Monday, November 14, 2005

Reason and Taxation?

I find it rather interesting that someone is offering taxation as an example of reason at work when the two are in fact mutually exclusive. The value of reason is in its ability to reach conclusions through peaceful, rational thought and discussion. Reason allows us to avoid physical struggles amongst ourselves by substituing muscle with the mind.

The value of taxation is that it forces people to contribute to the community. But this value is directly at odds with the value of reason. Taxes replace the rational dialogue that informs reasoned choices with the bludgeon of the state. If a person fails to pay taxes, the state works physical violence against him and his property. This is why taxes seem so unsettling, even to the hunter who sees the immediate impact of his contribution. This tension between reason and taxation should be obvious, although I suppose for some the guise of the state makes violence disappear, along with that tension. It seems to me that any advocate of reason would naturally also be an advocate of self-determination and non-violence; taxation relies on the evisceration of both.

Clearly, this latter consluion is not universally ture, because the path to forced communalism involves a great deal of violence. Yet, all the benefits that communalism supposedly bestows on a society can be had at a much lower cost, in both lives and capital, through trade. Schooling, police and fire protection, food, military, highways, voting machines, even government itself (through arbitration and private law, like contract) can all be more effectively acquired through consensual trade. It is true that the state has provided these things in the past, but only at the price of reason, self-determination, and violence. Some even attribute the success of America to communalism, yet this country was founded and continues to prosper on principals far afield from anything resembling communalism. Perhaps you distrust trade and the market that develops with its free exercise, but it is simply irrational to suggest America has prospered for any other reason but trade, or that our societal structures and benefits would fall apart if not for the forced communalism of taxation.

No?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Property Puffery

Given that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling permitting governments to take private property in the name of higher tax revenue effectively guts federal constitutional protections against condemnation, the policies and practices of local governments on eminent domain are all the more relevant. Peoria is the only city in Arizona, and perhaps the nation, that has a formal eminent domain policy.

On its face, Peoria’s policy acknowledges the “the private property rights guaranteed by the Arizona and United States Constitutions.” The policy takes a step in the right direction by giving limited deference to owner-occupied housing, acknowledging the severe injustice in taking someone’s home by force.

Unfortunately, the policy also goes out of its way to outline procedures for condemning property for “third party development projects” – the very sort of eminent domain abuse at work in the recent Supreme Court decision.

A truly responsible eminent domain policy would forbid, not direct, this sort of legitimized theft.

At the very least, the policy should explicitly reflect the language of the state constitution which states that the authority to take private property only extends to matters of “public use”; it does not allow eminent domain for private use or what the city calls “public purpose.” This means abandoning the sections of the policy that permit the city to give condemned property to third parties and relying strictly on the constitution’s “public use” requirement. The difference between “use” and “purpose” is large; as large as a new condo complex built on top of an old neighborhood.

Peoria City Council Policy on Real Property Acquisition and Eminent Domain

ARS § 12-1111: Purposes for which eminent domain may be exercised

Goldwater Institute Study: Alternatives to Eminent Domain

Monday, July 18, 2005

Disposable Cameras

Is the security camera the panacea of the 21st century?

One could be forgiven for thinking so, given the accolades they win from everyone from terrorism experts to city officials.

Scottsdale puts so much stock in the techno-baubles that it wants to cover six miles of the Loop 101 with 24-hour surveillance.

But if our experiences with terrorism have taught us anything it is that the best security cameras seem to accomplish is provide terrifying footage of missed opportunities to nab the bad guys. Remember the haunting image of Mohamed Atta at Logan Intl.? No doubt you have seen pictures of the seemingly-innocuous hikers boarding the London Tube. These images do nothing to bring back the dead, or prevent future attacks.

The same can be said for cameras on the 101. A camera might help in dispatching police to the scene of an accident, but a patrol car in the break-down lane would be far more effective in actually preventing the crash. Speeders and HOV-lane scofflaws aren’t likely to respond to a tiny camera perched above the 5:00 p.m. mêlée and a ticket that comes weeks later. Perhaps a sign reminding motorists “You are being watched” would make the cameras more effective.

But that still leaves the underlying question untouched: Do you want to be watched? “Sure,” many say, in this age of terrorism. “I have nothing to hide.” But if we get nothing more than evening-news footage of the bad guys when it is already too late to act, why waste our time and money to live in an ineffective police-state? If we want to drop the Iron Curtain on America, let’s do it – these Iron Mini-Blinds just don’t go with the drapes.

As the Cato Institute’s Melanie Scarborough puts it, “If a suicide bomber walks intothe rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial with explosives strapped to his body, a police officer watching at a remote site can do nothing to prevent disaster." Ditto for that jackass doing 90 mph in the right lane.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Response

Quoting:

"Biased media coverage of terrorism issue

When the bombs went off in London last Wednesday, you heard many broadcasters talking about Londoners showing defiance by continuing with their daily activities. Furthermore, you heard world leaders calling the attack on London as an attack on civilization and the overused phrase, "our way of life." A few years ago, when terrorism hit Saudi Arabia and Morocco, the same sentiment that was seen last week was absent. Many broadcasters covered those two attacks as "just another common event in the Arab/Muslim world--lack of in depth coverage from the "big three"--CNN, FOX, and MSNBC."

Two points:

1) Attacks in the Arab world are not attacks "on our way of life" because they do not practice "our way of life." These are largely patriarchal, backward countries that deny the most basic liberties to their own citizens. You can draw all sorts of reactionary parallelisms to the post-Patriot Act United States, but the fact remains that Western women are not property, we do not summarily execute people in the streets, etc. Can you honestly say that an attack in Saudi Arabia(!) is tantamount to an attack in London, and by extension that society in Saudi Arabia is the same as in London?

2) The coverage of Middle Eastern attacks is prominent because it serves as a convenient way to criticize the Bush administration, or more specifically the Bush Doctrine. Bad news in the Middle East means bad news for the Administration, specifically and generally. These are policy zingers, not news stories. Or are you among the self-proclaimed illuminati who deny a liberal bias in the media? Even Bill Clinton doesn't deny that fact.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Communism in our Time - and our Country

TEN PLANKS OF THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO




First Plank: Abolition of property in land and the application of all rents of land to public purposes. (Zoning - Model ordinances proposed by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover widely adopted. Supreme Court ruled "zoning" to be "constitutional" in 1921. Private owners of property required to get permission from government to use their property. Federally owned lands are leased for grazing, mining, timber usages, the fees being paid into the U.S. Treasury.)




Second Plank: A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. (Corporate Tax Act of 1909. The 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913. The Revenue Act of 1913, section 2, Income Tax. These laws have been purposely misapplied against American citizens to this day.)




Third Plank: Abolition of all rights of inheritance. (Partially accomplished by enactment of various state and federal "estate tax" laws taxing the "privilege" of transfering property after death and gift before death.)




Fourth Plank: CONFISCATION OF THE PROPERTY OF ALL EMIGRANTS AND REBELS. (Various civil asset forfiture laws accomplish this nicely, and legally.)




Fifth Plank: Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. (The Federal Reserve Bank, 1913 - the system of privately-owned Federal Reserve banks which maintain a monopoly on the fiat paper money in circulation. Also, the Fed sets interest rates based on ... well, it sets interest rates.)




Sixth Plank: Centralization of the means of communications and transportation in the hands of the State. (Federal Radio Commission, 1927; Federal Communications Commission, 1934; Air Commerce Act of 1926; Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938; Federal Aviation Agency, 1958; becoming part of the Department of Transportation in 1966; Federal Highway Act of 1916 (federal funds made available to States for highway construction); Interstate Highway System, 1944 (funding began 1956); Interstate Commerce Commission given authority by Congress to regulate trucking and carriers on inland waterways, 1935-40; Department of Transportation, 1966.)




Seventh Plank: Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State, the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan. (Department of Agriculture, 1862; Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1933 -- farmers will receive government aid if and only if they relinquish control of farming activities; Tennessee Valley Authority, 1933 with the Hoover Dam completed in 1936.)




Eighth Plank: Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies especially for agriculture. (First labor unions, known as federations, appeared in 1820. National Labor Union established 1866. American Federation of Labor established 1886. Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 placed railways under federal regulation. Department of Labor, 1913. Labor-management negotiations sanctioned under Railway Labor Act of 1926. Civil Works Administration, 1933. National Labor Relations Act of 1935, stated purpose to free inter-state commerce from disruptive strikes by eliminating the cause of the strike. Works Progress Administration 1935. Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, mandated 40-hour work week and time-and-a-half for overtime, set "minimum wage" scale. Civil Rights Act of 1964, effectively the equal liability of all to labor.)




Ninth Plank: Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries, gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of population over the country. (Food processing companies, with the co-operation of the Farmers Home Administration foreclosures, are buying up farms and creating "conglomerates." Moreover, federal "grants-in-aid" effectively destroy the concept of independant local, state, and fedreal governments.)




Tenth Plank: Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production. (Gradual shift from private education to government schools began in the Northern States, early 1800's. 1887: federal money (unconstitutionally) began funding specialized education. Smith-Lever Act of 1914, vocational education; Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 and other relief acts of the 1930's. Federal school lunch program of 1935; National School Lunch Act of 1946. National Defense Education Act of 1958, a reaction to Russia's Sputnik satellite demonstration, provided grants to education specialties. Federal school aid law passed, 1965, greatly enlarged federal role in education, "head-start" programs, textbooks, library books. No Child Left Behind, 2002, gives authority to the federal government to set educational standards.)




(Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, criminalgovernment.com)

Arizona Punk'd


On MTV, "Punk'd" is a hidden camera show that tries to deceive celebrities. Host Ashton Kutcher usually succeeds.


In Arizona, "Punk'd" is the buzzword in an ad campaign that tries to deceive the public, funded by a group calling itself Early Childhood Arizona. Let's hope the real-life version turns out differently.


The campaign promotes state funding of "early childhood development programs," read all-day kindergarten, by drawing questionable connections between the programs and everything from high school dropout rates to poor test scores to the economic success of the bioscience industry in Arizona.


It seems spurious to link all-day kindergarten to far-flung benchmarks like economic growth, let alone the biosciences specifically, when the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has found that by third grade, there are no achievement differences between students who attended half-day kindergarten and those who attended full-day kindergarten. The findings of the NCES study echo the warnings of HeadStart co-founder Ed Zigler: early childhood education cannot solve problems like high school dropout rates and low test scores, as Early Childhood Arizona claims. These problems find their roots after students leave kindergarten, not before.


Early Childhood Arizona advocates a centralized and expanded bureaucracy to oversee early childhood education to "create positive synergy between existing early childhood education programs." But positive synergy is positively useless unless it creates incentives for schools to change, like empowering parents to make choices about their child's education.


If Arizonans believe the claims of Early Childhood Arizona, they, like Kutcher's celebrity marks, will find themselves punk'd.


http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article.php/542.html
http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0704B1-talker04.html
http://azpunkd.com/
http://www.earlychildhoodaz.com/index.cfm

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hazardous Spending

Something is wrong with a city's priorities when running golf courses comes
before paying employees.

Mesa spends $2.5 million to run two city-owned golf courses. At the same
time, city employees are being asked to forgo cost-of-living adjustments for
the next two years.

While glittering greens may look great in convention brochures and nicely
complement the other 19 golf courses in Mesa, a round on the municipal back
nine is cold comfort to those employees facing de facto pay cuts.

Reasonable people may disagree about the proper role of government; but
municipal golf courses shouldn't cause much contention.

After all, it is hard to discern the public benefit in a playing a round of
golf. When you consider that public courses are draining precious tax
dollars from payrolls, something is clearly amiss. Public parks with swing
sets and slides, these are not.

Mesa is not alone in financing lavish personal recreation at public expense.
Tempe and Glendale each run two courses; Kingman, Page, and Casa Grande have
eighteen holes each. These one- and two-course operations are positively
quaint compared to other Arizona cities. Tucson has 5 city-owned courses,
Phoenix runs 7, Sun City has 8.

Maybe these public links wouldn't seem so fantastical if Arizona didn't have
over 300 privately owned courses, many of them reasonably priced and most
open to the public. But even if the market was not already well served by
the private sector, government-run luxuries like golf courses make about as
much sense as government-run amusement parks or night clubs- none at all.

FYI:

Bad management yields Mesa deficit

Getting Greens in the Black: Golf-Course Privatization Trends and Practices

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Creative Coercion

Mesa's $40 million budget shortfall is being billed as "Armageddon" and "Apocalypse" by Vice Mayor Claudia Walters and other city council members. To hear Walters talk about the problem "the community she bought her home in" is at stake.

But what the biblical Chicken Littles in Mesa don't realize is that government spending is not a measure of community strength; it's a reflection of its weakness.

Consider the almost $14 million, more than a quarter of Mesa's prospective deficit, tied up in funding for the arts and museums. These are certainly necessary attributes of a strong community, but what does it say about the strength of a community when its citizens must be coerced into funding them by the taxman?

Government spending is not a measure of community strength; it's a reflection of
its weakness.


The same goes for stadiums and convention centers; if citizens want them, they should fund them voluntarily, not with taxes.

Is it possible the Mesa Arts Center could raise its $4.7 million budget through ticket sales and donations? If it cannot, then the community that Vice Mayor Walters decries losing is already lost.

Governments do best what individuals alone cannot, like provide police and courts; when it comes to cultural development, convention centers, and stadiums, leave it to individuals to pick up the tab through ticket sales and donations. Walters may be surprised to find her community is stronger than she seems to think--cut the funding and we'll find out.

Friday, June 17, 2005

One Way Conversation

  If you talk to God, you are praying;
   If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.

  --Thomas S. Szasz, The Second Sin,
   Anchor/Doubleday, Garden City, NY. 1973, Page 113

I think you're crazy either way.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

ROC'n' the Boat

The Arizona Registrar of Contractors (ROC) is busy protecting vulnerable consumers in Arizona from construction and remodeling scams: the elderly, new home owners, the City of Tempe. The City of Tempe?

 

When Tempe decided to install a city-wide wireless internet (wi-fi) network the ROC stepped in to protect the city from itself. The city hired an experienced technology firm to install the system, but the ROC threatened to shut down the project because the firm is not licensed to perform construction work in Arizona. Even though Tempe probably shouldn’t be in the business of providing wi-fi internet service, does it really need the ROC to tell it who it can and cannot hire to carry out its plans?

 

Perhaps it is because private firms like the Better Business Bureau do such a good job of advancing the ROC’s core mission of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public that the ROC has been so willing to step beyond its legitimate authority of late.

 

In the past year, instead of only focusing on helping consumers to resolve claims against contractors who walk off a job or do shoddy work, the ROC has increased its purview to include seeking out all unlicensed contractors, even those who operate legally. It has become something of a pseudo law-enforcement agency, complete with most-wanted lists and sting operations.

 

The ROC is a prime example of a regulatory agency out of control. And the costs to consumers and contractors, both in terms of dollars and freedoms, are mounting.

 

The agency helps justifies its existence with incredible tales of entire neighborhoods swindled by fly-by-night contractors. Perhaps the equally incredible tale of the ROC swooping in to save the City of Tempe from its wi-fi installers will help justify curtailing its authority.

 

 

Monday, June 06, 2005

Windows' Death Knell

The "Apple model" is changing. If Apple fails to make a version of its OS available to the Wintel public, it will take decades to reach market parity with Windows. Not releasing Mac OS X on the Wintel world to save Apple's hardware division would be like cutting off the nose to spite the face. By opening up the Mac OS X market to all Intel boxes (and I assume AMD boxes as well) Apple will be in direct competition with Microsoft. That has never been the case.
 
The central advantage of Windows (that it can be installed on a wide variety of boxes) would disappear overnight. Reliability could be at least as good as Windows, but without the viruses and spyware. Those who wanted the ultimate in stability and style could still buy a 100% Apple system. The important thing is that no sane IT director would chose to keep his computers on Windows because the cost of changing would be software alone, i.e., their hardware could sit still. Then Apple gets a real crack at the corporate market. Then Bill Gates will be left with a pile of worthless paper in all his Microsoft stock (he'll still be rich because he has steadily divested his MS interest, but think of all the new fortunes to be made in Apple stock!!).
 
This is not a redux of the clone fiasco, because Apple is not licensing its OS to new developers to expand its market share. It is (or could be) launching a frontal attack against Microsoft's market share.
 
Apple's hardware division will not die, in fact its longevity will be guaranteed by a Wintel-compatible Mac OS. Witness the Xbox; it is a billion dollar negative entry on the MS balance sheet - and little more than a blip in comparison to its big brother Windows. When Apple is the standard OS, think of the R&D dollars Apple will have to spend on its hardware.
 
This could be the start of something profound.

Romani Ite Domum

Supremes to Pot-Smoking Pain-Sufferers: Fuck You

The purpose of courts is emphatically to say what the law is, not what it should be. The democratic process was trampled in this ruling - this is the very definition of judicial activism. I will be shocked, just shocked if Tom Delay doesn't bring this up when the Senate votes on Judge Janice Brown.

Seriously, though, this is judicial activism and it goes to the heart of resurrecting the debate over Federalism, vis-à-vis Article 1, Section 8. This is a perfect example of why we need judges like Brown on the federal bench. We need judges who recognize that the powers of the federal government extend only as far as Art. 1, 8 casts them.

Is this a debate that needs "resurrecting," or has it been raging since 1787? It did indeed start in 1787, but it died in the late 1930s when FDR strong-armed the courts into approving the federal tyranny that was the New Deal. It has been inching its way out of the grave ever since 1980. Why else, pray tell, did we need a constitutional amendment to ban alcohol in 1919, but Congress could ban marijuana (and many other drugs) in 1970 with the legislation at issue here?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Back to Reality

Barry Goldwater was a man who believed in the ameliorating power of free enterprise. So it is all the more disheartening when a swath of desert named in his honor becomes the final resting place for those seeking that ideal.
Two women were found dead on the Barry Goldwater Range last weekend, apparently felled by heat exposure as they illegally crossed the border looking for work.
What makes the deaths of illegal immigrants like these so tragic is the lack of realistic federal action on a problem that long ago became a crisis.
While the bi-partisan legislation being drafted in congress, in part by Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy, looks promising – it grants legal status based on employment and does not give preferential treatment to illegals already working here – the heart of the problem goes unaddressed: it will still be easier to sneak across the border than to try to follow legal pathways.
Take the provision for matching foreign workers with American firms. Employers will have to list jobs in an electronic database and foreign workers could not apply until the job has been offered exclusively to American workers for two weeks. This scheme assumes that American firms can wait more than two weeks to fill essential positions and that starving foreign workers can somehow access this database. Dumb and dumber.
Simpler solutions that focus on documenting migrant workers and allowing American firms more latitude in hiring who they want, when they want would lead the way to a safer border – for Americans and foreign nationals alike.

The True Crisis

Those who claim Social Security is not the crisis of the day, but rather it is Medicaid and the overall cost of health care that deserve our full attention miss the point. The solution to both problems is the same, because the underlying problem is the same.

The socialized medicine crowd fails to consider the fact that personal choices weigh heavily on one's overall level of health. One of the fortunate 90 or so percent of Americans who has health insurance and access to good healthcare can make the individual choice to smoke, drink, overeat, have unprotected sex or ignore prenatal care. Any one of these decisions can severally limit the effectiveness of even the best healthcare.
 
It is tired, it is clichéd, but it is true: An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
 
The crisis in this country is not one of health insurance or healthcare, but of healthy living. This crisis must be addressed at a personal level if people are to make choices that prevent the need for costly medical treatment, regardless of who is paying for the care. Such a "national policy" in this vein would tread too harshly on individual rights for most Americans to stomach. It would be far better to simply allow people to decide for themselves whether a 99-cent hamburger is a good bargain when they factor in the cost of a heart attack or two.
 
Such economic disincentives to unhealthy choices do not exist for most Americans because the cost of healthcare is too low. I pay less than $10 a pop for prescriptions that cost the insurance company many times that. So, let’s say Joe Blow has high blood pressure and “good” health insurance that covers his Lipitor. Joe’s only disincentives to eating fast food are: to avoid a heart attack (“But,” Joe says, “I take Lipitor and Aspirin, so what do I have to worry about? Plus, I have health insurance, so I will have the best possible care if I need it”), or to stop having to pop Lipitor (“But,” Joe says, “it only costs $10, I can afford it”).
 
What if Joe didn’t have health insurance? “I would,” Joe says, “certainly be worse off, because I would be unhealthy or broke, or both.” But, what if no one had health insurance, at least not as we know it today?
 
If the price on the register was the real price of Lipitor, Joe might not be so happy to take it. He might look for cheaper ways to lower his blood pressure, like eating healthy, natural foods. He might, gasp, even find time to sit down and eat a home-cooked meal with his family. 

You get the picture. It gets rosier though, because with health insurance out of the picture, the market begins to take effect. As Joe and his middle-income friends stop taking Lipitor, Pfizer will lower the price or lose half their market.
 
This market incentive only applies so far, as people are willing to pay whatever it takes in cases of catastrophe; in such cases insurance takes over. This that such a radical idea?
 
Does your car insurance cover the cost of gas? Oil changes? Does your homeowner’s policy pay the gardener or the chimney sweep? Of course not. But somehow a perversion has taken place. Health insurance has come to function as a means to pay for routine expenses, not as a safety net in times of trouble. Modern health insurance and the social welfare state mitigate personal responsibility and that – not lack of health care or insurance or failing pension plans – is the crisis of our times. Fixing Social Security will fix Medicare by changing our expectations of the proper role of government.

Hand in my Pocket

 
President Bush may use his veto stamp for the first time in the coming days, as the 2005 Transportation budget headed for his desk has burgeoned to $295 billion, $11 billion more than the limit he set previously. But is $284 billion that much more reasonable?
 
Sure, states benefit from federal transportation funding, Arizona is set to receive $75 million to fund light rail, but when you consider where all that money is coming from, it seems less like a boon for Arizona and more like a boondoggle.
 
 
About 85 percent of Federal transportation funding comes primarily from the federal gas tax, which amounts to more than 18 cents a gallon at the pump. So, that $75 million in light rail funding came out of your pocket. It seems pretty silly to send all that money to Washington, just so they can send some of it back to us, with instructions as to how we should spend it.
 
Repealing the federal gas tax wouldn't cost us anything. We could very well come out ahead, with more money for public projects and more money in our pockets, if we replaced it with a lower state tax that filled Arizona's coffers directly instead of first routing tax dollars through Washington.
 
Profligate projects like light rail might seem a lot more palatable when someone else is paying for them; but reach far enough into that bag of money the federal government is handing the state and you will find your hand in your own pocket.