Archive for July, 2010

The Wikileaks discussion heats up. The latest argument from Washington says that informants’ lives are in danger because the leaked documents contain the names of Afghans who have cooperated with us. Admiral Mike Mullen says that Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, may already have blood on his hands:

Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.

It’s a reasonable objection, especially if voiced by the intelligence officials who recruited the informants, or by the informants themselves.

It’s not reasonable, though, coming from the United States government, a government that has proven it doesn’t care that much about saving anyone’s life:

  • We’re completely open about recruiting collaborators throughout Afghanistan. Americans go into a town, assemble a shura, and persuade people to cooperate with them. It’s anyone’s guess how long we’ll stick around. When we move on to the next town, the Taliban come in and do as they like with the people who worked with us.
  • Again and again, for nine years, we’ve used air power to bomb civilians as we go after our enemies. Each time we apologize, conduct an investigation, hand out some guilt money if we feel like it, and say we won’t let it happen again. Then it happens again.
  • We’ve tortured people to death if we don’t like them, or if they won’t cooperate with us. The government tells us that doesn’t happen anymore. We have to take their word for it. We know they’d like to do it, but they’ve been caught once, and they don’t want to be caught again.

Now when Pfc Manning and Wikileaks blow the curtain back on the government’s habitual secrecy, the government’s suddenly concerned about protecting informants’ lives. As long as they can conduct the war any way they want, behind the national security veil of secrecy, they don’t care much about Afghan lives. We say we want to protect civilians, but standard operating procedures for treatment of prisoners, use of air power, and recruitment of allies take precedence. When someone draws the curtain back to let the sun shine in, the people in charge scurry around until they come up with a good reason to close the curtains and restore the shadows.

We’ve placed informants’ lives at risk! Let’s see if that one works. What we want most of all is secrecy. If we have to say we’re interested in protecting lives even when we obviously aren’t, that’s what we’ll say. If we have to say we want to protect our intelligence sources and make Pfc Manning into a criminal, let’s do it.

Whose hands are already soaked in Afghan blood, since 2002?

Now our leaders wonder why citizens have become so cynical.

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U.S. Property Rights in Line with Tenets of Communism                               

Regardless of how you may have felt about George Steinbrenner during his life, you must admit when he died a few weeks back he went out a winner.  His prized possession, the New York Yankees, are on top of the baseball world having won their 27th World Series last October and apparently poised to make another run at it this fall.  But, more importantly, especially for his heirs, he died during a year with no federal estate tax.

The latter victory is a really big deal for the Steinbrenner heirs since George’s net worth was estimated to be about $1.1 billion.  If Congress had not messed up and allowed the 45 percent federal estate tax to lapse last January, they would have been required to pay $500 million to Uncle Sam.  The need for huge liquidity to pay the tax may have forced the family to sell the team it has owned since 1973.

It may be too late for them to stick it to the Yank’s deceased owner but members of Congress are planning to reinstitute the levy next year., Of course, they plan to do it with a vengeance by making the new rate of pillage 10 points higher at 55 percent to make up for their terrible error of letting the federal estate tax lapse in 2010.

It’s interesting that given how our politicians boast about how we honor property rights in this country, they have and will again impose a huge redistributive tax on the dead and their heirs.  I mean 45, 55 percent?  Isn’t this exorbitant?  Taking the Steinbrenner fortune as an example, didn’t he amass it while at the same time employing 1000s of people?  Didn’t his venture enrich the lives of millions of baseball fans?  Don’t these social benefits account for anything?

But, estate taxes are not the only assault on property rights in America.  The whole “American dream of owning one’s own home” is a farce.  In America, you never fully own your own home.  If you have to take out a loan to buy your house then you jointly own it with the lender until the debt is repaid.  That is fair enough and represents a mutual business arrangement that is beneficial to both sides.  The homeowner gets the ability to purchase his house and the bank makes money by collecting interest.

What is not fair is that of no choice of your own you are also and always a joint owner of your home with the local taxing authority (either town and/or county).  The bottom line is that if you pay off your mortgage to the bank but fail to pay property taxes on your house the government can take it away from you.  Unlike the bank, the government has no risk or stake in your property.  It becomes a joint owner with you not because it put up the money or gave you a loan to improve the property – it becomes a joint owner simply because it says so in exchange for so called promises to provide services to you that you may not even want or need.

In my own case, I pay property taxes on my summer home.  These taxes go towards schools, parks, roads, trash removal, courts, libraries, street lights, and other communal resources in my county.  I really only partake of trash removal and roads.  Thus, I have money essentially stolen from me under the threat of my house being confiscated to finance the wants and needs of others.  Would you go into a store, buys things you didn’t personally use, and leave them for the next patron?  Of course, not, but property owners do this all the time when they pay in many cases exorbitant amounts to local taxing authorities for essentially the right to keep their own homes. 

And it is amazing that the statist do-gooders who usually stand up tall for the economically disadvantaged and downtrodden rarely advocate for the thousands if not millions of elderly property owners who living on fixed budgets lose their homes due to high property taxes.  The following quote from a taxpayer on a New York state government site says it a lot better than I can:

“I fully agree on all the points gesiburn has stated. I am in my late 70’s, not working at my profession now, and having to spend down my savings and a reverse mortgage in order to afford keeping my home that I have lived in since 1967. The taxes including the largest, the school tax, is an enormous burden on me and I and my late husband have dutifully paid the school taxes with no children in the system all these years. It is time that we seniors have this enormous school tax burden lifted from our shoulders.”

From redhead

Two major tenets of communism are:   abolition of all rights of inheritance; and abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.  Although we still retain the right of private ownership of property in America, estate and property taxes put us perilously close to fulfilling the dreams of communists everywhere.  The death tax should be abolished altogether to preserve the full right to property ownership.  Local governments must slash taxes, impose user fees, and solicit charity to pay bills in order to protect property rights.  If these two things happen, we can all go out winners like George Steinbrenner.  

Article first published as U.S. Property Rights in Line with Tenets of Communism on Blogcritics.

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Kaili Joy Gray’s article on the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights is excellent. She argues that liberals should interpret the right to bear arms as broadly as they interpret other rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. As a libertarian in a family that’s mostly liberal, I was with her. My family mostly favors restrictions on gun rights. I occasionally point out that if people can’t bear arms, we can’t protect ourselves against tyranny. The right of revolution, however, seems screwy and even ephemeral in light of citizens’ practical desire to get handguns off the streets.

Gray argues that the fundamental concept behind the Second Amendment is the right of revolution – the right to replace our government should it destroy rather than protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Gray is correct that the right of revolution is the most essential right we have. We’ve seen in the last decade that if we don’t have that, we don’t have any political rights at all. Constitutional government has no practical meaning without it. Without a right of revolution, people in power pretend to follow the constitution to give their rule the appearance of legitimacy. Without a right of revolution, formal checks on power become legalistic tools or bargaining resources in the political process. The only fundamental protection people have is the right to alter or abolish their government, and to institute a new one.

Gray’s article raises an interesting question that comes to mind after the Supreme Court overturned Chicago’s restrictions on handguns. The question arises because the Second Amendment refers to arms, not guns. We’ve argued a lot about whether the Second Amendment extends to machine guns and other automatic weapons. What about bazookas and other anti-tank weapons, mortars, or shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles? What about improvised explosive devices? What about nuclear weapons?

A knife or a box-cutter is a weapon, as is a powerful bomb. All qualify as arms. The framers probably had guns in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment, but arms included many kinds of weapons then as now. So the question persists, to what extent does the government have a monopoly on instruments of violence? If its monopoly is absolute, the right of revolution becomes a thought experiment rather than a real constraint on governmental power.

Absolute monopoly or not, most citizens wouldn’t feel comfortable if an individual could buy a nuclear weapon, no matter how many restrictions we placed on the sale. Liberals who favor gun restrictions say we have to distinguish between permissible weapons and impermissible weapons – then draw the line so as to keep dangerous weapons away from criminals and nuts. People who want to protect Second Amendment rights ought to consider why handguns should be permissible, but not bombs or nuclear weapons, since a public safety issue exists for both.

The Hobbesian contract is that citizens turn weapons of force over to the state in return for the state’s protection of their liberty. The open question is what happens when a government controls the means of force, but becomes destructive of the liberty it’s supposed to protect. Do citizens become helpless, with no recourse to force or the threat of force? One might add this hopeful idea to simplify things a bit: we don’t need nuclear weapons to replace our government.

Gray’s article explains why we all have an interest in protection of Second Amendment rights. It explains why the Second Amendment exists in the first place. Most importantly, it places the right of revolution at the center of our political tradition, where it belongs.

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Colorado Springs is a Model for the Rest of the Country                                

A story to keep an eye on as the “Great Recession” continues to unfold is the city finances and cutback in services of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  While many local governments and states are facing bankruptcy due to spending levels that cannot be met with dwindling tax revenues, the city that is home to the U.S. Olympic Committee is maintaining its low tax rates and living within its means.  Colorado Spring’s experience just could have many Americans wondering why we rely on government for so much.

Now, I should fess up.  I first heard of this story while watching the Ed Show hosted by far-left radio and TV political pundit Ed Schultz.  I do occasionally like to amuse myself with the laughable commentary of the likes of Ed and his other MSNBC comrades Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow. 

Nevertheless, at issue in Colorado Springs was a desperate plea from city officials about 7 months ago to the voters asking for approval to raise taxes to pay for routine services.  It was the same old story – the recession had caused a decline in tax revenues and the city faced a shortfall of around $24 million.  Without an increase in the local sales tax, city services would have to be curtailed.  With the result of the referendum, the people had spoken – city government, you will get no tax increase; do what you can with current revenue levels.

Unlike California, where for years the electorate demanded more from government without the obligation to pay for it, the good folks of Colorado Springs not only rejected higher taxes but took it upon themselves to remedy their own problem.  Private citizens volunteered to pick up trash in parks.  Swim clubs took over public pools.  Churches and private organizations, like the U.S. Olympic committee, raised money to keep community centers and city fountains running.  Admirably, one anonymous woman donated $37,000 to keep Nancy Lewis Park green and clean.  Of course, Ed Schultz neglected to report these positive facets of the story dwelling instead on how aghast he was that voters would vote down tax increases to fund non-essential government services like museums, parks, and pools.  As a good statist it is inconceivable to him how normal people could live without being dependent on government for these needs.

And that should be the question raised by Colorado Springs’s experience – why do Americans rely so heavily on government even to the point of extreme bankruptcy for needs that could be taken care of by the private sector?  Perhaps it’s because we have been so socialized by public schools, the so-called mainstream media, and the likes of Ed Schultz to believe that our greatness comes from government and not from within each one of us as citizens.  That’s why Schultz deliberately ignored the volunteerism and charity of the folks in Colorado Springs that confronted the budget cuts head on.  Or maybe Americans have gotten so use to the Federal Reserve monetizing debt at the federal level that we have become oblivious to the limits of state power.  After all, Uncle Sam has run up over $13 trillion in debt with the help of the printing presses at the Fed and it is hard to see how that has negatively affected our lives.  But it has.  All one has to do is buy one of those novelty cards that lists what things cost in the year of your birth.  As I looked at the cost of a slice of pizza ($.15) in the year of my birth, I became incredulous since I had just spent $2.50 for a slice on Saturday.  Why has the cost of things increased so much over time?  It is because of the inflationary policies of government and the Federal Reserve in particular.

Government does have limits as we are seeing in this most recent economic crisis.  Even when times are good, government at all levels feel pressure to raise additional revenue to cover the increased costs of services produced by the Fed’s inflationary policies.  To break this endless cycle Americans must wean themselves off of their dependence on government.  If some services cannot function without government subsidies then perhaps they should be done away with.  For instance, because budget cuts have forced the buses to stop running at 6:15 p.m.in Colorado Springs indicates that the bus line is not self-sufficient after that time (for the sake of argument let’s assume it is self-sufficient before 6:15 p.m.).  After the budget crisis ends why should the city spend money on running buses at night?  Wouldn’t that be a misallocation of scarce resources since demand for bus service at night is not at the level where the bus line can at least pay its bills?  Would a restaurant knowingly stay open beyond a time that is profitable? – Of course not.  I know that restaurants and public transit are not exactly the same animal.  But they are alike in that they both must deal with scarce resources.  Like the restaurant owner, city managers must make decisions with the least amount of waste possible or face financial hardship. 

User fees could be used for services like parks, pools, and libraries.  Whoever said these services should be “free” anyway?  Like the gas tax is to roads, fees to use parks, pools, and sign out books is more just than forcing homeowners to subsidize the leisure activities of others. 

By cutting services that do not make economic sense and imposing user fees on others, could local governments drastically reduce taxes?  Would this provide for a better allocation of scarce resources to more urgent needs?  How many fixed-budget seniors would avoid losing their homes because of ever-increasing taxes?  How many young homeowners, just starting out, would be able to afford health care if they didn’t have to pay for fountains, parks, libraries, and other non-essential services?  As we have seen in Colorado Springs, would local citizens fill the void left by government?

These are just a few of the questions that need to be explored.  On the other side of this current economic crisis the American people are going to have to change and come up with more creative ways to operate.  The system is broke and broken at all levels of government.  Colorado Springs could offer a glimpse of what is to come.  We should all stay tuned to this unfolding story for the good and the bad aspects of it.  That’s assuming the mainstream media and the Ed Schultz’s of the world report it accurately.

Article first published as Colorado Springs is a Model for the Rest of the Country on Blogcritics

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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There’s No Recovery, Just More Hard Times Ahead

It’s comical to watch the financial channels’ pundits and Obama Administration officials almost on a daily basis tell us that we are well into an economic recovery.  Yes, there have been times when the economic data looked promising.  During some weeks first time unemployment claims have been down.  The economy has grown between two and three percent some months.  And there have even been some months when new home sales have swelled and the prices of houses in general have increased.  But the fact of the matter is that the worst of the crisis is yet to come and of course like the initial crisis which has lasted for close to three years already it will be Washington’s fault.

So, what are the indications that we are not well into an economic recovery and the worst of the economic pain is yet to come?  For one thing, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the government’s official judge of economic expansion and contraction, has not pronounced the recession that began in 2007 to be over.  Additionally, just yesterday the government announced the economy lost 125,000 jobs last month.  The real unemployment rate which takes into account discouraged and underemployed workers is still north of 16 percent Food stamp usage has skyrocketed to a record high of 40.2 million recipients.  Bank repossessions are still a massive problem.  They hit a record 93,777 in May which represented a 44 percent increase over May of the previous year.  Worst yet, all 50 states are experiencing year-over-year increases.  Banks still aren’t lending; consumers aren’t spending; and the national deficit and debt is in outer space with nothing good to show for it.

In all fairness, as mentioned above, there has been some good economic news from time to time.  For instance, housing prices did increase in April.  But most analysts attribute the rise to the rush to take advantage of the government tax credit for homebuyers which expired at the end of that month.  Since the tax credit expired almost all housing market barometers have dropped significantly.

Then there were those months that jobs were produced.  But, again, this had more to do with government gimmicks – 2010 census hiring and government spending then real economic progress. 

To be sure, some Americans are doing quite well in this recession and this might account for the president’s insistence that the recession is over and prosperity is just around the corner.  Who is doing well?  Well, folks that live close to Washington and Wall Street are doing very well.  Forbes Magazine has reported that 12 of the 25 riches counties in the country border the nation’s capital and financial headquarters.  It’s no wonder since government workers receive 45 percent more in pay and benefits than their private sector counterparts.  This is pretty good when you consider that it’s almost impossible to lose a government job even in economic recessions.  Of course, given the huge taxpayer bailouts to Wall Street bankers and the generous Federal Reserve policies towards the same it is also easy to see why suburban New York City is riding high in these tough times.

Besides the bureaucrats and bailout recipients several political cronies of the president have cashed in during this recession.  According to Floyd Brown and Lee Troxler in their book, Killing Wealth, Freeing Wealth, Larry Summers, chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, made $5.2 million in 2008 through his hedge fund.  Tom Donilon, a deputy National Security Advisor, made $3.9 million in legal fees representing Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.  As members of Obama’s inner circle, they are uniquely positioned to guarantee that federal policies continue to favor their interests.

And let’s not forget Obama’s huge financial supporter and billionaire buddy, George Soros.  According to Brown and Troxler, the financier pulled in $1.1 billion in trading profits in 2008.  After helping to finance Obama’s White House run, the president has wasted little time in rewarding his benefactor.  It is ironic that their partnership involves deepwater drilling.

The president and his cohorts in the media can spin economic news anyway they wish.  But, after 17 months in office and trillions of dollars spent to stimulate the economy the only thing the president’s policies have produced is more debt and predictions from many analysts that we are headed for a double-dip recession.  This should be no surprise – since similar economic policies deepened and prolonged the recession of 1929.  Then, Americans had to wait about 16 years for good economic times to return.  Given this president’s current propensity to spend there’s no telling how long it will take for this recession to end.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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