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

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?

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

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

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.

These cops tried to use civil asset forfeiture to steal money from a Christian charity

April 29th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Civil asset forfeiture, under which law enforcement can seize your property even if you aren’t convicted of a crime or arrested, is a nationwide problem. The state of Oklahoma, however, has a particularly well-documented knack for asset forfeiture abuse.

The latest example comes from the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham. He brings us the story of Eh Wah, a Burmese refugee and American citizen who lives in Dallas, and the volunteer manager of the Klo & Kweh Music Team, a Christian rock band from his home country. Wah had been on a months-long tour with the group, which was raising money for a Christian college in Burma and an orphanage in Thailand.

That didn’t stop Muskogee County cops in Oklahoma from automatically assuming he was tied up in the drug trade—and using that as a justification to steal the Christian rock band’s charitable proceeds.

Writes Ingraham:

[S]heriff’s deputies in Muskogee County, Okla., pulled Eh Wah over for a broken tail light …The deputies started asking questions — a lot of them. And at some point, they brought out a drug-sniffing dog, which alerted on the car. That’s when they found the cash, according to the deputy’s affidavit. …

Eh Wah managed the band’s finances, holding on to the cash proceeds it raised from ticket and merchandise sales at concerts. By the time he was stopped in Oklahoma, the band had held concerts in 19 cities across the United States, raising money via tickets that sold for $10 to $20 each.

So the drug-sniffing dog barks. No drugs were actually found. Yet the cops interrogated Wah for several hours, threatened him with jail time, and took $53,249 allocated to Christian students and orphans in a highly vulnerable part of the world without justification. Then they let Wah go!

If this isn’t a gross abuse of the system—which is directly tied to the countless injustices baked into the War on Drugs generally—then what is?

Luckily, the Institute For Justice, a libertarian civil liberties law firm that represents clients like Wah for free, was on hand to help. This week, Muskogee County finally did the right thing, two months after the initial interrogation Wah faced.

“We are thrilled that District Attorney Loge has dropped the criminal case against Eh Wah and offered to return the money to the band, the church and the orphanage,” said IJ attorney Dan Alban. “The intense public scrutiny generated by this outrageous case led to justice being served.”

But as Alban points out, Wah was a highly sympathetic victim. There are many other people all over the country without his sparkling backstory who have had their basic civil liberties violated through civil asset forfeiture abuse.

The truth is, much work remains to be done. The Oklahoma state legislature recently rejected a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture. But the fact that such legislation even exists, and that reforms have been passed elsewhere, is a step in the right direction. Shining further light on these abuses must continue to be a priority.

As Wah so eloquently says:

This was an experience that no one should ever have to live through. It felt like something that would happen in a third-world country, but not in the United States. I’m just so happy that this is over and I hope that no one else will have to go through something like this.