5 x 8: Government a la carte?

The Monday Morning Rouser:

1) WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE SEQUESTER?

Photo: Experimental Aircraft Association/
Laurie Goossens

This will be a short week for me and NewsCut. I’m out of town on Wednesday working on a “You Should Meet” interview and then taking Thursday and Friday (and next Monday) off to fly the plane I built over 11 years over to Oshkosh, where the big gathering begins today and turns a sleepy airport in Wisconsin into the busiest airport in the world for one week.

There are more than a few working stiffs who fly airplanes into Oshkosh, but I would be lying if I wasn’t a little repulsed by the decadent displays of extravagance that descends on Wisconsin every year, too. Pilots like to argue that general aviation isn’t “rich kids and their toys,” but these days, there’s certainly an element of that. It takes a lot of money to fly.

I often call Oshkosh (which organizers refer to as AirVenture, but no self-respecting aviator ever would) “the world’s largest Tea Party gathering” because the aviation world is quite conservative, owing, I think, to the large percentage of military members and the graying demographic. The smart aviator brings a “no politics” policy to Oshkosh.

But when pilots complain about budget cuts, they make themselves an easy target. That was the subtext of an Associated Press story (carried on the MPR News website) on the FAA’s demand for nearly $450,000 to provide air traffic control services (about $5,000 per controller): rich people complaining about government cuts (I’ve posted about the controversy before).

The story was a little misleading because it made it sound like individual pilots were being assessed $45 to fly into Oshkosh. That’s not true; they’re not. But pilots fear this is the start of “user fees,” a system in place in Canada, for example, and they fear it would destroy general aviation, which is already on its last legs. They argue they’re already paying for FAA services through fuel taxes, which are earmarked for aviation, but which often are left to accumulate on the government’s books to make the deficit look better than it really is.

The story misses an important issue: Should the financing of government be changed to charge only those who directly benefit from it?

The sequester, which on the surface appears to have had little effect, has given us the opportunity to have that discussion, and, just as Congress did on the budget, we’ve generally punted the opportunity. For the most part, the sequester’s effects have been aimed at people with little political clout Nobody’s going to weep for people who can afford to fly. But they’re not weeping for parents who can’t get their kids into a Head Start program either. They’re not weeping for people who can’t get a public defender. They’re not weeping for people whose homeless vouchers were rescinded. Nobody’s going to shed a tear for people who can’t go on nature walks and talks at national parks.

The sequester originally was intended to hurt as much as possible so that Americans would pressure Congress to do what Congress was elected to do. That failed when Congress quickly diverted money to ease delays on the airlines. Problem solved.

But what if members of Congress stopped campaign fundraising long enough to actually have a conversation about how government is funded, because that’s where the sequester is heading. In the absence of a shred of leadership in Washington, these budgetary impositions by decree create a new mechanism for how government operates.

What are the possibilities? In my town, the local school district will ask for three levy increases at the next election. Two will continue existing levies, and one will charge more, ostensibly to improve security in schools. Who will it affect? People who have children in schools. While the rest of us have a shared responsibility to educate children, at what point should it fall on parents for additional funding? Got a kid in school? Pay more than those who don’t. Is that unfair? How?

Now, obviously, there’s no correlation between the need for K-12 education and someone who wants to fly a plane. But there is one with another victim of the sequester: Head Start. And there will be more as Washington continues to create a vacuum of budgetary leadership and slowly adopts an a la carte system of government in its absence.

The obvious question is the one that isn’t being asked: Why shouldn’t it?

2) ‘THE LINE BETWEEN UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND INTENSITY’

For many kids, the best part of this time of the year is the youth baseball league seasons are ending, so they don’t have to listen to their wannabee parents anymore. Slate’s John Dickerson gives voice to the loudmouths at the local park. He was one, he admits.

You can see these parents coming. There is a loose correlation between the quality of swag and the behavior. When the visiting 10-year-old travel team rolls their matching bags on to the field and their uniforms have their names on the back, that’s the first sign things are going to get intense. The five-person coaching staff barking like drill sergeants is another tipoff. The parents backing this operation are so invested that no subpar play is going to be tolerated.

They are there to administer rebukes. At one game, the parents arrived in unison like an invading army. They established a perimeter around the backstop and deployed their folding chairs, sunshades, coolers and playpen for the siblings. All had shirts and hats emblazoned with the team logos. Some wore their child’s number. On our team, the parents had only matching copies of the Sunday New York Times

Related: Land of 10,000 Stories: Softball coach deals with hard knocks (KARE)

3) A FORTUNE IN ASSISTED LIVING

Assisted living seemed like a good alternative to nursing homes for many people. Now, however, a Frontline investigation reveals “a loosely regulated, multi-billion dollar industry putting seniors at risk.”

The investigation focuses on Emeritus, a company which operates more than 200 facilities in 35 states, including Minnesota. It bought up troubled assisted living chains and tried to turn them around.

It made a fortune, mostly because seniors were willing to empty out their private bank accounts to maintain some semblance of independence, Frontline and ProPublica say. Unlike hospitals or nursing homes, Emeritus wasn’t reliant on payments from the government insurance programs Medicare or Medicaid, whose reimbursement rates can be capped, it says.

4) SHOULD REDDIT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR A SMEAR?

Around the time of the Boston Marathon bombing, Sunil Tripathi went missing. Unfortunately, he also looked a little like the suspects in the bombing. Then, a Facebook page intended to help find him was taken down, and social media determined it must be because his family had seen their missing son in the photos of Suspect No. 2. Luke Russert, the NBC reporter, joined in on Twitter.

Several days later, his body was pulled out of a river in Providence.

The New York Times Magazine doesn’t give social networks and the media who follow them a pass on the story:

So where do things go from here? Clearly, the ability to instantly gather the firsthand accounts of so many individuals near the site of any breaking-news event is a huge and significant development in the way we generate and take in the news. And yet, at the risk of sounding like an obsolete mass-media apologist, there’s a reason that good journalism traditionally involves a healthy dose of skepticism, and what we saw with the Sunil Tripathi debacle is what happens when two different media spheres — each somewhat ignorant of the rules that guide the other — collide. One mistake by, say, a journalist working for a local TV news station in Connecticut allows rumors percolating in the most speculative depths of Reddit to be repurposed and broadcast with alarming speed and authority. These days, all information runs wild. Dylan Byers, a media reporter at Politico, helped spread the false police-scanner information on Twitter. When asked why he had felt the need to pass along information he could not confirm himself, Byers said he does not necessarily endorse everything he retweets. “When I tweet that CNN is reporting that authorities have someone in custody and then 10 minutes later tweet that NBC is tweeting that nobody was in custody, I’m not saying one is right and the other is wrong. Instead, I’m using Twitter as a tool to get out what information is out there and tracing it back to the source.”

Byers’s explanation works only in a space where everyone understands exactly what the rules are and why. On Reddit, everyone understands how the system works, and everyone is motivated by the desire to be first with information, even if that information is partial or momentarily mistaken in the assemblage of a breaking story. Byers’s mistake came when he assumed that what he was reading on a stranger’s Twitter account was worth sharing without any additional commentary. If enough people with trusted media affiliations touch a bit of information on Twitter, it starts to resemble a fact. Of course, the “fact” that Sunil Tripathi’s name had been read over a police scanner was no fact at all. In an excellent post-mortem written immediately after the debacle, Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic included the scanner recording. It contains no mention anywhere of Sunil Tripathi.

5) WHAT NORTHFIELD’S GOT THAT YOUR TOWN DOESN’T

Street.mn’s David Levinson travels to Northfield and declares it head and shoulders among many other Minnesota cities.

Most towns have rivers or waterfronts, how many take advantage of them as well as the best places you have seen? (Minneapolis misses opportunities, and St. Paul misses them by the boatload).

Many towns have colleges, how many are as well integrated into the community as Carleton College?

Every place around here has the traditional Midwest Grid with some curvilinear streets and new construction on the outskirts. How many are as attractive as Northfield?

Now, Northfield is successful despite not presently having rail transit or direct interstate access. The Dan Patch line has long been proposed (and official discussion censored), which would connect Northfield to Minneapolis via Lakeville, Savage, Bloomington, Edina, and St. Louis Park. While I don’t know whether this would be a successful route (it depends on costs and benefits of course), the point is that passenger rail is neither (a) a necessary condition for successful exurban communities, nor (b) a sufficient condition (judging from some towns on the Northstar line). However, the existence of Northfield is in part due to it once having passenger rail service, from the 1910s until the 1940s, which did shape the urban form it has retained to this day.

Bonus I: 25 Signs You're From Minneapolis.(BuzzFeed)

Bonus II:More About The 40-Year-Old Picture That Makes People Smile.(NPR)

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Financial and legal planning for Minnesota’s same-sex couples.

Second hour: The modern spy.

Third hour: What to do when you find injured wildlife.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): TBA

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – Tax Reform Proposals to be Kept Secret for 50 Years | The People Behind the Speakers | Report Finds Serious Safety Concerns at Assisted Living Homes

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - Betty Crocker is busy getting ready for the state’s first same-sex weddings. General Mills is hosting a cake-tasting for couples this morning. On Thursday, the company will deliver a giant cake to City Hall, where Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak will officiate at 40 weddings beginning at 12:01 a.m.

Journalist Alison Stewart set out to tell the story of America’s first black public high school. Dunbar High has churned out a who’s who of African-American leaders. And by writing a book about it, she had one great fear. Could the Dunbar story cast segregation in a positive light? NPR looks at the legacy of Dunbar High.

  • jon

    @#1) I think there are clearly some items that should be la carte for the government, though they need to settle on a way to charge instead of charging 3 times over to pay for the same thing. The real question is where is the line? I think we all have a obligation to educate children. I think we all have an obligation to ensure that people aren’t dying in our streets. But where does that obligation stop?
    Do we all have an obligation to make sure we have sufficient roads built? even if we don’t drive? How are we going to charge for those roads? Is it general fund money, do we charge a gas tax? do we charge a wheelage tax? or do we do all of the above in some percentage? What about when the non-car owners need to get to the hospital in an ambulance? do they get charged extra because they didn’t pay a wheelage fee on their car to pay for the road they are on in the ambulance?

    @Bonus I: I think I could say “yes” to a higher percentage of the items on a recent “You know you are from the northeast when:” list then I could for the minneapolis list… sadly I’ve never lived in the northeast, and I’ve spent half my life in the minneapolis metro.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    #1 – Tax vs user fee? Only in situations where NOT opting in can be shown to not impact others should a user fee replace a tax. For example: Fire protection CAN’T be selective because if my neighbor chooses not to pay for city fire service their choice could very well impact my homeowner’s insurance because I’m now at a greater risk of fire if their house starts to burn.

  • Scott

    Really enjoyed reading the full story behind #2. Particularly this line:

    “The Catholic Church has no papal decree so complicated and misapplied as the infield fly rule.”