Friday, September 28, 2007

Home grown and growin' his own...

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."...Fourth Amendment to the Constitution

I've met a lot of good people in the construction business in the last 35 years. One of my favorites is the man that has been our drywall finisher for about as long as I've been in business. Lee is what could probably be described as "old school". Raised up hard in the hills, he's a craftsman with an old-fashioned work ethic and a lot of pride in what he does. He's also managed to hold onto several of the traditions he grew up with.

He grows his own chewing tobacco. Says that way he doesn't have to worry about bug spray on it. I tried some home grown chew a few years ago, and I think bug spray might be the least of worries I had. But that's not what this story is about.

When Lee cut this years crop, he carried it up to an empty room above his wife's beauty shop, opened the windows and hung it to dry. An electronic communications technician, who doubles as a reserve police officer, who was stringing some wire in the neighborhood, saw the mysterious hanging plants. Shortly there after, four officers and two police dogs entered the beauty shop, explaining that there had been reports of screaming emanating from the second floor. The beautician's explanation that she had been there all day without a peep from upstairs did nothing to dissuade the officers and dogs from charging up the stairs to rescue their imaginary screamer.

They came in with no warrant and no witness,and they left with no explanation and no apology, and we're all a little worse off because of it. Ayn Rand called it the ultimate inversion, when government and the police are free to do whatever want, and citizens can act only with permission.

At least Lee was able to keep his tobacco, for now. There is presently a movement to put tobacco under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Then he will have to ask permission to grow it. Most likely they will tell him no.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Timing is everything...

Sometimes things just fall in your lap. Sunday afternoon I was working on the October installment of my monthly column. It concerns government spending, (surprise, surprise!) and I had a desk top full of figures and numbers that I had gathered for reference.

Just as I was finishing, the phone rang, and a representative of the Republican National Caucus thanked me for my support of the Republican Party, and asked if I would rather send $100.00 or $150.00 to help them out in their conservative effort to rein in the government.

After my 3 minute tirade on the growth of spending and of the national debt in the last several years, complete with the percentages of growth under Republican Presidents, Republican Congresses and a Supreme Court stacked with Republican judges, I asked him why in the world a Libertarian that favored limited government should even consider donating to the Republican Party.

There was a brief silence on the line, and then he asked me if I would consider donating $25.00 or $50.00 to the party.

Sometimes life sucks, but sometimes it's too much fun.

Cold Turkey and Humble Pie...

I quit smoking a lot of times before I really quit smoking. Sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week. And I always started again by smoking just one cigarette. I'm convinced going "cold turkey" is the only way to stop, because until you quit altogether, you haven't really quit. I'm also convinced that not everybody feels that way.

In the current movement to eliminate the property tax, there are a lot of proposals being put forth. Most opponents of the tax agree that a constitutional amendment is the best way to make sure it doesn't reappear in a couple of years. The problem is an amendment has to be passed by 2 legislatures selected by 2 elections, and then passed by the voters in the next election. Right now that puts the end of property taxes at 2012, and that's only if enough legislators get on board and stay on board. It also depends on the majority of voters not falling for the "wild dogs will carry off your babies if we eliminate property taxes!!!" argument that will inevitably surface if by chance the current legislature did pass an amendment.

I'll agree that an amendment is necessary, and something that we should continue to work for. I also know that a lot of people are leery of wild dogs and cold turkey, and if we can't get enough lawmakers to give the people a chance to vote on doing away with the tax, we're probably not going to get them to remove it on their own, either.

So while the Libertarian in me says "all the way, today", the pragmatist in me realizes that the change may be more gradual. When I ran for District 54 State Representative in 2006, I presented a plan for the simplification and eventual elimination of property taxes. It didn't suit some Libertarians because it didn't end them soon enough, and it didn't suit some Republicans and Democrats because it ended them at all.

I do believe the property tax is the most unfair tax in existence today, and it's elimination by any method is preferable to allowing it to stay. I was scolded recently for writing a letter on the subject and neglecting to mention that government spending needs to be reduced, also. As my penance, I'll put forth an abbreviated form of the plan here.

We all know how expensive assessments and reassessments are. We also know that the assessors office already has the square footage of our homes on file. So here's the deal: Tax homes on a square footage basis, and tax them equally per square foot. I know some homes are more expensive than others with the same footage, but if the purpose of the tax is to provide services, it doesn't cost any more to provide them to an expensive home than to a less expensive home. And we've eliminated the need for assessors AND assessments. That's the simplification part.

The elimination part takes a little longer. For simplicity, I chose fifty cents per foot as the taxing rate on homes, understanding that the figure might vary locally by circumstance. The rate would then decrease by 10% a year for ten years. If I did my math correctly, the tax would be gone in ten years, or sooner if the constitutional amendment happened to kick in before that. Every two years a sales tax increase of 1/2% would be added.

Will the plan provide the government with as much money as they are getting now? No, it won't. Will it satisfy people that want no taxation or people that believe government should be allowed to take as much as it wants. No, it won't.

It will provide government with enough money to do what a lot of people believe government should do. Protect us from force and fraud, and provide essential services for it's citizens.

It won't happen without a struggle, and it won't happen if we don't put the right people in office.

And if we don't get involved and pay attention to what's happening, it won't happen at all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

No harm, no foul?...

One time my younger brother and I decided it would be a good idea to stand in the chicken yard and throw green apples at cars that passed in front of our house. Neither of us had much of an arm, so we really weren't much of a threat to the passing motorists. When we saw Mom coming out to put an end to our pastime, I figured we couldn't be in too much trouble since we hadn't hit anybody. She didn't look at it that way.

I went to an anti-property tax rally last Monday night in New Castle. It was fairly well attended, and sponsored by a group called Advance America. I'm always glad to see more people and organizations coming out in favor of abolishing property taxes, and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the group's founder, Eric Miller. I do have doubts about whether the two parties currently in power will be able to eliminate property taxes without extreme increases in other taxes, but if we can do away with the property tax, we can worry about that later.

The recent fervor for abolishing the tax has come about because of the outrageous increase in bills in the last year. The number of homes and businesses that are in danger of being lost to the tax does have a way of rallying people behind the movement. But if property taxes are unfair when a thousand people lose their homes, weren't they just as unfair when a hundred people lost their homes? Or ten people? Or one? Or none?

Libertarians have opposed property taxes as long as there have been property taxes and Libertarians. Not just when the government takes a citizen's property, but also when the government first decides it has the right to take a citizen's property.

So while I'm happy to see Mr. Miller and so many other people coming out in opposition of the tax, I have to ask, what took you so long?

Friday, September 14, 2007

The good old days...

The discussion at coffee this morning involved gas prices, with reports of sightings in Indianapolis at $2.39 a gallon. Right now that sounds like a pretty good deal. But it also triggers a lot of stories that make our kids eyes roll.

Like when I could fill the tank for what a gallon cost last week. Or how I bought my first car for $675.00, and how just 5 years earlier it had listed for $3200.00 brand new. I heard a story yesterday about a farmer that is paying more per year to rent ground for a year than he used to spend to buy it outright. We've all heard stories, (and I suspect we'll hear a lot more in the coming weeks), about people that pay more in property taxes than in house payments. Old geezers like me could fill a book with those kind of stories.

Several years ago, when I first became involved in politics, a person in the know told me that if you decide to run for office, once you get outside of town campaigns, you could expect to spend around $5.00 per vote. I didn't roll my eyes at the time, but I do remember thinking that was a lot of money to spend for a vote.

The other day I going over the results of a recent campaign and election. In 2006, when I ran for state representative, we raised and spent a little under $12,000.00 on the campaign, and recieved about 2800 votes. It figured out to $4.24 per vote, so I felt that we had made prudent use of the donations. But we still lost, so I thought I'd do a little investigating on my opponents.

My Democrat opponent, Dave Sadler, spent a little under $90,000.00, with each vote costing $11.29. My Republican opponent, and eventually the winner of the race, spent over $200,000.00, which figures out to $22.26 per vote.

I've always thought I'd rather be able to buy gas for $3.00 a gallon than not be able to buy it for $.25 a gallon, but I'm not sure I have the same feelings about votes.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Just some thoughts about a good man...

Probably every generation thinks they worked harder than the generation that followed them, and maybe it's true. Machines and technology have served to lighten our load, but there are still a few people out there that just seem thrive on good old-fashioned hard work.

My father-in-law was one of those people. He started out with nearly nothing, but with a determination to prove his father-in-law wrong, and a work ethic that you won't often find in today's world, he raised a hard working family, bought seven farms, and built a reputation as one of the premiere cattlemen in the tri-state area.

You never had to wonder he was thinking, or where you stood with him, because he wasn't shy about expressing himself. Shortly after I married his daughter, 30 some years ago, he told me that the devil must have owed him a debt, and was paying him off with son-in-laws. I was the first installment. He was smiling when he said it, though. I think.

Ralph Walter Shafer passed away Saturday evening, just a month before his 80th birthday. He put in a hard days work, and made plans for the next days work.

He will be missed by a lot of people, including me, and there's a lot of work that somebody else has to do now. He will be a hard act to follow.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Can you spare some change?...

If you drive through New Castle, you will see a lot of yard signs that read "Democrats for Jim Small". Small is the Republican candidate for Mayor this fall. It's causing quite a stir around town. Seems a lot of Democrats were disgusted by the nasty campaigns in the primaries last spring, and by some questionable decisions by candidates in 2003.

Regardless of the reasons, I am glad to see people are willing to openly proclaim that they will vote across party lines. A lot of people claim that they vote for the candidate, not the party, but I have to wonder how many people are really able to do that once they enter the voting booth.

A few years ago, when the Libertarian Party of Wayne County was still in it's infancy, the county council race consisted of 3 Libertarians, 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. The Republican candidates were firmly imbedded in the county machine, and as would be expected in Wayne County, won the election handily. While only one of the Libertarian candidates had ever been elected to office, all three were solid candidates with business and work experience, and drew respectable vote totals for a young party.

Shortly before the election, one of the Democrat candidates was arrested for shoplifting cold medicine from a local store. He spent the weekend in jail, plead guilty to the charges, and went on to receive more votes than any of the Libertarian candidates.

This year, Gayle Bond is running for a spot on the Hagerstown Town Council on the Libertarian ticket. Last week, one of the town fathers told Gayle that he liked his ideas, and that he would endorse him if he was running as a Republican.

That's not the type of attitude that is conducive to bringing about much needed improvements in the way our government works.

I hope it's an attitude that is changing. I guess we'll find out in November.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Good, Better, Best...

I joined the Libertarian Party in 2000, but I'm not really sure when I became a libertarian. It's not like there's a single act or thought that identifies you as one. Basically, libertarians believe that you own yourself, and that you should be allowed to make the decisions about how to run your life. But you don't own other people, so you don't get to tell them how to run their lives.

If there was one principle that best described libertarianism, it would probably be the non-initiation of force. That doesn't mean you can't defend yourself against an attack, or retaliate against an aggressor. It does mean you can't attack someone that hasn't attacked you, and it means you can't force someone to give you their justly acquired property. Or money.

That's the main reason the LP generally favors user fees and sales taxes over property taxes and income taxes. I know a sales tax is still a tax, but coupled with the reduced spending of a smaller government, it might be something we could live with for a while.

Does a sales tax require initiation of force? I suppose you could argue either way, but you would have to admit it would take a lot less force than what we're doing now. And that is at least a step in the right direction.

I once heard a man say that we shouldn't let best stand in the way of better. I'd have to agree.