Keystone XL pipeline madness

By his own admission President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project is political rather than scientific.

Two environmental concerns have been raised. The first is that the emissions of greenhouse gases are about 17% higher for oil from oil sands compared to conventional sources. However, the rejection of the pipeline proposal will not materially change the production and consumption of Canada’s oil shale crude, which will now be transported to market by more expensive means. “Rail transport has expanded to carry oil sands to the United States, soaring from just 16,000 barrels in 2010 to 51.2 million barrels in 2014 before dropping somewhat this year. But rail transport is more expensive than pipeline transport…. Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, said last year that the company had bid for space on another pipeline to move its oil-sands crude to Canada’s east coast and from there to world markets, including Gulf Coast refiners. ‘We’re covered. I’m good,’ he said in an interview. He said that ‘the argument that Keystone is a bad idea because it will somehow enable development of resources in Canada is to some extent flawed,’ adding that other alternatives would emerge.” (This and other quotes are from today’s Washington Post in the article linked below)

The second environmental concern arises from the possibility of oil spills from breaks in the pipeline. This possibility needs to be compared with the possibility of spills from rail accidents or breaks in alternative pipelines.

Because the pipeline would cross international boundaries it must be approved by the State Department. As the application was being reviewed, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on October 15, 2010 that the department was “inclined” to approve project. “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada,” she said. On August 26, 2011 the State Department issued its final environmental impact statement determining “there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed project corridor.” And again on March 1, 2013 the State Department issued another environmental review that raised no major objections to the Keystone XL oil pipeline saying that other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries were worse for climate change.

Canada’s new liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, supported the project. “TransCanada’s president and chief executive, Russ Girling, issued a statement saying his company was ‘disappointed. Today, misplaced symbolism was chosen over merit and science — rhetoric won out over reason,’ Girling said…. Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said Friday that ‘Obama has also solidified a legacy as a pompous, pandering job killer.’” (same Post article).

“As Obama rode from the White House to the campus [Georgetown on June 25, 2013, he], said he would approve Keystone XL only ‘if it does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.’” But his own State Department found that it does not. So what is going on?

“By late 2013, Obama and Kerry had concluded that the pipeline failed their climate test — not because blocking it would guarantee that Canada’s fossil fuels would remain in the ground, but because denying the permit would strengthen America’s position in international climate negotiations…. ‘The reality is that this decision could not be made solely on the numbers — jobs that would be created, dirty fuel that would be transported here, or carbon pollution that would ultimately be unleashed,’ Kerry said in a statement. ‘The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves.’”

In short the President lied (not an uncommon practice among politicians, but we might hope for a higher standard from American Presidents). But apparently not. The Obama administration has authorized the selling of coal owned by the U.S. government that would not meet our C02 emission standards to third world countries, which helps our emission record but not the world’s. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-exports-its-greenhouse-gas-emissions–as-coal-profitable-coal/2015/10/08/05711c92-65fc-11e5-bdb6-6861f4521205_story.html

“The Washington Post’s editorial on the pipeline today began: “President Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday, ending an unseemly political dispute marked by activist hysteria, GOP hyperbole, presidential weakness and a general incapability of various sides to see the policy question for what it was: a mundane infrastructure approval that didn’t pose a high threat to the environment but also didn’t promise much economic development. The politicization of this regulatory decision, and the consequent warping of the issue to the point that it was described in existential terms, was a national embarrassment, reflecting poorly on the United States’ capability to treat parties equitably under law and regulation.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/11/06/obama-ditches-evidence-to-capitulate-on-keystone-xl/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/11/06/obama-set-to-reject-keystone-xl-project-citing-climate-concerns/

Two approaches to American governance–The case of higher education financing

Hillary Clinton deserves credit for setting out her positions on individual policy issues so that we can have an intelligent discussion of their pros and cons. She is nothing if not a tireless policy wonk. Think of her exhaustive but failed effort to “fix the provision of health care in America” during her husband’s presidency. While the Clinton’s are Democratic Party centrist, they still embrace a top down government/regulatory approach to dealing with many of societies challenges/problems. Mrs. Clinton’s plans to make college affordable provide a recent example of this approach. It is thoughtful and balanced from a left of center, regulatory approach perspective. I prefer a difference, right of center, more market oriented approach.

I have not read Mrs. Clinton’s detailed proposal and rely completely on the following Washington Post summary: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/08/10/clinton-proposes-a-350-billion-plan-to-make-college-affordable/

Background

Americans believe in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcomes. We are not egalitarians. There is nothing we can do about the fact that each person is born with different predispositions and capabilities. But it has been a long-standing, broadly shared principle that everyone should have access to the education she is capable of. We have lived up to this goal very imperfectly. Tuition vouchers and school choice are moving us closer to this goal for K-12 by making the state’s financial contribution to education more equal for each student and subjecting schools to greater competition in producing good results. Unlike primary and secondary education, however, which in the United States is financed by the states (generally by municipalities), college is not for everyone. An important public policy issue is who should pay for higher education for those who do go.

When the government began to supplement private universities and colleges with state run, public ones, it generally funded the cost from tax payers charging only nominal tuitions, if any, to those attending. Milton Friedman and others pointed out that this resulted in a perverse redistribution of income from lower to higher income people. University graduates enjoy incomes two or three times the average of non-college graduates. In response to this criticism, state colleges and universities in recent decades have raised their tuitions in order to finance more of the cost of the education by its beneficiaries.

It is desirable for those from low-income families with the intelligence and desire to pursue careers requiring a college education to have that opportunity. This accords with our belief in providing an equal opportunity to all and increases our individual and national wealth by facilitating the maximum productivity of every citizen. But how can we best accomplish this goal without perversely redistributing taxpayers’ money to the better off? Along with higher tuitions, many universities offer financial assistance to such students in order to attract and graduate the best students. Having the best graduates enhances their reputations. A number of private organizations provide fellowship to promising low-income students. America is renowned for its extensive private charities. Many companies do the same, generally for the children of their employees. These have the substantial advantage over government bureaucrats of being closer to the beneficiaries of their largesse and thus better able to determine who in their communities will benefit the most from such assistance.

Determined students often work while studying and/or borrow from their families and friends (this was my approach). In business, future benefits from current investments are normally financed with borrowed money or by giving investors a stake in the outcome (selling shares in the hoped for profits). Unless they are family or friends, lending to someone with potential future human capital as collateral (i.e. lending to a student based on the expectation that she can repay out of higher future income) is a riskier proposition than, say lending to someone with a job to buy a car or a house (both of which can be use as collateral). So bank lending to college students was rather limited and expensive (interest rates high enough to cover the higher risks to the lender) until the government began to guarantee such loans.

Solutions

To address this problem, and building on the experience with financing college for veterans of World War II in the “GI Bill” of 1944, Congress adopted what became known as Pell Grants, financial aid to low-income students in undergraduate college programs, in the Higher Education Act of 1965. This Act also provided limited government loans, which over time expanded in various ways to include students from middle-income families (Middle Income Student Assistance Act of 1978) and studies at graduate and professional schools. Over time the scope and terms of government assistance continued to expand. Grad PLUS was added by that spend thrift George W Bush in 2006 to help finance graduate education. “For the first time, it gave professional and graduate-school students unlimited access to below-market-rate loans from the government, which, of course, borrows the money to begin with.”[1]

This has enabled more American’s to go to college– a potentially good thing. The increased demand for places in colleges is likely to increase the cost of supplying more (higher salaries for college professors in order to attract more into teaching), but hardly justifies what has happened. According to The Economist “Tuition fees have doubled in real terms in the past 20 years. Student debt has trebled in the past decade, to $1.2 trillion.” Seventeen percent of these loans are now in default or seriously delinquent. Many of these students have dropped out of school or not found the jobs they were trained for.

The government (Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) has established a number of programs to help and Hilary Clinton “proposes capping the repayment of college loans at a maximum of 10% of income over 20 years. If a loan is not paid off by then the government will pick up the tab. The estimated bill for her scheme…, comes to $350 billion over ten years.”[2] This may be sensible within the context of government aid. But this top down government approach suffers from a number of weaknesses. One is the propensity for such programs to grow as different special interests succeed in getting added to the list: “Despite all the talk about the government’s $1.1 trillion student loan portfolio, and the burden it represents for college students, some 40 percent of the money is owed by graduate and professional school students — who make up only 16 percent of all student-loan borrowers.”[3] Another is the inferior ability of government bureaucrats, with no financial stake in the outcome, to evaluate the appropriateness of each individual loan or grant. A third is the limited incentive for government to find new innovative ways to deal with the problems that invariably arise.

The policy challenge in my view is to bring more effective competitive pressure on colleges and universities to deliver more for less, to facilitate more careful and better informed decisions by potential students of what education they need and will benefit from and the best place for them to get it, and insuring at the same time that initial poverty does not prevent them from getting it.

Leaving the GI Bill aside as a special case, the arrangements for financing college and advanced degrees that existed prior to the Federal government’s involvement worked pretty well. Those of us needing financial assistance paid a great deal of attention to the cost and value of the educations we sought. We were also more careful about whether and what sort of higher education would benefit us. I have no doubt that the incipient revolution of on-line courses, perhaps supplemented with class room discussions, will dramatically reduce the cost of higher education without significantly sacrificing its quality. Everyone’s professors can be the best that exist. Universities will be forced by such competition to exploit these new technological tools to dramatically reduce the costs of their offerings. The very best students will still pay the premium to attend the University of Chicago’s of the world (pardon my bias). Hopefully they will be the best and not just the wealthiest.

Market based financing innovations are also more likely to come from basically private funding of education. The suggestion made by Milton Friedman in 1955[4] and repeated in Capitalism and Freedom in 1962 for sharing the risk of investing in higher education between the borrowing student and the lender is now being explored in the private sector. “Enter income-share agreements ( ISAs ), which are essentially equity instruments for human capital. Investors finance a student’s college education in return for a percentage of their future income over a fixed period. ISAs are not loans and there is no outstanding balance. If students earn more than expected, they will pay more, but they also will pay less—or nothing—if their earnings do not materialize.”[5] Sharing the risk in this way insures a financial interest by both borrowers and lenders that collage choices maximize the expected return to both. A lender, (especially loans made or guaranteed by the government) is not well placed to determine the career intentions of the borrower leading to what economists call adverse selection. Income sharing agreements overcome this problem because the student being financed has a large stake in making the best choices.

Government always has an important role to play. This issue is what the nature of that role should be. Private contracts such as loans or the ISAs described above require a legal framework of enforcement. Such framework for ISAs is currently rather unclear. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Tom Petri (R., Wis.) recently introduced the Investing in Student Success Act, which would set basic standards for ISA contracts. In addition their bill would provide for the collection and publishing of information on the cost and average earnings of graduates of different colleges and fields, which would help students choose where and how to invest in their futures.

Clinton’s and Rubio’s approaches represent very different concepts of how government can most constructively contribute to our flourishing. I prefer the approach of a more limited, legal framework role for government.

[1] Charles Lane, Washington Post Aug 26, 2015 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-student-loans-help-keep-expensive-schools-in-business/2015/08/26/e7d7f83a-4c11-11e5-902f-39e9219e574b_story.html

[2] The Economist, August 22, 2015.

[3] Charles Lane op. cit.

[4] Milton Friedman, “The Role of Government

in Education,” in Economics and the Public Interest ,

  1. Robert Solo, (Rutgers: Rutgers University

Press, 1955).

[5]   Miguel Palacios And Andrew P. Kelly, “A Better Way to Finance That College Degree” WSJ April 13, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303456104579485801253355622

Cayman Financial Review, Q3 2015

Dear Friends,

The Third Quarter issue of the Cayman Financial Review is now available on the web: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/. I am on the Editorial Board and have two articles in this issue that might interest you. The first discusses the continued decline of U.S. world leadership exemplified in the case of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank located in China: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/08/19/US-leadership-and-the-Asian-Infrastructure-Investment-Bank/

The second is the final installment of my series on the Kabul Bank scandal. The failure of Kabul Bank in Afghanistan was probably the biggest bank failure and fraud in history on a per capital basis.  As this final article looks at some of the legal issues and developments in recovering stolen assets held abroad and Afghanistan’s uneven struggle to strengthen its criminal justice system, Gary Gegenheimer, a lawyer who also worked in Afghanistan, joined me to write this third installment: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/08/19/The-Kabulbank-scandal–Part-III/

I hope that you enjoy them.

Best wishes,

Warren

Greece—how could they?

Today Greece is voting whether its government should accept the conditions required by the “Institutions” (EU/ECB/IMF) for the final installment of its second “bailout” package—a yes vote, or to reject them—a no vote. No one is quite sure what it all means. The program to which these conditions and the final installment of $8 billion applied expired on June 30 and those funds are no longer on offer. A yes vote would presumably indicate support by the majority of Greek voters for accepting the conditions (a modest primary budget surplus by the Greek government in coming years and structural reforms to improve the quality of government services and the productivity of Greece’s economy) likely to be offered for a third bailout program. The alternative—no more financial assistance from the Institutions—would force even greater “austerity” on the Greek government even after repudiating all of its external debt and thus saving the funds that it would otherwise needed to pay to service it. If Greek tax payers won’t cover the cost of the government’s promises and the market will no longer lend the shortfall, the government is likely to resort to augmenting its Euro tax income with IOU claims on Euros, i.e. introducing and inflating its own currency.

What were the Greek government and the Greek people thinking when they borrowed all that money in the first place, and it must be added, enjoyed spending it on an inflated, unsustainable lifestyle rather than investing it in a more productive future? But Greek politicians (and public) are hardly the only ones in the world to ignore future costs when making current promises they have no way to keep.

Take the United States, for example. For decades, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office has forecast ever-increasing deficits from American entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) as expenditures increasingly outstripped revenue. This reflects both the growth in the generosity of these programs and demographics (increasing life expectancy and the baby boomer bulge in retired people relative to those working to pay for them—anyone who still thinks that the retired are receiving what they paid in while working just hasn’t been paying attention). I have written about this from time to time such as four years ago in: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/thinking-about-the-public-debt/

The future unsustainability of Social Security promises has been the subject of public debate for at least fifty years. The “future” retirement of the WWII baby boomers and their pension expectations has been known since the end of WWII. But one congress after the other has kicked the ball down the road. Seven years ago I outlined the issues and the relatively simple solutions to Social Security deficits in: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/saving-social-security/ Since then Medicare and Medicaid promises have only increased.

President Obama established the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the so called Simpson-Bowles Commission) in early 2010 to develop bipartisan proposals for reducing future entitlement driven deficits. He ignored their modest proposals made in the Commission’s final report on December 1, 2010.

The Economist magazine last week reported that the assets available to cover U.S. public sector pensions covered only 75% of their obligations. In fact, the short fall is much greater than that because they are computed assuming a 7.6% return on their assets, which greatly overstates the actual experience of recent years. Private pensions are in much better shape. “But if public plans used the same discount rate as private ones, the deficit would increase to $3.9 trillion and the funding ratio fall to 45%.”

So what are our elected representatives thinking? “Deficits have eventually to be closed. That means lower benefits for the retired, bigger contributions from existing employees (a pay cut) or higher contributions from the employer—which means tax increases for state or city residents, or cuts to other services.

Why is it that our political representatives have such shorter policy horizons than does the public in general? The Economist provides a reasonable summary for the U.S..

“No wonder that no one is getting to grips with the problem. Unions do not like to draw attention to the deficits, for fear benefits will be cut. Politicians do not want to pick a fight with the unions, or increase taxes and annoy voters. Instead, states and cities tend to hope that rising markets will make the problem disappear.”

http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21656202-betting-equities-has-not-eliminated-americas-pension-deficit-wishful-thinking?frsc=dg%7Ca

Baltimore—Saving a City

Few serious problems have a single explanation or cure. The decay of large parts of Baltimore is no exception. An interesting article in the Washington Post explores the diligent efforts of its former mayor, later the governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley to fix it. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/baltimores-blight-puts-omalley-on-defensive-in-bid-for-presidency/2015/05/29/9dffe1d0-0541-11e5-8bda-c7b4e9a8f7ac_story.html. The Baltimore mayor depicted in the TV series The Wire, Tommy Carcetti, was inspired by O’Malley. (I was surprised after watching five seasons of the Game of Thrones to learn that the actor who played Carcetti in The Wire, Aidan Gillen, is Littlefinger in the Game of Thrones. His O’Malley character in The Wire was much more interesting.)

O’Malley went after the usual suspects, improving transportation and other infrastructure, improving education, etc. – all of the things we look to government to provide in the name of equal opportunity for all. He also instituted tough policing inspired by the “Broken Windows” theory first expounded by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982. This introduced the intensive use of “stop, question, and frisk” of recent controversy in NYC. In retrospect, the approach alienated the police from the communities they were supposed to protect, and was much in the news when 25 year old African-American Freddie Gray died in April from injuries received while in police custody. His funeral in Baltimore was followed by riots that did much damage to the already impoverished neighborhood in which he lived.

What was almost totally missing from the Post article was the need for jobs. While the over all unemployment rate for metropolitan Baltimore is only slightly above the U.S. average (5.7% compared to 5.6%), black unemployment is dramatically higher. “For young black men between the ages of 20 and 24, the unemployment rate was an astounding 37% in 2013, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s compared with 10% for white men of the same age.” (CNN Money) Much of the city’s heavy industry and the jobs they provided (steel processing, shipping, auto manufacturing, and transportation) left Baltimore decades ago. Many workers moved with those jobs but some stayed. The increase in service economy jobs of recent years employs workers with different and generally higher level skills than did the lost manufacturing jobs. Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital are now Baltimore’s largest employers. Baltimore’s population peaked at around 950,000 in 1950 and dropped to 622,000 in 2013. Improving Baltimore’s infrastructure for those who have stayed is pointless if they can’t find jobs.

It is not that infrastructure and education are not important. They are important both for the quality of life and for attracting enterprises that provide jobs. But they are only part of the package companies consider when deciding where to locate. The cost of providing and maintaining them relative to their quality is important as well, and education needs to be relevant for the jobs potentially attracted. Taxes, both state and local are an important port of the cost of doing business. When companies evaluate where to locate new facilities they will want the best bang for their buck. Maryland is an expensive state (35th from the top in CNBC’s list of the best states for doing business). During his term as governor of Maryland O’Malley:
• Raised the top personal income tax rate from 4.75 to 5.75 percent. With local taxes on top, Maryland’s top rate is 8.95 percent.
• Raised the corporate tax rate from 7.0 to 8.25 percent.
• Raised the sales tax rate from 5 to 6 percent and expanded the sales tax base.
• Raised the sales tax rate on beer, wine, and spirits by 50 percent.
• Raised the gas tax by 20 cents over four years, almost doubling the rate from 23.5 cents.
• Doubled the cigarette tax from $1 to $2 per pack.
• Imposed higher taxes on vehicle registration.
• Imposed a storm water mitigation fee on property owners, or a “rain tax.”
(Chris Edwards: Cato)

The quality of government services in Maryland, however, is also fairly high. Last year I incorporated my consulting business in Maryland as an LLC. It took me 30 minutes on line sitting in my office from start to finish, including the email delivery of the signed and sealed document of incorporation. In addition, the cost of property and labor in Baltimore is low. This is a natural market reaction to the loss of industry and residence. The city’s efforts to revive its poorer neighborhoods also need to focus on improving its competitive advantage as a place for businesses to locate.

Crony capitalism and the Export Import Bank

An important and fundamental principle of the rule of law is that laws should have wide or universal applicability to everyone. This principle is generally violated when governments subsidize specific activities. These subsidize might take the form of tax breaks, loans at preferential interest rates or even grants to favored enterprises or activities. The Export Import Bank is a government program for granting such favors in the name of promoting exports.

If the EX-IM Bank only provided information to American firms that helped them satisfy foreign requirements for selling their products abroad or to connect with services available for marketing such produces—following the model of the Small Business Administration or the Agricultural Extension Services provided by many states—their continued existence might be defensible. However, like so many government intrusions into the private sector, it provides huge subsidize to a limited number of customers (about 30% of the total to Boeing to subsidize the sale of its planes to foreign carriers) at the expense of others. American carriers like Delta complain that EX-IM Bank subsidies to Boeing benefit their foreign competitors, who are able to buy Boeing planes more cheaply than they are. “The Airline Pilots Association of America estimates that the bank’s subsidizing of Boeing airline purchases abroad has forced our domestic airlines to cut about 7,500 jobs – decreasing the airline workforce by almost 2 percent.” (The Blaze, May 29, 2015)

While the cost of the EX-IM Bank to U.S. taxpayers is trivial, it is one more drop in the growing pond of crony capitalist connections to the government. Boeing moved its headquarters from Seattle, where most of its production was traditionally located, to Chicago and has diversified its production and suppliers around the country precisely to have more representatives in congress with an interest in its well being. Like many other large companies seeking government favors, it has hired key people from government such as Kevin Varney, former chief of staff at the Ex-Im during Obama’s first term. The stakes for Boeing are large so you can be sure it is spending a lot of money one way or another to protect its interests. This is the nature of crony capitalism, which gradually diminishes real market competition and chokes productivity.

Creating programs that grant favors also creates strong incentives for less subtle and more overt, traditional style corruption. “For example, Johnny Gutierrez, an Ex-Im Loan Specialist, pled guilty on April 22, 2015 of accepting up to $78,000 in bribes in return for recommending the approval of unqualified loan applications to the bank, among other misconduct. During this period, Ex-Im gave Gutierrez nearly a 20 percent pay hike and paid-out thousands in performance bonuses. “ (Adam Andrzejewski, Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/adamandrzejewski/2015/05/31/the-export-import-bank-and-the-art-of-picking-losers/ )

The Ex-Im Bank and dozens of programs like it are economically unsound and wasteful and politically corrupting. It and others like it should be killed when ever possible. Here is a rare case where congress can do good by doing nothing (i.e. by not renewing the Bank at the end of this month).

Dennis Hastert and the law

Former congressman Dennis Hastert has been charged with failing to tell his bank why he was withdrawing his money (up to $3.5 million withdrawn in smaller amounts over a few years). It appears that he was being blackmailed by someone threatening to expose a sexual relationship long ago that Mr. Hastert does not want disclosed. Blackmail is a crime that I understand, but I have yet to read that the blackmailer has been charged with any crime. I assume that that is coming.

Mr. Hastert is being charged with violating our Anti Money Laundering (AML) laws.
These laws allow arresting and convicting people for moving money (as Mr. Hastert was doing) that the government thinks was the proceeds of crime (not the case with Mr. Hastert, his crime was failing to report what he planned to with his money), when they are not able to prove that there was a crime in the first place. As far as I know, paying a blackmailer (which is what Mr. Hastert apparently did) is not a crime, though demanding and receiving such money is. The United States has pushed such legislation and the new bureaucracies needed to enforce it all over the world at the cost of billions and billions of dollars (that could have been used for poverty reduction or other more pressing things) with very little if any benefit to show for it. Charging Dennis Hastert with AML violations is a rare exception. Wow, what a benefit for such intrusions into our private lives. I consider AML laws more than a costly waste of money. They are another expansion of the arbitrary power of governments that can be used for good or ill with limited oversight. They lower the standards required for convictions of the real crime, what ever it was, and to that extend diminish the rule of law as we have always understood it.

It is hard to grasp how far our government has evolved from the freedoms we were guaranteed in our constitution. Most of these incremental intrusions have been in the name of protecting us from ourselves and our neighbors. The unlawful (according to a recent court ruling) spying on its own citizens by the NSA exposed by Edward Snowden is now well known and tomorrow we will see what congress does about it. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/?s=snowden. In another example, The Washington Post and others have exposed the shocking abuse of civil forfeiture laws (modern highway robbery by the police). https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/the-abuse-of-civil-forfeiture/.

These are the tips of an alarming iceberg of regulations contained in tens of thousands of pages of laws and regulations from banking to buying cereal. Charles Murray, a very thoughtful and out of the box thinker and observer of our times, makes an intriguing proposal for fighting back. Like me, he is a student of the 60s when civil disobedience seemed the only weapon left to us against an abusive government: http://www.wsj.com/articles/regulation-run-amokand-how-to-fight-back-1431099256

Has our preference for security over freedom swung so far? What are some people smoking to think that government bureaucrats at homeland security, the IRS or the Veterans Administration can more efficiently meet our needs than we can arrange ourselves in the private sector? I have commented on these alarming developments many times before:
https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/big-brother-is-getting-bigger/ https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/protecting-our-civil-liberties/
https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/the-rule-of-law-2/