From sewage to drinking water

Whatever you may think of Windows and Microsoft, Bill Gates is simply an awesome philanthropist.  He’s determined to use his fortune to do the most good he possibly can in the world and that means encouraging all sorts of projects intended to dramatically and materially benefit the world’s poorest people.  Of course, a major problem in the developing world is clean water.  But what if you could create a system that took human waste and turned it into clean water and created spare energy to boot?  Well, that would be awesome and it is.  There’s a working prototype of The Omniprocessor (love the name) going in Seattle and hopefully it can scale up and serve impoverished communities around the world.  Check out this cool video (or just enjoy the animated gifs).

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s week in pictures.

St John's Church, Keswick, towers through the mist blanketing the shores of Derwentwater in the Lake District

St John’s Church, Keswick, towers through the mist blanketing the shores of Derwentwater in the Lake DistrictPicture: Paul Kingston / NNP



Republican hackery and the gas tax

As mentioned before, pretty much all intellecutally honest people across the political spectrum know we need to raise our gas tax.  Why?  For one, most people drive.  On roads.  Which are paid for by the gas tax.  The need to update our crumbling infrastructure is pretty apparent.  And the gas tax was last set at about 18 cents a gallon  and never indexed for inflation.  That’s nuts, of course.  Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop former GHWB adviser and current pundit Ed Rogers from some pretty classic demagoguery:

Lower gasoline prices might be fleeting, or they may linger for a while. But, lest the public spend the money they save on themselves and their families, Democrats are already pushing an initiative to snatch that money away. It’s incredible…

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Summers calls a carbon tax “desirable” because “those who use carbon-based fuels or products do not bear all the costs of their actions.” Really?  The market price plus the existing state and local taxes don’t cover the cost?  How does anyone know that? [emphasis mine]

F***ing seriously??!!  It’s called externalities.  This is Econ 101.  Who knows this?  Everyone with the most basic knowledge of economics know this.  It is almost impossible that Rogers doesn’t know this.  He is either incredibly ignorant or an incredibly intellectually dishonest liar.

American families – who have had Washington’s foot on their neck for most of the last decade – have stumbled upon some good fortune that will provide a little relief through lower gasoline prices, and what do the “smart people” want to do?  Essentially, they want to grab that money and kick you to the curb.  In other words, Summers and his ilk believe the government needs the money more than you do.

And last I checked, most American families drive.  They use roads, bridges, and benefit in all sorts of indirect ways (increased economic productivity) from a well-functioning highway infrastructure.  This is exactly why we have government.  Roads don’t get built by private consortiums (and when they do, they have far less use and are of far more limited public benefit).  This is just such shameless hackery.  If your family drives (and is thereby saving on gas) raising the tax does not “kick you to the curb” but ultimately make driving better because we can actually invest in roads!

And, just for good measure, here’s the Post editorial on the gas tax:

Congress last year refilled the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for a range of transportation projects across the country, with a familiar strategy: short-term budget gimmickry. Instead of providing local transportation planners with the certainty they need to plan and execute large projects,Congress set the trust fund to run dry again in May. Instead of agreeing on a robust infrastructure policy that invests rationally in the economy, lawmakers scraped another $11 billion from corners of the federal budget.

The reason is simple: Members of Congress don’t want to raise the gas tax, unchanged at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. The gas tax operates on a straightforward principle: Those who use the roads should pay for them. But over the past two decades, the value of the revenue the tax produces has dropped by about a third — partly because of inflation and partly because cars have become more fuel-efficient. This constrains the amount of money Congress is willing to put into transportation and encourages overuse of the roads at the expense of the general taxpayer. [emphasis mine]

Fortunately, there are some Republicans who are sane on the matter (not that I’m optimistic), but with demagoguing hacks out there like Ed Rogers pushing the no more taxes ever line, it’s hard to imagine getting anything done on what is essentially a no-brainer of a policy reform.

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