Don’t Get Me Started, Regulars and Shorts

Don’t Get Me Started: December 2008

By John deJong

John tries idling reduction; more thoughts on the bail-out; musings on the upcoming legislative season.
by John deJong

At the crossroads:

Idling thoughts

At the Bioneers conference last month(the local version was held at Westminster College) I attended an intriguing session about anti-idling efforts in Salt Lake City and County, which CATALYST has also written about in recent months (see “Idle Thoughts,” by Tiffen Brough: October 08 issue). The cost of gasoline and technological improvements (fuel injection) now make it economical to shut your engine off if you expect to idle for more than 10 seconds.

The message about anti-idling shied away from encouraging mass participation. The presenters noted that there is an unnatural quiet at stop lights in India’s large cities because everyone shuts their engines off. (Lights are also minutes long, there.) That wouldn’t work here, they said, because not all of our cars have fuel injection. There also seemed to be a subtext about the general ineptitude of American drivers and our intolerance for the slower starters: the possibility that failures to quickly restart engines would result in fender benders and fatal road-rage incidents.

I began turning off my engine at stop lights as soon as I got out of that afternoon’s session. There are a couple of tricks and you’ve got to pay closer attention than just waiting for the car in front of you to start moving. Unexpectedly I found myself relaxing as I silently counted the seconds till I restarted my engine; contemplating the energy I saved. I also noticed where long lights are. Now I find myself enjoying stop lights instead of resenting them.

The session was interesting on another level. The local campaign depends on “social marketing” to get the word out to idlers: school bus drivers, delivery drivers, soccer moms and parents waiting for their children after school. Social marketing is an effective way for public service messages to be disseminated cheaply. Kinda like the Mormon Church’s public service message about same sex marriages in California. Obviously it works.

And social marketing is the means to wider acceptance of anti-idling efforts. I can pontificate to the entire CATALYST readership and it won’t be as effective as pulling up to a stop light where everyone else has shut their motors off.
Two things: If you’re going to try it, choose the longest lights on your route—which are the ones that cross major streets. If you’re the first in your lane, it’s really easy. Just watch the countdown on the crosswalk lights.

The bailout: too big to fail and getting bigger

The apalling lack of guidelines for the $700 billion financial bailout should have been a warning of the “smoke and mirrors” insider-dealing nature of any Bush administration program. The so-called Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) will end up making the looting of the Treasury by Iraq war profiteers such as Halliburton seem like a penny-ante scam. The total cost of the war (in dollars), outrageous in itself, is only just now approaching $700 billion. The bailout language has loopholes large enough to driver a Wells Fargo armored truck through.
Much has been made of the “too-big-to-fail” nature of the financial institutions whose troubled assets have been recovered. The bailout money shouldn’t be used by already-too-large banks to Hoover up smaller banks with less unbalanced balance sheets.

A lot of hometown banks were more prudent with their lending practices over the last eight years. It is a shame – and should be a crime – to allow failed banks to burnish their balance sheets by buying up smaller banks with taxpayer money.
This “too-big-to-fail” phenomenon illuminates a seldom-explored consequence of corporations that enjoy near monopolies in their industries. They are the loudest or only voice in the room. Freshman congressmen quaked when the lobbyists for Fannie May, Freddy Mac and AIG stalked the halls of Congress.

Part of any bailout should be a plan where every financial institution that has become “too big to fail” is broken up into “small-enough-to-fail” pieces. Barring that a “too-big-to-fail” tax should be levied in order to recoup the costs of this bailout.

Bold, Balled and Honest

In its upcoming session in January, the Utah State Legislature has the opportunity to be bold, balled and honest. All they’ve got to do is raise gas taxes. It’s a bold idea but what better time to raise them than now? The state has just had to cancel new road construction because of a downturn in tax revenues. Utah certainly could use the construction jobs. The price of gas has receded to levels not seen for two years. And it’s not going back up any time soon.

Now is a good time to add 10 or 20 cents to the gas tax. After the last wild ride 20, even 30 cents would seem like nothing and we’d have the comfort of knowing it’s going to jobs in America instead of paying for jewels or jihad in the Middle East.
The legislature could, if they really had the balls, raise the gas tax by 30 cents and give half to the Depart­ment of Roads and spend the other half for mass transit. Or we could breath easier and spend all of it on mass transit. But that would take three balls.

If the legislature wanted to really buff its karma, it would get honest with Utah tax payers and raise gasoline taxes enough to make up for the continued looting of the General Fund to pay for road construction. Since 1996 the legislature has raided the General Fund to the tune of $3.5 billion because they didn’t have the balls to raise the gasoline tax when they decided we needed a lot of new roads. Never mind that robbing the General Fund to build roads cheats higher and lower education as well as healthcare and virtually every other state government service.

But we have hope. Anything might happen. Honesty, courage… maybe it will become all the rage. We’ll see what January brings.

John deJong is associate publisher of CATALYST.

This article was originally published on December 1, 2008.