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Now Okay to Walk and Talk in DC

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Tourist guides in our nation’s capital now get to talk through what they’re walking through.

DC circuit Judge Janice Brown rules that Washington, DC, wrongly burdens First Amendment rights when it prohibits talking “about points of interest or the history of the city while escorting or guiding a person who paid you to do so — that is, unless you pay the government $200 and pass a 100-question multiple-choice exam.” Until her ruling, the city could jail guides for 90 days and/or fine you up to $300 for daring to walk and talk professionally without going through the hoops of regulation and licensing.

Chastising slovenly argumentation in other courts, Brown observes that the record is “wholly devoid of evidence” supporting bans on the speech of tour guides Tonia Edwards and Bill Main, the stand-up persons who challenged the requirements.

The suit’s prospects may have been enhanced by the freedom-of-speech angle. But although the importance of the First Amendment cannot be overstated, violating it is only one of many ways that governments infringe on our right to engage in peaceful productive activity. The assaults seem endless. Too many people are too unwilling to mind their own business, too eager to interfere with yours. So we must be eternally vigilant.

By “we” I largely mean — with respect to this case and thousands like it — the folks at Institute for Justice, who came to the aid of Edwards and Main, and who incessantly champion the rights of people seeking only to peaceably earn their bread.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Liars, Fools, Educators

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

There’s something very, very wrong with today’s public school culture.

I wrote that as a start for today’s excursion into the land wherein common sense has utterly fled . . . but without knowing whether I would dissect a Washington Times story about two Virginia Beach, Virginia, students suspended (perhaps for the entire year) for playing with an air soft gun in their own yards, or the Washington Post’s excellent coverage of a new test-score scandal.

The first story reflects both today’s crazed anti-gun culture and a sort of imperialism: educators seem to think that it’s their jurisdiction to judge how children behave at home, especially when it comes to toy guns, which they apparently deem inherently bad, etc., etc. Yes, Virginia educators insist on enforcing pacifism and disarmament as a settled matter, as if the Second Amendment didn’t exist.

Now, schools should not allow violence on school grounds or buses. And, if the kids who were playing with the toy guns were pointing and shooting with dangerous irresponsibility, and against city code, then maybe the school has a leg to stand on.

Nearby in Washington, D.C., in our second story, public school administrators have rigged the testing system to yield better math scores. Indeed, the district had boasted of a four-point gain. Then it was discovered that scores had actually declined, in part because of new rigorous tests. But instead of “biting the bullet” and taking a “temporary” hit, educators fiddled with the statistics and came up with phony bragging points.

Liars to the north of me; fools at another point in the compass, entirely.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

D.C. Protectionism

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Some things are a bit hard to grasp. One of them is intra-national protectionism.

Most forms of protectionism try to shield businesses within a country from competition outside, using tariffs or price controls to “even the playing field,” so to speak. What these laws do is make goods more costly for consumers within the protected country, in effect taking wealth from consumers and awarding it to the protected businesses.

In the United States’ capital district, politicians are in the process of pushing through a “living wage” bill that would apply only to big box stores like Costco and Walmart. While Costco and Walmart will be required to pay their employees a minimum of $12.50 an hour, other companies in the district could still pay wages as low as $8.25.

Doesn’t seem exactly fair, does it? The bill has been pushed by organized labor to supposedly help smaller retailers, but — surprise, surprise — exempts unionized grocery chains such as Giant and Safeway.

On the one hand, the Washington, D.C. city council is punishing Walmart, forcing it to pay more than its competitors for labor. On the other hand, the city has spent $40 million in direct subsidies to the company and another $28 million to advance projects that involve building six new Walmarts.

“I can’t imagine that they will proceed on any of the unbuilt stores if this bill passes,” says Grant Ehat, the principal of the company building the two Walmart projects already underway.

Mayor Vincent Gray expressed his hope to “find a way to, say, thread the needle” between the company and the council.

Or our nation’s capital might experiment with common sense laws, equally applied.

Yes, Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Cost of Saving a Life

Monday, May 27th, 2013

The going rate for saving a child’s life in Washington, D.C., is $1000. That’s not what somebody pays you for doing so; that’s what you pay.

Considering the punishment he could have suffered, though, Benjamin Srigley got off easy.

A few years ago, a Supreme Court decision forced a little liberalization in D.C.’s gun laws. Even so, city officials always seek new ways to make bearing arms onerous. So some exercisers of their Second Amendment rights simply ignore the mandatory hurdles.

On January 11, Srigley used one of three firearms not registered in DC to shoot a pit pull attacking 11-year-old Jayeon Simon. In May, authorities agreed not to pursue criminal charges. So Srigley won’t be sent to prison. He must merely turn over $1,000 of his wealth, plus his guns. Police say he’ll get the weapons back after he registers them in Maryland, to which he is moving soon.

“We took it into account that he saved this boy’s life,” says Ted Gest, a spokesman for the attorney general.

A cousin who helps care for the boy thinks the deed should be taken even more into account. “I don’t think he should be charged at all, because it’s an act of heroism,” he says.

Oh sure. The people who value the boy’s life would be prejudiced in favor of letting his savior off the hook entirely for doing everything right and nothing wrong, wouldn’t they? That shows you where their priorities lie.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

What’s in a Game?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

I’ve lived near Washington, D.C., for 21 years, but somehow the local obsession for the Washington Redskins has never taken hold. Most of my “NFL time” has been spent rooting for Washington’s agony of defeat.

Recent seasons have been very, very good to me. But this year, an impressive rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, led the team into the playoffs. In the opening game, RGIII and the ’Skins jumped out to a 14-0 lead. But Griffin, already hurt, re-injured his knee and had to leave the game. The Seattle Seahawks came back to win, ending the Redskins’ season.

That’s when Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy pounced, blaming the team’s loss squarely on “bad karma” caused by the “offensive team name and demeaning sports mascot.” Milloy even called the star quarterback a “noble savage.”

Sports columnist Mike Wise urged Griffin to take up the issue of the team’s name. “I just figure that, as a good, decent inhabitant of the planet,” Wise wrote, “he would respect the groundswell of offended people who don’t want to cheer for a team that enshrines America’s persecution of its indigenous people.”

Hey, Native Americans are cool, and U.S. Government policy toward misnamed “Indians” was very uncool — and dishonest and corrupt. So while I hate to see teams being coerced to toss out mascots like Chiefs, Braves, Warriors, Fighting Sioux, Seminoles, Fighting Illini, I think it a grand effrontery that Washington’s football team is named the Redskins.

It’s not just that the name “Redskins” offends — the mascot represents Washington, home to the government that cheated and abused Native Americans.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Kindness of Bureaucrats

Monday, November 12th, 2012

When the local government of Washington, D.C., says, “Don’t worry” — people worry.

Matthew Marcou, deputy associate director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Transportation’s Public Space Regulation Administration, told those ruled by his long-worded administrative agency — the people working the city’s many food trucks, which feed lunch to a great number of Washingtonians and tourists on sidewalks every day — not to worry.

Just because the wording of a new sidewalk regulation would shut down eight of the city’s ten most popular food trucks doesn’t mean the good folks at the Public Space Regulation Administration couldn’t simply — almost magically — grant a waiver.

Be happy.

Still, there are the malcontents, the businesspeople who want some sort of certainty about the rules controlling their enterprise. The Washington Post reports that “Owners of food trucks . . . are put off by a still-unknown process that relies on the kindness of bureaucrats to keep their businesses alive.”

Che Ruddell-Tabisola is the D.C. Food Truck Association’s executive director and also a co-owner of the BBQ Bus. “[W]hy would you put forward regulations that are only successful when you make an exception to the rule?” asked Che.

The word “regulate” comes from the word “regular”; the goal of regulation being to make things regular. Therefore, regulations that require significant use of waivers fail. They aren’t rules at all. They constitute, instead, a labyrinth of economically suffocating and graft-inducing red tape.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Medallions “Stink of Tyranny”

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Not long ago on Townhall.com I briefly told the tale of two journalists, both arrested for taking pictures at a public meeting. This stunk of tyranny, to me. “Government cameras on citizens? Dangerous. Citizen lenses trained on government? Essential safety devices.”

What I didn’t mention was that the public meeting was for the District of Columbia’s taxi-cab commission. The commission oversees what was once a remarkably free system of taxis, but has become more regulated while also earning a reputation for corruption. Pete Tucker, one of the reporters, was on the scene to cover a breaking story related to that corruption: The commission’s proposal to regulate the industry using the over-used and idiotic “medallion” system, familiar to New Yorkers and far too many other city-dwellers.

Well, Tucker’s work has reached the completion stage, now, with Reason TV’s video about the medallion system up on YouTube. It’s an eye-opener.

The gist of the piece may be familiar: Government regulation helps bigger businesses at the expense of smaller ones . . . as well as consumers. You may have read similar tales from economists such as those in the French Liberal School (Frédéric Bastiat), the Chicago School (Milton Friedman), the Austrian School (Ludwig von Mises), and Public Choice (James Buchanan). Courtesy of the Reason video, now you can see ordinary citizens making the case. One said, “We know tyranny when we smell it.”

The stench is also of corruption, which has driven the politics behind the new regulatory scheme.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.