The 2008 Local Primaries

The Massachusetts primaries are on Tuesday.

The Working Families, Green-Rainbow, and Republican parties all have uncontested (or null-candidate) primaries this year. So the Democrats are the only ones to choose between, and only three of the races in my town are contested:

Federal Senator

I’d recommend Kerry, but I’m still considering voting for O’Reilly. Which sounds silly now that I see it in type. They seem to have identical progressive platforms. Kerry is the safe pick; he hasn’t pissed me off, and he’s a good, powerful senator.

O’Reilly makes a lot of hay about Kerry’s Iraq vote, which is fair. O’Reilly seems a little green — I would have preferred to see a challenger maybe from the House. But it pleases me to vote anti-incumbant, and I may yet do so. You can see their debate on Youtube.

Councillor from 6th District

Governor’s Councillors largely vote to approve or reject judicial nominations by the govenor. Last time we voted on this, I recommended the incumbant, Callahan, and I still do. His opponent, Trionfi-Mazzuchelli feels he’s too judge-cozy and wants to term-limit judges. I’m not a big fan of term limits, so I’m sticking with Callahan.

State Senator

This race got more interesting recently, with the drop-out of the incumbant Marzilli due to his lady troubles. That leaves Hurd and Donnelly. Like Kerry and O’Reilly, it seems these guys agree on all the main issues. Hurd seems more prepared and has more detailed policy proposals. In particular with regard to public transportation. Plus, he runs his site on WordPress, which can’t be a bad sign. So I’d give the nod to Hurd.

Picking between Massachusetts Democrats is boring.

MA Ballot Question: Tax Repeal

One of the questions on the ballot for 2008 in Massachusetts is a question to repeal the state income tax. I think a lot of people have gut reactions to such a thing, but I’m still undecided.

There’s the standard arguments — big government vs little government. Some people will approach the ballot with certain biases. But above and beyond that, there are unique issues with the income tax. There are a couple reasons why the state income tax is no great shakes:

  • Income tax requires massive privacy loss. Income tax requires an exhaustive accounting of your personal life. It allows the state to make what you do for a living, who you live with, and how much money you earn its business.
  • Processing is inefficienct. The bureaucracy involved is staggering. The processing of the complicated forms costs money. The IRS budget last year was $11 billion. The sheer complexity of even filling out the forms means that you’re bound to do it wrong and under- or over-pay. Of course, this downside could be alleviated with a much simpler tax code, like the FairTax.

And a couple reasons why, in my mind, this ballot question is not a great idea:

  • The state is not the enemy. MA state income tax is paltry compared to the federal government. MA takes roughly 5% I think. The fed takes roughly 25%. And what the state does take goes to much more useful things than the federal government. It goes to pay for roads you use, schools you attend, communities you live in. The federal money goes towards wars in the Middle East and Big Oil (as well as some useful stuff, but a much smaller percentage).
  • This particular plan is not gradual. I would have liked to see this ballot provide an alternative funding source (raising gas tax or sales tax) or gradually reduce the income tax. Massachusetts’s credit rating will sink and projects will be dropped midway through (or we’d just go into crushing debt).

I’m certain there are points I’m not thinking of. The libertarian in me really wants to vote for it, but I’m not certain it is the wisest course.

Jefferson and States’ Rights

Thomas Jefferson is famous for advocating an armed rebellion every twenty years:

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if it’s rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

He also stated that the constitution should be remade every 19 years, 19 years being about a generation. The idea was that each generation should renew the social contract that the constition represented.

I am sympathetic to that view, but I’m not sure I can jump on board with such frequent bloody revolutions. The most obvious alternative in the face of social discontentment is to move to a country with a social contract (constitution, laws, and culture) more in line with your beliefs.

But it puts me in mind of states’ rights. With a weaker federal government and stronger state governments, each state represents a different social contract. It is relatively easy to move between states, so a liquid populace can flow to wherever they are most comfortable.

In this way, islands of people of like mind can develop. Which is not far from what we have today, viewed through the narrow lens of our two-party system with red states and blue states. The red/blue tension wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the federal stage and the desire of each camp to remake the federal government in its image.

Barring that tendency, I think the fragmentation of the American political landscape is not such a terrible thing. I’d rather have a much weaker, less invasive federal government so that states can diverge futher to support more yet forms of social contracts.

Ron Paul and War

So I’m a fan of Ron Paul‘s current bid for the Republican presidential nomination. For those that aren’t familiar, he’s a candidate from the more Libertarian side of the Republican party.

I think he’s largely considered a long shot, but in debates I’ve seen, he comes across as one of the more put-together candidates. His positions are often radical compared to the others, but they are thankfully not grounded in the warped logic, hollow sentiments, and obfuscation that occupy the Republican political landscape under Bush.

Paul self-identifies as a constitutionalist. Which is a breath of fresh air after the avidly anti-consititutionalism of Bush.

One quote from an appearance at Google (about 41:30 in) was interesting. After being asked about how he would handle defending other nations like Taiwan from attack, he said, first, that he would be in general against such wars of assistance, but then said something very interesting:

If Taiwan is attacked, the American Congress should deal with that. It shouldn’t be, “What are you going to do about Taiwan?” I shouldn’t even be asked that. It should be, “What does the American people want?”

That is an answer worthy of applause. What did ever happen to a small executive branch and Congress having the power of declaration of war? I almost forgot they existed.

Safe Haven Law

safe haven sign

The Massachusetts Safe Haven law is an interesting law I did not know about. It allows a parent to leave a newborn baby at a fire station, police station, or hospital for foster care without fear of abandonment charges.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, as a matter of public policy. I guess it’s better to give parents choices besides straight up abandonment/murder.

I wonder what happens if one parent gives up the child, but the other parent doesn’t know about it. Baby donations are allowed to be anonymous.

Political Literacy

Dick Cheney

Wired‘s latest Infoporn makes me very sad. A lot of it is not very surprising.

However, the comparison to survey respondents in 1989 was shocking not for the decreases or increases, but for the absolute numbers themselves.

Only 69% polled could name the Vice President? What the hell!? What piece of culture do you occupy where you can’t name Dick Cheney?

It’s not like he’s been a quiet veep either. Dude shoots people in their face, continues to hawkishly advocate preemptive wars, and is generally acknowledged to be the creepy man behind the curtain of this administration.

Not knowing his name doesn’t merely mean that you reside in some obscure fold of our politics, it indicates that you live outside of the political system entirely.

How do politicians engage a public so ignorant of the national stage? How can we even have debate about political issues of the day when 31% of the public has no context for the debate? It’s downright depressing. It’s easy to forget how much of political punditry is navel-gazing.

An Optional Tax

a tax form

I did my taxes today. At the end of the state tax section, I noticed a checkbox for “I elect to pay the higher (5.85%) optional tax rate.” (Versus the current rate of 5.3%.) What the hell?

Turns out that some “anti-tax group” [1] had that added. I’m not sure why. In a recent year, exactly 624 people took advantage of the higher rate.

I don’t know what they were thinking. Why would you pay this higher rate? It is entirely optional. There’s no reward for doing so. Why would an anti-tax group even want to put it on the forms?

Guh, Leave Iran Alone

Iraq to Iran

This administration is making me more and more nervous about Iran. After being repeatedly asked “Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran, in the absence of a direct threat, without congressional approval?”, they continue to stonewall.

We’re deploying a second carrier group to the Persian Gulf right outside of their house, and the White House’s response is “I don’t believe it’s their backyard. I believe it is the ocean that also encompasses a whole series of other nations.” Oh, OK. I guess it’s not a show of force.

They keep drumming up rhetoric about their nuclear plans just like they did with Iraq, though the best non-US intelligence points to it being rather crude and years away from something dangerous, assuming they don’t just want nuclear power plants like everyone else gets.

The IAEA keeps saying that all this grandstanding and sanctions are making it harder to monitor them and keep them on the safe path. Rather, we’re forcing them to take a more extreme position.

I miss when we had diplomats.

RecycleBank May Come to Boston

empty recycle bins on the street

The Thursday Metro had an article about Boston mulling a rewards program for recycling. This company RecycleBank hands out special bins, records how much you recycle, and gives you special points redeemable at supporting retailers.

It’s a neat idea, and I hope it goes through. More particularly, I hope Somerville also decides to use the program (they’re stated as also considering it). My favorite part of the program is that you don’t need to sort your recyclables. You just put them all in the bin, and RecycleBank takes care of it. I think sorting is an extra barrier to recycling that can make it that much more difficult than just throwing something in the trash. Plus, you don’t need as much space in your house for the recyling bins.

Even better than RecycleBank’s program, I’ve heard of cities that rather than paying you to recycle, force you to pay to not recycle. That is, they won’t collect a trash bag unless it has a special sticker for which you have to pay the city. Like trash stamps.

I like it better because it forces people to reconsider how much waste they generate, while simultaneously creating a source of income for the city.