Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cruising the Web

It's a terrible thing that a man died while being arrested for such a nothingburger of a crime. Why was he being arrested in the first place? One of the arguments against criminal marijuana laws is that it is a waste of police resources to have them working enforcing such laws. So why is a guy being arrested for selling loose cigarettes? Blame Mayor Bloomberg's nanny government. As Lawrence McQuillan writes,
Many people say his death is another case of white police brutality against black citizens. Lost in this public debate, though, is a key question: Why were police arresting Garner in the first place?

Was he robbing a store or attacking innocent citizens? No, police arrested Garner supposedly for selling untaxed cigarettes. The strong-arm arresting process claimed Garner’s life, all over the sale of 75-cent loose cigarettes or “loosies.”

High taxes produce underground markets for goods and services, and when these taxes are hiked, smuggling increases. Nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in New York City.

In the name of cutting smoking rates, New York has the highest state cigarette tax at $4.35 per pack. New York City piles on an additional local cigarette tax of $1.50 per pack. Since 2006, the cigarette tax in New York state has been raised 190 percent. In response, cigarette smuggling there increased 59 percent. More than half of all cigarettes consumed in New York state are smuggled, according to a 2014 report by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Garner chose to participate in the booming underground cigarette market as a smuggler. Since 2009, he had been arrested eight times for selling loosies, which are popular among people who can’t afford a full pack because of the excessive taxes.

In January 2014, tough new penalties for selling untaxed cigarettes took effect in New York City. In July, emboldened by the new law, the city’s highest-ranking uniformed cop, Philip Banks, issued an order to crack down on loosie sales days before Garner died.

These events confirm that police are ultimately the enforcers of the tax code, and every vote for higher taxes gives police increased authority to exert more force on citizens in more situations. Higher excise taxes inevitably lead to more violent clashes between police and smugglers....

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton wants the public to think that officer retraining on arrest procedures will fix the problem. However, Commissioner Bratton and other city officials choose to ignore the true cause: Current laws create too many situations that put police in conflict with citizens over consensual, nonviolent activities.

Eliminating punitive cigarette taxes would shrink the underground market and help redirect police resources to combating real crimes of force and violence, rather than empowering police to employ violence in the name of tax collection.
John Podhoretz reflects on what this tragic story says about the broken windows theory of law enforcement and whether it still works today.
What happened to Eric Garner was certainly not deliberate, but rather the result of a series of horrible choices. First, by Garner, to resist, and then by Officer Daniel Pantaleo to immobilize Garner by using a choke-hold, which New York City cops are trained not to use (but which is not in fact illegal). It strikes me as understandable that a grand jury would look at the events and not see something they would call a murder.

But a murder charge was not the only choice open to them, or so we are being told right now. There are gradations of illegality involving the unnecessary death of someone, and it seems likely that (as was the case with the 1994 choke-hold death of Anthony Baez) the federal government will secure some kind of charge now that it has involved itself in this matter.

The real question that is going to be asked, now, is just how aggressive law enforcement can and should be in an era of low crime, which is what we’re in now. If you defang cops, you are inviting a return to trouble. As I wrote last week, “if we send police officers the message that it is safer for their careers and reputations to stand down, stand down they will. We are the ones who will have to reckon with the results.” At the same time, no civilized society can view the tape showing Garner’s desperate pleading and not ask some very difficult questions of itself.
This is a very different case than Mike Brown's death in Ferguson. It is truly unfortunate that the grand jury decisions happened so close together so that they could be lumped together in the public's mind. The media was practically begging for mass protests leading to riots yesterday. We'll have to wait and see if the district attorney releases the evidence that was presented to the grand jury so we can find out why they didn't issue some sort of indictment for involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

So now they tell us! First Senator Schumer told us what a mistake it was for the Democrats to ram through Obamacare instead of focusing on the economy. Now retiring Senator Harkin fesses up.
The Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, laments the complexity of legislation the Senate passed five years ago.

He wonders in hindsight whether the law was made overly complicated to satisfy the political concerns of a few Democratic centrists who have since left Congress.

“We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it,” Harkin told The Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.

“What we did is we muddled through and we got a system that is complex, convoluted, needs probably some corrections and still rewards the insurance companies extensively,” he added.

Harkin said the sweeping healthcare reform bill included important reforms such as preventing insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and keeping young adults on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26.

He also lauded the law’s focus on preventing disease by encouraging healthy habits, something he contributed to by drafting the Healthier Lifestyles and Prevention America Act, which informed ObamaCare.
Well, as many conservatives argued at the time, it would have been possible to have written a much more restricted bill that addressed the problem of people with pre-existing conditions without up-ending the entire system and producing such a convoluted bill. Too bad he didn't offer this wisdom up to his party at the time. But Harkin is really sorry for, if this makes any sense to anyone, is that, instead of passing a "complex, convoluted" bill, they didn't pass a single-payer system instead. As if that wouldn't have been complex and convoluted!

As Tom Bevan points out, the middle class that Schumer bemoans having been ignored in the previous six years by the Obama administration isn't going to find Obama's recent decisions any comfort.
chumer said that when Democrats focused so heavily on health care in early 2009, “the average middle-class person thought ‘the Democrats are not paying enough attention to me.’” It’s hard to imagine middle-class voters feeling any differently this time around.

They might even feel worse. Schumer rightly diagnosed a major symptom of the ongoing (and growing) middle-class squeeze over the last two decades: stagnating wages. There’s some evidence that Obama’s executive action, which will provide work permits to millions of people here illegally, could exacerbate the problem by putting further downward pressure on wages, particularly among unskilled laborers and the working class. Even if it doesn’t, his inexplicable inattentiveness to the public mood bodes poorly for his political party.

Meanwhile, Obama remains adamantly opposed to building the Keystone XL pipeline, and the White House worked hard behind the scenes earlier this week to scuttle a bipartisan package of tax cuts for businesses. One might forgive middle-class voters for openly questioning just how committed the president is to working with Congress to “get things done” on the economy.

Mollie Hemingway has an excellent take, entitled appropriately "Dear Media: This Elizabeth Lauten Nonsense Is Why Everybody Hates You" on how crazy the media have been about the Elizabeth Lauten tweeting story. The Washington Post even took a journalist from the foreign policy beat to report on this nothingburger of a story and dig into college papers Lauten wrote. Networks have sent news vans to camp outside her parents' house in North Carolina because, of course, we need to know what's going on with the parents of a staffer who made an unfortunate tweet about the First Daughters and then lost her job. As Hemingway writes, it's a nice change when someone loses a job after messing up.
Now, Lauten is in communications and her job presumably included an assumption that she wouldn’t embarrass her boss. Besides, in a city where you can keep your job even if you’re involved in serious scandals at the IRS, State Department, Veterans Affairs or the Department of Justice, an actual job loss is refreshing, in its own way. She even gave a full-throated apology — within hours of the initial post — for being mean, not one of these “I’m sorry if” constructions that politicians frequently use.
And, of course, the sheer hypocrisy of the media is gobsmackingly obvious.
So we know that the national media is deeply concerned about stray insults directed toward the Obama family from Congressional staffers. Is raping people worse than that? Or not? I’m confused. Because a few years ago Congressional staffer Donny Ray Williams, Jr., was indicted for a series of alleged sexual assaults and it got only one “local crime” story in the Washington Post. Yesterday he pled guilty and that also generated one story in the Washington Post. If there’s network coverage of this congressional staffer raping people, I’m not seeing it. Did I mention he was a staff director for Democrats on a Senate panel?

Or what about child rape? We’re still opposed to that, right? I only ask because Terry Bean, a major campaign donor to President Obama — and a co-founder of the Human Rights Campaign — was just charged with sexual assault of a minor. And the Washington Post hasn’t covered it, according to a search of their archives. I mean, there are pictures of him on Air Force One and he was at the White House seven times including for a state dinner. He’s a member of the DNC. I know, I know, he’s certainly not as important as Lauten, but maybe a single story would be in order? Maybe that Terrence McCoy reporter could dig around and see if Bean wrote anything interesting in high school or something?
And then Hemingway does a nice job taking down Ruth Marcus self-exculpation about why it was fine for her to make fun of the Bush daughters. John Nolte takes a crack of formulating six rules the media have for commenting on the children of politicians. And it all boils down that there are only two rules:
1. Children of Democrats are off-limits (as it should be).

2. Children of Republicans are fair game.
But of course there is no bias here whatsoever. Oh, no. How can one even think that?

Josh Krashaar makes the argument for why Marco Rubio should be the GOP frontrunner now. I fully agree. As Kraushaar writes, Rubio is the one candidate who can unite both the establishment and tea party wings of the party. Yes, he angered many conservatives with his efforts for immigration reform, but he's done a good job of finessing his support for the Senate bill while also opposing Obama's actions. And it would be hard to argue against him as a hard-hearted nativist which you know is the way that Democrats are eager to portray any Republican on immigration. And just think of the contrast between Rubio and Hillary Clinton.
And as a child of the 1970s, he's more culturally adept than most recent GOP presidential nominees, many of whom had trouble connecting with younger voters. Against a Hillary Clinton who will be 69 by Election Day 2016, Rubio wouldn't have to do much to draw sharp generational contrasts.

Most significantly, Rubio is one of the field's strongest retail politicians. He's youthful, charismatic, and can deliver an engaging speech. His personal biography as the son of immigrants would dovetail with a campaign message centering on restoring the country's economic opportunities.
Just picture them on a debate stage together. I think it would be no contest.

I've read that Rubio would not run if Jeb Bush ran because he feels he owes Bush and their constituencies would overlap. That's just one of several reasons why I'm hoping that Bush doesn't jump in the race. I just don't think we need another Bush-Clinton contest. And I don't think the Republicans are going to nominate someone who seems to regularly badmouth members of his party. I sure would prefer Rubio to quite a few of the people who are getting the most mention such as Rand Paul, Ben Carson, or Mike Huckabee. Rand Paul's stand on foreign policy basically disqualifies him, in my mind, for the nomination. Carson has an appealing biography, but I want someone who has run something and has held political office. It's hubristic to just jump in for the highest position. He could have run for governor of Maryland instead. This year's election shows that a Republican can win that position. And Huckabee? Just, no.

Rubio has to decide if he'd prefer to run for reelection or for president. But, as Scott Conroy points out, the Florida senatorial primary isn't until August 30, 2016. So Rubio could throw his hat in the ring for the nomination and, if it doesn't work out, he could still run for reelection.

John Podhoretz contemplates Hillary's unprecedented dominance as the front-runner. He's not impressed.
This is disturbing because Hillary Clinton has no natural claim to her party’s nomination.
She’s not even an especially gifted politician. Aside from the spectacular incompetence of her 2008 campaign, she is as gaffe-prone as Dan Quayle and as awkward as Bob Dole.
It doesn’t speak well of the health of the Democratic Party that she and its voters seem to think she does have that claim. Rather, it’s a mark of lifelessness, of a hardening of the party’s arteries.