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The Tiny State of Nevada

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Nevada isn’t really that big of a state. Oh, sure, it appears large on the map.

But 81 percent of that land mass isn’t Nevada. It’s federal government property, run by various branches of the nation’s central government in Washington, D.C.

Much of the controversy surrounding the Cliven Bundy ranch, and the rustled cattle, and the standoff with the federales, has to do with federal government land.

From my reading of the Bundy family ranch affair, it appears that the legal question is not one of taxes, but of usage fees; not of endangered tortoises, but cattle. But mostly about land. My sympathies are with the Bundies. They seem to have a very old adverse possession case against the government.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that federal judges didn’t look very kindly to the Bundies’ customary rights. Federal judges prefer legislated law to common law. We’re a long way from our roots, folks.

But the issue lurking behind all other issues is the over-dominance of the federal government in twelve western states. Five of them have over half of their land titled to and run by the federal government: Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Utah and Nevada. This imbalance gives just too much power and purview to federal agencies, who are then tempted to run roughshod over locals. That is, state citizens.

Cliven Bundy may be dead wrong legally, but politically, he has a point.

The federal government should privatize all or most of its grazing lands and desert lands. Its forest lands should at least be “state-ized” — given back to the states.

This is a federal republic, right? Not an empire?

The states are not supposed to be mere conquered provinces.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Rand Paul’s No-Special-Deals Petition

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Are you tired of members of the political class foisting burdensome laws on us from which they liberally exempt themselves? Sign the petition.

I mean the “No Special Deals” petition expressing support for “Senator Rand Paul’s Constitutional Amendment to stop Congress from passing legislation that doesn’t apply equally to U.S. citizens, the Executive Branch, Congress and the Supreme Court.”

This is one of those amendments with the job of shouting “Read and adhere to the document I’m attached to!!!!!!!” We need almost as many such amendments as there are constitutional provisions, considering how chronically the Constitution is violated.

The spur is Obamacare, the latest package of law and politics to combine crippling mandates for most of us with special deals for those with political pull. Some people are deemed more equal than others when it comes to “equal protection of the laws” and so forth.

The rationale for equally applying laws that are tyrannical? To discourage tyrants loathe to be battered by their own bludgeons. And to disallow their divide and conquer gambits.

That’s the hope, anyway.

But if officeholders find a way to tyrannize to begin with, and don’t hesitate to tyrannize, will any formally enshrined demand for equality of tyranny serve to deter them?

No, sadly, Sen. Paul’s amendment won’t prevent assaults on our rights that aren’t already supposed to be prohibited by the rest of the Constitution. Not by itself. But the amendment could help and certainly can’t hurt.

(Hurt us, that is —  if it hurts our lawmakers, that’s the idea.)

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Free Money

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

If an email popped up offering free money, what would you do?

Delete it? And wonder how it got past your spam filter?

Me, too.

Well, some Washington wags — call them re-distribution professionals — say we’re crazy.

As are Republicans in the 19 states that have refused to expand their states’ Medicaid rolls as part of Obamacare, and in the five states — Indiana, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia — still debating whether to do so.

Republicans are “rejecting what is more or less nearly free money from the federal government,” says a baffled Josh Barro of the New York Times.

Karen Finney, host of MSNBC’s Disrupt, sneers that these GOP-led states are “leaving money on the table.”

“It’s free money!” exclaims an exasperated Joan Walsh of Salon.com, adding that, “It’s stimulative money.”

Under Obamacare, the federal government first demanded and now urges states to expand the Medicaid rolls well beyond those at the poverty line, with our central government generously offering to pay the cost for the massive expansion fully for three years . . . and then 90 percent after that.

One local newspaper identified one major issue, trust: “The trademark of Obamacare is broken promises.”

Will the federal government keep paying nearly all the cost? In Virginia, before any expansion, Medicaid already accounts for nearly one out of every four dollars in state spending.

“This is another picture of how extreme this Republican Party has become,” according to Walsh, “that you had this organized backlash to taking money that once would have been a no-brainer.”

This is the new GOP extremism, refusing to be bought off?

It’s no vice.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

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.

Limiting the Little Guy

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission correctly struck down limits on the total amount of money a person can contribute to all federal candidates and to political parties and PACs in a two-year election cycle.

After all, what part of “Congress shall make no law” provides the specific authority for Congress to limit what a person may give to a political party?  Or the number of candidates one may support?

But in his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that, “Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.”

“No matter what five Supreme Court justices say,” announced Public Citizen, “the First Amendment was never intended to provide a giant megaphone for the wealthiest to use to shout down the rest of us.”

I want the public to be heard, not shouted down.

Which is why it is not Breyer, but Justice Clarence Thomas who is right: this ruling didn’t go far enough. While justly removing the limits on the aggregate amount a wealthy person can contribute, the Court upheld the limit of $2,600 on what you or I can give to a single candidate.

The super-wealthy can spend millions in an independent expenditure for their preferred candidate. Fine. It’s their money. Yet, a person of more modest means doesn’t have the dough to launch an effective independent effort.

Instead, if you felt strongly enough, you could dip into savings or work a second job to afford to give, say, $3,000 or $4,000. Except that our campaign finance laws prevent it. This is the limit that affects the most people. Non-rich people.

Stop limiting the little guy.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Maximum Mixed Feelings

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

If a man with a gun claims he can get your boss to increase your pay, but that doing so might have the unfortunate result of killing your boss and/or ending your job altogether, what would you say?

“I have mixed feelings on it,” Rebecca Pentz-Jones told the Washington Post regarding legislation to increase Maryland’s minimum wage. It’s a case whereby a man with a gun (government) forces a pay raise, but accordingly risks her job and her employer’s business.

Mrs. Pentz-Jones works at Dollar Tree earning $7.95 an hour, but would rather make $10.10 an hour, the minimum being pushed by President Obama.

Polls show public support for upping wages, but Maryland Senate President Mike Miller argues, “We don’t just pass things because they’re popular.” Perhaps Miller has a larger perspective in mind. When pollsters ask people what they think of raising the minimum if the raise would increase unemployment, support for the hike flags.

Maryland Democrats haven’t downed enough of the president’s Kool-Aid. They fear the Congressional Budget Office analysis correctly predicts Obama’s higher minimum wage would cost 500,000 to a million people their jobs.

“I feel like I’m on a battleground,” explains Sen. Katherine Klausmeier of Baltimore County, “between trying to help a person make a living and trying to save my small businesses.”

Prince George’s County Del. Dereck Davis notes that a higher wage “will benefit some people, but at the expense of others” and “could result in the elimination of jobs.”

“It gets very confusing,” adds Sen. John Astle. “Sometimes it makes me wonder why we even have a minimum wage.”

Me, too, Senator.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Demanding Demand

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Midnight tonight marks another witching hour for Obamacare: the deadline for individuals to sign up for insurance on the federal and state exchanges.

Well, sorta . . . kinda.

The deadline was extended last week.

The dominant feature of the misnamed Affordable Care Act’s tedious rollout has been the incessant presidential fiddling with deadlines, especially those that might otherwise precede a national election. We’re told this extension is only for a couple weeks, though, and only for those who have attempted but been unable to sign up on the creaky websites.

Then again, there is absolutely no way to determine whether an individual actually attempted to purchase insurance. So, if you started the signup process but didn’t finish or just wish to so claim, you now have until mid-April.

Last week’s other big news was the administration’s self-congratulatory announcement that healthcare signups had surpassed the goal of six million.

This “success” comes only after downgrading the original goal of seven million, meaning one could more honestly claim the administration is nearly a million short of its goal. Additionally, these signups include people who “signed up” in the sense of having clicked “Yes, I can” but not having actually paid for it — something required by health insurance companies even under Obamacare.

Amidst all the boasting about how “popular,” how much “demand” there is for the taxpayer-subsidized insurance, a stark, but unspoken reality looms: There is no sign of legitimate demand for Obamacare.

It’s called “the individual mandate.” Mandate doesn’t mean free choice. Even forcing folks to sign up by penalty of law, the signups come slowly.

That’s popular?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.