Sunday, September 27, 2009

Time To Wrap Iowa's Show Biz Giveaway

Just about everyone in Iowa knows that the Iowa Film Office (IFO) has been embroiled in scandal lately. The office issues tax credits to filmmakers who film in Iowa. By August, IFO had issued more than $31 million in such credits. Unfortunately, some filmmakers have used their money to buy themselves fancy cars, rather than hire Iowans, and the whole operation is shot through with accounting irregularities and poor record keeping.

The whole mess got so bad that Governor Culver actually had to put down his paddleball, amble over and fire somebody. Of course, Culver’s political rivals in the Republican Party are capitalizing on the scandal. They could run the IFO better, they contend. Other critics say that the IFO needs stricter oversight. But should IFO and other similar incentive programs exist at all?

There are nut-and-bolts reasons that indicate that they shouldn’t. A study by New Mexico State University found that for every dollar that N.M. spent on it’s film program, it got back 14 cents in tax revenue. (The state of N.M. claims it gets $1.50 back.) The Wisconsin Dept. of Commerce found that for every dollar that it invests in it’s film program, it gets back $1.70. For other economic development programs, the return on each dollar invested was said to be $161.

Victor Elias with the nonpartisan Child and Family Policy Center has studied Iowa’s film tax credit. He says that there is little evidence that the program does much of anything. “I couldn’t even figure out how many jobs this creates,” said Elias. “Whether they were full-time jobs or part-time jobs. And a film shoot only lasts for so long, so we’re not talking about permanent jobs.” $31 million is a lot of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to invest on hope alone.

Even if the incentive program was well-run and got a return on the investment, it (and special incentive programs for other industries) don’t really make sense. While it may now be customary for state and local governments to offer special goodies to get targeted businesses to relocate here, it comes at the expense of people and businesses who have already invested their time and money here.

According to Iowa’s Tax Education Foundation, Iowa has the highest corporate and personal income taxes among it’s neighboring states. Some have ranked Iowa as one of the worst states to start a business. Does it make sense to offer monetary incentives to get businesses to locate here, while simultaneously driving established businesses out?

It would make more sense to implement policies making the state attractive to new businesses and existing ones as well. Lowering state taxes and red tape would be conducive to all commerce in Iowa.

The bottom line is that there is no cash incentive that government can offer to new business that it didn’t first take away from the people and industry already here. The state needs to forget the bribes and just get out of the way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Only 2 Days Left!

I am determined to make a difference in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. By participating in the 2009 Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk®, I'm committed to raising awareness and funds for Alzheimer research, care and support. I set a personal goal of raising $250 for the Alzheimer's Association. So far I'm well over half way there. With your help I can raise even more.

Currently more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and 78 million baby boomers are at risk – unless we find a way to change the course of the disease.

I want to do my part to fight this disease, but I need to ask for your support! Please make a donation to help the Alzheimer's Association advance research into prevention, treatments and a cure for Alzheimer's. For the millions already affected by the disease, the Association offers care, education, support and resources in communities nationwide.

On behalf of the millions of Americans who are living with this disease, thank you for supporting my efforts. We're on the MOVE to end Alzheimer’s!


The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any group or organization.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Be Prepared. Be Armed.

[A note from Ben: I originally posted this last September. Since much of it is still relevant, I decided to post it again this September. I hope you'll indulge me.]

After a year replete with blizzards, tornadoes, and epic floods (2008), we Iowans now realize that disasters don’t just happen to those people on the coasts that we see on TV with their fancy earthquakes and hurricanes. So Iowans should sit up and take notice that September is “National Preparedness Month.”

The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “Ready Campaign” recommends three things to prepare for disaster: 1.Get a Kit, 2.Make a Plan, 3.Be Informed. The "Be Ready Iowa!" website has a pretty similar list you can check out too.

Since you can read the details at the National Preparedness Month website, I won’t rehash what each of these entails. But I will spend some time on one vital survival tool that usually doesn’t make the government’s list: a modern firearm.

I won’t try to sell you on owning a gun if you don’t want one. I fully support your right to NOT own a gun. However, I’m convinced now more than ever that a firearm is an important part of an American’s readiness kit.

During Hurricane Katrina we saw massive destruction that stripped all credibility from the modern argument that you can just call 9-1-1 in an emergency. When the phones don’t work and the police themselves are looting, who do you call and how?

During the 1992 Los Angeles riots the California National Guard arrived on the scene without any ammunition and missing their riot gear. When the local cops and state militia can’t impose order, who do you call? Local Korean shopkeepers were more prepared and defended their businesses with semi-automatic rifles until the Marines showed up to quell the riots.

Even in less extreme circumstances, Americans use firearms in self-defense over 1 million times each year. (Some research puts that number at 2.5 million times per year.) Usually the defender doesn’t even have to fire a shot before the attacker runs off to look for easier prey. A gun is a useful defensive tool.

I’ve been a lifelong shooter, but I don’t consider myself an expert. I’m someone who wants a functional weapon for protection and recreation, but who doesn’t have the time or money to make a religion out of it. I write the following pointers for people who are considering buying a defensive arm. It should not be considered technical nor legal advice, nor anything else that will get me sued. If at all possible, take a gun safety class and certainly check to make sure you are complying with all state, local and federal laws and regulations. Chat with shooters in your area.

Guns that shoot .22 rimfire ammo are good for target practice and small game but are generally too underpowered for defensive purposes. Get the largest caliber that you can comfortably handle. Stick with common calibers so that ammunition will be relatively plentiful and cheap. If you live in close quarters with others, consider buying frangible ammo by MagSafe or Glaser. It breaks apart on impact rather than punching through the wall into your kids room or the neighbor’s sitting room. (Definitely not the way to get invited to the next apartment block-party.) Frangible ammo is costly so practice with cheap “ball” ammo and save the frangible stuff for defense.

The kind of gun you choose will depend on what you're trying to defend.

Level One-Defending Yourself: Being lightweight and concealable, the handgun is the ideal weapon for defending your person. Here in Iowa you’ll need a special permit to buy one and another special permit if you intend to carry your pistol in public. Both are available from your county sheriff.

Semi-automatic pistols are the most popular, but are generally more complicated than revolvers. Glock (brand) pistols have a reputation of ease of use and reliability, but they are costly. The .45 caliber M1911 has proven reliable enough to still be popular almost 100 years after it was invented. Avoid the very cheap “no-name” autos, you get what you pay for. Common calibers for auto pistols are: .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.

Revolvers are rugged and reliable. There’s darned little that can go wrong with them. The down-side: They usually only hold six shots. Stick with "double-action," as opposed to "single-action" revolvers. Common calibers are: .38 Special, .357 Magnum (revolvers chambered for .357 Magnum can also shoot .38 Special Ammo, but not vice versa), .44 Magnum and .45 Colt.

Level Two- Defending Your Home: Your pistol will make a fine home defense weapon, but since size and concealability won’t matter on your own property, you might want more gun. A shotgun or small-caliber carbine rifle would make a good home defense weapon. No special permit is required to buy long guns in Iowa, but the retailer will run a criminal background check on you at the point of purchase.

Shotguns fire a number of small metal balls rather than a single bullet. Contrary to popular belief, you still have to aim. “00 Buckshot” is the most powerful ammo but in close-quarters you may want 6 or 7-½ birdshot to avoid over-penetration. A pump-action shotgun should be reliable enough. Common calibers are: .410, 20-guage, and 12-guage.

There are numerous pistol-caliber carbines out there that work well if you need just a little extra “reach,” such as on a farm. The old M1 Carbine is also readily available. Again, consider frangible ammo if you have neighbors very close. Common calibers are the same as for handguns and .30 carbine ammo for the M1 Carbine.

Level Three- Defending Freedom: If you live in open country or for the real doomsday (and less likely) scenarios involving extended anarchy, invading armies or the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, you’ll need a rifle. You might want one anyway, because they’re fun to shoot. If you don’t already have a bolt-action or lever-action that you’re comfortable with, get a reliable semi-automatic.

A .223 caliber rifle should be your bare-minimum for defense. Common semi-automatic weapons in this caliber include the AR-15 (by many names, from many manufacturers including one made in Iowa), Ruger Mini-14, and the Kel-Tec SU-16 to name just a few. There are also many semi-autos chambered for the 7.62 X 39mm Russian round. These include the AK-47, SKS, and Ruger Mini-30.

If you can handle the extra kick, the .308 Winchester round gives better range and take-down power than the two previous calibers. The most common semi-autos in this caliber are the Springfield M1A, AR-10 clones from several manufacturers, FAL clones, H&K 91 and the Israeli Galil (also available in .223).

You may want to configure your rifle as a “scout rifle.” With a small, low-powered telescopic sight mounted far ahead on the weapon, it becomes much easier to quickly acquire and engage targets at normal combat distances. [Shameless plug: To inexpensively configure your weapon read “Poor Man’s Scout Rifle” by my brother Bob Cashner, who, unlike me, is an expert.]

Besides the three mentioned above, two other common rifle calibers are the .30-30, which is common in lever-action rifles, and the .30-06, which is fired through the semi-auto M1 Garand rifle as well as many bolt-actions.

There you have it, firearms for any scenario. If you get one, learn to shoot, maintain and store it safely. (For gun safety classes try here, here or here.) Remember that your gun will do you no good if you don’t have any ammo or if its rusted shut. Whatever weapon you can afford is better than no weapon at all.

In honor of National Preparedness Month: Be prepared. Be armed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Constitution Day

Excerpted from this article by Michael Boldin at The Tenth Amendment Center:

The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, and every year that date passes by with hardly a sound. Sure, now that it’s considered a day of “federal observance” you’ll find government schools around the country including it in their lesson plans. But these discussions generally focus on “Constitution Trivia” instead of what’s really important. While it may be good to educate our young on how many years a Senator serves, or how Supreme Court justices are appointed, it’s not enough. Seriously lacking in the public discourse is the actual purpose of the Constitution – its underlying principles.

When the Constitution was being considered for ratification, there was strong opposition from famous American figures that included George Mason and Patrick Henry. One major reason for this was a fear of too much power. The founding generation spent their lives toiling under a tyranny - a government without limits. But, when the Constitution was written, it was done to codify in law that the powers of government would be limited to those which had been delegated to it. The entire system was created under the principle of popular sovereignty - that ‘We the People of the Several States’ created the government, and all powers not delegated to it, were retained.

But that’s not something you’re likely to hear from politicians in Washington DC, political pundits, schools, or just about anywhere else. It’s generally not in their interest, either. If politicians and their backers were promoting such crazy ideas as “originalism” and “limited government” they’d never be able to convince you that they have the power to tell you what kind of health care plan you’ll be getting, how big your toilet can be, what kind of plants you’re allowed to grow, where you’re allowed to exercise your “right” to free speech, whom you can buy and sell from, and even when you must send your children to die for them.

[To read the entire article, click here.]

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Great Debate, Part 3: What Now?

In the last two posts we’ve analyzed the ongoing Constitutional debate of: “Is the federal government to be a small government with a few enumerated powers or an expansive government with a few enumerated restrictions?” We’ve looked at how those who want an expansive federal government have used imaginative interpretations of the Constitution’s general welfare and commerce clauses as the basis of their expansion.

But what about those of us in the first camp, who believe the Constitution outlines a small, restrained federal government? Although things may look bleak (what with massive new government bailouts, “stimulus,” entitlements and corporate takeovers from both major political parties), there is reason to believe that the government expansion pendulum may be reaching its apogee.

Firstly, there is the cost of unfettered government. The federal government is currently $11.8 trillion in debt. Social Security and Medicare spending are set to rise as baby-boomers age and retire. Both of the big-box parties have shown no willingness to curb spending. To put it mildly, this is unsustainable. Something WILL change, one way or another, and it probably won’t be pretty when it does.

Secondly, as I noted in the previous post, many people are getting fed up. They are increasingly protesting the federal governments policies, be they seemingly never-ending wars, taxes or government controls. They are quite literally marching in the streets. And although it’s not usually the topic of polite political conversation, with some 70 to 80 million of them bearing arms, the American people are not a force to be trifled with.

Voters gave Republicans control of Congress in 1994, then the Democrats in 2006, showing a “throw the bums out” attitude both times. (Hopefully this continues and the current batch of bums will get their walking papers in 2010.)

Thirdly, the Supreme Court has lately begun to recognize at least some limits upon federal power (as also noted in the last post).

Lastly, the states themselves seem to be awakening against federal usurpation. With or without the aid of the Supreme Court, they may well be able to push the federal government back within its Constitutional bounds.

The “Real ID Act,” a Bush-era security measure mandating federal standards on state-issued IDs, never got off the ground because too many states simply refused to comply with it. Short of sending in troops, what were the feds to do?

More recently many states have introduced “state sovereignty resolutions” declaring their rights under the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment. They have passed in at least two states so far. These are, however, mostly symbolic declarations with no enforcement mechanisms.

Besides ad hoc noncompliance and symbolic gestures, the states have the old legal theories of nullification and interposition at their disposal. These ideas were most famously articulated in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, state protests against the federal “Alien and Sedition Acts.” Later, northern states used nullification to disregard federal fugitive slave laws that they found odious.

The theory holds that the states, as the creators of the Constitution, are the ultimate judges of a law’s constitutionality, not the Supreme Court. Laws introduced in several states may soon test these theories or at least get the Supreme Court to reexamine it’s interpretation of the commerce clause.

Montana passed the Firearms Freedom Act, which states that firearms manufactured, sold and used only in Montana are exempt from federal firearms laws, since they don’t involve interstate commerce. Tennessee also passed similar legislation and it has been introduced in at least five other states. Gun rights groups are already preparing for the court battles.

Red and blue states alike seem to have federal intrusions they don’t like. California is poised to pass a resolution demanding the federal government stop meddling in the state’s medical marijuana laws. Arizona, Georgia and several other states have proposed plans to opt out of any national health care plan.

If you add up all these elements it’s easy to see that, despite the appearance otherwise, the era of big government may finally be set to ebb. But, no doubt, this great debate over the role of government in our lives will rage on indefinitely.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Great Debate, Part 2: The Commerce Clause

In the last post we began examining the long-running debate about the proper role of the federal government. I posited that the central question of the debate is this: “Is the federal government to be a small government with a few enumerated powers or an expansive government with a few enumerated restrictions?” The “Expansionists” rest their support for the second of these options primarily upon two clauses in the U.S. Constitution, the general welfare clause and the commerce clause.

We last analyzed the general welfare clause and found that it gives Congress power to levy taxes, but gives it no sweeping mandate to pass just any law that it deems necessary to promote the general good. Now we’ll analyze the Constitution’s commerce clause which reads: “[The Congress shall have power] To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes[.]”

This power to regulate commerce given to Congress is an important one. Under the Articles of Confederation, the precursor to the Constitution, states were free to place protectionist tariffs and regulations on goods coming in from other states. Imagine Iowa placing tariffs on cheese “imported” from Wisconsin or beef from Nebraska (and the tariffs those states would place upon Iowa pork and corn) and you can imagine the problems that would create for consumers and merchants alike.

The commerce clause put an end to these interstate protectionist measures and helped to turn America into a “free trade zone” and the economic juggernaut that it is today. It was put in place to streamline commerce, not to regulate every minute aspect of human existence.

In his 1995 testimony before Congress Roger Pilon, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies, explained: “Not remotely did the Framers intend that the clause be converted from a shield against state abuse--its use in the first great commerce clause case, Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)--into a sword enabling Congress, through regulation, to try to bring about all manner of social and economic ends. Yet for nearly 60 years now, following the Supreme Court's reversal in 1937 (NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.), that is just what has happened as Congress has claimed power to regulate anything that even ‘affects’ interstate commerce, which in principle is everything.” Let’s examine this Supreme Court “reversal” that Mr. Pilon refers to.

For most of the court’s history prior to 1937, commerce “among the several states” was interpreted as money or products moving from one state to another. In May of 1936 the court struck down one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal laws, “The Bituminous Coal Conservation Act,” which regulated coal mining. In Carter v. Carter Coal Company, the court prudently ruled that although the coal being mined may eventually end up in other states, the mining operation itself was a local activity not subject to federal regulation under the commerce clause.

Infuriated by the setback, President Roosevelt floated a plan to change the size of the Supreme Court from 9 to 15 justices. The new appointees picked by Roosevelt would presumably be acolytes of the New Deal, turning the court into a rubberstamping committee for New Deal laws.

Although Roosevelt eventually abandoned the plan, Chief Justice Charles Hughes and Justice Owen Roberts had clearly gotten the message. In 1937 both men switched sides from the Carter decision and voted for the expansive New Deal definition of interstate commerce in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, reversing the court’s ruling from the previous year.

Years later Justice Roberts wrote: “Looking back it is difficult to see how the Court could have resisted the popular urge ... an insistence by the Court on holding Federal power to what seemed its appropriate orbit when the Constitution was adopted might have resulted in even more radical changes to our dual structure than those which have gradually accomplished through the extension of limited jurisdiction conferred on the federal government.”

They had deliberately misinterpreted the Constitution in order to save the composition of the court. Seventy-two years of federal government expansion have been build upon this lie. The commerce clause has since been used as justification to tell supposedly free Americans everything from how many gallons per flush their toilets will use to which toxin-laden light bulbs they must bring into their homes.

There have been a few Supreme Court decisions since 1995 that have showed that the court is beginning to recognize at least some limits upon the government definition of “interstate commerce.” In U.S. v. Lopez (1995), the court ruled that possessing a gun near a school zone was not a transaction of interstate commerce, striking down the "The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990.” In 2000 the court invalidated parts of the “Violence Against Women Act of 1994,” reasoning (I guess) that smacking your live-in girlfriend was not interstate commerce unless she was standing on the other side of the state line at the time. Both are examples of cases best handled by local police, not the United States Congress.

It’s somewhat naïve to think that the Supreme Court, an appendage of the federal government, can be a completely impartial arbiter when divvying up power between the people, states and federal government. And, as we’ve seen, the Supreme Court can be coerced. If there is to be any hope of returning the federal government to a small government with a few enumerated powers, other remedies must be sought by the two other entities mentioned in the 10th Amendment, namely the states and the people.

We are seeing the beginnings of this very process. The people have been rising up and protesting the federal government’s unwanted wars, taxes and “entitlements.” The states, like long-abused spouses, are making the first few timid attempts at exerting themselves as equal partners with the federal government.

Next time we’ll look at one of these attempts, Montana’s Firearms Freedom Act, and the theories of state nullification and interposition.

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