Monthly Archives: October 2007

That Hillary vs. Ron Paul Rasmussen Poll: What Does It Mean ?

There’s been much blogosphere commentary on an article earlier this week from Rasmussen Reports showing that Hillary Clinton only leads Ron Paul by ten percentage points in the most recent, and first to my knowledge, head-to-head matchup poll between them.

Rasmussen contends that the poll says more about Clinton than it does about Paul:

First, because just about everyone in the United States has an opinion of Hillary Clinton. She has been a major player on the national and international stage for 15 years. Half the country has a favorable opinion of her and half holds the opposite view, but all have an opinion. Our most recent survey results show that nearly 60% of voters have a strongly held opinion about the New York Senator and former First Lady.

As for Ron Paul, 42% don’t know enough about him to have an opinion one way or the other. He’s one of 435 Congressman whose life is way below the radar screen for most Americans. Still, his presence in the GOP Presidential Debates has raised his profile a bit–26% now offer a favorable opinion and 32% say the opposite. But, only 16% have a strongly held opinion about Paul (7% Very Favorable, 9% Very Unfavorable).

A look at the crosstabs demonstrates that it is attitudes towards Clinton that are driving the numbers in this polling match-up. Among all voters, Clinton attracts 48% support. Among the voters who have never heard of Ron Paul or don’t know enough to have an opinion, guess what. Clinton attracts the exact same total–48% of the vote. So whether or not people have heard of Ron Paul as the challenger, support for Clinton doesn’t change.

Among the 51% who have heard of Ron Paul but don’t have a Very Favorable opinion of him, Clinton attracts 49% of the vote.

The only noticeable difference to be found is among that very small slice of the electorate that has a Very Favorable opinion of Paul. Seven percent (7%) of the nation’s voters fit this description and they prefer the Texas Congressman over the Democratic frontrunner by a 70% to 27% margin.

Interestingly, Clinton’s numbers against Paul aren’t all that different from the numbers she gets against any of the other Republican candidates. But that isn’t all that surprising considering that we’re still at an early point in the race, especially when it comes to talking about head-to-head matchups. Of all the Presidential candidates on either side of aisle, Clinton comes into the race with the most baggage and the highest negatives. So, when you put her up against a generic Republican, there’s going to be a certain number of people who are going to pick the other guy.

But that doesn’t mean much of anything at this point in the race, and, contrary to what some Paul supporters might think, it doesn’t mean that he has any better of a chance to beat her than any of the other Republican candidates, or any chance at all (take note — I don’t think any Republican is going to be able to win in 2008, so who ends up at the top of the ticket in `08 almost doesn’t matter).

So, for you Hillary-haters out there, of which I am proudly one, this isn’t time to start celebrating. That may not come until January 20, 2017.

The Grinch Who Taxed Halloween

So is that pumpkin you bought over the weekend something you intend to eat, or is it just a decoration.

If you live in Iowa, it apparently makes a difference:

The Iowa Department of Revenue is taxing jack-o’-lanterns this Halloween. The new department policy was implemented after officials decided that pumpkins are used primarily for Halloween decorations, not food, and should be taxed, said Renee Mulvey, the department’s spokeswoman.

“We made the change because we wanted the sales tax law to match what we thought the predominant use was,” Mulvey said. “We thought the predominant use was for decorations or jack-o’-lanterns.”

Previously, pumpkins had been considered an edible squash and exempted from the tax. The department ruled this year that pumpkins are taxable — with some exceptions — if they are advertised for use as jack-‘o-lanterns or decorations.

Iowans planning to eat pumpkins can still get a tax exemption if they fill out a form.

The new policy, published in the department’s September newsletter, has some pumpkin farmers feeling tricked this Halloween.

“I don’t mind paying taxes, but let’s get real here, people,” said Bob Kautz, owner of the Buffalo Pumpkin Patch in Buffalo, about eight miles west of Davenport.

Kautz, who has owned his farm for seven years, was particularly dismayed with the notion of requiring customers to fill out a form verifying that they planned to eat the pumpkins they were buying.

“It’s another crazy, crazy, stupid thing,” he said.

Isn’t that what the state specializes in, the crazy and the stupid ?

A Strange Bit Of Historical Revisionism

An article at The Volokh Conspiracy pointed me to a month-old profile of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and, in particular, his role in one of most pivotal events of the Second World War:

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1941, Stevens enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 6, 1941, hours before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He later won a bronze star for his service as a cryptographer, after he helped break the code that informed American officials that Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Japanese Navy and architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, was about to travel to the front. Based on the code-breaking of Stevens and others, U.S. pilots, on Roosevelt’s orders, shot down Yamamoto’s plane in April 1943.

Stevens told me he was troubled by the fact that Yamamoto, a highly intelligent officer who had lived in the United States and become friends with American officers, was shot down with so little apparent deliberation or humanitarian consideration. The experience, he said, raised questions in his mind about the fairness of the death penalty. “I was on the desk, on watch, when I got word that they had shot down Yamamoto in the Solomon Islands, and I remember thinking: This is a particular individual they went out to intercept,” he said. “There is a very different notion when you’re thinking about killing an individual, as opposed to killing a soldier in the line of fire.” Stevens said that, partly as a result of his World War II experience, he has tried on the court to narrow the category of offenders who are eligible for the death penalty and to ensure that it is imposed fairly and accurately. He has been the most outspoken critic of the death penalty on the current court.

A few thoughts.

First of all, while I can’t read Justice Stevens’ mind, either now or back in 1945, I somehow doubt that he was as morally conflicted over the death of the man who planned and executed the attack on Pearl Harbor as he now claims to be. Agree with him or not, he’s become a staunch death penalty opponent on the bench over the years, and I can’t help but think that his opinions today have an influence over his judgment of his own actions, and the actions of others, in the heat of war.

Second, there is no comparison between the death of Yamamoto and the death penalty in the context of a criminal case. Yamamoto was, at the time of his death in 1943, the Commander of the entire Japanese Navy and, by all accounts, one of it’s most brilliant strategists. He planned an executed an attack that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans. And, more importantly, he was a soldier in the middle of a total war in which victory was the only option. His removal from the playing field, whether by capture or death, would have dealt a significant blow to Japan, shortened the war, and saved the lives of American and Japanese soldiers, and, in retrospect, it clearly did. Therefore, he was an acceptable target in a military sense and his death is in no way comparable the the death of a murderer in a criminal case.

Moreover, as Volokh points out, the moral case for killing a commander in the course of war is so clear from a moral perspective (unless, of course, you’re a pacifist) that if the same were were from the death penalty it would make executing criminals a moral imperative:

[I]f Yamamoto’s killing were analogous to the death penalty, then the death penalty should be acclaimed as a high moral imperative: Rather than wondering whether the death penalty saves innocent lives, we’d be nearly sure of it. Rather than wondering whether there are less lethal alternatives that would protect society, we’d know that other alternatives would be vastly less reliable and more dangerous. Rather than wondering whether the target is innocent, we’d be sure that killing him is entirely morally proper. I generally support the death penalty, but I do see strong arguments against it — arguments that flow precisely from the fact that the death penalty is extraordinarily unlike the targeted killing of Yamamoto.

Rather than agonizing over his role in this pivotal event in history, Stevens should be proud of it. As for the death penalty, he may be right that there are arguments against it, frankly I think that he is, but you don’t need to reach back to the Second World War to find them.

From Taxicab Freedom In Minneapolis To Central Planning In NYC

Earlier, Doug posted a story about an expansion of freedom in the taxicab market in Minneapolis. It seems that someone finally asked why it was necessary to set an arbitrary limit on the number of cabs operating in the city, and that someone was able to muster enough power to end the restriction.

Perhaps NYC might take it as a suggestion. NYC, of course, is one of the most restrictive taxi markets in the country. Virtually every portion of the taxicab business is regulated. The number of taxi “medallions” is limited to roughly 13,000, generating a competitive market where the cost of said medallion on the secondary market is into six figures. Of course, artificial scarcity is known to rise prices, so fares are also tightly regulated, to ensure that drivers cannot take advantage of the limit by raising rates. And on top of that, there are a host of other regulations on their operation, to the extent that taxi drivers in New York have very little control over how they execute their job. As with most regulations, it doesn’t really benefit the consumer, and often does not benefit the drivers, but is a big boon to the regulators and to the taxi companies who own the medallions.

So is NYC looking at reducing the restrictions, like Minneapolis? No! In fact, they recently decided to add another little wrinkle. Each cab will need to be outfitted with an information terminal with such features as GPS, credit-card services, and perhaps other services such as news, video, advertisement, and information on local attractions.

I can tell you, as someone who is familiar with these terminals, they’re not cheap. Even outside of the normal cost of installing the terminals, there are maintenance and replacement costs. The terminals have an LCD with touchscreen, and I’m sure the number of drunk and/or unruly passengers who put a fist or foot through the screen will make the total cost of ownership quite high on the cab owners. On top of those concerns, each transaction using a credit card will include a service charge to the company handling the transaction. Who will pick up all these costs? Well, the cabs cannot raise their rates, so the passengers won’t cover it. And the city certainly isn’t footing the bill. So who gets it? The cabbies themselves, of course! And let me tell you, they’re understandably not happy about it:

Taxi drivers angry about a new rule requiring the installation of global positioning systems and credit card machines in cabs are planning a second one-day strike in six weeks on Monday.

The city was preparing for the strike by the Taxi Workers Alliance by instituting a contingency plan that lets drivers pick up multiple passengers and charge zone-based fares.

The touch-screen monitors, which are being phased in as yellow cabs come up for inspection, let passengers pay by credit card, check on news stories, map their taxi’s current location and look up restaurant and entertainment information.

The alliance, which claims to represent about a fifth of the city’s 44,000 licensed cab drivers, opposes the technology, saying the 5 percent surcharge on each credit card transaction amounts to a wage cut and the GPS device allows cab companies to track drivers.

Furthermore, the alliance claims the technology doesn’t work properly.

As a consumer and a technology buff, I love the idea of information terminals in these cabs. But as an advocate of freedom, I am most certainly not in favor of forcing cabs to take the technology, and not in favor of them being unable to adjust their pricing to cover the additional level of service they’re offering.

But in NYC, what I want as a consumer doesn’t matter. What level of service cabbies want to offer doesn’t matter. The market has been replaced by the wishes, desires, and mandates of the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission. Freedom has no place in this brave new world.

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