Schweitzer, Putin and Chavez

In the last state legislative session, some of the excess tax collection of $900 million was from oil and gas taxes. (Imagine that: $900 million extra! That amounts to $3,600 extra per family of four in receipts to the state coffers. On top of the billions the state already takes in.) High international oil prices are to be thanked. With that excess, lawmakers were able to give homeowners $400, and spend a lot more than usual. It is a popular time to be a governor. Our governor has managed to make it appear that he is being generous, and running a wonderfully smart administration. Spending money makes one popular, especially easy money like that. It makes one wonder how popular the hapless Judy Martz could have been had her administration occurred when oil was at $100 a barrel.

Schweitzer is not the only elected official using high revenues caused by high oil prices to strengthen his grasp on power. Vladimir Putin in Russia is hugely popular, partly for the same reason. So is Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. This week Putin maneuvered a way to keep his hands on the reins of power for at least four more years, and perhaps several terms after that. This week Chávez tried to gut his country’s constitution and get named President For Life. His plan narrowly failed. That he got close proves how popular you can become with petro-taxes.

The Wall Street Journal puts it this way: The Putins and Chávezes of the world owe their popularity to bread-and-circus tactics: the canny manipulation of the media,…and above all the benefit of having petrodollars to shower on favored constituencies.

For oil producing states like Montana, Russia and Venezuela, it is a fine time to garner favor, buy votes, and strengthen a grip on power. So that’s what Schweitzer, Putin and Chávez do.


Obesity Solutions

Obesity solutions: Personal or Social?

I heard a medical researcher from Boston on an NPR program today advocating “simple, but politically difficult solutions to the obesity crisis that threatens to bankrupt Meidcare and reduce our international competitiveness”. He says personal efforts to curb obesity and social (government) solutions are both needed. Then he started talking about all social-government-school solutions. Regulate every school lunch room in America. Stop subsidies to corn farmers whose products go into high fructose corn syrup. Stop subsidies to soybean producers unless their beans go into tofu. Subsidize that heavily. Force school exercise programs and athletic programs. Regulate the advertising of yummy foods on TV. These are draconian measures, fit for a tyrant. Others propose more zoning laws to require parks, perhaps to require cities to buy gymnasiums, or to pay for gym memberships.

If draconian is ok, here are my solutions. (It is easy to think of ways to force people into things. Forcing others seems to come natural.) Stop picking up kids on school buses within 2 miles of schools. Regulate the sale of XBOX360 to kids and adults. Outlaw TV programs and stations. Outlaw the use of elevators and escalators, mopeds and the Segway mobile cart. Outlaw public transit. Zoning can limit the number of comfort food eating establishments, or at least keep them away from schools by a distance of 2 miles. Make everyone exercise 4 hours a week at the point of a bayonet. Take kids away from their parents. Really take charge of this epidemic! Close convenience stores, the repositories of crackers, hot dogs, ice cream, chips, Twinkies, beer and many more fattening things.

As we can see, if a heavy hand is allowed, there is no end of policy solutions.

But what of the personal responsibility that the researcher said was needed? What about having people pay the costs for their own obesity? What about holding them responsible? He didn’t divulge any ideas. The single step below would probably do more than all the school-based, zoning, TV advertising regulating ideas he can offer. Make Medicare and Medicaid recipients pay $3,000 per year toward their medical care if they are overweight. If they refuse, we, the ones that are paying refuse to treat them. It is completely up to them. They can turn off the tube and the XBOX, get out and walk every day, and eat their own vegetables instead of double crunch french fries. That is the meaning of personal responsibility.