Tag Archives: environment

Technology is Taxing. So is Driving.

There’s a great new technology in auto insurance where drivers can pay per mile, which rewards lower mileage driving with lower insurance costs, and is surely less boring than insurance-as-usual. Using a device that plugs into the car, data is sent  out to one of these entrepreneurial insurance companies, such as Metromile, to track the actual quantity of miles driven by the insured car, rewarding your good work. In paying for only what is used, infrequent drivers can save some serious money and avoid paying what the “average” user “like” them pays. But you’re better than average, right? Sounds like a great business model – use technology to help people save money on a product they use infrequently but must pay for anyway!

We’re giving it a test drive this month to see how many miles we actually drive. We’ll compare the cost to our current traditional auto insurance and I expect to save a lot. The small device plugs into a port I didn’t even know existed, located below the steering column. I now know I’m averaging about 8 miles a day, having only driven over 20 miles on 6 separate occasions.

But hey, that’s a great idea and so the government is ready to reach between your legs and plug one of these into your car to generate tax revenue! Unsatisfied with the nation’s growing trend towards driving fewer miles (which means less gas purchased and fewer tax dollars paid), the government is looking for ways to make those who pay less – pay more.

I’d like to think most people try to consider the environment before they make choices (some think about it more than others, but it helps when more green equals more $green$). Big Government certainly thinks about the environment and tells us to play nice and drive less. But penalizing drivers who choose to drive high-mileage hybrids and electric cars (and who pay fewer or no gas taxes) with a new kind of tax that removes all the benefits by collecting taxes on a per mile basis is not going to do a lot for promoting gas efficient cars and economical use of resources. Recently the Obama administration mandated new regulations in fuel efficiency “with the goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption.” They even said that “families will save money.” Save the world and save money! Sounds nice, but we knew it was too good to be true. Start riding your bike before they tax the bike lane.

Paying for what you use is better than paying for the average of what everyone uses, if you’re going to have to fork over your first fruits anyway. So much for trying to save money. We might as well stay home and not go anywhere. Until recently we didn’t have a car, so I wouldn’t have cared. I won’t be surprised if they charge a fee, penalty, or “tax” for not participating.

Eminent Domain and The Keystone Pipeline

Get ready for the next great land grab! You might be surprised at the beneficiary and the accomplice.

The beneficiary is none other than Canada, our unassuming large friend to the north.  While not actually Canada itself,  the Canadian company TransCanada is looking to put up a nice tidy oil pipeline through the heartland of the United States. Based in Alberta, this corporation wants to build the next leg of the Keystone pipeline, extending thousands of miles south of the border to Texas. Once President Obama signs the appropriate paperwork, all they have to do is acquire the land and start digging.

But who does the land belong to, and how does the Government acquire such land? The answer is eminent domain. How does a foreign corporation acquire land that absolutely does not belong to it? It uses the American Government to manipulate the meaning of the Constitution and Natural Law, so the answer is still eminent domain.

Imagine a scenario where the humble Canadian businessman knocks on your door. He seems like a nice guy, but alongside him is his hired muscle the American Government. The frowning accomplice offers you a sum for which he thinks your property is worth, lettuce garden and all. He demands to buy your land and hand it over to his friend the Canadian businessman because there is some money to be made for everyone. Do you feel resistant? It’s for your own good, Citizen. The common good.

There may be valid arguments for eminent domain, as the practice is an inherent attribute of state sovereignty. Whether the state is Oregon, Ohio, Oklahoma, or the Federal Government, they all lay some claim to this privilege. However, Canada should not be in a position to meddle in the middle of Oklahoma.

The Constitution and judicial precedent lay the groundwork for ways in which the government may take the land of a private citizen; providing there is just compensation, and that the land be used for the common good. Over the years, the Fifth Amendment and the common good has become such a broadly interpreted position that it is now good enough that one person simply wants the land because the grass is greener there and everyone should be able to enjoy green grass. They do not recognize that if the owner does not want to sell, no matter the end use, eminent domain simply is theft by force.

With abuses such as this proposed land grab in their pocket, the interpretive ponderings of the American Government toward the use of eminent domain may grow deeper and wider than previously imagined. The Government can take your property away from you and give it to a corporation in another country. We’re not talking about building an irrigation ditch so local farmers have access to nearby river water. We’re not talking about tearing down dangerous slums to build a tree-filled city park. We’re not even talking about building a strip mall to liven up the neighborhood to attract more consumers with fat wallets. This is a situation where a company in Canada can lay a pipe through your lettuce garden to make it easier to move oil.

When a government feels entitled to take what does not belong to it, it can succeed through politics, strong marketing, and fear. We’ve heard about “the public good.” Now we’re hearing cries for “critical energy security,” and “strengthening the American economy.” Other excuses include the claim that someone else will build it if we don’t, and that we’re being as careful as anyone possibly can be, and that the construction of the pipeline is a job creating extravaganza! Who could be against that?

This is not to say foreign individuals or companies should not buy property in this country, but only that they should not benefit from the use of eminent domain. A private company should negotiate with individual land owners to purchase the properties with free will exercised on both sides.

There is plenty of pipe already in the ground. It carries oil to every conceivable corner of the country. This particular pipe is enjoying fifteen minutes of fame as it violates our natural rights for the sake of the common good. Sure hope it doesn’t leak.

Portland’s Plastic Bag Ban

The Portland City Council, led by outgoing Mayor Sam Adams, recently increased its regulation on the use of plastic bags within city limits. Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea, as we’ll now have to head north to Vancouver Washington if we want to keep a plastic bag full of marijuana on our door knob (now legal!). The original plastic bag ban in Portland was established in 2011 and only targeted the largest retail stores. Now all stores, regardless of size, as well as all restaurants and farmers markets have been given notice. The full scope of the intended regulation goes into effect October 2013.

Today the Oregonian reported that state legislators are seeking to push for a statewide ban on the bag. While some cities with similar bans require a fee to use paper bags, Portland graciously allows stores to choose whether or not to implement a fee on paper bag usage. Other stores offer a discount for bringing in your own reusable bag. The proposed state-wide legislation would, “require retailers to charge 5 cents for a paper bag.” (A bag tax).

Portlanders will be using fewer plastic bags than in years past, and this is a good thing. We need to reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources, and we need to see less plastic blowing down our streets. Paper is a better alternative to plastic. We can grow more trees, but plastic bags can be difficult to recycle.

But how might we relieve ourselves of plastic bag waste without government regulation of private business practices?

Would individuals choose to the use paper or cloth bags rather than plastic, if given the choice? Many do it every day with the choice as it stands. I propose that the burden be shared between the stores and the consumers, and the government should stay out of it. Many stores offer reusable bags for sale at a reasonable price, but continue to offer plastic bags as the default option. People use them because they are available and they’re cheap.

These are individual choices that we all need to make. We should allow space in civil society for positive choices made by individuals rather than government mandates on consumer purchases. Businesses can choose to charge for bags without being forced. Shoppers can choose to bring a bag or use paper.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman believes “Portlanders will rise to the challenge.” I say, “What challenge? There is no choice!”

Encourage alternatives and educate! Why should I care what type of bag I use if it doesn’t matter because the choice was already made by the government? We’re not making decisions to meet a challenge if there is no choice. Some think their neighbors are too dumb to make the right decision themselves, and so they must be forced to fall in line. Have we tried hard enough at the friendly art of persuasion? Can we provide another incentive to stop using plastic bags besides the force of law? Some people are simply unaware and ignorant, and would make a wiser choice if they had more information. By taking away the power of choice, government is perpetuating ignorance.

At least the plastic bag ban craze is happening at the local and state level. Check out this map. The last thing we need is a federal law which regulates how I transport my six-pack of Oregon micro-brew from the corner store to my home.