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October 4th, 2004:

The bulb goes on

How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?

None. “There’s nothing wrong with that light bulb. It has served us honorably. When you say it’s burned out, you’re giving encouragement to the forces of darkness. Once we install a light bulb, we never, ever change it. Real men don’t need artificial light.”

More light bulb humor here. Someone should alert Ted Barlow.

UPDATE: The normally-more-respectable-than-that Nick Confessore jumps in.

Hubener and Miller

Katy Hubener will be in Austin tonight for a fundraiser. I’m just going to crib from Byron here:

Help take back the Texas House! Do your part to meet a rising star in the Texas Democratic party:

KATY HUBENER, Candidate for Texas House of Representatives, District 106 (Grand Prairie and Irving in the DFW area).

Katy Hubener is one of the best state house Democratic pick-up opportunities. She has been featured as by Howard Dean as a Dean dozen candidate, and has been featured by Texas Tuesdays and has received strong backing from Annie’s List (the Texas version of EMILY’s list supporting pro-choice female Democratic candidates).

TODAY, MONDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2004
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
HOSTED BY NANCY HOFFMAN AND LINDA LEFF
6311 MESA DRIVE – AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731
For more info, Email: [email protected] or CALL 512-346-1826 or check out her webpage.

How Hubener does will be both a test of the hypothesis that Dallas County is trending Democratic as well as a driver of that hypothesis. Same thing for Harriet Miller, a rare Dallas Morning News-endorsed Democrat. Check them out.

A few random thoughts about the baseball playoffs

What can you say about the Astros? They won 36 of their last 46 games, which is just outrageous. They also owe some thanks to the Cubs. Check the standings in today’s paper. Over the last 10 games, the Stros, who finished 3 games ahead of the Cubs, went 9-1. Dusty Baker’s crew went 3-7, meaning they went from 3 up to 3 down in ten games. Ouch.

(The question needs to be asked, now that the Phillies have finally fired Larry Bowa: When will the Cubs realize that Dusty Baker needs to be fired? The Baseball Prospectus guys found evidence to suggest that he got more than expected out of his teams in San Francisco, but he’s done the opposite at Wrigley. Cub fans really ought to be incensed at how this season ended.)

Tom notes how the Stros have done under their last three managers. I didn’t think much of Phil Garner coming in, but give credit where it’s due. Until further notice, he’s more than earned the job.

Can they finally win a playoff series? A coworker of mine just asked me if I was going to root for the Braves, since cheering for the Stros in the postseason never works. A little reverse psychology never hurts, I guess.

Of course, all I really care about is the Yankees. Anyone who placed a bet at the beginning of the season on Jon Lieber being their Game 2 starter, please forward me all of your lottery number selections for the next decade. What more can I say?

On to the next debate

So Kerry appears to have won the post-debate spin as well as the debate, and it’s showing in the polls. Of course, as Steve Casburn reminds us, Walter Mondale did pretty well in the first debate of 1984, too, so this is no time to relax. With Johnny Sunshine going against Dick Effing Cheney tomorrow and Bush-Kerry II – Electric Boogaloo later on, I expect to exhale again sometime around Saturday.

You want to know why exactly Kerry kicked Bush’s tuchus in the first debate? Check out this DCCC video and see.

DeLay slinks in

This is hilarious: Tom DeLay was scheduled to be in Austin at 11 AM today for a fundraiser for his own campaign. Democrats were going to greet him with a protest outside the venue. Apparently, the thought of that so spooked him that he rescheduled the event for 8 AM instead, and snuck in and out unprotested. I’ve reproduced an email from Capitol Inside with the details beneath the More link, along with a statement from State Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting, but I’ve got to hand it to the guy. You’d think it’d be impossible for him to go anywhere unnoticed with all of the thunderclouds, swarms of bats, and “Toccata and Fugue” music following him around, but he managed to pull it off. That’s pretty impressive skulduggery in my book.

(Thanks to Matt and to HellieMae for forwarding the Capitol Inside email, and to Kelly for the Soechting email.)

UPDATE: The Express-News picks up the story.

(more…)

Voter reg deadline

The bad news: Today is the deadline to register to vote for the 2004 election in the state of Texas. If you are still unregistered, you pretty much need to haul ass to a County Clerk or Tax Assessor office, or hope to run into a Voter Reg drive somewhere (such as the HCDP Sharpstown Mall office, which will continue running full steam through the last hour today), or else you’ll be left out.

The good news: Today is the last day you’ll hear me nag you about registering to vote.

The other bad news: After today, I’ll start nagging you about early voting and getting out the vote.

The other good news: Only 29 days left of that nagging.

Per mile instead of per gallon

As a mass-transit-loving, short-commute-driving liberal, I can certainly get behind proposals like this. I just have a hard time believing they’ll ever see the light of day around here.

Texas is among a group of states researching how to replace the fuel tax with a fee based on the number of miles traveled — making every road a virtual tollway. Transportation officials from across the world discussed the concept here at last month’s annual meetings of the trade groups representing the highway and tollway industries.

Fees for miles traveled would be measured by Global Positioning System receivers embedded in vehicles. The system would track which roads a motorist uses so the virtual tolls could be distributed to the appropriate agency.

Each jurisdiction could set its own per-mile fee. Data would be downloaded from vehicles monthly for billing, or could be transmitted at service stations in lieu of the gas tax.

I don’t know about you, but I can already hear the black-helicopter crowd polishing their tinfoil hats at the prospect of government-embedded GPSes in their cars. Hell, I’m a bit squeamish about it myself.

Researchers love the idea that driving taxes could be adjusted to promote or discourage certain actions. The system could charge more per mile during peak hours, for instance, or add a surcharge for heavy trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Those promoting a mileage-based approach to highway taxes contend driving should be metered and billed according to use.

“Why shouldn’t transportation be seen as a utility like electricity, water, etc.?” Hal Worrall, a consultant for Transportation Innovations Inc., asked during a panel at the International Bridge, Tunnel and Toll Road Association conference. “It’s perceived as free in America and thus produces a large demand.”

David Forkenbrock, director of the University of Iowa Public Policy Center, has been working on a model for four years. His research is funded by 15 states, including Texas, and the Federal Highway Administration.

As more hybrid and alternative-power vehicles are built, Forkenbrock said, gas-tax collections will suffer.

“A tax at the point of purchase is inferior to user charges at the exact point of travel,” he said, explaining the growth of toll roads in recent years.

Squeamishness aside, this all makes sense to me. Why not make road users pay on a per-mile rather than a per-gallon-of-gas basis? If we can see – as we surely must have with the sales tax – that future trends will cause the revenues derived from that tax to go down, why not take steps now to correct for that so that we don’t face a crisis down the line? Again, I don’t think the political will exists to act on any of this, and there may well be valid objections that I haven’t thought of in my exhaustive thirty-second contemplation of the matter, but I don’t see how it hurts to talk about it.

UPDATE: Lots of good comments here, and also by Atrios. The privacy concerns are certainly valid (and I figure they’re a dealbreaker even before we get to questions of efficacy), as are concerns that any such technology could be defeated. I’m surprised that no one has brought up the example of London, where drivers are charged differing amounts depending on when and where they drive. They’ve managed to do that without forcing a new device into cars there as well.

It’s not clear to me that this is a loser from a conservation perspective. It seems to me that one intended effect of a miles-driven tax would be to encourage people to live closer to where they work and play. I’ve got coworkers who have 100-mile round trip commutes. I don’t care what car they drive, they’re using a lot of gasoline. If a mileage tax could be graded in the way that (say) home electricity usage is, so that you pay a higher amount the more you travel per day, this would be an improvement from a revenue-collection and public-policy perspective over a gas tax.

The devil’s in the details. That’s why I think it’s great to talk about stuff like this.

UPDATE: blogHouston notes that many of us already have GPS tracking devices in our cars – they’re called EZPass tags.

UPDATE: Sorry, London’s system does involve adding RFID tags to existing cars (thanks to Charles E in the comments). Still, it’s a useful real-world example.