Friday, February 26, 2010

Judge injects first dose of common sense into smoking ban

This may not be the most pressing issue our society faces but the smoking ban here in Ohio is a microcosm of the overall battles to preserve individual liberties and eliminate wasteful, inefficient legislation.

A decision rendered February 19 by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain has helped to take the teeth out of Ohio progressives’ efforts to legislate personal behavior while giving them to libertarians.

The case involved a bar in suburban Columbus that was challenging the $30,000 in fines that it has racked-up. Needless to say, attorneys for the state have announced they will file an appeal.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, as part of Cain’s ruling he declared the state’s smoking ban enforcers unfairly target bar owners while ignoring individual smokers themselves, who in all reality serve as the sources of non-compliance.

Cain wrote in his ruling, “Would the (Ohio) Department of Health require property owners to pat down visitors for cigarettes before they are allowed to enter? Would it have property owners remove people via force from the premises at risk of personal injury?”

His message, rooted in common sense, is as true as it is simple: government cannot punish someone for the offenses of someone else.

Here’s the other rub on this story. Since the ban went into effect May 2007 after a statewide vote the preceding year, the State of Ohio has issued approximately $1.2 million in fines for smoking ban violations in open-to-the-public establishments and other workplaces. In that process the state health department has spent approximately $2 million to enforce it.

To state the obvious (as I do so well), in an effort to save us all money progressives have added roughly $800,000 to the cost of Ohio’s existence during a time when money is tight for government, businesses, and taxpayers everywhere.

The Dispatch also reports the ban stipulates a $100 fine for any individual who smokes in a bar, restaurant, or other such locale. However, according to a state Health Department spokeswoman enforcers have not issued citations to non-compliant patrons because they must observe a person both smoking and disobeying a bartender (or other staff person) who tells them to either put out their cigarette or leave. “The way the law was set up makes it difficult to cite individuals,” said Sara Mormon of the Health Department.

I would be willing to wager that under the current political climate, the State of Ohio will continue its reluctance to pursue individual smokers – especially with this being an election year for both Governor Ted Strickland and the majority of the state’s legislators.

The fact that public employees have been focusing on businesses while de-emphasizing enforcement among individuals is very telling. If the agenda driving this ban truly is about protecting Ohioans from “the negative health effects of smoking and secondhand smoke,” then there would be no disparity with issuance of fines over these last three years.

Enforcing the state’s laws falls squarely on Ohio’s executive branch. In essence, the buck stops with Strickland.

Our glorious collection of state politicians has put themselves in an entertaining pickle. Proponents of the smoking ban touted in 2006 that revenue generated would be one of the key ways Ohio could offset all the public costs caused by smoking. Logic would dictate expanding enforcement efforts as described above would go far to bridge that $800,000 gap – and then some possibly.

Ohioans also are supposed to be enjoying a reduction in health insurance premiums as a result of the ban – in a manner similar to how seat belt laws are purported to keep down the cost of auto insurance in states which enact them. An effective assessment of this so-called benefit to the public smoking ban has yet to surface.

Finally, as has been pointed out time-and-again on the issue of the state’s tobacco taxes, middle and lower class income earners get the biggest bites taken out of their wallets from each tax hike on a pack of cigarettes.

So, who’s willing to put their election hopes on the line to gouge smokers across Ohio, one at a time, for another $100-a-pop?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Equality and Cuban plates

One of the key selling points behind socialism is that it alleges to offer equal living conditions, equal access to all public resources, equal care for everyone’s needs, and equal class status enjoyed by all citizens.

That last point has been emphasized a great deal in recent years because of its appeal to those embracing the contemporary push to protect self esteem: we can all be equal therefore we can all feel good about ourselves. In such nations the people are truly free because they are able to live their lives unencumbered by materialism as well as the indignity of class envy it inevitably creates.

For many of us who prefer life in a free-market society and the liberties our Founding Fathers sought to preserve for the generations to follow, our counter arguments to that idea tend to be based on little more than anecdotal evidence and older pop-culture depictions of life in former Soviet Bloc nations.

But, the Associated Press article below – written by Will Weissert and first published on February 10 – offers a glimpse as to how false the promises of Marxism truly are. Here are paragraphs 2 through 7:

A rainbow of colors and an alphabet soup of codes tell the discerning eye how important you are in the egalitarian revolution as you whiz by – your nationality, what you do for a living and often how high you rank at work.

"The kind of car you drive says something," says Norberto Leon, a retiree who collects pocket change for watching parked cars. "The license plate, it says more."

Cuba's painstaking color-coding of license plates – a system copied from the former Soviet Union – is one way authorities have kept tabs on people and their vehicles for decades.

The government owns most cars. They have blue plates with letters and numbers that indicate when and where the vehicle can operate and whether the driver can use it for personal as well as professional reasons.

Inspectors wait along highways out of town and other high-traffic areas, stopping official cars to check their route sheets and to make sure they aren't being used for a jaunt to the beach.

Executives at government-run firms – who get caramel-colored plates – have more leeway. But even they may only be allowed to use their cars to get to and from work.

"It's a form of control," said Weichel Guera, a National Office of Statistics chauffeur who is assigned a government sedan that he can use only to ferry top officials during business hours. He and his Lada spend most of their time parked outside the statistics building.

As evidenced by Weissert’s article, people are still marked by their station in society and level of importance in their respective industry or field. Only in Cuba, it’s achieved by dictating the type of vehicle they are allowed to possess and more exactly by the license plate issued with the vehicle.

What also is very telling about life in Cuba is the degree of micromanagement exerted over such a mundane aspect of everyday life as to where you can drive your car on a given day.

(As is customary for me – stating the obvious) I have to say I fail to see the appeal. Anyone who supports industry and the right to work for a livable wage can’t possibly endorse such an economic system anymore than someone who would view themselves as a civil libertarian.

Yet, the unwavering governmental controls over every component of society and life within it supposedly go against all the sensibilities of those who seemingly support socialism’s top public advocates. Either you believe in the rights of workers or you believe in dictatorial control over the conditions of their employment and work environment. Either you believe in unlimited personal freedom or you agree with the idea that government should be able to nose around your personal affairs at will. There can be no middle ground on these issues.

Somehow the lie that freedom and government oversight of people’s lives can be balanced is perpetuated. Cuba’s version of DMV policies serves as one way to verify that concept to be the hoax it truly is.

If more of this truth can reach the light of day, Michael Moore and other Hollywood elites will not be amused.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's time to dispel the "gridlock" myth

Politicians have been lamenting it in search of better polling numbers for 18 years. Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) says it is part of the reason he is not seeking reelection this year.

In the February 18 edition of the Lima News, Representative Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) dismissed the mention of it as an excuse for his party’s opponents in their failure to ram major Progressive Liberal legislation down the American people’s throats in 2009.

The topic that supposedly is so taboo among members of both major parties is “gridlock.”

In my lifetime, this term sprung into the American political lexicon after being used by retired Vice Admiral James Stockdale during the 1992 televised debate between the top three vice presidential candidates.

Since then, politicians on either side of the aisle have accused their respective antagonists of creating gridlock on Capitol Hill when legislation tied to a campaign promise or major plank in their party’s platform fails to become law in an expedient manner.

The problem with Bayh’s complaint and Jordan’s dismissal is their comments are rooted in a false Progressive premise that the federal government must act on behalf of the people whenever an issue enters the forefront of the American political consciousness.

The truth is that if Washington can manage to enact legislation to allow the sale of insurance plans across state lines, reform tort litigation, restructure how benefits are paid, and other such strategies, these will not be new, revolutionary laws that somehow are the exclusive intellectual domain of Republicans: such congressional acts will serve to reverse past government interferences of the free market system.

These interferences were put in place through progressive government action brought about and expanded upon by both major parties at the federal and state levels.

For anyone from either the Democratic or Republican parties to lay claim to supposedly fixing a problem exacerbated by both sides is terribly disingenuous.

What bothers me most about Jordan’s comments regarding the current political climate is the manner in which he presents them. His underlying message is one of, “If the Republicans can get our laws enacted, then see what we’ll have done for you.”

The notion that a majority party in Congress being unable to push its agenda through at will somehow constitutes gridlock is a pure sham. If this gridlock would have taken place more frequently on Capitol Hill over the past 10 years America would not be facing either a national debt that today stands at $12.4 trillion or combined unfunded liabilities totaling over $107 trillion.

As a result, for Jordan – or anyone else in his party for that matter – to decry “big government spending and action” is laughable. In January 2001 when his party enjoyed control of both Congress and the White House, the federal deficit was approximately $5.7 trillion: by January of last year it had been ratcheted-up to $10.6 trillion – including a roughly 50% increase in discretionary spending.

In that February 18 article, Representative Jordan asserted, “When voters sense arrogance, they don’t like it.”

Pardon me, Mr. Jordan, but all that sounds pretty damned arrogant to me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Some thoughts on unions in America

I just finished reading about the 86-year-old gentleman in Wausau, Wisconsin who has been volunteering his time as a crossing guard at the elementary school down from which he lives two-doors.

The local AFSCME representatives have taken exception to a resident volunteering his time to help the local school district and have filed a protest with Wausau's city hall.

Please read about it here before continuing with my blog.

I experienced something like this while attending Ferris State University. I lived in what was known as the "non-trad" dorm (Pickel Hall) for students 23 and older.

There had been remodeling work done in the bottom-floor lounge over the summer (1995) before my freshman year but the lounge remained off-limits because none of the furniture and other decor items had yet been moved back into it.

During one residence hall committee meeting, the topic of when the lounge would finally be ready (this was October or November) came up yet again. I suggested I would be willing to lead a volunteer effort of fellow dorm residents to help finish the job so we could have use of the lounge available again (it was considered by returning residents to be a great location to study outside of one's room).

The assistant hall director (a fellow student) immediately shot the idea down, saying the university's employees union would file a grievance against us for doing so (most likely against him since he was the student responsible for overseeing the goings-on in the dorm) and we were not to take it upon ourselves under any circumstances.

That was my first encounter with union-induced stonewalling.

Now let me be clear. I do not oppose the existence of unions. I agree that without them we would run the risk of returning to some extent to the days of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

However, with the exception of those who work in the public safety fields I fail to see the need for the unionization of government employees. Municipal, township, county, state, and federal workers on public payrolls are employed by entities which are just that: public. They have access to a built-in open forum for the airing of grievances in the workplace.

If they are being mistreated, underpaid, or subjected to any other kind of adverse conditions in the workplace, they have the opportunity to lead the charge to remove from office those who are ultimately responsible for their work environment. Autoworkers, nurses, and construction workers don't enjoy such a luxury.

One change that would help curtail union excesses and abuses with taxpayer money would be requiring all union contracts with a government entity be approved by a public vote within the respective jurisdiction (local, state, and federal).

Obviously, with the number of employee collective bargaining contracts our federal government has approved that facet of this idea may be unrealistic. But, greater public scrutiny would go far (in the billions far) in curbing waste within America's massive networks of bureaucracy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Who else sees the confusion in these economic intervention policies?

In a year and a handful of days, we have seen an interesting disparity in the current administration’s approach to meddling with the U.S. economy.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the stimulus bill) included in it programs that started some jobs but at the same time carried with them spending at such a rate that Washington shelled-out over $200,000 per “job created.” When you consider that the salary or wages for jobs in the U.S. average out to roughly $40,000 per year and only a handful of them will be permanent positions, that’s what most businesspeople would call a poor return on your investment.

President Barack Obama calls this successful.

Now, in his newest proposal he believes giving small business owners – as a reward for every new hire – a $5,000 tax credit will be the cure-all for our ailing economy.

In case the discrepancy between the two policies wasn’t obvious, can you imagine what kind of a boost to the economy we would have enjoyed if the White House and Congress would have simply allotted a $200,000 tax break to every small/independent business owner in the first place last year? Now that would have “created or saved” several million jobs.

Had that been the original approach businesses in every part of America would have seen a massive influx of cash. And, it would have been accomplished without having to print additional currency at a pace that threatens to devalue the dollar in a manner reminiscent of Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic.

With that plan, independent businesses that had been struggling to stay afloat would have been better able to stay on top of financial obligations. This would carry with it a series of positive consequences: helping businesses with healthy credit ratings maintain them as a result; the ability to make payments to creditors would in turn help the various banks and other lenders maintain more solid financial standing; that would have led to enabling more lending and credit extensions as confidence rises in the financial sector; and all this would spur greater flow of money which would have actually led to some amount of recovery from the recession (“some” would amount to much more than what we’ve seen so far).

And Obama’s supporters can’t understand why his critics insist he is out of touch.