To Pre or Not to Pre

Fact #1 – I travel a lot for work. In the next five weeks it is unlikely that I will spend ten nights at home with my beautiful wife and kids. This is not meant as a plea, but only to emphasize the first sentence of this post.

Fact #2 – I am also a staunch Libertarian. I am running for Texas State Senate. This is not plea for money, but only to emphasize this second point.

It is these two facts which have caused me some personal conflict. Because most of my travel requires air transport, I am intimately familiar with the TSA. I am guessing that by now you see the challenge.

In any case, about three months ago I received an email from American Airlines asking me if I would like to sign up for the TSA’s Pre program. This program allows travelers to register with the TSA and undergo a background check. In exchange, travelers get to go through a lower security regimen at airport security.

If an airport has the Pre line (and my home airport of DFW does), you can cut right to the security gate where you do not have top take off your shoes or remove your computer or liquids from your travel cases. Instead, your bags are x-rayed and you walk through a metal detector only, no micro scanning (and therefore no naked pictures). Basically, this is the same security procedure as existed on September 10, 2001.

Now the dilemma:

To Pre, or not to Pre: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The pokes and prods of outrageous agents,
Or to take arms against a sea of lawyers,
And by opposing end them? To Pre: to bypass;
No more; and by a bypass to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand unnatural scans
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.  

On Why Voting in Local Elections Really Matters More Than Presidential Elections

Last week the people of the City of Allen, the town in which I live, passed a property tax hike. This now makes the residents of our fair city among the highest taxed in the State of Texas.

How can this be? With all the talk in the media about tax rate hikes and the flaming rhetoric that comes from Tea Partiers and Conservatives, how could one of the most “Red” municipalities in the most “Red” state of the union vote to raise their own taxes?

Two main reasons.

First, this tax was specifically to fund education and the “it’s for the children” mantra makes even the staunchest Tea Partier turn mauve if not a pale blue.

Second, plain and simple it was voter apathy. This is technically known as the principle-agent problem. As you can see from the table below, less than 10 percent of registered voters turned out despite almost two weeks of early voting opportunity including a Saturday.

Registered voters           45,141    
Total voters            4,373   9.69%
For             2,645 60.48% 5.86%
Against            1,727 39.49% 3.83%

This means that is took less than six percent of the population of the city to impose a tax hike of roughly $350 per household per year on themselves and the other 94 percent of us. So much for majority rules. So much for “democracy.”

Allen Texas High School $60 Million Stadium

Worse this is not the first (nor probably the last) time this has happened. In May 2009, the voters passed a $144,000,000 bond issue for the building a new high school football stadium and a performing arts center. The results were similar:

Registered voters          42,245    
Total voters            3,736   8.84%
For             2,364 63.28% 5.60%
Against            1,349 36.11% 3.19%

In this case 2,364 people imposed a $3,400 per person liability on the rest of their fellow citizens.

Blame Congress, blame Obama, blame Bush, but look in the mirror too. I am sure this goes on in your town to some degree as well.

ET HORA LIBELLUM DELENDA EST

On the inanity of Elizabeth Warren’s now famous quote

Sorry my progressive friends, but Warren’s quote is nonsense. It ignores the most basic principle of a freer (not free) market – that wealth is generated on both sides of the vast overwhelming majority of transactions. Her quote implies a zero-sum thinking about the economy. It is false and I believe dangerous. It implies that everything you have done is at the expense of others. I hope none of you believe that.

Capitalism is, by definition about paying it forward. Farmers, factories, software companies, and consultants produce things (food, goods, services, and knowledge) that are of greater value to the purchaser than to the buyer. What is more, they create these things that are for the betterment of customers whom they do not even know today. In other words, they are being altruistic. Altruism being defined as “other centric.”

The roads, schools, and police to which Ms. Warren refers have been paid for, their makers have received just compensation. Where did the compensation come from – the people in the first place, but how did the government get this money? By claiming a share of the profits. In effect, Ms. Warren is claiming a double debt.

Ms. Warren while intending to  or not is also making a great limited government, public choice theory argument, namely for schools, roads, and police. If government (and it should be the local government) were ONLY using tax money for the building roads, the education of students, and the funding of police, the tax burden would be much less. Instead we bailout failing companies, start endless wars on ideas (drugs, poverty, and terrorism to name a few), and now are taking over the healthcare industry.

The US federal government is quickly becoming a large and in debt insurance company with guns.

Personally, I do not think corporations should be taxed at all. There is mounting evidence that high corporate taxes result in lower wages for workers. After all, businesses just view taxes an expense. If the budget line item for taxes is made higher, then another line on the budget has to get reduced. Often that other line is wages and salaries.

Now, I am no corporatist. I think the bailouts were a travesty of justice, but notice this was government action once again interfering with the market.

Both governments and corporations are made up of people, flawed human beings. To paraphrase Milton Freidman, is political greed somehow nobler that economic greed? At least with economic greed a) the corporations have no guns (save those than make them) therefore cannot force me to buy something (even if it “for my own good,” see the mandate provision of Obamacare) and b) if we don’t like what a company sells we can quickly vote with our wallets rather than once every two, four or six years.

On September 21, 2001

I was blessed in that the only person I personally knew who perished in the terrorist attacks was a friend of my cousin Thomas with whom I have played golf with a few times. For many, I know the tragedy hit much closer to home. This is not to say I was not affected by the events of that awful day, but as I reflect back, it was ten years ago today that my personal healing process with respect to 9/11 began.

When it was announced that my beloved New York Mets were going to play in the first professional sports event to be held in New York City after the attacks, I knew I wanted to be there. Although truth be told, it was probably Christine (now my wife) who suggested it out loud.

So, we purchased tickets.

21September2001

For those of you not familiar with the layout of Shea Stadium, Section 1, Row V is the last row of the upper deck and directly behind home plate. From this vantage point we had not only a view of the entire stadium, but by turning around we could view the smoke still rising from Ground Zero.

image

As the immense crowd of 41,000+ swelled, I realized that we were not there for the Mets, but for ourselves. We were there out of defiance to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. “You will NOT make us live in fear!” was the collective thought of everyone in the ballpark including the ballplayers and coaches.

The visiting (and usually much hated) Braves received a standing ovation as they were announced. The two like-named, but stylistically diametrically opposed managers, Bobby Cox and Bobby Valentine hugged at home plate. The virtual United Nations on the field including: Bruce Chen of Taiwan; Andruw Jones from Curacao; Julio Franco from the Dominican Republic; Tsuyoshi Shinjo from Osaka, Japan; Edgardo Alfonso from Venezuela; Rey Ordonez from La Habana, Cuba; Mike Piazza from Norristown, PA; and John Franco from Brooklyn, was matched in the assembly of New Yorkers including a native of Jamaica (the island, not Queens) who with his two kids sat next to me and a Hassidic (Orthodox Jewish) family who sat directly in front of us.

We all cheered Yankee fan Mayor Rudy Giuliani as he came out to throw the ceremonial first pitch, cried during the National Anthem sung by Diana Ross, and sang New York, New York with Liz Minnelli during the seventh inning stretch. The Mets wore caps representing New York’s Finest and Bravest (the police, fire and other emergency personnel) during the game. (John Franco would wear his FDNY hat the rest of the year.)

After falling behind by one in the top of the eighth, Alfonzo walked on a close pitch from Steve Karsay. What happened next could only be the stuff of Providence or Hollywood.

 

This was a monster blast of at least 440 feet. From my seat it looked like a line drive, “a frozen rope” as old-timers say. I hugged Christine and the kids; the man from Jamaica hugged his; the Hassid hugged his; we all hugged each other.

With the Mets now ahead 3-2, Armando Benitez (also from the Dominican Republic) gave up a walk to Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico), struck out B.J. Surhoff (from the Bronx), and enticed Keith Lockhart to ground into a game-ending double play. I am certain radio announcer, Bob Murphy said his trademarked, “…and the Mets win the ball game!”

The healing did not occur all at once, and in some sense it will always continue, but for me, it began that night at the ballpark.

God bless America! God bless Baseball!

Blinded by Labels

In the past week I have been in meetings where a) the differences between the “generations” at work, b) Myers-Briggs tests, and c) PDP tests, have all been cited as the basis for decision making. In my opinion, they might as well have just added zodiac signs.

Over the years I have found these “tools” to be, at best, slightly amusing parlor tricks and, at worst, weapons used to psychologically maim people.

An example – one person retorted when I expressed my views on this hokum – “My profile says I need clear direction when given an assignment. I need to know why. When my boss gives me a “why,” I always do better on the assignment.” Really? Is there anyone who prefers to kept in the dark and doesn’t benefit from understanding why?

Do you see my point? This stuff is most universal assertions packaged in professional gobbledygook (thanks Michelle Golden for reintroducing me to that word). They are the business equivalent of, “I am a Scorpio, as a desert sign, I like long walks on the beach.”

The problem here is that these labels (Gen X, Gen Y, ENTJ, ISFP, High D, Low C, Aries, Scorpio) blind people to the truth. The best example I can give you is politics.

Last night I post this story and graph with the following comment – “Attention Republican/Conservatives, your party is not in favor of smaller government.”

My friend, John, replied, “Why would a well-paid, well-pensioned, government employee favor smaller government? And even if it’s their ‘platform’, why would anyone actually believe them?” Great point!

My reply, “For the same reasons that Democrats/Liberals believe that their president was going to end the wars – They are blinded by labels.”

Labeling people does not promote good decision making, it promotes blindness to the truth.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

It has long been my belief that most (not all) politicians enter the fray because they genuinely want to help improve the condition of their fellow man. In the past year and a half I have met dozens, perhaps hundreds of politicians and none have struck me as having truly evil intentions.

Now, do some become power hungry and corrupt? You bet. Are they misguided in their beliefs as to what can actually help? Yes. Do most tend to be almost devoid of an understanding of basic economics? Undoubtedly. Are they ill intended and want to end life as we know it? No.

It is with these ideas in mind that I write this post as over the weekend two events advanced the cause of freedom: one from a politician on each side of the aisle.

First, it was announced (leaked) that President Obama was putting the finishing touches on a plan to draw down the US troops stationed in Afghanistan. The is long overdue and very much welcomed in my view.

Second, it was announced here in Texas that Governor Rick Perry has added the TSA anti-groping bill to the agenda for the special session of the legislature. As readers of this blog no doubt know, I am a harsh critic of the use of government personnel to execute warrantless services of citizens whose only suspicious activity is there need to move about the country.

Throughout the day, I have noticed critics on both sides of the aisle and in Libertarian circles lambaste both men and these policies as pandering and even weak. To that I say, “Nonsense.”

Does this mean I am becoming an ardent supporter of either man? Heck, no. I have too many disagreements with both of them. In does mean I think we need to take some time out and celebrate the fact that the light of freedom grew a little bit brighter today.

To both President Obama and Governor Perry, I say, “Well done!”

I now return to the regularly scheduled programming.

ET HORA LIBELLUM DELENDA EST!

My TSA Protest

As many of you know, I am an American Airlines Platinum level frequent flyer. As such, I am very familiar with TSA policies and procedures from a gropee passenger perspective. Honestly, it saddens me every time I have to go through security.

As a former New Yorker that lived just outside of Manhattan in September of 2001, seeing the TSA pat downs and electronic screenings is a constant reminder that the terrorists did more than damage buildings and murder almost 3,000 people. They, in a sense, have won. Our Liberties have been eroding ever since especially with the passage and continued renewal of the Orwellian-named USA PATRIOT Act.

I wanted to share with you a small act of peaceful protest that I carry out each time I am asked to go through the microscanners.

I do not opt out. Doing so would subject me to the groping and in many cases make me late for my flight. Instead I hold a bound copy of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution that I purchased from the CATO Institute over my head. (Please note that you are allowed to hold papers in your hands. Most people hold their boarding pass or government issued ID.)

After passing through I hand it to the TSA agent at the exit where they are required to flip though it. For their convenience, I have highlighted the Fourth Amendment. Most officers hand it back with saying a word. I fear, however, the sad irony is lost them.

The good news is I am hopeful that all this might be coming to an end in the near future. Texas State Senator Dan Patrick introduced a bill which would outlaw the groping. It unanimously passed through committee, but when the TSA weighed in by saying they would create a “No-Fly Zone” in Texas, it died before the end of the legislative session. All is not lost as this week, the bill seemed to make a comeback. What is needed is for Governor Rick Perry to have the courage to request it be considered during the special session of the Texas Legislature.

Here’s hoping! Until then, I have my pocket copy ready to roll.

On Hauser’s Law and Soaking the Rich

Whenever the subject of the deficit comes up, many well-intentioned people make the suggestion that we should repeal all or some of the Bush tax cuts and that this will go a long way to at least beginning to fix the problem.

Often times this graph (or one like it) is used in support of this notion.

First, let’s keep in mind that this is the deficit, the annual shortage when one compares money spent to money collected. This is different from the national debt which measures the sum total of the deficits.

On its face, it would seem that raising taxes (or eliminating the Bush tax cuts as some prefer to say) would be a reasonable approach. The problem is that the blue line above assumes that all taxpayers would leave their behavior unchanged. This is demonstrably false through what I have come to find out is called Hauser’s Law.

What this graph clearly shows is that raising taxes actually has little to no effect on money collected as compared to GDP. Why? Because taxpayers do change their behavior. The wealthy will shift money using tax sheltering or even move it out of the country.

What is worse is that which is unseen – The slowdown of the economy that would result from this activity. So what is to be done?

There is only one viable answer – reduce the size of government.

ET HORA LIBELLUM DELENDA EST!