Tina K. Russell

December 23, 2008

Vice precedent

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:33 am

Letters – A Tax on Sugary Sodas? – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:

Re “Miracle Tax Diet,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Dec. 18):

It may very well be that a higher tax on sugary soda would shrink Empire State waistlines as it fattens Albany’s coffers. But what ultimate price, in terms of individual freedom, shall we pay if the state starts dictating our dietary and lifestyle choices?

Using the rubric of better overall health as a “sweetener” for government intrusion in citizens’ private lives could damage our liberties in the same way that high-fructose corn syrup may have had on our body-mass measurements.

I’m happy to have government give me information with which I can make informed decisions, but let the choice be mine — untaxed and unfettered, please.

Mark A. Kellner
Columbia, Md., Dec. 18, 2008

I may have mentioned this before (I don’t remember), but John Stuart Mill had a few things to say on this in his essay, On Liberty. He spends good chunks of the essay condemning government attempts to limit individual choice, even bad choices, if they do not affect others. But, on the subject of vice taxes (see chapter 5, paragraph 9), he notes that governments have to raise money, that taxes are best levied on items that are nonessential, and that a vice is, by definition, nonessential. If it’s actively harmful to us, it’s something we can spare from our budgets, and therefore a good option for a tax.

As it happens, government actively subsidizes candy and fast-food through our ridiculous farm subsidy system, and a subsidy is a reverse tax. Government already influences our nutritional habits, and the question is whether or not they’re doing so in good faith.


December 20, 2008

You’re no Jack Kennedy Lite

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:15 pm

Letters – The Famous Name and the Senate Seat – NYTimes.com

My honest opinion of Caroline Kennedy is, well… I’m angry. Whenever I read about why she’s qualified to be a Senator, it’s that she has connections and a valuable fund-raising machine. Whether or not that kind of politics is necessary—and I do not think it is to this absurd extent, anyway—I wish I could at least more often read an acknowledgment that it is bad, and emblematic of everything wrong with politics.

You can think that someone is good, a hard worker, a smart person with an unlikely and inspiring story, and still not be comfortable with this person being appointed to the most powerful legislative body in the nation. Barack Obama was short on a political résumé, so he campaigned for two years to prove he was ready for the job, that he had the intelligence, the firsthand knowledge, and the experience required. Double that for Al Franken. Both, in my opinion, succeeded. We have no reason, no vantage point, to think that this woman is similar, nothing that sets her apart as a prodigy, no harsh public vetting process of a campaign, no case that she even has to make to the public. My impression, from the articles I’ve read about her, is that she is exquisitely qualified to warm a seat. I like that she sits on boards of charities, and her time on the board of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund particularly appeals to me. I’m not sure what that brings to the Senate, though; I mean, I do want my legislators grounded in real-world issues, but it’s just part of the package. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama just because of his three years as a Chicago community organizer, certainly. It helps, but it’s not everything.

All that could be assuaged if she ever had to make a case to the public, ever had to defend her non-record, ever had to demonstrate why she’s ready for this office. Just look at these sniveling excuses in the letters page linked above. I’m waiting to hear that it would hurt her feelings not to get the appointment. Your deep sympathy for someone does not make them qualified. Absent any new information, I’m inclined to say that the caricature is right: this is old-school nepotism at its worst, and exactly what makes people so cynical about politics.

October 31, 2008

Term limits

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:16 am

Op-Ed Contributor – Bloomberg’s Limited Win – NYTimes.com

Patrick Egan argues that the City Council was right to extend term limits for themselves and the mayor. I agree with him—that term limits are a bad idea. I do not think the city council was right to push unilaterally a move with such an obvious conflict of interest. I do not think it would have been that hard, in American democracy, to organize a special election (that would cost money! Oh noes!) for this issue, and I hope voters would realize that arbitrarily firing public servants just as they become experienced is bad policy.

Failing that, the City Council should have passed a measure abolishing term limits, but one that would only apply to those not in office; that is, not themselves, and not Mayor Bloomberg. If Bloomberg wants to run for a third term, good for him; it seems like New York likes him. But if you want to push for an end to term limits, don’t do it right when yours is about to run its course. This is not Hugo Chàvez’s Venezuela. Remember that Rudy Guiliani tried to abolish term limits at the height of his popularity (before his present-day descent into the oddly effeminate Crazed Attack Goblin), and it didn’t work. Do what George Washington did, and what the country is forever grateful for: take a bow, thank your supporters, and exit stage right.

I will say that term limits make a little more sense for executive offices, such as mayor or the Presidency, because it’s good to have changes of pace and leadership to keep things running smoothly, and because long-serving executives tend to settle in and become complacent about their jobs. But, I’m still uncomfortable about them because a hard-and-fast term limit essentially says that Franklin Roosevelt shouldn’t have been President after 1938, which would have made him unable to carry out the rest of the New Deal or serve during World War II. And term limits for all other offices are massively stupid: they’re petty, they limit your choice as a voter, and they cause all the experience to walk out the door. Term limits are pure snake oil, and you should reject them every time some out-of-state loudmouth PAC puts them on your state ballot.

Oh, and one more thing: I may read The New York Times, but I usually don’t follow New York politics. (Fuhgettaboudit!) I’m making an exception just this once, ’cause it’s interesting.

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