Freedom Updates: September 14, 2003

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.freecolorado.com

Freedom Updates: September 14, 2003

All Freedom Updates by Ari Armstrong unless otherwise noted.

I'd love to wear a rainbow everyday
and tell the world that everything's okay
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
Till things are brighter, I'm the Man in Black.
--Johnny Cash


Conservatives on Campus
The columnists, academics, and leftists are frantic. The Republicans think state-sponsored colleges should hire more conservative professors. It's unclear, though, what legislation might accomplish: the Republicans say they don't want quotas or affirmative action programs. (If the Democrats had a sense of humor, they'd run a bill that gave special consideration to black and Hispanic conservatives. Perhaps the Democrats could lend their mascot to Buridan's Asses on the other side for the day.)

Of course, neither side will state the obvious: the only reason this is a political debate is that colleges are affiliated with the government. In a free-market system of education, the leaders of specific colleges would set hiring policy -- and they couldn't force the unsympathetic to pay the bill. Of course, voluntary groups would still be free to try to persuade college officials (and their donors) to hire more conservatives (or whatever).

But God forbid the Republicans argue in favor of free markets. The great irony, of course, is that, with few exceptions, today's Republicans don't even qualify as conservatives. At least real conservatives have some sort of intellectual bearing.

To read more, see Affirmative Action for Conservatives?


Why Prostitutes are Easy Targets
Richard White said he murdered five prostitutes. Two women dug up in a yard in Denver are believed to be among White's victims. In a September 14 article for the Denver Post, Kirk Mitchell reports another female prostitute says she was attacked by White. The prostitute told Mitchell, "We're easy targets... None of us are safe."

But why, exactly, are prostitutes easy targets? The answer is obvious: politicians have driven the practice into the black market. The woman who says she was attacked by White "was arrested on Colfax Avenue for prostitution while knowing she was HIV positive," Mitchell reports. This lack of health control is another result of criminalizing prostitution. Yet another problem is that men who illegally hire prostitutes often park near or on other people's property, then toss the condom out the window. Gross.

If prostitution were legal, almost all prostitution would be run indoors with security and health screening. Street walkers would virtually disappear. (Indeed, if street prostitution were made illegal, the legal houses would be the primary enforcers of keeping their competitors off the streets.)

On the other hand, if prostitution were legal, busy-body pseudo-moralists could no longer pretend they are self-righteous, even as their policies result in women being raped, beaten, and murdered.

To read more, see Prostitution and Liberalism.


Expanded CBI Checks?
An August 25 editorial in the Rocky Mountain News, following an August 20 article written for the paper by Michele Ames, states, "[I]t's startling that a new legislative audit of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation found the agency stopped conducting inspections of federally licensed gun dealers in 1996. At the time, the agency believed it didn't have the legal authority to carry out such inspections. Now that it does believe it has the authority - at least for handguns, although the matter is less clear for long guns - it says it doesn't have the people. But that's no excuse. The agency has to find the staff, and it could if it understood how high a priority this should be... Firearms dealers are not entirely immune from inspection, since the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducts its own. But in 2001, ATF inspected only 138 dealers of the 1,900 registered in Colorado... Finally, the audit points out that no one - neither the CBI nor the ATF - is doing inspections at gun shows."

In turn, I came up with a number of questions for the writers at the News.

1. Is there any reason to believe that there currently exists a problem? The News reports "in 2001, ATF inspected only 138 dealers of the 1,900 registered in Colorado." You seem to assume this implies a dangerous laps of police responsibility. Another theory is that searching through the records of licensed gun dealers, without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, is a useless waste of police resources. You have given no reason to suspect the first theory is superior to the second.

2. What exactly would the CBI be looking for, and how might this help reduce violent crimes?

3. Why is there a possible difference between the CBI's ability to search through handgun records, but not long-gun records?

4. Why should a state agency be asked to enforce federal law? Is the ATF inept or are its resources inadequate? If so, isn't that a reason to fix the ATF?

5. You report, "Finally, the audit points out that no one - neither the CBI nor the ATF - is doing inspections at gun shows." But aren't law enforcement agents present at every gun show? Is there any reason to believe they aren't doing their jobs? Is there any reason to believe that searching through purchase records will stop people from breaking the law (i.e., not generating those records to begin with)?

6. Is there any reason to believe that CBI records checks will be a more useful expenditure of limited police resources than, say, pursuing open criminal investigations?

7. Are you concerned about any fairness issues? Is it just to allow state agents, without probable cause or even reasonable suspicion, to rifle through the records of businesses? Is it possible this power could be abused?

8. Is there any reason to believe that searching the records of licensed dealers and people willing to register their gun purchases will have any impact whatsoever on the criminal gun market or on instances of violent crime?

9. How did it occur at Colorado's second-largest newspaper that a news article and editorial were published on the matter without answering any of the above questions, or even mentioning them?


Hasta La Vista, Arnold
I've officially fallen off Arnold's band wagon. When Sean Hannity asked Arnold, "Do you support the Brady Bill or the 'assault weapons' ban or both?", Arnold replied, "Yes, I do and also I would like to close the loophole of the gun shows." This issue is important enough to be decisive. Of course, the worse California gets, the more gun owners will move to Colorado, so there is a silver lining.


Social Security Reform?
The Republicans are too wimpy to do anything with the unjust, destabilizing program laughably named "Social Security," but perhaps the Democrats will make some minor changes. According to Glen Johnson of the Globe, Senator Kerry believes "one idea bearing exploration is eliminating Social Security payments to the wealthy after they have recouped the money they paid into the federal retirement program during their working life." Kerry rightly noted that the Social Security tax is regressive.

Unfortunately, Kerry also suggested rich people might pay more into the system. Kerry said, "The contract, in my judgment, is sacrosanct between generations." But Social Security never was a "contract." It was always a forced Ponzi scheme, in which the first recipients made out like bandits and my generation will get completely screwed. Indeed, given the anticipated payer to recipient ratio, the program threatens to destabilize the entire U.S. government. If you boomers think we're going to work as slaves and see the economy run into the ground to keep you in the money, you'd better think again. Something will give, it's just a matter of when and how, and the change will be a lot more dramatic that what Kerry suggests.

I'll again summarize a plan that would actually reduce the pain without leaving anybody destitute. Means-testing the system would be wonderful. It's just stupid that poor young people are subsidizing rich old people. Everybody now in the system would continue to get their benefits, but the pay-out age would increase at a steady clip for new recipients. That step alone, raising the pay-out age, would eventually solve the problem and finally end this horrifying socialist program. Another possible step is to allow everyone to choose to opt out of the system. They don't have to pay the tax anymore, and they get no benefits from the program.


Drug War Follies
According to Bill Montgomery of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (August 14), an Atlanta officer "was arrested... on federal racketeering charges as an alleged leader of a notorious drug gang."

In Colorado, according to an August 15 story in the Denver Post by Howard Pankratz, "Colorado law enforcement officers can use fake or 'ruse' checkpoints to ferret out drug dealers and drug users, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, even though real drug checkpoints are unconstitutional... In this case, officers posted signs on a road leading to Telluride warning that a drug checkpoint lay ahead, and hid nearby. They watched to see if anyone suddenly turned around or appeared to toss drugs or drug paraphernalia out a window."

See how lucky we are? Around the nation, the war on drugs has turned some police officers into drug-dealing gangsters. Here in Colorado, at least recently, the war on drugs has merely turned some police officers into pathetic liars.

Meanwhile, Brian Crecente reports for the August 23 Denver Post, "Police say the gang members [in GKI], who once focused on selling drugs, now make most of their money trafficking in firearms." The black market in drugs created by prohibition is fueling American violence. Some day, the drug war will be recognized, along with the Inquisition and the witch trials, as one of history's most insane ideas.


Boston Joins Free State Project
The Free State Project issued the following release on August 13.

One year ahead of schedule, America's fastest-growing liberty movement has just crossed a rubicon. This week Colorado author and privacy activist Boston T. Party became the 5,000th person to join the Free State Project, an organization working to concentrate 20,000 liberty-minded voters in one state. Their aim is to help reduce the size and scope of government there, making it a beachhead for individual liberty: The "Free State." "It is my pleasure to formally join," says Party, author of "Boston's Gun Bible" and "You and the Police." "Start packing your bags... We're all gonna be neighbors!"

Boston isn't the first public figure to become involved. Other notables in the movement include New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson (R) and syndicated columnist Vin Suprynowicz. But Boston's decision to join triggers both crucial events and warm responses. "Boston T. Party was a favorite author of mine long before the Free State Project, " says FSP Vice Pres. Elizabeth McKinstry, "and it's thrilling to see the synergy between Boston and the FSP blossom in this way."

Having reached the 5,000 mark, the Project is now required by charter to select a state. Over the next month, members will vote by mail to choose between ten candidates: VT, NH, ME, MT, ND, SD, WY, ID, AK and DE. The winner will likely become their eventual home, though members are officially pledged to move only if their numbers reach 20,000. Individuals wishing to participate in the state vote have until August 15 to join the FSP. Ballots are due Sept. 22, and (drumroll) the winning state will be announced on October 1, 2003. In the meantime, Party says he's nearing completion on a novel he started in 1997: "Molon Labe!" The topic? Thousands of liberty lovers try to establish a Free State!


Littleton Grocery Tax
Severin Schneider sent an e-mail August 19 relating, "Frank Atwood worked with a tri-partisan group to collect signatures to get a repeal of the Littleton grocery tax on the ballot. Several members of the Arapahoe LP volunteered their time with this effort as well. I am sending out this email to let you know that this effort is featured on the front page of the national Libertarian parties web page (www.lp.org). This is an accomplishment because this brings our humble little county chapter into national prominence as movers and shakers in the libertarian party, this is good for not just the Arapahoe chapter but Colorado libertarians as a whole, because this along with Montrose and other Colorado specific news items lets the rest of the country know that Colorado is a real heavyweight in the libertarian party."

Of course, the Littleton effort was inspired in part by the unsuccessful effort in Montrose. A September 2 letter to the Denver Post by Tim Jacobs states, "As a Libertarian who was actively involved in the recent election regarding sales taxes on groceries in Montrose, I appreciated your editorial stance on the issue as it relates to Littleton. Sales taxes on groceries, no matter where levied, are regressive and unconscionable. I would like to clear up one misconception, though. Property taxes in Montrose would not have been needed to replace sales tax revenue lost if the initiative had passed; Montrose's revenues have been and continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Indeed, TABOR would have required voter approval to impose a property tax. A small measure of fiscal discipline would have been required, yes, and admittedly, that's a concept sorely lacking in Montrose city government."


Unbelievably Stupid Postal Socialists
James Harris summarizes for Advocates for Self-Government: "A Bush-appointed federal commission is urging the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to create and implement so-called 'smart stamps' that would track the identity of every single person and organization who sends mail. These spy-stamps would give the government the ability to know the sender, the destination and the class of mail -- and possibly much more -- for 'every piece of mail, commercial and retail,' according to the commission's report."

Let's ignore, for a moment, the profound implications for civil liberties. Is the USPS doing so well that it can afford to alienate a huge segment of its client base? It's not as if there are no other options these days.


Coffman's Reports
I think it's safe to say that Mike Coffman will not be the next governor of Colorado. He just doesn't seem to stand for anything, and some huge contenders will pummel him.

Nevertheless, Coffman's e-mail reports contain some useful information. He sent out the following notes on August 20:

Amendment 32... proposes to repeal the Gallagher Amendment and increase the taxable portion of residential property from the current level of 7.96 percent to 8.00 percent beginning with 2005 property taxes.

Property taxes in Colorado are paid on a portion of a property's value established through an assessment process. Residential property such as homes, condominiums, mobile homes and apartments, will be assessed for 2004 at a rate of 7.96%. For most other property, such as businesses and vacant land, the rate of assessment will be 29%. To arrive at the total amount of taxes due, a property's value is multiplied by the assessment rate to determine its taxable value, which is then multiplied by the tax rate, or mill levy.

The assessment rate for residential property is currently governed by the Gallagher Amendment, which requires the state legislature to change the assessment rate when property is revalued every two years. When the value of all residential property statewide rises compared to the value of all other property, the residential assessment rate decreases. Since 1986, the residential assessment rate has fallen from 21% to its current level. While Gallagher stipulates the assessment rate would go the other way if residential property statewide lowers compared to business property, the TABOR Amendment prohibits this from occurring without voter approval.

In 2002, Colorado homeowners and businesses paid nearly $4.4 billion in property taxes to local governments, such as counties, cities, special districts and school districts. More than half of this amount was used to fund public schools, while one-quarter went to county governments.

Coffman notes Amendment 32 would help businesses "by lowering the disparate rate of taxes assessed on business property." On the other hand, residential taxes will increase.

I don't understand the origins of the initiative well enough to describe exactly what it's supposed to accomplish or what groups it will help. Offhand, though, the debate seems pointless. We either pay taxes directly, on our residential property, or we pay taxes indirectly, through our purchases. To me, this misses the point entirely. A tax on property means you never really own your property: you have to pay off the state every year, or the state will send men with guns to throw you off the property. While some argue land taxes are less onerous than other types of taxes, I believe they are fundamentally corrosive, and they foster the mentality that the state is omnipresent. There is literally no place you can be that is not owned in some manner by the state. The real issue is not whether property taxes should be shifted from businesses to residential land, but rather how property taxes can be reduced, ultimately to zero, ideally.

Coffman also sent along some notes on September 3 about a strange political "investment" arrangement:

The Certified Capital Company (CAPCO) program was meant to create jobs through encouraging small business growth, particularly in rural areas. However, it appears Colorado went down the wrong path when it adopted the program. Actual investments through the program have not even begun to approach the amount of money the state has lost in the form of tax credits, and the benefit to rural Colorado remains questionable. Unfortunately, one unintended consequence of the TABOR Amendment is that it is impossible for the legislature to repeal the program without approval from voters.

The TABOR Amendment allows the legislature to lower taxes, or offer tax credits, but it cannot raise them without a vote of the people. Originally created by the legislature in 2001, the CAPCO program lowers the premium tax paid by the insurance industry on all policies issued in Colorado. It does this through the issuance of $200 million in state tax credits offered to insurance companies. In return for these tax credits, the insurance companies agree to provide funds for investment in small Colorado businesses.

The first $100 million in tax credits was distributed in April 2002, and the second is currently scheduled for distribution in April 2004. Thus, it is too late to refer this issue back to the voters, as required by TABOR, before the second $100 million in premium tax revenue is lost. Looking back, the Colorado economy would have been better off had the state simply reduced the premium tax and thus provided some relief on insurance premiums for our working families and businesses.

Out of the original $100 million tax credit distribution, only 15 investments totaling $13.1 million have been made to date. In addition, one of the six CAPCO companies authorized by the Governor's Office of Economic Development (OED), Wilshire/Newtek, has invested $4.2 million, nearly one-third of the total amount invested thus far, in two startup companies located a short distance from the Jefferson County line. Because of their location, those two investments represent almost 90% of the CAPCO program's investment in rural Colorado.

More on Sex and the Law
In 2000, Glenn Reynolds and David Kopel wrote an article that describes a set of ideas that lines up with Randy Barnett's "presumption of liberty." They argue that government is properly limited, even where specific rights are not explicitly protected by a constitution.

Also, Stephan Kinsella has responded to my recent article about the sodomy case. He writes:

Armstrong writes, "I think it's possible to have the best of both worlds: a federal government with the power to check the tyranny of state governments, but with little power to do anything else." In other words. Armstrong agrees the federal government is dangerous, and is therefore also leery, as I am, of giving it more power, but he thinks maybe we can limit the grant of power so that the feds have the power to veto bad state laws, but not the power to trample rights or balloon in size.

A couple of responses: first, I am not sure why he thinks this is possible. The Framers thought the written Constitution would limit federal tyranny; clearly it has not. Why Armstrong has such faith in paper documents is not clear. Second, even if it were possible to design a federal government having only the power to veto, I am not sure why Armstrong thinks this is relevant to the debate about the Fourteenth Amendment--our Constitution is not written this way. It empower the feds, via the Fourteenth Amendment, to interfere with states. I think this power is rather restricted; Barnett seems to think it sweeping. However, however broad this power is, it is not limited merely to vetoing bad state laws. It also permits Congress to legislate.

Certainly I take Kinsella's arguments with great seriousness. However, to me, the most important matter is, today, given the Fourteenth Amendment generally is interpreted broadly, should libertarians attempt to fit the measure to liberty, or should they attempt to downplay it? The answer to this question is not at all obvious to me. Nor is it obvious that competition among libertarians on this point is something to fear.


A Curious Investment
An August 25 editorial by the Denver Post states, "Coca-Cola Enterprises (a separate company from the Coca-Cola Co.) received $250,000 in tax incentives to expand its northeast Denver bottling plant in July, allowing the company to bottle water at the site. The project will generate about $1.6 million in property taxes over five years - a good investment for the city."

"Investment," eh? An "investment" is when a person or group delays short-term consumption, in order to redirect resources to the production of capital goods, so as to increase future consumption. That's investment.

Something rather different is going on with the city of Denver. The city political machine told the bottling company the city would transfer slightly less money from the bottler to the city, if only the bottler would stay in the area. That's not an investment. A more accurate term might be something like "savvy expropriation" or "negotiable expropriation." Ah, the joys of political competition: businesses get to shop around to find the city that will demand the least pay-off money.


Political Investments, Part II
An August 25 business story in the Denver Post by Jason Blevins states, "Advertising firm Praco is aggressively trolling the country for Colorado vacationers, using a one-time allocation of $9 million from the state... Praco's strategy is being closely watched by budget-crunching legislators eager for big returns on their investment."

I'm not sure which word pisses me off the most: "their" or "investment." Obviously, this money did not belong to legislators, it belonged to taxpayers. Some of it belonged to me. And I wanted no part of Praco's advertising adventure. So let us reword Blevins' comments for increased accuracy: "Praco's strategy is being closely watched by budget-crunching legislators eager for big political returns on the money they forcibly confiscated from others and spent to promote specific Colorado businesses."

Unlike the case of negotiated tax policy above, advertising really can be part of an investment. Specifically, advertising creates knowledge about a specific line of products -- in this case, tourist services in Colorado -- which can, on net, improve wealth. Colorado tourism businesses are perfectly free to pool their resources in order to advertise their services. Unfortunately, they instead chose to use the force of the state to compel others to promote their interests. Thus, whether or not this results in more tourism dollars or more tax revenues, the corporate welfare will not, on net, increase wealth. It merely redistributes wealth from the politically unconnected to a particular political interest group, with a net loss of value. So, again, there is nothing about this that counts as an "investment" in the economic sense.

Of course, it was the Republicans, led by Bill Owens, who fought to take this money away from people by force and redistribute it as corporate welfare.


Wal-Mart Dirty Deal?
Jeff Francis writes for the August 21 Arvada Sentinel, "Although negotiations to bring a Wal-Mart Supercenter to town are tentative, a landowner behind the expected site is suing the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority to keep his land. City officials are participating in talks to bring a Wal-Mart to the shopping center at the southeast corner of Wadsworth Boulevard and West 52nd Avenue. In anticipation of the big box's arrival, AURA has attempted to condemn 1.95 acres of lake property behind the shopping center, which would serve as part of the development." Specifically, the land would be turned into a parking lot.

Allan Ojala, "one of the owners of the Columbine West Medical Office Building at 5394 Marshall St.," told Francis, "I think what they're (AURA) construing as the public good is false... [They] want to take this land and give it to a private enterprise..."

I'm not aware of subsequent developments in the story. I hope libertarians local to the area can help the land owners defend their property rights.

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