Rent Too High?

Remember Jimmy McMillan? He’s “the rent is too damn high!” shouting, six-time New York City mayoral candidate with the, er — Rent is Too Damn High Party.

McMillan is at least partly right. It’s no mystery that rents are so high. Government policies are aimed at just that result.

In New York City, rent control discourages new supply as well as maintaining existing supplies — causing shortages leading to higher prices. In many cities, particularly in Blue political metropolises, zoning has pretty much the same effect.

Meanwhile, pumping subsidies into the demand side of the rental housing market doesn’t exactly decrease prices.

Last weekend, the Tyler Morning Telegraph offered up “Housing Choice Voucher program helps families,” reporting on 65-year-old Brinda Meier’s effort to land one of 500 “popular” Housing Choice Vouchers offered with grants of federal tax dollars distributed through Tyler’s Neighborhood Services Department. The voucher goes to help pay the rent.

That’s nice, of course, and no doubt why the program is popular. But the landlord actually cashes the voucher check. Moreover, to the extent these rent subsidies allow folks to afford higher rents, they in turn keep those rents higher — including for folks whose voucher numbers won’t come up in the “please Uncle Sam help pay my rent” lottery.

We discover that Meier, who lives on Social Security and food stamps, is preparing to move across town. She’s found a new place to rent, $200 cheaper than her current place — and in a better neighborhood. She tells the reporter that she’ll move without regard to whether she wins the rent subsidy.

So taxpayers may subsidize someone who doesn’t need it, serving only to keep rents too darn high.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Another Insider?

Earlier this week, Jeb Bush, former governor of the State of Florida, announced on Facebook that he is “exploring” a 2016 run for the Republican nomination for the presidency. I have mixed feelings, to say the least.

There’s the whole dynastic problem. Another Bush? Or, is Jeb the cost of finding a candidate to beat Hillary . . . who has her own dynastic baggage?

But the big story, here, is to watch the insiders scramble to keep out the outsiders.

The trouble with both Hillary and Jeb is that they are insiders. They represent where the leadership of both parties wants its representatives and front-men (and -women) to go: to the putative “center.”

By which they really mean: don’t disturb the bailout system in American finance or the Pentagon procurement system for the military-industrial complex.

While it might be fun to contemplate Bill Clinton as the First Gentleman, or pick at the two issues over which Gov. Bush seems not very conservative at all, the truth is that both have access to a lot of entrenched power and loose money. Both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton enjoy incumbent-like advantages.

If the near future does sport a Clinton-Bush battle for the presidency, we can be sure of only one thing: status quo vs. status quo.

Leaving the real work of reform to those of us at the grassroots, with state and local issues our preoccupation. As long as insiders occupy the White House, our choices will be limited.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Belching Cows and Gassy Assumptions

Give New York Times reporter Robert Pear, or perhaps an editor, credit for a provocative headline: “In Final Spending Bill, Salty Food and Belching Cows Are Winners.” This to explain a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill.

Where’s the money going?

Not to salty food or belching cows. The Times explains that, “like many of its predecessors,” the bill bulges with provisions “to satisfy special interests.” For example?

Pear quickly highlights how “ranchers were spared [from] having to report on pollution from manure,” schools from having to reduce salt or increase whole grain in their lunches, insurance companies from relinquishing tax breaks. These provisions, which incur no new spending, are lumped with one that does involve spending at taxpayer expense, a subsidy for promoting Nevada.

There’s something odd about this sampling of budgetary ingredients. Isn’t there a difference between being left alone and receiving a subsidy or other favor at the expense of others? Because that’s the kind of fundamental distinction blurred or obliterated when all budgetary things applying to particular groups are treated as “stuff to satisfy special interests.”

Politicians concoct zillions of ways to burden and bully people; proposed targets are, sure, “special interests” who may then beg for reprieves. But unlike the beneficiaries of specific subsidies or competitor-stomping regulations, we’ve all got a stake in not being harassed.

Protecting our lives and freedom is what government is properly for. And minding our own business is the opposite of interfering with somebody else’s.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Preposition Is “Of”

Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from (disliked) speech. One contradicts the other.

Not that legal strictures against “offensive” speech would be consistently enforced even if the First Amendment were formally rescinded. In practice, whoever had the most political pull would be issuing the shut-up edicts. Although victims might well be offended by the uttering of those edicts, censors would be undeterred by the contradiction.

These thoughts are occasioned by Greg Lukianoff’s new book Freedom from Speech, and the review of same by Allen Mendenhall at Liberty. Lukianoff heads the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which fights the good fight for civil rights on campus. His book, says Mendenhall, is “a vigorous and cogent refutation of the increasingly popular notion that people have a right not to be offended.”

Lukianoff agrees that hypersensitivity to controversial speech in private institutions, too often punished by private sanctions that are arbitrary and unjust, does not per se violate anyone’s First Amendment rights. It nonetheless undermines the cultural tolerance needed for open discussion. “Only through the rigorous filtering mechanisms of longstanding deliberation and civil confrontation can good ideas be sorted from the bad. Only by maintaining disagreement at a rhetorical and discursive level can we facilitate tolerance and understanding and prevent the imposition of ideas by brute force.”

That is to say, cultural values and political values are not two isolated realms. One influences the other.

Who can disagree? I wouldn’t dare.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Aeschylation

“In war,” the Greek dramatist Aeschylus told us, “truth is the first casualty.”

This came to mind when Secretary of State John Kerry testified in the Senate last week.

The new Iraq War has been pitched exhaustively to the American people as “only air strikes” and “absolutely no boots on the ground” — even as the Obama Administration continues to send additional U.S. military advisors to place their boots on Iraqi sand (and, at least once thus far, to engage ISIS directly via Apache attack helicopters hovering above Iraqi ground.)

Kerry again assured senators that the president “has been crystal clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL.”

Strangely, however, the Secretary most adamantly urged Senators not to pass an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that would restrict President O from doing precisely what he has so often and emphatically pledged not to do: put combat boots on the ground in Iraq.

The fact that the Obama Administration has foreclosed any possibility of putting US troops on the ground to fight, according to Sec. Kerry, “doesn’t mean that we should preemptively bind the hands of the commander in chief or our commanders in the field in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.”

Impossible to foresee? Yeah, right. The “no boots” promise provides all the stability of leaves in the wind.

Having any trust in this administration is impossible to foresee.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Townhall: Stupid Is As Stupid Says

What we learn when an insider blurts out the impolitic truth. Click on over to Townhall. Then come back here for more reading, or discussion, below.

Video: Hollywood, American Decline, and a Movie About Freedom

A movie has been made from the science fiction novel Alongside Night, by the author of the book, and starring Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo. These two interviews provide an interesting look at not merely the film in question (which we here at Common Sense haven’t seen), but also the transit of the American ideal through the old domain of Hollywood and the revolutionary realm of independent film:

To learn more about the film, visit the official website.