Posts tagged ‘Update Radley Balko’

Taxing People With No Money

Update:  Over the weekend, without comment, the Obama team pulled down the language below and put up new, vaguer language without the "required."  Discussion and a screen shot of the original is here.

How do you tax people with who have no money?  Why, you take their labor by force.  It worked when we dragged Africans over here against their will in the 19th century, and it can work today.  From the Obama transition site:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation's challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

So what was that about no tax increase for people making under $250,000?  Because my guess is that most high school and college kids made close to zero, but here is Obama seeking to expropriate 50-100 hours of their labor.  Sure looks like a tax to me.  By law, high school kids, by DOL rules, can work up to 1200 hours per year.  For kid that works every hour she can, this is about a 4% tax.  Kids that work less pay a higher effective tax rate, up to infinite for kids not working at all  (hey, this tax is even regressive).  Also, richer kids trying to get into top colleges will be the least affected, as they are already volunteering at a level close to this, so most of the burden of this tax will fall on the poor.

I remember when I was slammed by Obama supporters during the election when I said that his call for "universal" community service meant that he was going to mandate it.  Carefully avoiding being clearer about what he meant before the election, Obama sure has not wasted any time making sure everyone understands he is talking about government coercion here, not volunteerism.

PS- I thought this site was fake, because it was amazing to me to see Obama's intentions stated so baldly after he so strenuously avoided clarifying his position during the election.  But the Huffpo and other sites link to this site as if it is real, so I will treat it as such.

PPS - Here is Obama's pledge on taxes from the same site:

Middle class families will see their taxes cut "“ and no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase. The typical middle class family will receive well over $1,000 in tax relief under the Obama plan, and will pay tax rates that are 20% lower than they faced under President Reagan. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Obama plan provides three times as much tax relief for middle class families as the McCain plan.

OK, we are not going to take more money, we are just going to take your labor directly.

Update: Radley Balko adds the chilling speech implications of such a program:

So who gets to decide what constitutes "community service"?  Who gets to decide which causes and organizations will be credit-worthy, and which ones won't?

Something tells me that you'd be more likely to get one of Obama's vouchers by going door to door for one of ACORN's living wage campaigns than, say, volunteering for a libertarian nonprofit organization that advocates against things like government-mandated community service.

Obama supporters will say, no problem, we trust Obama.  Hmm.  The folks who wrote our Constitution designed our government assuming all politicians would be knaves.  Writing laws that depend on the good intentions, fairness, correct incentives, and intellectual capacity of the government folks who run it are doomed to failure.  Would Democrats have been happy to have GWB deciding what community service their kids were forced to endure?  I doubt it.  Well, we don't live in an autarky, and sooner or later GWB's party will be back and making exactly those decisions under such a program.

We Have Got To Stop BioFuel Subsidies Right Now

I have no problem if someone wants to compete out there in the free market producing fuel from corn or switchgrass or whatever.  But we have got to stop the subsidies right now, before it is too late.  Biofuels do absolutely nothing, zero, zippo to change CO2 production, and some studies show they make CO2 output worse when you consider the whole production cycle.  This is not to mention the effect biofuels will have in putting more wild and forest land under the till. 

I can't see any conceivable benefit to the economy from subsidizing biofuels, except some hazy notion of energy independence which has limited economic value and which will never be achieved with biofuels  (we will have jacked up the price of corn so high we can't feed cattle long before biofuels make even a minor dent in oil imports).  My only guess as to true motivation is that people want to spite Exxon and Shell, but if you don't like those companies, you really aren't going to like Archer Daniels Midland. 

Biofuels, given current technology, are a pure product of politics.  They are a massive subsidy of Midwestern farmers that the recipients can claim is not really a subsidy.  If the first presidential primary were in Nevada rather than Iowa, you would never hear a word from politicians about ethanol.

But here is the reason we need to end the subsidies right now.  [emphasis added]

A $400-million integrated biodiesel and ethanol refinery the first
complex of its kind in North America will be built in central Alberta.

by Dominion Energy Services, LLC a Florida-based group with pioneering
ties to Calgary's natural gas marketing sector investors that include
$45-billion US private equity fund The Carlyle Group LLC and affiliate
Riverstone Renewable Energy Infrastructure Fund I, LP said Monday they
have finalized plans for the facility....

Alberta Agriculture Minister Doug Horner noted the "world-class"
Dominion plant follows the provincial government's recent, $239-million
over five years initiative to boost biofuels production. The province
will provide a 14-cent per litre production credit to the facility
.  [for those rusty on the metric system, that is 56-cents per gallon or $23.53 per barrel]

Companies are currently building massive subsidy-magnets biofuel plants.  Once these investments are in place, there is going to be a huge entrenched base of investors and workers who are going to wield every bit of political power they can to retain subsidies forever to protect their jobs and their investment.  Biofuel subsidies will be as intractable as peanut and sugar subsidies and protections.

Update:  Radley Balko mentions another great example.  For various post-prohibition reasons that may or may not have made sense at the time, state laws prohibit retailers from buying alcoholic beverages straight from the manufacturer - e.g. Costco cannot buy direct from Anheiser-Busch.  Wholesalers who emerged to fill the legally required middleman role became rich.  Since then, even thought this 3-layered distribution requirement makes zero sense, it has become impossible to change it because the wealthy distributors who owe their fortunes to the requirement block every move to deregulate.

Cui Bono?

Richard Paey lost his appeal, and so will likely spend the next 25 years in jail for self-medicating pain relievers.  All parties, both prosecution and defense, agreed the painkillers were solely for his use and no drug distribution was involved.  Of course, its for his own good.... somehow or other.

For most of this country's history, prison was for people being punished for hurting others.  Their incarceration protected the rest of society from them.  Today, though, we are increasingly filling the prisons with people whose actions affected only themselves.  In particular, thousands languish in jail for petty drug possession charges, crimes that if they hurt anyone, hurt only themselves.  (Drug war proponents argue that few go to jail for marijuana use.  Sortof.  Actually, only a small percentage of marijuana possession arrests go to jail,  but there are three quarters of a million marijuana arrests every year.  A small percentage of a big number is still a big number)

I am reminded of the old George Carlin joke "do you know the worst thing that can happen to a kid that smokes marijuana?  He can go to jail!"  I find this wholly parallel to Mr. Paey's situation.  The Florida legislature thinks Mr. Paey is ruining his life by using too many painkillers for his, uh, pain.  So their solution is to .. ruin his life even worse, by throwing him in the prison for the rest of his useful life.  Good plan.  Next up: lobotomies for people who still insist on smoking.

This is one of those tough cases made to make judges look bad.  The Florida legislature bent over backwards to make sure that judges had absolutely no discretion in reducing the sentences of people like Mr. Paey.  And the judges acknowledged they were beaten, and would have to let Mr. Paey's sentence stand.  Where are those activist judges when you need them?  Well, there was one in the dissent:

With no competent proof that [Paey] intended to do anything other
than put the drugs into his own body for relief from his persistent and
excruciating pain, the State chose to prosecute him and treat him as a
trafficker in illegal drugs. Instead of recognizing the real problem
and the real behaviors that led to his real crimes and holding him
appropriately accountable, the State decided to bring out the artillery
designed to bring down the drug cartels....

The sentence in this
case for a lone act"”the mere possession of unlawfully obtained medicine
for personal use"”is illogical, absurd, unjust, and unconstitutional...

suggest that it is cruel for a man with an undisputed medical need for
a substantial amount of daily medication management to go to prison for
twenty-five years for using self-help means to obtain and amply supply
himself with the medicine he needed. I suggest it is cruel for
government to treat a man whose motivation to offend sprang from urgent
medical problems the same as it would treat a drug smuggler motivated
to obtain personal wealth and power at the expense of the misery
his enterprise brings to others. I suggest that it is unusual,
illogical, and unjust that Mr. Paey could conceivably go to prison for
a longer stretch for peacefully but unlawfully  purchasing 100
oxycodone pills from a pharmacist than had he robbed the pharmacist at
knife point, stolen fifty oxycodone pills which he intended to sell to
children waiting outside, and then stabbed the pharmacist.

Update:  Radley Balko has more stories about ridiculous drug sentencing.  He also has comments on Paey's case:

I'd add only a few of things to Jacob's post
on Richard Paey's horrible story below.  First, Paey's 25-year sentence
stems from two troubling decisions on the part of the prosecutor.
Prosecutor McCabe threw the book at Paey because,  (1) he refused to
admit he's an addict (and he wasn't, any more than a diabetic is
"addicted" to insulin), and (2) because he'd done nothing wrong, he insisted on his constitutional right to a jury trial.  The latter is an absurdity that often creeps up in a modern criminal justice system so rife with plea bargaining.  Charge stacking"and overcharging, combined with the possibility that you could even get extra time even for the charges you're acquitted of, mean that insisting on exercising your right to a trial is usually going to cost you. 

Second, as I noted a few months ago,
when police apprehended this paraplegic, frail man -- along with his
wife and two kids -- they brought the SWAT team in full paramilitary

And third, why after Paey talked with New York Times columnist John Tierney
did prison officials moved him to a higher-security prison, several
hours from his family?  Paey says it's because a guard complained
about  what he said to Tierney, and was punished.  If that isn't true,
it'd be interesting to hear the official explanation for
suspiciously-time decision to move Paey to a higher-security facility.