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InsiderOnline Blog: April 2012

Dangerous Arguments Against Free Speech Abound

Commenting on the incidence of misogyny and family rape among Muslims can land you in jail—in Denmark. Lars Hedegaard, president of the Danish Free Press Society, did just that and barely managed to avoid a conviction.

Denmark has a law according to which anyone who “publicly or with the intent of public dissemination issues a pronouncement or other communication by which a group of persons are threatened, insulted or denigrated due to their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation is liable to a fine or incarceration for up to two years.”

Hedegaard avoided a fine or worse by convincing the Danish supreme court he had not intended for his comments to be disseminated publicly. The court nevertheless affirmed the validity of the law. So trying to help Muslim women by drawing attention to their mistreatment is now a race crime in Denmark.

Karen Lugo, who has a report on the case (National Review, April 30), notes that the United States has its own enthusiasts for narrowing free speech rights. That includes those in Congress who support the People’s Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which says only natural persons—not corporations—enjoy rights under the Constitution. Put another way, the amendment denies individuals speech and political rights whenever they act jointly as a corporation—e.g., whenever Paul Krugman writes a column for the New York Times.

The proponents of this idea, notes Ilya Somin (Volokh Conspiracy, February 18), make a mistake similar to that of the Siberian officials who recently banned an anti-government protest that planned to use toys. “[T]oys,” they explained, “especially imported toys, are not only not citizens of Russia but they are not even people.”

Yes, and like toys, corporations are things that natural people sometimes use to exercise their rights.

Posted on 04/30/12 07:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

Defender of Religious Liberty Wins Salvatori Prize

Kevin “Seamus” Hasson, founder of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is the 2012 winner of Salvatori Prize for American citizenship. Edwin Meese III and Matthew Spalding of The Heritage Foundation presented Hasson with the award Thursday in Colorado Springs at the annual Resource Bank meeting of conservative and free market leaders and activists.

Named after businessman and philanthropist Henry Salvatori, The Salvatori Prize recognizes “Americans who uphold and advance the principles of the American founding, embody the virtues of character and mind that animated America’s founders, and exemplify the spirit of independent and entrepreneurial citizenship in the United States.”

In 1994, Hasson founded the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to defend religious liberty in the courts. The organization has had some notable victories over the years including convincing the very liberal 9th Circuit to change its mind on the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (Newdow v. Rio Lindo Union School District) and convincing the Supreme Court that a church school should be able to choose its own teachers without being subject to discrimination claims (Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC). (For more on the Becket Fund, see our interview with Hannah Smith in the Spring 2012 issue of The Insider.)

Currently the Becket Fund is representing four clients suing the Department of Health and Human Services over its mandate (pursuant to ObamaCare) that virtually all employers must cover contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans. In his acceptance talk, Hasson, who currently serves as president emeritus of the Becket Fund, said the mandate is symptomatic of a broader antipathy toward religion of those currently in power.

Hasson went on to note three reasons that defending religious liberty for all faiths is important: (1) Sometimes it’s smart to set precedents by representing faiths which might arouse more sympathy from the “politically correct”; (2) if not everybody in America has religious liberty then nobody in America has religious liberty; and (3) religious faith is being assaulted by those who believe in nothing, and so we need to defend the right to believe something even if it is the wrong thing, so that people can also have the right to believe the right thing.

Posted on 04/27/12 03:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toolkit: Get Started on Tumblr

If you’ve discovered the weird and wonderful world of Tumblr, you’re likely looking for a few tips to get you started or just get into the groove of this ever-growing online community.

Tumblr has been around for awhile but has recently gained a lot of attention since President Obama began one. It’s in your best interest to learn the ins and outs of this non-traditional social medium. The following seven tips should be of good use to anyone making their way on Tumblr:

1. Following: Like Twitter and Facebook, Tumblr is a place to make friends. You start doing that by following Tumblrs that interest. Search the Tumblr interests section to find a few of the spotlighted Tumblrs in your interest area. Your favorites aren’t easy to find but you have to start somewhere.

2. Tagging: If you are looking for Tumblrs on specific subjects, simply tag your search in the search bar. For example, if you are looking for people writing about cyber-security issues, use that tag in the search and you’ll find what you are looking for.

3. Re-Blog: As you scroll your Tumblr dashboard (the place where all the Tumblrs you follow feed into), reblog the ones you like! It’s like a ReTweet on Twitter. Adding commentary with your own opinion about it to the reblog is a great way to attract attention from the original Tumblr and their followers.

4. Like posts and comment on them: Like every other social media, Tumblr users like to be noticed. When you feed their ego, they’ll feed yours back. Be sure to leave a “note” (the equivalent of a Facebook “like”) on posts you enjoy and comment on those you have something to say.

5. Start arguments: If you have a disagreement with a Tumblr, reblog their post and state your disagreement. Usually, they will respond and others will join in the action as well. In turn, you’ll receive more followers. People will see you are a person worth paying attention too.

6. Use effective photos and GIFs: GIFs are a Tumblr staple and if you can make your point with one, the more popular you will be. The visuals on your Tumblr can make or break you so be sure you pick out funny, appropriate photos to accompany your point.

7. Be Funny: The Tumblr community thrives on comedy. You must be able to make fun of yourself, take others lightly, and listen to their opinions. A great way to throw in the humor is getting #6 down pat: stellar GIFs.

—Ericka Andersen

Posted on 04/27/12 01:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

Colorado Springs Shows Limited Government Works

Colorado Springs plays host to this year’s Resource Bank, held Thursday and Friday this week. The city, nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, is a great place to have any conference, but it is especially fitting for a meeting of 500+ leaders in the free market/limited government movement. As Wayne Laugesen, editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette explained earlier this week (April 24):

Colorado Springs stands for freedom, perhaps more than any other American city. So it makes good sense that a collective meeting of men and women “of the mind” would gravitate to America the Beautiful City and the country’s finest resort.

What Colorado Springs does right was the topic of discussion in one of the sessions. That panel was moderated by Sean Paige, a former Washingtonian policy wonk who moved out to Colorado Springs about a decade ago to write editorials for the Colorado Springs Gazette, and then got involved in city government. We caught up with Paige to talk about the city and his experiences here:

InsiderOnline: Why do you call Colorado SpringsFreedom City USA”?

Sean Paige: It’s a limited government city. It has had that tradition even before the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights was created here. We want to be a magnet city for conservatives and libertarians. Michelle Malkin moved here recently in part because we have great schools because of the school choice we have here. I think it’s a vision. We fall short. Like other cities we own a hospital. We own a utility company. But right now we are in the process of discussing privatizing the hospital.

IO: What does Colorado Springs rely on the private sector for or not do at all that other city governments do?

SP: It seems elemental, but garbage collection. Denver has city employees collecting their garbage. When they go on strike or the city runs out of money, they don’t pick up the garbage. We have a great zoo, we have a great philharmonic, we have a great art museum here, and they’re all private.

In the recent economic turndown, we privatized our community centers, we privatized our pools, we moved toward privatizing our museums—getting them to stand alone. With the ebbs and flows of a city budget, there are certain entities that traditionally face the axe more than others. I think it’s actually liberating to take a community center or a pool that might be on the cutting block every time you go through a downturn in revenues and privatize it.

IO: Are those things run better now that they are private?

SP: Oh, no question. I was at one of the community centers when it was run by the city and I’ve been back several times since it’s been run by a Jewish group, and it’s like night and day. It’s amazing. The level of services has increased. It’s costing the city almost nothing. We do pay for basic maintenance, because we still own the building. But the private group runs all the programs.

IO: So you got involved in city government yourself a few years back, right? Was it the fiscal crisis that prompted you to run for city council?

SP: I got involved and then it just so happened we had a fiscal crisis, and that was an incredible opportunity for a limited-government person like me. Because of the situation we were in, people were more open-minded about limited-government ideas. It was only a couple of weeks after I was on the city council that we needed to find $20 million in budget cuts.

The community centers, the pools, and so on were on the chopping block. I put out the call to have public-private partnerships to get the private sector to help out with these things and people stepped up. I had a sense that they would because that’s kind of in the tradition of our city. We have such strong non-governmental actors. The reason they are strong is because we have kept government in check and not allowed it to encroach on private initiative.

IO: How hard was it to get the data you needed on to make decisions on city spending?

SP: That’s always problematic, especially in the old city-manager model. The city staff really ran the city and just spoon-fed stuff to the city council.

You really need some skeptical people on the council. I think my background as a journalist helped me. It wasn’t as easy for the staff to spoon-feed me what they thought I ought to know.

I see around the country there is a drive to open up city government. I think getting that transparency is one of the necessary steps to reforming city governments. Once people see what a city is doing, then in most cases they get motivated to act to fix the problems.

IO: So what is the state of the city finances now?

SP: Better. We got a lot of guff during the crisis for doing some things like turning off some city street lights. But we’re a lot better off coming out of it. We didn’t let the city government get that big to begin with, so when we had to roll it back, it wasn’t as painful. Right now we have a surplus. When I went on the council, we had to find $20 million to cut, which is significant for a city this size. When I left the council we were $20 million ahead. I certainly don’t take all the credit for that.  

The natural dynamic is after the crisis passed, you see some backsliding into the old way of doing things. We’ve seen some of that with current councils. But we have a really strong mayor who wants to keep spending in check. If you make those hard decisions all they way along, they become less hard during a crisis.

IO: What would you say other cities could learn from Colorado Springs?

SP: Tax-limitation laws work. A tax-constrained environment actually strengthens the city because it allows the non-governmental entities to remain strong. The lesson of Colorado Springs is that people will take on some of those roles that government played if they are invited to do so. Unfortunately, we don’t find that out until a crisis. But it’s something that cities should be constantly evaluating. Should the government be doing this? Is it affordable? Can we do it in a more cost-effective way? Can we privatize it?

I’d like people to know that Colorado Springs is a successful city that runs well with a small government.

Posted on 04/27/12 01:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

Charles Colson, R.I.P.

Charles Colson, who died Sunday at 80, was one of the most important conservative spokesman for prison reform and the founder of the world’s largest outreach effort to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. And he did it all after serving seven months in federal prison in 1974 for obstruction of justice in connection with the Watergate scandal. The Wall Street Journal described Colson as President Nixon’s “hatchet man,” and he described himself as “the chief ass-kicker around the White House” and a “flag-waving, kick-’em-in-the-nuts, anti-press, anti-liberal Nixon fanatic.”

But after leaving government, Colson became a born-again Christian, and his time in prison provided him with a mission for the rest of his life. Michael Gerson (Washington Post, April 22), who worked as a research assistant for Colson in the mid-1980s, remembers Colson this way:

Chuck was a powerful preacher, an influential cultural critic and a pioneer of the dialogue between evangelicals and Catholics. But he was always drawn back to the scene of his disgrace and his deliverance. The ministry he founded, Prison Fellowship, is the largest compassionate outreach to prisoners and their families in the world, with activities in more than 100 countries. It also plays a morally clarifying role. It is easier to serve the sympathetic. Prisoners call the bluff of our belief in human dignity. If everyone matters and counts, then criminals do as well. Chuck led a movement of volunteers attempting to love some of their least lovable neighbors. This inversion of social priorities — putting the last first — is the best evidence of a faith that is more than crutch, opiate or self-help program. It is the hallmark of authentic religion — and it is the vast, humane contribution of Chuck Colson.

Posted on 04/27/12 12:34 PM by Alex Adrianson

An Experiment in Buying Votes

The Department of Health and Human Services is conducting a “demonstration” project that will pay Medicare Advantage plans more than they would have received under ObamaCare—essentially reversing some of the cuts. Conveniently for the White House, most of the nearly $7 billion in bonus payments will be handed out this election year. The Government Accountability Office (“Quality Bonus Payment Demonstration Undermined by High Estimated Costs and Design Shortcomings,” March 21) says the project doesn’t look like a real experiment:

The estimated budgetary impact of the demonstration, adjusted for inflation, is at least seven times larger than that of any other Medicare demonstration conducted since 1995 and is greater than the combined budgetary impact of all of those demonstrations. While the demonstration is similar in size and scope to some Part D demonstrations, it is unlike many Medicare pay-for-performance demonstrations in that it is implemented nationwide and allows all eligible plans or providers to participate. […]

The design of the demonstration precludes a credible evaluation of its effectiveness in achieving CMS’s stated research goal—to test whether a scaled bonus structure leads to larger and faster annual quality improvement compared with what would have occurred under PPACA. Because of the timing of data collection […] the demonstration’s incentives to improve quality can have a full impact only in 2014. In addition, the demonstration’s bonus percentages are not continuously scaled—in 2014, plans with 4, 4.5, and 5 stars will all receive the same 5 percent bonus—and its bonus payments do not consistently offer better incentives than PPACA to achieve high star ratings in 2013 and 2014. Moreover, because the demonstration lacks a direct comparison group, it may not be possible to isolate its effects […] .

Posted on 04/24/12 12:59 PM by Alex Adrianson

Recording Police Protects Citizens from False Prosecution

The First Amendment isn’t the only source of a right to record police on duty. The case for a due process right to record police interactions with citizens—especially in non-public areas—is also very strong, say Glenn Harlan Reynolds—AKA, Instapundit—and John Steakley (Washington University Law Review, April 16). They point to the case of Tiawanda Moore, charged with illegal wiretapping for recording an attempt by Chicago Police Internal Affairs officers to convince her to drop a sexual harassment complaint. Moore was acquitted of wiretapping by a jury, who apparently agreed with Moore’s lawyer that the recording showed the officers had tried to intimidate Moore. In the recording, one of the officers suggested they “could almost guarantee” that the accused officer would never bother her again if she dropped her complaint.

Reynolds and Steakley:

[T]here seems no good reason why she should have been prosecuted for recording this interaction, and it seems quite likely that a jury would not have believed her testimony about the Internal Affairs officers’ behavior, which was indeed almost “incredible,” without such evidence.

The authors continue:

At present, perhaps because ubiquitous audio and video recording technology is a very recent development, there is little, if any, case law on point. However, a due process right to record the police would represent a logical step beyond existing law that deals with law enforcement’s duty to preserve potentially exculpatory evidence for the benefit of criminal defendants. Such duties on the part of law enforcement are limited by the burden that such evidence preservation might pose, but that burden is not present where the evidence in question is gathered and preserved by individuals. In such cases, law enforcement officers need simply do nothing. Their only “burden” would consist of a duty not to interfere.

Posted on 04/23/12 04:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

There Must Be Some Kind of Way Out of Here

Choice-based policy alternatives are the solution to the inexorable growth of the federal leviathan, say Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal, and R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. of The American Spectator:

Posted on 04/20/12 03:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toolkit: Network Your Way to Success

In the public policy arena it’s critically important to expand and strengthen your network of professional acquaintances to be successful. The Institute of Humane Studies’ Career Guide includes a chapter on networking written by Nigel Ashford. You’ll find the advice helpful, whether you’re looking for a job, trying to get published, or just trying to learn more about your area of specialty. Here are key concepts from the guide:

Dispersed knowledge: We can’t know everything, but we can develop a network of people who collectively know quite a bit.
Weak business ties can be strong: 80 percent of job seekers landed a position with help from an acquaintance who didn’t know them too well.
Reciprocity: Make sure to help others and steer clear of those who seem to be just takers.
Fill holes: Connect acquaintances who you think should know each other but don’t.
Articulate commonalities: When meeting new contacts be sure to offer information about yourself that might allow you to find things in common.
Connectors, mavens, and salesmen: Demonstrate all three skills: bring people together, collect knowledge, and sell yourself and your ideas.

At events you should:

place your nametag on your right side to it’s easy to read when you shake hands;
have a 30 second “elevator speech” about yourself ready to give to a stranger;
ask an intelligent question at the event and state your name before asking it;
exchange business cards often and follow up with an e-mail to your new contact to cement the new connection;
lavish praise on others and listen to them talk about their work/accomplishments without interrupting;
use their first name when they first tell it to you by responding, “Hi [Name], I’m [Name], it’s very nice to meet you.”

—Ryan Nichols

Posted on 04/20/12 03:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

We Might Remember This Year’s Tax Burden Fondly

“Tax Freedom Day,” which was this Tuesday, April 17, could get even later next year, unless Congress and the President take action to prevent tax increases set to take effect on January 1, says the Tax Foundation (April 16).

Every year, the Tax Foundation calculates how many days it takes for the average tax payer to earn enough money to pay his tax bill for the year. In 1913, for example, it took the average taxpayer 13 days to earn enough money to pay his taxes, so Tax Freedom Day was January 13 that year (though no one knew it at the time, since the Tax Foundation began marking the occasion only in 1971).

The latest ever Tax Freedom Day was May 1, in 2000. However, under current law a number of taxes are set to increase automatically, meaning unless Congress and the President act, those tax increases will happen. The cumulative effect will push Tax Freedom back approximately 11 days, says the Tax Foundation, which would make April 28 next year’s Tax Freedom Day. The taxes set to go up include the individual income tax (as a result of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the effect inflation pushing more and more taxpayers into the Alternative Minimum Tax system), the corporate income tax, the payroll tax, and the estate tax.

Posted on 04/20/12 02:57 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Get the Real Story on Stand Your Ground Laws

• Find out what’s really happened in the 24 states that have “Stand Your Ground” laws. The Cato Institute hosts a program on the topic at 4 p.m. on Monday, April 23. On the panel are historian Clayton E. Cramer; firearms trainer and author Massad Ayoob; Steven Jansen, Vice President of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; and Tim Lynch, Director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute.

• Learn how the ideas of economists have shaped history. The Mercatus Center hosts a book discussion and reception for Lawrence White’s The Clash of Economic Ideas: The Great Policy Debates and the Experiments of the Last Hundred Years. The event begins at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25, at the The Mason Inn at George Mason University.

• Get ready for the two best idea-sharing and networking events in the free market movement. The Atlas Experience (Wednesday and Thursday) and Resource Bank (Thursday and Friday) begin next week at The Broadmoor in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado. Book your tickets now if you haven’t already.

• Check out the new online version of The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. The handy guide to our country’s supreme law is both an essential reference for lawmakers as well as an educational tool for citizens. The Web site contains the entire book, in searchable form, as well as an integrated teacher’s companion.

• Bookmark these writer’s pages: Hans von Spakovsky, John Fund, J. Christian Adams, and Cleta Mitchell. These are the folks to follow when it comes to election integrity issues. The effort to ensure honest elections will continue.

Posted on 04/20/12 01:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Insider, Spring 2012: ObamaCare v. Liberty

We’ve got a new look for the Spring 2012 issue of The Insider. Let us know what you think. The rundown:

We wouldn’t call the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare oral arguments unprecedented, but they were high constitutional drama. Here was the Court, with a history of deference to the government on matters of economic regulation, asking the government’s lawyer why, if the government could force people to buy health insurance, it couldn’t also mandate gym membership, cell phone ownership, burial coverage, automobile purchases, and the buying of vegetables.

The Court’s deference had finally run up against its insistence all along that there must be some powers the Commerce Clause didn’t grant to Congress. What were those powers? The Court wanted to know.

A lawyer opposing the government identified the problem this way: “They seem to be saying: ‘Look, we couldn’t just force people to buy insurance to lower health insurance premiums. That would be no good. But we can do it because we’ve created the problem. We, Congress, have driven up the health insurance premiums, and since we’ve created that problem, this somehow gives us authority that we wouldn’t otherwise have.’ That can’t possibly be right.”

If the government can compel transactions it deems essential to the success of any Rube Goldberg scheme it wants to enact, then, as Chief Justice John Roberts put it, “all bets are off.” Or, as Todd Gaziano explains in our feature story, we no longer have a government of limited and enumerated powers. Gaziano provides a preview of what the Court’s decision might be and what the outcome will mean both for health care reform and the future of constitutional government.

Another constitutional problem: Under ObamaCare, the Department of Health and Human Services mandates that virtually all employers cover contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. That mandate forces many people to behave contrary to their religious beliefs, which the First Amendment is supposed to protect against. We talk with Hannah Smith about the Becket Fund’s lawsuits against HHS over the mandate, and about Becket’s various wins for religious liberty.

In other stories, Matthew Mitchell assesses which budget reforms work, Scott Walter shows how conservative donors expand the conversation in academia, Malia Hill provides a citizen’s checklist, and Keesha Bullock advises how to improve your e-mails.

Posted on 04/19/12 11:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

Biotech Is the Real Green Program

You might not hear it on Earth Day (Sunday)—because most environmentalists won’t admit it—but both humans and the planet are a lot better off thanks to biotechnology, says Henry Miller (Defining Ideas, April 19):

[W]hat is at issue are products like pro-vitamin-A-fortified “Golden Rice,” which promises to ameliorate the ravages of vitamin A deficiency in many poor countries; cassava with enhanced protein levels and lower endogenous cyanide; papaya, corn, and cotton plants genetically improved to give higher yields, resist pests, grow under adverse climatic conditions, and with less agricultural chemicals; and a fast-maturing, farmed salmon that offers an eco-friendly source of high-quality, inexpensive protein. […]

Introduced less than two decades ago, [genetically engineered crops] are the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in history. In about three-dozen countries worldwide, more than 17 million farmers are using agbiotech crop varieties to produce higher yields with lower inputs and reduced environmental impact. Most of these new varieties are designed to be resistant to pests and diseases that ravage crops or to herbicides so that farmers can more effectively control insects and weeds while adopting more environmentally friendly farming practices and more benign herbicides. […]

In addition, genetically engineered plants permit more efficient water usage and encourage wider use of environmentally friendly, no-till cultivation which decreases soil erosion and releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For example, in 2009, the shift to biotech crops reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 17.6 billion kilograms, equal to the removal of 7.8 million cars from the road for a year. (Interestingly, organic farming—which explicitly prohibits the use of genetically engineered plant varieties and is the darling of the environmental movement—has opposite effects on all of these parameters.)

Posted on 04/19/12 09:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

ALEC’s Many Accomplishments

The Left is playing the race card against the American Legislative Exchange Council precisely because the group has been successful in promoting smaller, more accountable government in the states, explains John Fund (National Review, April 18):

Over the years, such distinguished governors as Michigan’s John Engler, Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson and Texas’s Rick Perry have come from the ranks of ALEC. It has tirelessly warned for a decade that states were spending themselves into a deep hole, and has promoted measures such as school choice and privatization to improve the quality of government services. (Disclosure: I have spoken at several ALEC events over the last 20 years without receiving any compensation.)

But ALEC’s recent successes in the wake of the 2010 tea-party election have infuriated liberals and unions, who have been looking for a convenient crowbar to club it with. They found it in the Trayvon Martin killing and the completely false claim that voter-ID laws discriminate against minorities and block people from voting. Both arguments have little basis in fact. Over half of the states have passed “Stand Your Ground” laws with bipartisan support, and in Georgia and Indiana, the two states with the earliest and toughest voter-ID laws, minority-voter turnout went up significantly in both 2008 and 2010.

ALEC’s major service to members is its development of model legislation, which can then be adapted to the needs of each state. Its truth-in-sentencing legislation has been adopted by a majority of states, and many states have followed ALEC’s lead in expanding property rights or creating state versions of medical savings accounts to expand consumer choice in health care.

Posted on 04/19/12 11:56 AM by Alex Adrianson

Former Justice Official: Ineligible Voters Not a Problem to Obama Justice

Obama Justice has deliberately ignored threats to election integrity, testifies former Justice Department official J. Christian Adams (excerpted by PJ Tattler, April 18):

Noxubee County, where widespread voter fraud was proven in the case I litigated of United States v. Ike Brown, has 113% of voting age citizens eligible to vote. In the case, the United States presented evidence of in-person voter impersonation. But Noxubee isn’t even the worst county in Mississippi. Ten counties have higher percentages than 113%, including Tunica where 2011 saw multiple voter fraud convictions, and Claiborne County, Mississippi, where 162% of eligible voting age population is on the rolls. Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has begged these counties to clean up their corrupted rolls, but Mississippi law provides him no statutory weaponry, except begging. The Justice Department has the power to step in and sue states and counties to clean up their rolls, but it deliberately refuses to act.

Unfortunately, the Justice Department has not brought a single case under Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act. Indeed, when I was at the Voting Section, political appointees expressed open and outright hostility to enforcing Section 8. Former Voting Section Chief Christopher Coates testified under oath that he recommended eight Section 8 investigations into various states, but that the political appointees overseeing the Voting Section simply said the Obama administration would not enforce Section 8 to require the removal of ineligible voters. Coates also testified that political appointees announced to the entire Voting Section in November 2009 that the Obama administration would never enforce Section 8 to require states to purge ineligible voters. Coates’ testimony was given under oath, and I can corroborate his account because I was also an eyewitness. [Internal citations omitted.]

Posted on 04/18/12 03:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Tax Code Is Broken

If you’ve spent more time than you care to figuring out your tax forms, you’re probably not alone. The federal tax code is a mess, writes Chris Edwards (Daily Caller, April 16, 2012):

This year the instruction book for the 1040 is 189 pages long.

That’s just one IRS tax form, but there are more than 500 others. Consider, for example, that the number of special tax breaks for energy has soared from 11 in 1995 to 26 today, and each break has separate tax forms, instructions, regulations and other paperwork.

The total quantity of federal tax rules is gigantic. Tax publisher CCH collects all the paperwork in one volume, and it currently spans 73,608 pages and covers nine feet of shelf space. That is more than triple the volume of tax rules as recently as the 1970s, as shown in the chart.

In a recent report, the IRS Taxpayer Advocate said that the compliance or paperwork costs for the federal tax code are more than $160 billion a year. That cost represents pure waste to the economy—it’s like throwing in the trash the entire retail sales of Target, Home Depot and Safeway every year.

In addition to being complex, the federal tax code is constantly changing. The Taxpayer Advocate found that there have been 4,428 changes to the tax code in just the last 10 years.

As Edwards notes, the tax code is complicated because politicians like adding special provisions, credits, and deductions in order to provide benefits to their political supporters. This re-engineering of society from the top down isn’t just wasteful; it’s an affront to the idea that everyone should be treated equally before the law.

See also: “Our Tax Code Is Broken,” by Scott Hodge, The Insider, Winter 2012.

Posted on 04/17/12 06:27 PM by Alex Adrianson

Federal Spending Data Headed to the Memory Hole

The federal government just got less transparent, reports Patrick Tyrrell (The Foundry, April 16), who notes the Census Bureau has announced there will be no more Consolidated Federal Funds Reports.

Those reports provided data on federal expenditures at the county level on programs such as Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, and hundreds of more obscure federal programs. That data had also been available online in searchable form, but the Census Bureau plans to discontinue that Web site (www.census.gov/govs/cffr) too.

Tyrrell notes that the Obama administration’s 2012 budget submission contains no explanation of why these useful reports are being discontinued, while the Census Bureau Web site says only that other programs are a higher priority. You might say they’re less than transparent about this decision to reduce transparency.

Meanwhile, reports Tyrrell, the old data is only spottily available at USASpending.gov:  

When we click on any of the files that are supposed to contain federal contracts however, we continually got “page not found” messages. Researchers who want to continue to use data they have had access to since 1993 are out of luck. On Friday, April 13, the data mysteriously returned to the page and is now located there, but the availability of the data remains spotty—one day in the last two weeks.

Posted on 04/16/12 06:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

Former NASA Scientists and Astronauts Object to Agency’s Global Warming Activism

Forty-nine former astronauts and scientists of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have sent NASA administrator Charles Bolden a letter concerning his statements on global warming. Here’s what they had to say (as published by Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, April 10):

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites. We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.

The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is unbecoming of NASA’s history of making an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements.

As former NASA employees, we feel that NASA’s advocacy of an extreme position, prior to a thorough study of the possible overwhelming impact of natural climate drivers is inappropriate. We request that NASA refrain from including unproven and unsupported remarks in its future releases and websites on this subject. At risk is damage to the exemplary reputation of NASA, NASA’s current or former scientists and employees, and even the reputation of science itself.

Posted on 04/13/12 03:19 PM by Alex Adrianson

Wave of New Taxes to Crash on the Economy in 2013

There’s a “Taxmageddon” coming—a $494 billion tax increase resulting from the expiration of a number of tax laws on January 1, 2013 as well as new ObamaCare taxes that kick in on January 1, as well.

These tax increases might not happen, but Congress and the President would have to act in order to prevent them. If they do nothing, the tax increases take place. That prospect is hurting the economy right now, says Curtis Dubay (The Heritage Foundation, April 4):

Although these tax increases will not start raising new revenue until next year, they are having a negative impact on the economy today. Families, businesses, and investors need to know how much tax they will pay in the future before making important economic decisions. The uncertainty caused by Taxmageddon means they are stuck in neutral while they wait for President Obama and Congress to act. This is slowing job creation and stopping many of the millions of unemployed Americans from going back to work.

A tax increase the size of Taxmageddon for just one year is simply unprecedented. Usually tax and budget policies are evaluated on estimates over 10 years. A 10-year tax increase of Taxmageddon’s magnitude would be off the charts. By comparison, all the tax increases in Obamacare—itself an enormous tax increase—raise $502 billion over 10 years, which is almost as much as Taxmageddon will increase taxes just in 2013.

Posted on 04/13/12 03:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

The “Buffett Rule” Is a Joke

Implementing the president’s so-called “Buffett rule” by imposing a 30 percent minimum tax rate on all millionaires might be great class warfare, but it’s no solution to the federal deficit, points out Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post, April 12):

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates this new tax would yield between $4 billion and $5 billion a year. If we collect the Buffett tax for the next 250 years — a span longer than the life of this republic — it would not cover the Obama deficit for 2011 alone.

Posted on 04/13/12 02:52 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toolkit: Is Google+ Really Worth Your Time?

The long and the short of it is: maybe. Google+ is, in many ways, Google’s attempt to rival Facebook. With obvious successes in search, video, and a whole host of other ventures, it seemed logical that Google would strike gold with Google+. However, things have not gone quite as planned for Google.

The platform started with a bang, getting 20 million users in the first 24 days. It took Facebook and Twitter over 1,000 days to get 20 million users. That was about the height of Google+’s popularity. After the initial splash, it largely fell flat. There are a few heavy users, but those are few and far between. It is mostly a ghost town. To try to get more people to use it, Google redesigned it; some say it is too little, too late.

Having said that, there are still reasons to pay attention to Google+. The main reason is that when you click the +1 button embedded on many Web sites, that click registers, not only on your Google+ profile, but also as a recommendation on Google searches. What that means is that when you are logged in to Google and you search for something, it will show you your friends that recommended a link; you also get the option of seeing only links recommended by your friends.

You don’t need to spend that much time on it for now, but like everything on the Internet, that can change. It’s always better to be on the forefront, than to try to catch up. (Check out The Heritage Foundation’s Google+ page.)

—Todd Thurman

Posted on 04/13/12 02:30 PM by Alex Adrianson

Government Does Almost Everything Worse than Free People

John Stossel at his debunkingest best:

His new book is No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails but Individuals Succeed.

Posted on 04/13/12 02:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Vote Is In

People seem to prefer lower taxes:

Over the last decade, on net, more than 4.2 million individuals have moved out of the 10 states with the highest state and local tax burdens (measured as a percentage of personal income). Conversely, more than 2.8 million Americans migrated to the 10 states with the lowest tax burdens. Put differently, every day on average—weekends and holidays included—1,265 individuals left the high tax states, nearly one a minute. […]

According to Census data from the last decade, the average population growth of no tax states is 13.65 percent, compared to 5.49 percent for the highest tax states’ average. As a group, every single year, the nine no tax states gained more residents than they lost.

Just two of the many points of comparison between state economic policies to be found in the latest edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Rich States, Poor States” report.

Posted on 04/12/12 11:15 PM by Alex Adrianson

Medicare Trustee Says ObamaCare Actually Expands Deficit

Scoring conventions of the Congressional Budget Office have misled the public about the fiscal consequences of ObamaCare, says Charles Blahous in a new paper for the Mercatus Center (April 10).

CBO originally scored ObamaCare as reducing the deficit by $210 billion over 10 years. Updating that figure to reflect the suspension of the CLASS program (a revenue raiser in the short term) leaves ObamaCare achieving $123 billion in 10-year deficit reduction.

Blahous calculates, however, that ObamaCare increases the deficit by at least $340 billion over 10 years when compared to previous law. The discrepancy arises, says Blahous, primarily because CBO compared ObamaCare not to previous law but to an alternative baseline that assumes the Trust Fund running out does not affect Medicare outlays. That baseline, explains Blahous (e-21, April 10), amounts to double counting Medicare savings:

[U]nder law Medicare is permitted to spend any proceeds of savings in the Medicare HI program. If we cut $1 from Medicare HI spending in the near term, then an additional $1 is credited to the HI Trust Fund as a result. The Trust Fund thus lasts longer and its spending authority is expanded, permitting it to spend another $1 in a later year.

A core fiscal problem with the ACA is that the same $1 in Medicare savings that expands Medicare’s future spending authority by $1 is also assumed to finance the creation of a large new federal health program. […]

[M]uch of the cost-savings attributed to the ACA is actually not net new savings, but rather substitutions for those required under previous law. Under previous law, Medicare payments either would have been suddenly cut in 2016, or lawmakers would have had to enact other Medicare cost-savings.

See also: Avik Roy’s roundup of the debate over Blahous’s paper at Forbes (April 10).

Posted on 04/11/12 07:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

Don’t Celebrate Dip in UN Spending Yet

The United Nations reduced spending slightly in its regular budget for 2012-2013; but, as Brett Schaefer reports (The Heritage Foundation, April 2), that doesn’t mean the war on UN profligacy has been won. According to Schaefer’s tally, this one-year dip follows a decade of unprecedented growth in UN spending:  

The UN, in other words, is still big. And here is one reason we should expect spending to climb again in future years.

Posted on 04/10/12 06:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

U.S. Now Number One in Corporate Taxes

The United States now has the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Japan previously had the highest rate, but on April 1 it lowered it’s rate to 36.8 percent, leaving the U.S. effective rate of 39.2 percent the highest in the world.

This gaping disparity,” explains The Heritage Foundation’s Curtis Dubay (The Foundry, March 30),

… means every other country that we compete with for new investment is better situated to land that new investment and the jobs that come with it, because the after-tax return from that investment promises to be higher in those lower-taxed nations.

Our high rate also makes our businesses prime targets for takeovers by businesses headquartered in foreign countries, because their worldwide profits are no longer subject to the highest-in-the-world U.S. corporate tax rate. Until Congress cuts the rate, more and more iconic U.S. businesses such as Anheuser-Busch will be bought by their foreign competitors.

Posted on 04/06/12 11:47 AM by Alex Adrianson

Tax Freedom Day Falls to April 17

“Tax Freedom Day® 2012 arrives on April 17 this year, four days later than last year due to higher federal income and corporate tax collections,” says the Tax Foundation:

That means Americans will work 107 days into the year, from January 1 to April 17, to earn enough money to pay this year’s combined 29.2% federal, state, and local tax bill.

If the federal government raised taxes enough to close the budget deficit—an additional $1.014 trillion—Tax Freedom Day would come on May 14 instead of April 17. That’s an additional 27 days of government spending paid for by borrowing.

Posted on 04/06/12 11:37 AM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Read Some Pro-Liberty Fiction

• Stock up on pro-freedom science fiction. Among this year’s finalists for the 2012 Prometheus Award for best libertarian science fiction: The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge, The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, In the Shadow of Ares by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod, and Snuff by Terry Pratchett. The Libertarian Futurist Society will announce the winner of the Prometheus Award at the 70th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago over Labor Day weekend.

• Learn more about Obamacare’s assault on religious liberty. On Tuesday, Paul Rahe will speak at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center. The talk is officially part of its First Principles on First Fridays program, held this time on Tuesday because April’s First Friday is also Good Friday.

• Get on the Values Bus. Next week it’s in Ohio: Monday, Steubenville; Tuesday, Columbus; Wednesday, Cincinnati and Fairfield; Thursday, Warren and Butler Counties, and Dayton; Friday, Findlay; Saturday, Toledo; Sunday, Westlake and Cuyahoga Falls. More details at ValuesBus.com.

Register for Resource Bank and the Atlas Experience (if you haven’t already). The tandem meetings will be held in Colorado Springs beginning April 24. Each will be a great opportunity to meet allies in the conservative/classical liberal movement.

Posted on 04/06/12 11:31 AM by Alex Adrianson

Global Warming on Hold

There’s been no global warming in the past 15 years, says the Global Warming Policy Foundation (April 2), which analyzed the latest data released by the U.K. Meteorological office.

The findings, explain the Foundation’s David Whitehouse, suggest that climate scientists still have not developed an accurate model of how the Earth’s climate works:

In 2001 and 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (and here) estimated that the world would warm at a rate of 0.2 deg C per decade in the future due to greenhouse gas forcing. Since those predictions were made it has become clear that the world has not been warming at that rate. Some scientists retrospectively revised their forecasts saying that the 0.2 deg C figure is an average one. Larger or smaller rates of warming are possible as short-term variations.

Global warming simulations, some carried out by the UK Met Office (here, here and here), have been able to reproduce “standstills” in global warming of a decade or so while still maintaining the long-term 0.2 deg C per decade average. These decadal standstills occur about once every eight decades. However, such climate simulations have not been able to reproduce a 15-year standstill.

Posted on 04/06/12 11:21 AM by Alex Adrianson

Mandates Are Not the Solution to Our Problems, They Are the Problem

As the Supreme Court ponders the constitutionality of ObamaCare’s individual mandate, Remy reminds us that it was state mandates that helped make insurance expensive in the first place:

Posted on 04/06/12 11:20 AM by Alex Adrianson

A Penny Saved Is Pointless

Canada is eliminating its penny, which costs 1.6 cents just to make, and according to David Owen (New York Times, April 4) the United States should follow suit:

Pennies have virtually no buying power, yet they cost a lot to make, distribute and use, and many consumers simply throw them away. (Picking up a penny from a sidewalk and putting it in your pocket pays less than the Federal minimum wage, if you take more than 4.9 seconds to do it.) The U.S. Army stopped using pennies on its bases in Europe in 1980, to spare itself the cost of shipping them overseas. In 1996, the Government Accounting Office determined that most of the millions of shiny new pennies that leave the U. S. Mint each year simply disappear. What’s the point?

A quarter today has less buying power than a U.S. penny did in 1940.

Canada isn’t the only country to eliminate its least valuable coinage. New Zealand stopped making one-cent and two-cent coins in 1989, and it got rid of five-cent coins in 2006. (It also replaced one-dollar and two-dollar bills with coins in 1991, and shrunk its twenty-cent and fifty-cent coins, which had been hubcap size, in 2006.) This may sound un-American, but it isn’t. The United States abandoned its own most worthless coin, the half-cent, in 1857, when a half-cent was worth more than a dime is today.

By most measures, a quarter today has less buying power than a U.S. penny did in 1940. That means that consumers in 1940 got by without the equivalent of almost all the pocket change we now lug around.

Posted on 04/06/12 11:10 AM by Alex Adrianson

Good Thing Somebody’s Thinking about the Constitution

Maybe Congress doesn’t really deserve too much deference from the Supreme Court. Remember these greatest hits, as rounded up by David Bernstein (Volokh Conspiracy, March 28)?

Rep. Conyers cited the “Good and Welfare Clause” as the source of Congress’s authority [there is no such clause].
Rep. Stark responded, “the federal government can do most anything in this country.”
Rep. Clyburn  replied, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do. How about [you] show me where in the Constitution it prohibits the federal government from doing this?”
Rep. Hare said “I don’t worry about the Constitution on this, to be honest [...] It doesn’t matter to me.” When asked, “Where in the Constitution does it give you the authority …?” He replied, “I don’t know.”
Sen. Akaka said he “not aware” of which Constitutional provision authorizes the healthcare bill.
Sen. Leahy added, “We have plenty of authority. Are you saying there’s no authority?”
Sen. Landrieu told a questioner, “I’ll leave that up to the constitutional lawyers on our staff.”

And of course, Rep. Nancy Pelosi said “Are you serious? Are you serious?” when asked what part of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to enact ObamaCare.

Posted on 04/04/12 06:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

Judicial Review Not Such a New Innovation in American Government

No, the Supreme Court did not invent judicial review just last week when it heard arguments on Obamacare. On Monday, President Obama said: “Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

Judicial review is not mentioned in the Constitution, but it was anticipated by the Founders. In 1788, Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 78:

The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex post facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.

In 1796, the Supreme Court first exercised judicial review of a federal law when it upheld a carriage tax against the claim that it violated the Constitution’s provisions on direct taxation (Hylton v. United States).

In 1803, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional because it redefined the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, which is set out in Article III of the Constitution. The case, Marbury v. Madison, was the first time the Court ruled a federal law unconstitutional.

To date, the Supreme Court has ruled 165 acts of Congress unconstitutional. (For a list, see page 2119 of the U.S. Senate Publication, “The Constitution of the United States of America, Analysis and Interpretation,” published in 2002 and page 199 of the 2010 Supplement.)

Posted on 04/03/12 06:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

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