Category Archives: Government Incompetence

Wrangling Long-Term Costs

Ezra Klein, on education & health care costs:

I’m not going to end this post with some wan paragraph explaining how to transform these two industries into something closer to their potential. My ideas on health-care reform are available elsewhere on the blog and I don’t know enough about education to say anything worthwhile. But if you asked me to paint an optimistic picture of the American economy over the next three or four decades, the story I’d tell you would mainly be about how we finally figured out how to drag health care and education into the 21st century. And if you asked me to paint you a pessimistic story of the next three or four decades, it’d be about how we failed to do that, and the two sectors continued eating up more and more of our money while delivering less and less value.

Well, good news, Ezra! Those two sectors are increasingly coming under bureaucratic government control, so I’m just sure we’ll figure out the answers to these hard problems! It’s not like Washington has any history of eating up more and more of our money while delivering less and less value

Repost: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Last Friday, June 17, 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs.” As Jacob Sullum points out here, the drug war didn’t actually begin with Nixon and it’s not likely to end on Obama’s watch (even though the Obama administration admits that current drug policy over this period has been a failure). In marking this dubious anniversary, I thought it would be apropos to repost one of my very first blog posts: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High.

Those of you who are familiar with my writing here and elsewhere might notice the style is a little different than my normal, more conversational second person style (i.e. I refer to “you” the reader frequently). This is because this essay was originally a writing assignment (note the APA format) for a college writing class I was taking at the time even before I got into blogging (I’ll leave it to you to guess what my grade was). This also means that some of the sources I used are older than what is available now. I have since learned a great deal more about how and why the war on (some) drugs is a failure. The following essay is by no means comprehensive but I still stand by these arguments as well as others we have offered here at The Liberty Papers.

Even in the face of reasonable arguments, proponents of prohibition say legalization would cause “moral destruction of the human soul” (Hannity around the 18 minute mark on this video) or say that those of us who would support anything from decriminalization to harm reduction strategies to outright legalization should spend some time with individuals or families whose lives have been destroyed because of drugs. I would counter that emotional argument with another and suggest that drug war proponents spend some time with Kathryn Johnston’s family or the many other “isolated incidents” whose victims have been (in some cases, innocently) traumatized, maimed, or killed as a result of a no knock raid gone wrong. I wonder if these actions resulting from the current drug policy cause any moral destruction of the human soul?

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    Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Could legalizing drugs be the answer to reducing drug use in America? Most people would probably call that idea crazy. Why would the government want to encourage drug use? This is a misconception most people have when the taboo topic of legalizing drugs is brought up. Many people believe that because something is legal, the government is somehow saying it is right. Tobacco is a legal product yet it is constantly under attack. When was the last time the surgeon general told the public that tobacco is safe and healthy? Could this reasoning apply to other drugs that are currently illegal, yet kill far fewer people than tobacco? In fact, tobacco kills more people every year than all illicit drugs combined (McWilliams, 1996). What would happen if tobacco was suddenly illegal? Would people who want to smoke try to find and buy cigarettes despite it being a banned substance? What would the consequences be of this prohibition? The result of course would be a complete failure, just as the prohibition of drugs has been a failure. There are three main reasons why the prohibition of illegal drugs should end: it is ineffective, it causes unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system, and above all, it is dangerous.

Prohibition is Ineffective
America spends roughly $30 million (Federal and State) a day to fight the war on drugs (Stossel, 2004). The White House is requesting for congress to appropriate an additional $556.3 million for the 2005 fiscal year above the 2004 figure of $12.1 billion (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). If money was the solution to the drug problem, it would have been solved by now. Unfortunately, money and the programs the money supports has done very little to solve the problem.

While politicians fight this war from the comfort of their air conditioned offices, law enforcement officers see things from another perspective. An organization of police officers who oppose the drug war known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), conducted a national survey among police officers. The survey found that 95% believe America is losing the drug war. Over 90% believe that treatment and prevention is more effective than incarceration. When asked what would happen if drugs were discriminations or legalized, 30% of the police officers believed there would be no effect or that usage would go down (McNamara, 1995). Based on these statistics, one could imagine the frustration these police officers are dealing with and the morale for fighting on cannot be very high. Retired narcotics officer and LEAP board member, Jack Cole put it this way:

After three decades of fueling the [drug] war with over half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get,cheaper,and more potent than they were 30 years ago. While our court system is choked with ever-increasing drug prosecutions our quadrupled prison population has made building prisons this nationÂ’s fastest growing industry, with two million incarcerated-more per capita than any industrialized country in the world. Meanwhile drug barons continue to grow richer than ever before (2002).

One might conclude that with this number of people serving time for drug offences, this would be an effective deterrent. While some people may decide not to take drugs because of the sentences associated with them, most rightly conclude that the odds of getting caught are very slim. The people who are most likely to get caught are the poorest Americans. Police concentrate their efforts to fight drugs on the poor neighborhoods. The rich are less likely to get caught because police do not typically patrol rich neighborhoods unless there is a reason to suspect the illegal activity (McWilliams, 1996). Even innocent people who happen to be poor are not exempt from punishment. Strict drug laws for public housing tenants go beyond the offenders themselves. The law states that tenants are responsible for anyone who enters the property, who participates in illegal drugs in any way, on or off the premises. This means that parents who are doing the best they can to be productive citizens could be evicted from their home if their teenager brings drugs into the home. The Supreme Court ruled that the law does, in fact apply to the tenant regardless of whether the tenant has knowledge of the criminal activity or not (Pilon, 2002). Is it right for the government to remove innocent people from their homes in the name of fighting the war on drugs?

Prohibition Puts Unnecessary Strain on the Criminal Justice System
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders is a major cause for prison over crowding. Violent offenders, who have no mandatory minimum sentence requirements for their crimes, are released early to make room for non-violent “criminals” who do (Cole, 2002). Federal sentencing guidelines require a five year prison sentence for possessing a single gram of cocaine. One gram is equivalent to a single packet of sugar (FAMM, 2002). Approximately 4,000 people are arrested daily for selling or using drugs. Roughly a half million non-violent drug offenders are in prison right now, who committed no other crimes (Stossel, 2004). A drug felon is more likely to spend more time in prison than someone who steals, rapes, molests children or even kills (McWilliams, 1996). Is society better off locking up someone for drugs than any of these other more serious offences?

Making room for a half million non-violent drug offenders means allowing a half million violent felons to roam free. Peter McWilliams, author and expert on consensual crimes, made this observation and stated:

Here’s how over worked law enforcement is in the United States: Only 21% of the people who commit murder and negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, or arson are ever arrested; 79% of them – almost four out of five get off scot-free (1996, p200)

In an effort to alleviate the problem of overcrowding prisons, some jurisdictions have turned to “drug courts” as a solution. Recognizing the ineffectiveness of incarceration, Florida policy makers created drug courts as an alternative for first time non-violent drug offenders. Through the drug courts, drug offenders are given a chance to seek treatment instead of serving prison time. Florida’s drug courts have served as a model for the rest of the country (Facts.com, 2002). In fact, the White House is recommending an increase of an additional $32 million for fiscal year 2005; nearly twice the amount appropriated in 2004 for these drug court programs (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). While forced treatment is a better alternative than prison, treatment is only effective for those who truly want to get help. Even if drug users kick the habit, the criminal record that goes with it still has its consequences.

Drug Prohibition is Dangerous and Breeds Crime
Drug prohibition, as well intentioned as it may be, has at least one more consequence: it breeds crime and is dangerous. Why is it that people who, after being released from prison, return to a life of crime? Do they like being criminals? To answer these questions one must consider this: convicted felons cannot apply for federal student loans, have a difficult time finding jobs, have a difficult time buying or renting homes and are prohibited from voting (unless their civil rights are restored). There are no distinctions made between violent and non-violent offenders; a felon is a felon (McWilliams, 1996). The criminal record leaves ex-convicts with very few choices. The only market these most of these people qualify for is the black market. The experience of being locked up with violent criminals teaches inmates how to commit more crimes better.

Only 15% of people who try illicit drugs become addicts (Cole, 2002). For this unfortunate 15%, they find themselves desperate for more. Because prohibition artificially inflates the price of drugs, addicts resort to crime that does harm other people. Unless the addict happens to be very wealthy, stealing, selling drugs and prostitution are a few options for those whose daily drug habit can cost between $200 and $400 (McWilliams, 1996). Participating in the drug trade is very profitable but dangerous. When one dealer encroaches on another dealerÂ’s territory, very bad things happen. Things like drive-by-shootings, which oftentimes endangers the lives of innocent people (Cole). If drugs were legalized, the price would drop dramatically and the drugs could be obtained safely. Even chronically addicted people would spend no more than $5 a day. Supporting a $5 habit would be a great deal easier than supporting a $400 habit. All that would be required would be a part-time job (McWilliams, 1996). In fact 80% of all crime is related to drugs one way or another. It is then reasonable to believe that legalizing drugs would reduce crime by 80% (Cole). Law enforcement could then use its limited resources on the other 20%.

Prohibition is also responsible for much of the health risks commonly associated with banned drugs. Risks include: selling drugs to minors, dirty needles and paraphernalia, uncertain dosages, and contamination (McWilliams, 1996). If drugs were legalized, the government could regulate and set quality control standards for all drugs; much like alcohol and tobacco. To keep children from purchasing drugs, the seller would have to be licensed and could only sell to adults. Currently, drug dealers sell to anyone who will buy them, including children. Quality control standards would result in a lower occurrence of overdoses. The users would know how potent the product is by its labeling. Dirty needles and paraphernalia would no longer be an issue (Cole, 2002). The drugs could also be taxed to fund treatment programs to help those who want to get off drugs as well as drug education programs for schools.

Conclusion
The very idea of legalizing drugs is a scary prospect to most people. Upon further examination however, one thing is very clear: the current strategy is not working. Though the risks would be dramatically reduced, a number of people would still overdose. Regrettably, though drugs would be less accessible to children, some would still get their hands on them. Minors drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes despite both products being illegal, legalizing drugs would have similar effects. As terrible as that may sound, the drug problem could at least be contained through legalization. Granting amnesty to those who have been convicted of non-violent drug offences along with legalization, regulation, treatment and education would go a long way to reducing drug use and crime in general. It is unrealistic to believe that America will ever be 100% drug free. A certain number of people will use drugs no matter what the laws are. Prohibition continues to do more harm to society than drugs ever will. Ending prohibition, though not a perfect solution, would do much less damage. This effective solution would relieve much of the burden on the criminal justice system and would make America a safer place to live. Until America as a whole believes this and plans to do something about it, our society will remain “high” on its arrogance.

References
Cole, J. A. (2002). End prohibition now!. Retrieved April 22, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/endprohnow.htm

FAMM (2002). Crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://famm.org/si_crack_powder_sentencing.htm

Facts.com (2002, February 15). Drug courts. Retrieved April 8, 2004, from http://80-www.2facts.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/ICOF/Search/i0700280_1

McNamara, J. D. (1995, April 9). Cops view of the ‘drug war’. San Francisco Examiner,. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/copsview.htm

McWilliams, P. (1996). Ain’t nobody’s business if you do: The absurdity of consensual crimes in our free country. Los Angeles, CA: Prelude Press.

Pilon, R. (2002, September 9). Tenants, students, and drugs: A comment on the war on the rule of law. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.cato.org/pubs/scr2002/pilon.pdf

Stossel, J. (2004). Give me a break: How I exposed hucksters, cheats, scam artists and became the scourge of the liberal media…. New York: HarperCollins.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (2004, March 1). National drug control strategy FY 2005 budget summary. Retrieved April 10, 2004, from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/budgetsum04/index.html

Auto Bailout; Can’t Prove A Counterfactual, But You Can Infer

So the big debate is whether the gov’t should sell their post-IPO shares in GM. At current prices, they’d [unsurprisingly] be losing money on the sale, compared to the amount put up in the bailout.

So we have to ask — was it worth it? To determine that, we can’t base our entire calculation on the return of the bailout. A bailout is offered with the expectation that you might not get *any* return — you bail to prevent the craft from sinking; anything else is gravy. So to determine the worth of the bailout, we have to ask what would have happened in the absence of a bailout. Thankfully, the Center for Automotive Research released their prediction back in 2008:

Researchers at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, estimate the impact on the U.S. economy would be substantial were all—or even half—of the three Detroit-based automotive manufacturers’ U.S. facilities to cease operations. The immediate shock to the economy would be felt well beyond the Detroit Three companies, negatively impacting the U.S. operations of international manufacturers and suppliers as well. Nearly 3 million jobs would be lost in the first year if there is a 100 percent reduction in Detroit Three U.S. operations.

“Our model estimates that a complete shutdown of Detroit Three U.S. production would have a major impact on the U.S. economy in terms of lost wages, reductions in social security receipts, personal income taxes paid, and an increase in transfer payments,” said Sean McAlinden, CAR chief economist and the study’s leader. “The government stands to lose on the level of $60 billion in the first year alone, and the three year total is well over $156 billion.”

Yikes! Sounds bad!

But would the automakers “cease operations”? Would they disappear into an economic black hole, never to be seen again, with only confused and unemployed UAW workers left behind like the un-Raptured masses?

Or would they, as Warren of Coyote Blog suggested way back when, be freed from working for an unproductive corporate environment and re-deployed in ways that their contributions will actually generate value?

So what if GM dies? Letting the GM’s of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation. Assuming GM’s DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM’s assets from GM’s control actually increases value. Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value. Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

I can’t find the specific post, but he has another where he suggests that if GM were even to face liquidation, it would not entail the loss of GM’s assets, much of its workforce, or its supply chain. The failure of GM [or Chrysler] would be painful, but fundamentally going through a serious bankruptcy [and/or liquidation] would free GM from its worst corporate problems, possibly returning them to a point where they actually generated value from their operations rather than losses.

Liquidation, of course, is the worst-case scenario. And there were plenty of folks suggesting that liquidation was impossible in the 2008-2010 era, because credit markets had seized and there was NO way anyone in the world would have the capital to buy up assets. But is it true?

Nope. Not at all. You need look no farther than Nortel. Nortel was a MAJOR telecommunications company, existing in one form or another since the late 1800’s, back in the days of the first telephone. It was built into an absolutely enormous conglomerate during the technology boom of the 1990’s, but like many companies in that sector, fell on hard times after the tech crash. They fought through bailouts in 2003 and 2009, but ultimately they declared bankruptcy right in the heart of the credit crunch, hoped to escape intact, but eventually had to go through liquidation. Between then and today, Nortel has basically ceased to exist. A look at the Wikipedia page for the liquidation results suggests that seized credit markets didn’t exactly stop them from finding buyers for their assets.

As an engineer who has dealt with what used to be Nortel and is now a collection of disparate companies that have purchased their assets, I can attest that Nortel has not “ceased operations”. That’s not to say that the changes over the last few years have been pain-free. There has been dislocation, there have been layoffs, and from my discussions with former Nortel employees as well as being a supplier, many things have changed. Fundamentally, though, Nortel’s business units are still in operations under different names. Many Nortel engineers are still employed within the same organization, only with a different letterhead on their business card. And as a supplier, I can say that the disruptions at Nortel have not put all of their suppliers out of business. Being a supplier has become more difficult in many ways — largely because the companies that bought Nortel units are run more efficiently than Nortel was, and this means that supplier competition is tougher — but that is fundamentally a good thing.

Would the experience of Nortel be the same as a potential GM or Chrysler bankruptcy? Obviously, it’s impossible to prove a counterfactual. But that also doesn’t mean that we should accept the claim that bailouts “saved the US auto industry” at face value. Had GM or Chrysler gone bankrupt, it’s likely that their various brands would have been picked up on the open market at various discount rates. Some might have been purchased for their own brand value, others might be purchased to use their factories and design engineers to produce vehicles under different nameplates.

One thinks, then, that the fear was not that the American auto industry would evaporate. The fear, instead, was that the psychological pride of having the “Big Three” would disappear. They didn’t care about jobs, they cared that Americans might be employed working for Toyota rather than for GM. It was nationalism, not economics, that drove decisions. As a result, the US taxpayer is going to prop up a manufacturer with a history of failure and little incentive to change (since one bailout can easily become two or three) solely in order to be able to say that GM still exists. You didn’t save an industry, America. You saved your ego.
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How To Deal With A Stalled Economy

I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time reading 74 pages of forum posts on an pilot’s message board discussing the crash of Air France flight 447 several years ago. Fascinating stuff. It’s the tale of pilots faced with a situation of mechanical failure, but even worse, a situation which they misdiagnosed and thus took the exact wrong course of action. The basics:

It was at this point, after autopilot turned off and they worked to change their course, that a stall warning sounded, meaning that the airplane wasn’t generating enough lift. The report notes the co-pilot grabbed the controls and lifted the plane, which, according to aviation experts is contrary to normal procedure during a stall, when the nose should in fact be lowered. During the lift, the speed sensors plunged then spiked in an apparent malfunction, the report shows. “So, we’ve lost the speeds,” the co-pilot noted.

For nearly a minute, as the speed sensors jumped, the pilot was not present in the cockpit. By the time the pilot returned, the plane had started to fall at 10,000 feet per minute while violently rolling from side to side. But the BEA notes the crew acted in accordance with all procedures, frantically attempting to command the plane as it pitched and rolled in the sky. The plane’s speed sensors never regained normal functionality as the plane began its three-and-a-half minute freefall.

The report shows the flight remained stalled throughout the drop, with its nose pointed up 15 degrees in response to the pilots’ attempt to generate lift. The flight plunged into the Atlantic nose-up, killing all 228 on board.

Granted, those 74 pages of pilot posts suggest that there are likely some very reasonable explanations for why the situation was misdiagnosed. But key is that it doesn’t appear [from what has been released to date] that the pilots understood — at the point it became critical — that the aircraft was stalled and thus did the exact wrong thing. What they did seems (to non-pilots) to be an intuitive response; if you’re quickly losing altitude, you should try to climb. But this is exactly the wrong approach to a stall. In a stall, your airplane is behaving like an expensive rock, not an airplane. Despite losing altitude you must point nose down until you get enough airspeed over your wings for the airplane to become an airplane again. I’m not a pilot, and I understand enough about aviation to know that.

So why am I posting about such things on a political blog? Simple. Our economy isn’t behaving like an economy, it’s behaving like a rock. We’re stalled. Yet our politicians are trying to do the same thing the pilots of AF447 did to get us out of it: pull back on the yoke [subsidies & intervention] and goose the throttle [monetary and fiscal stimulus]. We’ve got inexperienced pilots at the controls, who know more about flying a plane in Keynesian theory than in Austrian reality.

What happened? Well, previous rounds of throttle [low interest rates / shoddy lending standards of Fed & banks during Bush administration] and pitch [national housing bubble] put our economy up in the realm of “coffin corner”, where seemingly minor changes in AoA or airspeed cause an aircraft to exceed its flight envelope in rapid fashion. I can’t claim that the Obama administration was handed a very easy situation. But that doesn’t begin to excuse them for adopting the exact wrong strategies to dealing with it.

America’s economy is stalled and not responding to your stimulus. It’s rapidly heading groundward and yet everyone in charge can’t seem to explain why pulling the nose up with fancy rhetoric isn’t fixing the problem. The answer is not for the government to try to fix the problem. It’s for the government to stop worsening the stall, get the hell out of the way, and let the economy start behaving like an economy again.

Duh, Winning!

The ATF has been arming the drug cartels in Mexico? What could possibly go wrong?

CBS News reports:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allegedly let gun runners walk off with weapons – thousands of them – to see if they’d end up in the hands of the cartels. The Justice Department and ATF have denied it ever happened.

Special Agent John Dodson works in ATF’s Phoenix office and has blown the whistle on the controversial strategy, known as letting guns “walk.”

Dodson believes there are other ATF operations going on that have done the same thing.

[…]

Sources tell CBS News licensed gun dealers often wanted no part of selling to suspicious characters who could be supplying the cartels.

But, sources say, ATF enlisted the gun dealers as paid Confidential Informants and encouraged them to sell even more.

“ATF has asked me to assist in an official investigation,” reads one agreement.

Gun salesmen closed the deals, and ATF watched and listened with recording devices.

“ATF Special Agents conducted surveillance…and identified the dates and times that the conspirators… crossed the international border,” says one court document.

Dodson argues that something that should never be done. “A lot people are going to get hurt with those firearms between the time we let them go and the time they’re recovered again in a crime.”

Sources tell CBS News these ATF operations involved about 450 weapons. Despite the risk, two years later the same strategy was expanded to include thousands of guns.

Hopefully this special agent Dodson won’t receive the “Manning Treatment” for being brave enough to expose this to the media and the American public.

In response to this news, Libertarian Party Chairman Mark Hinkle in a statement said:

“The War on Drugs has caused far more death and destruction than it has prevented. The War on Drugs is a failure in almost every measurable way. The War on Drugs should end.

“It’s becoming more and more unclear whether the U.S. government even wants the violence to decrease. More drug violence means more jobs for federal drug agents. More drug arrests mean more jobs for prison construction and management contractors. There are a lot of people whose income depends on a big, thriving, unsuccessful War on Drugs.

“If the War on Drugs were halted, there would no longer be any such thing as ‘drug trafficking.’ Violence in Mexico would decrease very dramatically, as drug lords would quickly go out of business.

I’m not one who normally subscribes to conspiracy theories but Hinkle makes an interesting point. There are lots of people who benefit from the war on (some) drugs. More convicted drug dealers and drug users means more jobs for those who build prisons and maintain prisons. The prison industrial complex as a whole would suffer mightily if the war on (some) drugs was ever ended.

I also think the antigun crusaders both inside and outside the Obama Administration could also benefit. “These guns are so available to these drug cartels because they are so readily available to just anyone who walks into a gun store” they can say.

Hopefully some heads will roll on the result of this irresponsible scheme. The ATF and the Obama Administration no doubt have blood on their hands.

Selling AK-47s to the drug cartels to scare Americans into accepting even stricter gun control laws while strengthening the prison industrial complex? Duh, winning!

South Dakota Lawmakers Confused By Federal/State Distinction — Embarrass Selves

[shakes head]

A group of South Dakota lawmakers has introduced a bill that would require almost everyone in their state to buy a gun once they turn 21.

Turns out it’s not a serious attempt. Rather, the lawmakers are trying to make a point about the new health care law — that an individual mandate is unconstitutional, whether it requires everyone to buy health insurance or, in South Dakota’s case, a firearm.

Rep. Hal Wick, one of five co-sponsors, told The Argus Leader newspaper that he expects the bill to fail.

“Do I or the other co-sponsors believe that the state of South Dakota can require citizens to buy firearms? Of course not. But at the same time, we do not believe the federal government can order every citizen to buy health insurance,” he said.

The town of Kennesaw, GA mandates that every resident own a gun. The State of Massachusetts mandates that every resident purchase health insurance. Neither of those mandates caused a US Constitutional crisis. How in the world is the proposed South Dakota gun mandate in any different?

In truth, it’s not. We have long placed certain actions within the purview of State power that would be unconstitutional if done federally. It is only blatant misreading of the commerce clause that has allowed the Feds to infringe as far as they have.

Yet these dolts think that trying to enact a STATE mandate is somehow logically analogous to fighting a federal mandate. As if nobody had heard of MassCare or nobody had drawn up the suggestion that states have the power to require car insurance but may be* unconstitutional to mandate at the Federal level. They, by their words above, do not even seem to grasp the distinction between Article I, Section 8’s enumeration of powers at the Federal level and the fact that States are held to a different [lower] standard.

I can only see two reasons for this:

  1. They really ARE this dumb.
  2. This is all just one big publicity stunt.

The former suggests that the voters of South Dakota shouldn’t be trusted at the ballot any further, as they clearly can’t elect people capable of behaving responsibly in office. The latter suggests that the politicians just happen to believe that the voters of South Dakota [and writers for Fox News] are so dumb that they can’t tell the difference between State and Federal actions. Either way, it’s one more example that democracy doesn’t work.
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The Trillion-Dollar Zero-Cost Stimulus Program

Want to inject liquidity into the market, support American jobs, and do so without raiding the US Treasury or overheating the printing press? The answer is simple: get out of the way.

Now, some may say that’s a libertarian’s answer for everything. And they’d usually be right. But I’m not signing you up for a precipitous decline in federal revenue. I’m not resorting in protectionist and mercantilist policies destined to impoverish American consumers in favor of American exporters. All I’m asking — or relaying the request of Cisco CEO John Chambers and Oracle President Safra Catz, more accurately — is that the US Government make it easier to bring foreign profits back to our shores:

One trillion dollars is roughly the amount of earnings that American companies have in their foreign operations—and that they could repatriate to the United States. That money, in turn, could be invested in U.S. jobs, capital assets, research and development, and more.

But for U.S companies such repatriation of earnings carries a significant penalty: a federal tax of up to 35%. This means that U.S. companies can, without significant consequence, use their foreign earnings to invest in any country in the world—except here.

The U.S. government’s treatment of repatriated foreign earnings stands in marked contrast to the tax practices of almost every major developed economy, including Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Australia and Canada, to name a few. Companies headquartered in any of these countries can repatriate foreign earnings to their home countries at a tax rate of 0%-2%. That’s because those countries realize that choking off foreign capital from their economies is decidedly against their national interests.

By permitting companies to repatriate foreign earnings at a low tax rate—say, 5%—Congress and the president could create a privately funded stimulus of up to a trillion dollars. They could also raise up to $50 billion in federal tax revenue. That’s money the economy would not otherwise receive.

The tax picture described is very simple, and it makes American companies make some difficult decisions. A company with overseas profits and a need to reinvest can choose to invest them abroad or here in the US. Those overseas profits can be invested overseas with little or no tax penalty, or they can be invested here with significant tax penalty. The decision becomes simple. It is only smart to invest foreign profits in the US if it is investment that simply cannot be effectively done overseas, because the cost of repatriation is enormous. It’s a trade war, but it’s aiming the artillery inward, not outward.

Anyone who has read my work knows that I am not a fan of government subsidies. I personally think that American corporations and American workers can compete quite handsomely on the world market. We don’t need our government to actively help industry here; we have an educated workforce, developed infrastructure, stable institutions and a strong rule of law. We have everything we need to make it profitable for companies to invest here. We could have a country where overseas profits are re-invested in American workers and the US economy. What we have instead are government policies actively hostile to that end. All I ask is that those policies be rescinded.

America is seen worldwide as pro-business. In many cases, that is true, but certainly not in our corporate income tax system, as described by the Cato Institute here. Rather than being a low-tax laissez-faire bastion of capitalism, we have the highest corporate income tax rate in the developed world:

Reducing the taxes on repatriated profits can be done in a revenue-neutral way. All that is necessary is to choose a tax rate that will balance the tax revenue earned on repatriated earnings at the current rate with the expected revenue earned on the much larger base of repatriated earnings at a lower rate. Some foreign cash is undoubtedly repatriated; as I said there is incentive not to do so, but that incentive in not insurmountable. However, at a lower tax rate it makes sense for more companies to repatriate much larger sums, and I think a baseline rate of 5% as suggested by Chambers and Catz is a good starting point for discussion if remaining revenue-neutral is a goal.

There is up to a trillion dollars out there that could be injected into the US economy without raising the deficit, without spinning up the printing press, and which would go immediately to the entities who have the best ability to invest it in stimulative ways — companies who are already profitable. While many in Congress may not like the idea, as they have little control over how the money is spent, I think that’s a feature — not a bug.

While I’m not a protectionist, I think we should stop government policy designed to hurt American employment and help employment overseas. Of all the policies in which our government engages, one that actively stops capital from flowing into America from overseas seems rather idiotic.
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Reason.tv Presents: Great Moments in Unintended Consequences

One point that I often try to make when debating policy with friends and family is that virtually all policies have unintended consequences. How could anyone be opposed to such idealistic acts of legislation such as the War on Poverty, Social Security, Medicare, hate crimes legislation, affirmative action, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Civil Rights Act (CRA), or No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ? Those who supported these acts of government (and many continue to do so) had the best of intentions. I think it’s also fair to say, however; that each have resulted in negative consequences unforeseen by the proponents of these measures. Those who opposed (and continue to do so) these acts, for the most part did not oppose these acts because they like poverty, hate old people, are racist, against people with disabilities, want to see species go extinct or want to “leave children behind” but understand that government action more often than not makes these problems worse.

The video below features three examples of the unintended consequences of Osborne Reef, Corn Ethanol Subsidies, and one section of ObamaCare that requires health insurers to cover children with preexisting conditions. These are all fine examples but the producers of this video could have picked just about any three acts of government complete with similar absurd, destructive results.

TSA updates from people who opposed the TSA before opposing the TSA was cool

As Stephen Littau noted, November 24th (Wednesday) is the busiest travel date in the country and it’s also National Opt Out Day.  To assist Opt Out Day participants, and all air travelers after Wednesday, the Opt Out Alliance is providing free “Know Your Rights” travelers cards. I spoke with one of the key people at the Opt Out Alliance and he stated that because there isn’t enough time for people to receive a real card via snail mail before Wednesday, people who sign up will get an immediate .pdf copy of the card by e-mail and their wallet card will arrive later in the mail.

Here are some additional recent Transportation Security Agency highlights:

Penn Jillette gets funny:

[The TSA PR person] said, “Well, the airport is very important to all of our incomes and we don’t want bad press. It’ll hurt everyone, but you have to do what you think is right. But, if you give me your itinerary every time you fly, I’ll be at the airport with you and we can make sure it’s very pleasant for you.”

I have no idea what this means, does it mean that they have a special area where all the friskers are topless showgirls, “We have nothing to hide, do you?” I have no idea. She pushes me for the next time I’m flying. I tell her I’m flying to Chicago around 2 on Sunday, if she wants to get that security guy there to sneer at me. She says, she’ll be there, and it’ll be very easy for me. I have no idea what this means.

Ron Paul gets serious. Here’s the bill he’s introduced:

No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual’s body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual’s parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.

Over at Forbes, Art Carden gets pragmatic:

Bipartisan support should be immediate.  For fiscal conservatives, it’s hard to come up with a more wasteful agency than the TSA.  For privacy advocates, eliminating an organization that requires you to choose between a nude body scan or genital groping in order to board a plane should be a no-brainer.

Bob Barr was prophetic, then adds that folks should opt out:

Well, surprise, surprise — the government is not telling us the truth.  In fact, the specifications for the manufacture of the machines mandates that they have the ability to store images on hard disk storage, and that they possess the ability to send the images.   Of course, the transmission of such data creates the obvious possibility that hackers could access the data and print out or view the images.  The images themselves portray people without clothes on, and include relatively clear depiction of genitalia.

Jason Pye described the concept of “security theater”:

I don’t know if you’ve heard the term “security theater,” but that’s what we have in our country. Rather than actually doing their jobs and following up on leads like the one given by this terrorist’s father, security officials are more interested in creating an illusion that we are safe by temporarily curtailing privacy rights or keeping you from bringing a razor in your carry-on.

Doug Mataconis targets President Obama:

More importantly, though, Obama’s response strikes me as being politically tone deaf. In the face of outrage over Americans being groped by TSA agents, children being man-handled in a bizarre procedure that makes no logical sense, and people being exposed to the humiliation of having prosthetic breasts removed or being covered in their own urine, Obama’s “Too bad, you’ve gotta do it anyway” response is a sign of how far removed from reality the Presidency makes a person. If the President or members of his family had to subject themselves to TSA screening on a regular basis, one would think his opinion on the matter w0uld be quite different.

Over at Reason, Hawk Jensen and Nick Gillespie channel Chuck Berry with the ultimate TSA theme song:

My Ding-A-Ling My Ding-A-Ling I want you to play with My Ding-A-Ling
My Ding-A-Ling My Ding-A-Ling I want you to play with My Ding-A-Ling

Back to the serious side of things, Gary Johnson asks “Why Do We Have a TSA?” His solution:

Instead of trying to fix or adjust or moderate TSA airport screening procedures to make them less abusive or slightly more tolerable, I say it is time to turn airport screening and security over to those who should be doing it in the first place: the airlines.

To be sure, there are plenty of additional TSA links and stories out there. Republicans galore are coming out of the woodwork regarding this issue right now. It’s worth noting that the original TSA authorization passed the Senate by a vote of 100 -0. Only nine House Republicans (and zero Democrats) opposed the final conference report on the bill.

Therefore, I thought I’d limit the links to people within the freedom movement who actually opposed the TSA long before opposing the TSA was cool.

Airport Activism Anyone?

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up (and busiest travel day of the year), a group of concerned citizens is calling November 24th “National Opt-Out Day.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 is NATIONAL OPT-OUT DAY!

It’s the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government’s desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an “enhanced pat down” that touches people’s breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner. You should never have to explain to your children, “Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK.”

The goal of National Opt Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change. We have a right to privacy and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we’re guilty until proven innocent. This day is needed because many people do not understand what they consent to when choosing to fly.

For more details, go here.

Since I won’t be flying, I won’t personally be participating in National Opt-out Day but I strongly encourage all who are to participate. I’m also interested in what experiences are when/if you are given the “porno or grope” option. I’ll have an open thread ready for you to tell us what you witness or experience.

In closing, here is a short segment from Judge Andrew Napolitano’s “Freedom Watch” called “Right to Know” concerning your 4th Amendment rights.

Men Cited For Engaging In Battlefield Simulations Near Childrens’ Playground

First it’s chess. Then Sun Tzu. Eventually you have a militia on your hands overthrowing the government. That’s how these things progress, right?

The scourge must be stopped at its source!

A group of seven mild-mannered chess players are due in criminal court next month after police officers from the 34th Precinct issued them summonses for playing their favorite board game in Inwood Hill Park.

The men were ticketed on Oct. 20 for being inside of Emerson Playground, a children’s play area off limits to adults unaccompanied by minors. But the men were in an area furnished with stone chess and backgammon tables — separated from the play area by a fence.

“There is a problem in this area with drug dealing, but the police have time to write tickets to people playing chess?” asked Yacahudah Harrison, 48, one of the men who received a summons for “Fail[ing] to comply with signs.”

“Under my direction, uniformed officers routinely enter the parks to enforce closing times and other regulations; all designed to protect the community,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“The NYPD allows for officers to issue summonses in lieu of effecting an arrest for appropriate offenses.”

But Inwood residents expressed outrage that the NYPD would target the chess players in light of the men’s history as caretakers and teachers for the next generation of Inwood chess players.

“This is a positive thing for our kids to see and do, it’s a positive mental activity for them,” said Regina Christoforatos, 38, whose 6-year-old daughter Zoe has been learning chess in the park.

(emphasis added)

The police captain claims that this is to protect the community.

What community needs to be protected from games of chess played in the park?

Hat Tip: Free Range Kids

Innocence Project: Key DNA Sample Not a Match to Man Executed in Texas

The Innocence Project reported just today that the hair sample used to condemn Claude Jones to death was not a match.

“(Houston – November 12, 2010) The Innocence Project today released DNA test results proving that crucial hair evidence found at the scene of a murder, the only physical evidence linking the accused Claude Jones to the crime, did not belong to Jones. Although he always maintained his innocence, Jones was executed for murdering Allen Hilzendager on December 7, 2000. George Bush, who was awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the presidential election recount would continue, denied Jones’ request for a 30 day stay of execution to do DNA test on the hair sample. The memo from the General Counsel’s office that recommended against the stay did not tell Bush that Jones was seeking a DNA test of the hair. Evidence that the hair “matched” Jones was critical to the prosecution’s case at trial and proved to be the key factor in a narrow 3-2 decision by the Texas Court of Appeals finding there was sufficient corroboration of the accomplice who testified against Jones to uphold the murder conviction.

[…]

“It is unbelievable that the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office failed to inform the governor that Jones was seeking DNA testing on evidence that was so pivotal to the case,” said former Texas Governor and Attorney General Mark White. “If the state is going to continue to use the death penalty, it must figure out a way to build safeguards in the system so that lapses like this don’t happen again.”

[…]

“The DNA results released today may not prove that Jones was innocent, but they do raise serious questions about whether the prosecution’s case was strong enough to present to a jury and the decision to seek the death penalty in the first place,” said Governor White. “No matter what your opinion of the death penalty, I hope we can all agree that it should only be used when the state is absolutely sure that the right person has been convicted.”

So why are we only now learning nearly 10 years after the fact that the State of Texas executed Claude Jones who was convicted based solely on a hair sample that did not tie him to the crime scene?

After the San Jacinto County District Attorney’s office refused to give the Innocence Project permission to do testing on the evidence, the Innocence Project, the Texas Observer, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network brought a successful lawsuit to do the testing that proved the hair did not belong to Jones.

Yet another example of the State of Texas stonewalling to keep the facts from ever seeing the light of day. These are the same government officials who are actively covering up another case where the state likely executed an innocent man in 2004 by the name of Cameron Todd Willingham (See the Frontline documentary of this case here).

Just two weeks ago, another man by the name of Anthony Graves became the 12th death row inmate exonerated in Texas (and 139th in the country) since 1973 after serving 18 years. Fortunately for Graves, his exoneration came before his date with the death chamber.

In Gov. Rick Perry’s mind, the exoneration of Graves was proof positive the criminal justice system in Texas is “working.”

“I think we have a justice system that is working, and he’s a good example of — you continue to find errors that were made and clear them up,” Perry said. “That’s the good news for us, is that we are a place that continues to allow that to occur. So I think our system works well; it goes through many layers of observation and appeal, et cetera. So I think our system is working.”

Now that this new revelation that Claude Jones was executed based on faulty evidence has come to light, I wonder if Gov. Perry still thinks the system is “working”? They were so cock sure that Graves, Jones, and Willingham* were guilty of capital murder and proven wrong but continue to use the same stonewalling tactics in Hank Skinner’s and other cases. Gov. Perry et. al would rather cover these cases up because they don’t want to risk losing their license to kill.

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Correcting the so called “Corrections” system

As of today, it should be clear to everyone in this country, that our system for dealing with criminals (I won’t call it a “criminal justice” system since justice has so little to do with it), is utterly broken, beyond any conventional concept of repair.

At this point, again I say, it should be clear we can’t just “fix it”, we need to start over again, with a different concept.

I have a radical idea…. how about this time we start with an HONEST concept… because right now we are anything but honest about what the real function of the “criminal justice” system is; and that dishonesty is what has made all our efforts to date fail miserably.

Today, although we will never admit this to ourselves publicly, there are three things keeping the “Corrections” system going:

1. It’s a jobs program for law enforcement and “corrections” officers, and administrators

2. Non-offending people ARE actually safer when offenders are imprisoned (the problem is, what happens when they get out).

3. We like lots of cops (or at least the IDEA of lots of cops), we want to be “safe”, and we feel that people who do bad should be PUNISHED.

That’s really what it comes down to though, is punishment.

Punishment isn’t SUPPOSED to “help” them. Punishment isn’t supposed to “rehabilitate” them.

The very term “department of corrections” is a hypocritical misnomer.

Americans (and to a large extent most other cultures), put people in prison to punish them, not to “fix” them.

“Correctional system”, “penitentiary”… All high minded hypocritical myths.

The reason “Sheriff Joe” “Americas Toughest Sherrif” is so popular (despite being the worst sort of self aggrandizing, corrupt, civil rights abusing scum) is because he reassures people that he is “punishing the bad guys”; and THAT is honestly what people want.

Eastern State Penitentiary, the first “modern” penitentiary style prison, was deliberately fashioned to resemble monks cells (which is where we got the name for inmate housing units), in the belief that isolation, contemplation, prayer, and penitence (thus the name), would reform criminals into decent men. It was held up as the new “humane” model. In reality it drove prisoners mad and they killed themselves, and each other, in droves.

So long as we refuse to acknowledge the true purpose behind “custodial sentencing” and pretend it has anything to do with the offender coming out better on the other side, we are stuck with what we’ve got (And rapidly getting worse).

We have to stop pretending that punishment does anything but feed our base emotions.

We have to stop pretending that the negative prospect of prison is sufficient to deter criminals from committing crimes. Most criminals by nature have a poor appreciation for consequences, poor impulse control, and an inability to make valid risk/reward calculations.

When you put a criminal away, all you are doing is warehousing him where he can’t commit that crime anymore. That does serve a valid purpose, but it costs a huge amount of money, and doesn’t fix the problem.

The so called “criminal justice” system can no longer serve as a jobs program for law enforcement, lawyers, administrators, and corrections personnel; nor can it simply be warehousing of offenders until we release them to commit their next offense.

So, here it is, really simple; my pie in the sky ideal for how to deal with crime and punishment.

Step 1: drug addiction, possession, use, and sale, must be decriminalized

This has to happen for ANYTHING to have any hope of working. That would eliminate something like 80% of the offenses in higher criminal courts, and drastically reduce prison populations (at least 40%, most likely something more like 80%).

Step 2: We must not only stop, but revert the proliferation of felonies

Right now, you can be convicted of a felony in some states, for as little as selling the wrong kind of fish at the wrong time. We have established a ridiculous number of offenses as “high crimes” (what felonies are intended to be); without any real justification or social purpose, except to inflate those whom the state can claim as convictions, claim higher punitive penalties from, or incarcerate for longer periods of time.

Accordingly, all crimes currently classified as felonies must be reclassified as misdemeanors unless they meet one or more of the following conditions:

1. Physical violence sufficient to cause grievous bodily harm, grievous trauma (such as rape and molestation), or substantial risk of loss of life (or more).

2. Physical or monetary damages equal to or greater than two years income at minimum wage, presuming a 1940 hour work year.

3. Crimes against basic human rights, including terrorism, tampering with courts, deprivation of rights etc…

4. Grave harm to the national security of the united states, including espionage and treason.

5. Criminal negligence, gross indifference, coercion, conspiracy, or fraud sufficient to cause the above.

Step 3: We must completely overhaul our punishment and societal protection model

We must eliminate custodial sentences for non-violent crimes, including felonies, unless those crimes involve:

1. Gross negligence or indifference leading to violent consequences or the loss of life (anything from drunk driving to greater liability issues)

2. Coercion, force or fraud causing damages in excess of five years of minimum wage (because this is effectively slavery for the victim)

3. Special circumstances which are considered “heinous” (more on that later).

We must restore the element of criminal intent into how crimes are charged and sentenced. If there is no intent, then there can be no intentional crime; only crimes of negligence or indifference, which are generally considered far less severe.

In this regard, any action taken while intoxicated or impaired should be considered qualifying, HOWEVER only if criminal damage or injury to others results.

I believe that people should be allowed to drink, swallow or smoke whatever they want, but if their choices cause impairment which then causes damage or injury to others, they should be punished SEVERELY; and crimes involving impairment should be considered intentional for purposes of determining severity.

Also for purposes of determining the severity of an offense, coercion or fraud shall be considered equivalent to force (force being defined as violence, or the threat of violence).

All other criminal offenses should be punished by restitution and compensatory and punitive damages to the victim, compensatory and punitive fines to the state, labor for public benefit, public humiliation, and two years of convict status (which can be reduced by order of a judge only after discharge of all obligations).

Further, on discharge of all other obligations, convicts shall be given a term, of “probation” equal to the length of their existing sentence.

The crimes, sentences, and photographs of all those convicted of criminal offenses should be published in all local newspapers, as well as on local and national web sites; and announced on local television.

All convicts should be required to wear a distinctive article (bracelet, necklace, ankle bracelet etc…) which lists their crime and sentence, and which cannot be covered up while in public.

Convicts must wear this article, until such time as their sentence and obligations have been discharged. At any time, the convict should be legally required to disclose their crime and sentence to anyone who asks; unless doing so would cause danger or disruption.

If a convict is able to earn more than a state mandated minimum wage in their private pursuits, they may continue performing them, and pay restitution and fines directly. If not, then they are directed to work for the state, at a competitive wage for such jobs as they perform, while meeting prevailing employment standards for such a position (i.e. if the only job they qualify for is ditch digger, it’s the only job they can get; and they still have to compete for it with non-convicts).

If the convict is unable to meet basic standards of work, or is unwilling to work, then they will be reduced to menial forced labor at minimum wage. If they refuse this, they will be incarcerated, as a regular inmate, for the term of their sentence.

Restitution, damages, and fines should of course be directly garnished from the convicts wages; but should be considered pre-tax income deductions for tax purposes.

All custodial sentences shall have terms of two, five, ten, twenty five years, or life (or death in states that allow it).

Different charged offenses can be combined consecutively to “stack” sentences; but only if those offenses make up separate criminal acts (if one crime involved 8 different chargeable elements with a 2 year sentence for each, then the convict would receive 8 two year sentences to run concurrently. If he committed the same crime on 8 different occasions, he could receive consecutive sentences, for a total of 16 years incarceration)

There is no parole, however sentences can be reduced (more on that later).

Forcible rape, aggravated sexual assault, sexual molestation, aggravated kidnapping, intentional premeditated or depraved homicide (what would be first degree murder in most jurisdictions), felony murder if the homicide is heinous by itself, any intentional negligent or depraved indifference crime resulting in mass death or mass grievous injury (mass being defined as multiple victims who were not individually targeted, or multiple victims who were unknown to the criminal and whom they had no individual an personal motive to harm), any crime involving tampering with a court or an election, any crime involving the intentional deprivation of an individuals basic human and civil rights (as enumerated in the declaration of independence, and the constitution), torture, espionage, treason; or any attempt to commit those crimes, or conspiracy to commit those crimes; shall all be considered “heinous crimes”.

Heinous crimes should all carry the maximum length of incarceration, and should be eligible for the death penalty in jurisdictions that allow it.

It is important however, that all state and federal laws about the definitions of these crimes must be clarified and harmonized to meet the highest standard of criminal act, and criminal intent (for example, a potentially but not explicitly sexual element to a simple assault – such as public nudity or forced nudity -, would not make it sexual assault. The intent and act must be sexual in nature, and involve sexual contact or acts, or attempted sexual contact or acts. Forcible rape must be limited to actual acts of physical violence, or coercion by threat of violence, resulting in a sexual act).

Oh and yes, I really do believe that voter fraud and election fraud should be punishable by life in prison. So should criminally preventing someone from voting who has the lawful franchise. Any criminal deprivation of rights should be considered as serious as rape or murder.

In addition to their custodial sentence, of course, all penalties that apply to non-custodial sentences would also apply. Restitution, damages, fines and fees, as well as all other conditions of convicts.

Sentences can be reduced, by a judge, on review of the case, and circumstances. A review will be automatically initiated at the time the convict discharges their restitution, damages, and fines, should they do so before the term of their incarceration is completed. Criminals convicted of heinous crimes however, would not be eligible for early release except for humanitarian reasons.

While serving a custodial sentence and incarcerated, unless disabled and unable to do so, the convict will be required to perform productive labor for at least 8 hours a day, five days a week; for which they will be paid at minimum, a base sum equal to the cost of their incarceration (for which they will be charged). They will also accumulate sick leave benefit, and paid vacation days, equivalent to a government employee of the same grade as whatever productive labor they perform.

If the convict is disabled and unable to perform any work, they will be given the same disability status as any disabled individual; and will receive the equivalent of all federal and state disability payments and benefits, to offset the cost of their incarceration.

The convict is to be given the opportunity to voluntarily learn useful job skills, and perform at a useful job at market rates, which can earn them money to pay their fines and restitution.

If the convict has useful skills which can be applied to work that can be performed within the terms of their incarceration without undue risk, this is to be allowed.

The convict is also to be offered the opportunity to work overtime, and earn more money; to be used to pay the cost of their incarceration, their fines and restitution; the balance of which should be the inmates to control as they see fit.

This should not imply the inmate has a right to any job other than basic labor paid at a rate sufficient to cover the cost of their incarceration. Only that the opportunity to seek and perform other employment must be allowed.

If a convict refuses to work, or does not meet minimum standards of work, they are to be restricted to solitary confinement without public exercise, visitation, or communication privileges (excepting legal and spiritual council), and reduced to subsistence ration. Additionally, any work day the convict refuses to work, the cost of their incarceration for that day will be added to their obligations.

Some of this may seem ridiculous (vacation days for convicts?) but it serves an important purpose. The convict should understand, they are performing a job, for pay. They benefit from their own labor, and they have to pay for their own upkeep. If they work harder or more or at a better job, they get ahead; just like everyone else.

This kind of normalization is really the only way to produce people who won’t reoffend when they get out. Get them useful job and life skills they can transfer to the outside world; and get them in the habit of meeting standards of behavior; you’ll see a huge difference.

Any convict caught committing any felony while incarcerated will be subject to immediate extension of their sentence to life in the case of non-violent felonies, or death in the case of violent felonies. Self defense (against ANY crime or attempted crime against them, not just murder) is considered a valid defense against such charges however.

On their release from custody, convicts will be liable to the same penalties and strictures as those who have received non-custodial sentences.

Any further felony committed by any felony convict, whether incarcerated or not, prior to the discharge of any and all obligations (fines, restitution, service or labor), or in the convicts “probation” period will result in an automatic custodial sentence of at least five years; even for offenses that would not normally carry a custodial penalty.

Any violent felony committed prior to the discharge of any and all obligations shall result in an automatic custodial sentence of life in prison, or death.

On the discharge of their fines and restitution, and completion of any service or labor requirements, and any probation period; all convicts shall have all their civil rights restored, including the right to vote, and the right to keep and bear arms.

Private employers may discriminate against convicts, even after their obligations have been discharged, should they choose to do so. The federal, state, and local governments however may NOT discriminate against convicts whose sentences have been discharged however, except for those convicted of Heinous crimes (who should, in general, not be released anyway) or in the case of employment in law enforcement, criminal justice, corrections, national security, or the military.

Any repeat offense of the same felony, or any violent felony by a convicted felon who has discharged their sentence, shall cause a convict to be considered an incorrigible offender, and subject to an automatic sentence of 25 years, life, or death at a judges discretion (25 years for any crime that would normally rate a sentence less than 25 years. Life for any crime that would normally rate 25 years. Death for any heinous crime, or crime that would normally rate life). As always, this is subject to review and reduction by a judge after the convict has discharged their obligations (excepting heinous crimes).

I call this the “one chance, don’t blow it” rule. I believe it is fully justified, because the nature and scope of felonies is being dramatically reduced; the standards for offense are much higher, and the ability of someone to reintegrate into society without re-offending should be much better under this regime.

That’s it. Not exactly simple, but a lot less complicated than our current system… and if anything can work, it ought to be this.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

A Tempest In A Teapot

Resolved, that The Powers That Be™ believe the following:

  1. Foreclosures are bad.
  2. Falling house prices are bad.
  3. Banks losing lots of money is bad.

It’s not hard to understand why. Politicians sell a version of The American Dream where it’s all lollipops and homeownership, and people getting tossed from their property or deeply underwater on their mortgage have a very personal understand that they’ve been lied to. Likewise, they’ve been selling access to Tim Geithner’s glory hole for years, and they know that if banks have no money, there’s nobody left to buy that access.

So they blow the mortgage robosign scandal WAY out of proportion, keeping supply off the market and thus prices inflated. There have been a few isolated instances of improper foreclosure, but the VAST majority have been people who are in default on their property losing them to the banks. The banks aren’t exactly the good guys here, but neither usually are many of the people who spent their housing ATM all the way up the bubble and now wonder why the party ended.

Not only that, they keep non-paying residents in homes upon which they’ve defaulted while prudent renters that are waiting for a chance to buy calmly pay their bills every month. It’s gotten so bad that one publicity-seeking lawyer is now advising clients to break back into the foreclosed properties they once lived in and drag the legal battles out even longer. It’s a sad day when the vast majority of us realize that the country has become a place where following the rules makes you a sucker.

We have political month-from-an-election grandstanding about a full-scale moratorium on foreclosures (yay, gift to the squatters!) and banks who will gladly halt their foreclosures in order to avoid actually realizing the mortgage losses on their balance sheets.

And, of course, in what seems like a continuing effort by the political system to screw me personally, this all happens RIGHT at the time that my wife and I are looking at property, finally ready to make the jump back into home ownership. And the two places we’ve identified as desirable? Both short sales. As if short sales weren’t maddening enough, now we have to worry whether we’ll have some trepidation on the part of the bank or some nutjob lawyer advocating questionable legal tactics to muck it up.

Cato Presents: Cops on Camera

As cameras have become more available to individuals and government alike, viral videos of cops behaving badly have become quite pervasive on the internet. This short video by The Cato Institute provides a few recent examples of this relatively new phenomenon and explains why recording the actions of police and government officials for all the world to see is good for liberty. Its government that should be watched and its government that should fear the people, not the other way around.

Fidel Castro’s Incredible Revelations

Fidel holding a book

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, some incredible quotes came from the aging Cuban dictator:

(Reuters) – Fidel Castro said Cuba’s economic model no longer works, a U.S.-based journalist reported on Wednesday following interviews with the former president last week.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, wrote in a blog that he asked Castro, 84, if Cuba’s model — Soviet-style communism — was still worth exporting to other countries and he replied, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

The comment appeared to reflect Castro’s agreement, which he also expressed in a column for Cuban media in April, with his younger brother President Raul Castro, who has initiated modest reforms to stimulate Cuba’s troubled economy.

Goldberg said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington who accompanied him to Havana, believed Castro’s words reflected an acknowledgment that “the state has too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

I sent my esteemed colleague Larry Bernard, who contributes to Global Crisis Garden, a link to the story and he promptly said “Holy shit.” Indeed. If even Fidel Castro is putting a gravestone on the Marxist-Leninist style of government, that really is progress.

The interview also produced a line from Fidel Castro critical of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his endless anti-Semitism:

Does this release him from the “Axis of Evil”? Cuban Leader Fidel Castro attacks Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Semitism in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Quotes include, “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews,” and “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”

Fidel Castro is going to have to act along with his words. He came into the international political world as a Vladimir Lenin. If he really wants to, he can leave a Mikhail Gorbachev. This would require stepping from power and leading a transition not toward continued Castro hereditary rule but towards a Jeffersonian Chile-style system of political freedom, market economies and a welfare state all checking and balancing one another. Chilean leaders only serve one term, despite their personal popularity.

It would also require either a break with or a push toward Hugo Chavez, Castro’s buddy, to change his destructive policies and populist rhetoric. Chavez has allied himself with nightmare regimes in the Middle East and exercised his own anti-Semitism. Nationalization of industries has led to rationing and shortages (while Chavez continues to appear delightfully plump in public appearances, counter to his trim days in the military). Meanwhile, Chavez has forced initiatives to give him unlimited power and has refused to groom a successor. To make matters worse, violence in Venezuela is worse than in Iraq, and without Iraq’s room for economic and political optimism.

If Castro really has had an awakening moment in which he has realized dictatorships simply don’t work, it’s going to be meaningless if the same failed formula continues to be tried elsewhere.

Even Death Penalty Supporters Urge Ohio Gov. Strickland to Spare Kevin Keith

Its one thing when anti-death penalty activists petition a governor to pardon or commute a sentence of an individual scheduled for execution but quite another when death penalty supporters agree. Kevin Keith is scheduled to be executed by the state of Ohio on September 15th for the 1994 murders of 2 adults and 1 child; a crime he has maintained he did not commit. Despite exculpatory evidence which points away from Keith and despite Gov. Ted Strickland’s (D) own public comments where he said he found “certain aspects” of the case “troubling,” the parole board voted 8-0 in favor of executing Keith.

Fortunately, the parole board’s decision is non-binding; Gov. Strickland or perhaps SCOTUS can still do the right thing and halt the execution until the more ‘troubling’ aspects of this case can be fairly reconsidered.

According to this article in The Guardian, among those who are urging Gov. Strickland to halt the execution are more than 30 former judges and prosecutors including former Ohio Attorney General and death penalty supporter Jim Petro (R) and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Herbert Brown.

Jim Petro in a letter to Gov. Strickland:

“I am gravely concerned that the state of Ohio may be on the verge of executing an innocent person”

Justice Herbert Brown in another letter:

“There is a mass of exculpatory evidence, suppressed evidence, faulty eyewitness identification and forensic reports that support legitimate claims of innocence”

Innocence Network President and Clinical Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School Keith A. Findley, while likely biased against the death penalty also wrote to persuade the governor:

Like so many of the wrongful conviction cases, tunnel vision by police, prosecutors, and even courts appears to have played a central role in Mr. Keith’s case and his ultimate conviction.

[…]

The evidence of these pernicious effects of tunnel vision, coupled with the compelling new evidence in Mr. Keith’s case, suggests that Ohio might be on the verge of executing an innocent man […]

Keith’s defense team, in a statement following the parole board’s decision points out that Gov. Strickland signed a bill into law which prohibited some of the very techniques investigators used against their client. Unfortunately for Keith, the banning of these faulty procedures came too late.

Yes, the case of Kevin Keith is indeed troubling. Maybe if a few thousand more can petition Gov. Strickland, he will be even more troubled to the point to where he will end this madness (click here to sign the petition).

In other troubling death penalty news, a federal judge has denied Troy Davis’ innocence claim despite 7 of 9 eyewitnesses recanting their testimonies against him.

Well, Well, Well. Looks Like Somebody Forgot There’s A Rule Against Alcoholic Beverages In Fraternities On Probation!

Rules, rules, rules. You try to do something nice. You try to organize a little competition for homebrewers where they can have their craft evaluated, judged, and [even for those who don’t win] provide valuable feedback on technique. It’s done in private events, county and state fairs, organized by major breweries and by national brewing-centric organizations. As a regular competitor, I know how valuable that feedback can be in improving my beer.

This year, however, they dropped the hammer in Oregon, over a stupid law that nobody even realized was on the books:

When the 2010 Oregon State Fair opens on Aug. 27, there won’t be an amateur beer-brewers competition for the first time in 22 years.

An overlooked, 80-year-old statute that says Oregon home-brewed beer can’t leave the home has forced fair organizers to cancel the competition, which had 335 entrants last year, says Oregon Liquor Control Commission spokeswoman Christie Scott.

Brewers were reminded of the statute after the Oregon Department of Justice clarified the law for a pub seeking to serve home brew at an event, Scott says. “As long as this is the law, we have to enforce it,” she says, adding that the commission hopes to see the statute changed in time for the 2011 fair.

Nationally, federal regulations allow homebrewing as long as the beer is not sold and is subject to a 200-gallon household limit per year. (As an aside, one of my personal goals is to exceed that limit at least once.) The federal regulations say nothing about transportation of the beer, so this is purely an Oregon thing. Which is especially sad, since Oregon is one of the leading states driving the craft beer movement.

People romanticize government as our protectors, but forget that their meddling ways (and incompetence about what laws even exist) can be arbitrarily used to shut down a good time, despite the fact that nobody at the Oregon State Fair Homebrew Competition wanted or needed protection.

What’s next, shutting down a little girl’s lemonade stand because she doesn’t have a business license? Too late

Hat Tip: Reason

Medicare ‘Waste, Fraud, and Abuse’

Obama on Saturday:

“We’ve made Medicare more solvent by going after waste, fraud, and abuse – not by changing seniors’ guaranteed benefits”

Really? And how aggressively have you been “going after” them?

It took private sleuths hired by Medicare an average of six months last year to refer fraud cases to law enforcement.

According to congressional investigators, the exact average was 178 days. By that time, many cases go cold, making it difficult to catch perpetrators, much less recover money for taxpayers.

A recent inspector general report also raised questions about the contractors, who play an important role in Medicare’s overall effort to combat fraud.

Out of $835 million in questionable Medicare payments identified by private contractors in 2007, the government was only able to recover some $55 million, or about 7 percent, the report found.

Medicare overpayments – they can be anything from a billing error to a flagrant scam – totaled more than $36 billion in 2009, according to the Obama administration.

7%, huh? That’s about the percentage of people in the Obama administration who’ve actually held a real private-sector job!

PS – Numbers are tricky, but the article states that in 2007, $55M was recovered. The article also states that in 2005, the contractors were paid over $100M. Even when they’re looking for waste they appear to be creating more waste!

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