Author Archives: Brad Warbiany

A Tale of Two Bills

Using the near-impossibility that any bill entitled “ethics reform” will be rebuked, House members have proposed campaign finance restrictions be rolled into ethics reform:

House Republicans launched an election-year drive Wednesday to rein in political groups that operate with looser restraints than candidates and their parties, an attempt to blunt the activities of liberals such as billionaire George Soros.

Wealthy supporters, who make donations of $1 million or more to such groups, could contribute no more than $30,000 under the legislation, according to Republican officials. The organizations would be subject to more frequent disclosure requirements.

House Republicans indicated late last year that they wanted to limit the activities of loosely regulated political organizations, trying unsuccessfully to attach legislation to a must-pass bill setting overall policy for the military. They retreated under bipartisan fire.

At the time, the chairman of the House GOP campaign committee said the effort was designed to close “a loophole that is allowing big donor money into the process.”

How did freedom of speech become a “loophole”? Is that similar to how when they give us a tax cut, they count that as an “expenditure”? It used to be that individual rights were something inherent, and which were not to be infringed by the government. Now they’ve taken the stance that they’re the arbiters of all that exists, and they’ll parcel out to us those rights which they think we’re worthy of being granted.

The Bipartisan Incumbent Protection Act of 2003 is designed for one thing, and one thing only: to keep the message in the hands of people that don’t want to rock the boat. But as with anything, when there is that much power at stake, people will find a way to be heard, and 527 organizations fit the bill. Yet from a government standpoint, it was at least an improvement. While they couldn’t silence everyone, they were able to make sure all except the very powerful remained quiet. The powerful have an incentive to keep the status quo, lest they lose their power.

But some voices are bucking the trend. George Soros* has an established fortune (i.e. little fear of losing it, being fired, etc), and an agenda. To our government, Soros is simply too unpredictable and uncontrollable to be allowed to continue operating. They are desperately trying to continue their ability to control the message, and will take down the “whales” of political donations if necessary.

When you see that, you wonder whether our Congressman really want any part of the Online Freedom of Speech Act, set to come up for a vote tomorrow:

Redstate: We’ve been working for a long time on HR 1606 – The Online Freedom of Speech Act. It will come up for a vote on the floor of the House TOMORROW but as you read this – the campaign regulation community is hard at work – working the halls of Congress, lying about not only our bill – but “their” bill as well. And as far as their intentions go – well, I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to THEM bragging about protecting free speech – they are not to be trusted.

Of all the work you’ve done on this issue – no day is more important that today. Start with this list. Call the Republicans that wobbled last time 1606 was on the floor. And don’t stop there.

Congress doesn’t want bloggers speaking freely. They accept us grudgingly, although I’ll bet some of the lesser known folks on the hard-right, hard-left, or libertarian ends of the spectrum giving them assistance (as I think the blogosphere tends to be populated by ends of the spectrum, rather than the middle). But the vast majority see us as a threat. They saw the Patterico Pledge, and they understand the power of the press, even if it is simply online self-publishing.

It’s a sad day when freedom of speech has become a battleground. But it’s a battle we cannot afford to lose. Liberty must constantly be guarded, as there are always forces ready to snatch it away. Let’s make sure that if it goes, it goes with a bang, not a whimper.

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Killing the Goose

Wizbang: Another economic triumph for New Hampshire

In Massachusetts, the government is all in a dither about the health-care crisis supposedly gripping the state. And two of the leading Democrats, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House (both houses over 84% Democratic) have apparently worked out a deal: any employer with ten or more employees will have to offer them some form of coverage, or pay $295/year per employee that would go towards public health care.

Setting aside the notion that the moneys would, indeed, be used for such a purpose (I don’t think the Massachusetts legislature has EVER respected an “earmarking” of funds, instead just tossing it into the general fund and spending it on whatever tickles their fancies), I think this could have a tremendous boost to the economy.

Well, the economies of neighboring states, especially us here in New Hampshire.

Massachussetts politicians would be wise to learn a valuable lesson: You can shear a sheep again and again, but skin him only once. Massachussetts, like most populous states with larger cities, have a nearly-captive audience. There are a lot of reasons that people want to live in Boston; having visited the city, I enjoy it. With such a captive audience, it is a lot easier to extract taxation from your state.

I liken it to poker. If you’re an expert poker player, and you’re trying to get into a weekly game with your buddies, you don’t want to send them home broke every week, or suddenly your buddies will have “prior commitments” spring up. The game won’t last too long, because below-average poker players like to win at least often enough to think they’ve got a chance. The optimal strategy is to win, but not to punish people you expect to play in the future. (Of course, in a tournament, or if you’re playing in a casino, where you won’t play those people again, all bets are off. Play all-out.)

The same rule applies to tax policy. You push, and you push, and you push, and the system creaks and groans, but holds up against the pressure. Then you push a little farther, and people give up. Massachusetts is one of the few states in the country to lose population year over year. Even states like California, which lose large numbers of residents each year (a statistic I’m glad to be a part of), have enough immigration to offset the loss. Massachussetts isn’t called Taxachussetts without reason. And now they’re piling one more big tax on top of it all.

Cities like Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, are like geese who lay golden eggs. You treat them right, and they’ll pay off for a long time. But when you try to take it all at once, don’t be surprised when the golden goose stops producing.

Threat of Teachers Unions

Neal Boortz made a bold statement on his show the other day. He said “the teachers unions are a greater long-term threat to freedom and prosperity than Islamic terrorists”. I’m guessing he came under some fire for that one, because the very next day, he was talking about it again. He said he’d given it a lot of thought, really examined the implications of his statement, and stood behind what he said.

Now, that’s a pretty strong statement, and one that I agree with. Before you all think I’m crazy, I point out the words “long-term”. In the short term, conflict with Islamic terrorists is a direct threat to our freedom and prosperity, and one that needs to be taken very seriously. On the bright side, however, it is one that we’re taking very seriously. We understand the stakes in the conflict, and we are determined to defeat the terrorists. Furthermore, as the Islamic world begins to liberalize and democratize, the threat will diminish significantly on its own.

But the threat of the teachers unions is considerably different. Only a minority of people consider them to be a threat in the first place. Most people in this country think that the unions have education of students as their primary goal, when it is obvious to anybody paying attention that they act in the interest of teachers, often to the detriment of students.

They fight any implementation of standards or testing, because they wish to resist accountability. They fight every program that will increase educational choice for families, because it will lead to a reduction of their bargaining power. They wish education to be handled at the government level, because the government is much easier to lobby and fight than a distributed network of privately-managed schools.

They push endlessly for two specific goals, higher funding and lower class sizes. Higher funding will directly increase teacher salaries. Lower class sizes create a need for higher and higher numbers of teachers, essentially forcing shortages. Hence: higher teacher salaries. It keeps going. They push for a requirement of a “teaching credential” before they push for a requirement that teachers are experts in their subjects. They want to make sure that bright, knowledgeable folks with teaching talent are not allowed to teach unless they have a teaching “credential”. What does all this amount to? Like any cartel, they seek one thing above all: to remove competition. Lower class sizes and credentialing requirements ensure that existing teachers have a strong bargaining position when the union fights for more benefits.

But the biggest problem eclipses all of the above. Their threat to our freedom is not that of newsworthy attacks on human life, but the incremental destruction of human individualism. Boortz explains it much better than I do, when he points out the fact that the government is the actor in our world that we give a monopoly on the power to initiate force. That is an awesome power, and its application must be feared and curtailed whenever possible. But the people we ask to teach our children feed at the trough of government! You will never teach children to fear the application of government power by sending them to government schools. When the teachers unions are helped by a greater concentration of power– as that gives their lobbying much more effect– they will by design support greater government power. And where government power increases, human individualism recedes.

The teachers unions benefit greatly from a public that believes in the idea of collective action, be it union action, government welfare, or simply the “world community”. They benefit greatly from the idea that kids fit into cookie-cutter molds, and if one dares to exhibit individuality, they should be immediately muted with high doses of ritalin. The teachers who benefit from power in government, from keeping children from growing up to question teachers unions, and who prefer the orderly medicated classroom to one that they must keep orderly by inspiring and motivating students, are doing damage to the very fabric of this country. They are creating a nation of citizens who don’t question authority and who don’t have a love of truth and learning. Even worse, they’re creating a nation of citizens without the tools (i.e. logic) to understand the very forces pulling on the levers of their psyche. A nation filled with that sort of citizen is doomed to rot from within.

What will happen if the current situation is continued to exist? What will happen if teachers unions, who have the public on their side (after all, everyone loves and reveres teachers!) continue to stifle competition and standards? Well, I would argue that we’re already seeing the effect, in the inability of schools in much of the country to turn out graduates with a meaningful diploma. I’ve said before that I moved to Georgia partially for the schools, but that is because I moved to an area of Georgia populated by concerned parents who demand accountability from the local schools. Where I moved is somewhere that I might not be ashamed to send my future children to public schools. But my community is an exception in this state, where the schools lag behind the rest of the dullard states in this nation. The situation is bad here and across the country, and it is getting worse.

The teachers unions are not in the slightest bit interested in fixing the problem, except to the extent that it keeps their necks off the chopping block another year. Much like politicians, the status quo is more than suitable for them as long as they don’t awaken the sleeping giant that is the American public. To beat them, we will need to shine a light not only on the results of their actions– the absolutely atrocious education that children in our schools are receiving– but on the fact that the teachers unions are the root cause behind those results. Unions in this country have long received unjustly favorable media treatment, and everyone loves to be on the side of teachers. But unless we can point out the specific ways that teachers unions are harming our children, we won’t stand a chance of beating them.

I’ll be frank. Terrorists setting off a nuclear device in a major American city are a more pressing concern for me over the next 10 years than the actions of teachers unions. But assuming that we can avoid that nightmare scenario, I worry greatly about the world my children will grow up in if we can’t find a way to fix the problem those unions have caused.

Update: Welcome to readers joining us from Neal’s Nuze. The Liberty Papers is a not for profit news and opinion blog that focuses on topics dealing with individual liberty and freedom. If you enjoyed this article, poke around the site. I’m sure you will find more to interest you.

Who Benefits Most From AMT Reform?

In the news recently, and in Congress, discussion has focused upon how the AMT’s net is widening, and the looming “crisis” when it spreads. There’s expected to be an enormous (4x or more) increase in the numbers of taxpayers subject to the AMT in the next year, and the ramifications of this will be brutal if nothing is done. How brutal? Instead of the current 3-4% of households subject to the AMT, we’ll be looking at about 15%:

This parallel tax system was created two generations ago to take away tax breaks from about 150 wealthy taxpayers who had piled up write-offs to erase their tax bills. Chances are, it seems irrelevant if you aren’t among the 4 million taxpayers who owe it for 2005.

But give it time – a year, to be exact. These days you don’t have to be rich for the AMT to wipe out your write-offs.

Though most of them are unaware of it, 21 million Americans are on the hook to pay the AMT next tax season barring intervention from Congress. Some experts predict lawmakers will restore an expired tax provision that had slowed the AMT’s spread through 2005. If they don’t, however, it will unleash a fivefold increase in the number of taxpayers who will owe what one prominent U.S. senator calls the “Darth Vader of the tax code.”

The AMT will strike 35 percent of all taxpayers with $50,000 to $100,000 of adjusted gross income in 2006 – up from 1 percent in 2005, according to the CBO. Two out of three will owe it in 2010.

The AMT will hit 81 percent of taxpayers with $100,000 to $200,000 of adjusted income in 2006, nearly five times the 17 percent share in 2005. It will net more than 95 percent in 2010.

To understand the problem, a little bit of history is in order. The AMT was started in 1969 after it was found that a few very wealthy Americans managed to completely evade paying income taxes. The idea behind the AMT is a brute-force solution to a complex tax code, telling individuals that despite the fact that lawmakers have written thousands of deductions, exemptions, and special rules into the tax code, there is a certain minimum that must be paid. Rather than fix the root problem, which is the carving out of deductions and rules to please special interests, they said that all those rules apply, but only to a certain point.

All the AMT was designed to do is to reduce the impact of all the loopholes and deductions in the tax code, and ensure that those with the means to direct their assets to reduce their taxable income still pay “their fair share”. I personally believe that if we want to look at the problems correctly, we should solve the source (special interest loopholes and deductions), but I’m also an engineer. I know as well as anyone that at times, solving the root problem is simply too difficult. I’ve worked with customers who are running into a technical problem, and it is simply more effective, less costly, and quicker to brute-force a solution than to go fix to the root cause. Given that fixing Congress is probably not going to happen any time soon, the AMT is good legislation– in theory.

In theory, Congress is trying to blunt the tax implications of a few very rich people who are able to shuffle assets and income to reduce tax liability. It is designed for those people who have much more economic freedom than the “average” taxpayer. But therein lies the problem. Congress didn’t design this legislation well, and it’s increasingly affecting the “average” taxpayer (quotes added as it is still restricted to the upper-income taxpayers, but increasingly affecting people who do not employ the sort of advanced tax strategies this legislation was targeting).

It’s somewhat likely that I will be feeling the effect of the AMT next spring, and I can tell you I’m not happy about that. I, like many other people, have to plan my finances based upon certain information. One aspect of that information is the level of mortgage interest I pay, which is deductable. Given that I’ve only owned this home for a year, I’m still at a point where the bulk of my monthly payments are interest, and thus get a fairly substantial deduction. I don’t yet have kids, so perhaps I may be spared. I know lots of young professionals with kids, though, living in places like California or the Northeast, who will run into the AMT next year because their deductions are just “too large”. Especially with the larger mortgages they carry, the interest deduction and exemptions for kids will quickly put them in the AMT’s clutches. For people like me, who base certain financial decisions on what we know of the tax code, getting snared in the AMT net could be tremendously painful.

Congress have their backs against a wall. Budget and revenue projections depend upon the income of the AMT to continue as if there is no reform. Our legislators are expecting to spend the money raised by ensnaring millions of people in this net. When the President’s tax panel gave their recommendations, the reason they had to cut so many personal deductions was to offset the cost of fixing the AMT. They know that to fix the AMT will be incredibly painful, because they either have to reduce their spending plans (not likely!) or find revenue elsewhere– raising other taxes or eliminating deductions.

Congress does not want to fix the AMT. In fact, given that Congress really doesn’t care very much about the “average” taxpayer– as evidenced by their spending habits rewarding people who contribute to campaigns and screwing the rest of us– I don’t think they even care about the financial implications of the AMT upon us. After all, what we earn is legitimately the government’s money, and we should all be grateful they let us keep so much of it. They do care, however, about the political implications. If the AMT ensnares 21 million people this year, the backlash will be enormous. While Congresspeople don’t regularly pay attention to the worries and concerns of us plebes, they saw after Kelo that we can be a sleeping giant. They know that 21 million people feeling the pinch of the AMT may result in them losing their seat of power, which is their greatest and only fear.

Congress is starting to realize that they must reform the AMT or they’ll be in serious political jeopardy. For those of us who pay taxes, however, we know they’re not going to cut spending, so they’ll find another place to squeeze money from us. They’ll distribute the pain the AMT would have caused, in small changes to deductions and exemptions that cause just as much pain for taxpayers, but are harder to spot. We’ll still be screwed, but they’ll be safe. And then they’ll trumpet how wonderful they are for saving 21 million Americans from the AMT, when all they’ve done is to hide that taxation elsewhere.

So who benefits the most from reforming the AMT? Congress. Not that anyone should be surprised by this, of course. The only reason Congress does most things is to increase their own power, and shore up their own safety in office, as we saw from the Bipartisan Incumbent Protection Act of 2002. Remember who’s running this shell game, and you’ll realize that despite how close you’re watching, the shell you pick will be empty.

The Ever-Widening Smoking Ban

The concept of public smoking bans, in my opinion, really gives you an insight into the psyche of a person. This is one of those issues that really separates those who believe in smaller-government-enforcing-their-own-biases from those who truly believe in smaller government and private property rights. I see a true protector of private property rights in a guy like Doug, of Below the Beltway. Doug doesn’t like smoke, to the point where being around it even makes him ill. But he doesn’t accept the idea of government forcing businesses to change the terms of business on their own property. Despite what the Virginia Senate has to say about it:

Nonetheless, this is the closest Virginia has come to banning smoking in any form and it does not bode well for the future.

Banning smoking is a hard topic because of the variety of e-cigarettes like the PAX 3 and the huge range of vape mods that are available. There are no doubts about it, vaping has surged in popularity in recent years.

Furthermore, vape carts are available in more flavors than ever before, making vaping an appealing alternative to smoking cigarettes.

Moreover, a lot of people actually switch to vaping as a way of giving up cigarettes. Research seems to suggest that vaping a 10ml e-liquid is much safer than smoking a cigarette. Therefore, if you are looking for a way to wean yourself off cigarettes, vaping might enable you to gradually reduce your nicotine cravings.

That being said, one or two elections more, and the fate of a bill like this in the House of Delegates could be quite different. And the breadth and scope of the proposed ban is really quite extraordinary:

The Virginia ban would include banks, bars, educational facilities, health care facilities, hotel and motel lobbies, laundromats, public transportation, reception areas, retail food production and marketing establishments, retail services establishments, retail stores, shopping malls, sports arenas, theaters and waiting rooms. Hotels could also set aside no more than 25 percent of their rooms for smokers.

Outside of an occasional cigar, I am not, and never have been, a smoker. Cigarette smoke in particular makes me ill and, in a restaurant, I generally prefer to sit in the non-smoking section. That doesn’t mean, though, that I believe that I or anyone else in the Commonwealth has the right to tell a restaurant or bar owner that they shouldn’t be permitted to make a choice to allow or ban smoking in their establishment. If there really is increasing support for smoking restrictions, then restaurants and bars that don’t allow it should do just fine. At the same time, though, a business owner who chooses to have a smoking section in their restaurant or allow smoking at their bar should be permitted to do so.

But not everyone takes this view. Oddly, many who oppose government restriction in other areas are just loving this. After all, for many non-smokers, it is a constant annoyance to be in a restaurant or bar filled with smoke. For me, actually, as an ex-smoker, I’m always surprised now when I enter a smoke-filled bar at just how much I hate it. But I contrast Doug’s reaction, and my own, with this thread at is the first place where I heard about, the web site devoted to ending Alabama’s prohibition on beers above 6% ABV. And I’d say, to a person, that the members of would reject the notion that it is the government’s place to determine what percentage alcohol should be in the beer an individual buys. Of course, they don’t say they’d like to force liquor stores to carry high-alcohol beers. But they want them to have the option, if the purveyor of the establishment so chooses.

But a large portion of them don’t offer bar owners the same choice. They’re more than happy to decree what a bar owner must allow and not allow in his bar, because smoking offends their personal sensibilities. The government stepping in to do something they don’t like (restricting beer sales) is offensive. But the government stepping in, doing the same basic thing, to restrict a behavior they disapprove of is no problem.

There is a dividing line between conservatives and libertarians, and this is one of the markers between the two. Non-smoking conservatives are usually quick to denounce smokers, and love the idea of smoking bans, because it stops people from engaging in behavior they disagree with. Non-smoking libertarians, on the other hand, may hate walking into smoke-filled bars, but understand that it is the decision of the bar owner to make. We don’t always like the results of freedom, but to a libertarian, the alternative of oppression– even well-meaning oppression– is unacceptable.

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