Archive for May, 2016

Rand Paul is working to end the draft—among other things libertarians will love

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential race may be a historical footnote, but the senator libertarians know and love is back at it as Congress works through its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is passed yearly to allocate defense spending.

As civil liberties advocates will recall, the NDAA was controversially used in 2012 as a vehicle to allow the indefinite detention of American citizens on the mere suspicion of involvement with terrorism. This year however, Sen. Paul is harnessing the NDAA process to promote liberty-aligned priorities.

Sen. Paul has thus far introduced several amendments to the appropriations bill. The most exciting include ending the military draft, declassifying 9/11 documents that allegedly show Saudi involvement in the attacks, and forcing a new congressional vote to authorize Obama’s ongoing Middle Eastern wars.

Ceasing the use of military drafts has long been a libertarian priority, and Paul’s amendment is an exciting addition to the recent discussion about whether the U.S. should also draft women, or if this outdated practice of conscription is even necessary anymore.

And Paul’s move to declassify 28 pages worth of documents that allegedly implicate the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks comes on the heels of heated debate about this issue among lawmakers.

In the House, Reps Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), have been pressing this matter for months, with a major assist from former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.). Graham co-chaired the intelligence committee that wrote the classified pages in 2002.

This helped lead to the recent passage of a Senate bill that allows Americans whose family members were lost during 9/11 to sue the Saudi Arabian government. Sen. Paul and many others now believe it’s long past time to declassify the information that would apparently justify this legislation.

Sen. Paul is also using the NDAA debate to force a matter that has long been a pet issue of his: Acquiring congressional authorization for acts of war abroad.

Paul recently authored an op-ed at Time Magazine on this topic, writing: “One generation cannot bind another generation to perpetual war. Our Constitution mandates that war be authorized by Congress.”

Paul’s point of contention is that the Obama administration is still working off of two Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) measures passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002, even though many new fronts of war have been opened since.

In addition to his work on making the NDAA even the slightest bit more liberty friendly, Sen. Paul is a sponsor of other great standalone legislation. Paul’s most notable recent accomplishment is the passage through the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act.

This bipartisan piece of legislation would empower federal workers to identify ways to save taxpayer money by giving them bonuses for helping to reduce spending; a seemingly commonsense measure that has evaded Congress so far.

It’s only been three months since Paul ended his presidential bid. Obviously, he’s been busy, pursuing these and other important measures, working across the aisle to achieve his goals when necessary.

Liberty-lovers can sleep a little easier knowing he’s there.

These are the only 3 Republicans in the House who voted to close Guantanamo Bay

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Most Republicans oppose President Obama’s plan to close the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, where terrorists are often held indefinitely and without trials. But in a recent House vote, three Republicans—congressmen Mark Sanford, Justin Amash, and John Duncan—broke ranks and supported an amendment that would have shuttered the controversial holding facility.

Sanford explained to McClatchy DC that his opposition to Guantánamo is consistent with his concerns about indefinite detention, a controversial provision that was added to the annual National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, under which those merely suspected of terrorism could be held without constitutionally required due process.

“Indefinite detention is not consistent with the values that America was based on,” said Sanford. “I think if you look at the military tribunals, there was finality to the process: ‘We find you guilty in military tribunal, we’ll take you out back and shoot you, or we’ll let you go.’ It was not, ‘We’re going to hold you for the next 40 years.’”

From a libertarian or constitutional conservative standpoint, Sanford’s outlook makes sense. It’s not that we aren’t going to punish terrorists—he mentioned military tribunals, after all. It’s that throwing someone into a prison like Guantánamo Bay on the mere suspicion of terrorism and holding them indefinitely without charge or trial is anti-American from a human rights and constitutional standpoint.

The issue of closing Guantánamo has resurfaced recently, as Obama struggles to fulfill a promise he first made over seven years ago.

“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” said President Obama earlier this year. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”

That’s a nice statement, but civil liberties advocates on both the right and the left have reason to be skeptical. After all, Obama signed reauthorizations of the Patriot Act and new indefinite detention provisions into law, even after talking a big game about what a civil libertarian he was.

Nevertheless, the president does seem committed to at least attempting to move past the wartime abuses of his predecessor, while acknowledging the difficulty of the logistical challenges.

As Obama said: “The plan we’re putting forward … isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo. It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees, which is a complex piece of business because of the manner in which they were originally apprehended and what happened. This is about closing a chapter in our history.”

Obama doesn’t have nearly the support he needs from Congress to close Guantánamo. The recent amendment, even with backing from the three Republicans, failed by a margin of 259-163.

Now that the supposedly tech-friendly Austin has banned Uber, what comes next?

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Austin, Texas is a youthful, entrepreneurial city, known for its tech startups, food trucks, and innovation. Although a liberal bastion, it still isn’t the type of place you’d expect residents to reject technological advancements.

Yet recently, Austin voters rejected an arguably misleading ridesharing proposition that claimed its aim was to enhance safety. But the regulations were so overly onerous and based in cronyism that ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft had to leave.

As John Daniel Davidson wrote at The Federalist:

“The story of how Uber and Lyft were driven out of Austin is a textbook example of how government-backed cartels force out competition under the guise of creating a ‘level playing field’ or ensuring ‘consumer safety.’

In this case, the cartel is the local taxi cab lobby, which successfully saddled Uber and Lyft with cab-like regulations that shouldn’t apply to ridesharing companies.

The result is that thousands of enterprising Austinites have been deprived a source of income, while thousands more have been deprived of ridesharing services that were reducing congestion and drunk driving while expanding transportation options to underserved parts of town.”

Due to this, Austin is now the only major city in the country without Uber. Even Las Vegas, which has arguably the most powerful taxi cartel in the country, acquiesced to Uber last year under public pressure.

And now, Austin is needlessly suffering.

As tech entrepreneur Courtney Powell noted at AustinStartups.com, “If we estimate the total wages earned by part-time Uber and Lyft drivers in 2015 using … 10k drivers in Austin multiplied by 60% part-time drivers, multiplied by 5 hours per week … multiplied by $19 per hour — that’s $29 million in part-time yearly earnings alone that will no longer be fed right back into the local economy in the form of income, spending, and taxes.”

And this doesn’t even touch how consumers are affected. In fact Greg Hamilton, the Sheriff of Travis County, has expressed support for ridesharing, because it has reduced instances of drunk driving. As he explained, the arrival of Uber and Lyft to Austin had a positive impact.

“The number of DWI arrests [in Austin] fell 16-percent in 2014. DWI-related crashes fell even more citywide, decreasing by 23-percent last year,” said Hamilton.

This begs the question, what’s next for Austin? Ellen Troxclair, one of Austin’s few libertarian-conservative councilmembers, had this to say about the future of ridesharing in her city:

“I continue to believe that a fair and limited regulatory environment for transportation providers benefits all consumers, and I hope we can work toward that outcome … I remain hopeful that the Council will work on solutions that will allow Uber and Lyft to return to Austin as soon as possible.”

The battle isn’t over. And as Troxclair has noted, Austin is entirely unprepared to even enforce its new regulations. “Uber and Lyft left Austin because they were unable to comply with the city’s new fingerprinting rules,” wrote Troxclair.

“Meanwhile, the city is bending over backwards to encourage customers to use Get Me and Wingz, who not only arenot fingerprinting their drivers, but may not even run any kind of background checks before passengers get in the car.”

Sadly, this goes to show that, as is typical, government is using “public safety” as a stand-in for their desire to control an economy absent unwanted competition. And as usual, people continue to defy these unnecessary regulations.

View From the Wing, a travel blog, had a smart tip for Austin area residents and visitors: Simply drop your location pin outside of the city limits, then immediately call your driver and ask if he or she will pick you up where you’re actually located.

Talk about a smart market solution to a silly law! While this workaround might be a good temporary solution for some, Austin does need to allow Uber and Lyft back into their city indefinitely.

Halting progress for the sake of cronyism is bad policy, and I have faith that Austin’s consumers will fight alongside their pro-ridesharing city council members to eventually undo this travesty.

Hey small business owners, the IRS just hired 700 new agents to come after you

Friday, May 6th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Bad news for those of us who think we spend the money we’ve earned more efficiently than government bureaucrats can: the IRS is about to hire several hundred new “enforcement workers.”

And the news is even worse if you’re a self-employed small business owner – these “agents” are allocated for you!

As Richard Rubin at the Wall Street Journal reported, “The Internal Revenue Service is hiring up to 700 employees for tax enforcement in what Commissioner John Koskinen calls the agency’s ‘first significant enforcement hiring in more than five years.’”

Great. Because we all needed that in our lives, right?

But maybe it isn’t all bad.

Said Rubin, “The agency had 17,208 employees doing tax enforcement in 2015, down 24% from 2010, and audits of individuals are at an 11-year low … Despite the new hires, the IRS will still end fiscal 2016 with 2,000 fewer workers than it started.”

While that could be considered a silver lining, it really isn’t when you consider the magnitude of our $19 trillion national debt. Instead of using our tax dollars to hire more people dedicated to stealing from us, how about reducing the $161,000 per taxpayer burden our national debt breaks down into?

But as we all know, fiscal responsibility hasn’t exactly been a prominent theme of this bizarre election cycle. After all, we have a Republican presumptive nominee who is expressly against reducing military spending or pursuing entitlement reform.

And that’s too bad, because even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office realizes we’re veering toward an unsustainable fiscal cliff pretty quickly.

Hey, at least we’ll know through the next economic crisis that the IRS will be sufficiently staffed!

What could possibly be more important?

With Trump as the GOP nominee, some Republicans are looking to the Libertarian Party

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

After Trump’s win in Tuesday’s Republican primary, it became clear that there was no path to victory for the two remaining candidates. Ted Cruz dropped out that evening, and it was announced that John Kasich would suspend his campaign the following afternoon.

In the wake of Trump’s final ascent, interest in the Libertarian Party (LP), the country’s largest third party, has spiked.Ed Krayewski at Reason provided a screenshot of a Google Trends graph showing that after Trump’s Indiana victory, searches for the Libertarian Party increased dramatically.

And it seems this interest has translated into new members for the LP.

As Ashe Schow reported at the Washington Examiner, “Between 7 p.m. Tuesday evening and noon on Wednesday, the Libertarian Party received 99 new memberships. For the same time period a day earlier, the LP received only 46 new memberships.”

Schow spoke with the LP’s Executive Director Wes Benedict, who said, “Of course [Republicans] are scared of Trump. Trump sounds like an authoritarian. We don’t need a secret deal-maker. We need more transparency, and a smaller, less intrusive government that provides a level playing field for all and has fewer deals for special interests.”

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s current presidential frontrunner, is working to capitalize on this momentum. His campaign sent out an email saying that after Cruz dropped out of the race, searches for “Gary Johnson” increased by 5,000 percent. And Johnson, a former Republican Governor, released this video in an effort to court disaffected conservatives.

Personally, I’ve had my differences with the Libertarian Party, largely because many of its members are focused on ideological purity to a point that I think makes governing impossible. I do believe though, if Gary Johnson is in fact the nominee (which will be decided at the LP national convention this month) that he’d be a viable alternative for many #NeverTrump diehards.

Johnson is after all, as his video explains, a former Republican Governor with a stellar record. And while some conservatives understandably have a problem with the fact that Johnson is personally pro-choice, I’d suggest they consider that he’s opposed to Roe v. Wade on constitutional grounds.

This means the matter would go back to the states, as was the case pre-Roe.

Ultimately, I’m not convinced that a LP candidate would actually be able to win the presidency. But if the LP polls at 15 percent, their nominee will be on the debate stage with Clinton and Trump.

It would certainly be refreshing for voters to see a third option, especially if it’s a pro-liberty one.