Published: Thu, 30 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2017 05:03:06 -0400
Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:30:00 -0400For a second year in a row, the metropolitan Chicago area lost more residents than it gained. Not only that, the losses are increasing. Those are the latest figures released from the U.S. Census. The greater Chicago area (not just the city, to be clear) lost 19,570 in 2016. The area saw a net loss of 11,324 people the previous year. Chicago is the only metropolis among the top 10 cities in America to lose population. Given the massive dysfunction of the operations of the City of Chicago, it's easy to find something to blame or explain the losses that fits your pre-existing political attitudes and be absolutely correct. It's got serious violent crime problems and serious police abuse issues. Chicago and the state of Illinois force massive tax burdens onto its citizens and then direct that money both to powerful union and private sector crony interests. All of these various reasons have been blamed by citizens heading elsewhere. The Chicago Tribune has been asking them: By most estimates, the Chicago area's population will continue to decline in the coming years. Over the past year, the Tribune surveyed dozens of former residents who've packed up in recent years and they cited a variety of reasons: high taxes, the state budget stalemate, crime, the unemployment rate and weather. Census data released Thursday suggests the root of the problem is in the city of Chicago and Cook County: The county in 2016 had the largest loss of any county nationwide, losing 21,324 residents. Experts say the pattern goes beyond just the Chicago region. For the third consecutive year, Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016, losing 37,508 people, according to U.S. census data released in December. Last year, a specialized study on the migration habits of wealthy people worldwide noted that Chicago was a massive outlier among American cities in that it was losing rich people. The report predicted that a notable outward migration of millionaires is a canary-in-a-coal-mine warning that others will soon follow suit. That seems to be the case now. The new report indicates that close to half of the people who left Cook County last year—more than 9,000 of them—were African American. Of course, some of those African-American folks are probably wealthy, too, but it's also very clear that these are people looking for economic opportunities that they aren't able to find in Cook County. Another interesting detail gleaned from the report: Immigration to America declined, even in major cities, over the last decade. But most of these cities continued to grow due to population increases among native residents. That didn't happen to Chicago. Reason has written extensively about Chicago's many problems, from its inability to rein in police misconduct, its inability to manage its public employee pensions in an economically sound fashion, its inability to stand up to teachers' unions demands even as they bankrupt the school system, even its tendency to cheat its citizens with corrupt, crony-driven red-light camera systems and revenue-driven plastic bag taxes. We have a special tag for stories about Chicago's municipal operations, and it's not to highlight how great they are. Read more Chicago-based Reason writing here.[...]
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:00:00 -0400Federal prosecutors have indicted Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, a Democrat first elected in 2009, on 23 counts related to allegations of official corruption and fraud. Williams is accused of accepting gifts and bribes in exchange for favors of a professional nature, as well as for stealing more than $20,000 from his mother, who was in a nursing home. According to The Inquirer, Williams rejected a plea deal earlier this week, and is scheduled to surrender to authorities today. The indictment describes two separate relationships Williams allegedly had with business owners he performed favors for. The first business owner (identified as pre-paid phone card seller Mohammad N. Ali) allegedly gave Williams nearly $11,000 worth of gifts and, including a Louis Vittion bag, an all-expenses paid trip to the Dominican Republic with "royal service" access to a private beach and personal butler for Williams and his girlfriend, a custom sofa, a $500 dinner, a Burberry watch, a Burberry purse for Williams' girflriend, plus $9,000 in cash and checks. In return, the indictment alleges that, among other things Williams sought to assist Ali "in limiting security screening by law enforcement authorities at the United States border when attempting to return to the United States after foreign travel," specifically trying to help him avoid secondary screening when Ali would travel through the Philadelphia airport. Williams allegedly sought to pressure an unidentified police official into helping, and offered to write a letter in support of Ali to appropriate authorities—the feds say the official did nothing wrong, and The Inquirer is working on identifying them. Williams is also accused of trying to help secure a better plea deal for a friend of Ali's who pled guilty on charges not specified in the federal indictment. Very shortly after Ali texted Williams for help and Williams responded that he'd look into it, the district attorney sent a second text message asking "April?", a reference to a potential second trip to the Dominican Republic. "I am merely a thankful beggar and don't want to overstep my bounds in asking… but we will gladly go," Williams wrote in a follow-up text. Ali ultimately texted Williams again the day before his friend was supposed to show up in court. The friend wanted a "slightly better" plea deal in order to avoid doing jail time outside of the city of Philadelphia. Williams told Ali to give him "at least a week to help a friend" next time. The second allegedly illicit relationship described in the indictment was between Williams and business owners The Inquirer identified as Michael Weiss and his brother Bill, co-owners of a Philadelphia bar. Michael Weiss' gifts and other bribes to Williams allegedly included multiple round-trip tickets to Florida and San Diego, a trip to Las Vegas, and a used 1997 Jaguar plus insurance payments, as well as $900 in cash. The indictment estimates the values of the gifts at about $13,600. For Weiss, Williams appointed him a special advisor to the district attorney, giving him an official badge and leather holder and writing a letter of appointment backdated several months at Weiss' request. Williams also allegedly tried to help Weiss with a matter in front of the liquor board in California in relation to his ability to continue to be associated with establishments that hold liquor licenses after a 2010 conviction. According to the indictment, in emails to his political action committee to cover the cost of the badge and leather holder Williams made it clear the appointment was made for Weiss' fundraising prowess. Williams allegedly texted Weiss asking if he had flashed his badge lately, and later hit Weiss up for a cash loan, blaming his money problems on his girlfriend not paying her bills. Finally, the federal indictment also accuses Williams of using $10,319 of his mother's pension and social security income (she is identified in the indictment only as a relative in a nursing home but The Inquirer reports it is his mother), to which he h[...]
Thu, 16 Mar 2017 12:15:00 -0400Yes, President Donald Trump's budget is awful for all the reasons Nick Gillespie explained earlier: This isn't a reduction in the size of government. It's a trick shifting money away from domestic spending to jack up military spending. But a certain amount of "Oh no, we've chosen guns over butter!" outrage should inspire spit takes from people who pay attention to how federal spending actually plays out in the real world. In particular, a lot of media attention is focused on how Trump's budget proposal eliminates the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Here's how CNN anchor Jake Tapper described it in a Tweet (while linking to New York Times reporting): On chopping block: $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds programs like Meals on Wheelshttps://t.co/oVNX4V0B2z — Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 16, 2017 The big problem here is that "We help fund Meals on Wheels" is how the government sells the CDBG program, but how it actually operates in the cities and communities that get the money is far different. The CDBG program is chock full of cronyism and corruption and should be eliminated. Much like the corrupt city redevelopment agencies, what actually ends up happening is that this money gets funneled by politicians to friends with connections for various projects that aren't really about helping the poor at all. Type "Community Development Block Grant corruption" into Google and the very first match is this critique of the program by the Reason Foundation from 2013. Victor Nava described the program as a breeding pit for "waste, fraud, and corruption." Nava's piece focuses on corrupt CDBG expenditures in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He notes: [I]n June, HUD found that the City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas improperly spent nearly $200,000 in CDBG funds and failed to properly document an additional $279,000 in expenditures. The city is accused of spending more than 20% of CDBG funds on "administrative costs", purchasing properties without redeveloping them, disbursing funds to contractors before receiving bids, and not following federal project documentation guidelines. Instances like this happen all too often when it comes to the CDBG program, as private interests jockey for every last bit of taxpayer money from the hands smarmy local politicians who are in charge of distributing it. Cuts to the CDBG program, while welcomed, won't end the cronyism and corruption inherent in the program. The best solution is to just eliminate the program. The latest cuts bring us halfway there, so now is the time to just go all the way and end the crony capitalism once and for all. The money often is not going to Meals on Wheels or even to the neediest communities. As a Reason Foundation analysis also from 2013 shows, wealthier communities get the larger chunks of the money, particularly counties that—what a coincidence!—are in proximity to Washington, D.C. Here's an example of how this grant money is actually used: In 2011, Comstock Township, Michigan decided to grant Bell's Brewery $220,000 in CDBG funds to help pay for a two-year expansion project. This is an even more blatant crony capitalist use of community development subsidies. The brewery benefits from the government subsidies at taxpayers' expense, but it also benefits from a financial advantage over competing breweries—such as the Arcadia Brewing Company one town over in Battle Creek and even alternative products such as liquor made by Big Cedar Distilling Inc. down the road in Sturgis, neither of which are receiving any block grant money. Other small craft breweries may struggle to compete with a brewery like Bell's when the government is subsidizing its expansion. Tad DeHaven has a list of some of the projects that have snagged CDBG funds instead of things that actually help the poor: $588,000 for a marina in Alexandria, Lousiana $245,000 for the expansion of an art museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania $147,000 for a canopy walk at the Atlanta Botanical Ga[...]
Mon, 06 Mar 2017 16:00:00 -0500The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, is a tax-and-spend bleeding-heart liberal who ordinarily would be way, way down on the list of people that this center-right columnist would want to spend any time or energy defending. So give the Obama-Trump-Schumer U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, some credit. With his open-ended, leaky, and so far inconclusive yearlong investigation into "corruption" by the mayor and his administration, he's achieved the nearly impossible task of turning de Blasio into a sympathetic figure. Our story begins back in April of 2016, when The New York Times reported that in the preceding month the mayor "learned of a federal corruption investigation into top Police Department officials. The inquiry revolved around two of Mr. de Blasio's big-money political supporters and appeared to extend into his fund-raising efforts more broadly." "Mayor de Blasio's Campaign Fund-Raising Scrutinized in U.S. Corruption Inquiry," was a typical Times headline, one of dozens, heavily reliant on anonymous sources, that have appeared over the past year in various New York outlets. A December 2016 Times article headlined "Grand Juries Said to Hear Testimonies on Inquiries Into de Blasio Fund-Raising" reported that the inquiries "could wrap up in a matter of weeks." Alas, no such luck. The mayor and his top aides have, meanwhile, racked up millions of dollars in legal fees on outside lawyers to defend against the investigation. The lawyer representing the mayor, Barry Berke of Kramer Levin, has tangled with Bharara on a series of white-collar criminal cases and recently got a federal judge in Manhattan, P. Kevin Castel, to order regular updates on federal investigations into unauthorized leaks to the press of grand jury information in insider trading cases. The vague cloud of suspicion cast anonymously over the mayor and some of his aides that have been named in the press coverage risks violating at least five of their Sixth Amendment rights—to confront their accusers, to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, and to be informed of the nature of the accusation against them. That amendment isn't just there to allow guilty criminals convenient ways to get out of jail. It exists to provide protection against these sorts of extended whisper campaigns that wind up smearing reputations even before any charges are filed. Beyond the civil liberties issues, even as a practical matter, if Bharara's goal is educating the electorate or cleaning up New York politics, his tactics are redundant, counterproductive, and curiously selective. Redundant, because it was clear to anyone paying attention even before the federal probe that de Blasio's governing mode involved shaking down anyone who wanted anything from the city. When the Collegiate School wanted approval to construct a new school building, the city demanded a related payoff of at least $50 million for "affordable housing." The furniture company West Elm was somehow prevailed upon to cough up $65,000 worth of furniture for the residential quarters of de Blasio's taxpayer-owned mayoral mansion. Counterproductive, because rather than luring honest opponents of de Blasio into the mayoral race, the federal probe has served as a deterrent. The uncertainty about its outcome has frozen the race as potential candidates await either prosecutorial action or an all-clear signal. And the warning that city campaign fundraising is going to be under a federal criminal investigative microscope isn't exactly encouragement for anyone considering getting involved in raising or giving political money in New York City for any office. Curiously selective, because if you had to name the single New York politician most known for aggressive fundraising from people whose business he is able to affect—the area for which de Blasio is supposedly under scrutiny—the politician who would leap to mind wouldn't be de Blasio, but rather, one Sen. Charles Schumer. A front-page news art[...]
Wed, 08 Feb 2017 18:02:00 -0500
(image) Some 34 U.S. lawmakers from both parties have sent President Donald Trump a letter urging him to address Venezuelan officials' corruption and human rights abuses with sanctions, the Associated Press reports. The letter was co-written by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Florida), the former chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Sen. Robert Menendez (D–New Jersey), a ranking member of the foreign relations subcommittee that oversees Latin America.
The letter calls for a comprehensive probe into accusations of drug trafficking and support for terrorist organizations by Tareck El Aissami, the vice president of Venezuela. It also describes military officials profiting off the crisis by trafficking much-needed food. The allegations were partially inspired by an earlier Associated Press investigation into corruption in the Venezuelan government and the rapidly deteriorating state of the country.
The lawmakers call for increased funding for pro-democracy and civil society works in the Latin American country, as well as for the Treasury Department to issue regulations to prevent U.S. companies from violating the Foreign Corruption Practices Act, which prohibits Americans from paying bribes to foreign officials. According to the AP, U.S.-based global food traders Archer Daniels Midland Co., Bunge Ltd., and Cargill have already stopped selling to Venezuela.
U.S. relations with the socialist-led Latin American country are rocky. The AP notes that in 2014, then–President Barack Obama sanctioned Venezuelan government officials who were accused of violating protestors' rights. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, in turn, has condemned U.S. foreign policy, especially America's military interventions in the Middle East. In 2015, Reuters reported that Maduro accused the United States of harassment at a United Nations human rights forum.
What little Trump has said about Venezuela suggests he too may take a hard-line stance. On the campaign trail he once proclaimed that "Venezuelans are good people, but they have been horribly damaged by the socialists in Venezuela and the next president of the United States must show solidarity with all the oppressed people in the hemisphere."
Maduro says he has yet to formulate an opinion on the new American president, however. "There's been a brutal hate campaign against Trump all over the world," he said at a news conference in January, according to Bloomberg. "I say let's wait and see. All I'll say is that he won't be worse than Obama."
He might change his tune if Trump pursues sanctions.
Mon, 06 Feb 2017 16:00:00 -0500A New York-based FBI agent who played a leading role in a string of recent insider trading prosecutions is under criminal investigation for what federal prosecutors, in a recent court filing, call "unquestionable misconduct by an agent of the Government…improper and inexcusable." It's the sort of story that ordinarily might be splashed across the front pages of The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal—except that in this case, the misconduct of which the FBI agent, David Chaves, is suspected was leaking grand jury information to the Times and the Journal. A lawyer for Chaves did not return a call seeking comment. A January 30, 2017, court filing by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said Chaves' lawyer had told the government that Chaves "would assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination." The alleged misconduct could cast further doubt on Bharara's campaign against "insider trading," a campaign that was already significantly set back by a 2015 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that had the effect of overturning at least nine convictions. It could fuel already substantial public and congressional concern, stemming from the presidential election and the probes of Hillary Clinton's emails and of Russian political interference, about lack of professionalism by the FBI related to disclosure of investigative information. Two of the figures apparently affected by the unauthorized leaks, professional golfer Phil Mickelson and investor Carl Icahn, who is an adviser to President Trump on regulatory matters, are celebrities. News organizations that receive such leaks tend to minimize the significance of unauthorized disclosure of information by government officials, but lawyers take it seriously. The attorney general of Pennsylvania resigned last year after she was caught leaking grand jury information. There's also a strand of poetic justice, or hypocrisy, in the whole situation: as the government was accusing stock traders of making money illegally from unauthorized leaks of market-moving information, the government itself was illegally leaking unauthorized information about its own activities. Chaves was a regular on the speaking circuit. His biography at the University of Connecticut's graduate program in risk management says, "Special Agent David A. Chaves is a senior FBI Official assigned to the New York Division. He serves as the securities fraud program manager for the most visible securities cases prosecuted over the last decade. He is widely recognized as the chief strategist in coordinating these complex white collar investigations and for infiltrating corrupt participants in the hedge fund industry through the use of sophisticated techniques, undercover operations, and wire taps." He spoke in June at a session on "The FBI on Wall Street" at a conference of the National Investor Relations Institute. Chaves is the only FBI agent or prosecutor named as under investigation or accused of misconduct in the government's January 30 court filing. But a 2014 Wall Street Journal article about Mickelson and Icahn cited plural sources: "people briefed on the probe." A 2014 New York Times article covering similar ground used the same plural formulation: "people briefed on the investigation." The disclosure about Chaves came in a filing in which Bharara asked U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Kastel not to dismiss a criminal case against a Las Vegas gambler, William "Billy" Walters, as a remedy for the government's misconduct. The situation may also affect individuals other than Walters or Chaves. The Second Circuit is scheduled to hear an argument on March 24 in the case of David Ganek, who is suing Bharara, Chaves, and other law enforcement officials for raiding and destroying his hedge fund based on what Mr. Ganek says was fabricated evidence. Bloomberg reported last month that the FBI had reached a settlemen[...]
Tue, 20 Dec 2016 08:30:00 -0500The Russians have hacked our democracy! At least, that's been the chorus from much of the American media following anonymous reports on a secretive CIA assessment of the 2016 presidential election. Even President Obama has started to beat the drums of "cyberwar," announcing last Friday that the U.S. must "take action" against the Russian government for "impacting the integrity of our elections." This is some tough talk given the very tenuous evidence offered so far about Russia's alleged influence. Obviously, it is crucial that America maintain a fair electoral process—flawed though "democracy" may be—and the prospect of a foreign power deliberately sabotaging this can strike a primal fear in Americans' hearts. Yet this kind of mass anxiety can also be opportunistically stoked by government operatives to further their own agendas, as history has demonstrated time and again. Responsible Americans must therefore approach claims made by unnamed intelligence officials—and the muddying media spin on them—with clear eyes and cool heads. And we must demand that these extraordinary claims be backed by appropriate evidence, lest we allow ourselves to be lead into another CIA-driven foreign fiasco. So, let's start by separating reporting from spin. What, exactly, is being claimed here? Back in October, the Obama administration publicly accused the Russian government of hacking into American political organizations in order to influence the presidential election. In early December, The Washington Post went a step further, reporting on a secret CIA assessment that Russia intervened specifically to help Donald Trump win. Citing only anonymous "officials briefed on the matter," the Post wrote that "individuals with connections to the Russian government" provided Wikileaks with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta emails, exposing the party's sordid underbelly to the world. The next week, another gaggle of unnamed intelligence officials would tell NBC News that the rascally Vladimir Putin personally directed the hacks. Later reports scaled back some of these claims. Reuters, for instance, cited more unnamed intelligence officials who claimed that other intelligence bodies dispute the CIA's conclusions. Russia might have hacked us, they think, but we can't know that it was specifically to help Donald Trump. Then The Washington Post rustled up yet another batch of unnamed officials, who cited an internal memo from CIA Director John Brennan claiming that FBI Director James Comey is on the same page. Neither the FBI nor the CIA has publicly commented upon such stories, and they refuse to brief congressional intelligence panels on the hacks. Meanwhile, Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange broke the site's longstanding prohibition against discussing sources to deny that Wikileaks received the explosive leaks from the Russian government. There are quite a few problems with the claims made by this veritable army of unnamed intelligence agents, as we'll soon discuss. And media commentators often confused the situation further with muddying rhetoric and bombastic leaps of logic. Somewhere along the way, earlier campaign paranoia that Russia could hack into voting machines morphed into the rhetorically useful but epistemologically questionable soundbite that "Russia hacked our election." Consider the Clinton supporters. Rather than doing some soul-searching about their candidate's revealed corruption and amazing tone-deafness to the concerns of the American working class, these petty partisans prefer to just blame Putin instead. Indeed, Clinton herself took to the podium to declare that the Russian president "has a personal beef" with her. The vague assertions of the secret CIA memorandum have been repeated so assuredly and emphatically as to sometimes echo the jingoistic lead-up to the disastrous Iraq War. Keith Olbermann provided perhaps the most comic[...]
Tue, 13 Dec 2016 11:38:00 -0500
(image) Larry Harmel, executive director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, is the latest criminal-justice official to get caught up in his colleagues' own undercover prostitution stings. On December 9, the 71-year-old was charged with soliciting prostitution in connection with a Baltimore sting that took place in October.
The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association is a nonprofit group that lobbies on behalf of law-enforcement agents. Harmel became head following a 30-plus year career as a Maryland state trooper, seven years as head of the Maryland Transit Authority, and a failed bid to represent Baltimore County as a Democrat in the state legislature. At the top of his erstwhile campaign site, it still reads: "You can't buy trust, but you can earn it ... let me earn your trust!"
Harmel reportedly denied the solicitation allegation to The Baltimore Sun last Friday. A reporter from the paper called back Monday and spoke with association attorney Bruce Marcus, who said he was unaware of the charges. But Harmel is "a long, storied, exemplary law enforcement officer and public servant who's got an unblemished career," Marcus told the Sun. "We will do everything humanly possible to clear his name and reputation."
Later that day, Harmel resigned.
According to the Sun, Harmel was arrested after approaching an undercover vice officer in an outdoor area of southeast Baltimore known for prostitution.
The officer asked Harmel what he was looking for, and said he responded: "You know."
"You're making me nervous. Are you a cop?" they asked each other, according to court records.
The officer said she would perform a sex act "not for a lot," saying, "I haven't had my medicine today. I just need to get my medicine." He agreed and she got into Harmel's truck, where he said he would take her to a graveyard.
The undercover officer cited Harmel and said he would receive a summons for arraignment at a later date.
Also in the news this week for following a do-as-we-say, not-as-we-do policy with regard to soliciting sex: Raymond Edward Bernasconi, until recently a deputy sheriff with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Bernasconi was scheduled to be arraigned yesterday for soliciting prostitution, after being arrested on November 21 in a sting conducted by the Sheriff's Human Trafficking Bureau, though his hearing has now been postponed until January for unspecified reasons. Bernasconi, 55, allegedly made arrangements online to meet someone he thought was selling sex at a local motel. When he showed up, "she" turned out to be undercover cops, who arrested the deputy and took him into custody.
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 00:30:00 -0500President-elect Trump says he's uniquely qualified to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C. He can do it, he said at one debate, because as a businessman, he understands American cronyism. "With Hillary Clinton, I said, 'Be at my wedding,' and she came to my wedding. You know why? She had no choice because I gave." He said that's why he gives money to politicians from both parties. "When they call, I give. And when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me!" That's crony capitalism. Ideally, laws are applied equally; no one gets a special break because he gives money. But today's complex government allows the politically connected to corrupt... most everything. Even parts of the government swamp designed to protect consumers, like Dodd-Frank banking rules, get corrupted. Banks watch little changes in rules far more closely than you ever will. Then they exploit them. Bank lobbyists make money off complex laws like Dodd-Frank. They fight tooth and nail to keep them, not abolish them. Congress recently almost got rid of one obvious example of crony capitalism, the Export-Import Bank. To encourage exports of American products, bureaucrats give loans to Boeing and other big companies. Some principled Republicans tried to eliminate this corporate welfare, but Ex-Im loans were voted back in during the final hours of budget negotiations. Government programs almost never die. Businesses in cozy relationships with government don't die either. Jeff Deist, president of the free-market Mises Institute, says when the housing bubble burst, banks should have been allowed to fail and put through "the bankruptcy and liquidation process." Investors would have lost big, but that's OK, says Deist. "That's the difference between free-market capitalism and state capitalism. With state capitalism, there are upsides for the parties involved—but no downsides." In the swamp, no one but taxpayers pays for their mistakes. Politicians routinely promise to change this culture, but once they get to D.C., they lose interest, says Trump. "They go to Washington, something happens—they become weak... I promise this is not going to happen to me." I want to believe him. But even if he were an utterly principled man—and I await evidence of that—it's tough to constantly say "no" to people. When you're in Congress, people ask you for money all day. "I need a grant for my charity—we do so much good!" "My business needs a subsidy/protective tariff—we employ so many people—in your state!" So it goes, week after week. Few people bother to go to Washington to ask for spending cuts. Even though America is heading toward bankruptcy, 90 percent of congressional testimony comes from people who want more stuff. Politicians' cronies get more stuff. Solyndra got half a billion dollars from President Obama. The company went bankrupt, which shouldn't be a surprise. Government has no way of knowing which ideas will succeed. But it's well worth it for companies to invest in lobbyists and fixers who dive into the swamp to extract subsidies. For taxpayers? Not so much. While the benefits to lobbyists are concentrated, taxpayer costs are diffuse. Solyndra cost each of us a couple bucks. Will you go to Washington to pester your congressman about that? Probably not. I want to believe Trump when he says he'll "drain the swamp." But it's easier to believe Thomas Jefferson who, with greater eloquence, said, "It's the natural progress of things for government to gain ground, and liberty to yield." Draining the swamp would mean not just taking freebies away from corporations—or needy citizens—but eliminating complex handouts like Obamacare. Candidate Trump said he would repeal Obamacare. Will he? He's already backed off of that promise, saying he likes two parts of the law—the most expensive parts[...]
Mon, 28 Nov 2016 13:20:00 -0500The former chief of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's security detail, Wendell Ray Lewis, filed a lawsuit on Friday alleging that Bentley had admitted an extramarital affair to him, and accusing the governor and his alleged mistress, staffer Rebekah Mason, of invading his privacy by "putting him in a false light and position in the eyes of the public by stating that Lewis worked overtime which was not approved by the State of Alabama." The suit also accused the Republican Bentley, Mason, and other defendants of defamation, interfering with his post-retirement business relations, "constructive discharge," and misconduct. A 2014 al.com story by John Archibald, cited in the lawsuit, estimated that Lewis made about $203,000 a year because of overtime he earned "following the governor across the globe." At the time, Bentley said neither he nor anyone on his staff was involved in approving overtime, but defended Bentley's promotion, which had also been questioned by Archibald. Bentley's attorney called the lawsuit baseless, pointing out that much of it included allegations (which he says the governor denies) which "have nothing to do with the actual legal claims asserted" by Lewis. "Public records show that when Lewis worked for the state government, he made more than $661,615 over five years, based on the overtime he was paid," Bentley's attorney said in a statement. "But he chose to quit. That was his choice—no one else's," the attorney's statement read, noting Lewis was now receiving more than $87,000 a year in retirement income from the state. "But now he is trying to force the State to give him more money," the statement continued, "and to go so far as to extract money from the pocket of a governor who has never even taken a salary since he took office." In his lawsuit, Lewis alleged that by the fall of 2014 he was seeing subordinates he had supervised taking over his tasks, was frozen out of meetings, and stripped of various responsibilities, arguing that "over time the criticism, exclusion, and opprobrium became insufferable," resulting in his "early retirement" in 2015. Lewis alleges in the lawsuit that he had confronted the governor multiple times about the affair. "You know that you are getting into a touchy situation because we use state vehicles, we use state planes, to move about," Lewis said he told the governor. "You're requesting to put her in there, that's a problem. This is bigger than you and Rebekah. This is about the State of Alabama." Lewis alleges in the lawsuit that the governor asked him to break up with Mason for him. In March, the state auditor filed a complaint that Bentley and Mason may have misused state property. The affair was found out because the governor did not know his iPhone was synced to an iPad he gave his wife, according to the lawsuit, resulting in an incriminating recording eventually made public. Bentley apologized for making "inappropriate" comments to Mason but denied a physical relationship. He and his wife divorced last year. Lewis says the governor told him Lewis had done nothing wrong after the overtime scandal broke (the governor pointed out in a different recording made public that Lewis was paid a similar amount of overtime to previous security detail chiefs), but that after the governor hugged him, he knew he was in trouble. "When their conversation was over, Bentley hugged Lewis. Lewis knew that was it, the beginning of the end," the lawsuit reads. "He thought to himself, 'I don't know how Jesus felt when Judas betrayed him, but I felt I was being betrayed.' The only difference: Judas never hugged Jesus." Lewis also alleged that Spencer Collier, the now former secretary of the state law enforcement agency, told him that the governor had ordered him to use $430,000 in federal funds from the Department of Homeland Security to cover the[...]
Tue, 08 Nov 2016 07:00:00 -0500
Election Day is upon us and Americans are heading to the voting booths by the millions. The choices before the electorate are, by and large, deeply unappetizing and, whatever the outcome of the elections, America's freedoms and institutions will likely continue to take a beating in the years to come. Last week, I looked at the state of freedom globally. Today, the focus is America.
First, consider the good news. The United States has maintained a perfect "democracy" score since 1871 and citizens continue to elect freely their local, state and federal governments.
America's record on protecting civil liberties, such as freedom of expression, also surpasses that of much of the world. Since Freedom House began collecting data on civil liberties in 1971, the United States has consistently received the best score possible.
Americans also have more extensive political rights than most of our fellow human beings, although the political rights gap is slowly narrowing.
Unfortunately, on several indicators, America has recently been trending in an unfortunate direction. Consider freedom of the press, measured on a scale from 1 (most free) to 100 (least free). Between 1993 and 2014, U.S. freedom of the press dropped by 10 points.
Government accountability (i.e., public perceptions of the extent to which citizens are able to influence their government) has also been deteriorating in the United States.
When it comes to corruption (i.e., perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as "capture" of the state by elites and private interests), America's score is deteriorating.
The United States has also been falling in terms of government transparency, which measures the availability of credible aggregate economic data that a country discloses to the public.
Finally, consider economic freedom. Once again, we are moving—rapidly—in the wrong direction. Economic freedom in the United States still exceeds the world average, but if current trends continue, that will soon no longer be the case.
Americans have long enjoyed a level of freedom and quality of institutions that are still denied to the majority of humanity. But, if some of the worrying trends that can be seen above continue, America may not always be the "land of the free."
Tue, 01 Nov 2016 07:00:00 -0400These are interesting times to be an American. The people's trust in the U.S. institutions is plummeting and the outcome of the presidential election, however it ends, is unlikely to reverse that trend. Over at Human Progress, we have a whole section of the website devoted to "good governance" indicators. As you'll see in the charts below, it is a mixed bag. People around the world appear to be growing freer, but their governments are getting less transparent and more corrupt. Could these diverging trends be the key to understanding of the people's growing dissatisfaction with their ruling elites? Our political rights index reflects the ability of people to participate freely in the political process, including the right to vote freely for distinct alternatives in legitimate elections, compete for public office, join political parties and organizations, and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate. On a scale from 1 (best) to 7 (worst), the world has experienced substantial improvement. Our freedom of the press index evaluates the legal environment for the media, political pressures that influence reporting, and economic factors that affect access to news and information. Freedom of the press, which is measured on a scale from 1 (worst) to 100 (best), is at an all time high. Our civil liberties index measures freedom of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state. On a scale from 1 (best) to 7 (worst), the world has experienced considerable improvement since the early 1970s. Unfortunately, civil liberties have deteriorated somewhat since 2005. Our data on democracy versus autocracy over time codes democratic and autocratic "patterns of authority." It measures key qualities of executive recruitment, constraints on executive authority and political competition. It also records changes in the institutionalized qualities of governing authority. Country scores can be converted into three regime categories: autocracies (-10 to -6), anocracies or partial democracies (-5 to +5) and democracies (+6 to +10). Today, the average country scores a "4" and is considered a partial-democracy. The government transparency index measures the availability of credible aggregate economic data that a country discloses to the public. Here we have seen substantial deterioration since the apex of government transparency ten years ago. The corruption perceptions index scores countries on how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be, and captures the informed views of analysts, businesspeople and experts in countries around the world. Once again, corruption, which is measured on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) around the world, seems to be worsening. [...]
Mon, 31 Oct 2016 12:25:00 -0400You would think FBI Director James Comey had sent his Friday announcement to Congress on Trump-Pence letterhead the way Hillary Clinton and Democrats have responded. To recap, for the benefit of those who spent the weekend preparing their racially and culturally tasteful and sensitive Halloween costumes instead of following the news: During the course of investigating scandal-tainted Democratic former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and an accusation he was sexting with a minor, the FBI found hundreds of thousands of emails on a laptop he and/or his likely-soon-to-be-ex-wife Huma Abedin had been using. The metadata suggested that many of these emails might have been sent to or from Clinton's private server. So now the FBI has to investigate to determine whether any of these emails were classified or were connected in any way to Clinton's previous mess. The letters may turn out to be duplicates or nothing interesting in particular. It seems very unlikely they're going to find any new smoking guns (insert joke about dick pics here). But Comey, after previously declaring that the FBI would not recommend any charges over Clinton's "extremely careless" handling of classified communications, decided to send a brief letter to various leaders in Congress to inform them that the FBI would be reviewing these letters to see if they were at all relevant to their previous investigation. His letter was brief (three whole paragraphs) and did not accuse Clinton of any wrongdoing whatsoever. But, boy, has that letter opened possibly a bigger can of worms than the Wikileaks email dump somehow. To this outside observer who is completely over the election at this point, Comey's letter looks like a simple ass-covering move so the FBI doesn't get accused of ignoring evidence. But to Democrats and the Clinton camp and some others, that short letter is a full-on assault on the democratic republic and the sanctity of this election. Over the weekend, dozens of former federal prosecutors signed on to letter criticizing Comey's decision to send the letter, noting: Director Comey's letter is inconsistent with prevailing Department policy, and it breaks with longstanding practices followed by officials of both parties during past elections. Moreover, setting aside whether Director Comey's original statements in July were warranted, by failing to responsibly supplement the public record with any substantive, explanatory information, his letter begs the question that further commentary was necessary. For example, the letter provides no details regarding the content, source or recipient of the material; whether the newly-discovered evidence contains any classified or confidential information; whether the information duplicates material previously reviewed by the FBI; or even "whether or not [the] material may be significant." Perhaps most troubling to us is the precedent set by this departure from the Department's widely-respected, non-partisan traditions. The admonitions that warn officials against making public statements during election periods have helped to maintain the independence and integrity of both the Department's important work and public confidence in the hardworking men and women who conduct themselves in a nonpartisan manner. The Clinton campaign took this call for respect for non-partisan traditions and tossed it right up on their website. Former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. signed on to the letter and also wrote a separate commentary for the Washington Post saying much of the same things. The talking points have been established. This goes against procedure! This is not the way things are done! Even Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee Bill Weld criticized Comey's letter and said Attorney General Loretta[...]
Fri, 28 Oct 2016 10:55:00 -0400Tonight the Chicago Cubs will play the first World Series game held in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field since 1945. The cheapest price for a standing-room-only ticket on Stubhub is currently $1,700, and some season ticket holders are reportedly seeking upwards of $1 million for a chance to see the lovable losers take on the less-lovable historically-losing franchise known as the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs and Wrigley are both institutions of Chicago culture, and the team's first National League pennant in several generations is something even non-sports fans in the Windy City are understandably excited about, which is why some Chicagoans of means are willing to shell out thousands of dollars to watch a baseball game. But spare a moment of sympathy for Chicago's aldermen, those public servants making six figure salaries, who until very recently enjoyed the perk of being able to buy Cubs' postseason tickets at face value, rather than on the open market, like the rest of us commoners. The Cubs have long made a practice of providing politicians at every level the chance to buy tickets at face value, but according to Illinois Policy, the Chicago Board of Ethics ruled last week that city aldermen may only accept this perk if they are "performing a public, ceremonial duty, such as throwing out the first pitch or delivering a speech." Announcing the ruling, Ethics Board Chairman William Conlon said, "It is inappropriate under the circumstances for a group that has governance over Wrigley Field — everything from vendors to hot dogs to improvements to the stadium and building adjacent to the stadium — to accept preferential treatment from the Cubs," according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Alderman Roderick Sawyer reportedly responded as any precious snowflake would, arguing that he and his fellow politicians "should be able to take advantage of history." But even this tone-deaf sentiment was topped by Alderman Milly Santiago, who according to the Chicago Tribune is "a former journalist who campaigned for office on a platform of reform and anti-corruption." Santiago first complained that the playoff tickets she was previously able to purchase for a fraction of the price the public had to pay "were all the way in the upper deck...that's how bad those tickets were." Santiago added, "It's kind of embarrassing in my part...Those of us who would like to get a chance to go to one of those games and be part of history, we should have that choice." But Santiago has a choice, despite her statement that she is "a poor alderman" who "cannot even afford to buy a $1,000 ticket," despite earning a $116,208 annual salary. She could easily watch the Cubs game across the street at a Wrigleyville bar with the rest of the little people. And for a self-described reformer like herself, avoiding potential ethical entanglements should be of greater concern than whether or not she is able to attend a wildly expensive private event for pennies on the dollar. Santiago has since walked her complaint back, saying she "never intended to offend anybody" but insisted she's not rich "compared to so many people." Writing for Illinois Policy, Jon Kaiser says, "Chicago aldermen aren't used to being told 'no.'" Kaiser adds: Despite the city being dubbed the corruption capital of the country, aldermen have worked hard to shield themselves from any sort of oversight. They let former Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan's contract expire without a replacement ready in 2015, thus making the office obsolete, and a group of aldermen changed a February ordinance to limit auditing powers of Inspector General Joe Ferguson. Aldermen's track record, though, would suggest oversight is needed. In the past 40 years, 33 [...]
Wed, 26 Oct 2016 12:10:00 -0400Some Americans (typically on the left) habitually threaten to move to Canada if the presidential election doesn't go their way. Maybe libertarians should look overseas to Iceland. The small island nation of Iceland (population: 320,000) got a significant amount of attention during the banking crisis by not bailing out its financial institutions. It seemed to have worked out well enough for them. Iceland has also seen the rise of the Pirate Party as a political force. The Pirate Party is only a decade old, a small political movement focused on intellectual property reform, freedom of information, government transparency, opposition to censorship, and direct democracy. The party supports net neutrality as well, but otherwise, the average American libertarian would likely feel more at home with the Pirates than any other non-libertarian party. Reason has previously noted Pirate Party parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir trying to help Edward Snowden get asylum in Iceland before he ended up pretty much trapped in Russia. The Pirate Party had seen some modest success in Iceland, winning three seats in the country's lawmaking body. But after the release of the Panama Papers earlier in the year, interest in the Pirate Party skyrocketed. Americans may have already forgotten about the scandal, part of which was heavily about how public officials in many countries were hiding their wealth outside their home countries and avoiding taxes. Iceland's prime minister got caught up in the scandal when the papers revealed that he owned half of a company connected to one of the bankrupt banks and sold his share to his wife in order to avoid transparency requirements that went into effect in 2010. There were protests in the tens of thousands (massive, when you consider the size of Iceland's population), and he stepped down in April. Interest in the Pirate Party boomed in Iceland, and their polling support approached nearly 40 percent in the spring. They've dropped a bit since then, but they could pick up between 18 to 20 new seats in Iceland's parliament if these poll numbers hold up in their election Oct. 29. This would not give them control over parliament but would make them a dominant force. It's an important trend to pay attention to given the populist insurgencies we've been seeing in the elections both in the United States and in other Western countries. This appears to be just like all these other voter revolts (it's being treated as such in some reporting), but note how different the goals are. There's a push for limiting the power of government and therefore limiting the corruptibility of government that is different from what we're seeing here from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters. As Nick Gillespie has previously written, there tends to be a paradox that when people don't trust the government, the end result is often more regulation, bureaucracy, and control, not less. The Pirate Party and their potential success could be an indicator of a counterpush, just as increased in interest in the Libertarian Party's candidate this year gives voice to those who are frustrated with a government who is interested only in perpetuating an agenda that will make it grow more and more powerful over the lives of citizens. Read more analysis of the rise of Iceland's Pirate Party here. Read a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" (in English) with Iceland Pirate Party representatives here.[...]