Saturday, January 22, 2011
A number of states are faced with a conundrum: Public-sector employee unions are exercising far too much influence in state government. There is growing public support for diminishing the power of these unions. Public employee unions have utilized their power to negotiate unacceptably generous salaries and benefits for their members, and pensions systems which are literally breaking state budgets. Unfortunately, unions have embedded their influence through negotiating contracts for these obscene salaries and benefits- contracts which cannot be lawfully broken. These contracts guarantee that states must continue to pay wages the taxpayers can't afford.
Hence, the conundrum: How can states break the collective bargaining power of unions, without breaking contracts negotiated with unions?
The power of unions comes from their volume of membership- literal "strength in numbers"- and the dues paid by this mass of members. If we want to break unions, we have to deprive them of members and money.
So here is my idea- provide public employees an incentive to not join the union!
Obviously, this would only work in states which have a Right-To-Work law.
The concept works like this: Take the combined salary and state cost of benefits of a union employee, cut a bit, and offer the remainder to non-union employees as a total salary.
For example (this is just for illustrative purposes, real numbers would likely be different):
A position pays a salary of $40,000 per year, and the states' cost of benefits is $12,000, for total compensation of $52,000. Under this plan, a non-union employee would be paid a salary of $46,800- a 10% reduction in total compensation.
Stated differently- the incentive to offer is the freedom of choice. The employee can choose between unresponsive union representation and one-size-fits-all benefits, or a larger bring-home paycheck and greater freedom in spending it.
Of course, benefits would still be offered- but the employee would pay for them. For example, one could choose between the "Cadillac" health plan, or a basic health plan (or heck, even an HSA). Union members have one option- the union health plan.
This plan could solve many problems inherent to this debate. Taxpayers are satisfied because each non-union employee saves them money. Those who might be uneasy about more aggressive union-busting measures can be totally comfortable with this, because it's an individual choice.
Best of all, unions have no leg to stand on to fight it. They won't want to put themselves in a position of arguing against the freedom of choice; and they can't claim pay discrimination, because their total compensation is higher.
Meanwhile, unions lose dissatisfied members- and those members' dues- and the value of their bargaining power diminishes. And the more members who leave, the more money the taxpayers save.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Those who know me, know that I make considerable criticism about the gun laws of socially liberal states like New York and New Jersey, states where the possession of firearms is illegal by statute, and certain persons are licensed to break this law and possess them under limited circumstances. Naturally I will continue to criticize limiting the possession of arms to a elite minority, as this is a deplorable abuse of a Constitutional right.
It must also be said that several socially conservative states are no better when it comes to abusing the right of the people to keep and bear arms. In these states, possession of firearms is widespread and available to all law-abiding persons; however, the use and carrying of firearms is subject to a dizzying array of restrictions. Many of these states had decades-long prohibitions on the carrying of concealed firearms, gun control laws instituted in the wake of the Civil War intended to disarm newly-freed blacks, and in the modern day, laws intended to entrap unknowing persons intending to obey convoluted laws.
A distinction exists, in my experience, between gun owners in the Northeast and gun owners in the South- namely, that gun owners in the South are far more reluctant to acknowledge the faults in their state gun laws.
Texas is, in my opinion, the worst offender in this regard. The "Don't Mess With Texas" attitude seems to extend even into the criticism of the severe faults in Texas' gun control laws. I don't abide the infringement of any Constitutional right- and so, I shall "Mess With Texas".
It is interesting note, firstly, that one of the major factors in Texas' independence from Mexico came as a result of Santa Anna's attempt to seize arms from white militiamen. As described by Rev. C. Newell in this article by Stephen Halbrook (from which I borrow heavily for part of this blog post, and which I highly recommend the reader to read in addition to this post):
The next and last of the leading causes alluded to, was an order received from Gen. Cós in the course of the month of September, requiring the citizens of Brazoria, Columbia, Velasco, and other places, to deliver up their arms to the Mexican authorities: thus attempting to carry out in Texas the plan adopted by Santa Anna, and put in execution in many parts of Mexico, of disarming those whom he suspected of being disaffected to his Government. This ... showed the people of Texas what sort of government they were to expect--that of the bayonet, and the entire sway of military.Mirroring the American Revolution, wherein the first shot was fired in order to prevent British seizure of Colonial arms, one would imagine that this bit of history would cement in the minds of future generations the need (to paraphrase Thomas Paine) to jealously guard their arms.
In drafting a Constitution for statehood in 1845, Texas legistlators immediately began paring down the right to keep and bear arms- by including a caveat allowing the state to regulate the carrying of arms (including all weapons, not just firearms). The author of Texas' RKBA, John Hemphill, stated his belief that individual self-defense was not a valid concern:
The object of inserting a declaration that the people shall have a right to bear arms is, that they may be well armed for the public defence; it is in order that the law regulating the militia should be kept up. It is not a supposition which can arise in a country where the common law prevails, that it is necessary to bear arms for protection against a citizen.Read that again: "It is not... necessary to bear arms for protection against a citizen".
Following the Civil War, the question of black Freedmen arose- would they attain all the rights of whites?
In 1866, Texas revised its Constitution- and adopted laws designed to disarm blacks. Since the state couldn't pass a blanket "blacks may not possess firearms" law, they instead passed a series of laws regarding the times and places a person may carry a firearm. One such statute, described by the Attorney General of Texas in 1868:
Makes the carrying of fire-arms on enclosed land, without consent of the land-owner, an offence. It was meant to operate against freedmen alone, and hence is subject to the same objections...The Attorney General also determined that Texas' gun control laws constituted a "cunningly devised system, planned to prevent equality before the law, and for the restoration of African slavery in a modified form, in fact, though not in name." In other words, the cumulative effect of these "times and places" restrictions was to bar a segment of the population (Blacks) from being able to exercise, in any meaningful way, the right to keep and bear arms.
Another law, passed in 1871:
Any person carrying on or about his person, saddle, or in his saddle-bags, any pistol, dirk, dagger, sling-shot, sword-cane, spear, brass knuckles, bowie knife, or any other kind of knife, manufactured or sold, for the purpose of offense or defense, unless he has reasonable grounds for fearing an unlawful attack on his person, and that such ground of attack shall be immediate and pressing; or unless having or carrying the same on or about his person for the lawful defense of the State...This is the law that stood for 125 years, until Gov. George Bush signed into law Texas' Concealed Handgun Act. More on that act later.
The phrase contained above- "...unless he has reasonable grounds for fearing an unlawful attack on his person..." was construed to mean "openly carrying a handgun", specifically a large, expensive, "dragoon"-type pistol. Indeed, the Texas Supreme Court found, in State v. Duke (1875):
The arms which every person is secured the right to keep and bear... must be such arms as are commonly kept, according to the customs of the people, and are appropriate for open and manly use in self-defense, as well as such as are proper for the defense of the State. If this does not include the double-barreled shot-gun, the huntsman's rifle, and such pistols at least as are not adapted to being carried concealed, then the only arms which the great mass of the people of the State have, are not under constitutional protection. But, beyond question, the dragoon or holster pistol is part of the arms of a soldier in that branch of the service.Let's consider the implications of this statement:
1) "Open and manly use" inflicts a sexist, racist condition upon the carrying of arms. The social standards of the day forbade women from openly carrying firearms. A common perception of the day was that a woman should rely on her husband or a male relative for protection- indeed, a common bias of the day was that the only woman who would carry a concealed handgun to protect herself was a prostitute.
Likewise, requiring all persons to carry handguns openly exposed individual blacks to disarmament by hate groups such as the KKK, and even by corrupt police officers.
2) The statement makes reference to "pistols... not adapted to being carried concealed" and "dragoon or holster pistols"- both statements referring to the largest and most expensive variety of handgun available at the time, and a common weapon of cavalry "branch of service", hence the "militia use" protection. "Holster", as used at that time, referred to a holster suspended from a saddle, and a "holster pistol" was a pistol too large to be carried on the belt, instead carried in a saddle holster. Such a large handgun was virtually impossible for a woman to carry in the typical female attire of the day, and was generally too expensive for a poor person to afford.
The cumulative effect of these two restrictions, was to confine the right to keep and bear arms to middle- and upper-class white males.
Flash forward to 1996- after 125 years of prohibiting the concealed carry of firearms, Texas began issuing licenses to carry. These licenses, being far better than a general prohibition, nonetheless carried a wide variety of restrictions.
For starters, Texas has the longest list of "times and places" restrictions- in other words, restrictions on when and where a person may lawfully carry a licensed handgun- of any state in the nation. Indeed, ask a Texan with said license to list all of these places and times, and you're likely to recieve a response along the lines of "Hmm... lemme think...". This forum discussion provides an understanding of the complexities of this problem.
Here is the actual list:
Bars- or any place "deriving 51% or more of its revenues from the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption";
Elementary, middle, and high schools, and universities, including off-site facilities and vehicles used by same;
Hospitals and nursing homes
Churches, synagogues, or other places of worship
A meeting of a government entity
While the licensee is intoxicated ("Intoxicated" is not defined with a blood alcohol limit);
At a polling place
Within 1000 feet of a place of execution
Race tracks (?)
Any premises where the owner of the property posts a sign stating the prohibition (this includes most private employers' property).
Confusingly, some of these prohibitions apply to all firearms possessed by all private persons, while others apply only to concealed firearms possessed by license holders.
Also, it is a special crime for a license holder- and only a license holder- to "intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence" expose a handgun. With this wording, a clever police officer could make the case that anyone whose concealed firearm becomes exposed- even accidentally- is guilty of a crime.
Once again, the cumulative effect of these "places and times" restrictions, as in the past, is to limit the practical exercise of the right to keep and bear arms. Who doesn't enter one of the above-named places every day? Suddenly a "concealed handgun license" becomes, in practice, a license to "leave your gun in the car". And, incidentally, several cities in Texas have enacted- or have proposed enacting- local ordnances to prohibit the storage of a firearm in an unattended vehicle. In thse cities, a "license to leave your gun in the car" becomes a "license to leave your gun at home", effectively nullifying the "bear" portion of the right to keep and bear arms.
At this juncture, I will recite an above-mentioned quote:
"It is not... necessary to bear arms for protection against a citizen".Texas is coming full-circle.
I'm pleased to see that Gov. Rick Perry is pushing for a reduction of these restrictions. So far he has not been successful in his attempts. Perry, who is a license holder and regularly carries a handgun, famously shot a coyote this past April in defense of his family dog.
An atrocious condition exists in Texas, and in some other socially-conservative states: Although the majority of the public may possess and carry handguns, these persons encounter bizarre restrictions regarding when and where they may carry them, and indeed are frequently denied carry in places where a person may have the greatest need for self-defense. These restrictions have their origins in racist, sexist, and classist laws of the post-Civil War era. Licensees must obtain state-mandated training, which the state (if it ever has a mind to do so) may make prohibitively expensive and inconveniently scheduled. Special classes of crimes exist which are applicable only to license holders. And, not to mention, the special problems inherent in using a firearm in justifiable self-defense in many of these states, which I may address in a future post.
Luckily, a few Texans, like Governor Perry, acknowledge these issues and are working to address them.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
"The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American ... the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people."-Tench Coxe
Friday, January 14, 2011
There is no doubt that our public welfare system is badly broken and in need of serious overhaul. It is far too expensive, far too lax in preventing and detecting fraud, and far too generous.
It is also enormous. So much so, that many believe it can't be fixed, and should be scrapped altogether.
Before discussing changes, let's clearly define the problems within the welfare system:
Those not familiar with the welfare system tend to classify welfare recipients in two groups: Those who "need it", and those who "don't". If there is to be meaningful welfare reform, three groups must be recognized:
a) Helpless persons- persons with significant physical or mental impairments which prevent or severely limit self-sufficiency;
b) Persons in financial need- persons who earn an income, but that income is not sufficient to meet basic needs;
c) Generational recipients- persons with little or no physical or mental impairment, who choose to subsist on government assistance rather than earn an income. The term "generational" refers to the fact that entire families do, indeed, subsist this way.
Note my use of the term "helpless", rather than the currently-used "disabled". Decades of blatant abuse of the welfare system has shown numerous examples of persons who are able to be certified "disabled", despite being capable of performing work. This widespread practice deprives genuinely disabled persons of needed taxpayer funds and access to government programs. The term "helpless" distinguishes those who are legitimately unable to fend for themselves due to severe handicap.
It is also essential to understand the phenomenon of "the welfare trap". Many government programs intended to assist workers with insufficient incomes are established with static income limits. If a person's income rises slightly to exceed the limit, the assistance is lost. This creates a "welfare trap", where persons are induced to remain in a state of underemployment, because a small increase in wages will cause the loss of some or all assistance benefits, resulting in a net loss of income. This group of persons would generally prefer to improve their income through work, if such opportunity is available. Eliminating the "welfare trap" must be a significant component of any meaningful welfare reform.
And then there is the subject of welfare abuse. Welfare abuse is a generational problem. As is already generally known, a segment of the population has become aware that it is possible to avoid working to earn an income, by means of manipulating the welfare system to provide an income. This "free money" mentality also creates hazards for private businesses, particularly thefts of services from utilities and telecommunications providers, unpaid debts to creditors which are exceptionally difficult to collect, and frivolous lawsuits arising from feigned injuries (for instance, the "false slip and fall" fraud). A part of this culture of welfare fraud is the ability of many persons to become certified "disabled", despite being able to perform work to some extent. Children raised in such an environment will frequently utilize such welfare abuse to establish an income in adulthood.
So, what is the solution to the massive, fraud-prone welfare system which traps people within its bowels?
Milton Friedman proposed the Negative Income Tax Credit, as a solution to this problem.
A negative income tax credit is an alternative system of public assistance, defined as "a progressive income tax system where people earning less than a certain income receive supplemental pay from the government instead of paying taxes to the government." Such a system is an alternative to the payment of numerous public assistance grants.
Under a NIT scheme, the welfare trap would be effectively eliminated, as every increase in a person's income would correlate to a fractional reduction in the benefit- i.e. an increase in wage will always mean an increase in net income.
Let's say an NIT credit were set at $15,000, and amortized at a rate of 50%.
A person who earned no income would recieve the full credit, $15,000.
A person who earned $1,000 would have their credit reduced by $500 (50%), for a total credit of $14,500 and a total income of $15,500.
A person who earned $10,000 would have their credit reduced by $5,000 (50%), for a total credit of $10,000 and a total income of $20,000.
A person who earned $30,000 would neither recieve credit nor pay tax. Income above $30,000 would be taxed (preferably at a flat rate).
This is just an example to illustrate the concept, and the actual numbers used would likely be different.
The major benefit to taxpayers would be a dramatic reduction in the size and cost of public welfare administration agencies. The bulk of the work performed by these agencies is to track the available grant programs and match recipients with such programs, which would be unnecessary with the uniformity of a credit system. This equates to a significant net savings of taxpayer monies over the current grant-based welfare system.
What about generational abuse? A solution for the generational abuse of welfare is to utilize a "work for welfare" system. Under such a scheme, persons who are not classifiable as "helpless" and who do not work could continue to recieve federal assistance- namely food stamps and HEAP- as a supplement to NIT credit, conditional to performing work within their capabilities. This provides an opportunity to obtain a public benefit from the payment of such monies. The labor could include a variety of tasks, such as cleaning of public buildings and parks, public garbage collection, preparation of government mailings ("envelope stuffing"), and so forth. Such work could be performed on a part-time basis. Since the work would be compensated labor- work performed in exchange for payment- any person would be free to refuse to perform the work, at the expense of loss of benefits, just as a person in public or private employment may refuse to perform work, at the expense of loss of their salary.
There would, of course, be daunting challenges to instituting this type of reform. The most significant challenge, as I see it, would be identifying the amount of federal monies recieved for joint programs, the required state contribution to federal joint programs, and the options for refusing or redirecting federal payments. A state can essentially distribute state-level welfare programs as it pleases. Making changes to the federal programs, however, would almost require a small miracle.
It must be noted that we do have a NIT credit of sorts in use already- the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Unfortunately, it is very limited, and at current it is just another welfare benefit. In order for a NIT system to genuinely replace the welfare grant system, we'd have to convince enough well-intentioned but misguided liberal voters that it really is a better option.
Should government agencies compel drug tests as a condition of recieving public assistance?
This subject came up as a result of a discussion started by my Twitter pal Kristina. I don't intend to get into the merits of the concept here, as that has been thoroughly discussed in other venues; however, it's important to understand the logistics of any proposal such as this.
First, it must be understood that urinalysis can be "beaten"- in other words, a drug user can avoid detection- if the user knows in advance that a test will be administered. This is how many drug users obtain employment in the first place.
There are two ways to prevent "cheating"- either testing frequently enough that a user must remain "clean", or testing randomly and without prior warning. Prior warning would defeat the purpose of random testing.
Now, let's consider the ways these types of effective testing could be implemented-
1) Frequent testing: The most successful way to ensure compliance with a no-drug policy would be frequent testing- i.e. weekly. There isn't sufficient interval between weekly tests to use most recreational drugs and then detox again.
The problem with this proposal, is the sheer volume of people on public assistance. Let's say, for example, a state has 250,000 people recieving public assistance. How would you schedule for 250,000 people to appear and pee into a cup each and every week? The answer is, a very large, and very expensive, bureaucracy with numerous testing centers, separate laboratories (to ensure impartiality in test results), and thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of employees. I don't care to calculate the cost of such an endeavor, but I already pay enough toward welfare recipients and don't care to pay more.
2) Random testing: The risk of being randomly tested can be an effective deterrent to drug use, provided two things occur: a) everyone recieving benefits does eventually get tested, and b) there is no warning before the test. In order to accomplish surprise testing, it wouldn't be possible to send notification of an appointment by mail or phone, as that would give sufficient advance warning to detox. The only way to accomplish this would be, literally, surprising people at home. This means another new bureaucracy, with authority to visit people at home and demand a urine sample. This would probably be just as expensive as the above concept, and would also grant government more invasive authority.
Less expensive alternative would be extremely inefficient. Mailing or phoning notices to appear would give too much lead time to detox and beat the test; random testing at a welfare office (in conjunction with picking up a check, for example) would clog the office with recipients on the first day of the month (which is why checks are usually mailed and not picked up in the first place); and utilizing existing drug testing facilities would be almost as expensive as establishing state-run facilities.
Whether you believe this is a good idea in theory or not, we must recognize that such testing would either be outrageously expensive, or ridiculously inefficient. In other words, it'd be just like most other government programs.
Monday, January 10, 2011
A tragedy occurred this weekend.
A disturbed individual shot nineteen people at a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, AZ. Six are dead, including Judge John Roll and a nine-year-old girl, Christina Greene. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) (above) was shot in the head, and, if she survives, will likely suffer permanent brain injury.
What is truly horrifying, though, is the public reaction to this shooting.
Within minutes of the shooting, socialist attack dogs began sounding off on the internet. My Twitter feed was immediately filled with blame.
The initial target of the blame was Sarah Palin (and the Tea Party as a whole)- Rep. Giffords' district was one of Palin's "target districts" in the last election, and much ado was made about a photograph of Giffords with crosshairs superimposed. Enough crazies actually believe this, that several prominent news venues- including New York Daily News, Politico, and The Telegraph (UK), have been forced to produce articles "recognizing" Palin's innocence.
Those liberals not willing to point the finger directly at Palin, nonetheless blamed "Republican hate-mongering" for creating an "environment of hate" which incited the shooter. Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) announced, as the blood in Arizona was still drying, a proposal to punish "political hate speech".
And, of course, the blame game wouldn't be complete without blaming firearms. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) also introduced her own proposal, barely after the smoke had cleared, for a new federal gun grab.
Even before the identity of the shooter was known, the accusation was made that he must be "a right-wing nutcase". Jared Lee Loughner, as it turns out, is a Tea Party-hating, flag-burning, left-wing anarcho-communist, who posted videos on Youtube about mind control and dreaming. His liberal credentials established, leftists looked for other things to blame- possible drug use, social stigma, mental illness, anything to relieve Loughner of responsibility for his actions.
Little mention has been made of how the shooting came to an end. Two men, Roger Salzgeber and Bill Badger, tackled the shooter. Much more mention has been made of Patricia Maisch- who, after Loughner had been partially subdued, took his other magazine of ammunition. She has been lauded as a "hero", because she echoed the "right-wing" nonsense spewed by Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, and she has recieved much more press than the two men who actually subjected themselves to danger.
This entire tragedy has been overshadowed by left-wing posturing. Once again, sorrow has been used as a platform for curtailing civil liberties in the name of "public safety". The opportunists have revealed themselves yet again.