Video: NASA contracts with SpaceX etc

Rundown of the week’s big stories, including the new space deal.

This is surely not full privatization, but it is better than NASA monopolizing the space effort.

Plus: Peter Thiel on good and bad monopolies.

Police Officer Un-indicted

We’re naturally worried about the potential for police abuse of power — cops who roust people for no good reason, then claim that the other party was “resisting arrest” or some such thing.

But sometimes it’s the person on the other side of the badge who reconstructs history.

Several days ago, a story broke about Django Unchained actress Danièle Watts, who is African-American, being accosted along with her white boyfriend by a police officer who wanted to see their IDs. Both later suggested that they were targeted by police for racial reasons. On her Facebook page, Watts reported that she “was handcuffed and detained by two police officers . . . after refusing to agree that I had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place.”

But audio of the encounter that has come to light shows an officer politely asking for ID, and explaining that he was responding to a call. (The caller had claimed the couple were having sex in public.) The officer is calm; Watts is persistently histrionic. She brings up race; he says race wasn’t the issue, sexual activity in public was.

We can argue about whether the officer should have handcuffed the actress in response to her recalcitrance. (Apparently, an accusation is all that is required to trigger police power, a demand to “see our papers.” It’s hard not to be on Ms. Watts’s pro-freedom side on that.) But now that this recording is out there, her original version of the encounter just won’t stand.

Enough reason to put video-recording devices onto every police lapel . . . in L.A., in Ferguson, everywhere.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

For Some Reason

Yesterday, the House voted to extend the legal ability for the Export-Import Bank to run . . . for another nine months. The people’s legislature passed the “stop-gap” measure, 319-108, with both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition.

Just last month, President Obama expressed dismay that Republicans would be against it.

“For some reason,” he intoned, “right now the House Republicans have decided that we shouldn’t do this. . . .” He pretended to incredulity and puzzlement. He gave the usual reasoning for the subsidized financial guarantees, and insisted that “every country does this.”

“When,” he asked, “did that become something that Republicans opposed?”

Obama could’ve asked all those members of his own party who opposed it.

But then, he could have asked himself. Back in 2008, he very clearly put the Ex-Im Bank on the theoretical chopping block. Candidate Obama gave the big business bank up as a program that “didn’t work” and one that had become “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.”

So why the change of mind, Mr. Obama?

Has the Ex-Im ceased being a fund for corporate welfare?

No. It’s still there, propping up big businesses doing business abroad — indeed, multinationals abroad, the kind of companies that Obama’s Occupier friends despise so deeply.

What has changed? He’s in power, now. And that power derives from the mighty federal purse, filled by taxing hundreds of millions of Americans, and used to give hundreds of millions and billions in benefits to the few, the insiders.

President Obama and the congressional leadership of both parties are tighter than ever with special interests.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Like most Americans, I pride myself on being able to detect irony at seven paces. Skimming through the news, I can certainly detect sarcasm (which is to irony what a cannon is to sidearms), as in this first paragraph from Reason magazine’s online pages:

Los Angeles City Council today approved a new citation system. . . . This new system allows the Los Angeles Police Department to cite residents for a whole host of minor crimes that used to result in warnings (and potentially misdemeanor charges if police felt like pressing the matter). Now it’s a way for the city to extract more money from residents for minor issues, and I’m sure that won’t be abused at all.

The point that Scott Shackford is making: the new system will be abused. When he tells us that “the city predicts it’s going to take in $1.59 million in revenue a year,” we see the reason for predictable abuse: money as well as power.

Mr. Shackford worries about the effects, about the people who will be caught in this net for all sorts of small little infractions of laws that they probably don’t even know exist. He wonders, he says, “if I should warn my neighbors, several of whom have friendly dogs they take outside to walk without leashes. It’s rarely a problem and I don’t hear complaints (except for this one little dog with a Napoleonic complex. There’s always one).”

My big worry? These sorts of laws (like: don’t put signage up on telephone poles, though “everybody is doing it”) hit the poor the hardest. The fines, starting at $250 a pop, are not insignificant.

A few of those and you might as well call yourself a member of a persecuted class.

Welcome, friend. The modern state seems bent on making us all members of that class.

No irony, here; just Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Death But No Taxes

Is the Internal Revenue Service inevitable?

I’ve often discussed the IRS’s ideologically motivated harassment of taxpayers as fostered by Lois “I Took the Fifth” Lerner (e.g., here and here and here and here). But typical nonpartisan forms of IRS harassment are also deplorable.

Consider the so-called “practice” audit, to which blogger Philip Hamburger was once subjected.

In any field, employees may presumably be sicced on a person primarily for training purposes. If you’re a new Spanish Inquisition employee, maybe you’re given somebody to flay and strangle not because he’s particularly heretical but just so you can hone the torture techniques. Seems wrong; but, you know, people have to be trained.

Same thing at IRS. Taxpayers sometimes get audited just so the new guy can fine-tune making taxpayers sweat over each deduction.

It’s why Hamburger got audited. When an IRS supervisor admitted that there was no problem with his small charitable deduction, that the point was only to enable an (absent) agent to practice auditing, our humble taxpayer almost blew up. Fortunately, his accountant intervened to ask, simply, whether the matter was now therefore closed. Yes, it was.

Year in, year out, the IRS causes millions of us to waste time and energy and to suffer angst thanks to the agency’s sundry demands. Solution: shut it down. No law of nature ordains that our income be federally taxed, and until 1913 it mostly wasn’t.

What prevents such urgently needed reform is only politics, not physics.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

“Rapine” Is Not “Republican”

A few weeks ago, when the Ferguson, Missouri, protests were well underway, a few crucial facts emerged from the tumult.

A graph showed that Ferguson led the state — by a wide margin — in arrests per capita.

While it’s true that Ferguson could be that much more violent and criminal than every other city in the state, somehow that possibility doesn’t seem very plausible.

When we learned that “86 percent of stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of black people — despite the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on black drivers (22 percent versus 34 percent of whites)” … well, the whole thing stank of something other than a mere crime problem.

It’s a policing problem.

And, of course, a “war on drugs” problem.

Another fact, from the same source: “Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent.”

No way to run a government. Journalists and activists call such regimes “for-profit policing,” and cite the rise in civil forfeiture practices as encouraging and solidifying the method.

But “for-profit” is a bit of a misnomer.

It’s more like rapine (an old word you might most often see paired with “pillage”) than “for-profit.” It’s a looting system, while “for-profit” suggests selling a service freely on the market and earning rewards for filling consumer needs. Ferguson basically engages in shaking down a population of people, repeatedly profiling and harassing them, extracting as much of their wealth as can be had —  Frédéric Bastiat’s “legal plunder” comes to mind — and leaves them to … protest, later.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Townhall: President Obama’s War … er, Speech

Over at Townhall.com, the foreign policy prowess of the current president is called into question. Click on over, then back here.

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