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Return to Federalism

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

As we make sense of this week’s sea change — of the Great Shellacking Democrats took on Tuesday — some caution is in order.

In 2006, voters did not choose the Democrats because of what they were or what they promised, but because of what they weren’t: corrupt, clueless Republicans. Now, Republicans should remember that they were mainly chosen because they aren’t Democrats: that is, hopelessly narrow-minded, self-righteous, and corrupt.

So, what should Republicans do?

Maybe it’s not to start out of the gate by repealing Obamacare, which its namesake would simply veto.

In Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana use. In California, with Proposition 47, Golden State voters ushered in a new regime, downgrading many, many drug violations and former felony crimes to misdemeanor status.

This is the people of the states leading.

They are rejecting the “get tough” approach both parties have supported for decades, an approach that has had the dubious result of being most popular with public prison workers’ unions and the private prison lobby

Opposing drug use may be socially “conservative.” Politically speaking, however, granting government nearly unlimited police powers, and without regard to objective results, is not.

If the Republicans want to lead in Washington, they should follow the people in these bellwether elections. Back them up. End the Drug War and, with it, the Prison-Industrial Complex. Return criminal justice back to the states, where the Constitution originally put it. And where modifications can be more easily made.

Return to federalism. Return to reason.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

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.

Six Flags Over California

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Though the Democrats who run the failed state of California insist that Governor Jerry Brown is leading them to a new era of prosperity, the results are mixed at best. The state is riddled with public employee pension problems, environmental over-regulation, and high taxes, to list just a few.

The problem? The whole system of representative democracy is skewed to insiders. The ratio of voters to representatives is way too high — twice as high as the next nearest state.

The best thing California has going for it is the right of citizen initiative. Typically, it (and the voters) get blamed for the unwillingness of their “representatives” to stay within their means.

Enter Timothy Draper, Founder and Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a billionaire Silicon Valley professional. He has been promoting an initiative to split California into six smaller states: provisionally dubbed Jefferson (northern counties that have a long history of separatist unrest), Silicon Valley (which could become the richest per capita state in the union), North California (a coastal region from San Francisco south to Monterey County), Central California (a big expanse of many interior counties), West California (four west coast counties including Los Angeles), and South California (five counties including San Diego). Draper insists that his idea is the “something structural, something fresh” that the state needs to prevent further decline.

The initiative has received enough petition signatures to qualify for a 2016 ballot.

But is it a waste of time? Even if Californians vote for it in great numbers, the U.S. Constitution requires a formal request from the state legislature. And the California Assembly is not likely to cede so much power.

Which would provide another valuable lesson about how anti-Californian California’s leaders are.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

How to Be a Bad-Law Killer

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

You have a golden opportunity to help kill some of the bad laws infesting San Francisco’s city code.

The news is being passed along by the indefatigable champions of liberty and property rights at the Institute for Justice. Wherever local governments have assaulted the right of citizens to use and dispose of their own property, IJ has fought and won legal battles on behalf of the victims. Now the Institute urges us to accept the invitation of City Supervisor Mark Farrell to help root out the city’s bad laws.

Farrell wants to “clear any unnecessary laws from San Francisco’s books and to tweak laws that need updating.”

IJ has already fingered some of the more egregious San Fran laws that need “tweaking.” For example, there’s Chapter 6 of housing code, which demands that “Private and public storage garages in apartment houses and hotels shall be used only for storage of automobiles.” Thus, residents like Kimberly Conley are breaking the law when they stow their bikes in their garages, and can be fined up to $500 per infraction.

There are onerous regulations on food trucks, onerous rent control laws, a “transient occupancy” tax on rentals by homeowners to travelers, onerous dog-walking licenses. Just for starters. (“Don’t worry, there’s plenty of work for everyone,” IJ assures us.)

The San Francisco Code is presented at a website that seeks to demystify its legal jargon. Mark Farrell’s email address is

Happy hunting.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Just What We Need

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Why is schooling so expensive? Government makes it so.

Take the recent example, in California, of “coder boot camps.” These are “schools” where computer coders receive training. We now learn that the Golden State’s education bureaucrats are cracking down on this unlicensed and unregulated form of learning.

Unless they comply, these organizations face imminent closure and a hefty $50,000 fine. These organizations have two weeks to start coming into compliance.

In mid-January, the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) sent cease and desist letters to Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor, App Academy, Zipfian Academy, and others.

The regulators insist that these private enterprises fall under their regulatory domain, and they are going to do their job, dangit, even if it helps . . . no one.

Reaction from the coder academy heads has been boilerplate. They’ve attested to their will to co-operate with regulators, but worry that current regulations do not really have much to do with what they are up to.

Hey, regulators, rather than shut these academies down, or cook up new regs, why not just let the operations go on as before?

Worried about quality control in a consumer-protection sense? Then make one requirement: The schools should notify paying students that the academy’s services and education contracts are unregulated by the state. Make do, students, with caveat emptor, as before. That is, by the principles of market supply and demand, and undergirding laws against fraud.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Planners Cover Up Waste

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

You know that politicians waste money. You guess that they waste a lot of time.

But did you know they deliberately waste our time?

Transportation scholar Randal O’Toole regales us with the fix that California’s overlords have put themselves in. Merely assuming that dense city living decreases commuting, California’s legislators cooked up a law requiring local governments to increase population density.

But it turns out “transportation models reveal that increased densities actually increase congestion, as measured by ‘level of service,’ which,” O’Toole informs us, “measures traffic as a percent of a roadway’s capacity and which in turn can be used to estimate the hours of delay people suffer.”

So what to do? Golden State’s august solons have exempted cities and municipalities from calculating and disclosing the bad effects of their own legislation. They offer other standards, all of which, O’Toole explains, demonstrate only “that planners and planning enthusiasts in the legislature don’t like the results of their own plans, so they simply want to ignore them.”

The gist of the new standards of “regulation”? “[T]hey ignore the impact on people’s time and lives: if densification reduces per capita vehicle miles traveled by 1 percent, planners will regard it as a victory even if the other 99 percent of travel is slowed by millions of hours per year.”

It’s quite apparent that politicians are willing to sacrifice our time to get what they — not we — want. Time is not money. Time is more important than money.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

What’re They Smokin’?

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

We live in strange times. The “nanny state” mentality is ramping up into overdrive just as the War on Drugs hits the rock of enlightened public opinion.

And nothing shows this to stranger effect than the contrast between the continuing success of the anti-tobacco movement while marijuana liberalization proceeds apace.

As “medical marijuana” and even decriminalized recreational marijuana use seem to be gaining ground, the whole “smoking in public” thing has become more draconian.

For years now, state legislatures and town councils and even voting populations have been cracking down on smoking tobacco in public, despite the very shaky science regarding second-hand smoke.

And now the city council of San Rafael, California, has votedunanimously — to ban residents of apartments, condos, duplexes, and multi-family houses from smoking cigarettes and other “tobacco products” inside their homes.

This American Cancer Association-approved legislation is quite intrusive. And one of the writers of the law boasted how little it matters to her who owns what property: “It doesn’t matter if its owner-occupied or renter-occupied,” she said. “We didn’t want to discriminate.”

And yet, contrasted with the cannabis liberalization movement — with medical marijuana legal (in some sense) statewide — there is discrimination here: in favor of the “weed” and against the “leaf.”

Perhaps history repeats itself. The war against cannabis began as the war on alcohol ended, with the repeal of the 18th Amendment. We could be we witnessing, now, another weird and inconsistent trade-off of paranoid prohibitions.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.