Monday, December 19, 2011 - Capitalism and the Right to Rise - Opinion: Capitalism and the Right to Rise


We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing.

Increasingly, we have let our elected officials abridge our own economic freedoms through the annual passage of thousands of laws and their associated regulations. We see human tragedy and we demand a regulation to prevent it. We see an industry dying and we demand it be saved. Each time, we demand "Do something . . . anything."

We either can go down the road we are on, a road where the individual is allowed to succeed only so much before being punished with ruinous taxation, where commerce ignores government action at its own peril, and where the state decides how a massive share of the economy's resources should be spent.

Or we can return to the road we once knew and which has served us well: a road where individuals acting freely an d with little restraint are able to pursue fortune and prosperity as they see fit, a road where the government's role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it.

In short, we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a powerful record of delivering the most prosperity and the most opportunity to the most people.




Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - The Cellulosic Ethanol Debacle

Unfortunately, this type of example is all too common with a government that has far exceeded its proper bounds. - Opinion: The Cellulosic Ethanol Debacle


Years before the Obama Administration dumped $70 billion into solar and wind energy and battery operated cars, and long before anyone heard of Solyndra, President Bush launched his own version of a green energy revolution. The future he saw was biofuels. In addition to showering billions of dollars on corn ethanol, Mr. Bush assured the nation that by 2012 cars and trucks could be powered by cellulosic fuels from switch grass and other plant life.

Most important, the Nancy Pelosi Congress passed and Mr. Bush signed a law imposing mandates on oil companies to blend cellulosic fuel into conventional gasoline. This guaranteed producers a market. In 2010 the mandate was 100 million barrels, rising to 250 million in 2011 and 500 million in 2012. By the end of this decade the requirements leap to 10.5 billion gallons a year.

Despite the taxpayer enticements, this year cellulosic fuel production won't be 250 million or even 25 million gallons. Last year the Environmental Protection Agency, which has the authority to revise the mandates, quietly reduced the 2011 requirement by 243.4 million gallons to a mere 6.6 million. Some critics suggest that even much of that 6.6 million isn't true cellulosic fuel.

To recap: Congress subsidized a product that didn't exist, mandated its purchase though it still didn't exist, is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn't exist, and is now doubling down on the subsidies in the hope that someday it might exist. We'd call this the march of folly, but that's unfair to fools.




Monday, December 12, 2011 - The Millionaire Subsidy Elimination Act - Opinion: The Millionaire Subsidy Elimination Act


On Tuesday, President Obama once again blamed the lack of progress on the budget deficit on Republicans' refusal to raise taxes on their fat-cat friends and donors—the much-maligned 1%. Yet the top 1% of earners already pay close to 40% of all federal income taxes, a share that is almost double what it was in the 1970s.

Raising tax rates on high incomes, as Mr. Obama proposes, would only cut the deficit by about 6%, even assuming—wrongly—that those higher taxes wouldn't slow the economy.

The much bigger fiscal drain from the wealthy is on the federal expenditure side of the budget ledger: tens of billions each year in grants, loans, subsidies, guarantees and benefits pocketed each year by wealthy Americans as individuals and firms. Any campaign to downsize big government will only succeed if the needed deep cuts in spending are deemed by voters as equitable. In an era of $1 trillion-plus deficits and a $15 trillion national debt, we would like to think that a national consensus could be reached to eliminate handouts to individuals and companies with net incomes above $1 million.

We've long argued that the GOP should lead the charge.

We propose a new law: Let's call it The Millionaire Subsidy Elimination Act. It would prohibit anyone with an annual income over $1 million from receiving any government benefits. There's a big advantage to cutting benefits to millionaires rather than raising their tax rates to 40% or 50%. Slashing expenditures would help grow the economy, while raising tax rates would hurt U.S. competitiveness and job creation.





Friday, December 9, 2011 - Gingrich Is Inspiring-and Disturbing

Once again, Noonan nails it.  I love so much about Newt, and I would love to see him debate Obama for hours on end, but he also makes me nervous for all the reasons listed in this article.  I’ll support him 100% against O’bummer if he gets the nomination, but right now I’d still pull the lever for Romney. - Opinion: Gingrich Is Inspiring—and Disturbing< /b>


That's the problem with Newt Gingrich: It's all true. It's part of the reason so many of those who know him are anxious about the thought of his becoming president. It's also why people are looking at him, thinking about him, considering him as president.

Ethically dubious? True. Intelligent and accomplished? True. Has he known breathtaking success and contributed to real reforms in government? Yes. Presided over disasters? Absolutely. Can he lead? Yes. Is he erratic and unreliable as a leader? Yes. Egomaniac al? True. Original and focused, harebrained and impulsive—all true.

What is striking is the extraordinary divide in opinion between those who know Gingrich and those who don't. Those who do are mostly not for him, and they were burning up the phone lines this week in Washington.

Those who've known and worked with Mitt Romney mostly seem to support him, but when they don't they don't say the reason is that his character and emotional soundness are off. Those who know Ron Paul and oppose him do so on the basis of his stands, they don't say his temperament forecloses the possibility of his presidency. But that's pretty much what a lot of those who've worked with Newt say.

There are many good things to say about Newt Gingrich. He is compelling and unique, and, as Margaret Thatcher once said, he has "tons of guts."

But this is a walk on the wild side.




Thursday, November 17, 2011 - To Increase Jobs, Increase Economic Freedom

By JOHN MACKEY (Independent), co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market

Is the United States exceptional? Of course we are! Two hundred years ago we were one of the poorest countries in the world. We accounted for less than 1% of the world's total GDP. Today our GDP is 23% of the world's total and more than twice as large as the No. 2 country's, China.
America became the wealthiest country because for most of our history we have followed the basic principles of economic freedom: property rights, freedom to trade internationally, minimal governmental regulation of business, sound money, relatively low taxes, the rule of law, entrepreneurship, freedom to fail, and voluntary exchange.
The success of economic freedom in increasing human prosperity, extending our life spans and improving the quality of our lives in countless ways is the most extraordinary global story of the past 200 years.
Business is not a zero-sum game struggling over a fixed pie. Instead it grows and makes the total pie larger, creating value for all of its major stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, investors and communities.
So why is our economy barely growing and unemployment stuck at over 9%? I believe the answer is very simple: Economic freedom is declining in the U.S.
The reforms we need to make are extensive. I want to make a few suggestions that, as an independent, I hope will stimulate thinking and constructive discussion among concerned Americans no matter what their politics are.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - A Short Econ Quiz for the Super Committee - Opinion: A Short Econ Quiz for the Super Committee


Suppose that year after year, you spend more than you earn. You are worried that you've become fiscally irresponsible. Which of the following could be paths back to fiscal sanity for your household?

A) Spend less.

B) Earn more.

C) Stop at the ATM more often so you'll have more cash in your pocket.

Do we all understand why C is a really bad answer? Good. Now let's try another one.

Suppose that year after year, your government spends more than it collects in taxes. You are worried that it's become fiscally irresponsible. Which of the following could be a path back to fiscal sanity for your government?

A) Spend less.

B) Collect more tax revenue.

Spending less—at least spending less on things you don't need—can be a first step toward sanity for a government just as it can for a household. So A is a pretty good answer. What about B?

As the deadline looms for the congressional super committee, there's seems to be a growing sense that tax revenue for the government is like income for the household. That's wrong. Raising taxes is nothing at all like earning income. Instead, it's a lot more like visiting the ATM.

The government's debt is the American people's debt. If we pay down that debt through higher taxes, we will, for the most part, pay those taxes by drawing down our savings. That's no more "responsible'' than drawing down those savings to finance overconsumption within the household.

The notion persists that an extra trillion in federal spending can be converted from "irr esponsible'' to "responsible'' as long as it's accompanied by an extra trillion in tax hikes. That's like saying a $500 haircut can be converted from "irresponsible'' to "responsible'' as long as you withdraw the $500 from your bank account. If the super committee loses sight of this fundamental truth, it is doomed to fail.




Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - The Public-Union Albatross - Philip K. Howard: The Public-Union Albatross


The indictment of seven Long Island Rail Road workers for disability fraud last week cast a spotlight on a troubled government agency. Until recently, over 90% of LIRR workers retired with a disability—even those who worked desk jobs—adding about $36,000 to their annual pensions. The cost to New York taxpayers over the past decade was $300 million.

As one investigator put it, fraud of this kind "became a culture of sorts among the LIRR workers, who took to gathering in doctor's waiting rooms bragging to each [other] about their disabilities while simultaneously talking about their golf game." How could almost every employee think fraud was the right thing to do?

The LIRR disability epidemic is hardly unique—82% of senior California state troopers are "disabled" in thei r last year before retirement. Pension abuses are so common—for example, "spiking" pensions with excess overtime in the last year of employment—that they're taken for granted.

Collective-bargaining rights have made government virtually unmanageable. Promotions, reassignments and layoffs are dictated by rigid rules, without any opportunity for managerial judgment. In 2010, shortly after receiving an award as best first-year teacher in Wisconsin, Megan Sampson had to be let go under "last in, first out" provisions of the union contract.

America should ban political contributions by public unions, by constitutional amendment if necessary. Government is supposed to serve the public, not public employees.




Monday, November 7, 2011 - The Corporate Welfare State - Opinion: The Corporate Welfare State


The Occupy Wall Street protesters aren't good at articulating what they want, but one of their demands is "end corporate welfare." Well, welcome aboard. Some of us have been fighting crony capitalism for decades, and it's good to have new allies if liberals have awakened to the dangers of the corporate welfare state.

Corporate welfare is the offer of special favors—cash grants, loans, guarantees, bailouts and special tax breaks—to specific industries or firms. The government doesn't track the overall cost of these programs, but in 2008 the Cato Institute made an attempt and came up with $92 billion for fiscal 2006, which is more than the U.S. government spends on homeland security.

That annual cost may have doubled to $200 billion in this new era of industry bailouts and subsidies. According to the House Budget Committee, the 2009 stimulus bill alone contained more than $80 billion in "clean energy" subsidies, and tens of billions more went for the auto bailout and cash for clunkers, as well as aid for the mortgage industry through programs to refinance or buy up toxic loans.

This industrial policy model of government as a financial partner with business can sound appealing, but the government's record in picking winners and losers has been dreadful.


As important as this economic damage is the corrosive effect that corporate welfare has on public trust in government. Americans understand that powerful government invariably favors the powerful, who have the means and access to massage Congress and the bureaucracy that average citizens do not. This really is aid to the 1% paid by the other 99%.

With American federal debt headed toward the worst European levels, this is an issue that should unite the tea party, the Occupy Wall Street protesters and Congressional deficit-cutters.



Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - The Divider vs. the Thinker

Peggy Noonan has a decent article about Paul Ryan and Obama’s campaign of class warfare (link below); however, I’m also including the link to Paul Ryan’s speech that Peggy discusses and I recommend reading that above the article.  I think Ryan’s speech is an excellent exploration of some of our nation’s problems and a solid foundational explanation of a serious approach to solve these problems.  Serious thinkers from any political side will benefit from carefully considering his speech.

Here’s Paul Ryan’s recent speech [read or watch]:

Saving the American Idea: Rejecting Fear, Envy and the Politics of Division


Here’s Noonan: - Opinion: The Divider vs. the Thinker

Mr. Ryan receives much praise, but I don't think his role in the current moment has been fully recognized. He is doing something unique in national politics. He thinks. He studies. He reads. Then he comes forward to speak, calmly and at some length, about what he believes to be true. He defines a problem and offers solutions, often providing the intellectual and philosophical rationale behind them. Conservatives naturally like him—they agree with him—but liberals and journalists inclined to disagree with him take him seriously a nd treat him with respect.




Tuesday, October 25, 2011 - And Baby Makes Seven Billion - Opinion: And Baby Makes Seven Billion


Nothing brings out the inner Malthus like a newborn baby.

That's especially true when that baby is born to a mother somewhere in Africa or Asia. According to the United Nations Population Fund, some time this coming Monday, probably in India, the world will welcome its seven billionth person. Well, maybe welcome isn't exactly the right word.

At Columbia University's Earth Institute, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs tells CNN "the consequences for humanity could be grim." Earlier this year, a New York Times columnist declared "the earth is full," suggesting that a growing population means "we are eating into our future." And in West Virginia, the Charleston Gazette editorializes about a "human swarm" that is "overbreeding" in a way that "prosperous, well-educated families&q uot; from the developed world do not.

The smarter ones acknowledge that Malthus's ominous warnings about a growing population outstripping the food supply were not borne out in his day. The track record for these scares in our own day is not much better.

The truth is that the main flaw in Malthus is precisely his premise. Malthusian fears about population follow from the Malthusian view that human beings are primarily mouths to be fed rather than minds to be unlocked. In this reasoning, when a pig is born in China, the national wealth is thought to go up, but when a Chinese baby is born the national wealth goes down.

Behind this divide between those who worry about limits put on human exchange and those who worry about limits to growth are two very different views of the human person. The former believe that so long as people are free to trade and use their talents, the more the merrier. The latter treat people as a great mass of more or less interchangeable cogs, hence the worries about "sustainability" and "carrying capacity" and the like.




Friday, October 21, 2011 - A Better Idea for Green Jobs

Washington has spent years trying to force-feed green jobs, to little good effect. So here's a better idea: Expand the number of green cards, as in the number of immigrant visas for foreign-born graduates of American universities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This could even be bipartisan. President Obama this week praised the latest report from his jobs council that proposed more such visas. And this week Idaho Republican Raúl Labrador, a freshman of tea party provenance, introduced a bill in the House to do the same. The evidence is overwhelming that if we let these young people stay in America, rather than sending them home, they'll end up building new companies and tens of thousands of new jobs.

Meantime, the U.S. has to compete for talent. "We're finding a lot of these graduates get job offers, but when they find out how long it will take them to get green cards they leave and go work in other countries where they become our competitors," Mr. Labrador says. The global competition for human capital is as fierce as it is for financial capital, and the U.S. can't afford to reject either one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - Avoiding Smoot-Hawley Redux - Opinion: Avoiding Smoot-Hawley Redux


There's no question about it: China manipulates its currency. The value of the yuan is largely determined not by market forces but by a "managed float." Beijing sets a target range within which the yuan can be converted into U.S. dollars via markets in Hong Kong. Under most analyses of purchasing power parity, the yuan should probably be at a higher value relative to the dollar.

None of these statements are controversial. The real questions are: What does the managed float mean for America, and what should be done about it?

On the former, the managed float of the yuan means that U.S. imports from China are cheaper than they would otherwise be. It also means that China sits on large dollar reserves that get funneled back into U.S. financial assets (mainly Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities), putting downward pressure on U.S. interest rates.

In addition, it means that if the U.S. could produce the same goods and services at the same price as China, we would be at a comparative disadvantage. The reality, of course, is that the U.S. does not produce the same goods and services at the same price.

On the latter question—what should we do about this—the answer is: not start a trade war.



Monday, October 10, 2011 - The Banker Baiters - Opinion: The Banker Baiters


White House financial czar Elizabeth Warren is off and running for Senate in Massachusetts, and her theme is t hat "the people on Wall Street broke this country." Meanwhile, Senator Dick Durbin this week urged customers to stage a run on Bank of America because it recently raised debit-card fees by $5 a month, President Obama piled on by telling regulators to punish BofA, and even Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has joined the fun by vowing that America will "prevail" over the banks.

"Prevail"? Who is America's chief financial steward talking about here, the Taliban? What a turnaround: A couple of years ago Mr. Geithner was saying that Congress had to rescue the banks he was supervising at the New York Federal Reserve for the good of the economy, and now he's saying the same banks are enemies of the people.

Such are the vagaries of re-election politics when you don't have much else to run on. Lacking an agenda, much less an economic achievement, Democrats appear to have decided to campaign against Wall Street and the banks. Perhaps soon we'll see Ms. Warren and the President join the "Occupy Wall Street" protests in lower Manhattan. Maybe they can all march arm-in-arm on the New York Fed.

But how could they avoid protesting their own policies? The entire American financial system now operates under the rules they wrote in 2009 and 2010 when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

The predictable consequences of those rules are starting to appear in the marketplace. The 2009 CARD Act made it more difficult for credit-card issuers to raise rates and charge fees. New Federal Reserve regulations limited overdraft charges. Then came the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, which included a provision authored by Mr. Durbin that cut the "swipe fees" that debit-card issuers can charge merchants like Wal-Mart to process transactions.

Don't ask what any of this has to do with preventing the next financial crisis. The new rules and laws achieved Washington's goal of cutting bank revenues, by more than $15 billion per year. But it costs money to provide checking services and electronic payment networks, and the political class is now stunned that banks would seek new ways to profitably serve customers.




Friday, October 7, 2011 - America's Enduring Ideal

This article is longer and a bit thicker than most I post, but I think it gets to the core of many of our left/right debates.  Personally, I land on the side of maintaining personal freedoms while practicing and encouraging a moral life in all of us. - America's Enduring Ideal


Only through a reshaping of our principles and a reordering of the American economy, Mr. Sachs believes, can we become "a mindful society." We must abandon a culture that is defined by hard work and the striving for upward mobility and an economy that has unleashed unparalleled prosperity. Hard work impedes leisure. Ambition is a vice. Economic growth hurts the planet.

Mr. Sachs is right to dislike the greed and vulgarity that can accompany bourgeois life. But he is wrong to attribute these phenomena to capitalism uniquely. Discord and imperfection arise from human nature. The question is how they can be contained and redirected. Capitalism, together with our moral traditions, has long offered a solution consistent with individual freedom.

The freedom and independence of the American population can best be guaranteed by allowing the people to govern themselves through their elected representatives; by keeping limits on the size of government; and by encouraging each of us to take responsibility for our own well-being. We can best be aided by our families, communities, churches and local institutions—and by the government only as a last resort.

For, ultimately, Mr. Sachs's quarrel is with our founding principles of equality and liberty. Underlying the arguments in "The Price of Civilization" is a contention that the Constitution is too conducive to freedom, that it endorses an economic system too friendly to growth and the satisfaction of appetite, that it creates political institutions too inattentive to our national character.

The Founders thought of America as exceptional, but Mr. Sachs thinks that this claim is a myth and that the country's present greatness a historical aberration. Our decline is, thankfully, inevitable, he says: "America will not again dominate the world economy or geopolitics as it did in the immediate aftermath of World War II. That was a special historical moment; we can be glad that economic progress throughout the world is rapidly creating a more balanced global economy and society."

It is through this prism of decline that we may better understand Mr. Sachs's calls for an overbearing government to take more earnings from you and make more decisions for you, as well as his instructions for hard-working Americans to restrain their ambitions and accept their current place in life. He seeks nothing less than to replace the vision of the Founders—the ideals of individual liberty that have enabled America to achieve the unrivaled social, material and spiritual flourishing of the past two and a quarter centuries—with one that relies almost solely on the wisdom and beneficence of an intrusive, unlimited government.

The dialogue between capitalism and its critics is an old one, and it will continue. But as citizens of a self-governing nation, Americans must choose from time to time between alternative visions for our future.




Thursday, October 6, 2011 - Elizabeth Warren and the Blessings of Government - Opinion: Elizabeth Warren and the Blessings of Government


Elizabeth Warren—Harvard Law School professor, former Obama consumer-prot ection czar, and now a candidate for Senate in Massachusetts—recently gave a revealing presentation of her views on justice and taxing the rich:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody," she said at a campaign event. "You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along."

There's much truth in Ms. Warren's statement. But if government stuck to what it does fairly well—roads, police, fire and the courts; enforcing contracts that help businesses interact with their customers and other businesses—the federal government wouldn't need to spend over $3.5 trillion a year, as it now does. And of course it's state and local governments—and not Washington—that primarily fund police, fire and education, so it's a bit strange to ask the rich to pay their fair share of federal income taxes because they enjoy police protection.

Much government spending supports activities that are ineffective or even harmful to the economy, often helping the politically powerful at the expense of the rest of us. Wouldn't it be great for the federal governm ent to stop federal export subsidies, propping up financial institutions, meddling in the education system, and trying to engineer the entire health system from the top down?

If the feds stopped all that, Ms. Warren would have a stronger point. We could all feel some gratitude for government's role in helping us live better lives. All of us, rich and poor, would look at government differently.




Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - What if the NFL Played by Teachers' Rules?

EMAIL THIS Email - Opinion: What if the NFL Played by Teachers' Rules?


Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player's salary is b ased on how long he's been in the league. It's about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he's an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player's been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct.

Let's face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt?

No matter how much money was poured into t he league, it wouldn't get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money.

Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: "They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans." The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn't help.

If you haven't figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real -life American public education system. Teac hers' salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn't rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they've been teaching. That's it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you're demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation's children.





Thursday, September 29, 2011 - A Short History of the Income Tax - Opinion: A Short History of the Income Tax


Before the modern era the federal tax system was manifestly unfair by any reasonable standard, grossly biased in favor of the well off. Ironically, attempting to fix that unfairness is what has brought us to the present moment, with a federal tax system that is grotesquely complex, often arbitrary, and corrupted by mutual back-scratching between members of Congress and influential lobbyists.

[After the Supreme Court rejected the 1894 income tax as unconstitutional, President Taft] came up with a brilliant, very lawyerly, alternative: He proposed a constitutional amendment to legalize a personal income tax, while meanwhile imposing a tax on corporate profits. In the early 20th century such a tax was, in effect, a tax on the rich. As the corporate income tax is technically an excise tax, there was no constitutional problem. Taft's solution was implemented and in 1913 the 16th Amendment was declared ratified, just as Taft was leaving office.

The new president, Woodrow Wilson, and the strongly Democratic Congress promptly passed a personal income tax. It kicked in at 1% on incomes above $3,000 (a comfortable upper middle-class income at the time) and reached 7% on incomes over $500,000. But there were many deductions, bringing the effective tax rates down sharply from the marginal ones—a feature of the tax system ever since.

Unfortunately the corporate income tax, originally intended as only a stopgap measure, was left in place unchanged. As a result, for the last 98 years we have had two completely separate and uncoordinated income taxes. It's a bit as if corporations were owned by Martians, otherwise untaxed, instead of by their very earthly—and taxed̵ 2;stockholders.

This has had two deeply pernicious effects. One, it allowed the very rich to avoid taxes by playing the two systems against each other.

The other pernicious consequence of the separate corporate and personal income taxes has been a field day for demagogues and the misguided to claim that the rich are not paying their "fair share."

Just as in the late 19th century, the tax code is now hopelessly arbitrary and unfair. It requires a complete overhaul.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines

This is not the first I’ve read on this topic, and the more I learn about this issue the more concerned I get.  Criminal intent (or extreme negligence in some cases) should be a given for those serving jail time, but for Federal law it often is not. - As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines


For centuries, a bedrock principle of criminal law has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. The concept is known as mens rea, Latin for a "guilty mind."

This legal protection is now being eroded as the U.S. federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them.

As a result, what once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time.

Back in 1790, the first federal criminal law passed by Congress listed fewer than 20 federal crimes. Today there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, plus thousands more embedded in federal regulations, many of which have been added to the penal code since the 1970s.

Under English common law principles, most U.S. criminal statutes traditionally required prosecutors not only to prove that defendants committed a bad act, but also that they also had bad intentions. In a theft, don't merely show that the accused took someone's property, but also show that he or she knew it belonged to someone else.

Requiring the government to prove a willful violation is "a big protection for all of us."  Generally speaking in criminal law willful means "you have the specific intent to violate the law."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle worry about the weakening of mens rea.  In a 2009 Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the growth of federal criminal law, Rep. Bobby Scott (D., Va.)., said that mens rea had long served "an important role in protecting those who do not intend to commit wrongful or criminal acts from prosecution and conviction."

But when legislators "criminalize everything under the sun," Ms. Coughlin says, it's unrealistic to expect citizens to be fully informed about the penal code." With reduced intent requirements "suddenly it opens a whole lot of people to being potential violators."

The erosion of mens rea is partly due to the "hit or miss" way American legislation gets written today… Some lawmakers simply omit criminal-intent provisions when they draft legislation. "Lots of members don't think about it, not out of a malevolent motive," he says. "They just don't think about it."





Thursday, September 22, 2011 - How About a Green Tea Party? - Opinion: How About a Green Tea Party?


It is time for a movement that brings environmental quality through economic prosperity. It's time for a Green Tea Party.

The GTP would not be for you if you think increasing Washington bureaucracy budgets will produce a cleaner environment. Most improvements came through cost-saving technologies in the private sector, not regulations.

The GTP's platform would be that only prosperity and incentives can drive environmental improvements. The first plank: Wealthier is healthier. From the U.S. to the former Soviet Union, data show that economic growth is necessary for environmental improvement, not its enemy. Such growth requires a strong private sector, not more federal spending and red tape. The second plank: Incentives matter. The GTP would use a carrot instead of the regulatory stick to improve environmental quality, and let energy markets and prices dictate energy sources. A replacement for fossil fuels will be found only when entrepreneurs can make a profit from cheaper, cleaner and more efficient energy.

Here are a few GTP environmental policies that make economic and common sense because they rely on market forces to discover what works:



Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - Do-Nothing Democrats? - Opinion: Do-Nothing Democrats?


President Obama's latest "pivot to jobs" has turned out to be more of a sharp left turn. First he announced a new $447 billion stimulus of new spending and temporary tax cuts. Then on Monday he proposed to offset it with $1.5 trillion over 10 years in permanent tax hikes. Mr. Obama knows that little of what he's proposing will pass the Republican-controlled House, so the conventional wisdom has it that the President is trying to emulate Harry Truman by setting up a "do-nothing Congress" as a re-election foil.

But the bigger news may be how much resistance Mr. Obama's ideas are drawing from the Democrats who control the Senate.

Mr. Obama will find it harder to run against a do-nothing Congress when his own party is rejecting his ideas.


Thursday, September 15, 2011 - Should Faking a Name on Facebook Be a Felony?

Scary. - Opinion: Should Faking a Name on Facebook Be a Felony?


Imagine that President Obama could order the arrest of anyone who broke a promise on the Internet. So you could be jailed for lying about your age or weight on an Internet dating site. Or you could be sent to federal prison if your boss told you to work but you used the company's computer to check sports scores online. Imagine that Eric Holder's Justice Department urged Congress to raise penalties for violations, making them felonies allowing three years in jail for each broken promise. Fanciful, right?

Think again. Congress is now poised to grant the Obama administration's wishes in the name of "cybersecurity."

The little-known law at issue is called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It was enacted in 1986 to punish computer hacking. But Congress has broadened the law every few years, and today it extends far beyond hacking. The law now criminalizes computer use that "exceeds authorized access" to any computer. Today that violation is a misdemeanor, but the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to meet this morning to vote on making it a felony.

The problem is that a lot of routine computer use can exceed "authorized access."

Breaching an agreement or ignoring your boss might be bad. But should it be a federal crime just because it involves a computer? If interpreted this way, the law gives computer owners the power to criminalize any computer use they don't like.

If that sounds far-fetched, consider a few recent cases….




Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - What Job 'Training' Teaches? Bad Work Habits

One of the problems with government programs is the focus on intent instead of results.  While most everyone likes the idea of job training programs, history has shown the Federal government can’t deliver the desired results. - Opinion: What Job 'Training' Teaches? Bad Work Habits< o:p>


Last Thursday, President Obama proposed new federal jobs and job-training programs for youth and the long-term unemployed. The federal government has experimented with these programs for almost a half century. The record is one of failure and scandal.

…For years the Labor Department scorned the mandate in the 1982 legislation to speedily and thoroughly evaluate whether the programs actually benefitted trainees. Finally, in 1993, it released a study that showed participation in JTPA "actually reduced the earnings of male out-of-school youths." Young males enrolled in JTPA prog rams had 10% lower earnings than a control group that never participated.

In his speech to Congress, Mr. Obama called for funding hundreds of thousands of summer jobs for teens, which he labeled "investing in low-income youth and adults." Yet such programs have been blighting work ethics for decades.

The GAO warned in 1969 that many teens in federal summer jobs programs "regressed in their conception of what should reasonably be required in return for wages paid." A decade later, it reported that most urban teens "were exposed to a worksite where good work habits were not learned or reinforced." And in 1985, a National Academy of Science study found that government jobs and training pro grams isolated disadvantaged youth, thus making it harder for them to fit into the real job market.

Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office reported that there were 47 different federal employment and training programs, costing taxpayers $18 billion a year. There is massive overlap and duplication, and few programs seriously evaluate their impact on trainees.

If federal job training efforts worked, Congress would not have thrown out the programs it has created every decade or so and enacted new ones. In reality, government training has always been driven by bureaucratic convenience, or politicians' re-election considerations. There is no reason to believe the latest round of proposals will be any dif ferent.