was billed or how it appeared on television, because I was actually at the service (and I'm sure that Kersten was not), but I don't remember seeing it billed anywhere as a nonpartisan service. You could no more take the politics out of Paul Wellstone than you could take Catholicism out of Pope John Paul II. Wellstone spent his life working to convince the nation that we needed to protect and help those who are less fortunate; the act of persuading others to follow your beliefs is the definition of politics. That's what he did. That's what he undoubtedly would have wanted people to continue doing after his death.

Moreover, which word described Wellstone better: "solemn" or "raucous"? Anybody who had spent any time around him would know that the correct answer was the latter. Wellstone was always enthusiastic, always running full speed, always energetic. Even though I didn't agree 100% with his politics, I did greatly admire his zeal and his energy in fighting for what he believed in. Some politicians give somber speeches that make the listeners quietly reflect on their beliefs. Not Paul. He gave speeches that got people on their feet, shouting and yelling as he shouted and yelled. He took the boundless energy he had and drenched his audience with it, in the hopes that some would stick. It never failed. So how could anybody who actually knew Wellstone think that a memorial to his life and his work could be solemn? No, the only people who could have expected this were people like Kersten who knew nothing of him besides Republican talking points.

But her most putrid statement is this: "What explains the average voter's outrage? It was resentment that some Wellstone supporters were cynically willing to exploit what is best in human nature -- the unifying empathy for personal tragedy -- and subvert it to partisan political ends." Kersten, like many Republican shills, continues to believe that before the memorial service, Wellstone's supporters got together to plan an overtly political rally. I honestly don't have words to express my contempt for something so disgusting. The service was not a cover for Democrats to score political points. It was thrown together at the last minute by people who were torn apart by the deaths of Paul, his wife, and their companions on that plane. The people who spoke were not speaking to get votes; they were speaking of people who they loved and had suddenly, tragically, unfairly had ripped away from them. Kersten should remember that the service did not just memorialize Paul Wellstone, but everybody who died on that plane. Every speaker talked about the lives of those who died, and yes, unsurprisingly, a big portion of the lives of people who were instrumental in Wellstone's re-election campaign was politics. But not all, and Kersten just ignores everything other than a couple spirited lines in a few speeches. To her, nothing else matters.

"The Wellstone rally was a huge miscalculation." A huge miscalculation? I went because I wanted to be around like-minded people to celebrate and remember lives that were lost. That's what I do whenever somebody I care about dies, and Kersten's complete lack of empathy makes me wonder if she has ever been in a similar situation. When Wellstone's death was reported, I saw people literally crying in the offices where I worked. I didn't see any calculations about how to turn his death into political points. I didn't hear anybody making plans to con networks into covering the memorial service and therefore getting free airtime for a huge liberal campaign commercial. I saw people who wanted to remember those who had died by celebrating what they stood for. And what they stood for was unabashedly political.

The memorial wasn't exploitation. Those who put together the memorial service not only had to take time from their personal lives, they had to work through intense grief and the sheer craziness that is the last couple weeks of a political campaign. Kersten, in her column, punches every one of these people in the gut and says that they did what they did to score political points.

Kersten closes her column by saying, "In this age of frenzied partisanship, is there a space set aside for basic human decency, where politics is off-limits?" It is clear that when it comes to human decency, it is off-limits in her column.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The stadium tangle

This article in the Pioneer Press may shed some light on why Governor Pawlenty is having such a hard time of things lately. The point at which Pawlenty came out for a special session for a new stadium may be the point at which he jumped the shark, as they say. It makes absolutely no sense for a governor who is beholden to the far right in the Republican party, a person who campaigned on not raising taxes, to go out and call for a special session to raise taxes and give them to a private business.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Randy Kelly getting spanked

Checks and Balances had this yesterday, and today it's in the Pioneer Press: Randy Kelly is getting beaten like a gong by Chris Coleman. The reason? It's clearly Kelly's endorsement of Bush.

Note to Democrats: don't endorse unpopular Republican presidents if you want to win another election. This goes double if people consider you to be a jerk.

Pawlenty's feeling blue

Wow. I'm pretty surprised at this frank tone from Governor Pawlenty on MPR yesterday. I didn't hear the actual radio programme, but I did hear about it today, and all I heard was that he was pretty belligerent. I had no idea he was so down on his chances and the Republican party in general.

I don't believe all of it, though. Part of this has to be a lowering of expectations. Pawlenty is, after all, a very good politician. What he isn't so good at anymore is being likable. He used to be pretty charismatic and say all the right soundbites. But for the past couple months at least, he has lost it, instead being pretty negative when dealing with the public.

Pawlenty sure hasn't been very impressive lately.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New runway

There's a new runway at the airport, and it opened today. It will lead to more capacity at the airport, but many residents south of the airport are worried about noise.

Noise is a problem, and I think it would be fair to insulate houses affected by the new runway to the extent that other houses have been insulated. However, I think that airport insulation has gone a bit too far. Anybody who buys a house near an airport that is currently operating knows what that means. They shouldn't be able to go back afterwards and expect some kind of abatement.

I once lived less than 100 yards from a very active rail line. I knew what that meant, and it was the same as living near an airport: being unable to open the windows, having phone conversations interrupted, etc. And you know what? Not once did anybody offer to build a noise wall or do anything else to deal with the noise. Why are people who live hear airports treated so favorably?


Isn't it funny that delving through the nonsense in a Katherine Kersten column takes up far more space than the column itself? Talk about a wingnut compression algorithm!

Katherine Kersten's Korner

It's time for another Katherine Kersten's Korner! And today, finally, she doesn't disappoint. No more feel-good drivel; nope, this one is about how great things are going in Iraq, and how lefties are evil opportunists who are using the dead to advance their radical agenda. So, in other words, lots of bad craziness.

First, there's the factual problems, which around the Kersten household are called "uh ohs!" According to her, the Iraqi constitution provides for "an independent judiciary and women's equality." That's a pretty interesting interpretation of it. From what I understand of the constitution (here's as good a summary as any), the constitution holds that Islam is the official state religion, and that "No law may be enacted that 'contradicts the established provisions of Islam.'" It also guarantees the right to democracy and freedom of religious worship. Seems to be that there could be a few contradictions in terms of those clauses, don't you think?

I'm not saying that 100% of the time the people who make the laws in Iraq will come down on the side of Sharia, but given the circumstances, I'm not terribly optimistic. Some interpretations of Islamic law leave very little grey area when it comes to how to treat non-Muslims, or how women should be treated. These interpretations are not necessarily the true faith of Islam, any more than Jerry Falwell is the true version of Christianity, but what matters is who controls the power. Like I said, it seems that democracy and women's rights could very easily fall by the wayside in Iraq in the name of adhering to "Islamic law." In any case, it can hardly be argued that the constitution as it is written protects an independent judiciary and women's rights; the judiciary is explicitly not independent of Islamic law, and women's rights are tenuously protected.

Ironically, one of the great protections of women's rights is a clause that requires 25% of the national assembly to be women. That sounds like a quota to me, and I find it odd that Kersten, who I believe is against affirmative action and quotas, would see this as a good thing. Would she support a 25% quota applied to the Minnesota Legislature, the Supreme Court, or Congress? I doubt it. 25% of Minnesota's representatives in Congress aren't women; let's require it!

In other misinformation news, Kersten refers to the Daily Kos website and says that it promotes "anti-war 'media-savvy' as the key for undermining American support for the war effort." Hmm. Without a link or a cite, it's hard to tell what this means. Is this from Markos himself? One of the other front-page contributors? Or is it from some random commenter? In the latter case, would it be fair to say that some conservative blogs believe that "Hitlery" Clinton is responsible for the murders of countless Washington, DC residents because some wingnut on Little Green Footballs says so? This isn't terribly responsible.

The rest of her column recounts the story of one Val Bernat of Burnsville, who has served in Iraq. Bernat tells a positive story about Iraq, talking about an open bidding process and how a man whose son had been taken in for questioning was pleased with the respectful manner in which it had been done. And these are certainly heartwarming stories; by all means, the majority of our troops in Iraq are doing a good job and are acting as admirable ambassadors of our country and what it stands for.

However, here's something I learned when I had a job that involved dealing with the public in a very visible manner: you have to have a lot of positive experiences to outweigh just one negative one. See, here's how it works: if you have a positive experience with a police officer, salesperson, etc., you may tell one or two people, who will tell nobody else. How many times have you seen news stories about all the people who weren't beaten by cops, but instead had polite, respectful, and uneventful traffic stops? Never. If you have a bad experience, though, you will tell a dozen people, who will each tell six of their friends, on and on, until you have a great big tree of resentment. Say what you will about focusing on the negatives, that's just human reality.

So even though Bernat is acting properly, just one kickback or unfair bidding process that favors Halliburton is going to undo a hundred proper bids. Just one incident where a U.S. soldier kills the son and rapes the wife, as Saddam used to do, wipes out all the times when soldiers acted like human beings. It's impossible to completely eliminate all the bad apples, but every effort needs to be taken to reduce the number as much as possible. This hasn't been done, and it's clear that those at the top aren't interested in doing it.

Which brings us to the final point: one important thing I learned long ago in my Political Science classes at the U of M is that it doesn't matter how many people actively support a democracy. The only thing that matters is how many people are opposing it, and you don't need a huge percentage to destroy the government. Think about it: what if only 5% of Americans were so against our Constitution and our government that they would be willing to kill for it? That's almost 15 million people wreaking havoc, which would certainly put an end to this country. Even one percent, less that three million, would do it; can anybody argue that if three million people in the U.S. were going around, acting as snipers and putting IEDs on the highways, that this country would survive? The U.S. survives not because so many people support the Constitution, but because there is such a miniscule fraction of a percent that actively opposes it.

I think it's safe to say that more than one percent of the Iraqi population wants to see this country fail, and that the number could be as high as five percent. When the vast majority of people see the U.S. and other forces as an "occupying force," the reality is that they will be attacked, not by a "ruthless enemy" as Kersten puts it, but by a population that resents being occupied, like any population does. I don't know about her, but if some other country invaded and removed Bush from power "for our own good," I would fight back, no matter how much I hate our current administration. That's how people work.

Like many conservatives, Kersten continues to believe that you can export democracy by force and that the actions of a "few bad apples" just don't matter one bit, even if those bad apples are torturing people with the full support of the military hierarchy. By continuing to believe in such fallacies, she is dishonoring the memories of those 2,000+ soldiers (and far more Iraqi civilians) that have died.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Entenza announces for Attorney General

Okay, so my first rumors were a month early, but today another non-shocking announcement to go along with Hatch's earlier this week: House Minority Leader Matt Entenza is running for Attorney General.

He says he will fight for consumer protection and against oil companies and telemarketers. He will also remain as minority leader until next year, although it sounds like there is already campaigning underway to replace him. The only other person who has announced is Republican Jeff Johnson, a representative from Plymouth, which means this could be a battle of reps at the ballot box.

Both candidates are probably unknown to the majority of Minnesotans, Jeff Johnson more so because he does not have a visible position like minority leader. Assuming these people are the candidates next year, it will be an interesting race.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Road maintenance

If it's a bad idea to use property taxes to pay for road repair, what else is there? How about the never-used wheelage tax? It is a more proportional and fair tax than basing it on property values. It's not a bad idea.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Katherine Kersten has another column up today, and it is a fluff piece: it's all about a website that brings people together to share information and stories during medical crises. If you like that kind of glurge, it's perfectly acceptable; no insane commentary at all. But fear not! Sooner or later she's going to spout off something stupid, like how perjury has not been a crime since 1999, or how blind trusts are an anachronism in today's society.

Remember: I read so you don't have to.

Hatch finally in officially

Well, Hatch is officially in the governor's race. In other news, winters in Minnesota are cold.

As everybody is saying, this is Hatch's to lose, although Kelly Doran and his money will make it interesting. I don't have anything against Senators Steve Kelley or Becky Lourey, but they don't have the popularity right now. And that's fine with me.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Externalities and subsidies

At first glance, this article, about the sorry shape that many suburban roads are in and how cities are having trouble paying for repairs, may not have much to do with broader discussions of tax policy. However, this saga is a perfect illustration of the fact that license tab fees and the gas tax do not come close to paying for the full cost of cars and other vehicles, meaning that there are subsidies involved, subsidies that distort the market for vehicular transportation.

I'm sure that many people believe that every road in the state, from I-94 to their cul-de-sac, is paid for by a combination of gas taxes and license tab renewal fees. Some people may believe that the sales tax they pay on vehicle purchases is also used for road construction and maintenance. However, this not the whole story. A sidebar describes how different cities pay for repairs, and there is a wide array of funding sources, from property taxes to individual assessments on property owners to even a franchise fee on gas and electric bills. In many cases, however, property taxes are a big source of funding for the construction and maintenance of local roads.

I am not a fan of property taxes for many reasons, and this is one of them. While there are many definitions of what good tax policy means, one criteria that many people use is that a tax, or more likely a user fee, should be linked to the services and goods it is trying to provide. For example, a gas tax is used to pay for roads; thus, people who use roads more (and therefore more gas) are paying for more of the road than somebody who never drives, which most people would agree is fair to a certain degree. Using property taxes to pay for local roads goes against this theory.

To be sure, there is a benefit to having roads that all people enjoy, regardless of whether they even own a vehicle. Providing roads so that police, fire, postal workers, sanitary workers, and visitors can reach every dwelling in a city is a definite benefit provided to all people, and so there is nothing wrong with using property taxes to provide for some portion of road funding. How much is too much, though? I think that 100% funding from property taxes for road repair is excessive. Assessing property owners for repairs seems like an even less fair manner of paying, since it is hard to argue how much more of a benefit a property owner receives from a road simply because he or she has twice the frontage on a road than his or her neighbor, or, heaven help you, a corner lot (this goes for systems that assess based on the linear length of the property abutting the road).

Many people argue, such as myself, that gas taxes need to be increased to better reflect the true costs of providing roads. Some of those who argue against this view say that taxes already reflect the true cost of providing these services, denying that there are any subsidies from any other funding source. As the article demonstrates, however, this is simply not the case, and the article just talks about funding actual repair costs; the cost to the environment of providing roads and vehicles is not dealt with even in a remote manner.

Our tax system is not strictly a user-fee system, nor should it be. A progressive income tax that puts resources into community goods like education, parks and environmental protection, and even roads in some situations, is a must. This does not mean that a more direct linkage between revenue and spending for certain services like roads is not a bad thing, though. In this case, where cities are having to rely more and more on property taxes to pay for a crumbling road infrastructure during a time of cuts to Local Government Aid, increasing the gas tax or license fees to more fairly charge users for the upkeep of our roads is a good idea.

Sex in the media

This article in today's Star Tribune hits the nail on the head: the way the media portrays sex is awful. Stories about sex in the media are either about sex crimes (priests preying on children, rape, prostitution, etc.) or they are about the sex lives of the rich and famous. Almost no stories are about the norms of sexual activity, nothing about the fact that the vast majority of sexual encounters are between consenting adults as part of a healthy, mutually enjoyable relationship.

I've always thought that this society has it completely backwards: violence is so common as to be banal, while sex, any kind of sex, is completely taboo; I think we would be better served by turning things around. Sex is as natural as eating or sleeping; it's a big part of who we are, a biological imperative that simply won't go away. However, it is rare to read any matter-of-fact stories in the media that deal with health sex lives, such as articles about erotica or sexual health. Sure, the AIDS epidemic did help somewhat, but we still aren't to the point where we are dealing with this as we should. In fact, the last place I saw an article about sex that wasn't about a crime or gossip was in the Minnesota Daily, about the health issues of oral sex. It makes sense that a college paper would be dealing with these issues, but I know for a fact that people don't stop having sex once they leave college. This can't just be seen as an issue to be dealt with by the young.

Conservatives want to pretend that sex doesn't exist, so of course they will fight any attempt by the media to be more open and honest when it comes to sex. However, as I have said before, that's like refusing to talk about nutrition based on the belief that if we talk about how much fat Big Macs have, then people are going to want to go out and eat them to excess. Most people wouldn't think of being so ignorant when it comes to exercise, nutrition, sleep, and so forth, so why is sex always the exception?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Strib and Scientology

What a truly pathetic piece in the paper today entitled "Scientology: Fact or fiction?" It's not pathetic because of the subject matter (I couldn't care less about Scientology), but the way it is written.

First, the headline. With that headline, I can write a one-word article: Fiction. Scientology isn't fact. Neither is any other religion. That would hopefully be clear to educated journalists, but I guess not. It's just an awful headline. A better one would be "Scientology: what's all the hype?" At least that wouldn't be dragging religion into a philosophical field it is not designed for.

Second, the article quotes one David Touretzky, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, as to whether Scientology is a cult. He says, "We don't expect mainstream religions to lie, to exploit people, to engage in illegal activity." BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!! David, meet the Catholic Church, er, Catholic Cult. How somebody can say that with a straight face, and how the paper can let an idiotic statement like that slide, is beyond me. Unless, of course, David believes the same thing that I do: if one religion is a cult, then they all are, since every religion does the same thing to a lesser or greater degree. Of course, if he does believe that, then it's the paper's duty to inform its readers of that fact.

I like this quote from a Scientologist: "Three hundred years ago I would have been burned at the stake." What does that add to the article? Three hundred years ago, I would have been burned at the stake, and I'm not a Scientologist, I'm just agnostic. Lots of people were burned at the stake back then. So?

It then goes on to talk about the infallibility of Ron Hubbard's writings, in a slightly negative way. How is this different from those who believe the Bible is infallible, or the Qur'an? Or the space aliens. So what if part of the religion is believing in aliens? Some Muslims believe in the whole "virgins-waiting-for-you-in-heaven" thing. Some Christians believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that people really did have lifespans in the hundreds of years in the olden days. The Catholic church, where I grew up, believes that the bread and wine in Communion is literally the flesh and blood of Jesus. These beliefs aren't as crazy as aliens?

I'm not defending Scientology at all. To me, all religions are equally useful or useless. If religion helps you become a better person and gets you through the night, then it's perfectly fine. If religion makes you hateful of others and drives you to hurt or kill them, then that's no good. Scientology can do either of these things, just like any other religion. But to me, it's no different from any other religion, and should be treated equally. I doubt that next week we will see an article entitled "Christianity: Fact or fiction?" in the Star Tribune, because the publisher would probably be burned in effigy. However, to be fair, that's what they should do if they are going to address Scientology or another religion in this way.

Cashier's check or wire transfer?

Here's what this blog is apparently worth:

My blog is worth $18,065.28.
How much is your blog worth?

I'd like that in cash, please.

Site redesign

I changed the site. I like it better this way. Not surprising, since I changed it, after all.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

More shame in Minnesota

Americablog has been covering this story about how Target, a Minnesota company, is perfectly okay with its employees refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception. See, in the eyes of Target, an employee's ability to pass judgment on a customer far outweighs the rights of people to have private lives.

When does this stop? Would it be okay for a cashier to refuse to sell a person condoms if that person did not have a wedding ring? You know, sex outside of marriage and all. And I know that Target sells back massagers that can be used for, um, other purposes. How about that?

Americablog's latest post is about how Target's CEO, Robert Ulrich, has donated a lot of money to Republicans, and almost nothing to Democrats. Pretty surprising, huh?

Katherine Kersten's Korner

Since I detest her so much, here's a new feature at the Minnesota Politics blog: Katherine Kersten's Korner. I'm going to be reading every column of hers so you don't have to, and trying to right her more obvious wrongs. I know, I know.

Today's column isn't necessarily a good one to start with, since it's not bad. Since I know combinatorial mathematics, I'm not tempted to waste money on the lottery. It's also not a huge news flash that winning the lottery doesn't affect your long-term happiness. I guess that means I won't be trying those wang-enhancing herbal products I see advertised in my e-mail either.

Stay tuned. She's sure to say something ridiculous.


The Coburn Amendment was just voted down in the Senate. For those who don't know what it is, the amendment would have taken the money for pure pork projects in Alaska, like the "Bridge to Nowhere," and applied it to New Orleans reconstruction. The shame is that neither Dayton nor Coleman voted for the amendment. I'm not surprised that Coleman didn't, but Dayton? Come on.

I'm sick and tired of pork. If this vote would have jeopardized every single earmark in Minnesota, so be it. The fact that only 15% of the entire U.S. Senate is unwilling to put the needs of the country at large above the needs to whore for votes in their home states is disgusting. This is not a proud day to be an American.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Get Yer Taxes

Not really Minnesota-related, but I love tax policy, and that means I am very interested in the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform and their recommendations. What is super cool is that Kevin Drum over at The Washington Monthly has put together a handy chart with some of the recommendations. He's done all the hard work of amalgamating the data; I'll just add my opinions.

Abolish the Alternative Minimum Tax: I don't necessarily think this is a good idea. The AMT was created to ensure that high-wealth taxpayers don't deduct everything and end up paying no income taxes. The current AMT, which is ensnaring more and more middle-class taxpayers, definitely needs to be fixed. But there still needs to be some kind of mechanism that ensures that wealthy people pay their fair share of taxes, and don't use tax shelters and other gimmicks not available to the middle class to avoid paying.

Reduce six tax brackets to four, up the bottom rate from 10 to 15 percent, and drop the top rate from 35 to 33 percent: well, that's a tough one. Many tax brackets per se aren't bad for the tax code; calculating the amount you owe based on the tax brackets is not difficult. Is this revenue-neutral? Will this make the overall tax system more progressive or regressive? These are important questions.

Eliminate taxes on dividends and part of stock capital gains, or tax investment income at 15 percent: this is clearly an attempt to put into law the belief held by many conservatives that only wage income should be taxed, not investment income. Since the vast majority of people in this country get their money from wages, not investments, this isn't going to help the middle class. Seems to just be a giveaway to the rich. I would like to hear good reasons why these should be implemented, aside from the usual "double-taxation) nonsense.

Eliminate the home mortgage deduction: I am all for this, as I have explained before. Yes, this may have a huge impact on the housing market, but I see this as a necessary bit of turmoil that occurs when you take away artificial incentives from a market. The same thing would happen if the U.S. eliminated agricultural subsidies, something else I would like to see. Instead of a home mortgage interest deduction, programs that target low-income or first-time homebuyers would be far more effective and fair if the goal is to encourage home ownership and bring stability to communities.

Increase the capital gains exclusion for home sales to $600,000 and index for inflation: meh. I don't like such a high exclusion, but since a huge chunk of the middle class does own a home, this isn't as much of a giveaway to the rich as the investment income changes above would be. But what about people who don't own a home? Couldn't they exclude capital gains from other sources in the interest of fairness? I'm not sure. This is a tough one.

No deductions for state and local taxes: as far as I know, these deductions are only available if you itemize. Since most people don't, this wouldn't hurt a whole lot of people. I'm unsure what the rationale is behind this aside from merely simplifying the tax code, but that may be enough of a reason.

Eliminate the marriage penalty by doubling the worth of tax breaks compared to individual taxpayers: once upon a time, I believed that the so-called "marriage penalty" was fair. Now I don't. Simply doubling amounts for married couples is simple and it makes the most sense. What about head of household status? Beats me.

Treat part of employer-paid health insurance premiums as income: wow, talk about a way to hose people. It's bad enough that premiums are going up by double digits a year, that copays are increasing drastically, and that the quality of health care isn't improving. Now, employers are going to have to pay more in taxes just because health insurance premiums are increasing? Explain to me how this will motivate the government to keep down health care costs. The kind of nonsense people come up with to deal with the accounting of health care is simply an argument for national health care.

Replace Earned Income Tax Credit with a work credit: it's hard to say what the difference will be without seeing a plan, as Kevin points out. Giving people the opportunity to let the IRS calculate it would probably help low-income people who don't have the resources to complete tax forms that other people have.

Deductibility of charitable contributions exceeding 1% of income: another meh. I don't like adding another deduction when we are supposed to be simplifying the tax code, though.

Personal exemptions, deductions, and credits are eliminated and replaced by simple credits: here, again, I would like to see how this affects real tax rates. Along with the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit is up there with things I hate.

Replace multiple retirement savings accounts with two simpler accounts: Save at Work and Save for Retirement: holy crap, they've stolen my idea! Okay, okay, I'm not the only one to think of this, but still, the similarity is uncanny, and it's frankly about time that somebody put an idea like this forward to deal with all the retirement account options we currently have. True, I called the accounts tax-deferred and tax-exempt instead of Save at Work and Save at Retirement, but they work the same: one account is funded pre-tax and taxed at withdrawal, the other account is funded after-tax and not taxed in the future. A resounding agreement here. I want co-author acknowledgment!

Education, health, and savings tax breaks are replaced with a Save for Family account: not too happy about this one. Would this actually simplify the tax code? I'm not sure. In addition, a lot of middle-class taxpayers who can't save for college beforehand currently enjoy tax breaks like the Hope credit; switching to this system probably wouldn't cause a whole lot of people to start saving money beforehand, but it would harm a lot of people. I'm not sold on this idea.

Well. That was kind of fun. All in all, these ideas are clearly tilted towards the rich, which is to be expected given the current political climate. There are a couple of good ideas in there, though.

Unemployment up

The state's unemployment rate has increased. Most of the increase is probably due to Northwest's problems, but not all of it.

Especially interesting is the comparison between the types of jobs lost and gained. Government lost 3,900 jobs, while the leisure and hospitality industry gained the same amount. Thus, high-wage jobs with benefits were replaced by far lower-wage jobs with little or no benefits.

Although this news isn't cause for alarm, anytime jobs disappear it isn't good. Hopefully, this will turn around soon.

Go ahead. Make my day.

So the Twins are suing to get out of their Metrodome lease. However, this isn't the first step in moving the team, according to Twins attorney Roger Magnuson. Right. Just like pulling a gun out of a holster isn't the first step in blowing you away. It's just, uh, "precautionary."

I like the Twins. I wish they played outside. However, I am not willing to put public money up for a stadium with no return. If the Twins want the state, Hennepin County, Minneapolis, a local sewer and water district, or any other level of government to pay for half or two-thirds of the stadium, then the government should get half or two-thirds of the revenue. We're not suckers, even if we like the Twins.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Clenis

I am shocked, shocked, that Katherine Kersten does not blame the Vikings woes on Bill Clinton. She writes an entire column about how the Vikings sex party is evidence of society's sexual decadence and deviance, and not once does she mention the Clenis. Like I said, I am shocked.

I'm sure the urge was almost unbearable. An angry, rotund, balding devil sat on her shoulder, poking her with a pitchfork and yelling "Blue Dress! Cigars! Blowjobs!" in her ear, but she held firm (unlike the flaccid hillbilly-heroin addicted devil, but I digress) and did not give in. Instead, she talks about "Sex in the City" and how so many 18- to 24-year old males download porn that only the kinkiest of perversions can get them off (but I think it's unfair to taint all men simply because she spends too much time talking to the Virgin Ben).

Could this be a new era of restraint on the part of conservative commenters? You know, I doubt it.

Friday, October 14, 2005


This has to be the best cartoon about the Vikings that I have seen, and one of the funniest period.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Parental notification

A judge has ruled that Planned Parenthood broke the law in performing an abortion for somebody who was 17 years old. They will appeal.

I don't necessarily like parental notification laws, but I have come to grudgingly accept that if a school can't give aspirin to a teen without parental approval, there has to be some kind of notification. There must always be a way around it, however, by going to a judge. Nothing pisses me off more than hearing some self-righteous ass say that what girls should really be doing is keeping their legs together, and it's their own fault for getting pregnant. Tell that to a girl who was raped and impregnated by her stepfather.

More goodness to go around

Mesaba files for bankruptcy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

That's it

Comment spam is out of control. Over 200 comments in a span of a few days. I've turned word verification on to try and put a stop to this. Sorry.

Hey Spambots! This blog doesn't get enough traffic to warrant spam. Go bug somebody else.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

As the session turns

Although nationally the Republican party seems hell-bent on destroying itself, here in Minnesota, Republicans seem to be less likely to follow the other lemmings over the cliff. House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen has said that his members aren't very interested in a fall special session for stadiums, making it much less likely that it will happen.

Not bad thinking: when the state looks to be getting back on its feet, it's probably not a good idea to immediately spend hundreds of millions on new stadia when there are people without health insurance, schools without teachers, and roads full of congestion and potholes.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Screw blogger

I just had a huge post on tax credits that was destroyed by blogger's spellchecker. Thanks, useless "recover post" option!

Bottom line: Mortgage interest deductions and the child tax credit suck.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Southwest sure is uptight

Come on, this person's shirt was no worse than the language our own governor uses.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Could it happen?

The governor and legislative leaders met this afternoon, and a special session may be a bit more likely. But it's still a stupid idea.

A Gophers stadium is the only thing that would be on the agenda of the one-day session. It's not like I don't want a new Gophers stadium; of all the stadia ideas out there, this one is best. The Gophers won't move out of state, and it would be nice to have football on campus again. I went to a Big Ten school with a real football stadium on campus, and it makes a difference.

But there are no guarantees during a special session. Any legislator can put forward any bill or any amendment to a Gophers stadium. They can stay longer than a day. They can take per diem money. They can do whatever they want, because once the governor calls a special session, only the legislature can end it.

A Gophers stadium would be nice, but it's not necessary to call a special session for it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Wow! It looks like Pawlenty's Chinese buffet idea for a special session may not be as appetizing as thought. I'm flabbergasted.

I'm generally not a fan of Pawlenty, but even this seems to be incredibly stupid for him. Did he or his staff honestly think this idea would come off well?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Early Senate polling

Via Kos, here's some early Zogby polling data on the big Minnesota races (real article is here at the Wall Street Journal).

According to the poll, Hatch is up over Pawlenty by a few points, and Amy Klobuchar is up over Kennedy by six. It's early, but Democrats won't be able to find much fault with those numbers.

I take the Zogby Interactive poll all the time; I assume this is where the data is coming from.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


It's about time the Star Tribune acknowledged His Noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.