Tuccille:”Eric Garner’s Murder Reveals the Ugly Core of Government and Law Enforcement”

…they really didn’t want one of their strong-arm men put out over the murder of Eric Garner. The grand jury in that case declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in what seemed a clear-cut case of over-the-top brutality. Even the Medical Examiner ruled Garner’s death a “homicide.”

Here we have Garner, a guy allegedly selling loosies—single cigarettes—which are a perfectly legal product. Why is he supposedly selling loosies? Because New York officials inflict on their long-suffering subjects the highest cigarette tax in the country at at $4.35 per pack, plus another $1.50 levied in the city itself. It’s not a popular tax, with smuggled smokes making up 60.9 percent of the market. So the powers that be unleash the cops to enhance revenue by tracking down shipments of smuggled cigarettes and, on occasion, putting the occasional small-time street vendor in an illegal chokehold.

Which is to say, Eric Garner was murdered for the purposes of revenue enhancement.

And also, let’s be clear, because when you unleash armies of thugs on the population to enforce every petty law, they’re soon going to acquire an attitude. Eventually, telling a cop, “Please just leave me alone,” as Garner told the cops rousting him, becomes an unacceptable act of defiance. It’s interpreted as an invitation to swarm a man suspected of selling handfuls of untaxed cigarettes and wrestle him to the ground.

Jerry Tuccille looks at the progressive police state that is New York City, and sees America’s future if we don’t stop it @ http://reason.com/blog/2014/12/04/eric-garners-murder-reveals-the-ugly-cor

Sen. Rand Paul:”We Must Demilitarize the Police”

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is an awful tragedy that continues to send shockwaves through the community of Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation.

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

Sen. Rand Paul puts the Ferguson, Missouri tragedy in the context of increasing militarization of police and police practice of unfairly targeting non-white young people. Full column Time Magazine @ http://time.com/3111474/rand-paul-ferguson-police/

Why is Government so Punitive?

It is almost the end of February, and many are still preparing their federal income tax. Perhaps you are also. And while you prepare to render unto Caesar, you have to make some decisions. Do you have an Individual Retirement Account? If so, how much will you pay into it? Do you have a Medical Savings Account? A decision about that also must be made near the beginning of the year.

If you save for retirement in an Individual Retirement Account, your tax bill is deferred on the amount you contribute to the account. But if you need access to some of the money before you reach the age of 59 and a half, you have to not only pay the income tax on the amount you withdraw, you must also pay a penalty to the federal government.

If you have a Medical Savings Account, you can pay for incidental medical expenses, co-pays, and your deductible, with money not subject to income tax. But be careful! If you put more into your account at the beginning of the year than you use in the year, you lose the balance. You cannot roll it over, even though that would help provide money for larger medical bills in the future.

Why is government so punitive? I guess they justify the tax penalty on Individual Retirement Accounts on the premise that if you withdraw money before you retire, the account is not serving its purpose of providing for your retirement. But paying a penalty to the federal government will not help you save for retirement either.

There is no justification for the “use it or lose it” rule for Medical Savings Accounts. Everyone knows that medical costs rise year after year, and saving year after year can be important when a major medical procedure is needed.

The Affordable Care Act also has its punitive side. By now, everyone has heard horror stories about big jumps in the cost of an insurance policy, mitigated somewhat by federal “subsidies.” Of course, the subsidies are really tax credits. The federal government will allow us to keep some of the money we earned, in order to pay the inflated premiums, and they expect us to be grateful for their “generosity.” The purpose of the tax credit “subsidies” is to disguise how much government rules have driven up the cost of medical insurance.

The Affordable Care Act mandates that every policy include a variety of benefits, each of which adds to the cost of the premium. In many cases, individuals are required to pay for benefits that they don’t need; older people who don’t need birth control subsidize the contraceptive benefit for younger people. At the same time, restrictions on raising premium rates for older people result in young people subsidizing older people. Ultimately, the choice is taken from the consumer, who is not allowed to choose the benefits for which he is willing to pay a premium, and all consumers lose.

While the ACA mandates a minimum list of benefits, and prohibits the sale of policies that don’t include the full list, you can also be punished if you buy a policy, or your employer provides a medical policy that includes too many benefits. The Congress imposed a tax on “Cadillac” policies, which provide a rich menu of benefits. This tax was included in order to help provide funding for the “subsidies” that the ACA provides, but it shows a complete contempt for Americans. You are required to buy the policy the government mandates – nothing less, and you are taxed if you buy more.

All these policies illustrate the basic fact that government is based on punishing those who do not find government mandates beneficial. Government does not try to persuade by showing benefits, but by threatening punishment. As George Washington noted long ago: “Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is force, and like fire, it is a dangerous servant.”

(By Gene Berkman, Editor, California Libertarian Report)

Glaser:”Don’t Get Too Comfortable With the GOP’s New Love For Libertarians”

In what many described as yet another indication of a monumental shift happening in the Grand Old Party, the Republican National Committee last week passed a resolution calling for an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

But the party’s apparent shuffling to a more limited government, civil liberties-conscious platform may not be as genuine as some believe.

The RNC’s resolution, which passed by an “overwhelming majority,” declares “the mass collection and retention of personal data is in itself contrary to the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

These are strong words for the party that stood by President George W. Bush when he secretly (and illegally) ordered the NSA to spy on the domestic communications of Americans without any warrants at all. Time magazine’s Zeke Miller branded the RNC’s resolution “the latest indication of a growing libertarian wing of the GOP.”

After noting these unexpected statements in defense of Freedom, John Glaser points out that prior to 2000, Republicans criticized big government and foreign interventionism by President Clinton, then elected George W Bush who expanded government even faster, and started two wars that continue to cost the American taxpayer years after he left office.

Mr Glaser also notes that Democrats criticized President Bush for his war, his deficits and his attacks on freedom, and now defend President Obama as he continues to expand government power.

Full commentary by John Glaser @ Reason http://reason.com/archives/2014/02/02/dont-get-too-comfortable-with-the-gops-n

Gallup:”Record High in U.S. Say Big Government Greatest Threat”

A new poll from the Gallup organization shows:
Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question. The prior high for big government was 65% in 1999 and 2000. Big government has always topped big business and big labor, including in the initial asking in 1965, but just 35% named it at that time

Gallup polling shows a trend of steadily increasing concern with big government since 2009
This suggests that government policies specific to the period, such as the Affordable Care Act — perhaps coupled with recent revelations of government spying tactics by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — may be factors.

92% of Republicans saw big government as the biggest threat, along with 71% of Independents. Even with a Democrat in the White House, 56% of Democrats see a threat from big government.

Full results of the poll, along with a graph showing increasing opposition to big government, @ http://www.gallup.com/poll/166535/record-high-say-big-government-greatest-threat.aspx

Washington Post Poll:Majority reject Obama, Healthcare Fix

The Washington Post has just published results of a poll carried out jointly with ABC News and it indicates a sharp decline in support for President Obama and his signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

55% of Americans polled disapprove of President Obama’s overall job performance.
57% of Americans polled disapprove of President Obama’s handling of economic issues
63% of Americans polled disapprove of President Obama’s implementation of the new healthcare law.

Asked if they support the new healthcare law overall, 57% said “NO”
Asked if they support the mandate that individuals purchase medical insurance, 65% oppose the mandate.

Full results of the poll, with detail available @ The Washington Post

Ronald Bailey:”The Morning After America’s Debt Binge”

President Barack Obama is adamant that he will not be held “hostage” by the Republicans in the House of Representatives, who are threatening not to raise the U.S. debt ceiling without some concessions on future spending and Obamacare. If the debt limit is not raised, allowing the Treasury Department to borrow more money, the federal government will default on some of the bills it owes in the next couple of weeks. Lots of commentators believe that such a default would have significant, if not devastating, downside economic effects.

Maybe so. But we should also want to consider the ways a relentlessly rising level of debt could damage our economic prospects. The debt ceiling for the United States is currently set at $16.7 trillion. In 2000, the U.S. national debt stood at $5.7 trillion. The amount of the U.S. national debt is now roughly the same size as the annual output of the economy. Is this a problem?

Yes, suggests recent research by numerous macroeconomists. Specifically, they find that a big public debt “overhang” likely slows down future economic growth for more than two decades. In other words, excessive national debt racked up now will make future Americans considerably poorer than they would have been otherwise
Full commentary by Ronald Bailey @ Reason Magazine http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/11/the-morning-after-americas-debt-binge

Full Faith and Credit

Ten days after the partial shutdown of the federal government, a number of things have become clear.

If a partial shutdown of the federal government is causing as much inconvenience as the talking heads claim, then the federal government is doing too much. The federal government has constitutional authority to defend the United States from invasion and domestic disturbance, to build highways, and to deliver the mail. But it has taken on many tasks better left to state or local government, or to private enterprise and voluntary associations.

Too many people are dependent on federal checks. Not just the 47% that Mitt Romney talked about, but even many in the middle class and upper middle class that tend to vote Republican. Tens of millions of retired people are dependent on social security for their livelihood, and medicare to pay for their health care. Those checks are going out – now – but as the federal government goes deeper into debt and takes on more responsibilities, the financial resources needed to maintain older Americans in dignity may also be threatened.

Another issue, rarely mentioned, is that the partial shutdown of some federal government services comes after many agencies engaged in a spending spree at the end of their fiscal year in order to avoid a cut in future appropriations. If they had acted more responsibly, some of the closed government bureaus could still be functioning as they await new appropriations.

And now, as the U.S. government reaches the limit of its authority to borrow, the President is asking for Congress to authorize an increase in the debt limit, to authorize the federal government to borrow more. The government is spending money so fast that even with a quarter trillion dollars coming into federal coffers in any given month, the government still has to sell securities to “balance” its books.

Democrats in Congress are pointing to the hypocrisy of Republicans over the debt limit, since Republicans in Congress – with a few exceptions – regularly voted to hike the debt limit to let President Reagan and President Bush run deficits that were unprecendented at the time. During the reign of President George W Bush, an expensive war and expensive new federal programs created new record deficits, and Congress controlled by Republicans voted every time in favor of hiking the debt limit. Republican leaders even suggested at one point that the law be changed, so that if Congress voted to spend money in such a way that new borrowing would be needed, the debt limit would automatically go up.

So we have Republicans in Congress, who approved every big government proposal put forth by George W Bush talking about fiscal responsibility. Democrats who have voted for massive new spending under President Obama now talk about raising the debt limit to protect “the full faith and credit of the United States.” When they voted to spend money, how much did they care about “the full faith and credit of the United States”?

Perhaps Republicans are making themselves look foolish by focusing only on the cost of the Affordable Care Act, when Americans are only now finding out just how much this new government program will cost. But now, as the federal government reaches the limit of what it can take in taxes, and faces a legal limit on what it can borrow, maybe now is the time to talk about the full cost of the federal government – across the board – and not just the cost the latest government program.

And perhaps Republicans can be more honest about how much responsibility they have for expanding the power – and the cost – of government. And Democrats should have to spend a few more weeks talking about “the full faith and credit of the United States” so that we can remind them of their words when they plan to vote for new expensive government programs that will again call into question “the full faith and credit” of the federal government.

(By Gene Berkman, Editor, California Libertarian Report)

Gene Healy:”The NSA Is Still Spying on You”

Bad news for pandaphiles: The National Zoo’s “PandaCam” will go dark during a government shutdown.

However, the federal government’s power to keep an eye on the American people will continue to grow — it’s an “essential service,” apparently.

Sunday brought yet another revelation from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Since 2010, the New York Times reports, the NSA has been exploiting its vast databases to create “sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information.”

On Friday, the Hill published a document from the NSA inspector general providing details on several occasions in which analysts spied on current or former paramours.

The NSA’s informal nickname for this is “LOVEINT.” In one case, for example, “on the subject’s first day of access to the SIGINT system, he queried six email addresses belonging to a former girlfriend, a U.S. person.” He got a demotion and two months’ reduced pay.

In 2008, a former Navy intercept operator stationed at a NSA facility described how his colleagues used to pass around highlights of soldiers’ phone calls home from Iraq

Full article by Gene Healy @ Reason http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/01/the-nsa-is-still-spying-on-you

Salon exposes “The NSA-DEA police state tango”

So the paranoid hippie pot dealer you knew in college was right all along: The feds really were after him. In the latest post-Snowden bombshell about the extent and consequences of government spying, we learned from Reuters reporters this week that a secret branch of the DEA called the Special Operations Division – so secret that nearly everything about it is classified, including the size of its budget and the location of its office — has been using the immense pools of data collected by the NSA, CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies to go after American citizens for ordinary drug crimes. Law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, have been coached to conceal the existence of the program and the source of the information by creating what’s called a “parallel construction,” a fake or misleading trail of evidence. So no one in the court system – not the defendant or the defense attorney, not even the prosecutor or the judge – can ever trace the case back to its true origins.

On one hand, we all knew more revelations were coming, and the idea that the government would go after drug suspects with the same dubious extrajudicial methods used to pursue terrorism suspects is a classic and not terribly surprising example of mission creep. Both groups have been held up as bogeymen for years, in order to scare the public into accepting ever nastier and more repressive laws. This gives government officials another chance to talk to us in their stern grown-up voices about how this isn’t civics class, and sometimes they have to bend the rules to catch Really Bad People.

On the other hand, this is a genuinely sinister turn of events with a whiff of science-fiction nightmare, one that has sounded loud alarm bells for many people in the mainstream legal world.Full report by Andrew O’Hehir @ Salon http://www.salon.com/2013/08/10/the_nsa_dea_police_state_tango/singleton/