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Gambling Issue is a Target of Disinformation in Texas

October 11th, 2012 ·

It is dismaying that on certain issues Empower Texans, which used to be a leading force in the fight for individual liberty and fiscal responsibility in Texas, has begun to take positions which seem more characteristic of a anti-liberty socially conservative agenda. One recent example of this is their position on the issue of legalized gambling in Texas expressed in two recent articles, one by Empower Texans founder Michael Quinn Sullivan and one by Austin-area blogger Michele Samuelson. These articles are timed to lay the groundwork for an argument against legalized gambling as we go into a legislative session where the issue is sure to come up.

It is disturbing to see a previously trusted advocacy group like Empower Texans and two activists who I have personal respect for resort to arguments on this issue which are both contrary to a basic belief in individual choice and personal liberty and based on gross factual inaccuracies which seems to come straight out of the press releases of anti-gambling groups underwritten by gambling interests from other states.

As a matter of principle, if you believe that people should have the right to determine what they do with their own money then you ought to support their right to decide to spend that money on any form of entertainment, including gambling. On a more pragmatic level, if every state neighboring Texas has legal gambling and millions of Texans and their money travel to these states to gamble, and those states are clearly not questioning the economic benefits of gambling, why should the government of Texas deny those same benefits to our citizens and businesses?

But let’s look at some of the specific misinformation being promoted by these articles at Empower Texans. Both articles repeat some of the same false claims and misinformation.

One of these is that gambling advocates promote gambling primarily on the basis of enhanced tax revenues from taxing gambling. This is an easy argument to dispute so it’s always the one which gambling opponents focus on, but it is not really a significant part of the arsenal of arguments in favor of legalized gambling. Of course, anyone who has studied the industry realizes that whatever tax benefits come from taxing gambling are offset by the cost of government regulation of gambling, and the more the state regulates the less chance there is of profit and tax revenue. As shown by the Texas Lottery, once the state actually runs gambling the profits go to fund endless bureaucracy and to pay contractors like GTECH which gets the lion’s share of the lottery revenues.

However, the real economic benefits of gambling come from its secondary effects. Despite the claims of opponents repeated in this articles, Gambling creates jobs and the more intensive and highly developed the gambling environment the more jobs it generates. A study from the Federal Reserve in St. Louis shows that resort casinos are particularly effective in generating new employment and revenue for local communities. Casinos employ a lot of people, they build hotels which employ even more, and the gamblers they attract spend money on transportation and in other local businesses, plus the casino employees need housing, food and other services. All of these workers pay taxes and all of these businesses pay taxes, including taxes at an inflated rate from the hotels. This revenue mostly does not go to the state, but it does go into the local tax base and has an enormous impact. It’s enough to take a depressed area like Gulfport Mississippi (Federal Reserve report on economic growth in Gulfport-Biloxi) and turn it into a boomtown overnight. Galveston is another Gulfport waiting to happen.

Another flawed argument raised in the Samuelson article is that “it’s been proven that gambling expansion contributes to higher crime rates.” This is an old claim from gambling opponents based on the general assumption that sin begets more sin, which seems convincing to many people predisposed to believe it, but is not supported by facts. For example, the impact of two resort casinos near Norwich Connecticut has been studied for 20 years and the results were that local communities either matched or exceeded the nationwide trend of declining crime rates over that period, in some cases dramatically. While crime decreased by 19% nationwide the community of Preston saw a 33% decline in crime and North Stonington crime went down by 24%. Some studies have shows increases in the crime rate in some areas where gambling was introduced, but when the population of those areas was adjusted for the influx of tourists and gamblers those results proved to be false,. Contrary to popular assumption the primary force driving crime is not the “moral environment” but rather economic conditions. As shown by a study in Georgia, unemployment is a much larger factor in creating crime and legal gambling related jobs give those willing to work an alternative to crime and reduce crime rates.

One of the things which many of the independent studies on gambling seem to agree on is that the more privatized gambling is and the larger scale and less regulated it is, the more it benefits local and state economies. Very limited gambling initiatives like just allowing parimutuel wagering at racetracks or just allowing slot machines at limited locations are much less likely to be economically successful and more likely to be crushed by regulation and expensive overhead. The lesson from these studies seems to be that if you want gambling to succeed and produce real benefits you need to go into it in a very big way. It needs to become a self-sustaining industry with real potential to attract an influx of tourists on a large scale.

Ultimately, whether you believe the emotional arguments of opponents, or the propaganda of out of state gambling interests, or the data of the competing studies, or the stories of successes from other states, one fact remains very clear. With so many different opinions and so many conflicting interests, the rational response is to let the people of Texas decide. They are the ones who go to neighboring states to gamble now. They are the ones who will pay the costs and reap the benefits of legalized gambling if it comes to our state. They deserve a chance to vote on the issue and advocates on both sides deserve a chance to educate them and win their support. Obstructionist legislators bought off by special interests should step aside and let the issue be put on the ballot.

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Join the Fight for Online Liberty While You Still Can

January 18th, 2012 ·

You may have been surprised today when visiting one of your favorite websites to find it inaccessible or to find yourself redirected to a special page or to find a new design with a grim theme – all of this for the purpose of making you aware of the threat to your internet liberty posed by legislation currently pending in Congress. Participating sites include Google, Tumblr and most dramatically Wikipedia.  You may also find many of your Facebook friends sporting alarming profile pictures for the same reasons.

This is part of an effort by some internet content providers to strike back against a coalition of movie and recording industry giants who have spent a lot of money on advertising and lobbying to push forward the Protect IP Act (S.968) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R.3261) in the House at the start of next week’s legislative session.  Harry Reid is expected to put PIPA up for a floor vote on Tuesday.

These bills are aimed at internet piracy, but in such a broad and unbalanced way that they threaten everyone’s liberty on the internet.  They are intended to expand the ability of US law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods, allowing the Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.

While some concern over online piracy is justified, SOPA and PIPA do not really target the major offshore data havens which are the real source of the problem and they give unaccountable enforcement power to government agencies which can be used to intimidate content providers, shut down entire networks based on nothing more than an accusation, and even blacklist  businesses and remove them from the internet entirely. This will have the sort of chilling effect we have already seen from the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, discouraging development in this increasingly important sector of the economy. It could also lead to wholesale violations of the privacy rights of individuals and businesses.

SOPA and PIPA could put Internet Service Providers in a position where they would have to block public access to websites on their networks or hurt network efficiency with complex monitoring schemes or face penalties directed at them for the actions of their customers.  Threats of shutdowns based on nothing but an unsubstantiated accusation of facilitating copyright infringement could lead to preemptive action against accused sites.  Web-based businesses and private sites would be treated as guilty until they could prove their innocence, a complete reversal of American legal tradition.  This could be devastating to small businesses which cannot afford the legal costs of a fight to defend their rights. There is huge potential for lawsuit abuse and intimidation from media giants with deep pockets and their own legal teams.

Opponents have compared this legislation to the kind of censorship practiced in China. Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation described SOPA as “the worst piece of intellectual property legislation we’ve seen in the last decade.” Protests from consumer groups, civil liberties advocates and online businesses are widespread, culminating in today’s symbolic protests on many popular sites.

The author of SOPA in the House and one of the leading forces behind the legislation is Lamar Smith (R-TX) who has been responsible for much of the worst legislation of the past decade, including the PATRIOT Act, REAL ID and many of the laws which have facilitated the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.  Now he wants to make war on the internet.  He is supported by other big government Republicans like Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), who is a virtual hireling of the Disney Corporation.  There is also bi-partisan opposition led by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in the Senate and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) in the House.  The President has also expressed concern over the content of the acts.

Supporters claim that PIPA and SOPA have been “improved” and want to push them through as quickly as possible, but analysis of the bills from groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union still find major flaws in the legislation. Concerned groups are organizing call-in and email efforts to influence Congress before next week.  

If you are concerned about keeping the internet free and would like them to go back to work and find ways to fight piracy without hurting private citizens and small businesses which drive one of the most dynamic segments of our economy, use the form provided by the Republican Liberty Caucus to write your Senators and speak up against PIPA while you still can.

This article appeared previously on Blogcritics Magazine

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The NDAA is Much Less “Fixed” than they Claim

January 7th, 2012 ·

Once president Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) it appears that word went out to all of the Senators and Representatives who voted for it that the bill was fixed and they should write their constituents reassuring them that it the bill no longer authorized the indefinite detention of US citizens inside our borders by the military on presidential order and without due process of law.

So the reassuring emails were sent to all the constituents who had lobbied against the passage of the bill with the military detention provisions included, and a lot of them were pacified by these earnest statements from legislators who likely either did not read or did not understand the totality of the NDAA as it was finally passed. They were convinced that the addition of the statements “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens” (1021.e) and “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States” (1022.b.1) actually fixed the problems with the bill.

What they failed to understand is that the first statement is meaningless because the authors of the bill and the president believe that they already had the power to detain civilians in military custody without due process even before this bill was passed, and that the second statement still uses the term “requirement” which means that while military detention of US citizens is not required in all cases as it is with foreign citizens, it is still an option if ordered by the president.

All they had to do to actually fix this bill was change the phrase “not required” in the original language to “prohibited” when referring to the military detention of US citizens and all of the complaints would have been satisfied. That they did not do this when every expert had told them it was the simple and obvious solution and that they instead engaged in misdirection and false assurances, demonstrates a cynical attitude towards the intelligence of the outraged public which had been loudly lobbying against this aspect of the NDAA.

While reassuring letters from Congressmen may have won over some former opponents, they are not fooling civil liberties lawyers who have actually read the bill and looked at the final wording in context. You don’t have to take my word for the persistence of military detention in the legislation because plenty of legal experts are speaking out against it. Sadly they don’t have the platform or authority of a letter from your trustworthy hometown Congressman.

On Justia.com Professor Joanne Mariner, director of the Hunter College Human Rights Program and formerly with Human Rights Watch, writes of the NDAA:

“Notably, section 1022(b)(1) does not exempt American citizens from the more important provisions in section 1021, which allow the military detention of broad categories of terrorist suspects. It does not, therefore, improve on the status quo by extending any new protections to Americans.

“Moreover, the specific exemption for American citizens in section 1022 could be understood as suggesting, by negative implication, that American citizens are covered by section 1021. Potentially reinforcing this view is the fact that an effort to amend section 1021 to exempt citizens failed in the Senate. If, in the future, judges decide to refer to the statute’s legislative history to help ascertain its scope, the lack of such an exemption may be determinative.”

And she dismisses the supposed promise of protection for US citizens from changes in the law, writing:

“the provision’s reference to “existing law” begs far too many questions. It is precisely the scope of existing law that is subject to vociferous debate and continuing litigation. Under the Bush administration, the law was interpreted to allow the indefinite detention of both citizens and non-citizens arrested anywhere in the world, including the United States.”

Benjamin Wittes, who is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution and co-director of the Harvard Law School-Brookings Project on Law and Security, writes in his FAQ explaining the NDAA that our rights were already essentially gone in practice and that the NDAA just formalizes this situation:

“The NDAA is really a codification in statute of the existing authority the administration claims. It puts Congress’s stamp of approval behind that claim for the first time, and that’s no small thing. But it does not–notwithstanding the widespread belief to the contrary–expand it. Nobody who is not subject to detention today will become so when the NDAA goes into effect.”

Although he does write off most of the concerns with the NDAA as being based on its ambiguities and ultimately left up to determinations by the courts, he also raises the additional concern that “the NDAA could theoretically be said to expand detention authority involves people held on the basis not of membership in an enemy group but mere support for one,” validating the concern that the applicability of military detention could be expanded to include people with no direct involvement in any terrorist activity.

In its press release on the signing of the bill, the ACLU is much more definitive about its concerns, quoting ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero:

““The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.”

And stating that:

“Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen detained on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress now assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way again.”

What is clear from reading all of this analysis of the bill is that although the final revision successfully muddied the waters, it did not fix the basic concerns with military detention of US citizens. That the government believed they already had the power before the passage of the NDAA does not excuse the authors of the bill from responsibility for formally codifying this practice.

It does to some degree reframe the debate, however. The argument is now much more basic, between those who believe that the NDAA should have been used as an opportunity to prohibit military detention and protect the rights of citizens, and those – like most members of Congress – who seem perfectly comfortable with giving the president the power to suspend foundational legal principles like Posse Comitatus and Habeas Corpus when even a hint of association with terrorism is involved.

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Is Ron Paul a Double Threat Candidate?

January 6th, 2012 ·

One of the arguments used to dismiss Representative Ron Paul’s viability as a presidential candidate is that he is a libertarian masquerading as a Republican who appeals to a limited but high intensity audience, a popularity which will not translate into victory in most states. This argument is being used by pundits and media spokespeople to explain away his near-tie for first in the Iowa Caucus.

It’s a reasonable argument based on his small but loyal following in the 2008 election, but despite its basis in fact it is not sufficient to explain Paul’s current success. The problem is that Iowa is anything but a state dominated by libertarian-leaning Republicans. In fact, Iowa’s Republicans are 54% evangelical Christians who are strongly socially conservative and have very little in common with more libertarian Republicans. If Paul’s only appeal were to Liberty Republicans then Paul would have done poorly in Iowa where voters are anything but pro-liberty.

One measure of how libertarian Republicans in a state are is how active the Republican Liberty Caucus, which represents libertarian Republicans, is in that state. Iowa is an extremely weak state for RLC membership and involvement. Unlike most states, especially Republican dominated states, it has no active RLC chapter and it offered a single endorsee for office in 2010 and he did not win election. Compare that to New Hampshire where the RLC offered over 100 candidates for office in 2010 and has 81 members in the state House of Representatives.

New Hampshire Republicans lean libertarian and those in Iowa clearly do not. If Paul’s appeal was solely to libertarian voters then Paul would be dominating New Hampshire and would have bombed in Iowa where a libertarian message is not terribly welcome. Yet Paul pulled off a tie in Iowa, receiving the same number of delegates as Santorum and Romney, even better than he is likely to do in New Hampshire where he seems a solid lock for second place. He may also go on to pass the declining Gingrich and take second in South Carolina which has a balance of libertarian Republicans and more socially conservative Republicans.

All of this suggests that contrary to the conventional wisdom, Paul is not a single-constituency voter, but rather a double-threat with two bases of support. He appears to appeal not only to the expected pro-liberty demographic, but also to more traditional conservatives including a lot of religious conservatives. Paul’s balance of libertarian policies and personal inclinations towards social conservatism seems to resonate with both groups, giving him a much broader base than just the high-intensity ideologues most commonly associated with him.

In fact, based on the combination of his personal views and policy positions, Paul may not be the marginal candidate many assume him to be. With the exception of hardcore neoconservatives for whom an aggressive foreign policy is paramount – a viewpoint in disrepute after the failures of the Bush era – Paul has something to offer most of the other constituencies within the Republican party. His hands-off policies appeal to many social conservatives as well as libertarians. His clear personal religious faith attracts religious conservatives. His fiscally conservative policies appeal to both those who want government reform and to pro-business Republicans. In addition, the latest FoxNews poll shows asked voters who was the “true conservative” in the race and 40% answered Paul while 34% answered Santorum. Clearly Paul has created a larger niche as both the most Conservative and most Libertarian candidate in the race.

In Iowa Romney got almost none of the conservative vote while Santorum ended up sharing the conservative vote with Paul. But unlike Paul, Santorum has very little money and even less appeal to voters outside of that hardcore conservative base. Santorum polls very poorly in New Hampshire and without money he lacks the legs to catch up with other candidates. As Santorum’s Iowa surge fades, it’s quite likely that many of his supporters – who may be “anyone but Mitt” voters – will move to Paul with whom he shares conservative common ground.

If it proves to be true that Paul has two bases of support within the Republican Party, winning over both serious conservatives and libertarians, that puts him in position to be the preeminent challenger to Romney’s broad but lukewarm appeal. Though the media may continue to argue that Paul is unelectable, with this clear evidence that his base of support is much broader than originally believed, this may come down to a very close two-man race between Romney and Paul.

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NTSB Cell Phone Ban Fails Logical Test

December 20th, 2011 ·

The National Transportation Safety Board stirred up a lot of controversy last week with its recommendation that all usage of cell phones while driving be banned, including the use of hands-free devices. This has led to proposals for the passage of a federal ban on cell phone usage in cars and concern that the federal government will follow past examples and use the threat of withholding highway funds to force states to pass cell phone bans.

This recommendation is based on a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study which reports that 5,474 people were killed in accidents caused by distracted driving. Of that total, 995 of the deaths were in accidents where the distraction was caused by the use of cell phones. Based on these numbers the NTSB has called for a nationwide ban on cell phone use in cars.

What the NTSB does not tell you is that the statistics in the NHTSA report and from other sources may not entirely support the conclusions which they draw or the solution which they recommend. Overall the number of fatal accidents has declined 22% in the five-year period covered in the study. And while the number of distracted driving fatalities is reported as having increased 20%, there is a clear indication that changes in methodology and an increase in the reporting of cases as attributable to distracted driving may account for that trend.

In addition, cell phones were only one of 15 sources of distraction identified in the report and accounted for only 18% of the total cases. Other even more common activities like eating, drinking and smoking in the car accounted for more fatal accidents, but were not included in the call for a ban. The report also does not clearly differentiate between texting and talking on a cell phone, nor does it analyze the difference between talking on a hand held versus a hands free device, yet the NTSB has called for banning all of these uses accross the board, though there is no evidence that there is any real danger associated with using a hands-free cellular device.

A look at another NHTSA report which makes a more comprehensive analysis of traffic safety trends shows that in the 20 years since the use of cell phones became widespread the number of fatal traffic accidents is actually down by 40% and is down by an even larger percentage when indexed for population growth. Taken together with the increase in distracted driving deaths in the last five years when texting has become much more common, this suggests that texting may be the real problem, not cell phone use in general.

With a total of 5.585 million auto accidents per year in the United States, it is reasonable to estimate that about 1 million of those crashes are caused by cell phone use. That is somewhat less than the number of crashes caused annually by deer according to State Farm. Does that mean that the government should make a priority of fencing in all highways or exterminating all deer? There is no evidence of the NTSB suggesting any effort to prevent those equally preventable accidents. Why is the threat of cell phones more important than the many other preventable threats which drivers face?

Then there is the question of whether the number of deaths attributable to cell phone use is even statistically significant. With over 33,808 traffic fatalities in 2009 and only 995 cell phone related deaths, we’re talking about 2.9% of all fatalities blamed on cell phones compared to 32% of traffic deaths involving alcohol. That’s a far more serious and equally preventable danger, though draconian solutions to that problem like cars which won’t start without a passing breathalyzer test are also pretty unappealing.

Weighed against all of this are the undeniable benefits of convenience and productivity associated with cell phone use. No one wants to measure the cost of human lives against convenience, but nonetheless in the real world we do it every day. Being able to make calls from the car without the distractions of the office or home has a great appeal to the typical American workaholic.

The basic truth is that the NTSB is grossly exaggerating the seriousness of the threat of cell phone use by drivers. It’s far down the scale of threats to public health and safety and it does not make sense to make it a legislative priority at a federal or a state level. Obviously you should be careful about all sorts of distractions in the car. Just as you should keep an eye out for deer on the highway and not drive at all after you have been drinking. But ultimately all of these are issues of personal responsibility, not problems which rise to the level where they threaten the “general welfare” as defined in the Constitution and justify government intervention. This nation faces many serious problems. This is just not one of them.

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Has America Lost Its Mind?

July 4th, 2011 ·

Fifty years after writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson reflected on what he had done in a letter to Henry Lee, writing:

“This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.”

That idea, that there was an “American mind” which was an expression of the shared beliefs of the people, was central to the concept of proper government as conceived by the founding fathers. This American mind or national identity was distinctly different from that of other nations, and while clearly everyone did not think exactly alike, it was assumed that there was a basis of common interests and values which all Americans shared.  

From the poor Virginia planter to the wealthy Boston merchant, regardless of wealth or education or status, there was a commonality of values that was the American mind.  Liberty, independence and responsibility formed the basis of that mindset. People were self-sufficient and looked out for their own interests and their own affairs.  They asked little of their government and expected government to take little from them in return.  Government was a necessary evil which worked best when it was small and far away.

The idea of dependence was abhorrent to them as individuals and as a culture.  They wanted no charity and they wanted no overlords.  They were dedicated to individual and national autonomy without the guiding hand of paternalism hovering over them poised to lift them up or swat them down at whim.  Frances Trollope described Americans of the post-revolutionary period as “Provincial, boastful, optimistic, swaggering, patriotic, opportunistic, inventive and crude.”  They didn’t fit her refined sensibilities and she cut her time in America as short as possible, but it did inspire her son Anthony to admire Americans for their “self-asserting, obtrusive independence.”

These were our ancestors, but the same description no longer applies to us.  Their American mind of Jefferson’s time was independent, but we lost that mentality as we became mired in a culture of dependency which has grown at an accelerated rate in the last two generations.  Trollope (the son) went on to address the issue of independence and dependency, writing:

“Men and women do not beg in the States; they do not offend you with tattered rags; they do not complain to heaven of starvation; they do not crouch to the ground for half-pence. If poor, they are not abject in their poverty. They read and write. They walk like human beings made in God’s form. They know that they are men and women, owing it to themselves and to the world that they should earn their bread by their labor, but feeling that when earned it is their own.”

That no longer describes us.  In the 1960s our materialistic culture caused us to confuse freedom with freedom from want and we embraced the illusion that if we could make people less needy we would make them more free.  The truth is that you cannot separate freedom from responsibility. If you take away peoples responsibility for their own needs you also take away their liberty. When government gives with one hand it takes away with the other.

Make no mistake here, I am not just talking about the poor.  They at least have excuses.  They’ve been undereducated by our government schools and come from a multi-generational culture of poverty which is a national disgrace.  The culture of dependence has risen up the social and economic hierarchy and it has become the standard in business and industry.  We have a War on Drugs, but we have no war on the most dangerous drugs – money and political influence.  Government acts like a pusher and uses money in the form of subsidies, bailouts and tax breaks to turn businesses into addicts and create a junkie economy dependent on the state.

In 1776 the American Mind was focused on independence and the risks and opportunities which come with it.  Today the American Mind has become dimmed and deranged, yielding to the lure of dependency and fearing the challenges which come with independence. Some argue that we are no longer a young nation and our national mind has become senile and demented, but you can take an analogy too far.  

Clearly the American mind needs a good scrubbing to remove years of bad ideas and the creeping crud of socialism, but there’s reason to hope that somewhere under there we’ve still got something worth saving, that the American mind which Jefferson wrote about has a durability which can withstand the ravages of time and reassert itself if given some proper care and attention by those who still value liberty and independence and want to see them restored.   Let’s tear away the crud of bad government and corrupted institutions and find that American state of mind again – the mind that gloried in independence and the liberty it brings.

This article appeared first on Blogcritics Magazine.

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Mission Accomplished?

May 2nd, 2011 ·

Great news. Osama bin Laden is dead. He was killed in an attack today which was months in planning and struck him deep inside Pakistan. They have the body. They’ve verified the DNA. The bogeyman who financed the 9/11 attacks and inspired 10 years of war and nationbuilding under two administrations is gone and the mission declared in the beginning of the War on Terror has now truly been accomplished.

Was it worth the trillions of dollars spent and the bankrupting of our nation? Was it worth the loss of more than twice as many more American lives as were lost on 9/11 itself? Did it return to us some profit beyond a long drawn out revenge? Is the world safer now than it was 10 years ago? Is this the end of the threat of terrorism?

Obviously the answer to most of these questions is no. The cost was too high, the results are anticlimactic and terrorism remains a multi-headed monster which isn’t going anywhere. Tonight President Obama said as much:

“Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must — and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.”

This raises the specter of the eternal state of war against phantom enemies of 1984. I realize that terrorism isn’t going away and I know that there are fundamental problems in Islam and in the cultures it dominates which generate chaos and societal defects which aren’t going to be cured in one night. But is it too much to hope that the death of bin Laden might ben an opportunity to pause and reconsider the disastrous character of the War on Terror?

In the heady aftermath of victory and delayed gratification finally satisfied, it may not be popular to say it, but let’s keep in mind how little this really means and how much it cost. Killing bin Laden is about 98% symbolic and 2% meaningful. It doesn’t justify more of the same. It’s just a punctuation mark at the end of a legacy of failure. There should be no tolerance for those who want to use this marginal accomplishment to vindicate the torturous process which led up to it and to justify doing more of the same.

Even though it’s basically meaningless, let’s all pretend that killing bin Laden makes all the difference and puts the specter of 9/11 to rest. Let’s say “mission accomplished” and move on the way we should have when Bush first made that declaration. This shouldn’t be a milestone in the War on Terror, it should be the gravestone which marks the end of that ill-conceived venture which has been as bungled by this administration as it was by the previous one.

Let’s call it a turning point and an opportunity to rethink our foreign policy and what our objectives ought to be. This might be the time to return to a model of foreign policy which doesn’t rely on the failed Wilsonian vision of being everyone’s big sister and forcing obedience where we can’t buy affection. We’ve tried that approach and we can no longer afford to try to out-tyrant the tyrants and out terrorize the terrorists. That’s a game which no one wins.

With bin Laden gone, let’s try a foreign policy which is truly American, where we encourage the nations of the world to rise to our level rather than us sinking to theirs. We start by ending the wars and occupations and bringing the troops home to actually defend our land and citizens. Then we can build a new foreign policy based on America’s best interests. With bin Laden gone there is also no longer any excuse for heightened domestic security and we should dismantle the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA and repeal the remaining provisions of the Patriot Act.

By restoring liberty at home we can take away bin Laden’s greatest victory. Overseas we should lead with our strengths and focus on the promotion of free trade and opening up international markets. Let’s let capitalism, prosperity and market forces lay the groundwork for natural change and the development of strong trading partners. Where prosperity leads, the yearning for liberty will follow and tyrannies will fall – all at no cost to American taxpayers.

When we don’t declare “mission accomplished” and pull out, remember that we could have claimed victory and ended this farce and that from now on as nationbuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan metastasizes into rebuilding the entire muslim world, these are now 100% Obama’s wars of choice.

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Off Year Elections Offer Opportunities for Grassroots Candidates

April 29th, 2011 ·

It’s no secret that the trick to the success of many grassroots candidate backed by Tea Party groups and activist groups from the liberty movement like the Republican Liberty Caucus last year was using nationwide issue-based fundraising to drive money to local candidates from outside of their states.

The Ron Paul campaign showed how effective that strategy could be in their “moneybombs” in 2008 and it worked equally well for his son Rand and other grassroots Republicans in 2010. It made it possible for candidates whose support was primarily from small groups and individuals to widen their fundraising reach, largely through the internet, and thereby counter the influence of establishment PACs and even the Republican National Committee.

In an off-year election when there are far fewer races around the country there is the potential for this strategy to be even more effective for the small number of candidates who are running. The millions raised for hundreds of grassroots candidates in 2010 could carry far more weight when divided between only a handful of candidates in key races in 2011.

The main stumbling block is that people are still recovering from the 2010 campaign and awareness of the 2011 campaigns is not high among activists and potential donors. People just don’t think about politics as much a year when most of the elections are local and low profile. Nonetheless, there are a few very significant races being run and important victories which could be won for grassroots Republican candidates all over the country. There are special elections and state and local elections, including five governorships and a couple of seats in Congress up for grabs.

Most of these races haven’t really made it onto the national radar yet. There are four states with gubernatorial elections this year. The only one of these races which isn’t competitive is Bobby Jindal’s race for reelection in Louisiana. The other races are in West Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky and haven’t gotten much attention outside their states. There are two vacant congessional seats, one in California (CD36) and the other in New York (CD26), both elections are to fill partial terms of representatives who resigned. There are also high profile mayoral elections in about a dozen cities and elections for major statewide offices in some of the states which are electing governors. Most of these elections are in November with party primaries earlier in the year.

In most of these races it’s still not clear who the good candidates are or even who’s running, though we know that Governor Haley Barbour cannot run for reelection in Mississippi because of term limits. So far the only race to be getting much national attention is the contest for Governor of Kentucky. A lot of attention is already focused on the state and there is a heated Republican primary to see who will get the chance to challenge incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear. Based on the surge of support for Rand Paul last November and his double-digit win in the general election it seems likely that a grassroots Republican will stand a good chance of beating Beshear. The two main contenders are State Senate Chairman David Williams and Louisville businessman Phil Moffett who has emerged as the first strong grassroots candidate of 2011.

The Kentucky GOP primary vote is on May 19th, so the campaign is already well under way, and Moffett has the support of most of the same groups which backed Rand Paul, including the recently announced endorsement of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Moffett is running on an innovative platform of major tax reform, reducing the size of government and protecting state farms and businesses from overregulation by the federal government. He has struck such a strong chord with voters that Williams has started to steal his ideas, trying to obscure his long history as a political insider.

The Kentucky primary is early compared to other primaries this year so the campaigns are already well under way, and Moffett has been using moneybombs and online events to draw in donations from Tea Partiers and Liberty Republicans all over the country who helped get so many grassroots candidates elected last November. The question for his campaign is whether those activists and donors are somewhat burnt out so soon after last year’s election, or whether they will realize what an opportunity this is and rally to support him despite the lower profile of an off-year race like this.

Moffett’s campaign has set a goal of raising $200,000 and is about half-way there. That’s significantly less than his opponent is spending, but his relative lack of cash will be offset by the enthusiasm and hard work of his followers. As happened with Rand Paul, once he wins the primary larger donors within the GOP establishment are likely to come around and start supporting him against the Democrat incumbent.

The Moffett campaign may be setting the tone for the other races which will follow this year, and showing that there’s a great opportunity for principled, grassroots Republicans to mount serious campaigns and raise substantial money during an off election year. The fundraising strategies which worked in 2010 have the potential to be even more effective now. As the campaigns in other states develop we can hope to see more candidates with Tea Party and Liberty Republican backing emerge, and those of us who support smaller, better and more responsible government should be watching for opportunities to support the best candidates, even if they are in a different state.

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The Big Lie About GE’s Huge Untaxed Profits

April 13th, 2011 ·

You know, I like Jon Stewart. He’s a funny guy. And I don’t generally mind him poking fun at politicians and policies I support. What I do mind is when he breaks the illusion of somewhat legitimate comedy-news by repeating lies straight out of the talking points of the political left, letting himself be used as their late-night pointman, mainstreaming those lies into the public debate out of the mouths of the many people who get their only news from his show.

Last week, Stewart went on repeatedly about how General Electric reaped huge profits of $149 billion yet paid not a penny in taxes. It’s a great argument to make at a time when everyone is paying their own taxes and easy to drive to outrage over a huge corporation not paying their fair share. The problem is that it’s a lie. It takes advantage of the ignorance of too much of the public about what is meant by profits. Yes, GE’s corporate revenue was $149 billion in 2010. However, that is not the same as profit.

After subtracting all of the costs of operating their business, their actual Net Profit was less than $11 billion. That’s the money they had left over to actually spend after paying all of their bills. That’s a far cry from the huge profit number which anti-corporatists have been promoting. It’s actually a relatively low profit margin of only 7.4%. What’s more, it’s not really their profit, because every cent of it gets payed out to stockholders who also pay taxes on it.

There are also a couple of other problems in this criticism of GE. First, they actually did pay taxes. Not a huge amount, but their income statement clearly shows that they paid total taxes of $1.05 billion to the federal government. That’s just under 10% in taxes on their Net Profit. Second, there’s the issue of what they did with their profits. Those profits went to the people who own stock in the company, which actually included me up until fairly recently. Almost all of those profits were divided up and then individual stockholders also paid taxes on their share of profits, likely at the capital gains rate of 15%, so in actuality the profits were taxed twice, adding up to a total rate of about 24.5%.

There’s a simple way for the average taxpaying John Stewart watcher to relate to GE’s taxes. Just compare them to your own taxes. All the money you earn during a year is your Gross Income, the equivalent of GE’s $149 billion in corporate revenue. The standard exemptions and deductions which every taxpayer can take then reduce that amount and what’s left is your Adjusted Gross Income. Your deductions and exemptions are like the operating expenses which GE deducts from its income, so your Adjusted Gross Income is equivalent to their $11 billion Net Profit. For both of you that’s the actual amount which is taxed. If you have an average income you pay 15% on that while GE pays only 10% on theirs. So far they’re a little ahead. But unlike you they then have to give all that money away, and the stockholders they give it to then pay 15% on it again, so the total rate of tax paid on that money before anyone can spend it is 24.5% a higher rate of tax than you pay unless you earn over about $44,000 a year as a single taxpayer. If you earn between $45,000 and $95,000 you pay about the same rate as GE. Only if you earn more than $95,000 do you pay more in tax as a percentage than GE does. And for the record, the taxes GE payed in 2010 were estimated quarterly payments, rather like the withholding taken out of your paycheck, not their final tax bill.

So the truth is that GE paid an entirely reasonable level of tax in 2010 and people like Jon Stewart, Michael Moore, ABC News, The New York Times and others who want to tear down our capitalist system are just lying to you and hoping you won’t check the facts. And remember this isn’t the only thing they lie about for partisan reasons. Guess who would really get hammered if we actually responded to their call to “repeal the Bush tax cuts.” One hint. It’s not the super-rich.

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Texas Lawmaker Offers Sensible Immigration Alternative

March 15th, 2011 ·

I was not particularly impressed with Paul Workman when he ran as a Republican for State Representative in Texas district 47. I supported his opponent in the primary and kind of ignored him in the general election as I live one district over from his district. But this week he got my attention in a way which I never expected, by proposing a state bill (HB2886) to implement a guest worker program for illegal aliens under the authority of the Texas state government.

I like the way that Workman is thinking outside of the box and looking for creative and realistic solutions to the problems posed by illegal immigration. He seems to be taking a lead from Arizona’s efforts to take the immigration issue away from the federal government, but instead of following their draconian course he’s acknowledging the benefits of immigrant labor and going after the real problems created by having those workers in an underground labor market which lowers wages, increases crime and makes the illegal population difficult to regulate effectively.

It’s a big step for a Republican to acknowledge that we might have to live with immigrant labor and need to find ways to make the best of it. Workman’s background in the construction industry presumably gives him a heightened awareness of the issue. While other legislators are trying to follow Arizona’s strategy of more legal restrictions and crippling penalties for businesses, Workman is going after the real problems with a realistic solution.

Most of the problems associated with having an underground labor force come directly from the fact that their illegal status encourages them to work for lower wages and not pay their way in society. Making them legal guest workers would put them into the normal wage market so that they would not undercut native workers. This addresses the complaint that they are taking jobs from Americans. You won’t be able to go out and hire an illegal for 30% less than a native worker anymore. Making them legal will also mean that they will no longer have to work off the books and it will bring them fully into the tax structure so that they will pay for the services they use, just like anyone else. This addresses the common complaint that illegals send their kids to schools and use medical services without paying for them. Making them legal also means that they are less likely to be forced into crime or be victimized by criminals because of the vulnerability created by their illegal status.

Just having a guest worker program will not suddenly start giving jobs to Mexicans and taking them away from American workers. It does nothing to make immigrants more qualified and takes away their low wage advantage. We’ve already seen that as unemployment has gone up, illegals have been going back to Mexico by the millions. Those who remain behind already have jobs or are part of the criminal underground. A guest worker program will make the working illegals visible and will expose those who are potential criminals. You would give the workers a work visa and round up everyone who doesn’t have one and send them home.

The illegal immigration problem is one which comes primarily from the conflict between a natural free market in labor and government’s attempts to limit that market and make it unfree. If you take away government’s negative role in suppressing the access of workers to available jobs, then you have a healthier and more free labor market where workers go where the opportunities are and everyone benefits.

This is not to say that Workman’s bill is perfect. It places an unreasonably high cost on a work visa at $4000. While he claims that’s equivalent to what these workers pay a coyote to get here, he overlooks the fact that it will likely be in addition to those expenses which were already paid or will still have to be paid to get into the country if the federal government is not cooperating at the border.

Workman’s bill includes some additional safeguards which may allay some concerns, but could be problematic. The guest worker permit would last for 8 years and applicants would have to pass a criminal background check. It also requires that employers provide guest workers the same benefits they offer other employees and that American workers be given preference in hiring. That last provision may be hard to enforce and along with the $4000 fee it might have a chilling effect and discourage workers from taking part in the program. For such a program to work it needs to be clearly advantageous for workers who are currently illegal to take advantage of it.

One thing which is clear is that Workman has done his homework. That 8 year duration is clearly based on studies which show that the average illegal worker stays in America for about 8 years before going back to Mexico voluntarily to enjoy the benefits of the money he has earned here. More than 80% of illegals do not want to stay in the US but want to return to Mexico and start their own businesses and thereby raise up the Mexican economy and create better jobs at higher wages there, ultimately reducing the pressure to come to America for work.

There are constitutional and jurisdictional issues raised by the bill. As Workman said, “the feds are going to blow a gasket.” As with the Arizona bill this proposal challenges federal authority to control immigration policy and it will butt heads directly with federal immigration enforcement efforts, feeble though they are. Once again this is state government stepping in to do a job which the federal government is supposed to do but has repeatedly failed at, particularly by not enacting a sensible policy like this themselves. Unlike the Arizona law this addresses real problems in a positive way.

Workman is not alone in this effort. A similar bill has already passed in Utah and is waiting for the Governor’s signature. If Workman also succeeds here in Texas it’s likely that other states will follow his lead when they see it is a more sensible alternative to doing nothing or taking the kind of action Arizona has taken.

I’m pleasantly surprised to see a proposal like this and Workman deserves a lot of credit for coming up with a good idea and not listening to the vocal nativist minority in his own party. A policy like this is good for business, good for legal and illegal workers and makes all of our citizens safer. Creating a more free market in labor reduces crime and increases prosperity for everyone.

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