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A Fighting (Peaceful) Chance

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Elections you win are better than elections you lose. But while the polls remain open, I say cast your ballot and savor the chance to win, make a decision, make needed changes. In other words, accept that fighting chance.

But no fighting, actually — it’s peaceful political action.

Today, I’m watching closely three contests.

First, Liberty Initiative Fund, where I work, has been a big supporter of pension reform in general and Cincinnati’s Issue 4 in particular. Ballotpedia, the nation’s best tracker of ballot measures, declared the Cincinnati issue one of the nation’s five most important being decided today.

Win or lose in Cincinnati, the pension problems of cities and states across the country won’t just go away — not without an engaged public to demand the issue be addressed. Pension reform ballot initiatives “end run” the can-kicking on city councils and in state houses.

Second, Citizens in Charge was a major backer of the petition drive that succeeded in earning a spot on today’s Washington State ballot for initiative 517, the “Protect the Initiative Act.” While 517’s supporters have been badly outspent by opponents, at least we’ve had a chance to take the idea to the people.

The third? Governance. In Vancouver, Washington, city officials blocked citizens from petitioning onto the ballot the issue of bringing in (and connecting with) the light rail system of twin city Portland, Oregon. After battling and losing a court case (with support from Citizens in Charge Foundation), citizens didn’t give up. They formed Vancouver Vitality and are supporting the ouster of several incumbents and their replacement with a clean slate of new candidates.

I only hope we can do more good when we go vote a year from now.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Video: Meanwhile, in Washington State

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Some people wonder, “what does Paul Jacob do?” That is, beside these Common Sense memos and his weekly Townhall columns?

The answer, of course, is “help citizens around the country beat back big government.” Here is a political ad from a current effort:

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.

Railroading Vancouver

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Vancouver, Washington, Mayor Tim Leavitt enthusiastically supports a bridge project that would carry light rail trains from Portland, Oregon, into his town. “There is no more important opportunity for our city and our region than completion of the Columbia River Crossing,” he intones.

Transportation activist Margaret Tweet is more cautious. “Precious little discussion is held on the true transportation needs of our region by the government agencies that propose costly solutions,” she writes.

Back in 1995, Clark County — which includes the city of Vancouver — held a vote on a measure to fund the extension of Portland’s light rail to Vancouver. It was defeated. As if fearing repetition of this, today’s city “leaders” chose not to risk a similar negative vote. According to them, they alone should decide this expensive, controversial public works project.

So a group of citizens led by Larry Patella filed an initiative petition to gain a vote to forbid the city from spending any money to facilitate the Columbia River Crossing project. But their petition fell 32 signatures short of qualifying.

Then it was discovered that 606 people had signed the petition more than once. By state law, the county threw all the duplicates out.

So, seventy-five plaintiffs, including 44 folks who mistakenly signed the petition twice, sued to have their signatures count . . . just once. And last week a judge overturned the rule on duplicate signatures.

Is the initiative a go? Maybe not. Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe has issued a legal opinion saying the citizen-initiated ordinance is outside the power and scope of the initiative process. The city council seems poised to use the attorney’s opinion as an excuse to again block a vote of the people they serve.

Allegedly serve.

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.