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Archive for July, 2012

I periodically provide mind-blowing examples of individuals who have their lives turned upside down by evil bureaucrats.

You may think “evil” is too strong a word, but it sticks in my mind after perusing these examples of abusive actions by the federal government.

Now we have a George Will column that will get you very angry. At least if you’re a good person.

Will starts by describing the federal bureaucracy’s attack on an innocent woman for a non-crime.

…our unhinged government, with an obsession like that of Melville’s Ahab, has crippled Nancy Black’s scientific career, cost her more than $100,000 in legal fees — so far — and might sentence her to 20 years in prison. This Kafkaesque burlesque of law enforcement began when someone whistled. Black, 50, a marine biologist who also captains a whale-watching ship, was with some watchers in Monterey Bay in 2005 when a member of her crew whistled at the humpback that had approached her boat, hoping to entice the whale to linger. Back on land, another of her employees called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ask if the whistling constituted “harassment” of a marine mammal, which is an “environmental crime.” NOAA requested a video of the episode, which Black sent after editing it slightly to highlight the whistling. NOAA found no harassment — but got her indicted for editing the tape, calling this a “material false statement” to federal investigators, which is a felony under the 1863 False Claims Act, intended to punish suppliers defrauding the government during the Civil War.

But it gets worse, because the federal jack-boots then raided her office (I don’t even know what “jack-boots” are, but they signify government thuggery, and that’s definitely a good description of what happened).

…after this bizarre charge — that she lied about the interaction with the humpback that produced no charges — more than a dozen federal agents, led by one from NOAA, raided her home. They removed her scientific photos, business files and computers.

This unfortunate woman has also been charged with another non-crime.

She has also been charged with the crime of feeding killer whales when she and two aides were in a dinghy observing them feeding on strips of blubber torn from their prey — a gray whale. To facilitate photographing the killers’ feeding habits, she cut a hole in one of the floating slabs of blubber and, through the hole, attached a rope to stabilize the slab while a camera on a pole recorded the whales’ underwater eating. So she is charged with “feeding” killer whales that were already feeding on a gray whale they had killed. She could more plausibly be accused of interfering with the feeding.

As an aside, Will notes that the NOAA bureaucrats have little regard for the Constitution.

Six years ago, NOAA agents, who evidently consider the First Amendment a dispensable nuisance, told Black’s scientific colleagues not to talk to her and to inform them if they were contacted by her or her lawyers. Since then she has not spoken with one of her best friends.

Most important, he concludes with the key point about how all of us are threatened by Leviathan.

In 1980, federal statutes specified 3,000 criminal offenses; by 2007, 4,450. They continue to multiply. Often, as in Black’s case, they are untethered from the common-law tradition ofmens rea, which holds that a crime must involve a criminal intent — a guilty mind. Legions of government lawyers inundate targets like Black with discovery demands, producing financial burdens that compel the innocent to surrender in order to survive. The protracted and pointless tormenting of Black illustrates the thesis of Harvey Silverglate’s invaluable 2009 book, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.” Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer in Boston, chillingly demonstrates how the mad proliferation of federal criminal laws — which often are too vague to give fair notice of what behavior is proscribed or prescribed — means that “our normal daily activities expose us to potential prosecution at the whim of a government official.” Such laws, which enable government zealots to accuse almost anyone of committing three felonies in a day, do not just enable government misconduct, they incite prosecutors to intimidate decent people who never had culpable intentions. And to inflict punishments without crimes. …The more Americans learn about their government’s abuse of criminal law for capricious bullying, the more likely they are to recoil in a libertarian direction and put Leviathan on a short leash.

Utterly disgusting. As Glenn Reynolds periodically suggests, “tar, feathers” would be an appropriate way of dealing with these hyenas.

By the way, government thuggery is not limited to the crowd in Washington.

P.S. For the second time, I feel compelled to apologize to Hyenas. They’re part of the natural ecosystem. Thuggish bureaucrats, by contrast, are a malignant and artificial force.

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What Do Greece, the United States, and the Cayman Islands Have in Common?

At first, this seems like a trick question. After all, the Cayman Islands are a fiscal paradise, with no personal income tax, no corporate income tax, no capital gains tax, and no death tax.

By contrast, Greece is a bankrupt, high-tax welfare state, and the United States sooner or later will suffer the same fate because of misguided entitlement programs.

But even though there are some important differences, all three of these jurisdictions share a common characteristic in that they face fiscal troubles because government spending has been growing faster than economic output.

I’ve written before that the definition of good fiscal policy is for the private sector to grow faster than the government. I’ve humbly decided to refer to this simple principle as Mitchell’s Golden Rule, and have pointed out that bad things happen when governments violate this common-sense guideline.

In the case of the Cayman Islands, the “bad thing” is that the government is proposing to levy an income tax, which would be akin to committing fiscal suicide.

The Cayman Islands are one of the world’s richest jurisdictions (more prosperous than the United States according to the latest World Bank data), in part because there are no tax penalties on income and production.

So why are the local politicians considering a plan to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? For the simple reason that they have been promiscuous in spending other people’s money. This chart shows that the burden of government spending in the Cayman Islands has climbed twice as fast as economic output since 2000.

Much of this spending has been to employ and over-compensate a bloated civil service (in this respect, Cayman is sort of a Caribbean version of California).

In other words, the economic problem is that there has been too much spending, and the political problem is that politicians have been trying to buy votes by padding government payrolls (a problem that also exists in America).

The right solution to this problem is to reduce the burden of government spending back to the levels in the early part of last decade. The political class in Cayman, however, hopes it can prop up its costly bureaucracy with a new tax – which euphemistically is being called a “community enhancement fee.”

The politicians claim the tax will only be 10 percent and will only be imposed on the expat community. But it’s worth noting that the U.S. income tax began in 1913 with a top rate of only 7 percent and it affected less than 1 percent of the population. But that supposedly benign tax has since become a monstrous internal revenue code that plagues the nation today.

Except the results will be even worse in Cayman because the thousands of foreigners who are being targeted easily can shift their operations to other zero-income tax jurisdictions such as Bermuda, Monaco, or the Bahamas. Or they can decide that to set up shop in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which have very modest income tax burdens (and the ability to out-compete Cayman in other areas).

As a long-time admirer of the Cayman Islands, I desperately hope the government will reconsider this dangerous step. The world already has lots of examples of nations that are following bad policy. We need a few places that are at least being semi-sensible.

By they way, I started this post with a rhetorical question about the similarities of Greece, the United States, and the Cayman Islands. Let’s elaborate on the answer.

Here’s a post that shows how Greece’s fiscal nightmare developed. But let’s show a separate chart for the burden of federal spending in the United States.

What’s remarkable is that the federal government and the Cayman Islands government have followed very similar paths to fiscal trouble. Indeed, Caymanian politicians have achieved the dubious distinction of increasing the burden of government spending at a faster rate than even Bush and Obama. No mean feat.

This data for the U.S. chart doesn’t include the burden of state and local government spending, so the Cayman Islands still has an advantage over the United States, but I’ll close with a prediction.

Cayman’s proposed income tax

If the Cayman Islands adopts an income tax – regardless of whether they call it a community enhancement fee (to misquote Shakespeare, a rotting fish on the beach by any other name would still smell like crap), it will be just a matter of time before the burden of government spending becomes even more onerous and Cayman loses its allure and drops from being one of the world’s 10-richest jurisdictions.

Which will be very sad since I’ll now have to find a different place to go when America suffers its Greek-style fiscal collapse.

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I’ve criticized union bosses for fighting school reform, and I’ve condemned the so-called civil rights establishment for opposing school choice.

And here’s a powerful video from Reason TV that combines those themes, noting the unholy alliance of teacher unions and the NAACP.

The spiritual leader of the teacher unions?

Fortunately, the statists seem to be losing this issue. Louisiana recently adopted school choice legislation that will give poor children an opportunity to escape failing government schools.

But the left isn’t losing gracefully. In a move that would make George Wallace proud, they are threatening schools that will participate in the new program.

Here’s some powerful criticism of their sleazy tactics from today’s Wall Street Journal.

In some parts of the antebellum South, it was illegal to teach blacks how to read. Are teachers unions in Louisiana trying to turn back the clock? Last week, lawyers for the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state’s two major teachers unions, threatened private and parochial schools with lawsuits if the schools accept students participating in a new school choice initiative that starts this year. Education reforms signed into law in April by Governor Bobby Jindal include a publicly funded voucher program that allows low-income families to send their children to private or parochial schools. …lawyers representing the unions faxed letters to about 100 of the 119 schools that are participating in the voucher program. “Our clients have directed us to take whatever means necessary,” the letter reads. Unless the school agrees to turn away voucher students, “we will have no alternative other than to institute litigation.” The letter demanded an answer in writing by the next day. Louisiana’s voucher program is adjusted for family income and is intended above all to give a shot at a decent education to underprivileged minorities, who are more likely to be relegated to the worst public schools. …Demand for vouchers has been overwhelming: There were 10,300 applications for 5,600 slots. Despite claims to the contrary by school-choice opponents, low-income parents can and do act rationally when it comes to the education of their children. State officials have rightly slammed the union’s tactics. A spokesman for the Governor said in a statement that union leaders are “stooping to new lows and trying to strong-arm schools to keep our kids from getting a quality education.” State Superintendent John White said it was “shameful” that the unions were “trying to prevent people from doing what’s right for their children.” The unions claim that vouchers don’t benefit students, but we know from school-choice programs in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that voucher recipients attend safer schools and enjoy higher graduation rates than their peers in public schools.

As I note in this post (featuring a great column by Jeff Jacoby), I’ve always believed that the school choice issue exposes the dividing line between honest liberals and power-hungry liberals.

Regardless of ideology, any decent person will favor reforms that enable poor kids to escape horrible government schools. Lots of liberals are decent people. The ones who oppose school choice, by contrast, are…well, you can fill in the blank.

P.S. Here’s some wisdom on the issue of school choice from a former University of Georgia quarterback.

P.P.S. Not surprisingly, Thomas Sowell nails the issue, as does Walter Williams, with both criticizing the President for sacrificing the interests of minority children to protect the monopoly privileges of teacher unions.

P.P.P.S. Chile has reformed its education system with vouchers, as have Sweden and the Netherlands, and all those nations are getting good results.

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Even though it seems he would be an easy target, I haven’t posted much Bill Clinton humor.

All that comes to mind is this reference to Colombian prostitutes, this R-rated Monica Lewinsky joke, and this bonding moment with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But let’s add this image to the mix.

While I firmly believe all politicians should be mocked, and am perfectly happy to take some shots at Clinton, it’s time for a serious point.

America’s 42nd President actually did a pretty good job. Or, to be more accurate, we got good results during his tenure, particularly when looking at the burden of government spending.

Which is why I have openly stated on TV that I would go back to Bill Clinton’s tax rates if it also meant we could have the lower levels of spending and regulation that existed when he left office.

P.S. Time for a confession. This image, which I received from a British ex-pat living in the Caribbean, originally said the crowd was waiting for a Tony Blair statue to be unveiled. But since that reference wouldn’t resonate for most readers, I took the liberty of substituting the spiritual leader of the New Democrats for the spiritual leader of New Labor. But if you’re hungry for some negative commentary on the United Kingdom, you’ll enjoy this, this, and this.

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Considering that every economic theory agrees that living standards and worker compensation are closely correlated with the amount of capital in an economy (this picture is a compelling illustration of the relationship), one would think that politicians – particularly those who say they want to improve wages – would be very anxious not to create tax penalties on saving and investment.

Yet the United States imposes very harsh tax burdens on capital formation, largely thanks to multiple layers of tax on income that is saved and invested.

But we compound the damage with very high tax rates, including the highest corporate tax burden in the developed world.

And the double taxation of dividends and capital gains is nearly the worst in the world (and will get even worse if Obama’s class-warfare proposals are approved).

To make matters worse, the United States also has one of the most onerous death taxes in the world. As you can see from this chart prepared by the Joint Economic Committee, it is more punitive than places such as Greece, France, and Venezuela.

Who would have ever thought that Russia would have the correct death tax rate, while the United States would have one of the world’s worst systems?

Fortunately, not all U.S. tax policies are this bad. Our taxation of labor income is generally not as bad as other industrialized nations. And the burden of government spending in the United States tends to be lower than European nations (though both Bush and Obama have undermined that advantage).

And if you look at broad measures of economic freedom, America tends to be in – or near – the top 10 (though that’s more a reflection of how bad other nations are).

But these mitigating factors don’t change the fact that the U.S. needlessly punishes saving and investment, and workers are the biggest victims. So let’s junk the internal revenue code and adopt a simple and fair flat tax.

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I wrote last week about David Gauke, a simpering and unctuous statist who said it was “morally wrong” for people to pay cash for services because that made it harder for the state to seize a share of the proceeds.

And last month I condemned the country’s CINO (Conservative in Name Only) Prime Minister for saying that legal tax avoidance is “morally wrong.”

These nauseating examples are just the tip of the iceberg. The U.K. government also has proposed a scheme that would require employers to send employee’s paychecks to the tax police, giving the folks at Inland Revenue the authority to then decide how much can be sent to hapless workers.

Equally disturbing, the government even uses the tax authority and the education system to propagandize kids – even to the point of asking information about people they know who aren’t fully obedient to the state.

Here are excerpts from a report in the Telegraph.

HMRC has set up teaching modules to guide children through the hazards of pay as you earn and National Insurance contributions. Some of the modules – which can be downloaded from HMRC’s website – teach school children as young as 11 about paying their fair share of tax. …One lesson plan – targeted at 14 to 16 year olds – requires students to “discuss whether it is good to pay the tax we do, considering the benefits we receive. If it is good, then why do people try not to pay?” It continues: “Show class the remaining factfile slides on tax evasion. What do students think of those who refuse to pay tax…? “Can they think of any example they may have heard of in their local area?” …The modules were criticised by thinktank Civitas. David Green, its director, said: “This sounds a bit too ‘Big Brotherish’. People ‘in their local area’ are most likely to be parents or close relatives. Turning children into state spies is un-British.”

The government denies that it collects and uses the information as part of its tax enforcement activities.

An HMRC spokesman said…”We certainly don’t use this to collect information on tax evaders from children. These materials are solely designed to help children to learn about how tax works in Britain.”

I’m willing to assume that the government is being honest about its actions today, but that doesn’t mean the statists won’t decide to expand the system in the future. After all, that is the history of government.

But even in the unlikely event that the tax police never utilize the system to encourage snitching, it is still disgusting and reprehensible that the government is brainwashing children into being compliant serfs.

P.S. The statists in the U.K. say money is needed to fund important social services, but these examples (here and here) show that dysfunctional and destructive impact of the welfare system, and this post (as well as all the examples linked at the end of the post) show that the government-run healthcare system leaves a lot to be desired.

P.P.S. But the U.K. government needs more money. After all, how else can it have taxpayer-financed sex trips to Amsterdam?

P.P.P.S. Thuggish and Orwellian tax enforcement also exists in the United States. You won’t be surprised to learn that Chicago encourages snitches by paying bounties. Yup, the murder capital of the world can’t keep its people safe, but it has resources to implement Soviet-style revenue tactics (and don’t forget the city is against free speech as well).

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It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that John Lott has changed the national debate on gun control. His rigorous research and prolific pen have exposed the slip-shod analysis of anti-Constitution advocates.

I’ve cited his work on several occasions.

It’s now time to share more of Lott’s work.

Responding to some of the demagoguery after the Colorado killings, here’s some of what he wrote for National Review.

…the M&P 15 and the AK-47 are “military-style weapons.” But the key word is “style” — they are similar to military guns in their aesthetics, not in the way they actually operate. The guns covered by the federal assault-weapons ban (which was enacted in 1994 and expired ten year later) were not the fully automatic machine guns used by the military but semi-automatic versions of those guns. The civilian version of the AK-47 uses essentially the same sorts of bullets as deer-hunting rifles, fires at the same rapidity (one bullet per pull of the trigger), and does the same damage.

This is a key point. I suspect most journalists (and far too many people who get their news from these clowns) genuinely think an “assault weapon” is akin to a machine gun.

Lott also shows that there is nothing about “military-style” weapons that enables a bigger magazine.

The Aurora killer’s large-capacity ammunition magazines are also misunderstood. The common perception that so-called “assault weapons” can hold larger magazines than hunting rifles is simply wrong. Any gun that can hold a magazine can hold one of any size. That is true for handguns as well as rifles. A magazine, which is basically a metal box with a spring, is also trivially easy to make and virtually impossible to stop criminals from obtaining.

Lott then discusses some of the research showing that Clinton’s assault-weapons ban didn’t reduce crime.

…despite Obama’s frightening image of military weapons on America’s streets, it is pretty hard to seriously argue that a new ban on “assault weapons” would reduce crime in the United States. Even research done for the Clinton administration didn’t find that the federal assault-weapons ban reduced crime. Indeed, banning guns on the basis of how they look, and not how they operate, shouldn’t be expected to make any difference. And there are no published academic studies by economists or criminologists that find the original federal assault-weapons ban to have reduced murder or violent crime generally. There is no evidence that the state assault-weapons bans reduced murder or violent-crime rates either.

Indeed, it appears that crime has dropped because the ban no longer exists.

Since the federal ban expired in September 2004, murder and overall violent-crime rates have actually fallen. In 2003, the last full year before the law expired, the U.S. murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people. Preliminary numbers for 2011 show that the murder rate has fallen to 4.7 per 100,000 people. In fact, murder rates fell immediately after September 2004, and they fell more in the states without assault-weapons bans than in the states with them.

Correlation is not causation, of course, but these results also are consistent with logic and intuition. If law-abiding people have more access to guns, it makes sense that this makes life more difficult for criminals.

P.S. For fans of the Second Amendment, you’ll enjoy these gun control posters (here, hereherehere, and here). And here are some amusing images of t-shirts and bumper stickers on gun control (herehere, and here). In addition, I’ve posted four different videos on gun control (herehere, here, and here). And here’s my interview on NRA-TV.

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