The Marketplace Fairness Act is currently working its way through the US Congress and Libertarians are up in arms. I’m clearly a fiscal conservative, but the arguments flying around strike me as being simplistic at best and idiotic at worst. Let me take a moment to break it down for you:
(1) “The Internet is all about freedom” – FALSE. The guys from “To Catch a Predator” didn’t meet their intended targets at the mall. They met them online. The Internet isn’t and shouldn’t be free from the rule of law. It’s merely a communication channel, after all.
(2) “Sales taxes will put small internet retailers out of business” – MAYBE. However, if all that stands between the success and failure of a small internet retailer is the collection of sales taxes, their business model is on life support and they weren’t going to make it much longer, anyway.
(3) “Compliance will be a nightmare” - FALSE. As soon as an Internet Sales Tax law passes, Amazon, eBay, and every other web facilitator will offer a simple, inexpensive sales tax option. Think TurboTax or Quickbooks online. It will happen and it will be both fast and cheap.
(4) “It’s too hard to collect taxes from 10,000 different sales tax jurisdictions” – TRUE BUT BESIDE THE POINT. I have no way of knowing the actual number of sales tax jurisdictions (this article claims 10,000), but the actual number is both large and irrelevant. The decision has already been made to collect sales taxes in most states and sales tax payment is required on internet purchase whether people realize it or not. The point here is the supremacy of federal law. Congress should allow exactly 51 different sales tax rates: one per state plus a national rate of 5%. The national rate would be the default unless state legislatures vote to adopt a single rate for their entire state. New York City, DC, Puerto Rico, etc. would NOT be allowed to have their own, distinct rate, regardless how special they may think they are.
To be clear: I’m not advocating for the Marketplace Fairness Act. I haven’t read it and I personally doubt the Senate is capable of passing an effective bill not loaded with pork spending or soul-crushing amounts of red tape. I am advocating in favor of tax fairness. If brick-and-mortar stores have to collect and pay sales tax, so should the internet retailers. Wal-mart, Amazon, and the Mom-and-Pops should compete on a level playing field. Period.
I’m tired of the gay marriage debate. I’m tired of the childish arguments, I’m tired of the lack of civility, and I’m especially tired of being accused of hate and fear. The gay community has been fighting for years for equal “rights,” many of which I support and some of which I don’t. Michael Otterson of the LDS Church perfectly described my views when he stated: “Our doctrinal position is clear: any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, and we define marriage as between a man and a woman. However, that should never, ever be used as justification for unkindness. Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in His condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel. His interest was always to lift the individual, never to tear down.” (October 12, 2010)
I understand the gay community’s frustration, however, because the government (via the will of the people) provides the same rights to homosexuals that it does to unmarried heterosexual couples (hospital visitation rights, medical coverage, etc.) but not the same rights as married heterosexual couples (survivorship benefits, estate planning, etc.). The will of the people is rapidly changing as more and more people tire of the hateful labels gleefully assigned them by the opposition, but the rate of change just isn’t fast enough.
Perhaps the problem stems from the nature of the debate itself. The only options presented today are to preserve traditional marriage (thereby depriving gays of the “right” to marry) or to redefine marriage (thereby discarding thousands of years of religious heritage). I’d like to suggest a third option: get government out of the marriage business. While I strongly believe governments have a vested interest in promoting responsible family relationships, the United States has done a terrible job for over 60 years. No-fault divorce, legalized abortion, and the steady erosion of family values have already created too many social problems to mention. Perhaps it’s time for government to throw in the towel and allow religious groups to carry the marriage torch. That would eliminate the problems with spousal benefits while allowing gays to “marry” however they want. What do you think?
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse (gifts) from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville
Those are ominous words written by a French philosopher in the middle of the 19th century. Now more than 150 years later, we must ask ourselves if the United States of America and the democracy that it so dearly loves have reached a tipping point. On November 5, 2012 I would have answered ”no” but the last three months have made me simply unsure.
I like to believe that my three young children have been born into a country that will continue to flourish throughout their lifetimes. I like to believe that the relative peace and prosperity enabled during the “American Age” since World War II will continue indefinitely. I like to believe that America’s best years are ahead of her but society’s focus on selfishness makes me wonder.
To maintain her greatness, America needs to revise her definition of success. Here’s what I propose:
Step #1 - Children need to be born into loving homes with MARRIED parents who work hard to support the family. Statistics show time and again that children raised by both a mother and a father are more successful in school, work, and life (as evidenced by having fewer arrests). “16 and Pregnant,” unwed inner-city mothers, and fathers in jail are all part of the problem. We need to cure the disease to also eliminate its symptoms. Just treating the symptoms has never been effective.
Step #2 – Children need to learn all that public schools currently teach (reading, writing, math, history, science, etc.) plus how the economy works. Graduating seniors must understand how interest works, which college degrees are valuable in the workforce, and why/how companies market products to them if they’re going to successfully navigate college life and their early careers. We also need to ensure that all children meet a basic standard or truly get the help they need. If that help is boarding school, so be it. Further, problem children must be removed from the traditional educational system and provided an opportunity to earn their way back in.
Step #3 – Families, businesses, and governments all must learn to live within their means. Reducing consumption will hurt the economy in the short-term but ensure economic vibrancy over the long-term. That’s a goal worth chasing but can only be achieved with self-restraint across every level of society.
Step #4 – Americans need to start thinking of others instead of themselves. Every advertisement on TV seems to say “I deserve this.” If such advertising didn’t work, companies would stop using it. In reality, we deserve nothing. We should work hard for the things we want and be content with those we can’t afford yet. Imagine how much better of we would be if aspiration were more familiar to us than mere consumption.
Can the American people really achieve all four steps? The answer is unequivocably “yes.” Will we? That’s really the question, isn’t it? For the sake of my children and their generation, I hope that answer is also “yes.”
Since September 11, 2001, there has not been a successful terrorist attack on a US-bound aircraft. For only $8.1 billion annually (2011 budget), the trained professionals of the Transportation Safety Administration have kept American skies safe from the bad guys. Or have they?
Prior to September 11, 2001, there weren’t very man successful terrorist attacks on a US-bound aircraft either. That’s what made 9/11 possible: we had no idea such evil was possible. Pilot training at the time actually encouraged compliance with hijackers (which the 9/11 terrorists were presumed to be). In response to the tragic loss of almost 3,000 lives that day, the United States Congress made some excellent decisions and a remarkably bone-headed one. Hopefully it’s not too late to fix the bone-headed one.
1) Lock the cockpit during flight. Per FAA regulations issued in 2002, airplane cockpits must be reinforced to prevent break-ins and locked during flight. Keeping bad guys out of the cockpit would have saved both World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and about 2,500 lives on 9/11.
2) Deploy Air Marshals – Federal Air Marshals are US Law Enforcement personnel trained to eliminate threats in the air. It’s unclear how many flights have them, but my guess is that overseas flights are more likely to include an Air Marshal. The element of surprise is also a great way to disrupt terrorist plans since they now have to account for the possibility of an armed Air Marshal on every flight.
3) Inform the Public – Now that the public knows that bad guys are willing to kill everyone on the plane, including themselves, we’re much more willing to fight back. That’s what made heroes of the passengers on United Flight 93. Those who subdued the “Underwear Bomber” and other recent copycats are also heroes and representative of a now-wary US population.
4) Profile the Bad Guys – The underwear bomber’s name was on a government terrorist database for known terrorist sympathies, he bought a one-way ticket with cash, and he had no luggage on his flight from Amsterdam. How that slipped past airport screeners we’ll never know. The TSA clearly failed in this case, but the ability to profile with a decent degree of accuracy is there. While no one knows what the future holds, there has not been a single airplane terrorist attempt made by a woman, a retiree, or a child. Men between the ages of 20-45 with Muslim names or nationatilities shouldn’t be discriminated against but they SHOULD be investigated with care. Any law-abiding man in that same group would agree. Further, other men in the same age group (including myself) should be considered with a greater degree of suspicion than a 7-year-old girl.
1) Airport Screening – Other than providing a great way for agents to meet women and steal from travelers, the TSA’s airport screening hasn’t achieved anything noteworthy. Instead, it has racked up a bill of $5.75 billion each year (based on FY11 budget), lengthened check-in times by 10-20 minutes for most travelers, and failed to find bombs during routine testing. If wasting time and money with no recognizable return can’t get a program axed, I don’t know what could. I’d much rather see this money spent investigating potential terrorists identified by in-depth profiling or hiring more Air Marshals.
[Author's Note: For additional information, see this article by the Cato Institute or google Bruce Schneier. He's not winning many friends on Capitol Hill but he's still right.]
While American History obviously includes tragic examples of racism (slavery, segregation, Trail of Tears, etc.) and bigotry (anti-semitism, Mormon Exodus, etc.), the lofty ideals of equality and freedom espoused by the Founding Fathers remain unsullied by our inability to live up to them. For almost 240 years, Americans have loved, fought for, and died for the Declaration of Independence and its assertion that ”all men are created equal.” From the days when only white Protestant males over the age of 21 who owned land could vote until today when a minority President (only 13.1% of Americans are black) was just re-elected and the last three Secretaries of State have been (in order) black man, a black woman, and a white woman, it’s obvious America has made a lot of progress.
No one is resting on their laurels in 2013, however, and President Barack H. Obama has issued the call for additional early childhood education to bring low-income and minority children up to the same level as middle-class and high-income children. While I agree with the stated goal, the means won’t work. Focusing on additional schooling for “at-risk” children is like giving cough drops to lung-cancer patients. Maybe it will help the cough a little bit for a few minutes, but the prognosis hasn’t changed.
The fallacy of the argument is pretty easy to spot when you consider the underlying assumption: Rich kids somehow start kindergarten “smarter” than poor kids, so extra school early on will help. The cold, hard facts imply that rich kids are either born smarter (no proof that intelligence is genetic) or something else is driving their scholastic and eventual professional achievement. According to the authors of one of my favorite books entitled “Freakonomics,” the only thing that really impacts a child’s scholastic success is parental involvement. [Author's Note: Read the book to get the full story.] Seeking out the best educational opportunities, ensuring homework is completed, and providing expectations for good grades matter. The school and genetics don’t.
Let’s call a spade a spade: Head Start and its sister programs are “free” government baby-sitting paid for by society at large (although the last sentence of the article cited says “The president has said this proposal and others announced in his address would not add to the federal deficit.” Perhaps this kind of math is also part of the problem). What lower-income kids really need are two parents who care about them. Until we figure out the solution to that problem, no amount of schooling is going to make a difference.
The Boy Scouts of America are at a crossroads. Almost anyone can see it (although perhaps not the author of either this story or this story). Before discussing the crossroads, let us consider the words of Robert Frost: ”Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” As an Eagle Scout and a life-long Scouter, I hope the Boy Scouts of America also chooses the road less traveled by.
Problem #1 has been in the news periodically over the past 10-15 years. A small minority of the millions of Scoutmasters and other adult leaders were revealed as predatory homosexuals who victimized thousands of innocent Scouts. Such pedophilia is reprehensible and the criminals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as should be any leaders aware of the crimes who did nothing to stop them. There’s simply no good defense for allowing children to be abused either sexually or otherwise. I also want to be perfectly clear: men who abuse boys and women who abuse girls are both pedophiles AND homosexuals. This important point is frequently glossed over or ignored altogether. The LGBT community (with good reason) doesn’t want these members even though they too were ”born this way.”
Problem #2 has become more prominent in the national news as gay rights groups have steadily swung public opinion in their favor. Homosexual scouts and leaders deserve the right to participate in Scouting according to these groups, so the BSA had better become more “tolerant.” Never mind that the Scout Oath includes an injuction to be “morally straight.” Never mind that camping adventures aren’t the time nor place for a romantic tryst. Never mind that heterosexual relationships are critical to the survival of the human race.
Can no else see that the solutions to Problem #1 and Problem #2 are incompatible? Banning homosexuals as leaders will mitigate Problem #1 but only perpetuate Problem #2. Allowing openly gay Scouts and leaders will solve Problem #2 while increasing the likelihood of Problem #1. In order to solve Problem #2, the Boy Scouts are considering a proposal to allow each charter organization (a group which sponsors a pack/troop/team/crew) to determine its own policy. Can no one else see the obvious danger here? Such a policy will increase the likelihood of sex crimes, complicate campouts (“We’d like to camp in the non-gay section, please.”) and damage the moral fiber of the entire organization.
As an Eagle Scout and a life-long Scouter, I implore the Boy Scouts of America to bravely stand for character and morality but I’m afraid it won’t. There’s far too much political pressure to allow any kind of behavior, no matter how immoral or impulsive. It looks like the Boy Scouts of America will take the road more traveled by and that short-sighted decision will make all the difference.
I believe that the hand of Providence was instrumental in bringing about the Constitution of the United States of America and my views are obviously colored by that belief. Courageous, God-fearing men debated its contents, fought and died for its freedoms, and limited the powers of its government in an effort to create a nation with more liberty and prosperity than the world has ever known. Beyond all hope, the founders succeeded.
You can therefore imagine my surprise to read the thoughts of a well-known constitutional scholar. Dr. Louis Michael Seidman’s main arguments for abolishment of the Constitution are:
(1) A Senate which hasn’t passed a budget in over three years should be able to start a spending bill (a right originally reserved for the popularly elected chamber).
(2) It’s old (almost 225 years) and old things don’t matter.
(3) The Founders allowed slavery and since society now condemns slavery, everything the Founders did should be thrown out.
(4) The Constitution itself creates conflict, not the desire of some to steal the freedoms of others.
(5) Presidents have already overstepped their bounds (Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, FDR and the New Deal, etc.) so that makes it OK.
Rather than call Dr. Seidman names, I’ll simply observe that the principles of freedom and equality enshrined in the US Constitution are exactly what he claims we need while claiming the document itself has nothing to do with them. I further observe that liberals love the freedoms they currently need (freedom of speech during the Bush Presidencies) but demand revoked any freedoms currently out of favor (the right to bear arms, the right to life, etc.). It’s a twisted world in which we live…