Free Markets, Free People

New York

Three examples of government intrusion where it has no business

Yes, just three.  You’re right, I could probably make it 30 or 300.  3,000 even!  But for brevity sake, three current examples where government has no business yet feels somehow justified in intruding or regulating in a manner that limits freedom.

First is an example of excessive regulation which in reality is an example of crony capitalism, where a regulation or mandatory licensing creates a state enforced bar to entry into an industry.

Louisiana has a plethora of such laws which regulate or license all sorts of things that few of the other states do.  An example?  The manufacture of caskets is illegal unless, well, you read it:

Brown, a soft-spoken man who is only the fifth leader of a monastery that dates to 1889, said he had not known that in Louisiana only licensed funeral directors are allowed to sell “funeral merchandise.”

That means that St. Joseph Abbey must either give up the casket-selling business or become a licensed funeral establishment, which would require a layout parlor for 30 people, a display area for the coffins, the employment of a licensed funeral director and an embalming room.

“Really,” Brown said. “It’s just a big box.”

Indeed it is.  And buyers should have a choice as to whether to buy it or some other casket.  They likely could pick up the Abbey’s “big box” for much less than it might cost to buy a similar casket in a "licensed funeral director’s” place given the required overhead that the regulatory mandate places on such entities.

In effect, the mandate acts as a high bar to entry.  It is likely the existing funeral industry in LA helped write the law.  That’s called “crony capitalism”.  The Abbey simply provides the illustration of the result.  If freedom equals choice, LA is in the choice limiting business with regulatory and licensing regime like this.

Some good news on that front:

The monks won round one in July, when U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled Louisiana’s restrictions unconstitutional, saying “the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry.”

As you might imagine, the other side is not happy.  So is it the state that is appealing?  Well not the state, exactly:

The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, which has argued that the law protects consumers, has appealed, and the circuit court in New Orleans will hear the case in early June.

That’s right … the protected want to continue to have their state protected industry … protected.  Good lord, if consumers have real choice, well, they might not buy the crony capitalist’s overpriced “funeral merchandise”.

And, of course, that state isn’t the only one with choice limiters working to cut down on your freedom.  Our next two examples come from the state of New York.  I know, shocking.

Case one – Mayor Bloomberg of NYC has decided that you fat folks just shouldn’t have the right to decide (there’s that choice thing again) on the size of “sugary drink” you can buy.

New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid  ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in City Hall’s sprawling Governor’s Room.

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

Nanny Bloomberg assumes New Yorkers need a mommy.  That they’re fat because of their diet of sugary drinks of a certain size. He’s sure if he limits you to 16 fluid ounces of such belly wash they’ll slim right down.   Nanny Bloomberg also assumes that the public wants him to intrude into every deli, fast-food franchise, food cart and sports arena to save them from themselves.

Because that’s a nanny’s job – limit choice.  Limit freedom.  All for the common good, of course.  (added: here’s a distant cousin’s view – “Sixteen Ounces of Bull”.  Amen, cuz).

Case 2?  Well it seems a couple of state legislators in NY want to outlaw anonymous posting on the internet.  A couple of Republicans, by the way.

New York State Senator Thomas O’Mara recently proposed legislation that would ban anonymous postings on websites in his state.  The bill requires citizens posting on any blog, social network, message board or other forum, to turn over their full names, home addresses and IP address to web site administrators for public posting.  Supposedly it is being pushed as an “anti-bullying” step.

His cohort in this nonsense, however, reveals the real purpose.  State Assemblyman Jim Conte released a statement saying:

…the legislation will help cut down on the types of mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate and merely seek to falsely tarnish the opponent’s reputation by using the anonymity of the Web. By removing these posts, this bill will help to ensure that there is more accurate information available to voters on their prospective candidates, giving them a better assessment of the candidates they have to choose from.

Or, the “let’s limit free speech to protect politician’s reputations” bill.

As the Center for Competitive Politics points out:

Anonymous speech has played a part in our political process since the very founding of our nation.  Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers, which where primarily targeting voters in New York, under various pseudonyms.  The Supreme Court upheld this precedent in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, noting:

“[u]nder our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995)

and:

“But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.” McIntyre, 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995)

Everyday in just about every way, our freedoms are under assault at all levels of government in this country.  I spend a lot of time recording those at a federal level.  But just as pernicious and certainly just as dangerous are those at local and state levels. 

The cumulative result is we live in a much less free society than we did 100 years ago.  50 years ago.  in fact, 20 years ago.

These three examples can indeed be multiplied by hundreds if not thousands.  They are fairly common unfortunately.  They cost a lot to enforce.  They’re unnecessary.  Most important though,  in each case they limit choice and thereby freedom.

Frog.  Pot. Rising heat.

Time to start getting serious about turning off the freedom limiting burner.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

New York Times: NY is not like WI

The NYT editorial board has decided it is time to rein in the compensation that government union employees get:

That huge increase is largely because of Albany’s outsized generosity to the state’s powerful employees’ unions in the early years of the last decade, made worse when the recession pushed down pension fund earnings, forcing the state to make up the difference.

Although taxpayers are on the hook for the recession’s costs, most state employees pay only 3 percent of their salaries to their pensions, half the level of most state employees elsewhere. Their health insurance payments are about half those in the private sector.

In all, the salaries and benefits of state employees add up to $18.5 billion, or a fifth of New York’s operating budget. Unless those costs are reined in, New York will find itself unable to provide even essential services.

So to review – government unions conspired to elect union friendly Democrats to the state legislature who in turn then granted, via “outsized generosity [with other people’s money]”, incredibly expensive benefits that cost those union members next to nothing.

Uh, yeah, I think that’s what has been said about Wisconsin as well.   But in its very next paragraph, the NYT says, presumably so as not to seem too anti-union or anti-worker, that pointing this out isn’t either of those things, but that darn GOP is both:

To point out these alarming facts is not to be anti- union, or anti-worker. In recent weeks, Republican politicians in the Midwest have distorted what should be a serious discussion about state employees’ benefits, cynically using it as a pretext to crush unions.

The NYT provides one of the perverse joys I look forward too each day – trying to figure out how the editorial board will torture both the language and logic to come up with the positions it assumes.  This is another example.  What is happening in Wisconsin – almost precisely the same scenario – is anti-worker and anti-union because good old Governor Walker is one of them – a Republican.

But Governor Cuomo?  Why the model of what it means to be a union friendly Democratic governor:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pursued a reasonable course, making it clear that he expects public unions to make sacrifices, starting with a salary freeze. He wants to require greater employee contributions to pensions and health benefits, with a goal of saving $450 million.

Negotiations begin this month, but so far union leaders have publicly resisted Mr. Cuomo’s proposals. If they don’t budge, Mr. Cuomo says he will have to lay off up to 9,800 workers.

Wait, what?  Capitulate or he lays off 9,800 workers?  Wow, that sounds pretty familiar.  So that’s a reasonable course, but what Walker has proposed (do the same or he lays off 1,500 workers) is a “cynical…pretext to crush unions”.

Got it. 

By the way, in WI, government union workers are being asked to pay 12% of their health benefit costs, up from 6%.  In NY, government union workers only pay 3%, far below the 20% private workers pay. And, NY government union workers have received pay increases every year (3%), to include last year (4%) in the middle of the downturn. 

The average salary for New York’s full-time state employees in 2009 (even before the last round of raises) was $63,382, well above the state’s average personal income that year of $46,957. Mr. Cuomo’s proposed salary freeze for many of the state’s 236,000 employees is an important step to rein in New York’s out-of-control payroll. It could save between $200 million and $400 million.

Pay freeze?  Huh.  Reasonable in NY, not reasonable in WI?

And pensions?

In 2000, employee pensions cost New York State taxpayers $100 million. They now cost $1.5 billion, and will be more than $2 billion in 2014. Wall Street’s troubles are a big part of that. But so are state politics. The Legislature, ever eager to curry favor with powerful unions, added sweeteners to pensions and allowed employees to stop making contributions after 10 years.

Of course the salient question avoided by the Times (and the coverage in WI) is “which politicians were “ever eager to curry favor with powerful unions”?”  In WI we know – they’re hiding out in IL.   In NY?  Well simply look at which party has controlled the Assembly for decades, including a supermajority now.  It wasn’t that cynical union crushing GOP (they’ve held off and on slim majorities in the state’s Senate).

Ironically, the NYT points out why government unions are problematic and should be “crushed” without knowing it.  But, and here’s the magic part, – apparently when the NYT makes note of that it has nothing to do with being “anti-union or anti-worker”, it is just pointing out “facts”.

It is also worth considering giving new employees the option to join what is known as a defined-contribution system, similar to the 401(k) plans widely in use in the private sector, and reducing the reliance on a guaranteed benefit system that has proved so ruinously expensive. The 401(k) system shifts the risk of a falling stock market to the employee instead of the state, but in the long run may be necessary to protect vital state services from economic downturns.

Nice … a device that has been in the private sector for decades, has been pointed out by critics of the defined benefit system for just as  long as a means to drastically cut the huge benefit hole the states have dug themselves and the NYT finally gets on board.  The horror, no?  A quasi-privatized pension system that requires workers to contribute to their own retirement.  What’s next, paying more for health care benefits!

Health care – another area the state has managed well.

Current state employees pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums for single policies, and 25 percent for family policies, which is roughly in line with national averages for the public sector. But it is considerably less than most private workers pay — 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

And that has the state paying about $3 billion a year in health care costs with projections seeing that rise $300 to $400 million a year.

Opines the NYT:

If the state is unable to achieve the necessary savings in wages and pensions, it may need to seek higher insurance contributions for all state workers. That benefit is not protected by the state Constitution.

You think?

So again,let’s review. The NYT thinks wages should freeze, pensions need to be privatized, and government workers must contribute much more to their medical benefits/care, right?

But:

Unlike Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor Cuomo is not trying to break the unions. He is pressing them to accept a salary freeze and a reduction in benefits for new workers. The unions need to negotiate seriously.

You have to laugh at this sort of nonsense.

But then there’s this, so you can again be assured that it is indeed the NYT spouting the nonsense:

We are also urging the governor to rethink his pledge to cap property taxes and allow a tax surcharge on high incomes to expire at the end of this year. That would bring the state an additional $2 billion this fiscal year, and $4 billion the following year — not enough to solve the fiscal crisis, but a serious down payment.

That’s right, the editorial board thinks solving it by increasing property taxes and taxing the “rich” is a wonderful idea.

And in an attempt to put a spin on the plea for more taxes:

The state’s middle-class workers will have to make real sacrifices. New York’s many wealthy residents, all of whom are benefiting substantially from a new federal tax break, should have to pay their fair share as well. That would bring the state an additional $2 billion this fiscal year, and $4 billion the following year — not enough to solve the fiscal crisis, but a serious down payment.

The middle class workers the Times is talking about are government union members who, on average, earn  $16,425 a year more than the private sector “middle class” employees. The government employees would have to do something the average middle class worker in the state has been doing for decades – pay more for their benefits. 

But, this gives the editorial board’s an opportunity to talk about its favorite method of problem solving – raising taxes on the rich and on property owners.   And you have to love the language of class warfare – “the state’s middle class workers”, “fair share”, “wealthy residents” (they’re citizens, NYT, just like the middle class workers) and a “serious down payment” on solving the fiscal problem.  Of course, not a word in the editorial about spending cuts.

Oh, and union, you need to “negotiate seriously.”.

Uh huh.

But remember, none of this is like Wisconsin.  And don’t you forget it.

~McQ

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Pelosi wants an investigation into mosque foes

It was as inevitable as the sun rising in the east – some politician at a national level was going to call for an investigation into one side or the other of the Ground Zero Mosque debacle.

Unsurprisingly, it was Nancy Pelosi and equally unsurprising, she wants the opposition investigated:

"There is no question there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some. And I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded," she said. "How is this being ginned up that here we are talking about Treasure Island, something we’ve been working on for decades, something of great interest to our community as we go forward to an election about the future of our country and two of the first three questions are about a zoning issue in New York City."

That’s right, Ms. Pelosi – it’s a local problem and the sum of your answer should have been, “that’s a local problem for the citizens of New York to sort out”.  Period.  End of statement.

But she couldn’t leave it there.  Oh, no – she has to “join” others calling for an investigation “into how this opposition to the mosque is being funded.”

Really?  Have they broken any laws?  Have they done anything other than voice their displeasure about the proposed project?  Aren’t they attempting, by mostly social pressure, to change the minds of those who want to build the mosque near what they consider hallowed ground?  If this were a union protesting, would you be eager to look into their funding?

Who and how they are funded isn’t any of your business, Madam Speaker.  And throwing that sort of rhetoric around is simply an act of attempted political intimidation.  While I may disagree with some who protest, I back their right to do so to the hilt.  It is as much “political speech” as most of the pap the Speaker of the House spews forth on a daily basis.

Why these national politicians feel the need to weigh in on this (on both sides) only reflects the apparent common assumption among all politicians that everything is a freakin’ national political issue. There are very real, important and weighty issues that deserve the time and the debate much more than this stupidity.

And, just as I agree that those who want to build the mosque have every right to do so where they choose if they own the property, I also agree that those who find it inappropriate and an “in your face” move by members of the Islamic faith have every right, within the law, to protest that decision and attempt to persuade the builders to abandon the project.

As long as the protesters fulfill their legal obligations as they protest, Madam Speaker, the issue is none of your or any other national politician’s business.  And threatening them with “investigations” only goes to point out how casually thugish our national government has become.

~McQ

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Observations: The Qando Podcast for 02 May 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the economy, Charlie Crist, and the Times Square bombing attempt. Billy Hollis checks in, too.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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More on the NYC carbomb

It appears it was a Taliban of Pakistan attempt:

A top Pakistani Taliban commander took credit for yesterday’s failed car bomb attack in New York City.

Qari Hussain Mehsud, the top bomb maker for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said he takes “fully responsibility for the recent attack in the USA.” Qari Hussain made the claim on an audiotape accompanied by images that was released on a YouTube website that calls itself the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel.

The tape has yet to be verified, but US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal believe it is legitimate. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel on YouTube was created on April 30. Officials believe it was created to announce the Times Square attack, and Qari Hussain’s statement was pre-recorded.

All indications are the tape is legitimate. YouTube has pulled the video and shut down the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel since this article was published.

Petard. One Each. Hoist When Ready …

Do you like the thought of “pollution free power?”

Yeah, me too. That’s why I like nuclear power and processing the waste as France does (yeah, yeah, even a blind pig finds an acorn, ok?).

But I also want my “pollution free power” to do two things – be consistent in its output and not kill thousands of bats and birds.

Heh … yes friends the latest obstacle the “wind power” advocates have to overcome are -wait for it- environmental activists.

Wind-energy programs in New York – including a developer’s plan to build the city’s first wind farm at Staten Island’s mothballed Fresh Kills landfill – are tied up in red tape because their projects will endanger bats, birds and other wildlife, The Post has learned.

The nocturnal flying mammals are getting slaughtered because they have a strange habit of flying into the blades of wind turbines during the warm spring and summer months, operators and wildlife advocates said.

“An energy source simply cannot be ‘green’ if it kills thousands upon thousands of bats,” said Bat Conservation International.

Moonbat Dream Killers

Moonbat Dream Killers

Uh, no, it can’t. So, if fish can hold up dams and marsh rats can hold up developments, certainly the lives of “thousands upon thousands” of bats are worthy of saving.  We have to stop this unmitigated slaughter by those brutish wind turbines. – I mean if everyone is going to be consistent about all of this.

[As an aside, can you think of better spokes person for the Bat Conservation International than Gotham's favorite bat?]

Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro blasted a city Parks Department report that raised objections about the proposed Fresh Kills wind farm. The study warned of “significant adverse impact to birds and bats.”

Molinaro said the city study even complained the 460-foot turbines would impact insects.

“Can you imagine that? They’re worried the turbines would kill too many mosquitoes,” he fumed. “We want to kill mosquitoes! The city spends lots of money each year to kill mosquitoes because they carry the West Nile virus.”

Er, Mr. Molinaro, can you guess what bats and birds feed on? In fact the bats ingest about 600 mosquitoes an hour.

There are those who say bats and windmills can coexist:

He conducted a study that found that lowering the speed of wind turbines or shutting them down during “low-wind” nights reduced bat fatalities by 82 percent at a Pennsylvania facility.

Shutting them down, eh? You sure generate a lot of power when they’re in that state don’t you?

But the bats, and activists, are happy.

The point? Getting solar and wind power on-line isn’t going to be any easier than any other power source the environmentalists take a dislike too. If you think, for instance that the enviros are going to let someone carpet the Mojave Desert with solar panels, you’d probably believe that Tim Geithner made a “mistake” on his taxes.

And even if you can get past the enviros and their law suits every step of the way, there are right of ways to attempt to purchase, permits, regulations, etc all of which have to be met and/or accomplished before the first kilowatt of power courses from any of these facilities (providing its a windy day and the bats are asleep). Anyone who thinks this is a quick and easy process on the road to pollution free energy independence just hasn’t been paying attention.

~McQ