Filed under: Polling — Christian Schneider @ 3:26 pm
I vaguely remember this Pew poll relating to the public’s knowledge of current events being discussed elsewhere, but it has some information that I have to discuss.
First of all, 31% of Americans can’t name who the Vice President of the United States is. Read that slowly so it sinks in. It’s not exactly like Dick Cheney’s name hasn’t been in the news at all in the past, say, EIGHT YEARS. In fact, Cheney’s name identification is roughly that of Beyonce’ Knowles’ – which makes perfect sense, since Cheney’s name ID has been dropping since he got booted out of Destiny’s Child.
After seeing that result, I began to think about what it might be like to be that stupid. But then I realized, if I was that stupid, I’d be too stupid to know it. In fact, I’d be so dumb, I’d actually think I was smart. Then things wouldn’t be all that bad.
36% percent of Americans can name Vladimir Putin as the president of Russia. Which is ironic, because 36% of Russians have actually been tortured by Putin.
Among viewers of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, 54% scored in the “High Knowledge” category. This is in contrast to viewers of “Sabado Gigante,” of whom 90% just scored in the “High” category.
Actually, blog readers didn’t score all that well. Only 37% of blog readers were judged to be in the “High Knowledge” category. Even worse were viewers of local news – only 35% of local news viewers are High Knowledge. But I dispute this result, because the poll obviously didn’t quiz people on the squirrel in Beloit that can play the drums.
In a roundabout way, this kind of illustrates a point I’ve been meaning to make on one of Owen Robinson’s posts a couple of weeks ago. When discussing a proposed constitutional amendment to require showing photo identification when voting, Owen says:
“Regardless of what you think about the merits of this constitutional amendment, shouldn’t the voters at least get a say?”
Well, no, actually.
Regardless of what I think about the merits of requiring photo identification at the polls, I think legislators should have their say – since it’s a matter of public policy. We don’t live in a direct democracy – and taking a look at the poll referenced above might illustrate why that’s a good idea.
Legislating via constitutional amendment is a tricky game. Not only is the public not necessarily well informed (as seen above), they are notoriously bipolar depending on the issue. Conflicting constitutional amendments are almost inevitable. Furthermore, as Federalist #10 points out, “majority rule” is fraught with danger from factions.
I am certain that a constitutional amendment limiting taxes and spending in Wisconsin would pass. I am also nearly as certain that a constitutional amendment declaring health care a basic right for every Wisconsin resident would also pass. Shouldn’t voters at least get a say on that? Should voters get a say on whether we need more gun control, especially after the Virginia Tech massacre?
Granted, the segment of citizens who can name Beyonce’ but not Condoleezza Rice probably aren’t voters. But at least there’s a reasonable expectation our lawmakers have a passing knowledge of issues relevant to the legislation before them.
When my wife e-mailed me to tell me famous author David Halberstam had died, I kind of had the reaction that many people do when a septuagenarian passes away. I thought it was too bad, but probably about time – thinking he had died of an illness or old age. But when I realized he died in a car crash, I instantly felt worse. Who knows if he had another book in him or not?
I have to confess, most of Halberstam’s books I read were his sports books: “Summer of ’49,” “Teammates,” “Playing for Keeps,” and so on. You almost feel honored that a man of such intellect stoops to write sports books that dopes like me can understand. I did read his account of the Vietnam War, “The Best and the Brightest,” written based on much of his Pulitzer-Prize winning reporting on Vietnam. His reporting as to the inner workings of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations before government records were readily available should be the gold standard of investigative reporting.
Yesterday, I got to play the role of “the Grinch that Stole Earth Day” in my column in the Wisconsin State Journal. In it, I discuss the Stewardship program and how effective conservation programs that recognize the value in private land ownership can be. (For some reason the web site formatting is off, and some parts are repeated.)
My pro-stewardship counterpart was Scott Hassett, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. His column can be found here.
While state legislators push for Wisconsin to become a nationwide leader in stem cell research, they are completely ignoring another area where the badger state continues to push the boundaries.
I’m talking, of course, about the practice of playing air guitar – where State Representative Gordon Hintz finished second in a 2003 nationwide competition of faux-guitarists, performing under the pseudonym “Krye Tuff.” Hintz is featured in “Air Guitar Nation,” a film that played recently at the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison. His heroics have landed him in the Air Guitar Hall of Fame. Hintz’ epic rendition of David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose” can be viewed here. (Trailer for the movie can be viewed here)
I, for one, think this is fantastic. It’s nice to see our elected representatives show a little sense of humor every now and then. And it’s good to occasionally see that legislators aren’t robotic. Now if we can only get him to drop his support for publicly financing campaigns in Wisconsin.
When Paul Ryan first ran for Congress, I believe he was around 27 years old – and from what I understand, he has a really good sense of humor. But being so young, he went out of his way to be stoic, wanting people to take him seriously. I think we should give people credit for showing a little personality, just to remind us that they’re real people and not the sum of talking points.
Yesterday, the Wisconsin Elections Board produced a list of 82 felons believed to have voted in the November 7th election (it is against the law for felons to vote in Wisconsin). The names are being forwarded to various district attorneys around the state for prosecution – apparently, some criminals believe a “buy one felony, get one free” policy applies.
Republicans have long sought to require photo identification at the polls to verify voter identities. Democrats, of course, insist that no vote fraud problem really exists. A quote from Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach in today’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Erpenbach said the push for photo ID was a matter of people looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.
“Wisconsin elections, for the most part, there’s never really been fraud or a problem,” he said.
A reader e-mails:
“This nonsense that voter fraud isn’t happening because there haven’t been a lot of convictions is silly. Try using the Dems’ logic on another crime: graffiti. Like voter fraud, its awfully tough to catch people in the act. Unlike voter fraud, the results are easy to see. But if a lot of people aren’t getting busted, then it must not be happening, right? The reason it’s tough to catch the frauds is because our election laws are so lax (same day registration, no photo ID requirement, letting people vouch for others, etc.)”
Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 3:33 pm
A few days ago, I discussed some of the pros and cons of Massachusetts’ law requiring residents to purchase health care. Apparently the final piece of the puzzle has been finalized – the subsidy system is “poised” to become law. From the New York Times:
State officials said that under the plan, they expected that all but about 65,000 of the 328,000 adults who are currently uninsured would be able to get affordable coverage.
The proposal sets a sliding scale of affordability standards in which, for example, a single person earning $40,001 a year would be expected to pay no more than 9 percent of income, or about $300 a month, for health insurance; a single person earning $25,000 a year would be expected to pay a much smaller percentage, about 3.3 percent of income, or $70 a month.
File this in the “con” column. If you think government can determine, with surgical-like precision, subsidy amounts, percentage of income and eligibility for all citizens, then I want some of what you’re drinking. There’s just no way.
In fact, as the Boston Globe reports, the new plan exempts 20% of the uninsured from the mandate, in order to avoid a backlash. Of course, it is advocates for the poor that are pushing for more exemptions, even though it is the poorest people that the new plan is supposed to help the most.
Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 8:52 am
Who knew your newspaper was making you fat? A press release from the Wisconsin Medical Society (and I had to check a couple times to make sure the date wasn’t April 1st):
Recipe for Obesity?
Madison (April 11, 2007) – Research finds calorie-dense dessert recipes printed in major newspapers across the country may be contributing to obesity in large cities. The study, by researchers from Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation and UW Stevens Point, is published inthe latest issue of the Wisconsin Medical Journal (Volume 106, No. 2).
“The average total caloric content of dessert recipes was significantly associated with the percent obese in the metropolitan cities,â€ reports the study, regarding recipes that were published the last week of August 2000. The researchers studied 64 entre’ and 38 dessert recipes published in major newspapers serving cities with populations of 400,000 or more.
While these data cannot be interpreted as causal, they are intriguing and suggest that newspapers may play a greater role in promoting or preventing obesity than previously recognized, the researchers report.
Where to even start with this.
So in order to have better health in the inner cities, we need a lot less newspaper reading? Reading newspapers is why your kids are tubby? Maybe we need a “sin tax” on newspapers for making us fat, similar to proposals for higher taxes on soda and candy.
At least the release admits the study can’t prove the relationship between recipes and fatties is causal. But there isn’t a causal relationship between number of Maple trees in Wisconsin and fat people either, and you don’t see anyone putting out a release suggesting a link. Furthermore, what do you think the percentage of people in the inner city that make desserts found in a newspaper article are?
Let’s hope Wisconsin’s doctors are using a little better logic in treating patients than their journal is using diagnosing the cause of obesity in urban centers. Next up for the Wisconsin Medical Journal: “Study suggests link between portly grandmothers and deliciousness of apple pies.”
Today, the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future released a “study” that purports to show that Wisconsin businesses “underpay” their taxes by $1.3 billion. The report uses data from Ernst and Young that estimates Wisconsin businesses pay 35% of total state tax receipts, as opposed to a 40% average nationwide. Additionally, Wisconsin businesses pay 47% of local taxes, compared to 52% nationwide. The study then concludes that if Wisconsin businesses paid the national average, they would pay $1.3 billion more, and individuals would pay that much more less. The report says:
The combined underpayment of state and local taxes means that Wisconsin’s corporate sector is $1.3 billion short of what it would be paying, if only it brought its share up to the national average.
As a taxpaying partner in supporting state and local services, Wisconsin’s corporate sector ranks 41st among all the states, according to Ernst & Young. This is a Bottom Ten ranking that should embarrass corporate leaders.
This is a pretty reliable talking point for liberal advocates – that somehow businesses are sticking it to taxpayers by neglecting to pay their “fair share” of taxes. In fact, versions of the term “underpayment” appear seven times in the eight page paper, as if businesses are willfully disobeying the law.
In fact, businesses pay the amount they owe. And the less they owe, the more capital they have available to employ Wisconsin taxpaying citizens. If someone believes businesses aren’t paying their fair share, then their concerns are best taken up with the Legislature and not the businesses themselves.
Furthermore, such a simplistic analysis ignores some important trends. Is it possible that Wisconsin businesses are paying less as a percentage of total taxes because businesses are leaving the state? If there were fewer businesses in Wisconsin to pay taxes, the total amount they contribute would certainly be less. Are businesses paying less as a percentage because individuals are paying more? That could be a sign of a good economy, if individual incomes (and tax receipts, as a result) are up.
In fact, it would be just as easy to get to their magic “40%” number by cutting taxes for individuals, since businesses would be paying more as a percentage of tax receipts. Is this what the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future is advocating? I’m guessing not. That would explain why so many states with high income taxes are at the top of the “scale” the study cites – is this something that they consider to be desirable?
Finally, does the passage of the “single sales factor” business tax break (signed by Democratic Governor Jim Doyle) have anything to do with the smaller business tax share? (It is buried in a footnote.)
The report doesn’t address any of these questions, which shows that it really isn’t a serious attempt to discern an appropriate tax level for businesses. It briefly cites the tax statistics, then is padded with typical shots at Wal-Mart, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and banks. In fact, if businesses were forced to pay more in taxes, more would probably choose tax-friendlier states to do business, and there would be fewer employees paying taxes to local and state governments. Minnesota’s JOBZ program attempts to lure Wisconsin businesses by completely eliminating sales, income and property taxes – which means they are dying for businesses to come in their state and “underpay” taxes.