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Professor of Dumbocracy

Friday, April 11th, 2014

“It’s not enough for governments to simply be democratic,” Oxford professor Stein Ringen recently wrote in the Washington Post, “they must deliver or decay.”

Deliver what, you ask?

Ringen isn’t clear — surprise, surprise — but attacks “Thatcherite inequality” — though, he admits it’s worse today in Great Britain than when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister (1979-1990). Why no progress to his apparent ideal of economic equality? According to Ringen, “concentrations of economic power . . . have become unmanageable.”

He advances the same analysis of U.S. “democracy,” claiming that power has been “usurped by actors such as PACs, think tanks, media and lobbying organizations.”

Think tanks are a problem?

Ringen doesn’t explain how these additional voices serve to undercut “democracy.” Instead, he simply hurls broadsides against our “mega-expensive politics,” warning that, “When money is allowed to transgress from markets, where it belongs, to politics, where it has no business, those who control it gain power to decide who the successful candidates will be — those they wish to fund — and what they can decide once they are in office.”

There is generally money on both or numerous sides of any given policy question. There is certainly no monolithic “they” constituting “the rich” who decide our public policy over tea at the club. Pretending there is won’t help democracy.

“It is a misunderstanding to think that candidates chase money,” writes the professor from his ivory tower. “It is money that chases candidates.”

Really? Ringen can easily test his hypothesis: run for office and wait for all that money to chase him down.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Maxine’s Ex-Im Brokerage

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

“In Maxine Waters’ economy,” wrote Timothy Carney yesterday, “big business rows the boat while government steers.”

The Democratic Congresswoman, known for championing the poor and the less well-off, just loves throwing money around.

Including to the rich.

Carney shows that, for all her anti-big biz talk, she’s playing into the hands of big business.

On Tuesday, Waters held a rally in support of the Export-Import Bank. Among the welfare queens on stage with her was a lobbyist for Boeing.

And not without reason. “More than 80 percent of Ex-Im’s subsidy dollars support big businesses,” Carney explains. “Ex-Im’s biggest subsidy product is long-term loan guarantees, and last year two-thirds of those . . . supported Boeing exports.”

Senator Mike Lee has come out swinging against Ex-Im, taking what he sees as the “moral high ground against political corruption.”

Maxine Waters objects to such upstart Republican interference in what she insists is a “legitimate” function of government. So used to robbing some to lavish on others, she apparently thinks this racket defines the government’s purview.

And Waters enthusiastically serves as a broker in the ongoing exploitation of consumers for the benefit of a few (insider-blessed) businesses.

In the marketplace, businesses get rich serving customers. When seeking taxpayer handouts, on the other hand, they get rich serving politicians.

Maybe that’s why  freedom troubles politician Waters.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


One Cheer for an IRS Man?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

I’m hesitating. But given the way many IRS honchos have too often behaved throughout the agency’s history, including today — yes, I’ll applaud Randolph Thrower for saying no to a President.

Thrower died in March at the age of 100 as the “IRS Chief Who Resisted Nixon.” He had headed the agency from 1969 to 1971, before getting fired for challenging the administration’s political hardball. Nixon henchman John Ehrlichman delivered the pink slip.

White House staffers were pressuring the IRS to audit various activists, journalists and congressmen. These were persons that Nixon felt deserved government harassment.

Too often, IRS officers have been all too eager to politicize tax procedures at the behest of those in power. Not Thrower. He may have been guilty of naïveté. When asking to meet with the President, he said he felt sure that Nixon knew nothing of the pressure coming from underlings and would repudiate “any suggestion of the introduction of political influence into the IRS.”

Thrower’s request for a meeting was denied. The record shows that Nixon soon demanded his removal and also that the next IRS commissioner be a “ruthless [s.o.b.].”

My problem with Randolph Thrower is his failure to say anything publicly about why he was fired. By speaking out, he might have prevented some of the evildoing the White House would perpetrate over the next several years.

He owed that much to his employer: us.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

IRS No Friend of Friends of Abe

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

In the better-late-than-never department, the Internal Revenue Service has granted tax-exempt status to Friends of Abe. Variety magazine calls the group “Hollywood’s largest fellowship of conservative and right-of-center independents” in an industry known for tilting 320 degrees or so to the left.

The status comes three years after the Friends filed its application. But the belated approval does not mean that IRS’s politically motivated targeting has stopped and that all legitimate applications filed by conservative groups are now being granted with only standard quotients of bureaucratic lethargy.

The American Center for Law and Justice — representing 41 plaintiffs who say IRS violated their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly — attests that 13 of them have still not received tax-exempt status, with the oldest application having gathered dust since 2009. Meanwhile, the IRS officer until recently overseeing these applications, Lois Lerner, continues to plead the Fifth when asked to testify about the agency’s conduct.

We may never fully know what happened and is still happening here, given the stonewalling being done not only by Lerner but others in IRS and elsewhere in the government (like the Justice Department). But it is clear that IRS has abetted the freedom of speech and assembly of ideologically favored groups at the expense of others, and to the benefit of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign; and that IRS wants even more power to thus discriminate. The policies being covered up are wrong, dangerous . . . and ongoing.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Nixing Success

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Newly elected New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made waves, recently. He nixed the establishment of two new charter schools and halted the expansion of another.

Widespread protest followed, with over ten thousand people showing up to express their frustration and ire. The charter chain under de Blasio attack, Success Academy, has been very successful increasing student test scores, and can boast a waiting list of five applicants for every school opening.

So why would the mayor be against them? What would make him so against this non-radical form of education reform?

Well, de Blasio received the overwhelming support of teachers’ unions during his campaign for office. Teachers’ unions are no fans of charter schools, which gain some of their advantages by not being hampered by union contracts.

Sure, the mayor’s heavy-handed slap at charter schools may simply be a political payoff to the teachers’ unions, but couldn’t there be something more to it?

Last May he directed his metaphorical guns at the head of the Success Academy, former New York councilwoman Eva Mosokowitz. “It’s time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place,” he promised the United Federation of Teachers at a mayoral candidates forum. “She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.”

Knee-capping the less politically muscular charter school folks to please the immensely powerful public education unions is indeed classic patronage politics. But maybe de Blasio’s personal animus also shows his true colors, his commitment to undercut any successful competition to the governmental way of doing things.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Fifth Dimension Feds

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

I like the Fifth Amendment.

I took it myself in 2007 when Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson was witch-hunting with his grand jury. My attorney advised that I had more to fear from innocently misstating something and being vindictively charged with perjury than from the ridiculous indictments the AG would file against the “Oklahoma 3” — and then dismiss.

The Fifth Amendment protects the individual from government fishing expeditions, from browbeating by big, bad prosecutors — which includes congressional committees acting as such.

I don’t want to diminish our Fifth Amendment rights in any way, for any citizen.

Even when Citizen Lois Lerner asserts her Fifth Amendment privilege while the acting director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division. And yes, even in yesterday’s repeat performance — having since retired with a pension — she still avoids congressional questions about official actions that appear to violate fundamental civil rights.

The House committee may charge Lerner with contempt (I already do). Admittedly, without her testimony, we may never know the full extent of the official campaign against certain political groups.

But we do know enough to take action.

Free and democratic participation in society requires a better system. Each non-profit group that forms must file a tax return, so there is transparency and oversight. The time has come to shut down the IRS Exempt Organizations Division approval process for non-profit groups and end the current prior restraint on participating in public policy.

We don’t need the Internal Revenue Service to stand as a censor bureaucratically or politically approving or dawdling to decide whether certain groups are permitted to organize.

A free society cannot tolerate it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

King Kevin and Company

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Oh, how the other half lives!

And lies.

By “other half,” I don’t mean “the wealthy.” They’re as honest as any other group. No, I’m talking about those with their hands on the levers of government power . . . along with their subsidy-seeking cronies.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, an all-star in the National Basketball Association before becoming a politician, is splurging nearly $300 million tax dollars — roughly the city’s entire yearly budget — to build the owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings a brand new arena.

People objected, with 23,000 citizens signing petitions to put this lavish subsidy to a vote. Yesterday, a judge ruled that the measure would be kept off the ballot: errors in the wording of the petition “disqualified” it.

In a prepared sore-winner statement, Mayor Johnson called the petitioners “outsiders” who “have tried to undermine the right of Sacramento to control the destiny of our Kings, our downtown and our future.”

Johnson doesn’t mean the right “of the people” to control. He means his right to dictate for Sacramento even against the will of the majority.

The leader of one group working against a public vote on the arena giveaway attacked local businessman Chris Rufer, charging that “Rufer’s funding . . . is supporting STOP’s effort to steal 4,000 jobs, steal a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform downtown and makes him an accomplice in Seattle’s attempt to steal the Kings.”

Who’s stealing? Those spending their own money so people can vote? Or those blocking a vote so they can spend other people’s money?

“I’m against subsidy, period. It’s simply a moral argument,” Rufer explains. “If it was a subsidy for a fish pond, I’d be against it.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.