Saturday, January 24, 2009

Iowa City: First Things Last

On January 22 an unidentified man assaulted a 7-year-old girl outside of an Iowa City school. The man ( an adult, black male with a shaved head, 5 feet 9 inches and of medium build) ran off and is still at large.

Watching the local evening news, I’ve noticed similar stories of street crime coming from Iowa City (I.C.) on a pretty regular basis, at least every month. Mine is a fairly rural area where such events still make the news. The crime scenarios coming from I.C. are usually pretty similar: a pedestrian victim is attacked on or near a street or walking trail. I wondered if I.C. has a crime problem and, if so, why?

Iowa City, as I’ve noted in other posts, is probably the most liberal town in Iowa. This is no doubt due to it being home to the University of Iowa (UI). The University is the city’s biggest employer and is so marbled throughout the community it’s hard to tell were UI ends and the city government begins.

What about I.C. is so liberal? I.C. has led the way in new "health regulations," from public smoking bans to drinking bans. I.C. has been most noticeably supporting (and licking it’s chops about) the prospect of a new Iowa law allowing cities to impose income taxes on it’s citizens. It is proudly home to one of Iowa’s few remaining abortion mills.

The community’s central pillar, UI, is a typically liberal public university. It embraces “diversity” in all its forms, except for white skin. When a black female student was arrested for sending threatening emails in 2000, UI’s then Vice President and spokeswoman Ann Rhodes famously declared that white guys between 25 and 55 are the root of most evil.

The instructor of a required course at UI forced students to watch videos of gay sodomy, even after several protested. (Gays should be allowed to do whatever they want, just don’t force our kids to watch it!) The UI school of law is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that it discriminates against conservatives. (We libertarians might want in on that action.)

Back to crime in I.C.: I wanted to know if the stories I was always seeing on the news were just anecdotal or did I.C. have crime rates higher than others. Looking online I found that neighboring Cedar Rapids had per capita crime rates higher than I.C. in all categories except for forcible rape and aggravated assault.

Believing that these two crimes, particularly rape, might be problematic for college towns, I decided to compare I.C. with the towns housing Iowa’s two other public universities, Ames and Cedar Falls. I used crime statistics for 2006 from

Of the three towns, Iowa City had the highest per capita rates in forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and vehicle theft. Ames, home of Iowa State University, led in burglary and larceny theft. University of Northern Iowa's hometown of Cedar Falls didn't lead in any category. (That was surprising since Cedar Falls borders Waterloo, which had relatively high crime rates across the board.) None of the three college towns had any murders in 2006. Confirming my suspicion, all three college towns were above the national average on forcible rape.

I.C. has higher per capita violent crime rates than other similar Iowa college towns. If I was an I.C. taxpayer I would be angry that my city government always had the time and resources to harass smokers, bar owners and Wal-Mart, but can’t keep the streets safe.

If the local government won’t defend its citizens, you would think that they would at least allow them to defend themselves. Not so!

While Iowa allows citizens who have passed background checks and safety courses to apply for a permit to carry concealed firearms, it is up to the county sheriff whether or not to issue the permit. Some sheriffs simply refuse to issue them to anyone. This map from shows the issuance policy of each county. As you can see, Johnson County (of which I.C. is county seat and largest city) is red, meaning it is all but impossible for a citizen to get a permit. Of course even if you do get a concealed carry permit, you can’t carry your gun on campus. Only deranged killers like Gang Lu are allowed to do that.

There are reams of statistics suggesting that an armed citizenry lowers crime rates. Denying citizens the means to defend themselves is the exact wrong answer.

A study by the Carter Justice Department found that of attempted rapes, 32% were actually committed. If the woman was armed with a gun or a knife only 3% of the attempted rapes were successful.

When faced with a spree of rape in the 1960s, Orlando Florida set up a course to teach women how to use guns. It was highly publicized in the local press. Orlando’s rate of rape dropped by 88% in one year (while remaining constant in the rest of the state). Those in I.C., who pride themselves on “empowering” women, would never stand for such a course.

As a libertarian, I disagree with liberals on matters of limited government and economic freedom, but I AGREE with them on many matters of personal freedom. So I don’t mean to pick on liberals in general or Iowa City in particular. Rest assured, if I see evidence of a major Iowa town that is as consistently and buffoonishly conservative as Iowa City is liberal (perhaps one that finally outlaws that oh-so-phallic Chapstick) I’ll let you know, dear reader.

In the mean time, Iowa City residents and city council members need to decide whether Wal-Mart or the thugs roaming its streets represent a greater threat to the populace. They might want to ask the parents of a certain 7-year-old girl.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rebuild Iowa Wisely

As I noted previously, I just started reading the classic “Economics In One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt. Although it was originally written in 1946, the subject matter seems to be torn from today’s headlines. Chief among these are the many “make-work” projects being advanced by the ruling Democrats.

Not to be outdone by President Obama’s national public works plan, our own Iowa Governor Chet Culver has trotted out his own $700 million infrastructure plan. "In an effort to stimulate economic growth during this recession, create good private sector jobs, and address unmet infrastructure needs, I propose the creation of the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Authority," Culver said in his recent Condition of the State speech. "But when I say infrastructure, I’m not just talking about bridges and roads. I mean all infrastructure: rail, trails, public buildings, water and sewer treatment facilities, the utility grid, and telecommunications, too."

After the 2008 floods and tornadoes, there is definitely no shortage of infrastructure that needs fixed. But what about the two primary goals, stimulating economic growth and creating jobs, that Culver listed even before “address[ing] unmet infrastructure needs?” Culver boasted that “for every $100 million spent on highway construction alone, more than 4,000 new jobs are created!” He predicts that if the legislature spends as much as he hopes, 28,000 jobs would be created.

Will any bill like this really “stimulate economic growth” and “create good private sector jobs?” Economist Hazlitt would say, “NO.”

In the chapter “Public Works Mean Taxes,” Hazlitt uses the erection of an otherwise unneeded bridge as his example of a typical government make-work project. He writes: “It is true that a particular group of bridgeworkers may receive more employment than otherwise. But the bridge has to be paid for out of taxes. For every dollar that is spent on the bridge a dollar will be taken away from taxpayers. If the bridge costs $10 million the taxpayers will lose $10 million. They will have that much taken away from them which they would otherwise have spent on the things they needed most.

“Therefore, for every public job created by the bridge project a private job has been destroyed somewhere else. We can see the men employed on the bridge. We can watch them at work. The employment argument of the government spenders becomes vivid, and probably for most people convincing. But there are other things that we do not see, because, alas, they have never been permitted to come into existence. They are the jobs destroyed by the $10 million taken from the taxpayers. All that has happened, at best, is that there has been a diversion of jobs because of the project. More bridge builders; fewer automobile workers, television technicians, clothing workers, farmers.”

In other words, if you need a bridge (or park or community building), then build it. But do so because you need it, not to “stimulate” the economy or create jobs. It will do neither.

The necessity of many of the projects covered in Culver’s plan is unquestionable. Iowa’s infrastructure took a pounding last year. But some of the projects should give taxpayers pause.

Mass transit projects such as “light rail” are often expensive boondoggles for governments that build them. (This fact was even lampooned in an episode of The Simpsons wherein an unscrupulous traveling salesman sells the gullible Springfielders on the idea of building a monorail.) I don’t know if Culver is referring to light rail when he mentions rail, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There's been talk about it.

Even Iowa Public Radio would get some of Culver’s $700 million largesse, as would the governor‘s residence.

Culver pointed out that “unlike the federal government, [Iowa] can’t deficit spend. And, we’re not going to tax our way out of this, like California or New York." Culver instead proposes to fund the $700 million by selling bonds. That means $700 million in state debt that will be need to be repaid over 20 years. So Culver does plan to “tax our way out of this,” although through delayed taxation rather than immediate taxation. Thanks, you Big Lug!

We have $620 million in “rainy day funds” and now is obviously a good time to use some of it. Governor Culver proposes taking $43 million from the fund: $20 million for property tax replacement, $10 million in "Jumpstart" assistance, $5 million in non-profit assistance, $5 million for individual unmet needs, $2 million for the Rebuild Iowa office and $1 million for skills training. Why not withdraw a little more and skip the bond debt?

I don’t doubt that Iowa needs to spend a lot of money to rebuild. I just hope that the Iowa legislature spends that money carefully and wisely.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Revolution: A Manifesto

Back in October I received a copy of Ron Paul’s book "The Revolution: A Manifesto." I did something with it I had never done with a book before. No, not read it. I read it cover to cover twice in a row.

Usually books written in association with a presidential campaign aren’t very good. They tend to be just the written form of the meaningless sound bites that we expect from modern politics. Paul’s book is, unsurprisingly, different. Although Ron Paul sought the Republican nomination for president, philosophically he is a libertarian and has done more to advance that school of thought than any Libertarian Party candidate. The Revolution isn’t a campaign book at all, but a wide ranging dissertation on libertarian and paleo-conservative philosophy.

The first chapter is titled “The False Choices of American Politics.” Paul writes: “[E]very four years we are treated to the same tired, predictable routine: two candidates with few disagreements on fundamentals pretend that they represent dramatically different philosophies of government.” The false choice presented is, how should the government control something, not should the government control it. This chapter seemed particularly apropos after this election between statists Obama and McCain, and after a Republican president began nationalizing the banking industry like a Democrat on steroids.

Chapter 2 deals with “The Foreign Policy of the Founding Fathers.” Paul spends a good deal of time outlining the policy of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none,” advocated by Thomas Jefferson and others. He chronicles how far we’ve strayed from that advice and how our intervention in other nations has made us a target for terrorists while draining our treasury.

The third chapter deals with the constitution and how much the federal government has slipped loose from its constraints. Paul again quotes Jefferson, who wrote in 1798, “Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence… In matters of Power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Paul urges us to “rally and recall our people to the Constitution, the rule of law, and our traditional American republic.”

Chapter 4 expounds upon “Economic Freedom.” He details his thoughts on government waste and spending (but I repeat myself), taxes, and regulation of private markets. In Chapter 5, “Civil Liberties and Personal Freedom,” he deals with privacy rights and other civil protections that have been buffeted by the “wars” on terror and drugs. Writes Paul: “Freedom means not only that our economic activity ought to be free and voluntary, but that government should stay out of our personal affairs as well. […] Economic freedom and personal liberty are not divisible.” This flies in the face of conservatives and liberals that want one but not the other, conservatives wanting only the former and liberals wanting only the latter.

The sixth chapter deals with Paul’s true passion: “Money: The Forbidden Issue in American Politics.” Here Paul chronicles America’s monetary policy and how it creates inflation, encourages debt and government spending, and causes the economic “bubbles” that seem to be bursting everywhere lately. Chief among Paul’s concerns is the Federal Reserve, which orchestrates all of the above. To remedy our problems, Paul advises abolishing the Federal Reserve and returning the dollar to the gold standard.

In the final chapter, “The Revolution,” Paul explains what can be done to peacefully implement the points he raised in the previous chapters.

If you’re at all interested in understanding libertarian ideas, you should read "The Revolution: A Manifesto." It touches on just about every subject of importance and is an easy, enjoyable read. It’s available at the Campaign For Liberty Store online, and anywhere else books are sold.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Out With The Old In With The... Old

It’s obviously the time of year to write a retrospective of the old year and predictions for the new. The retrospective is easy. Not to put too fine a point on it, 2008 sucked.

Here in Iowa, we started 2008 buried in snow and ice. By June that had turned to tornadoes and floods. Not just any tornadoes and floods, but Iowa’s worst tornado since 1976 and our worst flooding in recorded history. The political climate didn’t prove any better than the weather.

Despite starting the year optimistic that libertarian Republican candidate Ron Paul would do well in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary, giving him a bounce into a credible run for the GOP’s nomination for president, the Republicans instead nominated another big government neo-conservative. Although I myself have been lulled into the “lesser of two evils” mindset in previous elections, I could never vote for John McCain because I don’t believe he is any "lesser." For the first time in my adult life, I truly didn’t care whether the Democrats or Republicans won the Whitehouse.

Let’s look at what went on in the categories of personal and economic freedom.

2008 Economic Freedom

On the national front we saw the emergence of a strong new socialist leader who led the country toward nationalization of several major industries. To my chagrin it was not Barack Obama but “free-market Republican” President George W. Bush who has marched us hip deep into socialism. On an encouraging note, however, the RNC is poised to issue a rebuke to Bush and congressional Republicans for the massive “bailouts.”

In my state of Iowa, the Democrats, who control the statehouse and governorship, went into a holding pattern after hiking the minimum wage in 2007 (which went into effect Jan.1, 2008). However, they replaced the 1% SILO (School Infrastructure Local Option sales tax), which had to be occasionally approved by voters in each county, with a “Statewide Penny Tax,” thereby taking the decision away from local voters who might be too dumb to constantly reauthorize it. Lobbyists and politicians in Des Moines are already proposing other uses for this “school infrastructure” money.

In similar disdain for democracy, when voters in two Iowa localities (a county and school district) voted down tax increases, the respective governing bodies rescheduled special elections to vote on the same measure. The elections will be held after the county and school board have had time to properly “educate” voters on the issue. Sounds like, heads we win, tails we flip again, to me.

In December, Governor Culver announced his pragmatic move to cut state spending by 1.5 percent across-the-board. This is a nice departure from the usual Democrat idea to increase government spending during economic downturns. It leaves libertarians wondering why it takes a recession to get that done, however.

2008 Personal Freedom

Gun owners got a needed boost when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Second Amendment protects an individual, as opposed to collective, right to own firearms. This led to several U.S. cities dropping gun ban ordinances.

Gun owners in Iowa, however, had a setback when a modest bill to standardize training and issuance of concealed-weapons permits died in the legislature in April.

Personal freedom also took a hit when a statewide smoking ban went into effect in July. This lessened the liberty of Iowa’s smokers as well as its business owners.

2008 marked the first year that voters could register as Libertarian Party members on Iowa's voter registration forms. As of July, however, only 150 had officially done so, although party membership is much higher. The Party's presidential candidate, former congressman Bob Barr, received 4,608 votes statewide.

Peering into my crystal ball (which are issued to all bloggers), let’s examine the trends for 2009.

2009 Economic Freedom

This year will probably be more of the same, or worse, for proponents of small government and free markets. President Obama and the Democrat Congress will no doubt treat Bush’s socialist power grab in the market as a floor, not a ceiling. Expect massive amounts of new regulations, new taxes, and scores of new bureaucrats administering it all. I think we’ll see a lot of that at the state level also.

The state of Iowa already has income and sales taxes and localities have sales and property taxes. A new proposal by some Iowa legislators would allow Iowa cities to also levy a tax on their denizens’ incomes. This is being sold largely as “property tax relief.” Ed Failor, Jr., President of Iowans for Tax Relief said: “Iowans are smart people, and we are smart enough to understand a new tax to reduce reliance on another tax is how politicians describe a tax increase.” The new income taxes will be around longer than any short-lived “relief” in property taxes.

There is also the ongoing chatter about getting rid of the deductibility of federal taxes on Iowan’s state income taxes. Essentially this would require Iowans to pay taxes on money that goes directly to the federal government that the wage earner never even sees.

2009 Personal Freedom

This will be hit and miss depending upon whether you are in a group favored by liberal Democrats, but I would say the general trend is downward.

Hopes that Obama would do better on civil liberties than Bush, faltered somewhat when Obama supported a sweeping intelligence eavesdropping law opposed by his own party. Police state policies don’t look so bad when you will be the one wielding them. Civil libertarians should brace for more such letdowns.

Gun owners should follow the advice of Samuel L. Jackson in “Jurassic Park” and, “Hold onto your butts.” At a minimum we should expect federal efforts to resurrect and expand the ban on so-called “assault weapons,” banning of gun shows, gun storage laws and gun owner harassment.

Since the Iowa legislature has shown itself to be willing to regulate any human activity in the name of “public health,” Iowans can expect efforts to strengthen the smoking ban, bans on drink specials at bars, and bans on junk food in schools. All of these are already in discussion. A new mandate that only self-extinguishing “fire safe” cigarettes be sold in Iowa went into effect January 1st, despite complaints by smokers that they are hard to smoke and taste bad. (No, I don’t smoke. I just hate unnecessary regulation and meddling.)

The Iowa Supreme Court may rule soon on gay marriage in Iowa. A lawsuit against Iowa’s unfair concealed weapons issuance law may be advanced this year. Both could either help or harm their intended beneficiaries.

Not counting the weather, I believe 2009 will be about the same as 2008. The few glimmers of hope for personal freedoms will largely be extinguished by massive reductions in economic freedom. Since these infringements upon economic freedom will also have a negative effect upon the economy as a whole, more people will be harmed than helped and the recession will be longer than it needs to be.

Of course, I’ve been wrong before. Happy new year.

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